A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

013

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

I hadn’t heard of A Hundred Summers before. I actually bought the book as part of a 2 for £7 offer at Asda! The other book I bought as part of the deal was Lena Durham’s Not That Kind of Girl (I was ecstatic that the paperback version had finally been released).

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams is the perfect summer read. Ideal to read on the beach or in your back garden – preferably with a cocktail in hand.

It’s 1931 and Lily Dane and her best friend Budgie Byrne are on the verge on finishing college in New Hampshire. Budgie is dating college student Graham Pendleton, a gorgeous American football player who plays for Dartmouth. Lily, always feels like she is in her friend’s shadow, Budgie is full of glamour and confidence and oozes sophistication, however when Lily spots the handsome Nick Greenwald on the pitch she is soon to be in the spotlight.

The two begin an intense and passionate relationship. Both from a privileged background in New York the pair begin planning for the future. However it is set to be short lived when Lily introduces Nick to her fragile father at Christmas and he immediately dismisses Nick. As Hitler and his army are beginning to make rumbles across Europe, Lily’s father is worried for his daughter as Nick comes from a Jewish family.

Ignoring her father’s wishes she meets with Nick at his family’s annual New Year’s Eve party. The young lovers make a pact to run away and elope. But they only get so far before Lily’s Aunt finds them to tell them that Lily’s father has had a heart attack. Distraught that her rash actions has caused her father to have a heart attack she flees to attend him and doesn’t see Nick for the next seven years.

014

Fast forward to 1938 and Lily is summering at Rhode Island with her family and spends most of the time doting on her younger sister Kiki. It’s here at Seaview that her past catches up with her and she finally meets Nick however he is married – to her former best friend Budgie. Budgie tries to make attempts to talk to Lily and rekindle their friendship however Lily still struggles to come to terms with her actions. Her feelings for Nick are still there and there is still passion between Lily and Nick whenever they are alone. To take Lily’s mind off the situation Budgie arranges for her former flame Graham to visit Seaview with the hope of Lily and him hooking up. They do, however Lily doesn’t mirror Graham’s keenness. They get engaged however Lily breaks it off when she finds out he is cheating on her.

Towards the end of the summer there is a huge storm, all the houses in Seaview are washed away and all who live there battle to stay alive. However one resident doesn’t make it – Budgie.

015

So the big question is why did Nick marry Budgie when he was so in love with Lily. And here it is, the night of the New Year’s part seven years ago, Lily’s father found out that his wife was having an affair with Nick’s dad which then causes him to have a heart attack. Budgie witnessed the pair one night and Nick also found about the affair. To keep it hidden from Lily and so she never finds out the real reason why her father was unwell Budgie forces Nick to marry her.

After Budgie’s death Nick reveals to Lily that their actions didn’t cause her father to have a heart attack, her mother’s did and Kiki is in fact a sister to both him and Lily. The two reunite and the book finishes with Nick having gone to fight in Europe in the Second World War and Lily giving birth to their third child.

The two stories run parallel each other so it isn’t until nearly the end that we learn what initially broke the pair up. I read the majority of the book in two days and loved it. It’s such an easy read yet utterly gripping and compelling.

Advertisements

The Perfume Collector – Kathleen Tessaro

003

The Perfume Collector – Kathleen Tessaro

Waaay waaay back when I was a mere youngster at uni I really wanted to read The Perfume Collector. I kept picking it up in Waterstones and WH Smith and then sadly putting it down again. Due to my ever increasing reading list for my degree I wasn’t able to read any of the books I wanted to and I felt that perhaps the book sounded and looked too old for me. I could picture middle aged women reading it and discussing it at their book club (sorry). Nether the less I bought it a couple of months ago.

Grace Munroe lives in London with her money-chasing husband Roger. They go to all the fabulous parties and socialise with the right people however Grace can’t help but feel lonely and unhappy. She then receives a letter…

004

The only slight issue is that Grace has no idea who Eva d’Orsey is. She travels to France to gain answers as to who this women was. Through flashbacks of Eva’s life we slowly begin to learn her connection to Grace.

Eva grows up in poverty in New York. She has no family and to bring in money she becomes a chambermaid at a posh hotel. Quiet and timid, she is shy around all the guests who flaunt their wealth but a couple of chance encounters increases her inquisitiveness. Eva takes a shine to one guest, Mr Lambert. She plays card games with him and enjoys his company perhaps a little too much and soon becomes jealous of all the women he brings back to his suite.

Madame Zed and her assistant Valmont, two perfumers from France, are two other guests who Eva also develops a connection with. The two develop a bond when Madame Zed catches Eva smelling her perfume bottle.

And finally there is Miss Waverly. A high-spirited young women who oozes charm and passion. The innocent and vulnerable Eva is taken in by her, which ultimately changes everything. Miss Waverly tells Eva the way to get what she wants in life is to seduce men. One night Eva takes Miss Waverly’s advice and becomes pregnant by the woman’s friend. The two flee leaving the teenage Eva alone.

004Eva, now a product of Miss Waverly’s influence and an outrageous flirt, spies Mr Lambert who has once again returned to the hotel and he decides to help Eva in her hour of need. He notices her way with numbers and card games and decides to strike a bargain with her – he will help her with her pregnancy if she helps him with gambling. She agrees. However this bargain comes back to haunt her, as he makes her give up the baby to his wealthy sister and brother-in-law.

Along the way Eva meets up with Valmont, the two strike up a close friendship and Eva becomes Valmont’s muse for his perfume business which he takes over from Madame Zed.

005

And it is through Madame Zed’s recount of the above to Grace that we are able to understand how the past and present link. Grace was Eva’s child.

Distraught at abandoning her child, Eva manages to get work as a Governess for the young Grace, however is soon rumbled. Inconsolable, she runs off to France and throws all her energies into creating perfumes. One such perfume she creates is a sell-out however she refuses to give the ingredients and method to the company she sells it to. The book is left with Grace finding the instructions for the perfume…

I really enjoyed the book. Sometimes I found it a bit far-fetched with Eva as Grace’s governess and there were almost too many aspects to the plot that it became long-winded. However I am glad I read it and would recommend it.

 

How To Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

015

How To Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

Caitlin, oh Caitlin. When I first heard about Caitlin Moran I thought, oh no not another person ramming Feminism down my throat. While I consider myself to be a feminist it doesn’t mean I want 451313 people bleating on about it all the time. But the more I heard and read about Caitlin the more I thought right let’s see what all the fuss is about.

How To Be a Woman is part memoir, part guide on what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century. It’s not preachy and it’s not full of Germaine Greer-esque theories which leave you scratching your head for days on end.

So here’s what I learnt with a very basic summary of each chapter:

Chapter 1 – I Start Bleeding!

  • Sometimes periods can last for three months.
  • Moran surprisingly champions porn but for the fact it needs more desire and realism in it.

Chapter 2 – I Get Furry!

  • Moran berates the media and porn industries impact on how woman should style themselves ‘down there’. Do men ever discuss their hair? Nope, thought not.

Chapter 3 – I Don’t Know What to Call my Breasts!

  • What’s right? What’s wrong? And don’t even get her started on what to call ‘down there’.

Chapter 4 – I am a Feminist!

  • Here we start to get down to the nitty-gritty. Moran’s first introduction into Feminism is Germaine Greer at the age of 13.
  • Moran: ‘a). Do you have a vagina? And b). Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations! You are a Feminist.’
  • She makes a valid point asking whether men ever question what it means to be a man. Do they? Nope.

Chapter 5 – I Need a Bra!

  • Underwear is like a minefield and becoming smaller by the day. Women across the world need comfortable underwear.

Chapter 6 – I am Fat!

  • A guy Moran likes asks her if her nickname at school was ‘fatty’.
  • Eating disorders aren’t cool and are the working-class of addictions. Heroin and coke-addicts are cool. Sicking up or starving yourself is not.

Chapter 7 – I Encounter Some Sexism!

  • Moran is shocked by the number of women who have encountered sexism from men sticking their fingers up women’s skirts to Moran’s boss asking if she would like to sit on his lap to get a front page feature.

016

Chapter 8 – I am in Love!

  • Moran falls in love with a loser who is in love with himself rather than her.
  • She discusses how women obsess over every part of love and dating; what his text means, how many kisses he puts on the end of a message etc. etc.

Chapter 9 – I go Lap-dancing!

  • Burlesque is actually a form of art as women are in control of their bodies and sexuality; lap-dancing is the opposite.
  • Moran and her friend get kicked out of a lap-dancing club after they are mistaken for Russian prostitutes.

Chapter 10 – I get Married!

  • She marries her colleague Pete from Melody Maker. From her dad sitting in his vest and jacket after getting candle wax on his shirt and all seven of her siblings causing the fire alarm to go off from smoking weed – needless to say it doesn’t all go to plan.

Chapter 11 – I get into Fashion!

  • How one bad outfit can affect your entire career and/or life. Is this fair? Hell no.
  • It’s okay if you don’t have that £600 investment bag that Grazia tells you you must have.

Chapter 12 – Why You Should Have Children!

  • Moran spent three days giving birth to her first daughter, which included numerous failed epidurals and permenant nerve damage in her leg.
  • You use your time more wisely when you have children.

Chapter 13 – Why You Shouldn’t Have Children!

  • Why must every female celebrity be asked when they are going to have a baby?
  • There’s not a single lesson in motherhood that couldn’t be offered elsewhere.

Chapter 14 – Role Models and What to do with Them

  • Katie Price is not a feminist role model. Lady Gaga is.
  • The problems of the media and the stories they spin about females. If a man falls out of a club dishevelled, he’s being a lad. If a woman does then her drinking is spiralling out of control and her ‘friends’ feel rehab is on the way.

Chapter 15 – Abortion

  • Moran is pro-abortion.

Chapter 16 – Intervention

  • What age is old? 59 apparently.
  • The ever increasing role of surgery in women’s lives and the media’s pressure to keep looking forever youthful.

Most importantly when did Moran learn to be a woman? When she stopped dreaming of being a princess and a muse. She’s still learning and aren’t we all. There aren’t any set definitions of being a women, surely that beauty come from having confidence in yourself and knowing who you are and what you want.

The only thing I slightly disagreed on was her statement that we are the weaker sex because there haven’t been any powerful women or ones who could be considered role models. Yes there are more famous men than women but off the top of my head I can think of Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen and Aphra Behn for starters.

How To Be a Woman is a refreshing take on Feminism. It champions equality of the sexes and is the modern day bible for the feminist movement. It made me blush and I lost how many times my boyfriend asked me what I was laughing at. But he’s a man, he wouldn’t understand.

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

007

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

I’ve heard wonderful things about Elizabeth Taylor’s novels (nope not that one, I’m talking about the author). Part of me was expecting great things, the other half knowing that I tend to dislike books which have critical acclaim, thought it would be a bit of a let-down. Sadly, it was the latter.

Cassandra Dashwood is a young woman and sadly having lost both of her parents she must find a way to support herself. She takes a job as a Governess to Sophy, the daughter of Marion (a man) who lives at Cropthorne Manor. The world she enters is one of darkness and bleakness as a shadow has been cast over the Manor. There is still a hole left by the death of Marion’s wife and Sophy’s mother, which no one is willing to discuss, leaving Marion a moody and isolated character, much like Charlotte Bronte’s Mr Rochester.

Sadly that’s your lot. There are some tense exchanges between Cassandra and Marion and a bit of a will they won’t they plot however that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

008

As well as a likeness to Jane Eyre, I felt it was also akin to Daphne Du Marier’s Rebecca: the handsome but moody Manor owner, an innocent young girl, a beautiful house falling into disrepair and a servant who remembers the first wife.

The only character who brings some excitement to the otherwise dull proceedings is Marion’s brother Tom, a raging alcoholic who admits that he was in love with his sister-in-law.

The book made little impact on me, I felt like I was plodding my way through it rather than hurrying to read it through excitement. The fact I had to google the name of the book as I was away from room when writing this post is pretty much enough said. There were a few flashes of brilliance and obvious comparisons to Jane Eyre with the classic governess falling in love with the master plot. However it was no match for the classic and fell rather flat.