Literary Junkies Review: The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

The Chaperone Book Cover The Chaperone
Laura Moriarty
Historical Fiction
416

On a summer's day in 1922 Cora Carlisle boards a train from Wichita, Kansas, to New York City, leaving behind a marriage that's not as perfect as it seems and a past that she buried long ago. She is charged with the care of a stunning young girl with a jet-black fringe and eyes wild and wise beyond her fifteen years. This girl is hungry for stardom and Cora for something she doesn't yet know.

Cora will be many things in her lifetime - an orphan, a mother, a wife, a mistress - but in New York she is a chaperone and her life is about to change. It is here under the bright lights of Broadway, in a time when prohibition reigns and speakeasies with their forbidden whispers behind closed doors thrive, that Cora finds what she has been searching for. It is here, in a time when illicit thrills and daring glamour sizzle beneath the laws of propriety that her life truly begins.

It is here that Cora and her charge, Louise Brooks, take their first steps towards their dreams.

This month, the book being read by the Literary Junkies Book Club was The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. Who are the Literary Junkies? You can read more about them here, with the lovely Taylor of ‘Pink Heels, Pink Truck’. Basically, we’re a group of book lovers! Each month we read a book together, have our monthly book club meeting on twitter, and have a monthly link up.

I knew nothing about this book when it was posted as our first read of the year. The blurb told me that this was a book set in the 20s, told from the viewpoint of a woman chaperoning a young charge in New York City. I can’t say it grabbed me. However, from the minute I opened the book and began reading, I was hooked.

This book is so much more than the story of a woman nannying a young, incorrigible girl in the Big City. It is about the Cora’s search for her past, in a world where values are changing rapidly, and she’s struggling to keep up. Hem lines are getting shorter, blacks are sitting alongside her in the theatre, and young Louise refuses to understand the dangers of a being a young, beautiful woman alone in a roomful of men.

Being raised in an extremely traditional family, I immediately empathised with Cora’s desire to teach Louise about the importance of keeping up appearances, as much as I understood Louise’s resistance to the idea. As a modern girl raised in an old-fashioned home, I personally have spent most of my life torn between these two extremes, and it’s not an easy place to be. So, I was intrigued by this aspect of the book, and enjoyed watching the dynamic between the two shift, as each came to see things from the other’s perspective (at least to some degree!).

What really made this book special was Cora. The book could have just used her character at face value, as a dignified woman in her thirties, struggling to keep her young charge under control. However, Moriarty gave Cora a backstory that was riveting. I won’t give too much away, but throughout the book details kept being revealed that continuously changed the way that I saw Cora and the reasons behind why she behaved as she did.

Combined with the historical elements of the book, which span from rural Kansas in the 20s with Cora’s friends joining the Klu Klux Klan because ‘everyone is doing it’, to New York City, where Cora and Louise attend the first broadway play entirely written, produced and starring black people, this book is a fascinating and compelling read. 

I don’t often give books five stars; but this book earned my seal of approval and highest recommendations. Run out to your local bookstore and buy a copy right now. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can get a copy from the Book Depository, or Amazon. 

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Literary Junkies

Now, on a lighter and less reverential note, here are my answers to this month’s Literary Junkies questions. You should join us next month! We’re reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Get excited!wers to this month’s Literary Junkies questions

1. What am I reading right now? Tell us about it. 

Right now, I’m reading Life in Plan B by Jennifer Vessells. I can’t tell you too much about it though, because I’ll be reviewing it in just a few days for Chick Lit Plus, and you can read all about it then!

2. Out of the 16 books that will be turned into a movie adaptation, which one are you most looking forward to seeing this year? (Article Link)

Even though heaps of the movies in this article look really interesting, the one I know I’ll have to read before I see it in the cinema is Divergent by Veronica Roth. I know it’s similar to the Hunger Games series, and those books are a definite MUST READ before seeing the movie, so I’m working on the same assumption here!

3. What was the worst book you’ve ever read?

You know, I haven’t got a clue what my answer is to this question… I don’t think I’ve ever not finished a book that I started! I might have to get back to you on this one.

4. What foods or beverages have you spilled on a book while reading? Anything good?

Confession time: Once, I dropped a book in the toilet! I wasn’t using it at the time, but I think I sat it on the cistern while I was doing something else, and it fell in! It was especially awkward, because it was a library book. Whoops!

5. Do you pictures characters as popular film or tv actors? Or do you create a whole new person in your head?

This all depends on whether I’ve seen the movie adaptation of a book or not. If I have, then I usually picture the characters as the actors that played them. But if not, then I imagine what they look like based on the description given in the book, not based on who I think should play them in the movie!

6. Out of all the authors you’ve read books by, who’s brain would you want to pick the most?

Hmm, another toughie… I’ve heard Matthew Reilly talk before, and he was fascinating, so I think I could have a good conversation with him. But if I could, I’d bring J. R. R. Tolkien back from the dead to ask him about creating such a detailed fantasy world for Lord of the Rings, complete with it’s own language! I’d love to do something like that.

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The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

books - book club

“Winning means fame and fortune. Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun…”

Suzanne Collins - Hunger Games Trilogy

There’s no denying that Suzanne Collins’ depiction of kids killing each other for sport has sparked both controversy and obsession into the hearts of children and adults alike across the world.

I’ll admit, I fall into the ‘obsessed’ category. Having read all of the books last weekend in preparation for the movie release (which, by the way, smashed all of the box office records – take that, non-believers!), I now understand what all the fuss is about.

 For those who aren’t in the know, The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic America, where the Capitol strikes fear into the outer districts through its annual televised reality show, where each district sends two tributes to battle to the death. The teen still standing at the end of the games will be showered with rewards and become the hero of their district. However, when Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute to save her sister, the Capitol gets an unpleasant shock. Through her actions before and during the games, Katniss becomes a symbol of hope to the poor people in the outer districts, planting the seed of rebellion amongst the masses.

The trilogy that I repeatedly overlooked in bookstores because, yes, I do judge books by their covers and blurbs, are addictive. They aren’t just the story of violent pubescent mass murder; they’re about hope, justice, family, and freedom. Emotional in a way that former phenomena (*cough* Twilight) aren’t, The Hunger Games has something for everyone. Bloody battles for the boys, romance for the girls – or vice versa if you want to break away from stereotypes, like heroine Katniss Everdeen. There’s even some crazy couture fashion, advanced technology, and sneaky governmental conspiracy thrown in for good measure.

Even harder than writing a trilogy that can capture the imaginations and win the hearts of generations of readers is turning those books into a box-office smash. But, with careful casting, an amazing setting, and a script fairly true to the novels, The Hunger Games became a multi-billion dollar success almost overnight. With the sequel about to be released in Cinemas, you can expect a similar uproar in late November.

I would suggest reading the books before seeing the movie[1], for the sake of the extra background knowledge you’ll have, but it’s not necessary. If you do want to, you can get the trilogy (with the pretty covers) online here. Everyone who loves the story of the underdog beating the all powerful and mighty will get something out of this movie. I’m addicted to the point where I’m slightly depressed that there are no more books coming out (something that Harry Potter had going in its favour…).

 “May the odds be ever in your favour”

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[1] But be careful when purchasing from Book Depository, as the blurbs give away the crucial plot points… frustrating!!