Wednesday, May 29, 2019

My take on: Waisted

There's never a day that goes by when I don't have thoughts about my weight or body image. There's hardly ever a day when I don't see a commercial or some kind of media that makes me question my own weight or body image. I think in the last week alone I've seen several commercials for Weight Watchers. Everyday I say today is the day that I'm going to put down that piece of chocolate and get on the treadmill. But then I remember how much I hate exercise (probably a strong word to use, maybe I just tolerate it) and how much I love chocolate.

I say all of this because the latest book I read, Waisted by Randy Susan Meyers, conjured up all kinds of thoughts about my own relationship with food, weight, and body image. It was the rare book that I saw a lot of myself in the main characters.

Alice and Daphne are two very accomplished women. Alice runs a community center and Daphne is a makeup artist. They're both married to successful men and have children. They don't seem to have a lot of doubts in their professional lives. It's their personal lives that are filled with doubts.

Alice is bulimic and has never gotten treatment for her eating disorder. In her mind, if she doesn't binge and purge often then she doesn't really have a problem. It's only when life gets too stressful or someone makes snide comments about her weight does her eating disorder take over. Weight and food are never far from her mind. Her husband, Clancy, flat out states he's not as attracted to her as he used to be -- especially with all the weight she's gained. This is when Alice decides it's time for desperate measures. Signing up for Waisted, a reality show that's pretending to be a serious documentary. Losing weight in a controlled environment with strangers is an extreme solution to Alice's problems. It's also where she meets fellow contestant Daphne.

Daphne's relationship and obsession with food and body image began at an early age. Next to her two sisters, Daphne was the fat one. Daphne was the one her mother always shamed about her weight. She grew up thinking her mother didn't want a fat daughter. Her mother was always trying to fix Daphne. But perhaps Daphne isn't the one who needs fixing? It's her mother? These are questions Daphne never asked herself, instead she let her mother's feelings about weight occupy space and time in her adult life and relationships. Even in the bedroom with her husband, Sam, Daphne's mother is a wedge in their marriage. It's something that Daphne needs to deal with. What's her answer? Appearing on Waisted!

However Waisted seems like every bad weight loss show rolled into one. There's no encouragement, instead there's intimidation, fear, and criticism. Intimidation by the trainers, who watch every small morsel of food Alice, Daphne, and the other women eat. Criticism if they don't hit their weight loss goals. Fear of being fat forever. Fear of never being attractive. Fear of life without Waisted. There's no chance of these women developing a healthy relationship with food, if they're taught it's something to fear.

At times this book made me hungry, but that went away as soon as Alice and Daphne take part in Waisted. At times it made me angry. It was just a roller coaster of emotions. But the overall message of the book was clear, a program like Waisted is not the answer. The answer is within. They could count calories until they were blue in the face. If they didn't deal with their inner demons, they were never going to change. They had to want to change. I'm sure this book isn't for everybody, but it spoke to me and I enjoyed it.

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Atria Books) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

My take on: The Song of the Jade Lily

Every time a book about World War II comes out, my immediate thought is how many ways are there to tell about the hardships of war? Is there really more to tell about WWII? Yes, there is. The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning is fictional story but it gave me insight into another piece of history that I didn't know about. Told in dual perspectives, The Song of the Jade Lily is a nuanced portrayal of friendship, parenthood, grief, loss, and love.

The book opens in 1938 Vienna. Young Romy Bernfeld, her parents, and brothers Benjamin and Daniel are outcasts in their homeland. Adolf Hitler has risen to power and is rounding up Jewish people, like Romy and her family, into camps. As difficult as it might be, the Bernfelds' only choice is to flee. But where? And will the whole family be able to make it? After suffering every parents' worst nightmare, only Mr. and Mrs Bernfeld and Romy make it out of Vienna, running away to Shanghai. Once in China, the family finally finds some relief. Mr. Bernfeld puts his skills as a doctor to good use, working at a local hospital. Romy gets to continue her schooling, she often marvels at her good fortune. She even makes friends with a local girl, Li Ho, and her family. With a shared passion for food and alternative medicine, the Bernfelds and the Hos are more like family than friends.

The bond Li and Romy share goes through many ups and downs, both knowing they can count on the other when catastrophe strikes. A bond that will be put to the test as the Japanese rise to power and eventually take over Shanghai.

In modern day Australia, Romy is now an old woman with a dying husband. Her granddaughter, Alexandra, has returned home not just to be with her grandparents but to finally put the pieces of her family's history together. Alexandra's mother, Sophia, has long since passed away but there were always nagging questions about her true heritage. Sophia was adopted and even before her death she wanted to know the truth about her birth parents. A truth that her parents always tap danced around. A truth that not even Alexandra knows. But following the death of her grandfather, Alexandra gets the chance to start over in the very place that was once Romy's salvation -- Shanghai. Professionally, moving to Shanghai offers Alexandra a chance to advance her career. But on the personal side, Alexandra's true mission is to trace her family's history, finally getting the answers her mother never got.

Multi-perspective books are often hit and miss for me. But this was an exception, as it was clear how the past connected to the present. Romy and Alexandra both have strong points of view, each with a compelling story. For both, the past has shaped their present. Without all of the personal strife of the past, neither would be able to be the strong characters they are in the present. This all made for compelling and engrossing read; definitely an author I want to read more of!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

I have an unpopular opinion

First, where have I been. Always reading, but of course there were some books that I put aside (The Witch Elm by Tana French) because they were boring me. Second, I just finally figured out how to get back into my Blogger account after Google+ went down. :)

And....I've been trying to gather my thoughts on a very very popular book I just read. Whenever I read a well-reviewed or hyped book, I wonder if I should read it all. (Gasp) What if I don't like it? All those great reviews, and I question if I read the same book. I think back to reading Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, that had good reviews and I was swayed to read it by the pretty cover. But I was sooooooo disappointed. It's even worse when you read a book by a person you like and admire....

...yes...I regret to say...I was underwhelmed by Becoming by Michelle Obama.

It's not a bad book. It's actually well-written and inspirational. I just feel it was lacking in depth. Yes, a book clocking in at 421 pages was, for me, lacking in depth.

What fell short for me?

The White House years.

I appreciate that a book by a former First Lady was not all about her husband. Especially since her husband is portrayed as Superman. I'm not kidding, there is A LOT about how special and unique a person Barack Obama is. I did want more of Mrs. Obama's perspective on her time as First Lady. The White House years are not addressed until page 283 and by then we're more than 60 percent into the book. I felt like there was a lot of buildup to those eight years in the White House, but the actual eight years in the White House were kind of glossed over. Reading the book, I could totally understand her disdain for politics and campaigning. I remember the scrutiny Mrs. Obama herself and her family were subjected to, I often wondered what it must be like to live in a fishbowl. I thought that kind of perspective would be in her memoir, and I didn't get that.

Keep in mind, I don't say any of this as a criticism on Mrs. Obama as a person. This is purely my thoughts on her book. I feel like I need to say that because sometimes people think a criticism of a book or content is a criticism of the person. It's not! You can like a person and what they stand for and still critique their book. No regrets in buying this book. I would do it again. I'm quite sure Mrs. Obama will write another book, and I will absolutely buy it.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

My take on: The Great Alone

Tackling my TBR is an ongoing feat, especially reading books I own vs. reading review books. I'm not sure how long ago I bought The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, but I'm sure it was a least six months ago. In an effort to read more of my own books, I keep a TBR cart, yes an actual rolling cart, filled with my own books. Sort of a daily reminder: Hey read me! My rule going forward, at least one of my current reads has to be a book I purchased. So, I finally plucked The Great Alone from the cart. Plus, it's a family story, which is right in my wheelhouse.


Why? Let me tell you.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, former POW Ernt Allbright has come home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni. But he's not the same man. He's consumed by nightmares and often drowns himself in alcohol to cope. He drifts from job to job and town to town, with his family in tow. Never setting down roots anywhere. One moment he's the happy and loving man who Cora and Leni remember, and the next he's a violent monster. Cora holds onto the belief that the man she loves is still buried beneath the surface. Leni isn't sure what to believe or how to feel. Is it normal for a man to emotionally and verbally abuse his family until they reach their breaking point? What is normal? Leni isn't sure anymore. Ernt thinks he has the answer to their problems: move to Alaska!

Thanks to a former Vietnam buddy, Ernt has just inherited a small cabin in a remote Alaskan town. Cora and Leni are skeptical about the move, but learn to embrace it when they see how happy Ernt is. The town is small but closeknit, everyone ready to lend a helping hand or to offer advice. As former city dwellers, the Allbright family needs all the help they can get. Their new neighbor, Large Marge, gives them the lowdown on stocking up on food for the harsh winters and how to build things. In the beginning, moving to Alaska is just what the doctor ordered. Ernt loves living off the land and providing for and protecting his family. Cora and Leni begin to love it too, even making friends. Leni has her first crush. Matthew Walker is one of the few boys her age, so Leni quickly takes a liking to him.

The Allbright family might have finally caught a break. But the happiness is short-lived. As winter approaches, everyone stays closer to home rather than getting caught out in the cold. Staying closer to home sounds good in theory, but it comes at a price. Stuck inside with his thoughts, Ernt starts to have more nightmares, drinks even more alcohol, and violently attacks his wife over the smallest things. And when he does venture out, Ernt doesn't like what he sees. Tom Walker, in addition to being Matthew's father is also the richest man in their neck of the woods, wants to bring change to the town. Change for the good, like bringing in electricity to the more remote areas, remodeling the local bar, and bringing in tourists. It's not the kind of change that Ernt wants. Anybody siding with Tom Walker, even his own family, is seen as a traitor to Ernt.

As she's gotten older, Leni knows that her father is toxic for her own physical and emotional health. She wants to escape him, but how can she leave her mother behind? How can you leave behind someone you once loved and admired? How do you break the never-ending cycle of abuse? And, it's not just her father that Leni would be leaving behind. Matthew. The boy she's grown to love and the town she's grown to love are a part of Leni. How do you leave everything that makes you you behind? And at what costs?

If you can't tell, I LOVED THIS BOOK! I found the story to be addicting, I almost missed by bus stop because of it!

Rating: O.M.G. !!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

My take on: The Quintland Sisters

History is filled with all sorts of disturbing, sad, and weird moments. In her new book, The Quintland Sisters, Shelley Wood details one of those such moments. Yet again I'm reading the fictional account of a real event.

The Dionne Quintuplets were born in Ontario in 1934, to a poor family already struggling to support five other children. Born premature and at a time before more advanced medical treatments were available, the five girls were not expected to survive. Early on, their treatment was more about making them comfortable before they died. But they survived. Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie, and Emilie survived and thrived. How they survived and the people who surrounded them has long been a source of controversy.

This fictional account is told through the eyes of one of their nurses, Emma Trimpany, who was just 17 when she assisted in their birth. It's through the quintuplets that Emma finds her true calling. Born with a port-wine birthmark on her face, Emma was convinced that people looked down on her because of her looks. Because of that perceived judgment, Emma didn't believe she would find her purpose professionally or personally. But she bonds instantly with her young charges, and finds her purpose in life. Led by Dr. Dafoe, Emma and her fellow nurses become the primary caregivers for the girls. Mr. and Mrs. Dionne fought to get custody of their girls back, but money, greed, and the Canadian government got in the way. Dr. Dafoe quickly realized what a gold mine Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie, and Emilie could be for him professionally and personally. A special hospital/nursery, complete with playgrounds, was built to house the girls. The Dionnes did have some input over their well-being, but not enough in my opinion.

"Quintland", the nickname for the hospital, drew thousands of tourists who came to gawk at the girls and it also drew thousands of revenue. Product endorsement deals and film opportunities soon outweighed any thoughts of reuniting the girls with their family. While Emma didn't agree with every decision made, she was not in favor of returning the girls to the Dionnes. Emma only sees how a custody change will impact her personally. She can't fathom how painful it must be for a parent to be told when, where, and how they can interact with their own children.

In my view, "Quintland" was basically a fishbowl cut off from reality. The Dionnes were portrayed as angry and uneducated. Maybe they were, but that doesn't justify breaking up their family. The Dionne Quintuplets were cared for but they were also exploited by sooooooo many people. I think Shelley Wood did a good job of portraying what the atmosphere was like back then, I was thoroughly engrossed!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Sunday, March 3, 2019

My take on: The Girls in the Picture

Historical fiction is often a sweet spot for me. While they're a piece of fiction, they can often teach me/provide insight on a time period I'm not very familiar with. The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin taught me about Old Hollywood and how not much has really changed in the present day. Women trying to make a name for themselves despite the imbalance of power in relation to their male counterparts, make this a timely book. What stands above all in this book, is the real-life friendship between actress Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion.

Early on, it's clear that Frances was not your typical woman of her time. The book opens in 1914, Frances is already on her second marriage and is looking for a way out. She doesn't want to be a housewife. She knows she wants to be part of making movies, but Frances is unsure of what her role could be. Everything but acting is on the table. When Frances and Mary final cross paths, it's a happy and sad moment. Until that point, Mary was portrayed as someone who was desperate for friendship and connection. Frances comes along at just the right moment. Through their long friendship, both women rise the Hollywood ladder. Mary becoming "America's Sweetheart" and a much sought-after actress and Frances a screenwriter.

As a whole, I think the book gives a vivid portrait of Old Hollywood, including how flickers (silent movies) morphed into "talkies." I didn't know that many of the early movies were really, really short, like under 30 minutes short. Mary and Frances paved the way for women who came after them. Where the book lost some points with me was the length, clocking in at 415 pages. I'm not against long books, I just thought this one could have benefited from a little less descriptive passages. Overall, this is a book worth reading!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My take on: Dumplin

Every time I picked up Dumplin by Julie Murphy, the song Jolene by Dolly Parton played on a loop inside my head. That's not a bad thing! The song made me smile and this book made me smile! The characters in this book have a special kinship to Dolly Parton's music, which I had heard about before I read a single page. I wasn't sure how that would work, but it definitely does and that also made me smile!

Willowdean "Dumplin" Dickson is comfortable with her self-proclaimed fat body, even if others, including her beauty-pageant obsessed mother, are not. She's happy and mad about her body at the same time. She can accept being fat, but the moment someone else is OK with it then it's time to panic -- and question everything you ever thought was true. Handsome jock Bo has taken a liking to Willowdean, so much that he wants to be more than just a friend from work. It's a shock to Willowdean. She's used to boys like Bo ignoring her or making fun of her weight. In her mind, it's unthinkable that a boy wants to date her, wants to kiss her, and see's her body as beautiful. Boys tend to go for Willowdean's best friend, Ellen, who is skinny and beautiful. Willowdean wants to share in her joy about Bo with Ellen but is afraid to. If Willowdean is still struggling to understand what Bo sees in her how can she explain it to another person -- even her best friend.

At times like this, Willowdean would normally crank up some Dolly Parton music and tell her troubles to her Aunt Lucy. But Lucy recently passed away, leaving Willowdean without her sounding board. Lucy was closer to Willowdean than her own mother. Lucy could relate to Willowdean better than anyone, as she struggled with her weight until the day she died. Willowdean loves her mom, but always feels like her mom sees her as a project. Something that needs to be fixed. When her mom isn't dropping subtle hints about losing weight or self-improvement, she obsesses over the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant. The pageant is the biggest event of the year in their small town, and Willowdean's mom, also a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet, is in charge of running the pageant. Willowdean normally avoids the pageant like the plague, but it just might end up being her salvation. She's doubting ever aspect of her life, including her friendship with Ellen. Entering the pageant could be her chance at regaining her confidence.

It's quirky. It's funny. It's complex. It's also heartwarming. It's the kind of book I wish was around when I was a teenager. Fat girls in books were few and far between when I was a teenager, and I wish they weren't. This girl can be more than comic relief or a sidekick. Like Willowdean, these girls can be the object of affection, funny, sad, sarcastic, and happy all rolled into one. Now, time to see if Netflix did the book justice! Off to watch the movie and sing Jolene in my head!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

My take on: Map of the Heart

I haven't read every book by Susan Wiggs, but her latest Map of the Heart seems like a departure from her prior books. That's a good thing. There's still the family dramas and contemporary romance elements that I've come to love in her books. But in this book there's also a connection to the past, specifically World War II France. She blends the past with the present in a descriptive and often times haunting way. This period in history was filled with strife and pain, which is still being felt in the present day.

Widowed Camille Adams is struggling with the death of her husband. It's been years since Jace died, but his loss is felt in every aspect of her life and their daughter, Julie's, life. When Jace died, so did Camille's zest for fun, traveling, and adventure. With Jace she used to throw caution to the wind and take chances with life. Those days are over. Instead Camille chooses to stick close to home, if she does travel it's by car or by train. But she still manages to harness her passion for photography by restoring old images or film. This passion leads Camille to her newest client, handsome professor Malcolm "Finn" Finnemore. Finn's father went missing during the Vietnam War. Recently discovered film, in his father's belongings, could provide some answers on his disappearance. They have to. Finn has pinned all of his hopes on this film. Those answers don't come when Camille accidentally damages the film. That should be the end of Camille and Finn's interaction, but of course fate and family keep bringing them together.

While Camille has a potential budding romance, her daughter is drowning -- literally and figuratively. Like Camille, Julie's life has never been the same since Jace died. The once happy and popular kid has turned into a sullen, moody, and isolated teenager. There's something more going on with Julie, but Camille is struggling with how to help her daughter. Getting more than a few words out of Julie is like pulling teeth. Only Camille's father can soften Julie's rough exterior and get to the heart of the matter. Camille's father had his own struggles growing up in World War II France. Camille's father was the son of a Nazi sympathizer, a label no one wanted in their small town. In America, Camille's father got to be someone else. He got to have a family. He got to experience a free life. But Camille's father wants to revisit his past, he wants to go back to where he grew up. And he wants Camille and Julie to go with him. Camille fights against it. This trip is about more than Camille's dad confronting his past. Camille will have to confront her past. She will have to confront her fears. She will also have to confront her feelings for Finn.

I enjoyed this book, but I did have some issues with it. There are certain romance tropes that I can't stand. One being two characters who have trouble dating other people, but once they met "the one" they can't stop thinking about each other. There's a spark. They can't understand where this attraction is coming from. This book has that trope. I wish it didn't, but I was able to get past it!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Guest post from Dawn Adams Cole

Please welcome Dawn Adams Cole, the author of the debut novel Drops of Cerulean. Spanning the years 1930–2014, Drops of Cerulean chronicles the lives of Ilona, the daughter of a Greek restaurateur, who marries into a prominent Houston family; her son, Cadmus, who becomes a professor and then moves into a retirement home after his husband passes away; and Delphina, an anxiety-ridden woman with a mysterious recurring dream. 

Ilona and Cadmus have a falling out when Cadmus is a young man, and before they are able to reconcile, Ilona dies. Cadmus is plagued with guilt and feels responsible for the death of his mother. Two worlds collide when, years later, Delphina comes to understand that she had been Ilona, Cadmus's mother, in her previous life.

Today, Dawn Adams Cole talks about the inspiration for her debut novel.

“Everything had an intention, a purpose, a pattern. The seagulls that flew in formation along the shoreline, with each bird departing the front of the line one-by-one to take up the end; the symmetrical markings on a blue jay’s wings; the blood that circulated through the body in an elaborate system of veins – how could anyone think of playing games or memorizing spelling lists when such amazing things existed?”

The natural world was an inspiration for Drops of Cerulean. Delphina, one of the three protagonists, takes solace in nature from the time she was a child, noting symmetry and order in her everyday surroundings. Like my character, I noticed the patterns as a child, but sheer amazement over the natural world grew as I matured. During the challenging times in adult life, the awe of the natural world directly in front me provide the most comfort of a divine presence. Once I let go of my ego, I realize that I, too, am part of that world. I wanted to capture visual representations of this belief, and I created Delphina, as the reincarnated Ilona, as the character to attribute this appreciation, the visualization of universal design and ananchor for the narrative of living multiple lifetimes.

The foremost spiritual influence for the saga centered on my interest in exploring the concept of reincarnation. I remember reflecting about my soul when I was a child, perhaps as young as five years old. I struggled to reconcile the spirit inside my head and heart with my physical body. I recall wondering what constituted the real me – the stillness of my being or the body into which I was born. I could not state it then as I am now, but the struggle to understand was very real. I believe this is where my initial appreciation of interconnectedness formed – I knew I was part of something greater than myself.

There are books and stories told of people connecting with their previous lives. Some instances cite young children instantly recalling memories when they pass a particular place or meet a specific person, much to the surprise of the people to whom they are speaking. Most of my research, however, centered on books detailing people who experienced regression through hypnosis. Often times, they shared details of former lives that were later confirmed through historical records. The experience confirmed the source of predilections and talents, and at times the source of a fear or negative tendency was brought to light, which resulted in a healing of sorts. Delphina received this healing.

While the spiritual concepts served as the inspiration for the novel, the piece needed a foundation for setting and characters. As a native Houstonian and as a resident of the historic Heights neighborhood, the setting very much selected itself. Houston is now a cosmopolitan city, but the Houston in my memory bears an industrial, gritty narrative that echoes a can-do spirit. My great-grandfather immigrated to Texas and founded a machine shop in East Houston in 1929, around the time Houston entrepreneur and philanthropist Jesse Jones helped spare the city from the full impact of the Great Depression by bringing together city leaders to insure no Houston bank would fail during this economic downfall. My family’s bold move to continue pursuing their dreams despite the times folded into the spirit of the novel’s key Petrarkis and Doyle families, a sentiment not unusual for optimistic Houstonians of the time.

The primary neighborhood in the novel, Houston Heights, embodied this ethos, which is one of the reasons my husband and I decided to settle here in 2004. Founder Oscar Martin Carter envisioned a planned community where the wealthy and working class could live alongside one another. Heights Boulevard, modeled after Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, housed impressive Victorian homes while bungalows settled on the surrounding streets. I enjoy walking throughout my neighborhood and admiring the historic homes that remain today. My love for history centers on the humanity of the people who came before us, on my belief that we share commonality on our desires and search. As I took walks throughout Houston Heights, the spiritual thoughts that were the genesis of the saga became rooted in the specifics of the neighborhood. The historical context of the city and neighborhood gave shape to the metaphysical narrative.

As a writer I look forward to exploring how we are alike, a concept that on one hand seems obvious, but on the other hand is foreign to so many during these highly polarizing times. I reflect on the belief in one lifetime followed by eternal redemption or damnation. While it is a commonly held religious tenet, it does not seem to garner the love and urgency to do the good that it is supposed to engender. So much judgment and hatred comes in the name of religion. I wonder if rethinking the concept of an eternal life with no definitive end, with only an eternal, interdependent connection to all creation, would result in better outcomes in current, everyday lives?

About the Author
Dawn Adams Cole was born and raised in Houston. She received her BA from the University of St. Thomas and her MEd from Harvard University. She lives in The Heights with her husband, Burton, and her daughters, Caroline and Elizabeth.

Friday, January 25, 2019

My take on: The Gown

I confess...I have a mild curiosity about the British royal family. I got up early for the last two royal weddings. Why? I don't know. I like the glamour and for a few brief moments I can live vicariously through others. I say all of this because that mild curiosity piqued my interest in my latest read.

The Gown by Jennifer Robson is a fictional take on a real event, the story behind the wedding dress of Princess Elizabeth set against war-torn England. World War II has been over for two years, but the recovery is ongoing. People are still reeling from tragedy. But there's nothing like a wedding to lift everyone's spirits. When the engagement is announced, the royal family commissions famed designer Norman Hartnell to design the wedding gown. While Hartnell is celebrated for his work, he doesn't do it alone. With a vast crew of seamstresses and embroiderers, Hartnell assigns his most-trusted employees to work on the gown. For best friends Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, working on the dress is the chance of a lifetime. But it comes at a price, no one on the team, including Ann and Miriam, is allowed to utter a peep about the top-secret dress. These two working-class women pour all their energy into the dress. It's a welcome distraction from their difficult pasts.

Fast forward to 2016, Heather Mackenzie is grieving the loss of her beloved grandmother, Nan. Her mother discovers a box Nan left for Heather, inside delicate swatches of embroidery. Where are they from? Queen Elizabeth II's wedding gown. What was Nan doing with these? Did she really work on the Queen's wedding gown? Yes, she really did work on that famous dress. Also in that box was a photo of Nan with Miriam, who is now a famous artist. How could Nan keep such an important part of her life from Heather and her mother? Nan's time in England is a mystery to them both. A mystery that Heather wants to solve. 

The book is told from Heather, Ann, and Miriam's perspectives. Through Ann's and Miriam's eyes, the reader gets to see what life was like in 1947 England. Rationing of food is still going on, even the royal family has to do it. Her parents and brother are dead, her sister-in-law, Milly, has moved to Canada, leaving Ann struggling to keep her house. Enter Miriam, a French Jewish woman who has just moved to England. After surviving imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis, Miriam is trying to rebuild her life. A job at Hartnell's and a room in Ann's house are just what Miriam needs. The two women are at first reluctant to trust each other, but soon they form a strong bond. Their friendship is at the heart of this book. A friendship that even Heather can see and feel in the present-day.

When Heather finds Miriam, it's clear that Nan's friendship meant a lot. It was Nan who gave Miriam a place to live when she needed it the most. It was Nan who encouraged Miriam to pursue her passion as an artist. Miriam did the same for Nan. Miriam reassured Nan not to doubt herself even in the most difficult times. They were strong women on their own, but their deep friendship made Miriam and Nan better people. Miriam, Ann, and Heather are not real people but I felt like they were. I loved how the author took a real event and managed to make it a relatable story. I would definitely put this on your TBR pile.

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours. 
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