I know when I started this little random collection of batch reviews, I made it seem like there would be more than 2 reviews per post. Today there actually will be.
We begin with Second Life by SJ Watson. Some of you may have read Watson’s first book, Before I Go To Sleep, which quickly found it’s way among the thriller heavyweights. I could not wait to get my hands on Second Life.
Julia is living a pretty ideal life in London with her son and surgeon husband. A photographer, one of her photos is now hanging in an exhibition in a major gallery. The shot, Marcus in the Mirror, has been replicated on postcards and is showing up all over the place. But then she gets a phone call that changes everything: her sister, Kate, has been murdered in an alley in Paris.
Julia struggles with Kate’s death. They were more or less estranged when Kate died and recently, Kate had been asking for the one thing Julia wasn’t willing to give up: her son. Kate is Connor’s real mum but Julia and Hugh adopted him when he was little. Turns out that Kate was spending a lot of time online and there’s a chance that the person who killed her was one of them. Intent on finding the person responsible, Julia starts her own profile and starts chatting with a man, Lukas. Kate’s roommate, Anna, becomes Julia’s confidante, as both struggle with what happened and how to move on.
Soon it’s about more than finding out what happened to Kate; Julia has fallen for Lukas.
Pacing was an issue for me in this one. It took a looooooooong time for me to feel anything. I just wanted to get on with it. But once you get there, it’s pretty good. Watson is adept at covering his tracks so that when he reveals the real story you are honestly gobsmacked. Like it’s predecessor, Second Life ends abruptly. You know everything that’s happened but that’s all you’re going to get.
If you’re willing to put in the work, Second Life has a pretty solid payoff but it’s not going to be for everyone.
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie. I got a text from my librarian friend saying she was pretty sure this book would be right up my alley. She was so incredibly right.
Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne all became mistresses of Louis XV. It is a completely true story and The Sisters of Versailles tells it in English for the first time. Louise is the first. Married to a man she doesn’t care for she jumps at the chance to escape her country house and go to court. At first she is so good it’s almost a joke but eventually she learns how to navigate this world, embarking on her first affair. Soon she is strategically placed as the king’s mistress – the powers that be think she will do as they want and not challenge anything. She falls in love with the king and leads a pretty enchanted life.
But all is not so rosy for her sisters. After the death of their mother, they have been left to shift for themselves. Pauline and Diane were shipped off to a convent school, while Hortense and Marie-Anne were taken in by an elderly aunt with a very strict moral code. Marie-Anne manages to find a suitable match for herself and soon is living in Burgundy, bored out of her mind. For years, Pauline has been begging Louise to have her stay at court and when she finally relents, she will pay for it dearly: Pauline usurps her as the king’s mistress.
That’s a good start for anyone that thinks they may be interested. This book is littered with sister on sister crime, broken hearts, possible poisonings, court intrigue and all manner of delightful historical detail.
The best part? The Sisters of Versailles is the first in a promised trilogy. The Rivals of Versailles should be out in April, while The Enemies of Versailles is expected in September.
Finally, let’s discuss the tiny powerhouse that is Helen Phillips’ The Beautiful Bureaucrat. Phillips manages to cram a lot of book into 177 pages. Josephine Anne Newbury has moved to the big city and is desperate for a job, any job. She manages to land a data entry type gig at The Database, a deeply suspect, incredibly impersonal place that frowns on lunch breaks, personal touchs and speaking to your colleagues. (Pretty sure I worked here from 2008-2010, guys)
But Josephine has a job and at the end of the day she can go “home” to her husband, Joseph. “Home” is a series of temporary sublet spaces, until they can get a little bit up on their feet. They also long for a child of their own.
As Josephine spends more time at her job, she starts seeing strange coincidences and takes it upon herself to investigate. One day she sees something she can’t ignore and when her husband doesn’t return home she risks everything to track him down.
This was a clever little book. A rumination on the kind of soul destroying work we’ve all done and it’s place in our world, the desire for a child and the struggles of infertility and the strains both of these things place on relationships. Joseph and Josephine have very similar jobs and both look forward to the day when their lives are different, committed to building a new life in this big city but they start to see themselves lose bits of humanity, the longer they work there like when Josephine starts referring to her husband by his social security number.
It was a strange little book and definitely not what I normally read but I loved it. I almost want to read it again and read it more closely but it has to go home to the library.