Always With a Book

Friday, November 15, 2019

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Title: The Other Windsor Girl
Author: Georgie Blalock
Published: November 2019, William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC Paperback, 400 pages
Source: Publisher

In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret's fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret's second Lady-in-Waiting.

Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.

In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?

Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancĂ© was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.

But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…

My thoughts: If you know me, you know I've been counting down the days until the next season of The Crown comes back to Netflix and luckily that time is shortly upon us...Season 3 premieres this Sunday, November 17th and I cannot wait!!! I have loved every episode of this series and as a result, have become infatuated everything I can get my hands on dealing with the Royal Family, so of course when I saw Georgie Blalock's debut novel about Princess Margaret I knew I had to read it.

I admit that other than watching The Crown, I do not know much about Princess Margaret and I do plan on rectifying that. Now of course, this is not a biography of her, but rather a historical fictional account and I fully understand that, but it has only piqued my interest even more. I loved the blend of fact and fiction and I felt that Georgie Blalock does it effortlessly. She chooses to tell the story through the eyes of a fictitious character, The Honorable Vera Strathmore.

I loved Vera's character and was as equally interested in her story as I was in Princess Margaret's. Vera is the epitome of strength. She has much to overcome and does so with poise and grace, which, ironically is quite the opposite of how Princess Margaret tends to behave. I was well aware of some of the controversies that happened during the years that this book covers, but it was interesting to see them again from a different lens. 

As much as Princess Margaret shocked and caused havoc here and there, and as appalling as her behavior sometimes seems, deep down you can't help but feel sympathy for her. As she is pushed further into the background because of her sister the Queen, it appears her behavior becomes more and more outrageous. When you stop and think for a moment about this, you can't help but feel sad.  Who doesn't want to be loved? And who doesn't want to be with the person that they choose? Who wants to have to get approval to be with someone, especially when that approval has to come from your sister and the government? Royalty is a hard life, whether you choose it or not and this story shows that it might not really be as glamorous as it seems.

I flew through this book as I could not get enough of either women's story. I was completely hooked from start to finish and never once felt that any part of the book lagged. At times, it's like watching a train wreck or getting the best gossip, and I loved every minute of it. As with most historical fiction, it has left me wanting to learn more about Princess Margaret. I find her to be so fascinating and I definitely plan to seek out more books about her. Have you read anything about her? 


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review: Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Title: Saint X
Author: Alexis Schaitkin
Published: February 2020, Celadon Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 352 pages
Source: Publisher

Hailed as a “marvel of a book” and “brilliant and unflinching,” Alexis Schaitkin’s stunning debut Saint X is a haunting portrait of grief, obsession, and the bond between two sisters never truly given the chance to know one another.

Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men―employees at the resort―are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth―not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

For readers of Emma Cline’s The Girls and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, Saint X is a flawlessly drawn and deeply moving story that culminates in an emotionally powerful ending.

My thoughts: It's not often that I read a book so far ahead of it's publication date but I just couldn't help myself with this one. This is going to be a book everyone will be talking's that good! So mark your calendars for February 18th when this one hits the will definitely want to pick up a copy or pre-order this book.

One thing to take note of...while this book might give off vibes of the Natalie Hollaway case, it could not be more different. And I so appreciated that. Yes, there are some similarities in that there is a college girl that goes missing on an island and winds up dead. But this isn't just a whodunit story. The mystery surrounding Alison's death is not central to this book but rather secondary.  The main story is how Alison's family deals with her death, specially her sister Claire. What are the ramifications of such a horrific incident on our lives, and what are the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world when something happens that we aren't given a clear cut answer?

I loved the way this story was told, alternating from Claire/Emily's perspective to that of the other character's point of view sprinkled in here and there. We get their view points on how Alison's death has affected their lives which just goes to show how one traumatic event really can have a lasting impact. Characters are vividly drawn, and at times you will empathize with them and at other times, you will want to knock some sense into them. It also takes a look at class - the haves and the have-nots are clearly drawn out here. We are shown the life of luxury on one page and then shown how some are just trying to make ends meet. The juxtaposition throughout this book will knock your socks off.

This is the type of book that will not only haunt you, but play on all your emotions. It will have you thinking of those you lost and how their death has affected you. Alexis Schaitkin has developed a book that went in a direction I could not even have imagined and I loved every second of it. She is definitely an author to keep an eye out for and I am stunned that this is her debut novel...this is one not to be missed!!!


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

Title: The Golden Hour
Author: Beatriz Williams
Published: July 2019, William Morrow
Format: Hard Cover, 480 pages
Source: Publisher

The New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Wives and A Certain Age creates a dazzling epic of World War II-era Nassau—a hotbed of spies, traitors, and the most infamous couple of the age, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in Nassau to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. What more intriguing backdrop for their romance than a wartime Caribbean paradise, a colonial playground for kingpins of ill-gotten empires?

Or so Lulu imagines. But as she infiltrates the Duke and Duchess’s social circle, and the powerful cabal that controls the islands’ political and financial affairs, she uncovers evidence that beneath the glister of Wallis and Edward’s marriage lies an ugly—and even treasonous—reality. In fact, Windsor-era Nassau seethes with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of tremendous charm and murky national loyalties. Inevitably, the willful and wounded Lulu falls in love.

Then Nassau’s wealthiest man is murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the century, and the resulting coverup reeks of royal privilege. Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, and Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.

The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple.

My thoughts: It's no big secret that I am a huge fan of Beatriz Williams' books. I love nothing more than getting lost in her stories. There is just something about her books - they are the perfect blend of historical fiction, compelling characters and fantastic writing that bring me back time and again. I just can't get enough of this perfect combination!!!

I was ecstatic to learn that this latest book brought into the fray the Duke and Duchess of Windsor...I am such a fan of the British Royalty and have to admit that I do not know much about this couple other than what I learned from watching The Crown, yet I am so curious about them. I will say, though, that unfortunately, they really only appear peripherally, yet you still get a sense of them, so all was not for nothing.

As with all of Beatriz's books, there is a dual narrative and I was equally invested in both time lines. It follows two women decades apart, ultimately weaving their stories together. I love trying to figure out just how these stories might be tied together - to me that is always such a fun mystery to work out as I am reading. All the characters we meet are so compelling and written in such a way that they are unforgettable, as I find is often the case with Beatriz's books.

This book is about family, war, courage, ruthlessness, hope, and love. It effortlessly blends historical events with fiction to create such a memorable read. Reading books set during the wars are always a draw to me because we get different perspectives, and this one is certainly a unique one. And the setting is exceptional - I don't think I have read a book set in the Bahamas during the war which made this book that much more appealing. And Beatriz certainly has a knack for capturing a sense of place for sure.

This is definitely a book to savior, not one to rush through. Yes, it's a bit of a chunkster, coming in at close to 500 pages, but once you start reading it, you will get caught up in the story and the characters. It's a book that you will be thinking about while you are reading it and one that you will be thinking about long after you finish reading it.

Beatriz Williams is definitely a must-read author for me...I've read just about every book she's written - I still need to read Overseas, which I have sitting on my shelf. I always know I am in for a treat when I pick up her books. Do you have an author like that - that you must-read?

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

Title: The Vanishing Season
Author: Joanna Schaffhausen
Series: Ellery Hathaway, #1
Published: December 2017, Minotaur Books
Format: E-copy, 288 pages
Source: Netgalley

Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training. She's an officer in sleepy Woodbury, MA, where a bicycle theft still makes the newspapers. No one there knows she was once victim number seventeen in the grisly story of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. The only victim who lived.

When three people disappear from her town in three years, all around her birthday—the day she was kidnapped so long ago—Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer’s closet all those years ago.

Agent Reed Markham made his name and fame on the back of the Coben case, but his fortunes have since turned. His marriage is in shambles, his bosses think he's washed up, and worst of all, he blew a major investigation. When Ellery calls him, he can’t help but wonder: sure, he rescued her, but was she ever truly saved? His greatest triumph is Ellery’s waking nightmare, and now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them...with a killer who can't let go.

My thoughts: Once again I am joining the party late, just starting this series when book 3 is about the be released in just a few short months, but better late than never right? I took advantage of the fact that Netgalley had books 1 and 2 available as "Read Now" and jumped all over that and I am so happy I did...I've been hearing great things about this series and now I can say I get what everyone is talking about!

This is the type of book that pulls you in right from the start. It is an addicting and unique book that is part thriller, part police procedural, and part character study. Yes, there are horrific things that happened to Ellery when she was young and then again that happen to the new victims, but what I loved here is that the author never gets too graphic but rather just alludes to the acts that are done. It's creepy, but all done without being overly graphic which every once is a while is a nice change of pace.

I loved both Ellery and Reed's characters. They are both deeply flawed characters and I loved them working together. Both these characters have their secrets and I love nothing more than characters with buried pasts. I also loved that I questioned everyone in this book, including at times Ellery and Reed. 

There is something compelling about a serial killer story and this one kept me glued to the pages. While I did not guess the killer's identity, I did have my guesses and did not see the ending coming, though if I was to reread the book, I wonder if I might have missed a clue or two. It is a fast read and perhaps I did miss something, but either way I did enjoy this book immensely and am quite eager to start book 2, No Mercy soon as I cannot wait to see Ellery and Reed back in action!

Books in this series:
  1. The Vanishing Season
  2. No Mercy
  3. All the Best Lies - due out February 2020


Friday, November 08, 2019

Blog Tour & Review: November Road by Lou Berney

Title: November Road
Author: Lou Berney
Published: October 2019, William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Source: Publisher via TLC Booktours

Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone. 

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.

A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.

Guidry knows that the first rule of running is "don’t stop," but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.

For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.

It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.

Charlotte sees that he’s strong and kind; Guidry discovers that she’s smart and funny. He learns that’s she determined to give herself and her kids a new life; she can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old one behind.

Another rule—fugitives shouldn’t fall in love, especially with each other. A road isn’t just a road, it’s a trail, and Guidry’s ruthless and relentless hunters are closing in on him. But now Guidry doesn’t want to just survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time.

Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love.

And it might get them both killed.

My thoughts: I love reading historical fiction and I love all things to do with JFK, but I have to say I was a little skeptical about this book when I first came across it...I wasn't sure how a thriller plotline was going to work against the JFK assassination, so I didn't rush to pick this one up. Well, that was my bad because this book is amazing! I could not get enough of this book and it just so happens that the weekend prior to me reading this I was in Dallas and happened to visit the exact spot where the assassination took place which just added to the emotional connection of this book, not that it is necessary, but it made it feel a little more heavy in my heart if that makes sense.

This book really took my by surprise in such a good way. I immediately fell in love with the characters, especially the main two, Frank Guidry and Charlotte and her two daughters. If ever there were two characters - Frank and Charlotte - who needed a do-over in life - it is these two, and I was rooting for them the whole way. This book is a character study in the lives of these two characters. Frank isn't really a character you want to like at first, but there is just something about him that makes you want to root for him. 

This book is a multilayered story set against not only the backdrop of Kennedy's assassination but also the civil rights movement happening at the time. It's rich with history and ripe with crime with a little romance is thrown in to lighten it up. It truly is a memorable and fantastic read and I'm so glad I picked it up. This was my first time reading anything by Lou Berney but it certainly will not be the last!

About the author: Lou Berney is the author of three previous novels, Gutshot Straight, Whiplash River, and multiple prize-winning The Long and Faraway Gone. His short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. He lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Authors Links:  Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   
Purchase Links:   HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Be sure to check out all the other stops on the blog tour and follow the tour on Twitter (hashtags:  #TLCBookTours & #novemberroad).



Thursday, November 07, 2019

Review: Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris (print/audio)

Title: Cilka's Journey
Author: Heather Morris
Series: The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #2
Narrator: Louise Brealey
Published: October 2019, MacMillan Audio / St. Martin's Press
Length: 11 hours 3 minutes / 352 pages
Source: Audio - personal copy / Print - via Publisher

From the author of the multi-million copy bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, comes the new novel based on an incredible true story of love and resilience.

"She was the bravest person I ever met." —Lale Sokolov on Cilka Klein, The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, in 1942. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival.

After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to Siberia. But what choice did she have? And where did the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was sent to Auschwitz when still a child? 

In a Siberian prison camp, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she makes an impression on a woman doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing. Cilka begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.

Cilka finds endless resources within herself as she daily confronts death and faces terror. And when she nurses a man called Ivan, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.

My thoughts: I recently read and loved, as much as you can love, Heather Morris's book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and one of the reasons I finally picked that one up was because I knew she had this book coming out. While this latest one can certainly be read as a stand-alone, I am glad that I read the prior book first as it gave me the background I needed to fully  understand where Cilka's story from.

This story gutted me but I'm glad that I read it as it was inspiring as much as it was heartbreaking. Cilka made it out of Auschwitz but was then charged as a collaborator and sent to the Siberian gullag for 15 years for sleeping with the enemy, not that she had any choice in the matter. It's unbelievable to think that some of the survivors of the concentration camps would find themselves imprisoned yet again for such ridiculous charges...they had no say in the matter as in Cilka's case.

This is a story of strength, endurance and survival. Heather Morris does a fantastic job showcasing just how abhorrent the conditions were for women at the work camps in Siberia, including the crimes committed against them. Yet through Cilka's story, there is a sense of hope and inspiration. As tough as the conditions were, she did her best to make the most of it, and constantly tried to help those around her.

This book is emotionally difficult to read at times, and I felt a bit more emotionally connected to it than I did to the previous book. But it is such an important book to read - these stories need to be told so that this never happens again!

Audio thoughts: I went back and forth between the print and audio version of this book. Louise Brealey does an amazing job with this audio - her voice is captivating and never once does she let her emotions get the best of her. I also loved the interview at the end of the audio between the author and the narrator


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Title: The Family Upstairs
Author: Lisa Jewell
Published: November 2019, Atria Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 352 pages
Source: Publisher

From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and Watching You comes another page-turning look inside one family’s past as buried secrets threaten to come to light.

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.

My thoughts: I have been a fan of Lisa Jewell for some time now and was extremely fortunate to pick up a copy of this latest one at BookExpo this past Spring...this book was one that was high on everyone's list as galleys were gone in 7 minutes! So that early morning sprint to the booth was well-worth it.

I loved the way this story was told, with the multiple points of view and alternating time lines. You have three characters and you aren't quite sure what their connections are, but of course you know at some point that their stories will connect and it's fun trying to figure out just how and why until it's revealed. I also found that I was equally invested in all three characters which isn't always the case when there are multiple points of view. I loved that all three were flawed, troubled characters - it made them all more interesting!

I love a good dysfunctional family drama. This book focuses entirely on that and boy is it a doozy! It delves into some dark stuff and we find out just what happened at this house so long ago. And because of the dual timelines, we sometimes get dual revelations happening, where we are finding out things from "What Happened 25 Years Ago" and the "Today Plot" almost side by side. It really helps to add to the suspense and tension, propelling things forward. There is just a hint of gothic undertones to this book with the creepy garden and use of dangerous plants and the large dark house full of secrets.

I can't recommend this book's gripping, disturbing and compulsive read from one of my favorite authors!

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