BOOK REVIEW: Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn Harkup

BOOK REVIEW: Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn HarkupTitle: Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts by Kathryn Harkup
Published by Bloomsbury SIGMA
Published: May 5, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Science
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

An in-depth look at the science behind the creative methods Shakespeare used to kill off his characters.

In Death By Shakespeare, Kathryn Harkup, best-selling author of A is for Arsenic and expert on the more gruesome side of science, turns her expertise to Shakespeare and the creative methods he used to kill off his characters. Is death by snakebite really as serene as Cleopatra made it seem? How did Juliet appear dead for 72 hours only to be revived in perfect health? Can you really kill someone by pouring poison in their ear? How long would it take before Lady Macbeth died from lack of sleep? Readers will find out exactly how all the iconic death scenes that have thrilled audiences for centuries would play out in real life.

In the Bard's day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theater was a fairly likely scenario. Death is one of the major themes that reoccurs constantly throughout Shakespeare's canon, and he certainly didn't shy away from portraying the bloody reality of death on the stage. He didn't have to invent gruesome or novel ways to kill off his characters when everyday experience provided plenty of inspiration.

Shakespeare's era was also a time of huge scientific advance. The human body, its construction and how it was affected by disease came under scrutiny, overturning more than a thousand years of received Greek wisdom, and Shakespeare himself hinted at these new scientific discoveries and medical advances in his writing, such as circulation of the blood and treatments for syphilis.

Shakespeare found 74 different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions--shock, sadness, fear--that they did over 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the science to back them up?

I love reading books that provide some kind of external context about other books or works — whether it’s historical context, criticism, and, in the case of Kathryn Harkup’s Death by Shakespeare, scientific context. Death by Shakespeare explores the many deaths in Shakespeare’s plays and provides insightful looks into how contemporaries handled disease and death, and Harkup explores these topics with clarity, empathy, and humor. Shakespeare’s body of work can be daunting and difficult for modern readers, but Harkup presents her research in an engaging way that is entertaining and in reach.

I loved the intersections of contemporary and modern medicine, as well as the examinations of how the deaths in the plays were (or weren’t) performed on stage. Death today seems so far removed from our society, yet in Shakespeare’s day, death was actively part of every day life. This was also something weird to read at this present time with the coronavirus pandemic because I’m confronted by death daily and still so far removed from it because no one I know has contracted it, but Shakespeare and his contemporaries confronted death in all its causes in such close proximity that it was difficult to ignore, even in his own work. The thing I loved most about Death by Shakespeare is the connection of the historical and everyday life with the science because it made everything feel so much more real. Like death, history seems something so far removed from us that we sometimes forget that history is populated by people living lives with emotional scope and depth as people live today, so in a way, putting Shakespeare’s plays into context like, along with any contextual criticism, this brings the humanity of these plays to the surface.

This is something that would be beneficial to anyone reading and studying Shakespeare as it provides an engaging and accessible look into the reasons why Shakespeare likely used certain kinds of poisons, murders, and avenues of death in his work. Personally, I know having this historical/literary/scientific context when I was taking my Shakespeare course in undergrad would have added so much to my enjoyment and understanding of the plays, but I’m glad to have read it now!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me an early copy to review! All opinions are my own.

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley Reads

Today’s Little List of Reviews features three reads from Netgalley that I’ve had on my Kindle for a long time and have needed to review for a while. Thank you to Netgalley

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher
Published by Berkley
Published: February 25th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A life in snapshots…
Grace knows what people see. She’s the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves.
A woman in living color…
But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, she knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real. Hardest of all for her adoring fans and loyal subjects to comprehend, is the harsh reality that to be the most envied woman in the world does not mean she is the happiest. Starved for affection and purpose, facing a labyrinth of romantic and social expectations with more twists and turns than Monaco’s infamous winding roads, Grace must find her own way to fulfillment. But what she risks--her art, her family, her marriage—she may never get back.

The first half of this was so good, nuanced and detailed with a lot of sparking humor. I love fiction about Hollywood and the behind the scenes glimpses it gives, but this book fell apart halfway through for me. The characterization of Grace Kelly did a complete turnaround and felt unrecognizable from the character introduced to us in the beginning. Tonally, the book felt like a completely separate title halfway through, and it left me a little disappointed.

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 12 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

“A brilliant bastard.” —Cory Doctorow“Comfort, of course, is the last thing that Watts wants to give.” —New York Review of Science Fiction
Which of the following is true?
-Peter Watts is banned from the U.S.-Watts almost died from flesh-eating bacteria.-A schizophrenic man living in Watts's backyard almost set his house on fire. -Watts was raised by Baptists who really sucked at giving presents.-Peter Watts said to read this book. Or else.
“Watts, undoubtedly, is a genius.” ―Medium
In more than fifty unpredictable essays and revenge fantasies, Peter Watts — Hugo Award-winning author, former marine biologist, and angry sentient tumor — is the savage dystopian optimist whom you can’t look away from. Even when you probably should.

I didn’t really know anything about Peter Watts before reading this collection of his writing/blog posts, and the resulting collection in an acerbic, entertaining look into a myriad of subjects. It was a lot to take in all at once, so I picked at this over the course of several months. I loved his perspective on a lot of things, so if you like essays about literally anything, definitely take a look at this.

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #10: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: Show Them a Good Time by Nicole Flattery
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: January 28th 2020
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A blisteringly original and wickedly funny collection of stories about the strange worlds that women inhabit and the parts that they must play.
A sense of otherworldly menace is at work in the fiction of Nicole Flattery, but the threats are all too familiar. SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME tells the stories of women slotted away into restrictive roles: the celebrity's girlfriend, the widower's second wife, the lecherous professor's student, the corporate employee. And yet, the genius of Flattery's characters is to blithely demolish the boundaries of these limited and limiting social types with immense complexity and caustic intelligence. Nicole Flattery's women are too ferociously mordant, too painfully funny to remain in their places.
In this fiercely original and blazingly brilliant debut, Flattery likewise deconstructs the conventions of genre to serve up strange realities: In Not the End Yet, Flattery probes the hilarious and wrenching ambivalence of Internet dating as the apocalypse nears; in Sweet Talk, the mysterious disappearance of a number of local women sets the scene for a young girl to confront the dangerous uncertainties of her own sexuality; in this collection's center piece, Abortion, A Love Story, two college students in a dystopian campus reconfigure the perilous stories of their bodies in a fraught academic culture to offer a subversive, alarming, and wickedly funny play that takes over their own offstage lives. And yet, however surreal or richly imagined the setting, Flattery always shows us these strange worlds from startlingly unexpected angles, through an unforgettable cast of brutally honest, darkly hilarious women and girls.
Like the stories of Mary Gaitskill, Miranda July, Lorrie Moore, Joy Williams, and Ottessa Moshfegh, SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME is the work of a profoundly resonant and revelatory literary voice – at once spiky, humane, achingly hilarious-- that is sure to echo through the literary culture for decades to come.

I like reading collections of short stories to break up longer books or when my attention span is fried, so I was happy to read a collection of a new-to-me author. This collection played with the subversion of gender roles and explored the contrasts of women in society. My favorite story of the collection is ‘Show Them a Good Time,’ but the rest began feeling samey and repetitive after a while. This is probably best read one story at a time rather than a few here and there.

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library Reads

I have finally finished the graphics for the new blog style, and I’m really happy with them! It’s been since 2018 since I really updated anything on here, and I’m going to be focusing more on content pages here in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes a small refresh is all you need to get some blogging inspiration!

Today’s Little List of Reviews features three reads I checked out from my new-to-me library, two of which I didn’t particularly like, and one that I did!

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library ReadsTitle: On Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Story of George Orwell’s Masterpiece by D.J. Taylor
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Published: October 22nd 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

From the author of the definitive biography of George Orwell, a captivating account of the origin and enduring power of his landmark dystopian novel 
Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, George Orwell’s 1984 has been regarded as one of the most influential novels of the modern age. Politicians have testified to its influence on their intellectual identities, rock musicians have made records about it, TV viewers watch a reality show named for it, and a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy. 
On 1984 dives deep into Orwell’s life to chart his earlier writings and key moments in his youth, such as his years at a boarding school, whose strict and charismatic headmaster shaped the idea of Big Brother. Taylor tells the story of the writing of the book, taking readers to the Scottish island of Jura, where Orwell, newly famous thanks to Animal Farm but coping with personal tragedy and rapidly declining health, struggled to finish 1984. Published during the cold war—a term Orwell coined—Taylor elucidates the environmental influences on the book. Then he examines 1984’s post-publication life, including its role as a tool to understand our language, politics, and government.
In a current climate where truth, surveillance, censorship, and critical thinking are contentious, Orwell’s work is necessary. Written with resonant and reflective analysis, On 1984 is both brilliant and remarkably timely. 

D.J. Taylor’s On Nineteen Eighty-Four is a short look at the history surrounding George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. While I initially found the premise interesting, the content of it actually fell irritatingly short, refusing to address or acknowledge Wikileaks, Snowden, Assange, a lot of the current surveillance issues, and choose instead to focus on the current president/administration and literally no one else? Yes, the current administration is frustrating and obviously a driving factor behind this book, but you have to include what comes before it that also contributed to the environment in which we exist.

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library ReadsTitle: How to Watch a Movie by David Thomson
Published by Knopf
Published: November 3rd 2015
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 242
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

From one of the most admired critics of our time, brilliant insights into the act of watching movies and an enlightening discussion about how to derive more from any film experience.
Since first publishing his landmark Biographical Dictionary of Film in 1975 (recently released in its sixth edition), David Thomson has been one of our most trusted authorities on all things cinema. Now, he offers his most inventive exploration of the medium yet: guiding us through each element of the viewing experience, considering the significance of everything from what we see and hear on screen--actors, shots, cuts, dialogue, music--to the specifics of how, where, and with whom we do the viewing. With customary candor and wit, Thomson delivers keen analyses of a range of films from classics such as Psychoand Citizen Kane to contemporary fare such as 12 Years a Slave and All Is Lost, revealing how to more deeply appreciate both the artistry and (yes) manipulation of film, and how watching movies approaches something like watching life itself. Discerning, funny, and utterly unique, How to Watch a Movie is a welcome twist of the classic proverb: Give a movie fan a film, she'll be entertained for an hour or two; teach a movie fan to watch, his experience will be enriched forever.
From the Hardcover edition.

I have been more and more interested in film as a medium due to a friend of mine, so lately I’ve been doing a little research into books I can get my hands on, and How To Watch a Movie caught my eye with the description and promises of revealing “how to watch a movie.” However, what’s on the tin doesn’t describe the actual contents of the book: a long, meandering blabbering of some guy’s experiences with movies he watched as a kid with little to nothing else? It read like some old guy’s self-important film subreddit posts.

Little List of Reviews #9: Non-Fiction Library ReadsTitle: Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac by Alex Dimitrov, Dorothea Lasky
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: October 29th 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

From the online phenomenons the Astro Poets comes the first great astrology primer of the 21st century.
Full of insight, advice and humor for every sign in the zodiac, the Astro Poets' unique brand of astrological flavor has made them Twitter sensations. Their long-awaited first book is in the grand tradition of Linda Goodman's Sun Signs, but made for the world we live in today.
In these pages the Astro Poets help you see what's written in the stars and use it to navigate your friendships, your career, and your very complicated love life. If you've ever wondered why your Gemini friend won't let you get a word in edge-wise at drinks, you've come to the right place. When will that Scorpio texting "u up?" at 2AM finally take the next step in your relationship? (Hint: they won't). Both the perfect introduction to the twelve signs for the astrological novice, and a resource to return to for those who already know why their Cancer boyfriend cries during commercials but need help with their new whacky Libra boss, this is the astrology book must-have for the twenty-first century and beyond.

I love the Astro Poets twitter and find their day-to-day tweets hilarious and their weekly predictions interesting and heart-felt. The book is a great companion to their twitter and filled with much of the same insight and humor that I had hoped for. I borrowed this from the library and I’m glad I did, because it is one of those read & flip through once sort of books.

Little List of Reviews #7

Another little list of reviews so soon because I have a few digital ARCs that I’d like to chat about! These are either relatively recent releases or will be releasing soon!

Little List of Reviews #7Title: The Big Book of Classic Fantasy by Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer
Published by Vintage
Published: July 2nd 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 848
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Unearth the enchanting origins of fantasy fiction with a collection of tales as vast as the tallest tower and as mysterious as the dark depths of the forest. Fantasy stories have always been with us. They illuminate the odd and the uncanny, the wondrous and the fantastic: all the things we know are lurking just out of sight--on the other side of the looking-glass, beyond the music of the impossibly haunting violin, through the twisted trees of the ancient woods. Other worlds, talking animals, fairies, goblins, demons, tricksters, and mystics: these are the elements that populate a rich literary tradition that spans the globe. A work composed both of careful scholarship and fantastic fun, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is essential reading for anyone who's never forgotten the stories that first inspired feelings of astonishment and wonder.

INCLUDING:

*Stories by pillars of the genre like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Mary Shelley, Christina Rossetti, L. Frank Baum, Robert E. Howard, and J. R. R. Tolkien *Fantastical offerings from literary giants including Edith Wharton, Leo Tolstoy, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, Vladimir Nabokov, Hermann Hesse, and W.E.B. Du Bois *Rare treasures from Asian, Eastern European, Scandinavian, and Native American traditions *New translations, including fourteen stories never before in English

PLUS:

*Beautifully Bizarre Creatures! *Strange New Worlds Just Beyond the Garden Path! *Fairy Folk and Their Dark Mischief! *Seriously Be Careful--Do Not Trust Those Fairies!

I received an ARC for this via Netgalley and yo, you’re going to want to read this. I only read the intro and about twenty-odd stories and already preordered it so I can savor the rest of it in my hands. This is fantasy at its core, original and weird and more than unsettling. It showcases the history of the fantasy genre and how it’s evolved throughout time. It’s a great companion to their Big Book of Science Fiction. The VanderMeers know what they’re doing, and they’re amazing at it. Also, look at that cover. Once I have the physical copy in my hands, I’ll write a more in depth review regarding the actual stories!

Little List of Reviews #7Title: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers, Luke Flowers, Josie Carey
Published by Quirk Books
Published: March 19. 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

For the first time ever, the beloved songs from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are collected here in a charmingly-illustrated treasury, sure to be cherished by adults who grew up with Mister Rogers, and a new generation of children alike.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood had a revolutionary impact on children's television, and on millions of children themselves. Through songs, puppets, and frank conversations, Mister Rogers instilled the values of kindness, patience, and self-esteem in his viewers, and most of all, taught children how loved they were, just by being themselves. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reimagines the songs from the show as poetry, ranging from the iconic ("Won't You Be My Neighbor?") to the forgotten gems. The poem are funny, sweet, silly, and sincere, dealing with topics of difficult feelings, new siblings, everyday routines, imagination, and more. Perfect for bedtime, sing-along, or quiet time, this book of nostalgic and meaningful poetry is the perfect gift for every child--including the child in all of us.

This is a wonderful collection of the poetry and songs from the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood series. It brought me back to my childhood and all of those memories watching Mister Rogers on TV, and the illustrations inside modernize and bring it to life all over again for old and new audiences alike. This would make an amazing gift for all ages, and the poetry in this book remind us of all the lessons and goodness Mister Rogers taught us over the years.

Many thanks to Quirk Books and Netgalley for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #7Title: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Published by Rick Riordan Presents
Published: January 15th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 312
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads

To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

Dragon Pearl was everything I had hoped for in a middle grade science fiction book, and it made me want to read more middle grade science fiction. I feel like I haven’t seen much mainstream middle grade science fiction as a lot of it tends to skew to the fantasy and the weird, but I think I need to dig a little deeper (or start writing it myself!). Dragon Pearl captured my attention immediately, and I didn’t want it to end. It’s a great story about family and what one must do for yourself in order to survive, especially in a cold, harsh environment like space. Definitely check this out if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi summer read.

Little List of Reviews #6

It’s been a while since I’ve done a little list of reviews! I tend to do this when I only have a few thoughts about a book, it didn’t excite me much, or a myriad of other reasons. Sometimes I also just like to get reviews done and get them off my to-do list! I also am the sort of person who sometimes prefers the shorter review. Give me thoughts, not the plot! These are all super backlist books for me because I’ve had them on my shelves forever.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
Published by Penguin Books
Published: January 26th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 278
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

"This debut novel weaves the kind of mannered fantasy that might result if Wes Anderson were to adapt Kafka." --The New Yorker

Reminiscent of imaginative fiction from Jorge Luis Borges to Jasper Fforde yet dazzlingly original, The Manual of Detection marks the debut of a prodigious young talent. Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency located in an unnamed city always slick with rain. When Travis Sivart, the agency's most illustrious detective, is murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted and must embark on an utterly bizarre quest for the missing investigator that leads him into the darkest corners of his soaking, somnolent city. What ensues is a noir fantasy of exquisite craftsmanship, as taut as it is mind- blowing, that draws readers into a dream world that will change what they think about how they think.

One of my professors used this book in one of her mysteries English courses and since I had already graduated, I really wanted to read it after she spoke about it with me over lunch. However, it sat on my shelves for almost three years until I finally picked it up in one of my “I’m going to choose some books I’ve been meaning to read since forever and actually sit down and read them” phases. (If you’re curious, I picked four and have since read three!) I appreciated this for what it does. I hesitate to call it magical realism because that’s Latin American in its roots, so it’s probably more along the lines of fabulism. The Manual of Detection plays with the mystery genre and all its tropes and twists them up and around. I enjoyed it while I was reading it and I read it in a day, but I ultimately found something weirdly lacking with it.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 498
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials.

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff's riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled--in crackling detail and lyrical prose--by one of our most acclaimed historians.

The Witches is one dense book, in content and in pages. I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work forever ago because I enjoy reading about the Salem Witch Trials, but as usual life and other books got in the way. Now that I’m seriously weeding my shelves and my ARCs, I told myself I had to read this one now or let it go. I read the first few chapters and got sucked in to the bizarreness of it all, but it’s very dense and difficult to read at times from a technical standpoint because it almost expects you to have a solid knowledge of Puritan American history. I do find the parallels fascinating though because so much of it is still in practice today in regards to the treatment of women.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 419
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.

Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.

When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.

But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.

Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

I love historical fiction, the Jazz Age, and Hazel Gaynor’s writing, but this story took a while to gain momentum and really pique my interest. I mostly read it on my phone in slow times while out of the house, so I took a little while longer to read this than I do other books. The voices were charming, life at the Savoy and in London were richly described, but the ways in which the characters intertwined with each other just seemed a bit too perfect.