Barry, Amy. Kit McBride Takes A Wife. Jove/Penguin. 352 pp. ISBN
This laugh-out-loud mistaken identity tale set in 1886 Montana is a fast-paced romp about a motherless tomboy who can barely cook and clean but is forced into housewifely chores by her four older (well-meaning) brothers. The McBrides thought they’d start their own town up the mountain with their smithy and trading post, but the heart of local civilization is hours away, with it’s depot/post office, mercantile, and cat house. Lonely and loquacious Junebug keeps a complaint book so her brother Kit doesn’t have to listen to her bellyaching.
When a local trapper asks Junebug to help him write an ad for a mail-order bride, Junebug gets it into her head that if Kit had a wife, she wouldn’t have to do so many chores, and posts her own scathingly honest ad… which one buxom gold-digger Willabelle Lascalles responds to. She drags her Irish servant along on her western adventure to snag a wealthy husband, mistakes an old drunkard for the smithy, and bails, leaving lovely Maddy behind with a pampered pooch. She promptly sprains an ankle, resulting in many days of being carried about and fetched cups of tea, making friends with Junebug, and falling for Kit herself. Kit thinks Maddy is the Mrs. Lascalles who wants to marry him, and Junebug convinced Maddy not to set her brother straight just yet. And then a blizzard or two later, Beau and Morgan return from fetching the doctor (remember the sprained ankle) with the real Mrs. Lascalles…
Maddy’s travels by train from sooty St. Louis to the wilds of Montana read like a love letter to the US, even as she compares to her emerald isle homeland. Late 18th century details are convincingly portrayed. The characters are archetypal, rather than stereotypical, and author Amy Barry has a nice note at the end of the book, citing the native people and lands portrayed with dignity. Junebug’s success leads her to pen an ad for Morgan at the end of the book, launching what will be a memorable and enjoyable series for readers who don’t want to take their romance too seriously, swoon over mountain men, and appreciate the tropes of getting snowed in and mistaken identity.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #KitMcBrideTakesAWife from #NetGalley.
de Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1250274618 320 pp. $27.99
I readily admit to being a bit of a lazy reader: I read to escape, I want to be entertained, and I read nonfiction, not mystery, to exercise my brain. I was attracted by the jazz-age cover (those pearls!) and scintillating title, and it took midway through chapter two to realize the narrator was speaking about THAT Agatha Christie, of mystery novel fame. I almost put the book down several times, and am SO glad I stuck with it.
Nan O’Dea is in love with Archie Christie, who has promised to leave his wife for her. When he breaks the news to his wife Agatha, she goes missing for almost two weeks, amid scandal and intrigue (which is amazing for book sales!), and upon her return, does divorce, and both former spouses remarry. This inventive historical novel imagines why Nan, why now, and what happened during those pivotal eleven days. While the narrative gives insight into multiple characters, including the police inspector, it’s all as imagined by Nan (who may not even be a reliable narrator!) The story moves back and forth in time from Nan’s unsavory experience as an unmarried pregnant girl in a corrupted convent and a seductive mistress. The timeline is usually easy to follow (though there are one or two muddled times that took a little re-reading). In the midst of Christie’s disappearance, there is a murder mystery involving two guests near where the author is holed up.
Without giving away too much plot, I will say the voice and story are compelling, the plot brilliantly woven, and the tone reminiscent of Christie herself. Period details seem to be well-researched and the ending is extremely satisfying. I fully expect this to be an Edgar Award contender if not winner this year.
I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheChristieAffair from #NetGalley
Long, Julie Anne. I’m Only Wicked with You (The Palace of Rogues #3). Avon, 2021. ISBN 978-0063045088 400 pp. $8.99
Prim and proper Lady Lilias Vaughn is the equivalent of grounded during her family’s stay at a hotel, due to her scandalous recent behaviors. She finds another guest, the uncouth American Hugh Cassidy, to be a fine sparring partner and someone who challenges her intellectually and more. While she waits for scandal to blow over, she falls more and more for the irreverent young man, who seems to bring out the best–and the worst–in her behavior.
I’m Only Wicked with You features great tension, strong character development, and a feisty heroine to cheer on. Period details with a dose of non-period feminism plus fantastic situations and dialogue merit this title five stars.
Maher, Kerri. The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly. Berkley, 2020. ISBN 978-0451492074 384 pp. $26
BioFic about the life and loves of Grace Kelly, b. 1929, American actress who married the Prince of Monaco in 1956–who promptly made her quit her film career. Lots of history, travel, drama and romance in this historical fictionalized biography.
Gaston, Theodora Getty. Alone Together: My Life With J. Paul Getty. Ecco, 2016. ISBN 978-0062219725 320 pp. $
This memoir by the fifth! wife of oil baron J. Paul Getty reflects on their fabulous and charming relationship. He was a miser and flirt. She was a trained opera singer. It was attraction at first sight when he saw her singing in a nightclub. The passion was real, but Getty, the nation’s first billionaire, was a tycoon first, and the couple spent almost as much time apart as together.
Told with the long view of nearly 100 years on earth, the breathless stream of consciousness style of the telling propels a dramatic narrative of the glitz and glamour of the gilded age is tempered with the death of their son from a brain tumor. This tale is a glimpse into not only a bygone era, but a woman’s heart.
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Winter’s Love. Shaw, 2000. ISBN 978-0877888895 336 pp. $
On holiday in Switzerland, Emily struggles with her marriage and gets caught up in a relationship with someone else. Atmospheric, dated, and peopled with unlikeable characters and unfulfilled romance, this depressing is still wonderfully written!
Romano-Lax, Andromeda. Behave. Soho Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1616956530 400 pp. $26.95
This novel about Vassar grad and behavioral scientist Rosemarie Rayner and her work and love affair with John Watson provides cringe-worthy descriptions of experiments on infants amid details of life in the roaring 20s. Fascinating read peppered with unlikeable characters.
Maryanne O’Hara. Cascade. Viking, 2012. ISBN 978-0670026029. 368 pp. $26.95
While the main character makes some ethically questionable choices ranging from adultery to exploitation of her town’s pending disappearance due to the creation of the Quabbin reservoir in turn of the century Massachusetts, this does NOT make for a bad book! Cascade is unputdownable as the reader wonders what the heck is going to happen next to an unhappy artist who should have pursued art first and love second.
Cascade is a great character driven book, with wonderful period details that reflect how little influence and power women had — not that long ago.
Newman, Leslea. Jailbait. Delacorte, 2006. ISBN 978-0385734059 256 pp. $17.95
In her desperate need to matter to someone, a naive loner is sucked into an inappropriate relationship with a strange older man who abuses her sexually and verbally. Andi, a stereotypical overweight and unpopular tenth grader, nurtures a relationship with a moody adult stranger who offers her a ride home one day. As their relationship progresses, Frank manipulates her into posing for cheesecake photos, losing her virginity and performing sexual acts on him.
This squirm-inducing tale is not sexy or gratuitous, but the content is certainly provocative. Middle class-suburbia offers no protection from pedophiles; the book drives home the reality that an estimated one in three girls are sexually abused before the age of 16. The tragic events of the story are a good jumping off point for a discussion about respect and self-esteem.
Set purposefully in 1971, slang, music and cultural details do flesh out the story, but it’s unclear why the author chose this particular time for the setting of the story. The clever cover of a teen’s face with a censor mark across the eyes indicate the mature content, the “it-could-happen-to any-girl” possibility, and the utter blindness of a young women who mistakes attention for love.
Erian, Alicia. Towelhead: A Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2008. ISBN 978-1416589303. 336 pp. $12.00
Ok, I don’t know why books about predatory relationships keep falling into my lap. Could someone please send something lighthearted and funny my way??
Towelhead is about the early sexualization of an Arab-Irish girl so starved for affection and physical contact she constantly allows men to overstep their boundaries in a variety of inappropriate ways. When Jasira’s mother discovers her own boyfriend is helping her daughter get a neat bikini line, she kicks the guy out and sends Jasira to live with her strict Arab father, thinking that living with a man will help learn how to act appropriately around them. An upstanding member of the armed services who lives next door takes an interest in the 34-C cup teen, who begins to baby-sit for his obnoxious son. We know what’s coming, it’s just a matter of how long.
The story takes place during the 1990s but it seems to take place in a cultural void, with little detail about time and place to round out the narrative. The Gulf War is the only orienting detail. The voice, at a blend of innocent and worldly, is near pitch perfect, but the plot is so overly focused on sexual awakening that there isn’t space to examine the prejudices and racial issues more closely.
There are two redeeming qualities to this book. Jasira embraces her sexual feelings and explores how to give herself pleasure, and recognizes that she deserves to feel good about herself and her body. And, the thirteen-year-old black boy who becomes her boyfriend is more of a gentleman than the pervert next door, and it is refreshing to think that an adolescent boy might have learned something in a porn magazine beyond idolizing airbrushed dolts: he genuinely seems to care about what Jasira wants and is as focused on her pleasure in their relationship as his own.