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Forbidden Places by Penny Vincenzi

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Miss Moppet
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Forbidden Places by Penny Vincenzi

Post by Miss Moppet » Thu May 5th, 2011, 8:17 pm

Forbidden Places opens with a prologue set in 1995 (the year the book was first published) in the Palm Court of the Ritz Hotel in London. This is as good an introduction to Vincenzi as any. She writes glitzy blockbusters about the wealthy, the powerful and the posh. (She does shoehorn in some working-class or lower-middle characters, but they never ring as true). This particular juicy saga follows Grace, Florence and Clarissa through the Second World War in the Home Counties. All three women find ways to serve their country while negotiating enough romantic ups and downs to sink a destroyer.

Vincenzi has, in spades, the read-on factor. The only other author I can think of who is so good at keeping the pages turning is Sally Beauman. Like Beauman, Vincenzi creates vivid characters, keeps the pot boiling and has a genius for missing out the boring bits. But again like Beauman, she does sometimes resort to very unsubtle methods of creating suspense. The prologue is a good example: it does little more than establish that all three women have secrets they have kept since the war and have no intention of revealing. There’s no return to 1995 at the end of the book, and the story really starts on page 15, in 1938, with Grace about to meet her future husband, Charles.

Grace Marchant is the beautifully-spoken daughter of a bank manager. Charles Bennett is the beautifully-spoken son of a solicitor. It may be difficult for non-Brits to discern why Charles and his family think themselves a cut above Grace and hers. They are both undeniably middle-class. But the fact is that the Marchants live in a small house with only daily staff, while the Bennetts have a large house with live-in servants, and Grace went to a local girls’ school instead of boarding-school, as Charles’s sister Florence did. The Bennetts’ snobbery irritated me throughout the whole book, and I was longing for some member of the aristocracy to come along and patronise them, but it didn’t happen.

Anyway, Grace marries Charles, more fool her, and while she flutters round like the second Mrs de Winter, her sister-in-law Florence, outwardly brash and self-confident, is secretly struggling with a difficult marital situation of her own. Their blonde, bubby friend, Clarissa Compton Brown, gushes over everyone and everything, when she isn't having long lyrical orgasms with her husband. Grace thinks at one point that she is "unable to contemplate another hour of Clarissa's sparkling" and there were times when I felt the same way. Even the Wrens (who my WAAF great aunt described as “a toffee-nosed lot”) find Clarissa a bit much. In fact, I didn’t really warm to any of the women. Grace was too much of a doormat, Florence was too much of a bitch and Clarissa was too much of a toffee-nosed slut. Also, some of the action seemed contrived (a heavily pregnant woman thinks it’s a good idea to have a day out in London during the Blitz? Really?).

Having said all that, though, I really did enjoy the book. It's a soap opera set against some of the most dramatic moments of the last century. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to lose themselves for a day or two in a world of shell-pink satin nightgowns, air-raid sirens and cut-glass accents. Not my favourite Vincenzi – that would be Wicked Pleasures or An Outrageous Affair – but a solid four stars.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Thu May 5th, 2011, 8:32 pm

Thanks for the review, Miss Moppet. I haven't read anything by Ms. Vincenzi and do occasionally want to escape the Roman world!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Thu May 5th, 2011, 8:41 pm

It's so long since I've read any Vincenzi that I can't remember what it was I read - but I do remember enjoying it and you are right about the page turning quality. Beautiful prose it might not be, but she tells a rip-roaring and very satisfying story!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Vanessa
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Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favourite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Post by Vanessa » Thu May 5th, 2011, 9:47 pm

I loved the Spoils of Time trilogy - No Angel, Something Dangerous and Into Temptation. It spans WWI and WWII and it's set in the book publishing world. PV tells a great story! She's a favourite author of mine.
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Thu May 5th, 2011, 10:07 pm

[quote=""EC2""]It's so long since I've read any Vincenzi that I can't remember what it was I read - but I do remember enjoying it and you are right about the page turning quality. Beautiful prose it might not be, but she tells a rip-roaring and very satisfying story![/quote]

She has some pet turns of phrase that can get annoying, especially if you read a few PVs in a row, so what I tend to do is space the books out. I have The Dilemma and Almost A Crime, which are contemporaries, on the TBR pile. Old Sins was her first and a great read. I've read the Spoils of Time trilogy and enjoyed that too, especially the part set in occupied France.

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