Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Sceptre, 2011) is Amor Towles’s first novel. Chapeau! As one reviewer said, “Everything about this novel set in 1930s New York is achingly stylish.” From its scintillating narrative to its characters – and a narrator who possesses the stiletto wit of Dorothy Parker, the hunger for knowledge of a bluestocking and the fun-loving philosophical observations of Carrie Bradshaw of Sex in the City – you really can’t go wrong in reading this New York Times Bestseller. Reading each page is to delight in the English language, and the lives of narrator Katey Content, high-flyer Tinker Grey and Katey’s Midwestern friend, who shows New Yorkers a thing or three, Evie Ross.
War Paint – Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, health Their Lives, their Times, their Rivalry
(Virago, 2012) Lindy Woodhead’s superb portrait of these two giants of the cosmetics industry – already in its fifth printing – is an exercise in how to get biography 100% right. She intertwines the lives of two rivals who never met each other with the deft hand of the best make-up artist, painting their lives across the rich canvas of the first half of the twentieth century. It is a must read for anyone interested in biography, powerful women and their legacy.
Remarkable Creatures (Harper, 2009) by Tracy Chevalier is a beautifully constructed book drawn from the true story of the fossilized creatures embedded into the cliffs of Lyme Regis. The women who make the discoveries that change our world, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, are a microcosm of society, Mary the wide-eyed innocent who must face powerful prejudice of the male scientific community – and Elizabeth the prickly, middle-class spinster who becomes Mary’s champion and eventual rival. It is a wonderful book of differences and similarities, of loyalty and passion and a triumph of truth.
Ekaterinburg (Windmill Books, 2009) by Helen Rappaport is a phenomenally touching, well-written and personal account of the last days of Tsar Nicholas II and his family leading up to their executions. If you’ve ever been put off Tsarist Russian history because of the sheer scale and magnitude of it all, Ekaterinberg is a marvellous and essential read. In fact it was so good, that we’ve hired Helen as our Russian expert for our film project on the last days of Tsar Nicholas.
A Dangerous Inheritance (Random House, 2012) by Alison Weir is her most ambitious and successful (in my opinion) work of fiction thus far. Weaving the stories of two rather different Katherines – Lady Katherine Grey – younger sister of England’s nine-day queen Jane Grey – with that of her distant kinswoman, Kate Plantagenet, the bastard daughter of Richard III. Both fall in love with men who are forbidden to them by the reigning monarchs, while each seeks the truth of the treacherous courts of their day.
The Girl in the Mirror (HarperPress, 2011) by Sarah Gristwood is a stunningly beautiful novel set in the final days of the reign of Elizabeth I as Robert Devereux, earl of Essex hurls himself toward self-destruction. The heroine, Jeanne, orphaned by the wars of religion on the continent, is brought to London disguised as a boy, where she eventually finds employment in the household of Robert Cecil, Essex’s implacable enemy. Yet Jeanne is inexorably attracted to Essex, and becomes tormented by divided loyalties with her very life under threat.
I’ll try to post regular updates on interesting reads – but a great deal will depend on whether I’m writing at the time, so please be patient with me if I seem to be slow… chances are I’m going through scholarly research books three foot high pile of books by my bedside at break-neck speed and haven’t allowed myself the welcomed distraction of reading for pleasure.