An insightful and incisive period piece set in the world of commercial advertising in the 60s and 70s.
I came to this book having very much enjoyed theAn insightful and incisive period piece set in the world of commercial advertising in the 60s and 70s.
I came to this book having very much enjoyed the author's debut novel, 31 Days, which was also much informed and inspired by her own long and fascinating international career in art and advertising, so when the publisher offered me a review copy, I snapped it up and quickly devoured the book. I'm probably one of few readers who haven't seen the TV series "Mad Men" set in the same world and era, but I did spend a few years working in a multi-service communications agency which included advertising departments in the 90s, so that was more my point of reference rather than the TV show.
The clever choice of cover image immediately sets the tone for the novel - a love story from an earlier era, the 60s/70s, when smoking was still thought glamorous - in fact in this novel, not only is smoking tobacco the norm, but there are also social pressures within the high-pressure world in which the central characters work to drink large quantities of alcohol and use other drugs, partly as a reward to self, but partly to help them deal with the dog-eat-dog commercial atmosphere in which they operate. The male players' attitude to sex is pretty much the same, and one of the challenges to the women is whether to play along or stand apart.
The central character, Maddie, has the misfortune to fall in love with a high-flying married exec, and diverts her own very promising career, forged against the odds in an era of rampant sexism and discrimination against women, to be with him. I don't want to give away the plot, so will say no more about it, other than to say this is a gritty, honest, story that delves behind the glamour and reminds us how far women have come since those days - though many would say we've still not come far enough.
The writing is smart and engaging, and never sentimental - this is no hearts-and-flowers romance - and manages to engage the reader's sympathiy and empathy even when the characters are behaving in what might seem to 21st century eyes like a reprehensible or shocking way. It's also a very interesting period piece, studded with details along the way that make you feel like you're right in that era, and given that the Historical Novel Society's definition of a historical novel is any book set 50 years before it's written, this just about squeezes in to the category.
I think this would make a terrific read for a book group, fuelling discussion about the characters' behaviour and how different the story might be if reflecting today's world of advertising, and the pros and cons of warts-and-all stories of relationships compared to happy-ending romances....more
Gosh, hard to know how to review this without giving away any of the plot details, so I'll avoid them altogether and just implore you to read this booGosh, hard to know how to review this without giving away any of the plot details, so I'll avoid them altogether and just implore you to read this book - and the first two in the series if you haven't already read them - for a compassionate, incisive, intelligent and deeply moving saga of different kinds of conflict, both of the impact of World War II and of inter-familial jealousies on the lives of ordinary people. I found all three books in this trilogy very hard to put down, and the final resolution artistically perfect. Highly recommended, whether or not you usually read historical fiction, because although this is a very evocative period piece from the start of the war to the final recovery in the 1950s, its messages are relevant and powerful for the modern world too. A tour de force....more
A different kind of central character in this detective story - not the detective, but his professional academic wife whose London college is affectedA different kind of central character in this detective story - not the detective, but his professional academic wife whose London college is affected by the mysterious murder of a prominent student. While her spouse gets on with the formalities of solving the mystery, the feisty Julia mentors the flatmate of the victim, her kindness and curiosity putting her in peril too as the mystery unfolds.
As the title suggests, the novel, told in the first person by 35 year old Dr Julia Deane, is her take on the case, and the story includes domestic details such as her relationship with her husband, grandmother and wayward mother. The latter put me in mind of a less extreme version of the Julie Walters character in the TV series "Dinner Ladies".
Great fun, fast-paced, direct, and apparently paving the way for a series, this is a neat, interesting and compact quick read that I very much enjoyed, carried along by the no-nonsense narrator....more
This is a beautifully produced heirloom book that would make a great gift for anyone interested in Yeats, Irish poetry or gorgeous books in general.
IThis is a beautifully produced heirloom book that would make a great gift for anyone interested in Yeats, Irish poetry or gorgeous books in general.
I didn't know much about Yeats' private life, but I do now, thanks to this fascinating and well-crafted fictionalised biography - and what a life it was! Full of intrigue, mysticism, drugs, politics, and a tantalising unfulfilled romance with convention-defying feminist Maud Gonne. The story is told in Orna Ross's distinctive lyrical Irish prose, adding to the pleasure of reading. Yeats' poetry is often quoted, and his collection of short stories is included too, so this is a bumper, multi-faceted book to treasure. ...more
An endearing and fascinating little book, sharing a glimpse of life as an anaesthetist, a quiet and underrated presence on the hospital theatre stage,An endearing and fascinating little book, sharing a glimpse of life as an anaesthetist, a quiet and underrated presence on the hospital theatre stage, including interesting overview of the history of anaesthesia that makes me very glad that I was born in the 20th century! I'd have liked this book to be longer and, as someone who has caused problems to anaesthetists in the past with my awkwardly shaped throat (which no-one knew about till they tried to start me breathing again - yikes!) to include more success stories! Probably best not to read if you're about to go into surgery, but very worthwhile (and fast) to read....more
I was particularly interested in reading this book because, like the author, I have a daughter with Type 1 diabetes (diagnosed aged 3), and in additioI was particularly interested in reading this book because, like the author, I have a daughter with Type 1 diabetes (diagnosed aged 3), and in addition my husband has it too, diagnosed in his 40s. I've also written a memoir about the experience myself, and never actually come across another book written by a mother about her child's diabetes, so was keen to share her experience.
I was pleased to discover it was a well-written, candid account from diagnosis to three years on, sharing the story of how Kaitlin's condition affected not only the child herself but the whole family. Often people don't realise how much diabetes takes its toll on parents and siblings, so this is an important message to get across.
I also really liked her level-headed optimism and determination, and the book ends with a positive conclusion that although she would rather be without diabetes in the family, the journey has effected some positive changes in her own life. It sounds as if her children have both come out of it very well, and I wish the whole family the very best.
I was also interested to see that she has found comfort in volunteering for diabetic organisations such as JDRF to help her deal with the situation, as I have too.
Unlike another reviewer, who gave her 1* for focusing so much on her own story in this book, I applaud Lori Dotson for her honesty and openness, and actually I think that the degree to which she's been affected by her daughter's illness is a tribute to what a good mother she must be.
I recommend this book for any parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes who is trying to make sense of their life and restore order after diagnosis. Thank you, Lori Dotson, for sharing your experience....more
Set in the early 1930s, this intriguing novel, based on a real-life case, follows the progress of Walter Bruce, a door-to-door insurance saleman, as hSet in the early 1930s, this intriguing novel, based on a real-life case, follows the progress of Walter Bruce, a door-to-door insurance saleman, as he tries to stage the perfect murder of his wife. His motive? The diagnosis of a terminal illness that will kill him sooner if he does not escape the stress of living with her. Discovering dark secrets about this wife steels his determination to be rid of her, and he blackmails two others into helping him commit the crime. Despite strategic thinking powers nurtured by his passion for chess, Bruce’s plan misfires, and he must face the consequences. While it’s difficult to warm to any of the characters, the omniscient narrator makes it easy to understand Bruce’s motivation and actions. At times the story reads like journalism, telling rather than showing, particularly during the courtroom scenes, but although that approach is often decried in fiction, it actually worked rather well here. Although I disliked Bruce, I also felt very sorry for him, constrained in the narrow world of his time and class. His dreary world of lower-middle-class suburbia offers no real hope of betterment, and he only deludes himself when he tries to improve his lot. Hamilton evokes the era very well, weaving the atmosphere and practical details seamlessly into the narrative. At every turn one is struck by the contrast of between the 1930s and the present day, especially in terms of communication technology and social mobility. Although phone calls were traceable from public call boxes, detectives had little other than their wits and circumstantial evidence to help them solve crimes. The essential story, however, is timeless. Incidentally, I particularly liked the production values and cover design of this book – the chess board in a subdued, slightly sinister colourway, with an outline of a dead body and a splash of blood, is very effective.
(Reviewed for the Historical Novel Association Indie Reviews) ...more
I really wanted to like this book, for lots of reasons. I love the Golden Age of Crime Fiction - Sayers, Christie etc - and I thought the concept of hI really wanted to like this book, for lots of reasons. I love the Golden Age of Crime Fiction - Sayers, Christie etc - and I thought the concept of having a series presumably intended to travel eventually to every county was genius. I also liked the opening chapter, getting to know Stephen Sefton and his background fighting in the Spanish Civil War - what a great foil to cosy mystery detection in England and one that could add real depth and a greater sense of England's place on the world stage in the 30s, an era that I find fascinating and compelling.
But the promise of the initial chapters and set-up of Sefton as a sidekick to an eccentric professor with a beautiful, feisty daughter was never fulfilled. Lots of things quickly went wrong: Professor Morley swiftly turned from engaging to annoying, and while I suspect he was meant to appear to be a Holmesian character with quirks but depth, we never got to see the depth, discovering why he is so obsessive about facts and such a compulsive writer, why his morals and judgement are as they are, what happened to his wife, why does his daughter still live with him, what is the nature of their relationship. The daughter, Miriam, who I really liked, disappears to London for most of the book, abandoning Sefton and Morley in Norfolk, and I don't blame her. We are also never told why Morley needs Sefton as a sidekick anyway - he never does anything useful except stand around smoking, drinking and trying to pick up any vaguely attractive woman that looks twice at him. Dr Watson may not have Holmes' sharp detective skills, but saves Holmes' bacon and his sanity frequently, and there is a clear and touching dependency. Not so with Morley and Sefton.
In what little there is of the plot contains too many unbelievable incidents, e.g. (plot spoiler alert): the sex scene, the vicar's suicide, the girl's setting fire to herself, Morley taking to the pulpit at the end of the service and revealing his take on the vicar's death (who for some unknown reason is bizarrely referred to by everyone as "the reverend" and never "the vicar"). I live in a small village where lots of mad and quirky things happen, and I often think "you couldn't make this up", but even to me this story was just ridiculous. I was also bewildered by the inclusion of archaic photos of rural Norfolk which looked as if they'd been chosen to make the place look especially dull and characterless. If I was a native of Norfolk, I would not be pleased. Developing a more flattering depiction of Norfolk - and, to be fair, Morley's endless ramblings about detail do add a spark of interest in a county I know little about - could have turned this into a local bestseller boosting tourism, which may not be any novelist's prime artistic aim, but it's a smart way to sell more books. A valuable trick missed.
The story could have been so much better, if only there had been some character development, some depth to Morley, and a more believable plot, which could easily have been spun from the same starting point. The author's missed another trick in not setting up an on-and-off relationship between Sefton and Miriam, which would have added interest, fun, and another layer, and had readers clamouring for his next book in the series to see what happens next between them. Such a shame, as the author can clearly write well, and a much better book was within his grasp. I'm tempted to try the next in the series to see whether he's got a grip there, but am wary of wasting my time and finding further disappointment. I don't want to have it confirmed that the prime purpose of the series is not to entertain readers but to demonstrate the author's own erudition and vast general knowledge, thinly veiled in false irony. Disappointing....more
Enjoyed reading it, as I always enjoy spending time with M C Beaton and her characters, but this wasn't one of her best - a lot of driving back and foEnjoyed reading it, as I always enjoy spending time with M C Beaton and her characters, but this wasn't one of her best - a lot of driving back and forth and going round knocking on people's doors, and not much excitement - though I did find the new character Mrs Tripp entertaining. ...more
I particularly wanted to read this novel to learn more about the dynamics of the modern Greek family and the status of women, as on holidays in GreeceI particularly wanted to read this novel to learn more about the dynamics of the modern Greek family and the status of women, as on holidays in Greece I'd got the impression that it was still quite an unequal society, and I wanted to get a better understanding before I went on holiday there recently.
Reading "My Big Greek Family" was enlightening in this regard, and it also made me very sympathetic towards the younger generation of Greek women who are trying to change old-fashioned attitudes. While respecting their families and their traditional values, they resent being constrained by their parents' expectations of arranged marriages to Greek men.
The story here concerns Greeks living in London, but within a traditional Greek family set-up, with pressure put upon the three sisters to remain in the parental home until they marry, even when they are earning good money in high-powered jobs. The three grown-up daughters in the story have very different personalities and careers, but each wants more freedom than their parents are willing to grant. During the course of the book, they change and grow, gaining the courage to be true to themselves. Sharing a holiday in Greece away from their parents allows them the distance they need to make that leap. It's a gentle story that will appeal to anyone interested in family life in a different cultural setting, and while it's not exactly action-packed, it's an agreeable and thought-provoking read.
Setting the story partly in London and partly in Greece added another level of interest: the issue of belonging for the extensive Greek diaspora (or indeed any other diaspora). While in London they seem very Greek, but in Greece they feel rather like tourists.
I enjoyed getting to know the characters of not only the sisters, their brother and their parents, and their relationship with their extended family who also live in London but maintain their Greek identity and habits. The description of their uncle's eccentric repairs to household appliances is priceless. I especially loved the portrayal of Christina, the girls' mother, who has never perfected her English and speaks an endearingly fractured version. I enjoyed the way that the author demonstrated her language by her choice of words, and the odd missing letters here and there, rather than trying to write an accented English phonetically (one of my pet hates in a novel). It was really effective and very charming. Her running battle with next door's cat, Rambo, is especially funny.
I really liked the balance of this book: the Greek traditions are respected and treated with affection, but gently portrayed as out of keeping with 21st century like. I know the author is a Greek Cypriot herself, so I'm now wondering what her own family made of her story......more
A pleasing romantic comedy that tells the story of a community's fight to save their street - the Cupid's Way of the title - from demolition.
RevolvingA pleasing romantic comedy that tells the story of a community's fight to save their street - the Cupid's Way of the title - from demolition.
Revolving around the nearly-30 heroine Evie Stone is a varied cast of characters of all ages. I especially enjoy the way Phillips weaves interesting and dignified elderly characters into her books, adding depth to the romantic themes played out by younger people at the heart of her stories.
The story's not only about the seemingly doomed romance sparked in the early part of the book between Evie, campaigning to save her grandparents' home, and handsome Michael, CEO of the company bent on demolishing it. There are also other romantic themes - the relationship between her spirited grandparents, for example - and themes about identity, recognising who you are and being unafraid to embrace it. The ending is satisfying and heartwarming - but I'm not giving any plot spoilers here!
So why only four stars, not five, as so many others have given it, at the time of this review?
Unlike Phillips' previous books, Cupid's Way is set in Bristol, a city I've lived and worked in, and while Phillips makes clear the interesting contrast of old and new buildings and the presence of ancient architecture nestled among the state-of-the-art, some of the geographical references were a little bit hazy, e.g. specifying which of Bristol's train stations Evie comes into (they're very different) and terms such as "the Bristol bypass" (there isn't one), which occasionally broke the spell for me. People who don't know the city might consider I'm being a bit harsh here - sorry about that!
Disclosure: I know the author personally and received a free copy as a gift, but not with a specific request for a review)....more