Library Girl's Guide To Books

Reviews and Musings From A Reading Life.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Last Collection  

                                                   by Jeanne Mackin

The Last Collection is a terrific story about the intense rivalry between legendary designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in pre-war Paris.

In 1938, Lilly Sutter, a young American widow, travels to France at the insistence of her brother, Charlie. Charlie is a medical student involved with Ania, a wealthy, married woman. He wants to buy Lilly a couture gown she can wear to a party that night. Because Ania is married, Charlie needs Lilly to accompany them on their dates to cast suspicion away from them.They visit both Chanel and Schiaparelli's design houses. Lilly is drawn to the colorful designs that Schiap creates and through a series of events, she begins working with Schiap. She also becomes friends with Chanel and this puts her in the middle of their rivalry. The two designers couldn't be more different. Chanel grew up poor and clawed her way to the top of the couture fashion world. Schiap was born into a wealthy family. Their design styles are also different with Coco Chanel favoring clean, elegant lines, while Schiap likes bold colors and whimsical, sometimes outrageous designs. 

Although war hasn't started yet, Nazis officers are in Paris and everyone is nervous. People are unsure whether to befriend the Nazis in the hope of securing their own safety when war breaks out, or avoiding them. Chanel chooses to befriend them while Schiap does not. It is a dangerous time but there are still parties and the cafes are full of people socializing but war is coming.

Against this backdrop is the story of Lilly, an artist, who is grieving for her lost family and unable to paint anymore. Her world is colorless and somber. As she becomes embroiled in the intense rivalry between these two legendary fashion icons, she begins a journey of self- discovery that allows her to find herself as she begins to deal with her grief.

Although I have never owned a couture gown, I loved reading about these two legendary designers.The detailed descriptions of their designs and the behind the scenes look at their infamous, sometimes dangerous rivalry was fascinating. This atmospheric novel, told from Lilly's point of view, is more than just a story about two famous fashion designers of their time. It is also about about survivors, war, friendship and the power of women.

The Last Collection will be published on June 25th, 2019

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing me with an advanced reading copy for review. 

The Au Pair 

 by Emma Rous                               

In this suspenseful novel, Emma Rous brings together family secrets, mysterious deaths and cursed twins in a compelling mystery with Gothic overtones set in a family estate on the Norfolk coast.

Seraphine Mayes, her twin Danny, and their older brother, Edwin, are grieving over the tragic death of their father.Their father raised them alone because on the day that Seraphine and Danny were born, their mother, Ruth, threw herself off the cliffs near their Norfolk home. As Seraphine is going through her father's belongings, she comes across a photo taken on the day that she and Danny were born. It shows their well dressed, smiling mother next to their father and older brother holding just one baby, not two.  Soon after this picture was taken, their mother killed herself, or did she?

Seraphine has always felt like an outsider in the family because she  doesn't look like her twin. After seeing this picture with only one baby she decides to track down Laura,the au pair, who took care of  their older brother, Edwin. Maybe she has some answers. However Laura doesn't want to talk to her about what went on during that summer of 1992 when the twins were born. 

Her brothers tell her to leave it alone but Laura has to know. The town has always been filled with gossip about their family and their home, Summerbourne. Edwin was also a twin and his brother died. The people in town think that the Summerbourne house and their family might be cursed and they don''t want to talk to Seraphine about what happened back in 1992 either.

The novel shifts between Seraphine in 2017 and Laura, the au pair, in 1992. There are a lot of surprises in this novel and it kept me reading to find out what really happened. I found the ending to be surprising and a little bit implausible but I did enjoy The Au Pair. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for providing me with an advanced reading copy for review. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

        An Anonymous Girl

by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkamen    


I listened to The Wife Between Us by this writing duo and really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to An Anonymous Girl. This psychological thriller, written in the first person, didn't disappoint.

Jessica Farris is a young woman struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Her dream is to be a make-up artist for Broadway shows but she has had to take a job with BeautyBuzz, a company that sends their employees out to do the  make-up for people before special events.  While doing the make-up for two college girls she discovers that a university professor, Dr. Shields, is doing a study on ethics and morality and is seeking young women to participate. She would be paid $500.00 for just a few hours work. The college girl, Taylor, signed up but decided she wanted to stay out late and party so she wasn't going to go to it. Desperate for money to help her family care for her younger sister who suffered a brain injury, Jessica decides to try and get accepted into the study. She signs up as Taylor and shows up at the university. She has to admit that she isn't Taylor but she gets accepted into the study. She is put in a room by herself with only a computer.  Jessica is named Subject 52 and told that all answers would remain anonymous so she should feel free to answer honestly.

When the first question shows up on the screen, Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt? she is taken aback.  Dr. Shields knows she lied by pretending to be Taylor but she answers the question. She is then told by the computer to "dig deeper". More questions follow and although she is a little bit uncomfortable answering them, she does because she needs the money. Soon Jessica is contacted by Dr. Shields who wants to continue with their sessions beyond the time period for the study. Jessica will be paid $500.00 each time and she can't pass it up because it seems too good to be true.  Although she doesn't know it yet, Jessica is just the person Dr. Shields has been looking for to put her plan into action.  Doctor Shields is beautiful, wealthy and seems to see right into Jessica and knows what she is thinking and feeling.  As Jessica is drawn into  Dr. Shield's manipulative web, a game of cat and mouse begins that threatens to destroy Jessica and everyone she loves.

The story alternates between Dr. Shields and Jessica's voices and the narration by Julia Whelan and Barrie Kreinik is perfect. Because there are so many twists and turns in this story it is difficult to say more without spoilers. There is an especially nice twist at the end.  I am looking forward to the next book by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkamen

Sunday, April 28, 2019

 Park Avenue Summer     

                                      by RenĂ©e Rosen

New York City in the summer of 1965 comes alive in this captivating novel by Renee Rosen. Alice Weiss leaves her Ohio town to seek her fortune as a photographer in New York City.  Although Alice lost her mother when she was young, she remembers all of the wonderful things her mother shared with her about living there and Alice knew that one day she would live there, too. 

Thanks to a referral from her mother's friend, Elaine, she gets an interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine and meets the legendary Helen Gurley Brown who has just taken over the magazine as editor. Alice manages to get hired as a secretary and soon becomes Helen's personal assistant. Things aren't going well for Cosmopolitan magazine. Circulation is way down and Ms. Brown wants to make the magazine sexier and edgier for a new generation of women.  Employees begin to quit because they don't want to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous Sex and the Single Girl bestseller. With budget constraints, people trying to sabotage Ms Brown behind her back and the publishing company resisting everything Helen tries to do, it looks like Cosmopolitan might close and Alice will soon be out of a job. But Alice is resourceful and loyal to Helen and decides to do everything she can to help Helen succeed as the first female editor of Cosmopolitan. 

Reading Park Avenue Summer I was transported to 1965 with Alice as she pursued her dream, learned to navigate New York City and view it through a photographer's lens, made friends, found loss and love, ate in legendary restaurants like the Russian Tea Room, the 21 Club and the Plaza Hotel. In 1965, can a woman demand to have it all as Helen Gurley Brown proclaimed? Read Park Avenue Summer and see what you think.

Included at the end of the book is a Readers Guide, an interview with the author and Discussion Questions. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Park Avenue Summer. It will be available in bookstores on April 30th.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Clockmaker's Daughter 

                                                           by Kate Morton

I am a huge fan of Kate Morton and was lucky to have been able to meet her when I attended Book Expo US last year. She signed an ARC of The Clockmaker's Daughter and I am thrilled to have it.  Meeting this Australian born writer and briefly chatting with her was a delightful experience. I have listened to all of Kate Morton's books on audio so I was looking forward to listening to this one and Joanne Froggatt's narration was enjoyable. I recently finished it but have been putting off writing my review because I was disappointed in this one.

The story, as with all of Kate's books, goes back and forth between the present and the past. It begins when archivist Elodie Winslow finds a leather satchel with an old photograph and sketchbook from the mid 1800s, while working at her job. Something is familiar about the photograph and she feels a strange connection to it and the sketchbook/journal, so she begins to investigate. She discovers that the satchel belonged to a painter named Edward Radcliffe who owned a home on the Upper Thames named Birchfield Manor.

Edward, who was engaged to someone else, had a muse named Lily Minnington.  During the summer of  1862, Edward, Lily, his little sister, Lucy, and a group of bohemian artists descended on Birchfield Manor where they planned to spend a summer painting but tragedy struck. Lucy idolized her brother and part of the story is told from her point of view. Lucy plays a big part in what happened that summer at Birchfield Manor. Who was Lily Minnington really and what is the connection that Elodie had to this story and what happened that fateful day in 1862? It will all be explained but getting to that explanation was circuitous and complicated.

Kate is a skilled writer and she really brought the time periods alive and her attention to detail is amazing. It is difficult to review this book without spoilers ant it has a complicated plot spanning multiple time periods. There are so many characters, plot threads and multiple voices across the time periods that I often found myself lost, trying to figure out who that character was. Maybe part of this was because I listened to it on audio and had gaps in my listening time. The theme of everyone gathered at a manor where a murder took place is reminiscent of her excellent first novel, The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog for UK readers).

Kate is an award winning New York Times bestselling author and I look forward to her next book even though I was disappointed in The Clockmaker's Daughter.

The Dead Ringer 

by M.C. Beaton

I always look forward to a new Agatha Raisin mystery. Aggie is a brash, prickly, complicated, character and her adventures in the English Cotswolds are always fun. This time around Agatha is involved with mischief and mayhem in the village of Think Magna. This village is known for the medieval church of St. Ethelred and its famous bells. The whole town is aflutter over the impending visit of the handsome Bishop, Peter-Salver-Hinkley. The bell -ringers in Think Magna are practicing furiously so the bishop will be suitably impressed. The bishop is building an old folks home and trying to raise money for it and on the surface he seems like a good man. However, Aggie is convinced that he was involved in the disappearance of his former fiancee, a wealthy heiress, who disappeared years ago and her body has never been found. She convinces one of the bell- ringers, an attorney, to hire her to investigate. 

Soon Agatha is embroiled in a dangerous situation when there is a murder, then another murder and she is targeted. Will she be next? The handsome, charismatic bishop seems to be romancing everyone in the town, including the wealthy spinster twins, and Agatha but she is convinced that he isn't what he appears to be.

Agatha once again gets involved with an unsuitable man and James, her ex- husband, and Sir Charles are both there to pick up the pieces. But Aggie might find happiness after all with the surprising twist at the end of the book. 

Although this 29th book in the Agatha Raisin series hasn't had the best reviews from readers, I liked it. No, it isn't the best book that I have ever read and the series might be getting a little tired but it was still an enjoyable cozy book and I love the character of Agatha.  I have listened to all of the Agatha Raisin books on audio and Alison Larkin's narration was enjoyable too. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Wife Between Us

                              by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Vanessa meets Richard on a flight back to New York City after visiting her mother in Florida. After he gives up his first class seat to a serviceman on the plane, he ends up sitting next to Vanessa. She doesn't like flying and Richard is kind, talks to her and calms her down. A few days later her asks her out. Vanessa is struggling to make it on her salary as a preschool teacher and lives with her best friend, Samantha, in a cramped apartment in New York City. Although she loves her job and her friends she can't believe her good fortune in meeting Richard. He is handsome, a successful hedge fund manager and loves to lavish her with expensive gifts. He decides to call her Nellie because she was such a Nervous Nellie on the plane. Soon they are engaged and Richard is buying them an expensive home in Westchester. Vanessa loves living in New York City and isn't too sure about the house but she loves Richard and he is so happy and excited about getting the house for her that she goes along with it. She will still be able to see her friends and keep her job, right?  Things are too perfect to be believed. They certainly are!

We soon find out that things did not go well in their marriage and Vanessa/Nellie is now divorced from Richard, living with her aunt and working at Saks selling clothing to women she used to socialize with when she was married to Richard. To make matters worse, Richard is now engaged to Emma, a carbon copy of Vanessa but younger. Vanessa has lost everything and she will stop at nothing to prevent Richard from marrying Emma.

The story is told in first and third person and alternates between time periods. Vanessa is an unreliable narrator who drinks too much but as the story continues we begin to see that there is more going on  than we thought. Richard is a neat freak and is his solicitous manner with Vanessa because he loves her or is he controlling her? Is there something strange about his close relationship with his sister, Maureen? Is Vanessa really becoming mentally ill like her mother and what happened to her dog, Duke?

This novel of suspense has multiple points of view and can be confusing if the reader doesn't pay attention. There are several twists and the ending did surprise me.  I listened to it on audio and Julia Whelan was outstanding, as always, reading this book. Although it has had mixed reviews, I enjoyed it. If you like suspenseful novels with twists, an unreliable narrator and a surprise ending you should like The Wife Between Us. 

The Last Collection                                                       by Jeanne Mackin The Last Collection is a terrific sto...