Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis


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 It feels like I've been missing a lot of historical fiction in the past year, when it used to make up a large portion of my monthly reading. 

Fiona Davis' The Magnolia Palace got me off to a good start in 2022. I always enjoy her novels, set in New York City and centered around famous New York City landmarks. It's a great combination of fiction and history; you can tell Fiona Davis does her research. 

This novel takes us to 1919 New York City--but also 1966 New York City. What links the two periods together? Henry Clay Frick and his family, and art. 

The 1919 story centers around Lillian Carter, who is an artist's model that is known as "Angelique". Her face and body are on numerous statues, monuments, and sculptures all around New York City. Lillian's mother has just died, and without her guidance, she's a bit lost--and broke. 

Lillian quickly finds herself in trouble with the police and, after spending the night hiding in a park, she stands in front of the Frick mansion, staring up at a carving above the front doors--it's her, of course. She's everywhere. 

Lillian is mistaken for a personal assistant candidate for Miss Helen Frick (daughter of Henry Clay Frick), and with no where to go and no money, she bluffs her way into the job. Now she's got a place to stay, and some income. Lillian plans on staying for a few months and then leaving for Hollywood and a career in film. Helen is a taskmaster, difficult to get along with, and a genius. Lillians' time at the mansion is not without issues. 

It's 1966, and the Frick mansion is now a famous art museum. English model Veronica is there on her first big photo shoot with Vogue. She's inexperienced and very new at modeling, and needs this job badly. Unfortunately, the photographer is a jerk, and Veronica ends up being left behind as the photo shoot ends and everyone leaves before a big snow storm hits. Veronica is all alone in the mansion, with no way out. So she begins to explore. 

Lillian and Veronica are both models, and their experiences at the Frick mansion--one sees it as a home, the other as an intimidating museum-are the story that brings their worlds together. I had to keep reminding myself it was 1966 in the novel, and not 2021! Trying to do the math in my head and realizing that yes, Lillian and Helen would both still be alive in 1966. I think it was just me that caused this issue in my brain; it certainly wasn't the story or the writing. 

Anyway-this is a story about women, the choices they have to make in a world where men hold all the cards--and judging people based on very little information. Lillian is a tough woman, but very vulnerable; Helen Frick is quite the character--but underneath it all, she just wants her father's love. Veronica is trying to make the best choices for her family and not losing sight of what she wants. 

Art lovers will enjoy this novel, and if you've ever visited the Frick Museum  you'll recognize so many of the rooms and artwork mentioned in this novel. There is a little bit of a mystery that also ties both stories together, and I think you'll enjoy the conclusion very much--I know I did. 

Rating: 4/6 for a historical novel about the Frick mansion; the Frick family and their art collection, and the fascinating world of modeling in the early 20th century. Strong female characters, a plot that keeps moving along, and early 20th century New York City all make this a treat to read. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

**“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through links on this site.**

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Maid by Nita Prose


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 This delightful mystery has been getting all the buzz lately, and I couldn't wait to read it. 

Molly Gray is a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel, and she takes her job very, very seriously. She will not leave a hotel room less than perfect for a hotel guest. Her tag line: "I am here to restore your room to a state of perfection". 

Molly is a character that is certainly memorable. She has trouble reading social cues and takes everything people say literally. She's painfully honest, too. Sadly, she's a loner amongst the hotel employees, and of course they make fun of her. Yet she is the sweetest, most honest person around. 

One day, Molly returns to the hotel suite of the Blacks, a rich couple who frequent the hotel. Molly doesn't care for Mr. Black, as he's rude, crude, and treats his young second wife badly. He's been known to be mean to hotel staff, too. Molly had already been in the suite once that morning, but had to leave before she could finish cleaning the bathroom. Upon returning, she notices the suite she left in tip-top shape (except for the bathroom) is now messy again. Moving into the bedroom, she discovers Mr. Black, dead on the bed. 

Oh dear. 

Molly quickly becomes the center of the murder investigation-mostly because police can't understand how or why she can remain calm, cool, and emotionally detached as they question her. Well, Molly is a bit different, and unfortunately, the police just don't understand her at all. 

Molly gets herself into a pickle, mostly because she just can't read people very well, and mistakes attention for caring when it's not. As Molly finds herself getting deeper into the muck of the murder, will she be able to save herself from going to jail?

Molly will tug at your heart, for sure. She's lonely, has only the best intentions, and is struggling to make ends meet. You will certainly cheer her on, worry about her, and want to make her a cup of tea. The murder definitely takes some twists and turns, too. 

Rating: 5/6 for an entertaining mystery centered around a maid who falls under suspicion after discovering a dead body at a hotel. This novel takes a few surprise turns, all the way to the end. I loved it. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

**“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through links on this site.**

Sunday, January 16, 2022

I Finally Read a Taylor Jenkins Reid Novel: Malibu Rising


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  I'll admit sometimes I stubbornly refuse to read an author right out of the gate--mostly because there's so much praise about the novels that I have to take a step back and not rush to jump on the bandwagon. I don't want to read something just because everyone else is--I'd rather come around in my own time. 

So, I ordered Malibu Rising from BOTM and decided to give it whirl. I was looking to read something very different after reading my Christmas novels in December. This fit the bill!

Yeah, I loved it. I don't know if it was the setting: Malibu in the early 1980's; or the characters, or reading a novel set by the Pacific Ocean in the warm California sun. All of it combined to create a read that I simply couldn't put down. 

So, the Riva family: Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit. Children of singer Mick Riva (I kept picturing Dean Martin), who was a famous crooner in the 1950's, all the way up to the early 1980's. He had married their mother June before he hit it big, and left her after only a few years of marriage--but was never completely out of her life. Their mother became an alcoholic, and did her best to raise her children in Malibu when it was a sleepy beach community. 

Now the kids are all grown up: Nina is a famous model and surfer; Jay is a famous surfer competing for world titles; Hud is the photographer who keeps Jay in magazines. Kit is the youngest-an amazing surfer, but her talent hasn't been noticed by her siblings just yet. It's the day of their famous once a year party at Nina's malibu mansion. A party that started out small years ago, and now has reached epic proportions: only those who are in the know attend-famous people and hangers on. 

Leading up to the party, we learn about the Riva family history, and how all of the kids came to be in this spot at this certain time. The sacrifices Nina has made to  raise her siblings; the unhappiness they experienced growing up without a father present, and where they plan to go in life and love. 

I loved the setting, all of the siblings, and the back story of June and Mick Riva. I definitely felt myself back in the early 1980's, too. It's a character driven novel, but enough happens that you're never bored. Once the party kicks into gear, so much is happening all over the place you don't want to stop reading. 

So yeah, now I'm going to read another of Taylor Jenkin Reid's novels. She's definitely talented, and writes a darn good story. I don't think I would have been able to stick to this novel if I'd tried to read it before now, so I'm glad I waited and read it when I wanted to, and not because I felt I had to join the crowd. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that transports you to 1980's Malibu-the surfing, the beaches, the sun. All of the characters were well defined and each had a compelling story. Loved it!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Bone Cay by Eliza Nellums


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This novel wasn't on my TBR list until I came across it at work. A quick glance at the cover had me quickly checking it out and taking it home.

Magda Trudell is the caretaker of the Whimbrel Estate in Key West, the home of poet Isobel Reyes. Isobel famously walked off the dock near her home in 1918, drowning in the ocean. Her body was never found. Now, that reputation has people visiting the area to also end their lives. Magda makes it part of her duties to walk the beach and check the mangroves to see if any bodies appear. Not exactly what a caretaker should be doing on a daily basis. 

Madga has fought and fought to get extra funding for the Whimbrel Estate. She's poured all her love and admiration for Isobel's poetry into her life and is an expert on Isobel's poetry. She's been caretaker of the estate for ten years, and has fought tooth and nail to preserve the gorgeous estate and bring a historic landmark designation to it. Unfortunately, she's been unsuccessful. She has one more chance to try for the designation; funding is guaranteed if she's successful.

Unfortunately, there's a major hurricane forming and heading right towards Key West. Magda decides she's going to stay at Whimbrel and take on the storm. It goes against everything--everyone is being evacuated. But Madga won't leave the estate, and is confident it will survive the hurricane. 

As the storm approaches and hits, it quickly becomes apparent it is a monster hurricane, with relentless rain and winds. It's just not stopping or lessening in intensity. Magda makes a fascinating discovery after the gift shop is damaged--one that could turn the story of Isobel completely around, and change the future of the Whimbrel Estate--and Magda, too. But will she survive the hurricane?

There's more to the story, but I don't want to give it all away--more characters, too. Part thriller, part ghost story, it's also a nail biter as the hurricane just keeps clawing its way onshore, creeping closer and closer to the house. It brings a lot of darkness with it, and it soon becomes a battle of survival for Magda. 

I enjoyed this novel, but it did take me a bit to finish it. I kept putting it down and picking it up. I thought the plot was very interesting, but Madga, darn it--she annoyed me sometimes. Her stubbornness was not admirable in the face of such a terrible storm. The action does build with the introduction of a few other characters, with a twisty turn towards the end. 

Rating: 3/6 for an interesting plot thick with the history of Key West, ghostly happenings, and a hurricane determined to destroy everything in its path. It's definitely human vs. nature. 

Available in hardcover, audio and Kindle ebook. 

**“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through links on this site.**