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When It Happens To You – Molly Ringwald – 8/10

“It seemed to Greta that Theresa was one of those girls who spent all of her time being an imposition while obviously trying not to be an imposition. Almost everything Theresa said or did broadcast the message ‘I won’t take it for myself. You’ll have to give it to me.'”

Molly Ringwald’s debut novel is described as a novel in stories and is really a short story collection in which the characters recur from one story to another – it reminded me of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad, which I disliked for its self-important and experimental nature. I much prefer Ringwald’s model, in which the characters are recurring although only tenuously, but time marches forwards rather than jumping about all over the place the way it did in Goon Squad.

Without the writing ever being spectacular or showy, Ringwald repeatedly pinpoints moments of life with heartrending accuracy – Greta’s desire to wear something a bit more flattering in case there are photos, Betty’s grief still being so deep that she pours an extra cup of tea even though her husband hasn’t been there to drink it in seven years. She writes with elegance about ageing and aimlessness, about a search for purpose and what happens when someone with extraordinary drive channels it in an unsuitable direction.

The heavy focus on relationships and adultery is perhaps to be expected in a novel about betrayal, although it does get pretty depressing. The chapters vary in strength, but that might be because a given reader will empathise with certain characters but not others. This is very much a women’s book – the men are generally negatively characterised (philandering, confused or dead).

Worth a read; I found it engrossing and elegant, if somewhat disheartening.

Side note: Molly Ringwald, author, is also Molly Ringwald, teenage star of films such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Which I’m glad I didn’t know before I read the book, because I think I would have judged the writing more harshly.

Copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 237 pages (hardback).
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Historical Fiction, Review copies

The Shadow Queen – Rebecca Dean – 8/10

“The day would come when her Uncle Sol would eat his heart out to be publicly recognised as being her relation – and when it did, she wouldn’t even give a nod in his direction.”

I nearly didn’t get my hands on this one; after a FedEx misadventure, there is still a copy of it floating around my office block which remains stubbornly elusive; thankfully Jonathan at Random House was generous enough to send a second copy across the Atlantic.

This beautifully presented novel (how could you not love all the Art Deco/ancient photograph stuff going on on the cover?) fictionalises the life of Wallis Simpson previously Spencer née Warfield, up to the point at which she meets (then) Prince Edward, heir to the throne which she would famously (infamously?) cause him to abdicate. We follow her fraught childhood, caught between the money and glamour of her family and the financial situation of her mother, left nearly penniless by a consumptive husband; her escape to Florida and a number of failed romances, and eventually her move to England in pursuit of the very highest of society.

It’s always hard to know with this style of book what is documented fact and what is author’s literary licence, but Wallis was a strong and well-fleshed out character; proud, strong, vivacious, not cowed by financial difficulty or bullying, always certain she was right but vulnerable as well. I loved the budding romance between Wallis and John Jasper, and was suitably outraged when it came to an end (that’s not a spoiler, right? Everyone knows she ended up marrying no-longer-King Edward).

Her subsequent romances were more difficult to deal with – as we moved into more reliably documented territory (her first and second marriages, her time in Florida, Washington and London), I struggled more to understand her motivations – I think Dean writes better when not constrained so much by documented history. The increasing emphasis on Wallis’ and others’ sexual liaisons also made me lose interest in the book a little – I know she had a scandalous reputation but it seemed like it was the easy thing to write about; I needed more context as to the mores of the time to know what was shocking and what was not.

Definitely worth a read if you are interested in the period, the story, or turn-of-the-century high society in the US.

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Twice. If you work with me and you know where the original copy is that was Fedexed to me, let me know. I promise not to hurt you. Much.
Publisher: Broadway, 414 pages (paperback).
Order The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor from Amazon*
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Domestic Violets – Matthew Norman – 3/10 (DNF)

“When Lyle is gone and I’ve hung up the phone, I’m faced with the grim prospect of having do my job and write some more corporate propaganda.”

Tom Violet, 35, married to the beautiful and compassionate Anna and father of the adorable Allie, is a copywriter who is singularly uninspired by his job. To make matters worse, his adulterous, pot-smoking father has just won the Pulitzer Prize. So Tom’s debut novel, slaved over in secret for years, looks like a non-starter. Oh, and he’s struggling in bed, too.

This is a bizarre mix of Then We Came To The End (to which I gave 10/10) and William Walker’s First Year of Marriage: A Horror Story (2/10). Unfortunately, Domestic Violets had one of my least favourite types of protagonist: male, perfect family life, cynical, good at his job but apathetic and considers it beneath him, cringingly self-conscious, adulterous – in his mind or in actuality, makes no difference to me.

The writing is quite good:

“He’s one of those aged pot smokers who kept at it while everyone else gave it up and got jobs and started quietly voting Republican.”

“Her eyes are big and she’s jittery from all the excitement, like she’s been sneaking handfuls of coffee beans since dinner, and I wish it was legal to fasten children to their beds.”

“It’s like someone called a casting agency and requested an actor to play the part someone to annoy me.”

“We hold each other’s eyes for a moment as he tries to crush my windpipe with his mind.”

But I wasted 3 hours on William Walker and wasn’t going to make the same mistake with this one.

One for fans of Nick Hornby.

Reviews from other bloggers: BermudaOnion; A Book Club Girl show featuring Matthew Norman; That’s What She Read; Booking Mama; Teresa’s Reading Corner; Beth Fish Reads; Like Fire; S. Krishna’s Books; Devourer of Books; Leeswammes

Additional info:
Kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review, via NetGalley.
Publisher: HarperPerennial, paperback, 368 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.

The Horse Whisperer – Nicholas Evans – 4/10

“Sometimes what seems like surrender isn’t surrender at all. It’s about what’s going on in our hearts.”

Grace and Judith take their horses out on a snowy New York morning. A collision with a sleep-deprived trucker leaves one pair dead and a girl and horse fighting for their lives. Annie becomes convinced that her daughter’s fate is inextricably linked with the fate of her horse, and tracks down a horse whisperer to heal the crippled equine.  Soon it’s not just the girl and the horse whose futures are linked…

Yes I know this is chick lit of the greatest degree – ponies, cowboys, “the massive Montana sky”… Skipping right along:

It is very obvious after about page 100 that it is Annie with whom we are supposed to sympathise – this is Annie’s story, not Grace’s. Grace becomes a truculent, wilful child who is irritating to her mother – instead of the scarred survivor we should see. Annie – well I have no patience with characters who commit adultery, so… I was never going to like her. Evans does convey a very credible character though – she is stressed, trying to do a good job (eventually, just trying to keep her job), doesn’t understand why her child is resisting her helpful efforts, feels guilty for not being around more… I didn’t really understand her relationship with Robert (Grace’s dad) – there is an explanation of how they have got to where they are, but he seemed to just fade out of the picture once Annie and Grace went to Montana.

I quite enjoyed Tom’s back-story and his reticence with actual humans, but could I shake the idea that his name was Robert Redford (I saw the film maybe 8 years ago?)? No. As a reviewer on Bookmooch pointed out, this book was written for film – there’s pathetic fallacy and dark foreboding everywhere.

As for plot… the accident and the recovery are really a shell into which to tuck Annie and Tom’s romance and Annie’s reawakening as a country girl (or some sort of pretence thereat). And I don’t get on brilliantly with this romance business, so to me it was all just a lot of talking and stuff.

Maybe 4/10 is a bit harsh – it achieves what it sets out to do. I just don’t feel emotionally invested in any of the characters, like I did in Love Verb, intrigued by the interpersonal drama like I did in Touching Distance, or blown away by language and situation like in Bel Canto.

Additional info:
This was a personal copy from a big box purchase.
Publisher: Corgi, paperback, 479 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
Fluff, Thriller

Nina Todd Has Gone – Lesley Glaister – 3/10 (DNF)

Nina Todd Summary from the back cover: Nina Todd is not the sort of person you’d notice – and that’s the way she likes it. She lives a quiet life: dull job, dependable boyfriend, no disruptions. When Nina meets Rupert in a hotel, it leads to an empty adulterous encounter that she’d rather forget. But it soon becomes clear that Rupert won’t. Is it pure infatuation, or something more sinister? Who is Rupert, and what is the power he holds over her? And who is Nina Todd?

I ended up not finishing this after having read about 150 pages – it got too violent. Normally I don’t have an issue with violence (see the Stieg Larsson trilogy, which I loved!), but we were inside the perpetrator’s mind as he planned the violence, which made me lose all interest and want to drop the book asap.

This has a really interesting premise, but the execution is weak. There is a mix-up and cover-up of identities (as you can guess already in the blurb), which is revealed to the reader very early on, and after that the suspense is that of watching a car crash – you know it’s going to end badly, the question is just for whom and exactly in what manner.

Nina’s behaviour didn’t really match her thought process, so that was quite gripping – unreliable narrator. We get the feeling that undisclosed evil is to follow to resolve the discrepancies. Ditto Rupert is clearly very messed-up – why is he so set on avenging his sister, when her death doesn’t really seem to have affected his parents all that much (they grieve, but are not vengeful)? Rupert’s parents were very dull – there was only a small examination of the impact of the murder on the parents. All in all, the characters were pretty flat – two really evil ones, a cheerful but dopey boyfriend, a mother-in-law who’s a bit resentful of the new girlfriend and a bit difficult but has no character development… and everyone else was very much just a name and a few character traits thrown together.

The flashback structure really didn’t help either – it wasn’t always immediately clear in whose head we were revisiting the past, nor was that much relevance of the flashback to the present day plot apparent.

However, it gets 3/10 on plot device.


The Pilot’s Wife – Anita Shreve – 8/10

This was an Oprah’s Book Club choice and
I’ve heard rumours of Anita Shreve writing “chick-lit”, so I didn’t really know
how hefty this was going to be. A pilot’s wife receives the news that her
husband’s plane has exploded and there are no survivors. She follows her grief
and her daughter’s devastation through the suggestion that it was suicide and
into the (entirely unexpected) conclusion.

I found this a struggle to read – it’s
emotionally difficult and I loathe flying, planes and everything to do with
them, so to read the story of the aftermath of a crash was harrowing – but
enthralling. The characters are strongly rendered, the coastal countryside
beautifully represented and the moves back and forth between the immediate
aftermath of the crash and the history of the relationships are fluidly

I was disappointed by the twist – I saw it
coming a little faster than the wife did, but not quickly – but it seemed such a
let-down in a good character. The developments then seemed a bit far-fetched,
but certainly riveting and heart-gripping.

All in all, an engrossing read, fascinating
characters, slightly disappointing plot (not from lack of suspense, but from
lack of justice to the characters).