April 9, 2018

Book Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart. 

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?

There is a big “twist” in Anatomy of a Scandal, one that I did see coming as soon as the first flashback is introduced. However, predicting the twist did not make it any less of a pageturner. There are other surprises in store for the reader, not the least of which is if James is truly guilty of what he is charged with. Some of my curiosity derives from following a case through the English criminal system, albeit a fictional one. I was surprised, for instance, to learn that barristers still wear old-fashioned robes and wigs in court, even the female ones. 

As the novel begins, it at first seems that we are meant to find Kate as our touchstone in the story – the crusading prosecutor determined to seek justice. The wife of the accused, Sophie, initially seems like a cold, unsympathetic character, who was lived, along with her husband, a too-perfect life all these years. But as the story reveals one twist after another, Sophie, who might have been a calculating or complicit at first becomes richer with dimension. There are more to the characters than meet the eye.

Scandalous yes, but also an anatomical glimpse into a genuinely realistic scenario apropos for these times. 

“But the truth is, women are often scared of antagonizing their assailants or they feel conflicted; not so very long ago they may have been charmed by them. And we women aim to please. It is hardwired into us that we should placate and mollify-bend our will to that of men….

“And so, yes, a young woman whose boss has touched her up or whose supposed friend has kissed her might well seek to minimize what has happened.  To think the best: that it was an out-of-character mistake, best forgotten or brushed over, whatever the pounding of her heart-and the shot of fear coursing through her-might betray.

“But she is a fool, and it is no wonder.

“Men can make fools of us all.”

March 19, 2018

Book Review: Everless by Sara Holland

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

If you've ever seen the movie In Time, then you would get a glimmer of this fantasy version of a world where time is money. It all stems from the origin story of the Sorceress and the Alchemist, long, long ago, when the Alchemist somehow converted blood into time and tricked the Sorceress into giving away her heart (literally). I didn't much understand this fable but it is very prettily told.  In Everless, the Gerlings are the rich and Jules is one of the poor.  There is Roan who is the beloved golden son and Liam, the cruel, angry one, and if you don't see a love triangle coming then you have never read a young adult novel.

The premise lured me, but the very impetuous/kinda maddening Jules and the confusing origin myth inspired only lukewarm feelings upon completion.  But complete it I did so I would rate Everless as a mildly pleasant diversion.

Oh, and it is the beginning of series.

March 12, 2018

Book Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairytale romance in London, they have three-year-old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and named it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to try to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

I have been such a fan of Lauren Willig since The Ashford Affair, The Other Daughter, as well as The Forgotten Room.  The English Wife has the same unputdownable quality of her previous books. I read it in 2 sittings, fighting, then ultimately succumbing to, sleep at one point.

The novel opens in the middle of the glamorous Twelfth Night Ball just before Bay is found dead, with his wife, Annabelle, having disappeared. Their beautiful, privileged life is seen from the outside by Bay's sister, Janie, often overlooked and pitied. The narrative alternates between the aftermath of that night and the years before, starting with how Annabelle and Bay met.

Nothing is what it seems - let me get that out of the way.  The theme of Twelfth Night is not a throwaway detail at all - let that prepare you for having your expectations turned upside down and inside out, not once, not twice, but multiple times as it did mine.  Of course we find out that Bay and Annabelle's perfect marriage was anything but.  Just when I felt sure I knew how the story would turn, it goes in an unforeseen path.  Just when I thought I had pinpointed the murderer, the next chapter would undermine that theory and inspire a new one. 

Though the book is mostly tragic, it does end in a happy ending for some. Yet, I couldn't shake a haunted feeling as I read the last chapter - hoping for a sudden twist that sadly did not happen.