30 October 2011

Review: FALLEN ANGELS by Tara Hyland *****

From the poverty of post-war England and Ireland to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood's golden age, a beautiful, sweeping family drama that illustrates that the bonds between a mother and daughter can never be broken.

An unwanted child: San Francisco, 1958. On a dark December night, a baby girl is left at the Sisters of Charity Orphanage on Telegraph Hill.
A mysterious suicide: One year later, movie star Frances Fitzgerald takes her own life. Her husband, wealthy businessman Maximilian Stanhope, is rumoured to know more about her death than he's letting on, but nothing is ever proved.
A terrible secret: What is the connection between these two events?
That's what Frances's daughter, Cara, wants to find out. Abandoned by her mother when she is just seven years old, her childhood is filled with hardship and loss. As a young woman she finds professional success as a journalist, but on a personal level, she still struggles to trust those around her. Soon Cara becomes convinced that uncovering the secret behind her mother's death is the only way to lay her demons to rest, but learning the truth may end up tearing her apart.
Oh my goodness, what a story!

First of all, let me say that I really enjoyed Tara's debut Daughters of Fortune, but even though that was already an excellent read, I thought Fallen Angels was even better! It unexpectedly pulled me in and I just couldn't stop reading this book! I found myself racing and racing through it and I read the final chapters with eyes and mouth wide open, going all ''WHAAAAT?!', hehe. Talk about a shocking conclusion! But let's start at the beginning first ...

The book is an amazing family saga that starts in 1946 in Ireland and ends in 1972 in the US. It's divided into five parts. During this time it moves from rural Ireland to London to Los Angeles. I don't recall ever reading a book set during this particular time period, which was actually more interesting to read about than I expected! There's a lot of talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood, which was fascinating to read about and so vividly portrayed that I could easily picture everything as I was there, although I was rather unfamiliar with it. I imagine this book required a ton of historical research since the book includes so much detail, and I thought the author did a fantastic job including it all in the story.

Speaking of the story, one word I would use to describe it is MAGNIFICENT. It features two female protagonists: Franny and her daughter Cara. At the beginning, Franny is a young girl who dreams of making it big in Hollywood and is determined to escape her parents' boring lifestyles. So when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant (a horrible thing to do in 1946 Ireland), she runs away to London and works various jobs to support herself and her daughter. Seven years later, she finally gets a chance to go to LA and become an actress - expect she can't bring her precious daughter along. So she has no choice but to leave her with her mother Theresa, whom she hasn't seen for seven year. And off she goes, convinced Cara will be able to join her in just a few weeks ... But life never goes according to the plan and while Franny's life is becoming more and more glamourous, Cara's life with her grandmother is anything but. The communication between the two is broken and in 1958 Cara reads that her mother committed suicide. At the same time, she is also on her own and her life is about to take the turn for the worse, which turns her into an incredibly tough girl. In her mid-20s, Cara decides to investigate what actually happened to her mother and why she never came back for her. And oh yes, what she learns is absolutely shocking to say the least ...

Part of why I was so engrossed in this book were also the characters. At first, I loved Franny and I felt for her when she was suffering and rooted for her to make it big like she wanted to. But after she left her daughter behind and kept her a secret while enjoying her mega glamourous life, I did start resenting her and I was quite disappointed by her, especially the poor little Cara was struggling so much withour her. Luckily, the poor little thing grew up into the most admirable woman with incredible investigating skills!

As I already said, the story itself was fantastic, but the conclusion was just mind-blowing and I was not prepared for all the surprises that kept hitting me in the face during the final chapters! The crucial events in 1958 when Franny drives off the cliff and dies are only briefly described when they happened and based on that it's SO easy to make your own conclusions and judge people who were involved at the time, but the truth is actually completely different and it turns everything upside down. I thought I had figured a few things out, but it turned out I was wrong wrong wrong and I never saw the ending coming! I love it when the novel surprises me like that and despite all the tragic events that took place in this book, I found the ending rather satisfying.

Furthermore, this review would not be complete with me gushing over the cover! Seriously, how incredibly BEAUTIFUL is this cover?!?! Like the book itself, I just can't praise it highly enough since it's almost too good to be true! Well done to Lizzie Gardiner, who designed it! OK, OK, I'll admit that the US cover and title might actually be more fitting, but I still prefer the UK version because it's just more eye-catching and intriguing - and wonderful!

All in all, this was an absolutely fantastic, gripping and an outstanding read! And oh it certainly doesn't shy from tackling very serious topics, but I won't discuss those too much in order not to spoil the book too much. All I'm saying is that if you're looking for a facinating and well-written story, then this book is an absolute must! Personally, I can't wait to see what what Ms Hyland comes up with next!


Christina T said...

Fantastic review! I really want to read this and I prefer the UK cover and title. It is very beautiful while the US cover and title are kind of boring in my opinion :) I think Fallen Angels sounds like a good book for discussion too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

Sarah (The Brazen Bookworm) said...

Wow, this sounds amazing! I love the mix of Hollywood and mystery. I haven't heard of it or the author, but I just added it to my TBR. Fabulous review! :)

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I love the cover on the book! The time period that takes place in is so unusual that I am going to have give this series a try.

Cozy in Texas said...

Thanks for posting. This sounds great.

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

It's interesting because I saw this cover and read your review and I got so excited. That cover is is amazing. When I looked at the US cover I realized that I have that book. Whoa! Great review. I wish my cover looked like the UK version.

Dot said...

I can't wait to read this now! I loved Daughters of Fortune but have put off reading this one in case I was disappointed! Shall move it nearer the top of the pile after your great review!

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