{Review} The Royal Secret by Lucinda Riley

the royal secret book cover photo of a crown with bokeh lights in the foreground I love a good romantic chick lit. They’re fun and light, if not a bit predictable. In between the “heavier” stuff I read, it’s good to get lost in some fantasy world. I was pretty sure The Royal Secret would be a book like that, and it is, but with a little twist.

Joanna Haslam, our strong female lead, is a striving journalist waiting for her big break. When she’s sent to cover the funeral of Sir James Harrison, a venerated actor (I kept thinking of Charlton Heston, for some reason…), she comes to the aid of an elderly woman in attendance.  This act of kindness turns out to be fateful as Joanna is plunged headlong into a royal mystery featuring a dizzying array of characters, all with their own stories to reveal. The ending is anything but predictable, and Lucinda Riley keeps us guessing until the very end.

The origins of the book itself even has some intrigue. Originally scheduled to be published back in the early aughts, the Royal family put the kibosh on the book, causing the author to lose her contract with the publisher. I guess enough time has passed at this point that the earlier censorship is now reversed and the book is back with a new title.

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Photo of Author Lucinda Riley wearing a rust-orange sundress, standing on a walkway in lush green scenery. The author is leaning on the railing with arms crossed.
Credit: Boris Breuer

FIND LUCINDA RILEY ONLINE:

Website: http://www.lucindariley.com

Twitter: @lucindariley

Facebook: @Lucindarileyauthor

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and the Seven Sisters seriesHer books have sold more than fifteen million copies in thirty-five languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children.

 

 

 

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{Review} Motherland by Elissa Altman

It’s really only a coincidence that I’m writing and publishing this review on Mother’s Day weekend.  But here we are, being apropos!

In Motherland, Elissa Altman displays her talent for imbuing the mundane with powerful meaning. The closet the contains a tiny, red plaid umbrella, an old mink coat, a child’s grade school notebooks, baby teeth, a wedding gown, is not just clutter but objects that serve as a balm to a highly anxious, traumatized woman who needs constant reassurance that her life has been a life well-lived, even when she feels strongly it’s been otherwise. Objects that are tangible evidence of her love for her daughter, that she was a good mother even when she wasn’t.

What kind of mother can you be when you’ve never felt enough your entire life, when you carry the weight of intergenerational trauma?  Elissa Altman works to understand this woman who raised her, who made it clear that she could’ve been so much more if she hadn’t been stuck in this motherhood role.  It’s easy to be angry at Rita–how dare she be resentful of motherhood. But I’m inspired by Elissa’s empathy for her mother, her willingness to understand why her mother is the way she is, and it’s impossible to be angry. Frustrated, definitely. Angry, no. Deeply sympathetic for Elissa’s dilemma–to preserve her own sanity by putting distance between herself and her mother, or to take the fifth commandment to heart. The dilemma is made all the more vexing because Elissa’s late father had implored her to remember to honor thy mother and father, always.

Elissa Altman’s vivid storytelling, and uncanny ability to evoke a time, a place, a feeling with mere words make this a book that needs to be on your Must Read list. Motherland is out from Ballantine in August 2019, and available for preorder on Amazon.

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How can a mother and daughter who love (but don’t always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? It’s the universal question that has defined mothers and daughters from Demeter and Persephone to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

“Wise, evocative, and rich in insight, this compassionate and beautiful memoir is ultimately an act of love.”—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a flâneur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale’s and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter.

Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita’s yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.

Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again.

Advance praise for Motherland

“Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

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{Review} Fleishman Is In Trouble

fleishman is in troubleBack in the fall, I hopped on a train to San Francisco, leaving the kids behind with dad and indulged in my favorite pastime– wandering around a city alone, like I was in college again.

When I was a student at NYU, I lived downtown in various dorms, all below 14th Street. Most days, I went to class. But I developed a habit of taking mental health days. I would wander the village, both east and west, aimlessly, taking myself shopping, browsing in bookstores,  and treating myself to lunch at Fanelli’s  Sometimes, I would take myself to the movies at the Angelika on Houston or Cinema Village on 12th Street. Even then, still young, uncoupled, and childless, I sought independence and a break from the routine of school and work and LIFE.

Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner,  is the existential crisis that every married person who was once young and free is in danger of suffering. The book opens with our male protagonist, Toby Fleishman, the description of whom immediately brings to mind a nebbishy Jew, and of course, he is. An LA native, raised in a Jewish household, now a doctor and living in New York, Toby paints a picture of himself as a loving, devoted father  and amiable husband who was emotionally abandoned by his wife, a striver who has risen to great heights in her career, far surpassing Toby’s earning power. Toby asked for the divorce, we learn and we think we understand why. Rachel has put her work before her family, her career before her children, chasing after status and acceptance at the expense of everything else.

I found myself wary. I did not want to be on Toby’s side, and tried to remember that there are two sides to every story. Why should I trust Toby, after all? But then, it becomes clear that the narrator is a woman, an old college friend of Toby’s and that makes Toby more credible, because our narrator, Libby, doesn’t like Rachel either.

If I were reading this book with my book club, we’d have so many angles to dissect that we’d probably finish at least two bottles of wine and all the cheese and crackers, and maybe the brownies too.

What starts out as a book about a poor shlub who can’t keep up with his rising star of a wife, becomes a story about what women give up when they choose between career and family. It’s a story in which women can either be a winner in their own eyes or someone else’s eyes but never both at the same time.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is forthcoming from Random House, June 2019.

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{Review} The Farm by Joanne Ramos

the farm by joanne ramos

My Review

Women’s bodies are a battleground– a political battleground, a social battleground, a religious battleground. Bodies that are valuable and glorified at the same time that they are dispensable and interchangeable. They  are a commodity, for men, certainly. And for women, they  are a commodity, whether it’s their own body or another woman’s body.

And that’s what The Farm is about. Joanne Ramos has conjured up a world that will be familiar to anyone that has read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Except that at The Farm, women are compelled to give up their bodies as surrogate wombs with the promise of money and maybe some notion that they are helping another woman in need.

It’s a good story, with an interesting mix of characters to keep the plot moving along, enough to make me emotionally invested in the story.

But don’t expect the depth or complexity of The Handmaid’s Tale. On the surface, this is a commentary on women’s bodies and how they become weapons in a class war. Underneath, it’s just your run-of-the-mill chick lit with on-trend hot button issues layered over it.   A good  beach read, but don’t expect to arrive at any profound revelations.

Pre-Order The Book (Available May 6, 2019)

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NetGalley Description

Life is a lucrative business, as long as you play by the rules.

“[Joanne] Ramos’s debut novel couldn’t be more relevant or timely.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (25 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019)

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Advance praise for The Farm

“This topical, provocative debut anatomizes class, race and the American dream.”The Guardian, “What You’ll Be Reading This Year”

“Wow, Joanne Ramos has written the page-turner about immigrants chasing what’s left of the American dream. . . . Truly unforgettable.”—Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story and Lake Success

“A highly original and provocative story about the impossible choices in so many women’s lives. These characters will stay with me for a long time.”—Karen Thompson Walker, New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Miracles and The Dreamers

“Ramos has written a firecracker of a novel, at once caustic and tender, page-turning and thought-provoking. This is a fierce indictment of the vampiric nature of modern capitalism, which never loses sight of the very human stories at its center. . . . Highly recommended.”—Madeline Miller#1 New York Times bestselling author of Circe

 

 

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