Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Daisy Goodwin

Victoria

VICTORIA, by Daisy Goodwin, is a novel of Queen Victoria who ruled Great Britain and Ireland once upon a time. I had my eye on this novel for a while. Kept going back to it. Finally broke down and actually got it from the library just to see if it would be exactly what I hoped. Yes, it truly is!

VICTORIA is not only a novel, it’s about to be a series on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. Daisy Goodwin is the creator and the writer; she wrote this fine novel in tandem.  I think she’s pretty amazing.

What did I know about Queen Victoria before reading this new novel?  Darn little. But I can say with confidence that I feel much more in tune with Victoria’s life now. Goodwin read Victoria’s diaries and did extensive research to bring this period to life. The characters crackle and spring to life on the page. The sense of place is perfection. The fashions are detailed and true to life. The pages almost turn themselves. And her little lapdog Dashy is delightful.

In 1837, less than a month after her 18th birthday, Victoria became Queen of England and Ireland.  She was still sleeping in the same room with her mother at the time. But not for long. Born Alexandrina Victoria, she changed her name to simply Victoria directly after being named the new Queen. Wee in size, Victoria had to work hard to appear worthy of such a huge distinction.  But with the help of Lord Melbourne, who was her prime minister and personal secretary, she slowly became a force to be reckoned with.  And those who had thought her too young, or not fit because of being a female, soon realized Victoria’s strength.

But even through it all everyone thought Victoria needed a husband to keep her reigned in.  Her family had someone in mind. Her cousin Prince Albert from Germany seemed the perfect match. However, Victoria had spent time with him three years ago and found him dull and too serious. But as people and things tend to change over time, Albert too changed. And they meet again in this novel leading up to their marriage. It’s no secret since all of history knows….

VICTORIA the novel begins on the day Victoria becomes Queen at the age of 18, and it ends just before her marriage to Prince Albert. I would love for it to have continued. Perhaps Goodwin has more in mind for the future. I sure hope so.

Author

Daisy Goodwin

Daisy Goodwin is the author of the New  York Times bestselling novels THE AMERICAN HEIRESS and  THE FORTUNE HUNTER.  She attended Columbia University’s film school  and lives in London.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Emily Fridlund

History of Wolves

HISTORY OF WOLVES, by Emily Fridlund, is a novel I have long been looking forward to reading. The cover speaks volumes about the harsh content of the story.

Fourteen-year-old Madeline ( Linda) Furston lives in an old cottage, the last of a commune,  on a lake in the Walleye Capital of the World in Minnesota. Her parents are the sole survivors having given over any idea of a “normal” lifestyle.  Linda lives an almost feral existence, walking miles to school each day, then back home sometimes in high snow drifts. Her parents pretty much allow her to raise herself.  She’s in dire need of acceptance and is at the awkward  age of sexual awakening.

When a young seemingly normal couple with a small child move in across the lake from Linda and her parents, she quickly befriends the mom, Patra, who hires her to babysit Paul who is four-years-old.  Linda stays longer each day and spends more and more time with Patra and Paul. Leo, the dad, is mostly away for his work.  But something is very wrong here. Paul is sick more often than not. But no diagnosis is mentioned.

Fridlund manages to remind us how frigid the cold can be in Minnesota in the winter, in the snow. And then how appropriately oppressive the heat is in the summer. She has nailed the way the fish are still beneath the solid ice during the deep freeze, and how the wildness of nature runs true to form. It’s hard to believe this is her first novel.

Linda’s history teacher is fired over rumors that he is a pedophile.  Is he?  And why does she throw herself at him? And what of her friend who disappears? At times I felt as if these “other” characters were part of another story.  Well-written, just separate.

The tension builds slowly, almost painfully so.  And then Leo comes home. And everything changes. The air becomes thick with unanswered questions and doubt. And much dread hangs over each page now.

To say this is a coming-of-age story is not doing it justice.  It’s much more than that. And just when you think something unspeakable is going to happen, things change. But the unspeakable is still there, hovering in the wings, waiting for you to let your guard down. Making you more and more uncomfortable until you simply can’t bear it.

This is a haunting story that will stay with you long after the book ends. It will bother  you. It might wake you up at night.  It deals with authentic and horrifying guilt.  And the death of innocence. It brings up excruciating issues of church and belief.  And it might leave you worn out.

What did I think of HISTORY OF WOLVES.  My first instinct is to say that I did not like this novel. But, it’s so well-written. And the sense of place is picture perfect. But, for me, I could have done without the content.  The book is getting plenty of raves. And rightly so.  But I just did not like the book. Boom!  I read my copy digitally as a review copy and this is my honest review.

I wish I could love everything I read. Sadly, it is impossible. I feel I owe it to my readers to be as honest as I can be.  For those of you who will read this novel, I hope you will leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

 

Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Jennifer McVeigh

Leopard At The Door

The cover photo featuring an eerie acacia tree in Africa captured my interest immediately. Then I saw that the author was Jennifer McVeigh who wrote THE FEVER TREE  a few years ago. I knew right then that I wanted to read this book.

It’s 1952: Kenya. Rachael Fullsmith is about to step foot onto  land she’d not touched in six years. Not since her father took her to England after her mother was killed in a freak accident when she was only twelve. And he left her there…

Rachael is returning to her father’s farm in Kenya against his wishes. But she has always only felt that Africa was her home.  She arrives to a once-familiar home that is now almost foreign. There’s another woman living with her father. And she’s taken over. It’s not pretty. Of course they don’t get along.

Kenya is in the midst of a revolutionary movement called the Mau Mau rebellion. I’m linking to information about this since it really happened. It’s harsh, true, and terribly blunt. You see, this is not your martini and party novel of Africa. This novel set in Kenya is based on a story McVeigh was given in a small suitcase by a man her father once knew. His grandmother had left photographs that spur this story and bring it to life.

Rachael feels unease before she’s even done unpacking. This new woman has a teenage son who she can tell is not comfortable with the situation. But there’s much more to that story, too.  The rift that occurs between the woman and Rachael is made even wider by the father’s lack of involvement.  And it begins.

Rachael recalls the farm as it was when her mother was alive. Mom was caring and loving and took care of the African people who worked the farm. This new woman is a fascist and a mean spirited person. They resent each other. But the tension is becoming thick between the Africans and the Europeans. Murders have been reported. Some of the victims are whites who have actually helped and worked with the blacks. Everyone is nervous and Rachael’s dad begins sleeping sitting up with a rifle pointed at the door.

With all this angst continuing to grow Rachael finds herself becoming closer and closer to her old tutor Michael. This is bound to come of no good since he is a black African.  Throw in a fierce secret that Rachael has been keeping since the day her mother died. This novel becomes a complicated emotional rollercoaster.

I would never want to live anywhere I had to fear for my life. And that is what the people of Kenya do each night. They fear they will be hacked to death by the mau mau. And many are.  It is ruthless. And quite harsh.  But it is brutally honest. The research proves it. And, in fact, you can be sure, that as accurate as the telling is here, the reality must have been even harsher.

Is there a love story here among the ruins. Yes, of sorts. And you can see that it isn’t possible to end well. But it is realistic.

McVeigh has spent time in East Africa.

Leopard at the Door

Jennifer McVeigh

She has traveled extensively. And spent nights under the moon. The scenes she creates are eerie and so tangible that at times I felt myself wondering if I could actually hear the hyena screaming in the night outside my window… And her sun rises and sun sets are devastating.  You will certainly be transported.

My absolutely gorgeous finished hard cover came from Putnam Publishing Company in exchange for an honest review. The book pubs on January 3.

The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn

Judith Kinghorn

The Echo of Twilight

THE ECHO OF TWILIGHT, by Judith Kinghorn, is a novel set just as WW1 is knocking on Europe’s door.  Lady Ottoline Campbell is looking for a lady’s maid. She’s got a roomful of young women to interview. But none of them hold a candle to Pearl Gibson. Pearl is perfect and pushes the envelope to get what she believes is a peach of a job.

Pearl Gibson is ready to move up in the world. So when she travels to Lady Ottoline’s Scottish estate she truly feels as if she’s set for life. But is she?  Everything is quite peachy for a while. As Pearl settles into Scottish country life she begins feeling like part of the family. Is treated like part of the family. And is totally taken under the wing of Lady Ottoline. They become friends. It’s quite an unlikely relationship.  And then the war begins to take its toll. The men begin leaving, slowly, one by one.  Lady Ottoline’s two sons, her husband, sons of friends, and then the man she’s fallen in love with…

If you loved Downton Abbey. If you are a true fan of intrigue. Then this is the winter read you’ve been looking for. You can settle in, sip a cuppa tea or a glass of wine, and enjoy the show. For show it is. Well-written, filled with scandal and characters who are anyone other than who they appear to be.

I found this new novel to be very convincing and looked forward to returning to the page when I had to put it aside.  Kinghorn has two other novels which now I look forward to reading. I think she’s got sense of place and the characters down pat.

This might be your first really good book of the New  Year. Cheers! My lovely trade paperback copy arrived from the publisher Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. I loved it!

Maurice Picks Favorite Books 2016. And Wishes You All A Happy New Year!

It’s been such a pleasure reading this year. So many wonderful and unique books and new authors. I’ve got a list of my favorites from this past year.  I have one that stands above the rest. And this is hard for me to admit. There are actually several that stand out. I will star those.

  • A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, by Amor Towles, is number ONE  this year!
  • WHEN WE MEET AGAIN by Kristin Harmel.*
  • COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett*
  • THE NEST by Cynthia Sweeney*
  • THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE by Melanie Benjamin*
  • THE GUEST ROOM by Chris Bohjalian*
  • SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler
  • SISI by Allison Pataki
  • THE VELVET HOURS by Alyson Richman
  • THE BLACK WIDOW by Daniel Silva*
  • A LOWCOUNTRY  HEART by Pat Conroy
  • FAITHFUL by Alice Hoffman
Amor Towles

A Gentleman In Moscow

Kristin Harmel

When We Meet Again

Ann Patchett

Commonwealth

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The Nest

Melanie Benjamin

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room

NYC novel

Sweetbitter

Allison Pataki

Sisi

Alyson Richman

The Velvet Hours

Daniel Silva

The Black Widow

Pat Conroy

A Lowcountry Heart

Alice Hoffman

Faithful

I’ve been totally engrossed in reading advance copies of books coming out in the spring 2017. So much so that I am already working on a best of list… I have some exciting books for you this coming year. Those of you who have already signed your book clubs up for my lectures are in for a treat again this season. And those of you who follow my blog will have plenty of fabulous recommends. So, stay tuned. We’re about to enter yet another amazing reading year! Cheers! And thanks so much for being my readers. It means the world.

 

Christmas In Paris by Anita Hughes

Anita Hughes

Christmas In Paris

CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Anita Hughes.  The most magical week of the year. And then imagine spending it in the City of Light. So I just spent the past couple days immersed in this charming story of love and Paris. What a treat.

This was the perfect book for me to read this week. I didn’t want anything deep or disturbing. I needed to escape. And escape I did. To the most wonderful city. To tell you the truth I still feel a bit as if I’ve been dipped in spun sugar and turned into Cinderella.

Isabel Lawson’s fiancee sprung a big one on her, and only a week before their wedding. He decided to trade his high powered job in to go run the family farm. Yikes. Not what Isabel had in mind as she totally loved her job in finance and was certainly not ready to chuck it all… So, she called off the wedding.  Her fiancee told her she might as well use the honeymoon suite at the Hôtel de Crillon. After all, why should it go to waste?

We find Isabel has arrived at the famous hotel and is stranded on the balcony late at night when the doors lock and she can’t get back into her rooms. As luck would have it she throws her satin Ferragamo pump at the neighboring balcony door. And out pops a sleepy-headed young man in a robe and pajamas. And so it begins.

You can already see that this is no literary novel.  And that’s exactly what I loved about it.  Of course Alec, the man Isabel meets on the balcony, is a French children’s book illustrator who has recently been jilted by his own fiancee. Celine ran off with a handsome soccer star to Australia, all on a whim. And so he is left behind at the hotel in a suite his father-in-law to be already paid for.

I’ve read a lot of books that take place in and around Paris. Most of them are period novel set in ww11. So this was enchanting for me. Anita Hughes brilliantly sets this story in a magical setting that is both heartwarming and candy-coated. From the first scene on the balcony of the Hȏtel de Crillon as Isabel leans against the creamy stone ledge dreaming of the holiday markets lining the Champs-Èlysées to the sparkling jewels and gorgeous fashions.  And I can’t forget the mouth-watering French food. I enjoyed it all. Yes, it’s a romance novel. And, no, not my usual read. But sometimes we just need an escape. And in this case this one turned out to be well-done and perfect for the holiday.

I actually bought my copy from Copperfish Books. I’m really happy that I did. Now back to more literary stuff. More soon…

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays To All!

a99033_1201_wreath_xlToday I’m reflecting on Christmas Eves years ago when my children were small. There were some years when we didn’t have much money to spend on gifts. Actually, those are the holidays that turned out to be some of the best. I was remembering this morning how on Christmas Eve I used to take my daughter shopping. We would get up early and be gone all day. Lunch on this special day was always an event. And then more shopping, and finally the groceries.  Then I had to wrap everything… But we both look back and smile on those days. They were the best!

What am I reading this Christmas, you may ask? Well, I put down VICTORIA by Daisy Goodwin. But just until after the holiday. I am reading a little holiday paperback called CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Anita Hughes. I’ve been looking at it for weeks now. Finally, bought it yesterday.  I love it! Perfect for right now when I do not want anything serious. And I am completely immersed in Paris in December…christmas-in-paris

This morning I did one of my favorite things: took myself to the Farmer’s Market here on the Cape. It may be the largest market of its kind anywhere around. Got myself a cup of fresh roasted coffee.  The vendors are local and friendly and have quality produce.  I enjoyed tossing out Merry Christmas’s to all.  Next week I’m hoping to have one of my sons come along. I know he’ll love it.

We had a big family gathering last month for Thanksgiving. It was a blessing. Hard to get everyone on the same page.  So Christmas dinner will be smaller. But, still, there will be nine of us around the table. Jack’s cooking a prime rib and I’m making a black forest cake.

Greandkids2016

Greandkids2016

Last night we watched THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. OMG! You just have to watch it. Animation has come so far. These animals could jump right off the screen; that’s how realistic they are.  It was so funny. One of our cats, Kiki, actually watched the entire movie. We were almost as amazed watching her watching the movie as we were with the movie itself. Loved it.

Tonight we’re treating ourselves to a nice dinner out.

I do wish each of you a wonderful read this year. And hope you all have at least one good book under the tree.

Merry Christmas!