Happy Release Day, Lauren!

It’s book launch day for Lauren Willig and The Other Daughter!

Other Daughter

Huge thanks to St. Martin’s Press and to NetGalley for letting me get my hands on an early copy.  If you’re picking up your copy today, you are in for such a treat!  I’m going to include my review below – I am *almost* positive that there’s nothing in it you may consider a spoiler, but if you like to dive into a book knowing only what you’ve read on the jacket, maybe give the rest of this post a miss until you’ve finished the book. Happy reading to one and all!

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When I received an email from NetGalley letting me know that an ARC of Lauren Willig’s The Other Daughter was available for me to download, I did a serious happy dance. But I made myself wait a few weeks to begin it. A new book from Lauren is a thing to be savored, and I knew that when I started it, it would be over all too quickly. True to form, once I did sit down with my Nook, I gulped this book down in two sittings. Once again, and as always, Lauren has delivered an excellent story.

When Rachel Woodley receives a telegram in Normandy informing her that her mother is sick with influenza, she immediately packs her bags for her home in Netherwell, England. But by the time Rachel sets foot on home soil, her mother is already gone. Rachel can’t imagine that her grief could be any worse, but then she finds a newspaper clipping among her mother’s bedclothes. In that clipping is a picture of Rachel’s father – her father who died when she was only four – escorting his daughter, Lady Olivia Standish, to a society function. Suddenly, Rachel’s past is a lie. She isn’t the daughter of a respectable, hard-working widow. She is the other daughter – the illegitimate daughter – of an earl. With no idea how to move forward and no clue how to fill in the gaps in her history, Rachel joins forces with Simon Montfort, a gossip columnist with a past as murky as her own, to find a way to insinuate herself into her father’s set. She makes a daring entrance into London society, masquerading as Vera Merton, and quickly becomes the toast of the Bright Young Things. Her goal: get herself invited to her half-brother’s twenty-first birthday at the family seat and seize the opportunity to confront her father. But as Rachel pushes deeper into Lady Olivia’s social circle, she realizes that she is woefully ignorant of the shared history in this set. And although Simon Montfort has promised to help her, Rachel begins to suspect that his reasons for interfering in her family affairs may not be as straightforward as she thought.

The idea at the heart of this story is a familiar one – what would you do if you found out that your past was not what you’d always thought? But even though this premise is one I’ve read before, Lauren’s variation on the theme is fresh. Rachel is an excellent narrator. I was indignant and angry right along with her when she learned that her father had abandoned her. I celebrated with her when she launched herself into London society without a single person questioning her backstory. I turned up my nose with her at the empty lives of the Bright Young Things with their “too, too sick-making” rounds of parties and entertainments. But then, when Rachel starts losing herself in the façade of Vera Merton, I worried for her. Is she becoming so single-minded that she is willing to hurt the people who are, even though they don’t know it, her family? And if she does manage to get close enough to her father to force a confrontation, what will she do if his reaction isn’t what she’s been hoping for? I started to feel less “in Rachel’s corner” and more disappointed in the person she was becoming, and I was holding my breath to see if Lauren would redeem her in the end.

I loved the relationship between Simon and Rachel. They fling Much Ado about Nothing quotes at each other fast enough to make your head swim. They bicker, but they find genuine comfort in each other’s company. And at heart, they are very similar – two people who are unsure where they belong but brave enough to make a fresh start somewhere new. Watching Lauren peel back the layers to show Rachel the real Simon was like watching a picture resolve into focus. You think you see him clearly, but shift a few things around and see how he’s brought into sharper relief. The revelations are not always good ones, but Simon is a better, more interesting character in the end for the twists that Lauren puts him through.

On a more technical note, this is the first of Lauren’s stand-alone books that does not shift perspective between a modern and historical storyline. I didn’t even realize until halfway through the book that she had made this departure from form, but it didn’t bother me a bit. I loved all the setting detail that she included – the brief glimpse of Rachel’s life as a governess in France, the fancy-dress parties and beautiful flat in London, and the imposing estate at Carrisford Court. The supporting cast she created for Rachel’s story is incredible.

To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Thanks to Downton Abbey, I shouldn’t be surprised at the lengths that the British aristocracy would go to in order to keep a title and an estate intact, but Lauren kept me on my toes. I can’t wait to see what she’s planning for her next book.

The Sound of Music Story

SOM story

The film The Sound of Music celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on March 2, so this year, fans everywhere have had a variety of opportunities to indulge in their favorite movie in new ways. From a feature spread in Vanity Fair to an ABC television special, lots of people want to get in on the action and celebrate this movie. Tom Santopietro’s new release, The Sound of Music Story, is my latest discovery in my quest to feed my love for all things Sound of Music. Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley, I had a chance to read an advance copy.

This book is a treat for anyone who loves the movie or enjoys Hollywood history. Santopietro begins with a brief background on the real-life von Trapp family and the German film Die Trapp-Familie. He moves through the production of the American stage musical with Rogers and Hammerstein, the search for a studio to produce the film, and then finding the perfect cast and crew. There are details galore about the filming, and then Santopietro moves into the movie’s critical and popular reception. He covers the awards season, the effects of the movie on the future careers of the major players involved, and he includes a chapter on the ways that The Sound of Music has integrated itself into our culture.

I loved reading about the filming. The costuming and choreographing chapters were probably my favorites. Evidently, Julie Andrews told an interviewer that she had never felt more beautiful than the day she wore her iconic Maria von Trapp wedding dress. Kym Karath, who played Gretl, couldn’t swim and nearly drowned filming the scene where Maria and the kids tip over their boat. Attempts to dye Nicholas Hammond’s (Friedrich) hair blond for filming went so badly awry that he wound up with practically white hair and a severely blistered scalp. This behind-the-scenes information was all great fun to me.

There were a few places where this book felt a little dry. As much as I adore the movie, I struggled a bit through a few chapters that detailed the selection of the film’s production crew. Someone who is a Hollywood buff would probably have appreciated all the references to big names and big films of the day, but a lot of it went over my head. Also, the last third of the book all felt like conclusion – it was slightly repetitive.

Some fun new facts I learned from this read:

  • The Sound of Music’s first run in movie theaters lasted five years and nine months. That seems UNREAL, especially living in a day where a films come and go from the theater in a matter of weeks.
  • The statistics show that in Salt Lake City, more than half a million admission tickets were purchased for The Sound of Music – that is more than three times the local population.
  • According to the information Santopietro gathered about Austria’s tourism industry, one in three people who visit Austria “journey there specifically because of The Sound of Music.” It’s hard to even wrap my brain around that. But if you’ve got a moment and want to watch the first minute or so of that ABC special, there are some hilarious clips of tourists trying (and sometimes failing) to reenact their favorite scenes from the movie.

The Sound of Music will always be special to me, but I don’t think I fully understood how many other people feel the same way until I read this book. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fellow fan.