Friday, January 21, 2022

Book Review: The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: January 25, 2022
Publisher: Dutton
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Lions of Fifth Avenue
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Goodreads says, "Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.  Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family."

 

The year is 1966 and Veronica Weber is an aspiring model. She has landed her dream job at a photo shoot on location at the Frick Collection in New York City.  Things don't go as planned though and she ends up sulking at the museum and consequently finds some hidden old papers. These papers aren't just any old papers though; she realizes that they are old scavenger hunt clues, which she thinks may provide the location of the missing pink diamond once owned by Henry Frick.  The other parallel story line, which takes place 50 years earlier, is from Lillian Carter's point of view.  Lillian is a former artists' model who is now working as Helen Frick's personal secretary hoping to escape the scandal, which is currently following her.  Even though her very resemblance is found in many of the statues from the time period, including some at the Frick household, she is trying to be incognito as Helen's secretary.  Lillian's part of the story is slowly developed as readers come to realize her role in not only the Frick household, but also the diamond's disappearance.  Fiona Davis's The Magnolia Palace is a wonderful historical novel filled with suspense, historical details, and a lot of art.

I really enjoyed Lillian from the start of The Magnolia Palace. I could tell from the beginning that she was going to be one of those characters that I didn't always agree with, but I cared about nonetheless.  She tends to run away from her problems, instead of facing them, and that makes for a very entertaining story.  For example, when she somehow gets tied into her landlord's homicide case, she runs from police instead of subjecting herself to the questioning.  She makes an awful lot of rash decisions without her mother's guidance; however, you can't help but root for her. When she finds herself at the Frick household interviewing for the position of a personal secretary to Helen Frick, she can't believe her luck. She literally happened upon this opportunity as it was a case of mixed-up identities. Since she was running from the police, this turned out to be serendipitous.  Lillian thinks this job will just be temporary (so there's no harm in concealing her real identity) as she is just trying to get enough money to head out to California to pursue her dream of acting; however, things get super complicated.

The parallel story line in The Magnolia Palace is from Veronica's perspective and is fifty years later. At first, I had no clue how Davis was going to tie these two seemingly different plot lines together, but once Veronica ends up at the Frick Collection for her photo shoot, I knew we were headed in the right direction.  Veronica encounters these hidden papers and with Joshua, the archivist's, help, they realize the importance of them.  Could they withhold Frick family secrets as well as the location of the missing pink diamond?

The Magnolia Palace includes a lot of action and a lot more suspense than I thought it would have. I was pleasantly surprised by the mystery and how it unfolded.  Davis is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical authors, especially if you are looking for a historical mystery.

Have you read The Magnolia Palace? Is it on your TBR list? Are you a fan of Fiona Davis? Let me know in the comments below. 


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Personal Copy
Other Books By Authors:  Meet Me in Monaco
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says, "New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.  August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris. But as history tells us, it all happened so differently… Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene? Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

 

The year is 1914 and England is now at war.  Will Elliott and Thomas Harding, best friends since childhood, are off to fight in the war and leave Will's little sister, Evie, behind.  But the three of them know that this war won't last long; in fact, people say it will be over by Christmas. They have always dreamed of spending Christmas in Paris, so that's the plan.  As the months go on, the three realize that the war isn't going to be over soon let alone by Christmas, so they have to pivot their plans.  Evie, left behind at home, is frustrated by the boredom of life and wants to contribute more than just making socks.  Whereas, Will and Thomas are realizing war is brutal and isn't some romantic, heroic battle.  Readers find all of this out through letters written back and forth through Will, Evie, and Tom.  Each character encounters different struggles as the war progresses. Evie wants to contribute by writing about the war from a female perspective, Tom is dealing with not only being at the front in France, but also dealing with his ailing father at home and the running of his family's newspaper.  Will is also dealing with the triumphs and tragedies of war, but he also has his eye set on a relationship with a nurse.  The depiction of war from all angles through Evie, Will, and Tom's letters will make readers laugh, cry, cringe, and sigh.  I absolutely adored Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb and this gem of a historical novel can be enjoyed any time of the year, not just at the holidays.

Evie was someone I really enjoyed from the start of Last Christmas in Paris. Through her letters with her brother and Tom, I could feel their childhood connection. They had plans for Christmas in Paris and those plans kept getting pushed back to the point where it felt like a far off dream. Evie sees all the sacrifices her friends are making and wants to do more, much to her mother's dismay. At first, her parents really deter her from doing just about everything, but finally, she finds a way to do something meaningful, starting with writing about the war from a much needed female's perspective. The newspaper column is a hit and women appreciate her perspective as it's often overlooked.  While writing back and forth with Tom over the years, their strong friendship morphs into something more via these letters. It was truly a pleasure to experience. I am a sucker for a good friends-to-lovers trope, so I really enjoyed this aspect of the story. The main issue is Tom isn't home. Evie is. Would this even work or are there too many obstacles facing them?

I also think Gaynor and Webb did a gob job depicting the war through Will and Tom's eyes in Last Christmas in Paris.  World War I was extremely difficult and they didn't sugar coat anything in their letters.  As the years dragged on, I really felt for the soldiers as it didn't feel like an end was in sight.  Will they ever make it back to Paris or is it just a dream to think upon when freezing cold on the battlefield?

I never thought I would appreciate a novel that was told mostly through letters, but Gaynor and Webb did a fascinating job.  I was totally glued to The Last Christmas in Paris and expertly the authors were able to really develop the characters through an epistolary format. It was outstanding and I cared for the characters so very much! Also, I felt aspects of Last Christmas in Paris could be appreciated even today, especially when the Spanish flu emerges as well as the idea of having to push back plans and the uncertainty of the future. 

If you love stories about WWI, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Last Christmas in Paris. Even though it sounds like a holiday tale, it can be enjoyed any time of the year as the focus on Christmas isn't overwhelming. Fan of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will especially appreciate this one.

So, are you a fan of Gaynor and Webb's novels? Have you read Last Christmas in Paris? This would be the perfect book for historical fiction lovers to curl up with by the fire this winter.  Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Next Ship Home

Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

 

The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb 

Pub. Date: February 8, 2022




Goodreads says, "Ellis Island, 1902: Two women band together to hold America to its promise: "Give me your tired, your poor..."  Ellis Island, 1902. Francesca arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life than the one she left in Italy. That same day, aspiring linguist Alma reports to her first day of work at the immigrant processing center. Ellis, though, is not the refuge it first appears thanks to President Roosevelt's attempts to deter crime. Francesca and Alma will have to rely on each other to escape its corruption and claim the American dreams they were promised.  A thoughtful historical inspired by true events, this novel probes America's history of prejudice and exclusion—when entry at Ellis Island promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, immigrants needed strength, resilience, and friendship to fight for their futures."

 

I really have enjoyed Heather Webb's novels in the past and I am excited to check out this one about Ellis Island. I have family members that have gone through Ellis Island, so I am really intrigued. What do you guys think?

 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Most Anticipated Books for the First Half of 2022

There's so many great books coming out the first half of the year--from January to June. Here are the books I have my eye on and I had to add an extra book, because it was too hard to narrow it down to just ten.  Let me know what you think! 

 


1.  I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

2.  The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn 



3.  The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti by Jennifer Probst

4.  The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Alison Pataki



5.  The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb

6.  One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle




7.  The Wedding Veil by Kristy Woodson Harvey

8.  Meant to Be by Emily Giffin 



8.  Book Lovers by Emily Henry

9.  The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand 



11.  The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani

 

Are any of these books on your TBR list?  What books are you looking forward to reading this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Book Review: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Pages: 304
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Source: Library
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says, "Think you know the person you married? Think again… Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.  Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts – paper, cotton, pottery, tin – and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after. Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget. Rock Paper Scissors is the latest exciting domestic thriller from the queen of the killer twist, New York Times bestselling author Alice Feeney."

 

 

Amelia and Adam have an unhappy marriage. It wasn't always this way, but things aren't great between them currently. When she wins a weekend away to a remote Scottish Highland rental, she thinks that this is what will fix their marriage.  They will have time together and Adam won't be glued to his phone or thinking about work, especially because Amelia (stole!) made sure he won't bring his phone with him. On the way there, they encounter a horrible snowstorm which puts them both on edge and on top of it, the rental is just strange. It's cold, it's has erratic electricity, it's a semi-converted old chapel, and it's straight up creepy. There's a dilapidated crypt of some sort, creepy stained glass windows, and locked rooms.  Need I say more? So, maybe this isn't what Amelia had in mind for a romantic weekend and even Adam is starting to think this is a bust.  The narration jumps between present day via Amelia and Adam's perspectives, and also includes letters written to Adam on their various anniversaries, which provides readers with a back story to their tumultuous relationship.  Rock Paper Scissors is a crazy roller coaster ride that kept me guessing.  Will they stay together? How exactly did Amelia win this weekend away? Who is the caretaker of this rental? Which character is straight up crazy or who is the unreliable narrator? So many questions! And, boy, was I surprised to find out the answers.

Amelia, at first, sort of tugs on your heartstrings in Rock Paper Scissors. She is clearly not ok mentally at times, suffers from asthma (which her anxiety exasperates), and she desperately wants attention from her husband, at least I think.  I wasn't entirely sure I could trust her, but I did feel badly for her as this weekend away is turning into a nightmare. Through their letters readers get to know the couple all the way back to the beginning, which at some point it seemed happy, although there were some red flags.

Adam is a difficult character to figure out in Rock Paper Scissors. He has a face blindness disorder, which means he can't identify people and this proves to be a life-long issue as it impacts him greatly.  His job is fascinating though as a screenwriter and how that plays out for him was very interesting, if depressing at times, because of how wrapped up in it he is.  He is obviously hiding secrets regarding his past as well as a few other things, and I didn't really see it coming.  If you are an avid reader of Feeney's novels, you may be able to pick up on things a bit better than I did.  However, I am glad I was clueless and went into it without trying to question or solve every little problem, because it was a fun ride.

Feeney is an impressive writer and I can see why critics refer to her as a the queen of the plot twist. I am not an avid thriller reader, but when I do read them, if done well, I am always blown away and that is the case with Rock Paper Scissors. Once Feeney revealed the truth, I was thinking, "oh, wait a minute." I had to process everything all over again, mostly because I couldn't believe it, and was surprised how she pulled the rug out from underneath me.  With that said, I was very impressed and can't wait to see how this book translates to the TV screen as it's coming to Netflix.

This is the perfect thriller to curl up with this winter! Have you read Rock Paper Scissors? Are you a fan of Alice Feeney? Let me know in the comments. I might have to pick up her other novels, so let me know if you have read them and which ones you recommend as well.

 

 
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