Book review: ‘Strings Attached’ by Judy Blundell

In 1950, 17-year-old Kit Corrigan arrives in New York City ready for her big break. She’s shed her life in Providence, Rhode Island, like a snake does its skin; she’s said goodbye to her well-meaning but jealous boyfriend, Billy, and resigned herself to a new life without him. Redheaded and diligent, Kit is tired of being one of the Corrigan Three — a trio of famous siblings that entered the world just as their mother left it.

She’s ready to move on.

But the past isn’t quite ready to let her go. After the Broadway show in which she’s worked as a dancer closes, a family friend darkens her doorstep, promising a sweet deal: come to work as a chorus girl at the Lido, a gentleman’s club in the city. Take this apartment. Stay here, wear these clothes — watch as your life is taken care of for you. You only have to do me these few favors, Kit . . . just these few favors. Little things. Nothing.

Don’t you owe me?

Oh, I’m in quite the love affair with Judy Blundell’s Strings Attached. I closed the book with trembling fingers, my mind struggling to wrap around the intricate convergence of so many plots. This novel is engrossing, calculated, painful. It’s sweeping and fully realized. It made me ache with loss.

I loved it.

Kit was, by far, my favorite character — a young woman who is naive, yes, but madly in love with the first man to steal her heart: Billy Benedict, Nate’s son. Big-time lawyer Nate has his fingers on the pulse of the mob, it’s rumored, and certainly seems to be up to no good — but his offer to Kit seems genuine. Forget casting Billy out. Stay in a private apartment, work for now and wait for him. Wait for Nate’s son, fresh in the army, to return. And when he does? Marry him. Marry him and go away.

But it’s not as simple as that. In fact, nothing in Blundell’s novel is easy — and no conclusion is reached without a fair amount of turmoil. I ripped through this book in days with a bottomless pit open in my stomach, dying to know what would become of the Corrigan family. Triplets Kit, Muddie and Jamie were all fleshed-out, sympathetic and fascinating teens — and Jimmy, the siblings’ father, was a man I couldn’t help but love. He was wrecked and absent and desperate, yes, but he was “Da” — their bullheaded Irish father. And he loved them fiercely, through and through — even when things became complicated, tragic. Maybe especially then.

The book’s setting — the pre-war years of 1937 up through the Depression, then the onset of the Korean War in 1950 — were what really captivated my imagination. Blundell perfectly captures the uncertainty of living in a time when it felt the world could collapse at any moment — and, selfishly, Strings Attached reminded me that life in 2011 ain’t got nothin’ on the Cold War, the threat of nuclear attack, the reality of boys disappearing from homeroom because they’d gone to fight someone else’s war. It was haunting and powerful. It felt like being dropped into a time machine, and I actually had to blink a few times to reenter the 21st century.

I really can’t say enough great things about this novel, and it’s not one I would want to spoil for you. The story tears along at a frantic speed, swinging you from Kit’s present life in New York to her early years in Providence. We learn of the past between the Corrigan and Benedict families by piecing together the tiles Kit offers, turning them around until we’ve formed a chipped mosaic. Until we get the full story. And by then, my heart was breaking.

Stunning, lovely, romantic, tear-inducing. Not to be missed.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0545230500 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

BBAW: Forgotten Treasures – ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets’

In keeping with our Book Blogger Appreciation Week festivities through Friday, today’s prompt asks us to mention a book we feel hasn’t gotten the exposure it ought — whether it be a classic, should-have-read-in-school novel or contemporary fiction that hasn’t found the audience it deserves.

So I’m going to tell you about a book, y’all.

It’s not that you haven’t heard me wax on ad nauseum about this one before. Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets was one of my favorite reads of 2009, and easily wormed its way into my heart and mind, practically ruining me for other books.

As I said in my review last December,

No novel in recent memory has enchanted me more than Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets. In fact, it’s going to be hard to even try and review it objectively — I just thought it was that magical, exciting, and engrossing, and if I could build a time machine and travel back to a time in which I hadn’t read this book, I’d be packing my suitcase and returning to last week, friends — let’s experience this novel all over again!

It’s the story of Penelope Wallace, a young woman growing up in post-war London who struggles mightly under the shadow of her beautiful mother — a woman who once knew the world was her oyster. After her father’s death in the war, Talitha retreats further into herself while her eccentricities compound. Never feeling good enough to impress her mother, Penelope loses herself in the music of Johnnie Ray, an American rock singer, as their once-immaculate, now-crumbling home disintegrates around them.

Penelope is waiting for a bus the day she meets Charlotte Ferris, a charismatic teen who immediately befriends Penelope and drags her to tea with her Aunt Clare. It’s there that’s introduced to an entirely new world: one of wealth, boredom and, as she meets Harry, Charlotte’s brother, infatuation. And maybe love.

Anything I crave in a novel was here — in spades. Dynamic, interesting and well-developed characters. Romance and a male lead with whom I became completely enamored, even if he was a little . . . unusual. Gorgeous, lush and inviting scenery — and Milton Magna, their old castle, which had a life of its own (and happened to be in England, my favorite place). A fast-paced, emotional plot that kept me engaged from page one. Realistic, funny dialogue. A love affair with music and devotion to a singer with which I could immediately and directly relate.

Yes, friends, The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets was phenomenal. Through everything, I think of it as “my book” — and just yesterday, I got a new comment on my review from someone who felt the same way. I’m not one to brag, but I’ve converted a few folks on this one — including Emily from Emily And Her Little Pink Notes, and my baby sister.

I don’t know if it’s a book for everyone, but it was definitely a book for me. In fact, if ever I felt like a novel had been written with my specific interests in mind, it’s Eva Rice’s. If it sounds like there’s something here for you, please don’t hesitate to pick it up. Though I was initially drawn in by the cover, it’s what happened between the pages that kept me captivated and gushing about it . . . all these months later.

Check out more reviews on LibraryThing and Goodreads, then add it to your wishlist. If you’re completely captivated and have to have it now, add it to your cart at the Book Depository (free shipping!), Amazon (where it’s currently bargain priced at $4.48!), Powell’s or indiebound.