REVIEW: WALLIS IN LOVE, BY ANDREW MORTON

“You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.” -Wallis Simpson

Before she became known as the woman who enticed a king from his throne and birthright, Bessie Wallis Warfield was a prudish and particular girl from Baltimore. At turns imaginative, ambitious, and spoiled, Wallis’s first words as recalled by her family were “me, me.” From that young age, she was in want of nothing but stability, status, and social acceptance as she fought to climb the social ladder and take her place in London society. As irony would have it, she would gain the love and devotion of a king, but only at the cost of his throne and her reputation.

In WALLIS IN LOVE, acclaimed biographer Andrew Morton offers a fresh portrait of Wallis Simpson in all her vibrancy and brazenness as she transformed from a hard-nosed gold-digger to charming chatelaine. Using diary entries, letters, and other never-before-seen records, Morton takes us through Wallis’s romantic adventures in Washington, China, and her entrance into the strange wonderland that is London society. During her journey, we meet an extraordinary array of characters, many of whom smoothed the way for her dalliance with the king of England, Edward VIII.

WALLIS IN LOVE goes beyond Wallis’s infamous persona and reveals a complex, domineering woman striving to determine her own fate and grapple with matters of the heart.

As a fan of all things royal, I have always been intrigued by the king who gave up his crown for the woman he loved. So much of the tale told in Wallis in Love gives us a peek into the controversial union, focusing primarily on how much of Wallis was all about her own needs, more than those of her husband. Her social climbing ways were fascinating, in that we catch a glimpse of her style, somewhat outrageous at times, and at her need to surround herself with interesting and important people.But Wallis apparently lacked the main ingredients for true social interaction, and by the end of the story, we could only wonder how the banished king could continue to stick to his wife like glue, especially since there were many scenes we saw of her rude and cruel behavior to him. Throughout we are also shown her feelings for her “one true love,” a friend and confidante who was never actually hers.The wartime attitudes of the Duke almost destroyed his life further, but then he narrowly escaped the consequences of his actions.

Looking at the two of them near the end of their days, I felt a sadness and even some empathy for their poor choices and how they had to finally live with what those decisions had wrought. Abandoned and discarded, they were truly alone, and not even really “together.” I was happy to finally close this book and turn my back on them. 4 stars.

Read for the Nonfiction Challenge. –#2020ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: PRETTY AS A PICTURE, BY ELIZABETH LITTLE

Marissa Dahl, a shy but successful film editor, travels to a small island off the coast of Delaware to work with the legendary—and legendarily demanding—director Tony Rees on a feature film with a familiar logline.

Some girl dies.

It’s not much to go on, but the specifics don’t concern Marissa. Whatever the script is, her job is the same. She’ll spend her days in the editing room, doing what she does best: turning pictures into stories.

But she soon discovers that on this set, nothing is as it’s supposed to be—or as it seems. There are rumors of accidents and indiscretions, of burgeoning scandals and perilous schemes. Half the crew has been fired. The other half wants to quit. Even the actors have figured out something is wrong. And no one seems to know what happened to the editor she was hired to replace.

Then she meets the intrepid and incorrigible teenage girls who are determined to solve the real-life murder that is the movie’s central subject, and before long, Marissa is drawn into the investigation herself.

The only problem is, the killer may still be on the loose. And he might not be finished.


As I slowly immersed myself in Pretty as a Picture, I was fascinated to be inside our first person narrator’s head as she showed us the world of film making from her perspective. As the film editor, Marissa had a very unique view of that world.It didn’t take long for the reader to realize that the movie making world Marissa had stumbled into would be different than usual. Something was going on, and danger was all around.

The teenage girls who sneaked around the hotel were interesting in their junior detective mode, but soon Marissa would realize they had insights that would help solve the old murder…and the dangerous things happening in the current situation.

Several red herrings kept me off guard through most of the story…but then, at the end, the culprit turned out to be almost too obvious to be true. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE WIVES, BY TARRYN FISHER

Thursday’s husband, Seth, has two other wives. She’s never met them, and she doesn’t know anything about them. She agreed to this unusual arrangement because she’s so crazy about him.

But one day, she finds something. Something that tells a very different—and horrifying—story about the man she married.

What follows is one of the most twisted, shocking thrillers you’ll ever read.

You’ll have to grab a copy to find out why.

Thursday narrates The Wives, and her voice feels so rational that I had no trouble buying into her version of the story. Everything felt so credible that I was easily fooled into blaming others for the events that followed.

But then again, when the shocking conclusion knocked me off my perspective, I still wasn’t quite sure who to believe.

A stunning book that was impossible to put down, I kept reading it late into the night. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE COUNTRY GUESTHOUSE, BY ROBYN CARR

A summer rental, a new beginning…

Hannah Russell’s carefully crafted plans for her life have been upended without warning. When her best friend died suddenly, Hannah became guardian to a five-year-old named Noah. With no experience at motherhood, she’s terrified she’s not up to the challenge. She and Noah need time to get to know each other, so she decides to rent a country house with stunning views on a lake in rural Colorado.

When they arrive at the house, they are greeted by the owner, a handsome man who promises to stay out of their way. But his clumsy Great Dane, Romeo, has other ideas and Noah immediately bonds with the lovable dog. As Hannah learns to become a mother, Owen Abrams, who is recovering from his own grief, can’t help but be drawn out of his solitude by his guests.

But life throws more challenges at this unlikely trio and they are tested in ways they never thought possible. All three will discover their strengths and, despite their differences, they will fight to become a family. And the people of Sullivan’s Crossing will rally around them to offer all of the support they need.

 

I do enjoy visiting Sullivan’s Crossing and reconnecting with familiar characters like Sully, Helen, and others. Hannah merges nicely with this group, bringing her own unique strengths to the mix.

I liked that she and Owen, photographer and guesthouse owner, got along so well, and that he was a positive role model for little Noah.

When challenges presented themselves, he aided in facing off against them.

Throughout The Country Guesthouse, I felt like I was taking a stroll in the beautiful settings while enjoying the time I spent with the characters. An enjoyable read, although parts of the story lagged for me. The positives outweighed those moments, however, leading to a 4 star rating.***

REVIEW: THE DAUGHTER, BY JANE SHEMILT

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

Alternating narratives take the reader through the past and the present in The Daughter. Jenny struggles to move beyond what has happened to her daughter, but she is unable to do so. Thoughts of her relationship with Naomi and those last fateful days before her daughter disappeared seem to consume her.

She spends her time in the family cottage, isolated, but slowly she begins to reach out to others. Helping an ailing neighbor next door reminds her of her nurturing qualities and what is missing in her life, offering an alternative to focusing on her loss.

As the story continues, we start uncovering more pieces to the puzzle of Naomi’s disappearance, and see beneath the perfect exterior of the characters’ lives. Lies, secrets, and unexpected events kept me reading, although I felt frustrated by the slow unwinding of a tome that could have kept me glued to the pages. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE PLAYGROUND, BY JANE SHEMILT

Over the course of a long, hot summer in London, the lives of three very different married couples collide when their children join the same tutoring circle, resulting in illicit relationships, shocking violence, and unimaginable fallout.

There’s Eve, a bougie earth mother with a well-stocked trust fund; she has three little ones, a blue-collar husband and is obsessed with her Instagrammable recipes and lifestyle. And Melissa, a successful interior designer whose casually cruel banker husband is careful not to leave visible bruises; she curates her perfectly thin body so closely she misses everything their teenage daughter is hiding. Then there’s Grace, a young Zimbabwean immigrant, who lives in high-rise housing project with her two children and their English father Martin, an award-winning but chronically broke novelist; she does far more for her family than she should have to.

As the weeks go by, the couples become very close; there are barbecues, garden parties, a holiday at a country villa in Greece. Resentments flare. An affair begins. Unnoticed, the children run wild. The couples are busily watching each other, so distracted and self-absorbed that they forget to watch their children. No one sees the five children at their secret games or realize how much their family dynamics are changing until tragedy strikes.

The story twists and then twists again while the three families desperately search for answers. It’s only as they begin to unravel the truth of what happened over the summer that they realize evil has crept quietly into their world.

But has this knowledge come too late?

Meeting the characters of The Playgroundhappened almost immediately, and the narrative alternated between the women. They were wives and mothers who struggled with their marriages, their parenting duties, and their careers.

Their get-togethers revolved around their tutoring circle connections, and while they seemed to be enjoying themselves, it didn’t take long to notice that the children were up to something. They ran wild, primarily, which worried me. I knew that nothing good would come of the games they were playing, games that went unnoticed by the parents.

What ultimately happened stemmed from their inability to keep track of their children and their activities, but also sprang from their own marital issues. Domestic abuse was another theme that would become crucial to the events that unfolded.

When tragedy struck, the spotlight turned to one of the men and ignored the signs that I could see all along. I had figured out what happened long before the end, but I enjoyed watching how the truth was finally discovered. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE EMPTY NEST, BY SUE WATSON

 

 

Kat remembers the days when her only daughter Amy wouldn’t leave her side. Amy was the baby who cried when you walked out of the room, the toddler who was too shy to speak to strangers, the small child who clung to Kat’s legs in the school playground.

But now Amy is grown up, and Amy is gone—to university in a town several hours away. Kat’s house—which once felt too full, too noisy, too busy—is deathly quiet, and Kat awaits the daily phone call to tell her that her beloved daughter is thriving and happy.

Until the day Amy doesn’t call, sending Kat into a panic. Her husband and friends say she’s being paranoid—surely Amy is just out, having fun? But Kat feels sure something is very wrong—she knows her daughter, and she would never just disappear.

As the hours turn into days, her fears are confirmed: Amy is missing. But there are secrets about her daughter that Kat doesn’t know about yet. And the truth about Amy’s whereabouts may be closer to home than Kat could ever imagine…

 
 
 

Kat Ellis is the first-person narrator of The Empty Nest,and she is clearly overly involved in her daughter’s life, so much so that Amy’s choice to attend a university in Wales might just be a way to finally create her own life.

But then Amy goes missing. For a while, nobody believes she is really gone, blaming Kat’s overly obsessive need to control her life.

Kat’s husband Richard, best friend Zoe, and even Jodie, who is Zoe’s daughter, all seem to bend over backwards to help Kat search for Amy—once they convince themselves that she is truly gone. All along, however, there are clues, red flags, and little pieces that don’t add up.

So many red herrings kept me off track, making me suspicious of everyone. Even Richard and Amy’s biological dad Tony are persons of interest. Every time I turned another page, there were more suspects.

Then we finally learn what happened to Amy…and I didn’t see it coming. I rapidly turned pages until the hidden truth was revealed. A twisty story that earned 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE…, BY GLORIA STEINEM

For decades—and especially now, in these times of crisis—people around the world have found guidance, humor, and unity in Gloria Steinem’s gift for creating quotes that offer hope and inspire action. From her early days as a journalist and feminist activist, Steinem’s words have helped generations to empower themselves and work together.

Covering topics from relationships (“Many are looking for the right person. Too few are trying to be the right person.”) to the patriarchy (“Men are liked better when they win. Women are liked better when they lose. This is how the patriarchy is enforced every day.”) and activism (“Revolutions, like trees, grow from the bottom up.”), this is the definitive collection of Steinem’s words on what matters most. Steinem sees quotes as “the poetry of everyday life,” so she also has included a few favorites from friends, including bell hooks, Flo Kennedy, and Michelle Obama, in this book that will make you want to laugh, march, and create some quotes of your own. In fact, at the end of the book, there’s a special space for readers to add their own quotes and others they’ve found inspiring.

The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! is both timeless and timely. It is a gift of hope from Steinem to readers, and a book to share with friends.

Whenever I read a book by Gloria Steinem, I feel inspired, motivated, but even more, I feel understood. My first knowledge of her came when I was in college, and by then, I had already been exposed to other Second Wave Feminists, like Betty Friedan, but what Gloria brought to us was a sense of belonging, of being heard, and of connecting. We enjoyed talking circles like our consciousness-raising groups and the process of listening and speaking out. We were finding our voices for perhaps the first times in our lives.

I always recommend Steinem’s work, but The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off is more than a series of essays or thoughts: the quotes are also cleverly illustrated in such a way to make the reader smile. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: CARRIE FISHER: A LIFE ON THE EDGE, BY SHEILA WELLER

 

Weller traces Fisher’s life from her Hollywood royalty roots to her untimely and shattering death after Christmas 2016. Her mother was the spunky and adorable Debbie Reynolds; her father, the heartthrob crooner Eddie Fisher. When Eddie ran off with Elizabeth Taylor, the scandal thrust little Carrie Frances into a bizarre spotlight, gifting her with an irony and an aplomb that would resonate throughout her life.

We follow Fisher’s acting career, from her debut in Shampoo, the hit movie that defined mid-1970s Hollywood, to her seizing of the plum female role in Star Wars, which catapulted her to instant fame. We explore her long, complex relationship with Paul Simon and her relatively peaceful years with the talent agent Bryan Lourd. We witness her startling leap―on the heels of a near-fatal overdose―from actress to highly praised, bestselling author, the Dorothy Parker of her place and time.

Weller sympathetically reveals the conditions that Fisher lived with: serious bipolar disorder and an inherited drug addiction. Still, despite crises and overdoses, her life’s work―as an actor, a novelist and memoirist, a script doctor, a hostess, and a friend―was prodigious and unique. As one of her best friends said, “I almost wish the expression ‘one of a kind’ didn’t exist, because it applies to Carrie in a deeper way than it applies to others.”

Sourced by friends, colleagues, and witnesses to all stages of Fisher’s life, Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge is an empathic and even-handed portrayal of a woman who―as Princess Leia, but mostly as herself―was a feminist heroine, one who died at a time when we need her blazing, healing honesty more than ever.

As a fan of Carrie Fisher’s books, screenplays, and documentaries, I couldn’t wait to dive into A Life on the Edge. I was not disappointed. I learned new details about her life, her friends, and her work, not to mention how she peeled back “the edifice of her glamour…insisting we meet the messy, funny, flawed woman underneath….” thus becoming her own legend.

Throughout the book, and with the mention of other parts of her celebrated, yet vulnerable and troubled life, I felt even more connected to her. After her death, I watched her One Woman Show Wishful Drinking again, along with Bright Lights, a documentary that reveals so much of the unique relationship between Carrie and Debbie. Yes, they had issues and troubling times, but always they were connected in such a deep way that it was not surprising to those who knew them well that Debbie died one day after her daughter. They could not be separated, even in death.

In one of her letters to the mother of a dying friend, Carrie wrote: “There’s a chance that there’s peace at the end of the march. Peace and companionship with old friends, waiting eagerly for your arrival. Yes, you will be missed. But the best of those who love you will always carry a part of you …You exist as a soft smile…in the midst of a fond memory.”

Carrie’s work, and how she conveyed herself as someone “famous for just being herself,” will keep her alive for those of us who will hang onto the brightness in her as we continue to read and view her works. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: TOUCHED BY THE SUN, BY CARLY SIMON

 

Carly Simon and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made an unlikely pair―Carly, a free and artistic spirit still reeling from her recent divorce, searching for meaning, new love, and an anchor; and Jackie, one of the most celebrated, meticulous, unknowable women in American history.

Nonetheless, over the next decade their lives merged in inextricable and complex ways, and they forged a connection deeper than either could ever have foreseen. The time they spent together–―lingering lunches and creative collaborations, nights out on the town and movie dates―brought a welcome lightness and comfort to their days, but their conversations often veered into more profound territory as they helped each other navigate the shifting waters of life lived, publicly, in the wake of great love and great loss.

An intimate, vulnerable, and insightful portrait of the bond that grew between two iconic and starkly different American women, Carly Simon’s Touched by the Sun is a chronicle, in loving detail, of the late friendship she and Jackie shared. It is a meditation on the ways someone can unexpectedly enter our lives and change its course, as well as a celebration of kinship in all its many forms.

 

 

I was caught up in the author’s thoughts about her relationship with Jackie in Touched by the Sun. I discovered a few tidbits about Jackie in Carly Simon’s narrative, but more than anything, I could see who Jackie was from Carly’s perspective.

If I was hoping for more layers about Jackie, however, I did not find them in this book. I was glad to see Jackie from Carly’s point of view, and this glimpse of Jackie and their friendship was a treasure because I do admire Carly Simon, and enjoyed her thoughts and feelings. Therefore, I kept reading until the very last page. 3.5 stars.

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