London, 1923: Welcome to The Savoy hotel, a glittering jewel in London’s social scene, where the lives of the rich, the famous, and the infamous intertwine.
Here, amid the cocktails and the jazz, two women with very different pasts try to forget the devastation of the Great War and forge a new life in a city where those who dare to dream can have it all.
Dolly Lane is The Savoy’s newest chambermaid, her prospects limited by a life in service. But her proximity to the dazzling hotel guests fuels her dreams—to take the London stage by storm, to wear couture gowns, to be applauded by gallery girls and admired by critics . . . to be a star, just like her idol, Loretta May.
The daughter of an earl, Loretta has rebelliously turned her back on the carefully ordered life expected of a woman at the top of society’s elite. She will love who she wants, and live as she likes. Outwardly, her star burns bright, but Loretta holds a dark secret. She alone knows that her star cannot burn forever.
When an unusual turn of events leads Dolly’s and Loretta’s lives to collide, they must both learn to let go of their pasts in order to hold on to what they most desire.
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 7, 2016)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 7, 2016)
I jumped on this tour because I enjoy historical fiction--especially set around either WWI or WWII, and I loved the author's second book A Memory of Violets (My review + recipe are here). Her first book about the Titanic, has been on my Kindle forever and I keep vowing to get to it. (I will! I will!) The Girl from The Savoy is similar in style to A Memory of Violets in that it follows multiple characters, is told from differing perspectives, and has some twists and turns that unfold with the story. We meet Dolly (Dorothy) Lane in the prologue, as she says goodbye to her childhood love Teddy, as he heads off to war in 1916. So many young lives were lost in the Great War, that although he promises that they will be married in the summer and have babies and the quiet life they always talked about, the prospects are not good. We catch up with Dolly again in 1923 as she is about to start her first day of employment at the famous Savoy hotel and bumps into returned soldier and uninspired composer Perry Clements. Perry is headed to weekly tea with his sister, the famed stage star Loretta May (in reality society darling and titled Lady Virginia Clements), at the height of her success (everything that Dolly dreams of) but is struggling with her own issues. Finally, mixed into Dolly and Loretta's stories we hear from Teddy, Dolly's boyfriend, who did return from the war but came back with an injured leg and severe 'shell shock'--what we call PTSD today--and in 1919 is in a hospital ward unable to remember much about his life and anything about Dolly, even with a young nurse reading him the many letters from Dolly that were found with him. Dolly and Loretta end up connecting through Perry when Loretta encourages him to hire Dolly as his muse since he has been unable to forget her since bumping into her. Loretta grooms Dolly to fit into their social circle and for the stage, and they find that as different as they are in life and in their upstairs/downstairs social statures, they have much in common when it comes to loss and heartbreak.
Hazel Gaynor does an amazing job of vividly describing the time periods she writes about--you can see the meticulous details of the research she does while feeling the passion she has for her subject. London, The Savoy, the theaters, the music, and the whole era come to life in her writing. The main characters are well written, particularly Dolly, whom I felt that I got to know and understand the most. There is a lot of story, backstory, and characters in the 400-ish pages, which means that some of the secondary characters' stories aren't as complete as I would have preferred. For the most part the different perspectives and shifts in time flowed well, but there were a few instances when I had to go back and determine what year I was reading about so that I understood the context. There are definite twists and turns in the book, most of which I saw coming, but which added to the emotional pull and poignancy of the story. There is a lot of heartbreak in the book but as the titles of the three sections (cleverly called "Acts" to fit with the theater scene) relay, there is also "Hope," "Love" and "Adventure" to be found.
If you like your summer books to transport you, you are a fan of historical fiction, jazz, and London, and/or you are missing Downton Abbey since it ended, you'll enjoy this book as much as I did.
Author Notes: Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanicwas a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A Memory of Violets is her second novel. Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others. Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.
Find out more about Hazel at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Although not a foodie book, there is quite a lot of alcohol/cocktails in The Girl from The Savoy and some occasional food mentions too. Food-wise, Dolly eats pretty simply at the hotel--most notably toast triangles and pats of butter and porridge for breakfast and cocoa with bread and butter at nine, before bed. When she and her friend Clover go dancing, they often stop for a meal of poached eggs and toast afterward. Loretta and her brother Perry meet for tea at the Winter Garden at Claridge's where tiny tea sandwiches with cucumber, tarragon, and smoked salmon and miniature cakes and strawberry tarts might be served, along with Earl Grey tea. There are also mentions of Marie biscuits, milk rolls, Christmas Pudding, chocolates, humbugs (a hard-boiled sweet) at the movies, blackberries and gooseberries, cherry cake that Perry's advertisement for a muse mentions as 'payment' and that he and Dolly share with tea, and chunks of bread and pickled onions that the stage performers tuck into between acts. For alcohol there was champagne, absinthe, scotch, hot port, martinis, a tray of "gemstone-colored cocktails" and Loretta May's gin--consumed straight and in gin and tonics and a gin fizz, and about which she said, "Gin is an acquired taste, and once acquired, it is rarely lost."
For my book inspired dish, I decided to pair the Earl Grey tea and gin that Miss May imbibed so frequently into an Earl Grey Gin Fizz. A gin fizz is usually a mixture of gin, lemon juice and carbonated water or soda--although variations can include egg whites, sparkling wine (usually called a French 75), or other mix-ins.
I made an Earl Grey-Honey Syrup to add to my gin fizz--essentially a tea-steeped simple syrup but using honey instead of white sugar and adding a little vanilla. I sometimes find Earl Grey tea on its own to be a bit like Dolly considered it--"It is like drinking a bottle of perfume"--but I do like it mixed into lattes or mixed with other flavors, where it isn't the entire focus. I wanted my syrup to have plenty of Earl Grey flavor so it stands out, but thought the honey and vanilla would mellow it and round it out. The result is quite a lovely and refreshing drink.
Earl Grey Gin Fizz
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 2 Cocktails)
3 oz gin of choice
2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 oz Earl Grey-Honey Syrup--recipe below
cold club soda
lemon slices or peels for garnish
Place gin, lemon juice, syrup and ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously until well-mixed. Strain into glasses (fill glass with ice if desired, I didn't) and add cold club soda to fill. Garnish with lemon peel and enjoy!
Earl-Grey Honey Syrup
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 2/3+ cup)
1 cup cold water
2 tea bags Earl Grey tea
1/2 cup honey of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
In small pan, bring the water to just below a boil. Once the water is about to boil, add the tea bags, turn off the burner, cover the pan and allow teabags to steep for 5 minutes. Remove lid, add the honey to the tea and turn on burner heat to medium. Cook, stirring until honey is completely dissolved into the tea mixture. Once honey is dissolved, remove pan from heat, stir in vanilla extract, and allow syrup to cool completely. Once cool, remove tea bags from syrup and pour syrup into an airtight container and place in fridge until ready to use. Syrup should keep for several weeks tightly covered in fridge.
Notes/Results: Crisp, not-too-floral, bubbly and refreshing--this is quite a tasty cocktail. You get the sophisticated notes of the Earl Grey, the warmth of the honey, the bright citrus from the lemon and the slightly piney essence of the gin but they blend together well and nothing overpowers the other ingredients. The gigantic lemon spirals are because I was reading about spiralizing fruit with my Inspiralizer and thought they were more fun than a plain slice or zest. Very happy with both this drink and my Earl Grey-Honey Syrup, the remainder of which which will also probably end up in a London Fog Latte or maybe over some berries for fun. I will happily make both recipes again.
I'm linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Girl From the Savoy" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.