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I really love chick lit type novels, and after googling to find out what the best ones would be, this came up in the search a few times - I really love historical novels as well, and while this isn't that long ago I find the 50's to be quite an interesting period, and it doesn't really seem to be covered as much as other periods, for example the 60's.
The lost art of keeping secrets is a tale of life in the 50's living in a crumbling mansion, it is a coming of age tale of its inhabitant Penelope. Penelope's life takes a turn one day when she is waiting at the bus stop, and she meets Charlotte who persuades her to get in a taxi and come and meet her aunt for tea. Charlotte is elegant, worldly, and seemingly everything that Penelope wants to be - she loves being with her. There's also Penelope's cousin Harry, pining over his lost love - which is where the secrets come in when Penelope pretends to be his girlfriend in order to make Harry's ex jealous. Will it work though? And with Penelope's home crumbling around her, who will rescue them?
It was an enjoyable book, I felt like I was transported back to the 50's - there was certainly many cultural references such as the afternoon tea and more. I really liked the author's writing style, she described everything in such vivid detail that I could really imagine it, it painted a lovely picture of the time. It was slightly predictable but I suppose a lot of chick lit it, it was still good to read! It can be purchased on amazon for £5.48 new, or around £1.20 used with postage.
Before there was Elvis, there was Johnnie Ray - an American pop singer who made girls all over the world swoon, and teenaged Penelope Wallace was one of them. Before there was Charlotte Ferris, it seemed like Penelope was living in a dreary world of post-WWII England, still rife with shortages - especially cash. But when Charlotte meets Penelope waiting for a bus and practically kidnaps her for an afternoon tea at her Aunt Claire's house, everything changes, not just for these two girls, but for just about everyone in both their families. As these two upper-class but financially impoverished 18-year-olds become fast friends, the learn more about each other, their worlds and the people in them. What's more, it seems like everyone has some sort of secret they're keeping. This is "The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets" and is a novel from Eva Rice.
On the surface, this book could easily be considered "chick-lit". In fact, throughout most of the story, you may get the distinct feeling that the romance elements are very much in the forefront of the plot. We have Charlotte's cousin, the fascinating looking Harry who wants to be a magician and is in love with an American actress who just dumped him for a man with more means. As Harry ropes Penelope into a scheme to get her back, we know something is going to sizzle. Charlotte too has eyes for a boy, one of the "Teddy boys", who her Aunt doesn't approve of. And then there's Rocky, the dreamily handsome, much older American man from Hollywood who meets Penelope on the train. Plus, with Penelope living in the shadow of her famously beautiful widowed mother, you can just guess where at least some of the secrets will be, and that love is at the center of all of them. Even Penelope's younger brother Inigo is in love - but that's with Rock & Roll music.
However, on closer examination, the story here is a touch deeper than most "chick-lit". In fact, many people might find that this is more of a 'coming of age' novel, and could almost be appropriate for the young adult market. This wouldn't be far from correct, except for the fact that it seems a bit more sophisticated than that market usually requires, and the subtleties of the text and its underlying meanings would probably be lost on most teenaged readers. No, this is an adult novel which lies on the cusp of the literary and women's fiction genres. This isn't to say that men might not enjoy this book, but they'd probably need to quite in touch with their feminine side in order to do so. And of course, included here are the timeless themes of growing up with fads and fashion mixed with music and society, which anyone can identify with.
Written in first person from Penelope's point of view, Rice gives us an excellent look at the people that Penelope is interacting with. We are able to get to know Penelope as well, since much of the story is told in past tense, as a type of retrospective of the events. This is nicely mirrored within the story through the autobiography that Aunt Claire is writing with the typing assistance from her niece, Charlotte. Another nice addition to this is the fact that Penelope is not only reading literature, but seems to be interested in becoming a novelist herself. While there's no "story within a story" here, the connectivity of writers and writing is evident throughout. Moreover, as Penelope unravels her tale, we get the distinct impression that this is the fodder for her first real book, which certainly Rice experienced herself.
The overall feel of this book is one that many would describe as a "summer novel". The tone is mostly lighthearted and the language is both clever, and easy to read with a simple beauty to it. Even the more serious passages are handled with a gentleness that pulls the reader in and takes them for a ride. When Rice describes the seasons and the views from in and around the majestic stately home of Milton Magma, where Penelope lives, one could swear her words could be set to music. In this Rice reveals that some of her talent comes directly from her lyric-writing father Tim. One particularly nice thing about this book is that you won't realize until the end just how complex these character's lives really are. And yet, like real people they almost breeze into and out of their troubles without fully understanding how they got into them, how they'll come out of them, and what effect it will have on them or the people they encounter. This gives the novel a real honest feel to it which was a welcome one, indeed.
In all, "The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets" is a lovely novel. The writing is lovely and the story is interesting with characters you can easily picture in your mind's eye. Eva Rice has a way of enticing you to read on and then adds some interesting twists just to keep you interested. There was only one loose end at the finish that bothered me a touch, but the ending, which brings some closure wasn't sappy. When you close the book, you'll feel like you have a good idea what will happen to these people's lives, without being told. Plus, Rice seems to have done her homework on the period, and included some nice touches along the way (not the least of which was getting me interested in finding some Johnnie Ray recordings). This book deserves a solid four out of five stars and comes well recommended.
Davida Chazan © June, 2011
This is available to purchase from Amazon for £5.50 (new) or through their marketplace from 1p.
This was the first of her novels to be released in the USA, and this is why many people called this her "debut" novel. Other fiction titles by Eva Rice are: "Butterfly Sting" and "Standing Room Only".
Paperback: 448 pages, ISBN-10: 9780755325504, ISBN-13: 978-0755325504, ASIN: 0755325508
England in the 1950s, and Penelope doesn't even realise how bored she is with her life. Until one day, she meets Charlotte, who makes her own clothes, and dates Teddy boys. And meets her brother Harry, a love-sick magician with one blue eye who makes her feel on edge. In a good way.
A story about growing up, falling in love, looking after your parents, understanding Elvis Presley and affording a dress from Selfridges. It's so purely 1950s England, beautiful, recovering from the war, and yet obsessed with Yardley's Lipstick and dining at London restaurants.
This book is a sweet, easy read, but it's really got heart. It's not sappy, or sickly or talking down to the audience, but it makes us friends with these wonderful characters and lets us laugh with them at the situations they find themselves in. Completely feel good.
A book about life, love and becoming the person you want to be.
The kind of person who goes to brunch and drinks champagne and falls in love and worries and whines, and then buys up half of harrods to forget about it.
I truly love this book. I have read it over and over since I bought it a few months ago. The storyline is fresh and original and there is a sense of truthfulness in the way that Eva Rice writes. It is a perfect read for all ages and adds depth to an era which is not typically written about. The story is quite different to those novels typical today and is a lovely read. The writing style is different and therefore makes it difficult to put down. The story follows Penelope Wallace and her family who are struggling to let go of the past. It is a perfect coming of age story especially for a teenager who find herself reaching immediatly for the nearest Johnnie Ray record as soon as having put this book down. This is an excellent read and I most definitly recommend it to anyone who likes books that give you an insight into the past.
As a avid book reader friends and family have a habit of giving me books as gifts and occasionally just dumping all there old books on me. I was given this book as a mothers day gift and thought that it did not look like my usual stuff. The cover of this book does it no favours but as the well known saying goes do not judge a book by its cover.
Set in England in the early fifties this book is a gentle read. The story is centered and told from the point of view of penelope a rather naive young woman who can't wait for her life to begin.
The book begins with Penelope taking a chance and jumping in a cab with a strange young woman called Charlotte who is on her way to tea with her Aunt Clare. Penelope is introduced to a whole new world and way of living and is taken well out of her comfort zone.
The book captures the feel of the upper classes in 1950's London and there desire to hold on to the life they had before the war and the desire of the younger generation to leave all that behind and move forward.
The book makes you realise that a grand house like Milton Magna is all some of the upper classes had after the war with no means of upkeeping the house. Penelope and her brother Inigo live in a grand house but are essentially poor and long to escape. Inigo through Rock and Roll and Penelope through Johnny Ray.
The book has a couple of plots going and kept me interested all the way through I wanted all the characters to do well. It is set over the course of a year and in that time you see Penelope and her brother Inigo develope as people.
A well written book and i will be keeping an eye out for any other books by this author. It has the feel of Enid Blyton for adults.
'The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets' by Eva Rice is one of the books that has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I borrowed it from a friend and, although I really wanted to read it at the time, I soon got distracted by something else and forgot all about it. However, after a mad burst of de-cluttering a couple of weeks ago, I've now managed to return my overflowing bookshelves to a state where I can actually see what books are on them, and I picked this one up to read last week.
This book is a coming of age novel set in 1950s England. It takes place as the rationing which continued following the Second World War comes to an end, and the rock and roll era is in its infancy. The story is narrated by 18 year old Penelope Wallace, who lives in a crumbling mansion with her beautiful widowed mother Talitha and younger brother Inigo. Her father had been killed in the war and their stately home is falling down around them, but they don't have the money to restore it to its former glories. When Penelope meets Charlotte Ferris in a chance encounter at a London bus stop, and is immediately invited to tea with her Aunt Clare and cousin Harry, a great friendship develops which is integral to the story running through the book.
As Penelope and Charlotte embark on their journey of self-discovery, Penelope is pulled into the London society world which Charlotte and Harry already inhabit. The glamour of the high society parties, the jewels, the spectacular dresses and dinners at the Ritz provide a contrast to the relative poverty of her life at home with the financial worries about how they can possibly maintain their crumbling home. The story is set over a period of about a year and it is a time where Penelope's life undergoes a lot of changes. Her friendship with Charlotte brings her more out of herself and she becomes a stronger, more confident character as the book progresses.
The main characters in the book are all very likeable and I found them absorbing because of this. The style of writing, with Penelope as the central character and narrator, means that you see all the other characters through her eyes. Her fascination with Charlotte in the early stages of the book is almost like hero-worship, although as their friendship develops, it becomes a much more two-sided friendship as they both come to need and rely on each other. Charlotte's cousin Harry is also a very interesting character. He is slightly older, a magician and very much part of the society world, infatuated with an ex-girlfriend who he is desperate to win back.. Penelope's younger brother Inigo is completely obsessed with the new rock and roll music and believes that he can make his fortune through rock and roll. I think those four characters give a real understanding of what it must have been like to be young in that era.
The book is beautifully written and evokes the time in which it is set. I think that 1950s London is really well described as is the Milton Magna, the once glorious stately home in which Penelope's family live. You get a real sense of time and place from this novel - of what it must have been like to be a teenager in a generation which had more freedom than ever before, with the emergence of the new rock and roll music and the first pop icon in Johnnie Ray, the appeal of everything American, the ability to buy the things they wanted because rationing had finally come to an end and, of course, the discovery of the opposite sex.
At times, this is a very gentle and easy read, but at other points it is more thought-provoking and absorbing, and there are some passages which made me feel quite emotional. Although a lot of the time it doesn't really feel like that much happens in the story, it is an story which pulls the reader in and keeps you absorbed, wanting to know what happens next. It's not classic chick-lit as it's much more of a period piece and, although shopping and romance do play a part, it's a softer type of book more appropriate to the time in which it is set. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a light, summer read as it is perfect for chilled out summer days and escaping from our busy lives.
I'm not really one for writing book reviews, but after a friend recommended this book to me a year or so ago, it has become a firm favourite of which I have read again and again. In turn, it is now a book that I've recommended to other friends, and they have all loved it.
'The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets' is a beautiful coming-of-age novel by Eva Rice (author of 2 other fiction books; 'Standing Room Only', and 'Butterfly Sting'. Also a non-fiction title; 'Who's Who in Enid Blyton').
Synopsis (taken from back cover) ~
'Set in the 1950's, in an England still recovering from the Second World War, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the enchanting story of Penelope Wallace and her eccentric family at the start of the rock 'n' roll era.
Penelope longs to be grown-up and to fall in love; but various rather inconvenient things keep getting in her way. Like her mother, a stunning but petulant beauty widowed at a tragically early age, her younger brother Inigo, currently incapable of concentrating on anything that isn't Elvis Presley, a vast but crumbling ancestral home, a severe shortage of cash, and her best friend Charlotte's sardonic cousin Harry...'
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The story begins with Penelope having a chance encounter at a bus stop with a strange but interesting girl (we shortly come to know her as Charlotte Ferris), requesting her to share a taxi, and join her at her 'Aunt Clare's' for afternoon tea.
Somewhat out of character and on a whim, Penelope accepts this offer and so the story of their friendship begins.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Charlotte is everything Penelope isn't (or at least feels she is not); glamorous, confident, witty, etc. She eludes an air of grace and confidence that Penelope finds fascinating and exciting, and in turn Charlotte loves Penelope's quintessential English 'reserve' and naivety.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The plot of this novel is far from ground-breaking, and yes I'm sure that you will guess the majority of the outcomes quite early on. However, I feel the beauty of this book isn't to be found in unexpected twists and turns, more to do with the relationships formed, and the character development in a short period within their lives.
The loss of Penelope's father during the war left her (still relatively young, & very beautiful) mother with two young children, a large crumbling stately home, no money, and a great deal of issues.
This in turn has shaped Penelope into the person she is. She longs to be carefree like Charlotte, but feels she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, due to worrying about her mother, and whether, due to their money troubles, they will end up losing their home (unfortunately, this will be rather relevant to some in the current climate).
She also despairs at the conflict between her younger brother 'Inigo' and their mother. Inigo is obsessed with all things American, and an exciting new singer called Elvis Presley, whereas their mother 'Talitha' abhors anything to do with America, deeming it 'tasteless'.
Her mother longs for her to marry a rich man; whom will be able to save the estate, and allow them some security. In turn Penelope longs for her mother to be happy again, instead of the lonely, and somewhat reclusive widower she has become.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The story runs over a period of a year or so, starting in 1954. It does tend to go along at a steady (but appropriate pace), in which the girls are discovering more about themselves, boys, society and life in general. The character of Harry (Charlotte's 'wannabe' Magician Cousin) is also a constant, and although he irks Penelope and makes her feel uncomfortable, the two become closer when hatching a plot to allow Harry to win back his ex-girlfriend, a glamorous American, Marina Hamilton.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I feel that Eva Rice portrays the two 18 year old girls beautifully. Both characters are flawed, and could come across as somewhat conceited by means of their personal interests (obsessions with shopping, pop music, boys etc), but you can't help but like them both; especially when Rice manages to reveal delicate moments of weakness and naivety in Charlotte, and similarly, moments of empowerment from within Penelope.
What I particularly liked is the way that although set in the 1950's (a little while before my time!), I felt that anybody could relate to the issues of growing up portrayed within the book. For example, I do not feel that the use of 50's pop stars previously unknown to me (such as Johnnie Ray), or posh London boutiques etc, alienated me in the slightest.
If anything, I think they just helped to serve as an excellent platform for the reader to associate these things with their own comparisons, relevant to when they were growing up.
The imagery Rice uses to portray the girls lives is lovely (I'm using 'lovely' as I feel this is a very girlie book, and this just seems to suit!).
I got wonderfully engrossed in descriptions of sumptuous parties at the Ritz, getting drunk behind the Palladium, and a general slice of 'Upper' and 'Middle Class' life in 1950's England.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Although the story predominantly centred around Penelope and her friendship with Charlotte, I feel it is worth mentioning the other characters a little, as I feel without them, the story would not work nearly as well as it does.
Aunt Clare; Aunt to Charlotte, Mother to Harry, becomes almost a surrogate mother for all the children. She is a warm, slightly eccentric and chaotic character, you can't help but like her.
I feel she is used as an excellent catalyst within the book, allowing diversions within the novel, and adding depth to the story.
Harry; at first I found him to be somewhat overconfident, and not particularly to my liking, but I found the further I got into the book, the more I liked Harry. Again, Rice occasionally brings out elements of Harry that make him appear vulnerable and kinder that he initially lets on. This vulnerability is essential in making his relationships with his cousin and Penelope believable.
Talitha; Penelope's and Inigo's mother. Rice created a strange character here. She comes across as a somewhat arrogant and intolerable woman, solely concerned with the aesthetics of things.
However, the further on you read, the more you are let on into why Talitha is the way that she is. Again, Rice brings out occasional moments of weakness within the character, which make you feel that although her personality is heavily flawed, there is also a kindness within her, and a need for protection.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I don't think it is worth giving a definitive account of the story chapter by chapter, as it is certainly not the sort of book designed to keep you on the edge of your seat with exciting plot twists and turns.
As I have already mentioned, I think you will have a good idea of where the story is going, just from reading the synopsis. However, please do not let this fool you into thinking this is a boring read!
I absolutely adored this book, it is a beautiful, sharp, and sweet coming-of-age story, which I feel is completely accessible regardless of which decade your teenage years fell into!
It is by no means fast paced, but I found myself reading it from cover to cover in one sitting, as I was absolutely engrossed within the story.
Even if you're not really into the 'chick-lit' genre, this would be a great holiday read, or just on a nice sunny day with a lovely cocktail!
Availability & Price: Amazon.co.uk for £5.99
I read this book almost a year ago now whilst on a holiday to spain and I still always remember to recommend it to friends.
The Plot and Characters:
Set in 1950's England, the country is recovering from war and lurching towards the rock'n'roll era that shaped that true teenager. The novels narrator and most prominent character is Penelope Wallace, a girl living with her beautiful mother and Elvis-obsessed brother (Inigo) in a grand, ancestral house that is falling apart around her. After having lost her father the family are facing financial issues and struggling to keep hold of their family home.
Penelope unexpectedly bumps into Charlotte, a girl of the same age surrounded by bizarre family members such as her aunt and sardonic cousin Harry. They rapidly become best friends and the plot envelops into a quaint love story and delicate coming of age novel.
I personally felt that the eccentric character drew me in through sheer curiosity and the engrossing narrative left me hungry to read the next chapter, every time.
Eva Rice, daughter of Tim Rice, has written three other novels, Standing Room Only, Butterfly Sting and the latest The dragonfly summer, non of which I've had chance to read but theyre all definitely on my list and I hope they prove to be just as delightful as this treasure.
The book is relatively easy going yet it demands attention through the beautifully written storylines.
A member of the Richard and Judy book club and nominated for the best read of the year award 2006.
I might be nudging 30 but I must admit I do love a good coming of age story. The inner teenager in me just likes to sit and watch a High school movie (as long as it is not gross our comedy) or read about an awkward teen becoming socially aware and and understanding themselves. The Lost Art if Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice (daughter of the composer Tim rice)was no different. This charming novel about Penelope Wallace, an upper class girl growing up in 1950s England really enchanted me as it was a jolly good read.
The book centres round a year in our heroine's (and narrator as the book is written in the first person) life. The book opens with Penelope's first encounter with the girl with the sea green coat who is to become her best friend Charlotte Ferris. We are introduced to her young beautiful widowed mother Talitha and her Teddy Boy brother Inigo,and also Charlotte's aunt Clare and her wannabe magician cousin Harry. The plot revolves around the girl's love for 1950s teen idolJohnny Ray and Harry's infatuation with his ex girlfriend Marina.
The book is a delightful romp of a story. My first impression of it that it was a cross between Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle and Enid Blyton's Mallorry Towers. This is a good thing as I love both authors. It is hard not to compare The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets with I capture the Castle as they both feature a poverty stricken heroine who lives in a tumble down grand house with their slightly eccentric familles. The Enid Blyton comparison comes across as Penelope is very upper class and uses words like golly gosh frightfully and delicious . The book also has the Blyton trademark of a lot of descriptions of luscious tea and picnics. It is as if Blyon's characters such as Darrell Rivers and Sally Hope have left school and started going to parties and drinking champagne. This may be a valid observation as Eva Rice is a big fan of Blyton's work and has even written a Who's who Guide to Enid Blyton.
I loved the book as it was so easy to read. It's 453 pages and I think I read the last 100 pages in one day I was so enthralled to find out what would happen to Penelope and friends. I liked it as the twists and turns at times were obvious but there were little surprisers in store. Like I Capture the Castle it brought out a range of emotions in me. It was a jolly good romp which made me laugh out loud a few times. It was a lovely gentle old fashioned whimsical humour that suited my taste. However in parts the book left me really sad and feeling for the characters in the slightly quieter , darker moments. There were even some really thought provoking, pignant moments about the waste of young life in war as Penelope's beloved father was killed in World war 2. The key to the book's readability for me was the characters. They were whimsical, maybe some of them were slightly 2 dimensional but they were charismatic and charming. I really got involve with their lives and felt for them.
I feel the setting the book in 1954 is a good time to set a coming of age novel. The 1950s was the beginning of the teenager as we know it. The book portrays the mood of a new generation who wanted to chuck away the greyness of the difficult war years and wanted music and fashions that were alien to their parents. Eva Rice has researched the period well and really gave me a flavour of the beginning of the rock and roll era. I had my reservations about the accuracy of some of the facts in the book as Penelope's age does not quite work out as she is supposed to be 18 in 1854 but was conceived in 1937. Having talked to my father and Duskman's parent about the 50s I wondered if 1954 was too early for the beginning s of rock and roll and the whole Teddy Boy movement but researching it on the internet apparently it is spot on. The descriptions of life as a teenager in England in the 1950s are rich and vivid and I think anyone who was a teenager then will appreciate this as it will probably bring happy memories flooding back
On the other hand the time the book is set in is irrelevant as the subject matter is universal. We have all been teenagers and have been infatuated by someone. Penelope and Charlotte had Johnny Ray but for others it might have been The Beatles, Bay City rollers, Bros, Take that or McFly. For me it was Wet Wet Wet. In the book Penelope and Charlotte have tickets to see Johnny Ray at the London Palladium (an actual concert. Rice spoke to fans about the nigh so the event was portrayed accurately in the book)). The description of the lead up to the concert and the atmosphere in the building was so accurate it really took me back to July 2nd 1994 when I saw the Wets at Alton Tower for the first time. You can literally picture the excitement of the hoards of girls clamourirng for the attention of their idol. It really is heady stuff.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets may not be the most original or literary novel in the world Some might see it as period chic lit but I liked it a lot and would nominate as one of my favourite books I have read this year. It has a feel good factor to it with characters I genuinely cared for. If you are a fan of the coming of age novel give tis a try. I am sure you will be as captivated by this delicious little piece of whimsy as I was.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a Richard and Judy Book Club choice. It is widely available. I bought my copy from Amazon where it I on sale for £4.99.
Set in the 1950s, in an England still recovering from the Second World War, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the enchanting story of Penelope Wallace and her eccentric family at the start of the rock'n'roll era. Penelope longs to be grown-up and to fall in love; but various rather inconvenient things keep getting in her way. Like her mother, a stunning but petulant beauty widowed at a tragically early age, her younger brother Inigo, currently incapable of concentrating on anything that isn't Elvis Presley, a vast but crumblng ancestral home, a severe shortage of cash, and her best friend Charlotte's sardonic cousin Harry... Eva Rice's novel is an utterly engrossing read, in the tradition of Nancy Mitford and I Capture the Castle.