Review: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Review: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz WilliamsCocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of A Certain Age transports readers to sunny Florida in this lush and enthralling historical novel—an enchanting blend of love, suspense, betrayal, and redemption set among the rum runners and scoundrels of Prohibition-era Cocoa Beach
Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. Driving an ambulance for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets—secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she’d left behind.
Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon has never met.
Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers surrounding Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well.

My Review:

This didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected, but I don’t know why. The book does match the blurb. More or less.

It also reminds me more than a bit of Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, if Rebecca wound itself up on the Florida coast during Prohibition.

The story of this Cocoa Beach is set loosely within the sequence of Williams’ other novels. They are all set in Prohibition-era America and feature at least some of the same set of wealthy and ill-fated people. In the case of Cocoa Beach, the heroine of this story is Virginia Fitzwilliam nee Fortesque, the sister of Sophie Fortesque, one of the heroines of A Certain Age.

You don’t have to read all the books to feel part of each individual one. It’s more that the characters know each other and mention each other than that the main characters continue from one to the next.

Back to Cocoa Beach. This is a story that is told in two time frames, but by the same person. In the book’s present, Virginia is in Florida, dealing with her late husband’s estate after his death in a rather suspicious house fire. This is 1922, so forensics as we know them are pretty minimal. The body was burned beyond recognition, and identification was made through use of artifacts found with the body. It’s an ID that feels shaky from the beginning.

The second story is also Virginia’s story. It is her version of events during World War I, when she first met her late husband Simon Fitzwilliam. At the time, she was a volunteer ambulance driver and he was a surgeon with the British Expeditionary Forces. Through Virginia’s eyes, looking back at a past that was not so long ago but that happened before so much personal trauma, we see Simon charm the rather innocent Virginia into his life, his bed and eventually into marriage, in spite of her reservations every step of the way.

Because we see these events only through Virginia’s eyes, and because Virginia in the end has a great many doubts about Simon’s feelings and Simon’s motives, we as readers also end up doubting whether any of what Virginia thought she saw in him was true.

Simon really has been keeping secrets from Virginia. His life situation is never quite what he says it is. And his unwillingness to let her know just how big a mess his life really is provides just the wedge for someone, Simon’s brother Samuel, to get Virginia to doubt everything about Simon and her relationship with him.

And those doubts and fears ruin her marriage, and very nearly take her life.

Escape Rating B-: There’s a lot of Gothic creepiness in the swamps of Florida, and there’s a lot of Gothic creepiness in this story as well. Throughout the story, there’s a strong sense of looming menace hovering over Virginia, and it’s very definitely real. Someone really is watching her and someone is definitely out to get her.

This is also a story where all the narrators are completely unreliable. Simon tells a whole lot of lies of omission, and while in the end his reasons make sense, he definitely sows the seeds of his own destruction with those lies. Virginia is an unreliable narrator not because she deliberately lies, but because she is simply unable to see when others lying to her, so she bases her thoughts and decisions on the lies she has been told. And everyone else in the story, with the exception of Virginia’s two-year-old daughter, is living one kind of lie or another right before her eyes. And she never seems to suspect a thing that she really ought to.

So much of what goes wrong in Virginia’s life, which is what makes this story, is that instead of asking Simon for an explanation of a whole lot of things, she simply believes what Samuel tells her and runs away. Over and over and over. She never confronts Simon with what he’s supposedly done, or what he has supposedly not said. Or both.

I think that this is the place where readers will either understand why she did what she did or wonder what she was thinking. If she was thinking, which she probably wasn’t. She continually takes one side of the story and runs with it, and away, and never looks for the other. That she does love Simon and did marry him and yet always believes whatever Samuel tells her without checking into it at all struck this reader as a lie too far. But the whole story hinges on Virginia falling for the same pack of lies over and over and over again, even when the voice inside her own head is telling her that something isn’t right. Which, of course, it isn’t.

I loved A Certain Age, and was really hoping for more of the same with Cocoa Beach. Instead, I ended up with Rebecca. And while I enjoyed reading the story while it was going on, the ending left me flat.

Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P Kiernan

Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P KiernanThe Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day
On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.
Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.
But in the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.
But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.

My Review:

The Baker’s Secret might have been more descriptively titled as Emma’s War. Or perhaps Resistance is not Futile, or even How to Resist without Joining the Resistance. Or simply, Survival.

Because the story encompasses all of those things, and more.

From first to last, this is Emma’s story. And it is the story of the frog who dies by degrees as his cool pan of water heats up and boils. But unlike that proverbial frog, neither Emma nor her coastal French village actually die during the German Occupation, although they often wish they had. And all too many individual citizens actually do die, whether directly for German atrocities or less directly by being conscripted or simply by being unable or unwilling to drudge through another day.

Emma is the town baker. She has a gift for baking, and that gift is both blessing and curse. It is because of that gift that the occupying Germans discovered her tiny village. And it is that gift which keeps her relatively safe. The Kommandant doesn’t want his baker unduly harassed, or raped, and certainly not killed, without good reason. For admittedly select values of reason.

He wants his morning bread, and for that reason, gives Emma enough of a flour ration to bake a dozen loaves for himself and his officers.

That bread makes Emma the center of a ring of resistance. Not THE Resistance, but a resistance. Emma manages to make those dozen loaves into 14, with just a bit of subterfuge. And with those two extra loaves, she has something to trade. Because everyone wants just a little bit of solace in what are very dark times. So she has her circle of bread for eggs for tobacco for oil for fish for bread. Around and around the village she goes, keeping everyone, if not well fed, at least alive for the duration.

Because Emma brings not only food, but just a tiny bit of hope. Which is ironic, because Emma has none of her own. While everyone around her is certain, to varying degrees of informed certainty, that the Allies will come to rescue them, Emma is not. She hates the occupying army, but also believes that no one will come. Survival is all they have.

Until June 6, 1944, when the Allies storm the nearby beaches. And bring a hell on earth to everyone left in their way.

Escape Rating A-: The Baker’s Secret is a quiet book, and with good reason. For most of the occupation, life goes on, however badly. Emma’s days acquire a dull, unending sameness, only broken by incidents of brutality or audacity, either the Nazis’ brutality or her own audacity. She lives because the village depends on her, and in turn, she helps keep them alive.

We see the village in all its sadness. Too many are gone. Too many have been murdered out of brutality or caprice. And, although it is just a few, too many who have decided, like Emma, that the occupation is forever have also determined that the best way to survive is to capitulate, to cooperate, to collaborate with the enemy.

Emma’s story is about the courage of the small things in the face of the large disaster. She can’t kill all the Nazis, but she can hide a pig from them, getting meat into everyone’s pot for at least a month. She can’t stop baking, but she can stretch the ration by adding straw. It’s a life of tiny but important defiance.

What makes this a hard book is the description of the Nazis’ brutal treatment of the village and its inhabitants. There is no individual evil at work in the village (Hitler may be both individual and evil, but he is not personally present in the village), but there is great evil nevertheless. The way that the Nazis are portrayed in this story feels like a meditation on the saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. These young men, and they are mostly very young, however kind and gentle they might be to their families or their fellow countrymen, have decided to swallow the big lie that non-Germans are lesser forms of humans, and that some people, notably Jews and other minorities, are not human at all. And have chosen to use that power and that license not merely by following orders, but to seemingly go out of their way to grind every person down and then punish them both for being ground down and for resisting the grinding.

It does not make for easy reading, but it does make the reader think. It seems to have been so easy to reduce these young soldiers to brutal and brutish beasts. All that was necessary was to drum into them that everyone was less human than themselves. Once non-Germans were made into “the other”, any strike against them could be justified.

I want to say that Emma stands tall in the face of adversity, but she doesn’t. Instead, her posture is always bent over and straining forwards, pulling her cart of burdens behind her like a train. She resisted by hiding in plain sight. I also can’t say that she gets a happy ending, because when we leave Emma in June of 1944, the war is still going on, even if the front has moved until her village is behind it on the Allies side.

But chocolate does indeed sometimes taste like hope. And I hope that readers who loved The Chilbury Ladies Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will make a place in their hearts (and in their TBR stacks) for The Baker’s Secret.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz WilliamsThe Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on January 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz Age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.
When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.
In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.
Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.
As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . .

My Review:

I picked up The Wicked City because I absolutely adored A Certain Age and wanted to read more by this author.

The Wicked City is a very different book from A Certain Age, even though the lion’s share of the story is set in the same period, the early 1920s, and among some of the same people. Possibly even the same people.

But The Wicked City is a story split between two very different eras and two very different women, with each story blending just a bit into the other.

In the late 1990s, Ella Hawthorne has just moved into a slightly crumbling apartment with a whole lot of character (and characters) in Greenwich Village. She’s also just left her philandering husband, after catching him screwing a prostitute in the hallway of their condo building while he was pretending to fetch a pizza. If the whole scene hadn’t been so tragic, at least in its consequences, it would have slipped into farce.

But Ella’s drama isn’t in her impending divorce, it’s in the building of her new sanctuary. There’s a stream of hot jazz emanating from the basement of the building next door, and that beautiful music is coming not from a live club, but from the ghost of the speakeasy that once thrived there.

While Ella’s late 20th century story is interesting, the real heart of The Wicked City lies in the events of the 1920s, events that centered around both the speakeasy and the apartment building next door, where Geneva Kelly lived in the 1920s and Ella Hawthorne finds herself in the 1990s.

Ella’s story is a tale of wandering husbands, forensic accountants and handsome jazz musicians of the past and present.

Geneva Kelly’s story, on the other hand, is a tale of cold-hearted bootleggers, hot federal agents, and deadly family secrets.

Geneva’s stepfather was an abusive two-bit criminal back home in Western Maryland, but only Gin seems to have seen his true face. Everyone else saw the charm, while she experienced the rot underneath. But after she fled her Appalachian home town for the bright lights of the big city, Duke Kelly moved from small-time crook to big-time racketeer, controlling a major piece of the illegal booze market in thirsty New York, as well as every single soul in his little town.

It was Prohibition, and the feds were looking for a way to take Duke Kelly down. Gin was too, so when a handsome federal agent offered her the chance to get the goods on the snake, she was all in.

Until she was very nearly all the way out.

Escape Rating B+: At first, the story moved a bit slowly, as did A Certain Age when I look back. Both stories take a while to get themselves set up, but once they do, the action careens quickly from boat chase to shoot out to romance, and back again, with lightning speed.

Particularly Gin’s story. Ella’s story feels less fleshed out, and I’m not convinced it was really necessary. Gin’s story is the one that sparkles like a flapper’s sequined dress.

While we don’t feel much of Ella’s dilemma, we do become all too well acquainted with Gin’s. She fled her hometown in the wake of her stepfather’s abusive, and she tries very hard not to look back. She’s also a young woman with not enough education and no family ties trying to make a living in the big city. Some of her choices arise from desperation, and some from pure pragmatism. It’s a hard-knock life.

She wants to bring her stepfather down, which makes her a plum ripe for the plucking by Prohibition agent Oliver Anson. She’s attracted to his stalwart honor even more than she is his good looks. But like everyone else in her life, Anson is keeping secrets that threaten both Gin’s life and her heart. Everything that happens between them feels screened by a haze of smoke and mist, and neither ever knows quite where the other stands until the very end.

cocoa beach by beatriz williamsIn addition to the connection between Gin and Ella, there’s also a connection between Gin and the characters in A Certain Age, and indeed the characters of many of the author’s previous books. It’s not such a tight connection that the reader needs to worry about having read the other books, and it’s also not completely revealed or resolved. But these people all inhabit the same social circles, and everyone seems to know, or at least know of, everyone else.

I’m looking forward to exploring this more, both in the author’s upcoming novel, Cocoa Beach, and by diving back into some of her earlier works. All in all, I’m glad I took this little trip to The Wicked City.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman + Giveaway

Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman + GiveawayStardust by Neil Gaiman
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, graphic novel, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: coming of age, fairy tales, fantasy
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on September 27th 2016 (first published 1999)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Go and catch a falling star . . .
Tristran Thorn promises to bring back a fallen star for his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester—and crosses the wall that divides his English country town from another, more dangerous world of lords and witches, all of them in search of the star. Rich with adventure and magic, Stardust is one of master storyteller Neil Gaiman's most beloved tales.
“Eminently readable—a charming piece of work.”   —Washington Post Book World
“Beautiful, memorable . . . A book full of marvels.”   —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

My Review:

Stardust the movie posterNever judge a book by its movie. I saw the movie Stardust a few years ago, but my recollection of it is NOTHING like the book. Which was lovely. But does not contain cross-dressing pirate captains. Not that a book about or containing cross-dressing pirate captains might not be good, or interesting, or funny, or all of the above. But there are none in Stardust. The book.

Stardust has the feel of a fairy tale, albeit one written for adults or near-adults. Or possibly pretending-to-be-adults. The world of Faerie, beyond the town of Wall, has all the elements of a fairy tale. There are evil witches who cast terrible spells. There’s a mysterious kingdom high in the mountains, where the throne is passed, not from father to eldest son, but from survivor to survivor, in a winner-takes-all competition for the throne. There are people ensorcelled to be animals, and animals spelled to be people.

And of course there is prophecy, destiny and fate. And absolutely nothing is as it seems.

Once upon a time, a young man of Wall spends the night in Faerie with a beautiful girl. He goes home to his ordinary life, and marries his ordinary wife, and the night he spent with the bird-girl slips further into dreams.

Until nine months later, when a baby is shoved through the opening from Faerie into Wall, and Dunstan Thorn learns that actions have consequences, although not necessarily for him. Because this is not his story.

It’s that baby’s story. Tristran Thorn grows up, and as a very young man, makes a very foolish promise to a rather stuck-up young woman. But while she means nothing of what she says to him, he means every single word that he says to her.

And off Tristran goes, to Faerie, to seek out a fallen star. He has no idea that Faerie is the land of his birth. And he equally has no idea that the fallen star he seeks is not a lump of metal, but a young woman who was knocked out of the sky by a magically thrown rock.

And of course he has no idea at all that this adventure will be the making of him. The boy who leaves Wall plans to bring the star back to show the young woman he believes that he loves.

The man he becomes, well, that man discovers something else entirely.

Escape Rating A: Stardust is, as I said in the beginning, absolutely lovely. If you have fond memories of reading fairy tales, Stardust will bring back all those feelings, while still telling a story written, if not exactly for grown ups, at least for people masquerading as such.

Stardust is also both a quest story and a coming-of-age story, in the finest fairy tale tradition. As everyone in Faerie knows, there are only two reasons for a young man to embark on the kind of quest that Tristran undertakes – either he is seeking his fortune, or he is doing it for love. And of course, they are right. While he is doing it for love, what he finds turns out to be his fortune. And also love. It wouldn’t have a happy ending otherwise.

Which it most certainly does. But it’s absolutely nothing like the movie.

NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS MOVIE! The book is ALWAYS better.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Neil Gaiman Stardust tour banner

William Morrow is giving away (5) sets of American Gods, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere and Stardust! (Which are all absolutely awesome books!)
Terms & Conditions:
• By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
• Five winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one set of all 4 books
• This giveaway ends midnight December 2.
• Winner will be contacted via email on December 3.
• Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!
ENTER TO WIN!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + Giveaway

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + GiveawayThe Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic comedy, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on September 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nina Redmond is a librarian with a gift for finding the perfect book for her readers. But can she write her own happy-ever-after? In this valentine to readers, librarians, and book-lovers the world over, the New York Times-bestselling author of Little Beach Street Bakery returns with a funny, moving new novel for fans of Meg Donohue, Sophie Kinsella, and Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.
“Losing myself in Jenny Colgan’s beautiful pages is the most delicious, comforting, satisfying treat I have had in ages.”—Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author of Summer Secrets
Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 
From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

The Bookshop on the Corner begins as every librarian’s nightmare, and transforms itself into many librarians’ dreams as Nina takes her life into her own two hands and goes from harried and laid off librarian in Birmingham to contented and fulfilled bookseller in the Scottish Highlands.

It’s a lovely journey. The bookshop on wheels that Nina puts her heart into has the best bookstore name ever, “ The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After.” If only that were such an easy thing to buy. Or sell. But Nina Redmond certainly finds one of her own, and brings that possibility, or at least the escape into a vicarious one, to lots of little towns and villages dotted through the land she comes to call home.

The story does not have an auspicious start, at least not for our heroine. As is unfortunately happening in real life in the U.K. Nina’s little branch library in bustling Birmingham is closed due to budget cuts. A very, very tiny number of the staff will be relocated to the headquarters library, to jobs with less pay and nearly no contact with the books that they all love. The powers-that-be have drunk the “new media age” kool aid, and are more interested in people who don’t read than people who do.

Anyone who has worked in a library in the past couple of decades has probably run into all too many avatars of this breed. I love my technology, and I do most of my personal reading on an iPad, but if there are no books, there is nothing to put on said iPad. Reading is reading. I digress.

Nina, who has been living a safe, sheltered and mostly comfortable life by hiding within the pages of whatever book she is reading at the moment is both crushed and energized at the same terrifying moment. She has no job, but she has a scary dream of opening a traveling bookshop, not dissimilar to a bookmobile, but with prices on the books instead of date due slips.

In the face of impending economic doom, and the tons of books she has accumulated in the house she shares starting to crack the ceilings and the stairs, Nina hesitantly hatches a crazy plan. She goes off to the Highlands to buy a white elephant of a van. When she discovers that she can’t get any of the dozens of permits she needs to operate her bookshop in overcrowded Birmingham, she takes her dream to where the van is blocking most of a street. In the Highlands village of Kirrinfief.

The story is Nina’s journey. She has to step way, way outside her comfort zone to find the place that speaks to her heart. And because she opens herself up to the love of the people who are drawn to this place, love finds her as well. As everyone around her rediscovers the love of a good book, Nina is finally able to stretch herself to discover that a good book is no substitute for a real life – even with a bit of heartbreak along the way.

Escape Rating B+: Although I very definitely enjoyed this story, it also felt like it had a bit of a fantasy element. Sadly the demise of Nina’s little branch library and the direction that things took in the library reorganization felt much, much too real. The situations are somewhat different between the US and U.K., but not that different. Unfortunately. The struggles experienced by Nina and her former colleagues were all too real.

On that other hand, the situation that Nina drives herself into in Kirrinfief felt a bit like a trip to Brigadoon. Opening any kind of bookshop is all too frequently a fast track to going broke. Like any small business, it’s much easier to start one than make one successful. Her approach is just different enough to make this barely possible, and she has no competition whatsoever. None of these little towns seem to be big enough to support their own little bookshop, and the libraries have all closed. Internet coverage seems to be so spotty that the instant access to Amazon or Waterstone’s just doesn’t exist. Nina seems to have sidled into her niche at just the right time.

Admittedly, in real life some of Nina’s book acquisition methods would give all of us a bit of pause. It feels like she skirts the edge of legality just a bit in the beginning. Maybe more than a bit.

She has the gift that we all wish we had, matching a reader with just the right book for them at just the right time. That gift is also a touch of magic.

But what Nina seems to be doing is bringing people together in their mutual love of books. And by doing so she makes a place in the community that is hers alone. In an area where there seem to be 5 (or more) single men for every woman, there’s also a damn good chance that Nina will find a romance for herself that is not between the pages of a book.

That she stumbles rather dramatically at first makes her a bit more human. So many of the business aspects of this story feel a bit too easy even for fiction, but the way that she initially messes up her love life make her more real and more sympathetic. She’s more human for screwing up.

That the romance she finds is the icing on a cake she has already baked for herself, and not the actual cake, gives this story its heart.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away 3 print copies of The Bookshop on the Corner to lucky entrants on this tour:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie

Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha ChristieClosed Casket (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #2) by Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: New Hercule Poirot #2
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The world's most famous detective returns in this ingenious, stylish, and altogether delicious mystery from the author of the instant bestseller The Monogram Murders ("I was thrilled" -- Gillian Flynn).
"What I intend to say to you will come as a shock..."
With these words, Lady Athelinda Playford -- one of the world's most beloved children's authors -- springs a surprise on the lawyer entrusted with her will. As guests arrive for a party at her Irish mansion, Lady Playford has decided to cut off her two children without a penny . . . and leave her vast fortune to someone else: an invalid who has only weeks to live.
Among Lady Playford's visitors are two strangers: the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited -- until Poirot begins to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murder. But why does she seem so determined to provoke a killer? And why -- when the crime is committed despite Poirot's best efforts to stop it -- does the identity of the victim make no sense at all?
Addictive, ferociously clever, and packed with clues, wit, and murder, Closed Casket is a triumph from the author whose work is "as tricky as anything written by Agatha Christie" (Alexander McCall Smith, The New York Times Book Review).

My Review:

monogram murders by sophie hannah and agatha christieJust as in last year’s Poirot, The Monogram Murders, Closed Casket provides an extremely convoluted but incredibly fun trip back to the world of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective, the eccentric Belgian Hercule Poirot.

This case is somewhat of a direct followup to the one in The Monogram Murders. While none of the victims or suspects in that case reappear, Poirot’s young police friend and official cover, Edward Catchpool, is an integral part of this case as well.

And poor Catchpool, every time someone meets him, they refer back to that dreadful case. The solution was not dreadful at all, but Catchpool is all too aware that he did not exactly cover himself in glory, and all of the reporting on that case made his situation even worse. It was Poirot’s case, and the entire world knows it, much to Catchpool’s chagrin.

Which makes his discovery that Poirot has also been invited to Lady Athelinda Playford’s house party in Ireland both welcome and galling at the same time. Catchpool wants to solve whatever is about to happen all on his own, but he is aware that he still needs Poirot’s help. And he’s also just plain glad to see the irascible little fellow, especially as the other occupants of the household are less than agreeable. To say the least. Catchpool and Poirot have been dropped into the middle of a family melodrama, where everyone seems to be showing their worst side to everyone else.

Of course somebody ends up dead. And of course it is up to Poirot and Catchpool to figure out whodunnit.

Escape Rating B: This one is every bit as much fun as The Monogram Murders, and feels very much in the style of the later seasons of the Poirot series. Not only because Inspector Japp, Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon no longer seem to be members of Poirot’s inner circle, but also because the original mover of events, Lady Athelinda Playford, bears a sharp resemblance to Lady Ariadne Oliver of those later stories.

Lady Playford is the author of a series of children’s mystery books featuring her precocious ten-year-old heroine Shrimp Seddon. As Catchpool puts in, Shrimp is left to solve so many convoluted mysteries because the police assigned to the case are Inspector Imbecile and Sergeant Halfwit.

It’s a bit of irony that the pair of Irish gardai who come to investigate the real-life murder might double for the coppers in Shrimp Seddon’s adventures. Of course it is up to Poirot and Catchpool to handle the real investigation, over the stringent objections of their avatar of Inspector Imbecile.

Parts of this case are obvious from the beginning. Not so much the whodunnit as the why somebody dunnit. This is a case with motives aplenty. Nearly everyone wanted the dead man to be dead, albeit for different reasons. And the initial investigation rules out very few of the possibilities.

There are oodles of tempting red herrings, and all of them prove tasty to the investigation, at least for a time.

Much of this case revolves around psychology. The psychology of the killer, but mostly the psychology of the victim. The motives in the end would work as well in a 21st century thriller as they do this early-20th century murder mystery. But the melodrama is pure Poirot.

closet casket uk coverAnd just as with The Monogram Murders, the UK cover of Closed Casket does a much better job of capturing the Art Deco style that I associate with Poirot than the US cover. C’est la vie.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee ShetterlyHidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, movie!
Genres: biography, computer history, history, science history, U.S. history, women's history
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.

My Review:

Hidden Figures tells an absolutely fascinating story; a story that is all the better for being true.

Once upon a time, a computer was not a piece of machinery. Once upon a time, a computer was a human being, usually a woman, who was just about a genius in mathematics. In spite of the fact that most people believed, rather foolishly, that women weren’t capable of either higher mathematics or professional achievement, this is the story of a group of women who did both, plotting trajectories and engineering airplane designs that led from the battlefields of World War II to the moon.

Although a piece of this story was also told this year in Rise of the Rocket Girls, the struggle for achievement and recognition is even more striking in Hidden Figures. All of the hidden figures in this book were hidden twice, once by their gender, and again by their race.

Hidden Figures is the story of the black women who began their careers, or in some cases re-started their careers, within the segregated confines of West Computing at what is now NASA’s Langley Research Center in Jim Crow era Hampton Virginia during WWII.

It was a job with endless demands, huge requirements and never enough people to fill the positions. During World War II, Langley was THE place for aviation and aeronautic engineering. The space race wasn’t yet a gleam in anyone’s eye, even as crazy as the NACA nuts could sometimes be. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was behind America’s superiority in the air in WW2. But to achieve that superiority required hordes of engineers and battalions of human computers to create and confirm mathematical formulas for everything from missile trajectories to drag co-efficients.

Many of those human computers were black women with degrees in mathematics and a desire to either further their careers, make an amazingly good wage for a black woman in the 1940s to support their families, or both.

They faced segregation at the workplace and in the town of Hampton. They created a place for their families and their friends, and a culture of support that made it just a little bit easier for the next black female computer or the next black male engineer to become part of what they all saw as their new home and the place where important work happened.

Hidden Figures is the story of the women who powered the Space Race. Whether by hand and mind, or by electronic computer, they imagined and created, double-checked and rechecked, the trajectories for John Glenn’s famous first flight, Neil Armstrong’s even more famous first moonwalk, and even supplied the Plan B mathematics that helped bring Apollo 13 back from the brink of disaster.

Their story of mostly unsung heroism is quietly brave and bravely daring. In an era where women’s contributions to computing, especially the contributions of women of color are harassed at every turn, this is a story that shows just how much is possible if we are willing to work and fight for it.

hidden figures movie posterEscape Rating A-: There are two aspects to my comments. On the one hand, there is the story itself, which is absolutely awesome and needs to be distributed to the widest audience possible. (There’s a movie coming this winter!) This is one of those stories that, if it were not true, no one would believe it. A story of female professionals succeeding despite the odds in a male dominated profession and workplace. The story of black women thriving professionally and personally in the Jim Crow South.

In the way that Hidden Figures captures the numerous double standards that these women worked and lived under, and the way that they saw themselves both as just doing their jobs and as powerful symbols for their race and sex, there are some parallels to the histories told in both Rise of the Rocket Girls and The Defender. These women worked for their families, for their race, and for themselves and their own personal hopes and dreams.

The history of Langley, the Space Race and the opening of doors in Civil Service employment owes much to the struggles that are documented in The Defender. The doors opened because the Space Race, the ending of colonialism in much of the world, and the Civil Rights movement cast a glaring light on racism in America, and on the ways that segregation denied so many the education needed for the U.S. to compete on the world stage, while making a mockery of America’s calls for freedom and democracy elsewhere in the world.

Some things never change.

Because we see this story through the eyes of specific individuals, it is easy for the reader to empathize with both their struggles and their triumphs, whether the reader meets the characters on several axes, or none.

But as work of authorship, this story has a slow start and initially a few too many foci. There’s also quite a bit of information about aircraft engineering that may border on overload. Once the story moves from the NACA era to the NASA era, the narrative picks up steam and the points of view become more focused.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a book for anyone who is interested in the history of women in engineering and computer, the history of the ways that both race and gender impact opportunities in those fields, and the history of NASA and space flight.

Fittingly one of the stories at the end is the famous story of Martin Luther King Jr. convincing Nichelle Nichols to remain on Star Trek as Lieutenant Uhura, not because of what she actually did onscreen, but because of what she represented. She represented the future of all the women portrayed in Hidden Figures, and their dream to reach the stars.

Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd + Giveaway

Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd + GiveawayThe Shattered Tree (Bess Crawford, #8) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #8
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

World War I battlefield nurse Bess Crawford goes to dangerous lengths to investigate a wounded soldier’s background—and uncover his true loyalties—in this thrilling and atmospheric entry in the bestselling “vivid period mystery series” (New York Times Book Review).
At the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire, stretcher-bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds. The soldier is brought to battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a rear hospital. The odd thing is, the officer isn't British--he's French. But in a moment of anger and stress, he shouts at Bess in German.
When Bess reports the incident to Matron, her superior offers a ready explanation. The soldier is from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. But is the wounded man Alsatian? And if he is, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?
Of course, Matron could be right, but Bess remains uneasy—and unconvinced. If he were a French soldier, what was he doing so far from his own lines . . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight?
When the French officer disappears in Paris, it’s up to Bess—a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse—to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.

My Review:

The red herrings are much tastier, and much more substantial, than any of the meals described in this tale of Paris nearing the end of World War I. Rationing seems to have made all the food unpalatable, even if it is still served with as much French flair as ever.

Although the meals are often described with unloving detail, they are far from the point of this story.

Bess usually finds herself investigating murder in the midst of warfare – a time and place where it can be difficult to distinguish between one and the other. But this does not start out as a murder investigation, and it takes some surprising, and frequently twisted turns to get from the one to the other.

It’s the early fall of 1918, and it is beginning to look like the end of the war is at hand. Unfortunately, one of the ways that the end is being signified is for all of the forces, Allied and Central Powers alike, is to shoot off as much of their remaining ordinance as fast as possible. This war seems to be going out in a long and protracted series of very big bangs.

As a nursing Sister, Bess and her colleagues are busier than ever. Exhaustion dogs their every step. So when Bess spots a soldier who might be out of place, everyone above her in the chain of command is frankly just too damn tired to do anything about it. Until Bess unexpectedly finds herself with several days of medical leave in Paris.

That out-of-place soldier is a wounded Lieutenant in the remains of a French uniform that seems to have had all of its identification removed. While it is not completely unknown for a lost Allied soldier to find himself behind a different ally’s lines, there is one other notable thing about the man who calls himself Lieutenant Philippe Moreau. While unconscious, he speaks fluent and unaccented German. Is Moreau a German spy, or is he merely from the contested Alsace-Lorraine region, where residents were forced to use German since the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870?

When Moreau disappears into seemingly thin air, Bess’ instincts are aroused. Whatever Moreau is, he seems to be taking great pains to hide himself from his commanders.

Bess, wounded in a sniper attack, is sent to Paris to recuperate. She’s not wounded enough for a ticket back home, but the wound in her side becomes infected. She needs surgery and rest for healing. She’ll get neither in a forward aid station.

Bess, as usual, finds herself in the middle of multiple unfolding dramas while she is supposed to be resting in Paris. It is lucky for Bess that the mantra of “a change is as good as a rest” proves true, because rest seems to be the one thing she doesn’t get.

Under orders from her father, the Colonel Sahib, Bess has multiple officers, whether convalescent or not, instructed to keep her safe and out of trouble. Instead, Bess co-opts one after another in her search for the truth about Philippe Moreau. Only to find that nothing she has heard is true, and that there is murder at the heart of it all.

Escape Rating B+: I always enjoy a visit with Bess and her world. World War I is an endlessly fascinating period for historical fiction and historical mysteries. Bess’ perspective on her world is different for her time and place without being anachronistic. Being a nurse gave Bess much more agency and a considerably more active role in her world than she would normally have had. At the same time, she faces just enough restrictions because of her gender and class to remind us that her world was still very different from ours.

Unlike many of her previous books, in this story Bess finds herself somewhat at sea. She is a patient in the convalescent home rather than staff, and people look in on her, and attempt to look after her, much more than is usual (or comfortable) for her. Nurses clearly don’t make any better patients than doctors do.

At the same time, she is cut off from most of her usual resources. She is in France, and although she does speak the language tolerably well, she does not speak like a native and can’t hide in plain sight the way she does in England. Likewise, the powerful forces that she is able to bring to bear in England or even in her British Army nursing station are not available to her here. Here mother’s network of social contacts, and her father’s tremendous pull within the British Army are of no help to her on French soil.

She has no one she can trust the way that she does Simon Brandon, her father’s aide-de-camp and her own friend. Bess trusts Simon both in the sense that he will not betray her confidences and also in the sense that he knows her well enough not to stand in her way, and most importantly not to treat her like a delicate flower in need of his solicitous protection. Whatever Simon is or will be to Bess (and I do wonder) he knows her, likes her and respects her just as she is. A rare commodity for a woman who often steps out of what is defined as her sphere.

Bess begins by looking for a man who may be a spy, or possibly a deserter. She uncovers, as she so often does, a hidden cesspool that leads to an old murder. But as Bess is so often completely at sea during this case, the readers are a bit as well. The less she understands, and the more difficult a time she has putting things together, so do we.

But as her war draws towards its close, I can’t help but wonder what comes next for Bess. Wherever she goes and whatever she does, I can’t wait to read what happens next!

THE-SHATTERED-TREE-large-banner448

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away 3 copies of The Shattered Tree to lucky entrants on this tour:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

Review: Family Tree by Susan WiggsFamily Tree by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on August 9th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For readers of Kristin Hannah and Jodi Picoult comes a powerful, emotionally complex story of love, loss, the pain of the past—and the promise of the future.
Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes.
Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Manhattan home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child.
But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a year-long coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she's lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned ex-cop. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.
Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past. It is the story of joys unrealized and opportunities regained. Complex, clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, it is a novel to cherish and to remember.

My Review:

I read this yesterday in one gloriously delicious reading binge – which seems totally appropriate considering the amount of absolutely yummy cooking that occurs within the pages this book. I couldn’t put this one down because the story is excellent.

This is a story about starting over. Annie Rush is the fortunate or unfortunate recipient of the universe’s biggest do-over. After a tragic accident, Annie miraculously wakes up from a year-long coma to discover that whoever she was, she isn’t that person anymore. And that she’ll have to figure out how much of that person she used to be she either wants to, or even can, incorporate into the person she has become.

Robert Frost famously said that “home is the place that, when you go there, they have to take you in.” Annie goes home. Or to be more accurate, Annie gets shipped home, while she is still in that coma. Her husband, star of a Hollywood cooking show that Annie conceived and produced, cuts his losses and divorces her while she is so far out of it that the organ harvesting vultures are circling.

But Annie survives. And she wakes up, a bit like the patients in the Robin Williams’ movie Awakenings, to find out that the world has gone on without her. She has to run to catch up. But first she has to learn to run, and even to walk, again.

Even though she doesn’t yet remember the recent events of her life, her past in Switchback Vermont at her family’s maple sugaring farm Sugar Rush, her first love, and the love of cooking that she inherited from her Grandmother, are very much at the front of her mind.

But she has to figure out who she wants to be when she grows up all over again. And to do that, she has to remember everything that went into making her the person she had been before the accident. Even the betrayals.

In order to have the future she always wanted, Annie first has to deal with the past. She has a second chance, and this time she’s going to get it right. And hang on to it.

Escape Rating A: This book is a bit too big to read in one sitting, but I did read it in one afternoon/evening/night marathon. We all have things in our lives we would like to do over, and this is a marvelous story about second chances.

As Annie examines her old life, as the memories come back to her in bits, she is able to see what happened, where things went right, where they went wrong, where she drifted, and where she lost her way.

On the one hand, her ex was an absolute bastard for divorcing her while she was in a coma. On the other hand, the Annie who woke up was much, much better off without his lying, cheating ass. That part of Annie’s healing is to get her own back from this arsehole will make readers stand up and cheer. It’s always fun when a slimeball gets its just desserts.

But the real story is Annie’s building a new life by figuring out which parts of the old life were important, and which were just eddies in life’s current that she had drifted into by accident or mistake. She also wakes up with a much more realistic, if slightly cynical, view of the world and those who people her world. The new Annie feels more thoughtful, and more interesting, than the old Annie.

There’s a love story here as well. One of the big things that Annie gets to do over is a second chance with her first love. We see them in Annie’s memories, both very young, very much in love, but not certain of themselves or each other. They lose each other along the way, through a series of unfortunate accidents and absolutely terrible timing. Now they are both adults, and they have a bit better chance at figuring out what is really important and what can be worked around. And they still almost blow it again.

That they finally, finally don’t is what gives this story its beautiful happy ending.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz WilliamsA Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers, brings the Roaring Twenties brilliantly to life in this enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York Society, brimming with lush atmosphere, striking characters, and irresistible charm.
As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.
But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.

My Review:

There’s a pun in the title of this fascinating story. The protagonist, Mrs. Theresa Sylvester Marshall, often refers to her 40-something self by the coy term, “a woman of a certain age”. But in addition to Theresa’s “certain age”, the time period in which this story takes place is also “a certain age”. It’s the Jazz Age of the 1920’s. Prohibition, speakeasies, bootleg gin, the lost generation of young men and women who survived the war, the hedonistic freedom of an era of excess without restraint.

Until it all crashes at the end of the decade, but no one sees that coming in the early 1920s. From here, it seems as if the good times will roll on forever.

Among the New York City upper-crust, Theresa is one of the shining stars. Her family is old New York blueblood, and her husband is new New York money. But she is also a woman slipping from youth to middle-age, and she is in the throes of a crazy and slightly desperate fling.

She’s in love with her young lover, and that turns out to be a recipe for disaster.

Not that it’s a problem for her husband – they have an understanding and he has a young mistress of his own. But Captain Octavian Rofrano is an honorable man who wants to marry his lover, and Sylvo Marshall is a middle-aged man who wants to grab at happiness one last time before it is too late.

And in helping her brother enact an old family tradition, Theresa makes the mistake of introducing her lover to the woman he has been searching for all his life.

When the dust finally settles, everyone’s world is a much different place from where they began. Except for Theresa and Sylvo. They find themselves right back where they started.

Escape Rating A-: For the first third of the book, the story seems a bit slow. Or perhaps I should say quiet. The action is set up in a way that tries to pull the reader into the middle of the story, but doesn’t quite gel at first.

Once it gels, it takes off like the gallop of Man o’ War, the famous horse that brings Theresa and Octavian together. Once the story gets its legs under it, so to speak, I couldn’t put it down, not even when I needed to be someplace urgently. Once the story grabbed me, I could not let it go until the end.

About that beginning – we find ourselves reading a gossip columnist covering the latest “trial of the century”. Theresa is one of the witnesses, as is nearly everyone else in this drama. And her scandalous relationship with her young Captain really gives the gossip mongers something delicious to chew over.

Some of what they are chewing over showcases the shallowness and self-absorption of that upper-crust. It’s only as the layers are stripped away that the people develop depth and become interesting (very interesting) enough to care about.

But as we see the events that led up to the trial, we get involved in the lives of all the players. Because the young lady that Theresa’s brother wants to marry is the daughter of the accused murderer. And she’s the woman that Theresa’s young lover should have been with all along.

But he’s the person who exposed her father’s crime – if her father committed a crime at all. Something that the jury will have to decide.

In the events leading up to the trial, we discover just how entangled all of these relationships are.

The central relationship in this story is the one between Theresa and Octavian, who she always calls “Boy” or “Boyo”. And that’s the way she refers to him in her own head, whenever she thinks about him. As much as she claims to love him, it’s clear that what she really loves is the idea of him and the way that he makes her feel. And she certainly doesn’t see him as anything approaching an equal. He’s a toy that she indulges, and that she indulges herself with. He’s not a separate entity in his own right, until he begins to pull away.

It is ironic for Theresa that all of the events that turn her life upside down are at her own instigation. She’s the person who insists that Octavian present her brother’s ring to Sophie as part of an old family tradition. She’s the one who asks Octavian to look into the Fortescue family to find out if there are any major skeletons in the family closet. And in the end, she’s the one who finally does the right thing.

Which redeems her character, and takes the whole story from interesting to awesome.

I tried to describe A Certain Age at dinner, and fell into hyperbole. It’s a Jazz Age story. And a coming of age story. And a story of the “lost generation”. It’s a woman finally finding herself. And another woman losing her identity. And a story about the dawn of aviation. And a bit of murder mystery. It’s just a great read. Enjoy!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.