Luther: The Calling – Neil Cross
(**** of five)
I’m a tremendous ‘Luther’ fan. The television show is, perhaps, one of the most well crafted, well act, well written shows I have ever watched. So when my friend handed me this book, written by the creator of the show, who is also a novelist, who wrote every episode, I knew it was going to jump to the front of my to be read pile.
Serving as a prequel to the hit BBC television series ‘Luther’, ‘Luther: The Calling’ tells the story of John Luther, a big man with a big walk. DCI Luther is a good man, and he nearly always gets his man. His friends are extremely loyal and would never say a bad word about him. But Luther isn’t always the most ethical of policeman. He’ll do anything to save a life and get the information he needs, even if it goes out of the bounds of the law. He’s obsessive about cases, to the intense annoyance of his wife and college sweetheart, Zoe, who he loves more than he can express. He’s promised to ask for some time off, but when a heinous crime is committed, Luther delves into the murky world of pedophiles and kidnapping so far that he barely comes up for air and Zoe has had enough.
The best part of this book is that Cross doesn’t shy away from tough subject matter. I didn’t think he would, of course, I have seen the show and because of that I know how this case ends and I know what happens between Luther and Zoe. Those things are not what this book is about. It’s about bridging a gap. Seeing what we already know. It’s like watching the prequels to Star Wars, if they had actually been worth watching. Henry Madsen is a truly horrifying individual and it was gratifying reading this knowing what I already know about his fate. Though Zoe is conflicted here and on the series it’s much easier here to see her frustration and I found her much more sympathetic.
Of course it’s impossible to read the book and not see the characters that portray them and it was interesting to see how Cross inserted the actors mannerisms into their written counterparts. This was a book prequel that didn’t ignore what others brought to the table and I commend that, since most writers don’t do it and it causes the audience endless grief.
In short. This book was far better than it had any business being. If you haven’t watched Luther, this is a great place to start. If you have this is still a great read because it fills in the gaps in both the narration and your heart because there just aren’t enough episodes!
The Secret Adversary – Agatha Christy
(**** of five)
Every once in awhile I love a good Agatha Christie. Her books are just so high reward, little effort. I tend to prefer her stories that aren’t either of her two most famous detectives; Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, but I prefer Marple over Poirot. I like the stand alones. The ones that don’t have some grand history behind them. And I like Tommy and Tuppence, Christy’s detective couple who actually age through each of their books. This is their first story.
After the Great War old childhood chums Tommy and Tuppence meet up and, their cash running low, decide to form a detective agency. Hardly before they even begin they are embroiled in the middle of a case involving a woman missing with sensitive documents. Together and apart the two race to solve the crime, all the while dodging their growing feelings for each other and trying to figure out who, if anyone, they can trust.
I definitely knew who the culprit was before he was revealed but that’s part of the fun of Agatha Christie, isn’t it? Since she quite literally wrote the book on these sorts of mysteries it’s not wonder we’ve seen so many of her plot points used and reused over the years. So much, in fact, that when reading her she might seem old hat. Still there is a simple pleasure in guessing who done it and being right. Or wrong, as sometimes it does happen (she can get awfully creative at times). So, knowing the culprit didn’t ruin this story for me, not at all. In fact, though I was certain in my own mind, there were a sufficient number of shady characters to throw me off my game once or twice. Everyone was well written, everyone was intriguing, and everyone was suspect.
I did have one large gripe about the edition I read, which was not any of the editions I could fine listed on Goodreads. It had an enormous amount of footnotes. Endnotes, I can see, endnotes are easy to ignore. Footnotes, however, I am incapable of not glancing at. And the glance often becomes a skim. And eventually I am full on reading the footnotes. I am ninety nine point nine percent sure that Christie did not include these, so I am putting them down to the publisher. They footnoted everything. They informed me which ways streets flowed, what Piccadilly Circus meant, they explained the English monetary system and gave me history lessons about manufacturers of certain tobaccos. It was way too much. And while those things really were interesting (except the stuff that I already knew, as I am not eleven and not an idiot) they were completely disruptive to the story.
The Winds of Salem – Melissa de la Cruz
(*** of five)
I received this book via NetGalley. In fact, this book was the reason I joined NetGalley. I was never particularly patient and when I saw that this third installment of the Witches of East End series was available I just couldn’t help myself. Let me first begin by saying that I really enjoy this series. I also enjoyed de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series, of which this was a spin-off. Both series open up genres that are well trodden and create something entirely new. So, overall, it’s safe to say I am a fan; both of this series and de la Cruz. This installment, however, was not the strongest link in the chain.
Starting just where ‘Serpent’s Kiss’ ended, the Beauchamps, Norse gods and goddesses stuck in Midgard with magical abilities, are in a state of disarray. With Freddie cleared of the destruction of the bofrir everything should have been joyous, that is until Killian Gardiner, the fiance of youngest Beauchamp daughter, Freya, is taken away by the Valkyries and Freya herself is swept back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, a very bad time to be a witch, with no memories of who or what she is. Meanwhile back in North Hampton matriarch Joanna is finally ready to reconcile with her husband Norman, Ingrid has a crisis of nerves when she realizes she will far outlive her mortal love, Matt Noble, and Freddie is juggle a new, relatively bizarre, marriage and a group of homeless pixies. But soon the Beauchamps realize that their foe might be far more formidable than they originally thought, and to prevail they might have to go, quite literally, to Hell and back.
Now, clearly, I have already praised this series. I make no bones about liking it a lot. The premise is endlessly fun, and I was glad to hear they were turning it into a television series come the fall (though I am still wondering why no one’s optioned Blue Bloods for the small screen, it was endlessly more original and entertaining than L.J. Smith). But it definitely has it’s problems.
This one in particular. First off, it feels like it was written in a rush. The previous book came out not too long ago and in between that time the author has published a long awaited other spin-off from Blue Bloods about the Hounds of Hell and the final Blue Bloods novel. That’s a lot in a year. I also reviewed ‘Wolf Pact’ (said spin-off), and complained of rushing, especially towards the end. Melissa de la Cruz has a massive following who clamor for her books. I think she also overextends herself. Working on three series at the same time is a lot, and she’s the sort of writer that needs to take her time. I think it likely that her publisher wanted this book to come out because the upcoming television show will help boost sales. But that’s not really that helpful if the work is sub-par. A lot of people have a lot of problems with this series, I have never really been one of them. I love the idea, though I can’t always agree with the decisions that get made. This book shines every negative light and makes the issues glaring.
One thing that has plagued this series from the beginning is that it’s meant to be for adults, but written by a primarily teen fiction writer. And you can tell. The plots are overly salacious, the language simplistic. Often they come off as teen fiction with a few sex scenes thrown in for good measure. This is not something that I generally have a problem with, because if de la Cruz has decided to write this in her normal fashion, for teenagers, I would still have read it. However, I can see how this would be problematic for the majority of readers.
Still, I can’t say that I didn’t like it. Despite their questionable decisions I do like these characters. I like the idea of them being Norse gods, I like their magic powers, I like their links to the past (though I’m not sure I ever needed to see the past, de la Cruz is good at what she does and what she does is not historical fiction). I read this book steadily and with interest, not analyzing it too much. Which is how these are meant to be read. They’re fun. Go with it. But, still, not as good as one would have hoped.
The Age of Desire – Jennie Fields
(**** of five)
I think I have mentioned this book in my reviews of several others that it led me to read. ‘The Age of Innocence’ being one, and ‘Daisy Miller’ the other. This is a historical fiction book about the author Edith Wharton, taking place around the time she conducted an affair with journalist Morton Fullerton from 1906 to 1909. The book focuses on her relationship with Fullerton as well as her relationship with her husband, Teddy Wharton, who suffered from what I can only imagine was undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Alternatively is the viewpoint of Anna Bahlmann, Edith’s former nanny, current secretary, and faithful friend. The women aren’t always in agreement and lead two very different lives, but when all the dust settles it’s possible they are each other’s most important relationship.
I picked this up because I’ve been into Edith Wharton lately and it probably came at just the right time. I really didn’t know much about her life. I knew she was born to a father who was a Jones and a mother who was a Rensselaer, that she enjoyed a privileged upbringing, that she married Teddy Wharton, and that she wrote her books in bed. That was about it. So I was pleased to read a book that told her story. It was clear this book was meticulously researched. Apparently the affair between Wharton and Fullerton was long rumored but never confirmed until her letters to him were discovered in the 1980s (he had disregarded her request that he burn them).
For about half this book, perhaps more, I felt extremely sorry for Teddy. He was clearly suffering and Edith’s annoyance with him seemed completely unjustified. I was not sure if this was an accurate portrayal of their relationship or if the author chose to portray it that way. I do know that their marriage was an unhappy one that ultimately led to divorce. Fields’ descriptions of their courtship, however, led the reader to understand a little about this couple without it needing to be stated explicitly. It was clear they never should have married and that their temperaments were not suited. Still, it was difficult when Teddy seemed like a good man, if ill suited to Edith, and she was fascinated with a man who was little more than a gigolo. Fullerton was completely repugnant to me. Perhaps he was what Edith needed; a pretty man who would say pretty things, but he was clearly not a good person. Even from the beginning when we didn’t have much to go on I could see through him. Her utter devotion to him was ridiculous, but understandable, as Edith was very inexperienced in romance and affection.
Anna, the secondary narrator, was characterized well, I think. As Wharton’s loyal secretary she stood by Edith since she was a child and had become an indispensable part of Edith’s life. But it was clear that Anna didn’t always agree with Edith’s actions. She did not care for Fullerton and, in fact, had a crush on Teddy. In fact, Anna and Teddy probably would have been a better match all along, both being practical and not artistic minds. She also had the curious position of existing in two sorts of worlds; Edith’s and her own. In the upper class world where Edith lived she was a privileged and trusted employee, but in her own world she existed as a full woman. Reconciling these two lives was clearly difficult for her, but very interesting reading.
The description of the book states that it’s for “fans of ‘The Paris Wife’”, Paula McLain’s book about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. It seems like every historical fiction book this day is advertising itself as for “fans of ‘The Paris Wife’”. I suppose ‘The Paris Wife’ was a very successful literally historical fiction book, but the two stories really have very little in common. They both take place in Paris and they both deal with authors, but that could be any number of books. It’s not a terrible comparison, and not ridiculous to think a fan of one could be a fan of the other, but know that these two books are very different.
Beautiful Fools – R. Clifton Spargo
(*** of five)
This is the second Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald book to come out this year. I get it, I get it. The famous Fitzgeralds are almost as popular as Scott’s most famous novel. Which just received it’s second movie this year. The time is hot for the Fitzgeralds right now. But along with publication comes the fact that I now must read them. Therese Anne Folwer’s ‘Z’ was the first and I haven’t read Ericka Robuck’s ‘Call Me Zelda’ yet, but I will. This take, by R. Clifton Spargo (who’s name I can not quite accept as real), is something new. Instead of spanning decades Spargo takes a week long vacation at the end of Scott and Zelda’s relationship and draws it in to quite a story. Gone is the glamor of their Jazz Age days. Gone is their fame. Gone is Zelda’s sanity and Scott’s sobriety.
In 1939 Scott and Zelda are living apart, he is Hollywood as a failed screenwriter and carrying on with Sheila Graham (his beloved infidel), and she in Asheville, North Carolina in a sanitarium. Though living apart and despising each other half the time they are still heavily intertwined in each other’s lives when Scott arrives to take Zelda on a trip to Havana, Cuba. There they promptly get involved with a sheisty promoter and soon head for a remote beach resort. All the while deciding if they can move forward together or let each other go.
This is basically a portrait of a tumultuous marriage. And that is where it’s strength lies. The characters themselves and how they interact with each other and those around them are very interesting. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are interesting characters. Especially at this point. A lot can be said for romantic sensibilities, how they couldn’t ever let each other go despite the dissolving of their marriage, his drinking, and her mental illnesses. Blame has been thrown back and forth as to who’s fault it was. Was Zelda a headcase who’s erratic behavior stunted Scott’s growth as a writer or was Zelda a stifled wife with higher aspirations driven mad by her alcoholic husband? The answer, of course, is both. Those two tore each other apart like no one else could. But that’s hardly the point because everyone has an opionion. Nancy Mitford had an opinion when she published Zelda’s biography leading her to be a minor symbol of women’s liberation. Hemingway had an opinion when he vilified Zelda in ‘A Moveable Feast’. Where regular people fall usually on this scale is usually directed by their first encounter with the couple. I try to be more open minded. I believe that’s what Spargo was trying to do too. However, I think it’s clear his opinion on Zelda was mostly negative. Her characterization in the book is mostly good, and there’s plenty to dislike Scott for but it felt to me that the author had leanings towards Scott’s favor. Zelda, when acting out, is batshit crazy, when she’s okay and perhaps wife material again… she’s a saucy minx. Perhaps it’s coming straight from reading Therese Fowler’s ‘Z’ but I wasn’t sure I bought this description.
I was, also, okay with the characters of the couple they meet at the ocean resort. I wasn’t quite sure why the author felt the need to add in the character of the gentleman who takes them to the club in the beginning and then helps out in the end. Especially the parts that were written from his point of view. This felt like the author was trying to spice up the story when it really didn’t need spicing. There are plenty of readers, of course, who would find the tale of a marriage couple’s vacation to be boring, but I don’t think this book should have been for them. Adding in this criminal element seemed very false and pretty ridiculous.
When Zelda gave birth to daughter Scottie she reportedly heard the baby’s gender and murmured that she hoped she’d be a fool, a beautiful little fool, as that was the best thing a girl could be in the world. A quote Scott inserted directly into his famous novel ‘The Great Gatsby’. She meant, of course, that she hoped her daughter would be foolish enough not to see or understand the experiences and knowledge around her that she would never access. Though by no means a modern sentiment one can almost understand what she meant. And with that quote applied to the title of this book it’s easy to see it was these two who were the fools all along.
The American Heiress – Daisy Goodwin
(*** of five)
This is one of those books that are supposed to be for people who are missing ‘Downton Abbey’ between seasons but is really are for people who have watched ‘The Age of Innocence’ once and now claim they love Edith Wharton. It wasn’t terribly good. It was filled with cliches and anachronisms and the sort of thing that are best left for bodice rippers that can be picked up in the grocery store. And yet, there were some genuine moments folded in all the drock. Now, did I like it? Enough that I couldn’t put it down. I genuinely wanted to know what was going to happen and how all this would play out. So, I suppose miss Daisy Goodwin (seriously, is that her real name? I actually almost wrote Miller) did what she was setting out to do; write an entertaining novel set in a very entertaining era.
Miss Cora Cash is the envy of New York. The heiress to a fortune in flour there’s no one quite as lavishly rich as the Cash family and no one quite as gauche. Despite feelings for fellow society member, Teddy van der Leyden, Cora allows herself to be shipped off the England much as Wharton’s Buccaneers did before her. Her mother’s excuse is a London season, but the real reason, as everyone knows, is to catch a titled husband. Enter Ivo, Duke of Wareham, who discovers Cora after she falls off her horse in the woods and happily nurses her back to health and promptly proposes in his crumbling manor house. But Cora soon learns that English society is not the same as American, things that are admired in New York are scorned in London, and she might be in over her head. But when Cora learns that she might not know her husband as well as she thought she did the discovery might lead her to the ultimate scandal.
My favorite part of this book was the setting. It starts out in Newport, Rhode Island, among the monolithic country cottages built by the likes of the Vanderbilts and Astors and then moves to Lulworth, the Duke’s manor house, and London during the Edwardian era. I’m a bit of a sucker for this time period. And the extreme excess of the Gilded Age is something that’s easy to appreciate in this day and age (I often think we’re in the midst of a new gilded era where the super rich have far too much and too many have too little). My problem with this sort of novel is that the authors always seem to need their characters to be the most. The most beautiful, the most rich, the most popular.Why can’t the Cash Newport cottage be on par with the ridiculousness that is The Breakers rather than dwarfing it? It makes the whole thing unrealistic when it really didn’t have to be. This sort of privilege did exist, for sure, so why make it absurd with over indulgences?
Also, the Double Duchess, Ivo’s widowed mother who promptly married another Duke, is supposed to be a member of society that people looked up to and who ruled with an iron fist, the Violet Crawley of the bunch, if you will, but she was so outrageous that it was unrealistic. Taking over hostess duties in front of guests? I don’t think so. That would have been intolerably rude and everyone would have known it. She could have made plenty of snide comments that would have been accepted with a smile and snicker into one’s tea, but beyond that, just… no.
Finally, the ending. What? Really? All that and it was just so… stupid. There was no realism, no tragedy, nothing but a “this is what was going on the whole time and it was totally innocent and everything’s great”. The sort of ending that belongs to those bodice rippers I was talking about before. It was awful and completely unrealistic.
But that’s not to completely discount what came before. This book wasn’t good, by any means (as I am sure you can tell from my ranting) but it had a certain pleasantness to it that appealed. I would have been completely down with it had it been written by a different author with a slightly different plot. But titled Americans are interesting. It’s also interesting that Ms. Goodwin felt the need to name her lead character the same name as the American character on ‘Downton Abbey’ who also married a titled Brit. Oh, and there’s Cora’s friend Sybil too. Oh well, what can you do.
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
(**** of five)
You know how sometimes you know you should read a book because, well, it’s a classic and you’re pretty sure it won the Pulitzer way back when and it’s written by a writer you admire and you liked the movie when it came out even thought it was a little slow moving (you were twelve after all) but you just keep putting it off because there’s so much fun crap to read? This was that book. I put it off and put it off, and even when I toted it all the way to Newport and back (it seemed appropriate) I still didn’t read it. But then, one day, I just picked it up and started reading and soon found myself halfway through. This book was incredible. I’m not surprised it has all the accolades it has because it was incredible. Every scene, every sentence, seems pumped full of some sort of raw emotion.
On the eve of Newland Archer’s engagment to May Welland, prim society beauty, her cousin Countless Ellen Olenska returns to New York after escaping a terrible marriage. As Archer and the unconventional Countess get to know each other he finds that he is falling in love, and, worse, that she seems to return his affections. As the couple meet and meet again, both accidentally and in contrived ways, it becomes clear that Archer will have to choose between duty and a good name or love and scandal.
When I was twelve and saw the movie I didn’t really understand why on earth this man couldn’t just control himself. I didn’t understand his actions and motivations and if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. But then I got older and I forgot a lot about the movie and now I understand. And I am so glad. What sets this book apart from many is its subtlety. It’s ability to convey great emotion is very few words. And this book is very emotional in a time when emotions were very repressed. It’s clear that Wharton was writing a social critic of a time. The actions that take place within this story would not hold today. Divorce is, clearly, much more common and doesn’t hold the same social stigmas. If these two people were in love today they would find a way to be together. Archer, of course, is acting of his time, stifled into leading a life he doesn’t want, which he is powerless to change.
What also impressed me about this book was that between all the stoic confessions and heartbreaking emotions this book does manage to be quite funny at points. It’s definitely a critic of it’s time and the descriptions and situations are sometimes intentionally funny. Written nearly fifty years after this was meant to take place it’s clear that Wharton was able to look back at a time that was very different from the time she was living. Especially as she was divorced herself at this time.
I admit it, I discovered Edith Wharton much later in life than most. I missed out on ‘Ethan Frome’ because my senior year of high school I took a Shakespeare seminar and in college (where I was an English major) Mrs. Wharton was woefully absent. I picked this one up first simply because I happened upon it in the clearance section of Half Priced Books. Then I put it away. I took it with me to Newport last summer, but never to around to reading it. In the mean time I read ‘The House of Mirth’ and enjoyed it a great deal. Then, finally, I picked it up again after reading Jennie Fields ‘Age of Desire’, about Edith Wharton’s affair with Morton Fullerton. Sometimes I read a good book and I think “Yeah, this was good, it might even deserve that award it won” but I have never felt that way quite as much as I did about this book. It won the Pulitzer in 1921 and it should have.
Daisy Miller – Henry James
(**** of five)
When I started this I didn’t realize it was so short. Filling a whole fifty pages in my edition. But brevity is no impediment to this story. Throughout the short novella important issues are raised, critiques are made of people and society as a whole, and a complete, entertaining tale is woven. I am always impressed when authors have the ability to cram so much into so short a time, because I find it so difficult. Henry James is a master at this, with some of his best and most well known work in the short form.
A wealthy expatriate named Winterbourne is at a resort in Vevey, Switzerland when he happens upon Daisy Miller, a beautiful, young, nouveau riche, flirt from Schenectady, New York. Despite impropriety Daisy agrees to allow him to accompany her to the castle at Chillon. When Winterbourne must soon absent himself Daisy pouts but asks that he visit her in Rome. When the two meet again, in Rome, Winterbourne finds himself still entranced with Daisy, despite her having tarnished her reputation by spending time with Italian men, particularly one called Giovanelli, alienated herself almost entirely from the aristocratic expatriates of society.
I recently read a historical fiction book about Edith Wharton and, unsurprisingly, Henry James played a part. At one point they were talking about their work and their fans and Mrs. Wharton said something along the lines of “Everyone wants to be your Daisy Miller”. Not having read the book yet, I glazed past it. But now I say; What? Who on earth would want to be Daisy Miller? She’s not a bad sort, really. She’s probably much more modern than her time. But despite Winterbourne’s fascinating with her, which stems (I believe) mostly from her beauty, there’s not much to recommend her. She’s rash, she’s gauche, she’s reckless, and her end is not happy. She’s sort of a tragic character. But then, there is a lot of discussion that could be applied to her. Does she deserve her fate? Could it have been prevented? The story, and Daisy herself along with it, is interesting and certainly exists in a time and place, but I can’t imagine scores of Victorian or Edwardian women clamoring to be her. Then again, Mrs. Wharton, I can’t imagine people were eager to be Lily Bart either.
One thing that this story did do for me, that was interesting, was that it led me to look up Roman Fever. A deadly strain of malaria, Roman Fever effected Rome through several periods of history. It was thought the disease was contracted at night, therefore it was dangerous to go out of doors at night in Rome.
This book was good, of course. It’s hard for something to be remembered for over a hundred years if it doesn’t have merit. I haven’t read much James, just this and The Beast in the Jungle, but it’s clear I should search out more which shouldn’t be tough, as I have several of his books sitting on my book shelves waiting to be read.
The Luxe – Anna Godbersen
(**** of five)
Welcome to the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite. In 1899. I honestly don’t know what took me so long to read this book. It was one hundred percent up my alley. As someone who is both addicted to the Gilded Age and someone who, embarrassingly enough, gobbled up every single book in the Gossip Girl series this was perfect for me.
Elizabeth and Diana Holland are on top of the world. On the top tier of the Manhattan social scene the sisters seem to think nothing can shatter their perfect worlds. Soft spoken, sweet Elizabeth has just returned from nearly half a year in Paris, and Diana’s romantic sensibilities allow her to scoff at the privileged world where she lives while still very much being a part of it. But when the girls learn their situation is not quite as secure as they once thought Elizabeth finds herself entering into an arangement, for the good of the family, that she’s not sure she can go through will. All the while Elizabeth’s maid, Lina Broud, longs for her slice of the American Dream and socialite Penelope Hayes conives to secure what she thinks should be hers. Caught between all the girls is Henry Schoonmaker, roué heir to the massive Schoonmaker fortune. He could be the answer to the Holland’s problem, if he didn’t have his eye on the wrong girl.
There actually aren’t a lot of characters to dislike in this book. There are plenty of characters with some serious issues, all of them, in fact, but just when I was sure I would write the character off as completely unlikable another side of them would be shown that made me understand them a little bit more. Elizabeth was seemingly too perfect, demure, beautiful, well mannered, blonde. I was afraid she was going to go the route of Serena van der Woodsen and be so incredibly amazing that she can do no wrong and everyone loves her except her jealous best friend, but then a new element was added and she completely turned from insipid to pretty darned awesome. Penelope, said jealous best friend, is a straight up cold bitch who will crush whoever stands in her way. Actually I have nothing to complain about with this. Henry Schoonmaker, who’s last name is so ridiculous I can’t even take it, is just the type of guy I don’t like in these sorts of books. Gorgeous, charming, rich, perfect….ly annoying. But then something happens that changes him and I love it! The only character I didn’t have much sympathy for was Lina. I could certainly understand her resenting her lot in life, as ladies maid. I could understand her wanting more. I could certainly understand her desire for someone who doesn’t love her in return. What I couldn’t understand was her being a bitch. Perhaps she’s a bit more complex, but she just comes off superficial.
Now, obviously I enjoyed this book quite a bit. But there was a time when I was afraid I would have to throw it across the room in annoyance. If there is one thing I hate it is people writing historical novels that don’t know all that much about that period in history. In the beginning the setting felt false, as if the time period was selected for the express purpose of allowing the characters to dress up in pretty dresses. Language was used that seemed false and actions that would have been relatively unacceptable were implimented. For example; in the beginning Henry’s father arrives at a ball given in the Hayeses new Fifth Avenue townhouse and drags his son away to scold him for not behaving properly. In 1899 no one would ever have done that. Parties were obligations, nice ones, of course, but still obligations. This isn’t now when a parent could chastise their child for partying too much, this was a time when parties and dinners and balls were a part of a very rigid social scene. I was very afraid that this would lead to many more issues I would take with the setting. And, yes, there are things. But, for the most part, it wasn’t bad. There was a bit of a general old timey-ness at points. I’m not sure how voluminous skirts would have been considered at the time (certainly not as much so as what’s depicted on the cover, more on that in a moment) especially in contrast to what was popular forty years earlier, but that’s easy to let go. She does manage to throw out some decent terminology at points. But I’m pretty convinced it would take more than a day to have dresses custom made. Still, most of it is very easily looked over. And this isn’t the sort of book that should be taken too seriously. It’s good fun. The only thing about this book, and it’s sequels, that’s truly terrible is the cover. It looks like they took a prom dress and a model from now and didn’t even bother finding out when the book was set. Three out of four of the dresses are strapless and none of their hair is done. Terrible. But, like they say, never judge a book by it’s cover.
Rumors – Anna Godbersen
(**** of five)
The second installment in Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe series. ‘Rumors’ delivered more of the same from the previous novel, ‘The Luxe’ but threw in some truly shocking developments.
Elizabeth Holland, darling of the New York social scene, has been buried and mourned. At least an empty casket has, because Elizabeth, as only a few know, is alive, well, and living in California with her love, Will Keller, her family’s former coachman while her sister, Diana, has been left to pick up the pieces. In love with Elizabeth’s former fiance, Henry Schoonmaker, Diana thinks they might finally get to be together, but between Henry’s grief at believing he led to Elizabeth’s death and the scheming of socialite Penelope Hayes that starts to feel less and less likely. Through in Elizabeth’s former maid, Lina, now calling herself Carolina Broad, who’s rapidly climbing the social latter and a pawned diamond and this explosive sequel to Godbersen’s hit ‘The Luxe’ delivers on all points.
Rumors is a good title for this book. Gossip, after all, can topple a nation if applied with enough finesse and calculation. Lina, certainly, learns that information is an expensive commodity. And Penelope uses it to manipulate events to her liking. The story starts with a wedding and while we know not the bride or groom it’s clear that this book is going to end with something amiss.
Diana is my favorite character and probably was in the first installment too. But this time I was much more involved with every one of the characters. The appreciation I had for this series at the first book was definitely there but it wasn’t really until this second book that the flame in my heart was fanned. I LOVE this series. But seeing as I always like characters who exist in a certain time but have much more modern sensibilities it’s clear that I would adore Diana. She is young, and perhaps a little naive, but she knows what she wants and is willing to risk propriety to get it. I also like Elizabeth far more here than in any of the other Luxe novels. She’s much more active here, and while her actions in the other stories fit her character well it was nice to see her being happy here and bucking tradition to be so. Penelope, of course, is a snake in the grass, but a very interesting one. While her actions are hard to forgive there is an understanding that she just wants to be happy that makes her more than just a typical villain. Lina, too. I dislike her almost implicitly, but I can understand whys he wants what she wants and that makes her a well drawn character.
This was definitely a worth sequel to a great book. The Luxe series is clearly going to end up one of my favorites. Now I just wish someone would make a television show. The perfect blend between Gossip Girl and Downton Abbey.