The Gown by Jennifer Robson: Historian-turned-novelist Robson sets her latest historical release in 1947, when times are grim: so many have lost so much, war rationing continues, Britain is in ruins. But in a bleak year, there’s a bright spot: Princess Elizabeth’s royal wedding captured the hearts of a nation, and was a beacon of hope to a country on its knees. The people insisted on a real celebration, including a beautiful gown. Robson’s story shifts among three protagonists and spans 70 years, but the common thread is Elizabeth’s gown—and specifically, the women who make it. While Robson has a fine eye for detail, and her behind-the-scenes descriptions of the fine atelier’s workroom are riveting, the heartbeat of the story comes from female friendship, secret pasts, and life after loss.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang: Last year, I read Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient and listed it as one of my favourite reads of the year. When I read that Michael’s cousin Khai, was getting his own book, I couldn’t wait to read it. He thinks he’s defective and has no feelings, but his family knows he just processes things differently. It’s always kept him from pursuing a romantic relationship, so his meddling mom returns to Vietnam to find him a bride. The bride, Esme, has her own complicated reasons for giving an arranged marriage a try, and I really felt for her. The couple slowly won me over, and I was charmed by them in the end. The heart of the story was wonderful! I was annoyed by one thing that was kept secret for too long (and had an anticlimactic reveal), but it was a fun read overall. I liked seeing how Khai’s autism manifested itself and loved Esme’s journey as an immigrant. Hoang’s letter at the end of the book made Esme’s story even more meaningful, and I’m so glad it was included. I’m happy to say that I am now looking forward to Quan’s book.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (on Kindle): Tiffy and Leon share a flat, but they’ve never met. They work opposite shifts, but exchanging notes every day leads to an unexpected friendship. Tiffy and Leon each have their style in note writing, and Leon’s style is a little too close to how Bridget wrote in her diary, which I was irritated by. And while it was definitely funny, there’s so much more to it. It deals with some emotional subject matter and that made me love it more. It will make you smile… while also making you cry a little bit, too.