Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Life of Violet Grant

By Amy Bromberg

I had the pleasure of meeting Beatriz Williams last year, both during BEA and at Beach Reads (at Princeton Library). Since then, I devoured her debut, Overseas, as well as A Hundred Summers (reviewed here). Her books are always on my must spring reads list.

Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Madison Avenue world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.

Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate détente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.

As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Beatriz is one of those authors who is excellent at developing characters. Vivian cracked me up with her dry sense of humor and witty one-liners. I wish I was able to think of comebacks as quickly as she does; they just fly off her tongue. Beatriz must have had a ball writing this character. I admire Violet’s bravery for traveling to Europe to follow her dream to become a scientist. And on top of that, she’s pursuing a career in science during a time period where barely any women are working.

The one element that I didn’t like was all the science. I know this was Violet’s vocation, but because I hated science growing up and all the way through college, it bored me. But for all you science lovers, I’m thinking you’ll enjoy this part.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant is a story about passion, secrets, second chances and taking risks. Definitely a great summer read.

Thanks to Penguin for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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