Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Secret Life of Violet Grant: A Novel by Beatriz Williams

The Secret Life of Violet Grant: A Novel.  Beatriz Williams. Penguin Group (USA). May 5, 2015. 528 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425274842.

Vivian Schuyler has graduated from college and now has a job at the competitive Metropolitan magazine, much to the chagrin of her family who wish she would be more concerned about finding a husband, a wealthy husband by preference.  She’s bored in her new job as she’s not taken as a serious writer.  All that is about to change when a package is delivered that will change her life forever.  Add to that the fact that a gorgeous hunk of a guy, Dr. Paul, and Vivian inadvertently crash into each other, beginning a tumultuous, sexy relationship as fraught with complexities as the material in the valise of that unexpected package.

Violet Schuyler Grant was a young, na├»ve girl whom Dr. Walter Grant quickly wooed.  Violet was a brilliant scientist who got her first recognition from Walter.  Overwhelmed with gratefulness, she easily fell into his arms.  But something is wrong, at least to the perceptive reader, for Walter is a control freak and it appears that Violet is groomed to satisfy his unending sexual appetites.  It also seems it is she who is doing all the pivotal scientific work for which her husband gets credit.  Meanwhile, Violet and Walter are living in Europe, with her family having little to see and therefore little to comment upon.

Meanwhile, WWI is looming for Violet and it is 1964 for Vivian who now sets about to explore her Aunt Violet’s disappearance.  All that is known about the latter is the fact it was reported in the news that she killed her husband and escaped with her lover, to where no one knows. 

This then is the story of Vivian whose lover makes a devil’s deal for money and abandons his great love for another woman.  It’s also the story of spies, double agents, and killers who attempt to change the course of history at the onset of World War I.  The beginning of the novel proceeds at a slow rate but jettisons to riveting plots and counter-plots as the story progresses. 

The pages reveal an explicit diary documenting the insatiable appetites of one character while a young British army captain turns out to be so much more than any character in the story anticipated.  If you love mystery, intrigue, spies, murder, chaos, cheating lovers, and so much more, this is your next best springtime or summer read!  Beatriz Williams never disappoints with her deft plotting, twists and turns, and hearty, hot romance.  This is her best novel to date!!! Highly recommended!

Tiffany Girl: A Novel by Deeanne Gist

Tiffany Girl: A Novel.  Deeanne Gist. Howard Books. May 2015. 544 pp.  ISBN#: 9781451692440.

Flossie Jayne is the “New Woman” behind this story of the artist and entrepreneur, Louis Tiffany, whose first major project was creating stained glass religious windows for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.  The glassworkers working on his project go on strike and Tiffany has no choice but to hire woman to do the cutting, pasting and other chores that are part of fashioning the project windows.  Thus begins a fascinating novel in which Jayne is one of the chosen, a dream for her who loves colors and designs beyond life itself and will do anything to help Tiffany complete this project. 

While she’s working she has chosen to live in a family style boarding house where the residents share meals and conversation.  Jayne is a wonderful addition as it is she who turns what were formerly stilted greetings and curt remarks into this ‘family” style.  She creates dinner cards with questions to draw out conversation, quickly organizes skating outings, and more.  But one of the residents, Reed, is a bit of a curmudgeon who hates the idea of the “New Woman” who wants to be independent, self-sufficient for salary and career, and more.  This is also their story as Jayne little by little, and I do mean little, softens Reed who is really nothing more than a man hurt by the past.  However, he plays the part well but also plays it stupidly as he projects his animosity into creating short stories that are serialized into the local paper.

This a great story with something for everyone.  Plenty of descriptions of the art Jayne and Tiffany create as well as the processes involved fill the pages, and Gist is perfect in depicting the beauty and difficulty of each task.  Then there’s a not-so-budding and budding romance that slowly evolves which makes a great story in itself.  And then there is the consideration of what would happen if the “New Woman’ becomes the norm – would society be forevermore changed in a positive or negative way?

Very nice historical fiction which this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommends!

The House of Hawthorne: A Novel by Erika Robuck

The House of Hawthorne: A Novel.  Erika Robuck. Penguin Group (USA). May  2015. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451418913.

Sophy Peabody is an accomplished artist who suffers from viciously painful headaches, especially after she has exerted great effort in creating a beautiful painting.  She is raised with her sister to believe that great female artists should not marry because marriage is a demanding role that will deplete her of all the energy she will need to grow even greater as an artist, a push and pull tension that Sophy will actually struggle with for years.  On a trip to Cuba where she falls in love, she realizes that she can be passionate and still remain as totally invested in her art as is possible. But she also discovers that people can be so dearly loving and blindly evil; so she flees that beautiful country she had come to love with its lush natural scenes and hospitable families.

Upon her return to New England, she meets the dark but sensitive writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The magnetic passion drawing them together is instantaneous and after a delayed wait they marry. They finally settle down into their own home after trying to live at Brook Farm, the Transcendental, agricultural community.  While they agreed with the principals of such a life, they were not up to the hard work of farming.  They are artists who must write and paint.  This is their love story which grows and grows with tender but fierce commitment over the years. 

They endure much suffering during their lives, including the family illnesses and deaths and the dreadful American Civil War.  They, however, are privileged to be able to afford to travel to England, Portugal and Italy, all of which they write about.  Sophy is a life force to Nathaniel, whose dark moods have both genetic and historical roots in his ancestor’s perfidious judgment in Salem, Massachusetts during the brutal witch hunt that condemned so many innocent people. 

The House of Hawthorne… is remarkable and beautiful historical fiction.  The characters are uniquely drawn and their perspective on art, marriage, parenting, slavery, and more compel the reader’s attention and excitement.  Nothing is predictable and everything is unique for this perceptive and endearing couple who create a beautiful tapestry out of the vicissitudes of life and death!  Highly recommended!