Getting Away With THE SINFUL SCOT–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a historical romance from Maddison Michaels. THE SINFUL SCOT is the 3rd novel in her Saints and Scoundrels series. Trigger warning, this story features a battered heroine, and there are descriptions of beatings, injuries, and murder, though we do not see that on the page.

About the book:
Constance Campbell, the Duchess of Kilmaine, once believed that all she needed in life was a duke. But everything unraveled when she realized her perfect husband was a perfect monster. Now broken beyond repair, she hides her misery behind a perfect Society mask…even from her childhood friend, Alec.

Dr. Alec McGuiness reluctantly finds himself back in Scotland, and checking up on the only woman to ever get under his skin, Connie. After she spurned him many years ago, he knows his humble life as a doctor could never be enough for her. But when the Duke of Kilmaine is murdered in cold blood, with Connie sleeping right next to him in bed, Alec knows he must protect Connie at all costs from those who would frame her for the duke’s murder.

Now on the run, Connie feels a freedom she only ever dreamed about before, and an unexpected attraction to the man who is keeping her safe. But even if they can win her freedom and clear her name, could she ever open her heart up to someone again?

How about a little taste?

Taking a deep breath, she turned around, only to be caught in Alec’s penetrating gaze. She’d forgotten how handsome he was. A strange combination of rugged athleticism mixed with the air of a scholar. But there was also a steadiness to him, a gentle strength, that Connie felt drawn to. This was a man who would have no need to take out his anger on anyone weaker than he. She’d never met a more honorable or honest man.

She cringed with the thought of how badly she’d once treated him. Often ignoring him at assemblies and the like, simply because he hadn’t fawned over her like the other men had.

She’d been a fool.

“Sophie sent you, then?” was all Connie could think to say. She must sound like an imbecile.

“She asked me to check on you.” He paused, staring steadily at her. “So how are you, Lady Connie?”

He was still calling her by her maiden title, and there was something so familiar about him doing so, it reminded her of a time long ago. A time she wished she could escape back to.

Unable to withstand his close scrutiny, she strode over to the hearth and closed her eyes for a second, fighting the urge to cry again. She’d thought her tears from earlier were well and truly dried up.

It would be so easy to tell Alec what had been happening. He would believe her. Probably try to save her, too. But what could he do, when up against the powerful Duke of Kilmaine, whose word was law in these parts? And though she knew Alec could defend himself in a fight, Duncan never fought fairly. Her husband had enough servants and guards around the estate to ensure that Alec would be outnumbered.

No. She couldn’t risk getting him hurt. She’d never forgive herself if he did.

Filling her lungs with a hearty breath, she turned back to face him, and once again, she plastered a serene smile on her face. “Everything is fine. Absolutely fine, in fact.”

But Alec didn’t smile back. Instead he frowned. “Don’t lie to me, Connie.” He strode across to her, until she found herself staring at the crisp white cravat covering his neck.

She gasped softly as his hand gently tilted her chin upward, until her eyes met his. Warring with the frisson of fear from having a man touch her was a giddy sensation fluttering in her stomach. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had touched her with such tenderness. If ever, actually.

“What’s going on? And I’ll have the truth this time, please.” Alec’s voice was firm, but she could hear the concern in it. It had been so long since she’d felt that anyone cared.

“As I said before, everything is fine, Doctor McGuiness.” She carefully reached up and very deliberately pushed his hand away from under her chin. “And you take too many liberties touching me and calling me by my first name. I am a duchess now. Or have you forgotten?” Perhaps if she sounded condescending, as she’d often done in the past with him, he’d believe her, and go.

“Aye. I’m well aware of that fact.” He stepped back and bowed stiffly. “Forgive me, your grace.”

There was contempt in his voice, and Connie felt her heart sink. He would forever remember her as being a coldhearted shrew, she was sure of that. And though a part of her hated knowing he would, at least he’d be safe.

“You can tell Sophie that all is well.” She was glad her voice sounded steady, when inside she felt like she was shattering into tiny pieces. “Now if you will excuse me, I have duties to attend to.” She inclined her head at him before sweeping past him toward the door.

She extended her hand toward the doorknob when, from behind her, Alec reached over her shoulder and pressed his palm against the wood. Preventing her from opening it and leaving.

“You’re not going anywhere, duchess. At least not until you tell me what the devil is going on.”

My Review:
Constance Campbell, the Duchess of Kilmane, is in mortal danger. Married to a serial batterer who is above the law seemed to be the worst of her problems–but now she’s been set up as his murderer. Dr. Alec McGuinness is a long-time but estranged friend of Connie’s who’s come to check on her welfare and ends up rescuing her from either an asylum or the gallows.

Connie’s brother-in-law thinks she’s guilty, and aims to have her put into an asylum–if only to save her from death. Duncan knew his brother was battering Connie, and knows he’d killed several other women–including his first wife–with his physical abuse. Connie’s sure the only way to save her life is to prove someone else killed her husband, and Alec agrees to assist her investigation. Instead of heading for London where Connie’s brother could protect her from arrest, they travel immediately to Inverness, where they have a chance of finding the truth about the murder of the Duke of Kilmane–even as the bodies pile up around them.

Connie’s a sheltered woman who’s only experience with men was with an abuser. Her friendship with Alec makes him less intimidating, to the point she isn’t flinching when he reaches to offer her aid. As the tension ramps, so does an unwanted attraction. Connie never wants to marry again. As a widow, she can live a less-complicated life on her own terms. If she falls for Alec, she would lose any autonomy she’d gained in this unlikely turn of events. Alec had a youthful fascination with Connie, but was put off by what seemed her gold-digging ways. As a contemporary of the time, he didn’t quite see that Connie needed to marry well, and was groomed to do so throughout her youth. Alec, the younger son of a Scots earl, he had been burned by a social-climbing woman in his early adulthood. Still, being with Connie now, sometimes posing as her husband to avoid suspicion, he can’t discount his renewed attraction. Still, he doesn’t want to get burned again, but he’s definitely losing his heart piece by piece.

For me, this story was REALLY complicated. I know it’s the third book in a series,and I could see the extension of at least one of the previous one, and the set up for the next one–which was a bit of a distraction to the main story. Also, wow, Connie’s husband was an unconscionable maniac–but there were people around his who were just as complicit because they covered his brutal crimes. The investigation lasts days, but the prose was so dense if felt far longer. I was also confused about the timeframe–because Alec and Connie had this history of youth, and they are only two-three years apart in age, yet Alec is now in his early thirties and Connie’s been married four-ish years? She would have been married far longer if the timeline was right.

There were a lot of misdirection, with figurative and literal dead ends. I was not expecting such a body count in my Regency romance, honestly. And, I didn’t understand why so many people even needed to die–or how they were all so overpowered in such grisly fashion. The romance is REALLY slow-burning, which made sense because of Connie’s history of abuse, but what slowed it more was repetition of the characters’ feelings about getting involved. They kept saying how they didn’t want to connect and didn’t give a lot of reasons for why, beyond the barest basic and expected answers. I also found the merry chases to be a bit much. There are so many avenues of investigation, I felt overwhelmed, and some of these experiences seemed out of the realm for a woman of the time. In all, the idiosyncrasies of the plot and the repetition impacted my enjoyment. The characters didn’t always jump off the page into reality for me, and I struggled to connect for that reason. It was an okay read, and I think fans of Regency/historical romance would probably like this one.

Interested? You can find THE SINFUL SCOT on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play.

About the Author:
Indoctrinated into a world of dashing rogues and feisty heroines when she was a teenager, Maddison Michaels is a bestselling, award-winning Australian romance author, who loves to write sexy history with a dash of mystery! Her debut novel, THE DEVILISH DUKE, won the 2019 RWA Australia Historical Romance Book of the year. Maddison lives in Sydney with her gorgeous hubby and daughter, and always starts her day with a cup (or two) of liquid gold… coffee (just quietly, she’s addicted to the stuff)!

Catch up with Maddison on her website, Facebook, twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, Amazon, and Bookbub.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Out Today! THE SINFUL SCOT

Hi there! Today I’m spreading the word about a new historical romance from Maddison Michaels. THE SINFUL SCOT is the 3rd novel in her Saints and Scoundrels series and features a battered coutess on the run, hunting for the killer of her abusive husband to clear her own name.

About the book:
Constance Campbell, the Duchess of Kilmaine, once believed that all she needed in life was a duke. But everything unraveled when she realized her perfect husband was a perfect monster. Now broken beyond repair, she hides her misery behind a perfect Society mask…even from her childhood friend, Alec.

Dr. Alec McGuiness reluctantly finds himself back in Scotland, and checking up on the only woman to ever get under his skin, Connie. After she spurned him many years ago, he knows his humble life as a doctor could never be enough for her. But when the Duke of Kilmaine is murdered in cold blood, with Connie sleeping right next to him in bed, Alec knows he must protect Connie at all costs from those who would frame her for the duke’s murder.

Now on the run, Connie feels a freedom she only ever dreamed about before, and an unexpected attraction to the man who is keeping her safe. But even if they can win her freedom and clear her name, could she ever open her heart up to someone again?

How about a little taste?

Taking a deep breath, she turned around, only to be caught in Alec’s penetrating gaze. She’d forgotten how handsome he was. A strange combination of rugged athleticism mixed with the air of a scholar. But there was also a steadiness to him, a gentle strength, that Connie felt drawn to. This was a man who would have no need to take out his anger on anyone weaker than he. She’d never met a more honorable or honest man.

She cringed with the thought of how badly she’d once treated him. Often ignoring him at assemblies and the like, simply because he hadn’t fawned over her like the other men had.

She’d been a fool.

“Sophie sent you, then?” was all Connie could think to say. She must sound like an imbecile.

“She asked me to check on you.” He paused, staring steadily at her. “So how are you, Lady Connie?”

He was still calling her by her maiden title, and there was something so familiar about him doing so, it reminded her of a time long ago. A time she wished she could escape back to.

Unable to withstand his close scrutiny, she strode over to the hearth and closed her eyes for a second, fighting the urge to cry again. She’d thought her tears from earlier were well and truly dried up.

It would be so easy to tell Alec what had been happening. He would believe her. Probably try to save her, too. But what could he do, when up against the powerful Duke of Kilmaine, whose word was law in these parts? And though she knew Alec could defend himself in a fight, Duncan never fought fairly. Her husband had enough servants and guards around the estate to ensure that Alec would be outnumbered.

No. She couldn’t risk getting him hurt. She’d never forgive herself if he did.

Filling her lungs with a hearty breath, she turned back to face him, and once again, she plastered a serene smile on her face. “Everything is fine. Absolutely fine, in fact.”

But Alec didn’t smile back. Instead he frowned. “Don’t lie to me, Connie.” He strode across to her, until she found herself staring at the crisp white cravat covering his neck.

She gasped softly as his hand gently tilted her chin upward, until her eyes met his. Warring with the frisson of fear from having a man touch her was a giddy sensation fluttering in her stomach. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had touched her with such tenderness. If ever, actually.

“What’s going on? And I’ll have the truth this time, please.” Alec’s voice was firm, but she could hear the concern in it. It had been so long since she’d felt that anyone cared.

“As I said before, everything is fine, Doctor McGuiness.” She carefully reached up and very deliberately pushed his hand away from under her chin. “And you take too many liberties touching me and calling me by my first name. I am a duchess now. Or have you forgotten?” Perhaps if she sounded condescending, as she’d often done in the past with him, he’d believe her, and go.

“Aye. I’m well aware of that fact.” He stepped back and bowed stiffly. “Forgive me, your grace.”

There was contempt in his voice, and Connie felt her heart sink. He would forever remember her as being a coldhearted shrew, she was sure of that. And though a part of her hated knowing he would, at least he’d be safe.

“You can tell Sophie that all is well.” She was glad her voice sounded steady, when inside she felt like she was shattering into tiny pieces. “Now if you will excuse me, I have duties to attend to.” She inclined her head at him before sweeping past him toward the door.

She extended her hand toward the doorknob when, from behind her, Alec reached over her shoulder and pressed his palm against the wood. Preventing her from opening it and leaving.

“You’re not going anywhere, duchess. At least not until you tell me what the devil is going on.”

Interested? You can find THE SINFUL SCOT on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play.

Interested in the previous titles? You can find The Devilish Duke here, and The Elusive Earl here.

About the Author:
Indoctrinated into a world of dashing rogues and feisty heroines when she was a teenager, Maddison Michaels is a bestselling, award-winning Australian romance author, who loves to write sexy history with a dash of mystery! Her debut novel, THE DEVILISH DUKE, won the 2019 RWA Australia Historical Romance Book of the year. Maddison lives in Sydney with her gorgeous hubby and daughter, and always starts her day with a cup (or two) of liquid gold… coffee (just quietly, she’s addicted to the stuff)!

Catch up with Maddison on her website, Facebook, twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, Amazon, and Bookbub.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Looking Back on THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE–A Review

Hi there! This week I’ll be spotlighting some sweet historical reads I’ve collected in the past month or so. Today I’m kicking it off with a new historical fiction release, out today, from Melanie Benjamin. THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE calls back to the early days of film, and how women–who’d had a big part in shaping that industry–were often left behind. It focuses on the friendship between star Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion, as a lens to the history of Hollywood. I also enjoyed THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE by Ms. Benjamin, a novelization of Truman Capote’s life and connections, which is also historical fiction. Other books in this genre that I’ve liked include CROSSING THE HORIZON, and LISETTE’S LIST.

About the book:
An intimate portrait of the close friendship and powerful creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female superstars: Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. An enchanting new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife.

Hollywood, 1914. Frances Marion, a young writer desperate for a break, meets “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, already making a name for herself both on and off the screen with her golden curls and lively spirit. Together, these two women will take the movie business by storm.

Mary Pickford becomes known as the “Queen of the Movies”—the first actor to have her name on a movie marquee, and the first to become a truly international celebrity. Mary and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, were America’s first Royal Couple, living in a home more famous that Buckingham Palace. Mary won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Talkie and was the first to put her hand and footprints in Grauman’s theater sidewalk. Her annual salary in 1919 was $625,000—at a time when women’s salaries peaked at $10 a week. Frances Marion is widely considered one of the most important female screenwriters of the 20th century, and was the first writer to win multiple Academy Awards. The close personal friendship between the two stars was closely linked to their professional collaboration and success.

This is a novel about power: the power of women during the exhilarating early years of Hollywood, and the power of forgiveness. It’s also about the imbalance of power, then and now, and the sacrifices and compromises women must make in order to succeed. And at its heart, it’s a novel about the power of female friendship.

My Review:
Mary Pickford and Frances Marion, not two names I’d say ring loud for contemporary movie aficionados, like me. This historical novel centered on their lives and friendship weaves a 60-year experience into a rich and textured story that left me emotionally hollowed and filled, by turns.

Mary Pickford was an actress at age 5, responsible for earning a living that supported her mother and two younger siblings once her father died. She gave up her childhood to be on the stage, and earn money, and later star in “the flickers” short silent movies that were shown in storefront “theaters” known as nickelodeons. As her career progressed, she became creatively involved, writing, staging and editing her own films.

Frances Marion, a twice-divorced sketch artist, fell in love with the movies when she moved to LA from San Francisco during her second marriage. It was a chance meeting with Mary’s philandering first husband that brought Mary and Frances in contact. Frances wanted to learn all about making movies, and never wanted to be an actress–a plus for building ties with Mary. Mary’d learned some very basic lessons about humanity in her years as a performer, but she recognized Fran for being a solid woman who might be a confidant, and friend, in the business. Mary had few of them in her life. Together, they made a powerful creative team, once Fran got the hang of writing for the screen–a skill Mary helped her cultivate.

I don’t want to divulge too much of the plot. The lives of these ladies intersected professionally and personally a great deal. Fran wrote exclusively for Mary’s films for a time, and helped rocket Mary to stardom, in some ways. Mary, a standoffish person, had trouble believing people were on her side, and lived in mortal fear that making personal choices, like divorcing her cad of a husband, would upset her fans and she’d be back to the poverty she grew up in. What was remarkable was the struggles Mary and Fran suffered professionally still exist for women today. They were fierce women looked down upon by the men who held the money and power in the fledgling world of film. They were pinched, and overruled, and groped, and belittled, and had to keep cheery smiles for the camera–so many of their professional pictures reflected their isolation as the only women in the picture. They did have falling outs, and reunions. Their relationship isn’t all sunshine and Academy Awards. No, they had disappointments and jealousy and needed to lift each other, and themselves, up many a time. They had uncaring husbands, and abusive partners and alcoholism to contend with, but they left a mark on the business that they helped to create and this was beautifully captured in print, not celluloid. Mary was a founding member of United Artists and AMPAS, as well as being the second woman to win an Oscar. Fran helped to form the Screen Writers Guild, and both weathered the transition from silent film to “talkies” in different ways. I’ll admit to being captivated throughout by the resilience of these women. Fran was the first American woman to cross the German Frontline in WWI as she helped film women assisting the US forces. Mary supported her entire family for decades, through famine and feast, from the age of 5 or 6. Astonishing.

I’ll be honest, I’d only barely heard of Mary Pickford, and I’d never heard of Frances Marion before opening this book…and I’m a fan of older movies. My father and I passed many an evening watching AMC Classics when I was younger, yet, I hardly watched any silent film. There’s a reason for that, which the book makes clear: lots of those movies were lost to the vagaries of time and poor storage. Still, I’m a fan of movies, and historical fiction, and stories about strong women, so I began my second Melanie Benjamin book with high hopes that were completely exceeded.

The premise seemed simple, read about the beginnings of Hollywood as told through the lives and friendship of two women who were there at the start. Wow. What an understatement of this reading experience. I know it’s a novelization, and the author clearly states that she fabricates some scenes, but I still feel awed by the lives of Pickford and Marion. They were pioneers, and tried to create an egalitarian Hollywood that struggles to exist today. I remember thinking how the sexism Mary and Fran experienced is reflected daily in the tabloids on my grocer’s checkout. To borrow an adage from my father: the more things change, the more they stay the same. (He surely borrowed that from someone, but I don’t know whom.) And that’s a pretty sad commentary on how far we haven’t come in terms of sexual equality since Fran met Mary in 1914.

Interested? You can find THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Author:
Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE and THE AVIATOR’S WIFE, as well as the national bestseller ALICE I HAVE BEEN, and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB. THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE, about the creative, feminist friendship between Mary Pickford and Frances Marion, icons of early Hollywood, will be out in January 2018. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and is currently at work on her next historical novel.

You can catch up with her on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Nov 2016–CROSSING THE HORIZON, A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

I’ve already begun reading and reviewing holiday-themed books, which has bolstered my spirits over the course of a frustrating and unpleasant November. I will admit to being extremely upset regarding our election, and the aftermath. What has kept me going is maintaining a good routine, and hunting down excellent books. This month, I went back to my girlish roots, picking up a newly published historical fiction novel about pioneering aviatrixes, CROSSING THE HORIZON, by Laurie Notaro.

crossing-the-horizonAbout the book:
Soar back to the fearless 1920s with #1 New York Times bestselling writer Laurie Notaro—beloved author of The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club—in a stunning historical novel that tells the true, little-known story of three aviatrixes in a race to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

Ten thousand feet in the sky, flipping and twirling through the air, aviatrixes from London to Paris to New York—fueled by determination and courage—have their eyes on the century’s biggest prize. The year is 1927, and Amelia Earhart has not yet made her record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight. Who will follow in Charles Lindbergh’s footsteps and make her own history?

Three women’s names are splashed daily across the front page: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl, is the first Englishwoman to get her pilot’s license. Mabel Boll, a glamorous society darling and former cigar girl, is ardent to make the historic flight. Beauty pageant contestant Ruth Elder uses her winnings for flying lessons and becomes the preeminent American girl of the sky.

Inspired by true events and real people, Notaro vividly evokes this exciting time as her determined heroines vie for the record. Through striking photos, meticulous research, and atmospheric prose, Notaro brings Elsie, Mabel, and Ruth to life, pulling us back in time as the pilots collide, struggle, and literally crash in the chase for fame and a place in aviation history.

My Review:
As a girl I was captivated by stories of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a plane. First as a passenger, then a pilot. At around this time in my life we were first having female astronauts, and I could envision a life where women did so much more than stayed home and raised children, or worked entry level jobs in secretarial-type roles. So, learning about daring women shaped me, as a youth, and helped me grow into a strong woman, willing to charge forward in male-dominated work roles. I was thrilled with CROSSING THE HORIZON for those same reasons.

This is a work of historical fiction, painstakingly researched and lovingly rendered. It surrounds the lives of three female flyers, Elsie Mackay, Ruth Elder and Mabel Boll. They are very unique women who each wanted to prove to the world they had more to offer than femininity.

Elsie was daughter of a powerful English Earl. She was the first licensed female English pilot, and served on many committees for pilots within the Royal Air command. She’d defied her father and eloped with a former patient she tended in WWI, an actor, who later abandoned her. She also worked for her father’s shipping line as chief designer of the luxurious staterooms for royal and wealthy travelers. Elsie was 35 years old when she recruited a team to fly the dangerous east-west route over the Atlantic.

At age 23, Ruth Elder was a twice-married Alabama girl with a pretty face and love for speed. She’d begun flying lessons after learning that planes went even faster than cars! She got recruited to fly the American Girl plane to follow her dream to fly to Paris, and she worked hard for it. Not only that, she wanted to survive the trip–and designed life-suits that would inflate and keep her and her co-pilot from drowning, as neither of them actually knew how to swim, in the event of a crash. Ruth’s backers knew that she’d make lots of money in endorsements if she was successful, but it wasn’t an easy choice, or an easy mission.

Mabel Boll, wealthy socialite and self-proclaimed Queen of Diamonds, wanted fame more than anything. She was garish in her desire to cross the Atlantic and become “Queen of the Air,” and every attempt she made to grasp this title turned on her in ways this calculating gal couldn’t comprehend.

The book switches point of view to peer alternately into their supposed lives as each woman plotted her course with destiny. It’s rocky and rough, especially as they learn that one or another is closer to traveling than they, or other women’ missions are lost-at-sea. The sexual politics of the day are also very much present, with reporter, and others, questioning why these woman would defy parents or husbands wishes to stay grounded. The book is a bit bittersweet, as some of these gals do not make it home. The others are forever changed by their attempts.

I dug the history here; it spoke to the striving girl still buried within me. I could have looked all this up for myself on the net, and saved myself the agony of loving some of these characters, only to lose them, but I relished the hope that built within me as I chased their dreams from this side of the page. It’s no surprise, I imagine, that none of these women were completely successful, because history has kept Earhart’s name in our consciousness, not that of Elsie, Ruth or Mabel. Still, I feel enriched learning of their footsteps on the journey to womens’ equality. I highly recommend it for history buffs, and fans of historical fiction or pioneering women.

Interested? You can find CROSSING THE HORIZON on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any of your local bookstores or libraries. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in, and be sure to check out the reviews of my fellow Coffeehouse readers. And, as always, keep reading my friends!


Cephalopod Coffeehouse January 2016–THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE–A Review

0ed81-coffeehouse
Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m sharing a review for a newly-released “non-fiction novel” to use the term coined by the book’s subject, Truman Capote. Melanie Benjamin‘s THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE is a knock-down drag-out story of true love and utter betrayal that’s all the more poignant for being based in reality. These people existed. And I felt a bit grotesque peeking into the murk of their shady relationships.

The Swans of Fifth AvenueAbout the book:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes an enthralling new novel about Truman Capote’s scandalous, headline-making, and heart-wrenching friendship with Babe Paley and New York’s society “swans” of the 1950s.

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

My Review:
I’ll be truthful, I don’t usually read biographical fiction. It’s not my thing, but I have long heard the name “Truman Capote” whispered about and while I don’t believe I have read any of his work, I recognized his stature in American literature. So, I was hooked into the read for that. I love historical fiction, and the blurb indicated this book to be rife with the sort of dark plot turns only Diana Gabaldon could have wrought.

As I am wont to do, I read a bit. Let it sit. If I’m still curious I go back for more. In this case I could see the blood-spattered writing on the wall. I even took half a day looking into a quick-and-dirty history of Capote. His life seemed both tragic and charmed, and the tatters of his career and friendships were the stuff of quite a lot of public and private banter. I let it sit a week and came back. And I finished it with the ill-ease of someone who’s binge-watched a “Real Housewives” marathon. (I can only suspect this as I’ve never managed to make it past the intros to those shows before turning on something…better? Or, simply turning the tube off…)

What we know: Capote was an out homosexual in a time when such a person was normally killed or jailed. He charmed everyone, men and women alike. His wild, flamboyant ways captivated the cultured ladies of the Manhattan’s elite. His waifish looks and witty repartee got him meals and lodgings and vacations and fame. They may have even gotten him love from one of the most beautiful women of the era, Babe Paley. The book relates a special, intimate, though platonic, relationship between Capote and Babe that was well-known at the time and amongst their peers.

I was young when Capote died–of drink and drug excess, it seems, and the pages of the novel fairly sang with love between these mismatched, hopelessly lonely people. Babe’s husband, the powerful and wealthy Bill S. Paley–CBS magnate, was a known philanderer, and this took a toll on her emotionally. The exquisite Babe could never be seen out of make-up, not even by her husband, and she doted on him completely, as she was well-trained to do by her mother, to the exclusion of really raising her own children.

The story meanders in time between first-meetings with the “swans”: society dames Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Pam Churchill, Marella Agnelli, C.Z. Guest, and Gloria Guinness, and the infamous article Capote penned in 1975 for Vanity Fair, which was a gauche caricature of the beautiful society people that Capote had insinuated himself within. It marked a permanent break in his life, one that many attribute to his ultimate downward spiral into addiction and death. The article, La Cote Basque 1965 was a tell-all of sorts that throttled the society mavens. Ann Woodward, mentioned under a pseudonym, actually killed herself following reading of the article–which recounted the spectacle of her husband’s “accidental” death by her own gunshot.

Truman Capote is definitely portrayed as a bounder in this book. He was a social climber with the aim of being the best, and surrounded by the best. And yet, he is made sympathetic. He long struggled to find love–first from his neglectful mother, and then everyone, including Babe. Their relationship may have indeed been a love story for them, but Truman’s needs were too great. He had a long-time companion, Jack Dunphy, who urged him not to publish his scathing article, but Truman didn’t heed that advice. Or maybe he could not afford to. It was known for some time that he’d been losing control of his addictions, and was years overdue on a novel that he’d been advanced money against. “La Cote” was meant to be one of seven chapters in that book, and only three were ever recovered and printed as “Answered Prayers”.

Swans is a beautifully-woven multiple POV story that is without question a melancholy read, with a train wreck-type plot that is only more harrowing for its veracity. Capote’s real-life self-destruction was rather spectacular, and fairly well-documented. I left the book feeling sad for such waste, and such sadness. The rarefied world of the New York’s social elite is certainly not the stuff that ever filled my dreams, but it was a bit shattering to have all it’s unsavory bits on display. On the flipside, it was a meticulous introspection into the ills of high society in general–what power brokers in this world do we not see living to excess, in different aspects of their lives? What morality exists for those who place themselves above others by means of wealth? These were issues that seemed to trouble Capote, and his “justice” was that of the pen. It was a brutal weapon.

Interested? You can find THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Expect to find it in bookstores and libraries now. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

And, now! Take a hop over to the websites of my fellow Coffeehouse pals to see what their fave books were for January. As always, thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!