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The Palace of Strange Girls Paperback – September 9, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Day's debut novel, inspired by her childhood, is a dated story of four days in the lives of an English family on summer holiday in 1959. WWII vet Jack Singleton is using the holiday in the seaside town of Blackpool to decide his future. A foreman at a cotton mill, he is torn between two job offers: manager of Prospect Mill or union representative. Jack is hiding his predicament from his perfectionist wife, Ruth, while the couple's older daughter, 16-year-old Helen, is obsessed with new, fashionable clothes and finding a boyfriend. Sickly seven-year-old Beth simply wants to escape her overprotective mother. During the brief holiday, the family faces many dilemmas when Jack's wartime adventures come back to haunt him, Ruth's obsession with buying a new house tests her marriage, and the girls deal with treacherous friendships and unwelcome sexual advances. While the plot moves quickly, the number and variety of scrapes the family navigates in only four days strains credulity. Period slang and references are doubtless authentic, but will make the book a difficult read for Americans. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Panoramic portrait of an English family in the 1950s... Charming." (Gloss Magazine)

"A cleverly crafted work, effortlessly moving between grand design and minute detail using both humour and pathos to stunning effect." (New Books Magazine)

"This might just be the most delightful book you read this year." (Easy Living)

"I can't recommend this book highly enough-- a brilliant read." (Women's Weekly)

"A great debut novel with a terrific sense of time and place." (Northern Echo)

"A moving and well-written debut novel." (Nottingham Evening Post)

"An evocative tale." (Belfast Telegraph)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (September 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446545864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446545860
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,747,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Palace of Strange Girls is Sallie Day's debut novel. Day grew up in England and her father ran a cotton mill, so it stands to reason why the father in this book also works in a cotton mill. Strange Girls revolves around the Singleton family on their holiday in July 1959. By all outward appearances they are your typical family living in the recession of the late 50's. Ruth, mom and wife, runs her house the way all housewives should: with a dust mop and financially iron fist. Husband/father Jack is dependable and hardworking. Teenage daughter Helen obeys her parents every command, and youngest daughter Beth tries to be normal with her abnormal childhood. Ruth tries her best to make her family as status quo and typical as possible, but there are secrets underneath the pretty polka-dot facade, and she can't keep them hidden if she doesn't know what they are.

It took me a while to be attracted to Strange Girls. The beginning felt sluggish and unformed. By the middle I was used to the flashbacks which help paint the hidden secrets behind the Singleton family, and I was able to start really enjoying the story. The characters were interesting and individual; I enjoyed the tense atmostphere surrounding Ruth, and the pity I felt for Beth who is just trying to be a fun little girl with her I-Spy book. The voice has a nice shift to it depending on which character you're reading about. Each chapter title is an I-Spy item with description, which is both adorable and lighthearted, but turns appropriately serious for the later conflict.

I liked the Singleton family and their flaws and the people that surround. I could clearly visualize Blackpool and the boardwalk and smell the ocean salt.
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Format: Paperback
This novel centers around the Singletons, a family of four visiting Blackpool, England on holiday in 1959. Author Sallie Day reveals little at the book's start; the reader learns only that youngest daughter Beth, who initially seems to be at the center of the story, has been ill, and that Ruth, the matriarch of the family, clearly is viewed with exasperation by both of her daughters, including 7-year old Beth and 16-year old Helen. What makes for difficult reading early on is that just as one is starting to develop some interest in the women of the family, the plot shifts to Jack, Ruth's husband and the father of the girls, for a seemingly mundane discussion of drinking, work promotions, and the like, although there was a also a vague allusion to a mysterious letter.

Despite the slow start, both the ensemble cast of characters and the plot of this novel itself eventually managed to draw me in. Day reveals both Jack and Ruth to be complex individuals who are not quite likable yet somehow still sympathetic. Even more relatable are Helen, the teenager yearning to break free of her mother's stern grasp, and Beth, the curious child who delights in life's simplest pleasures. The fact that Day constantly shifts perspective from one family member to the next does seem to weigh this book down a bit, but once I became more engrossed in the narrative, this was less of an issue. However, this is definitely not an action-based story: during the family's week-long stay at Blackpool--which Day intersperses with flashbacks to provide some additional history--not all that much actually happens. However, for the dedicated, patient reader, this novel offers a "slice of life" experience, providing a captivating glimpse into a post-World War II English family, one that may be just a bit worse for the wear.
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Format: Paperback
maybe it was just me - i was in the middle of another book when i started the palace of strange girls, and i'd rather go one book at a time so i can put all my attention into one story. i read the first couple of chapters and then went back to my other book, so i had to start all over after i finished the first book. anyway, once i started reading it again, i started getting into it. i really liked jack, despite the mistakes he made during the family's holiday, i loved his optimism, his love for his daughters, his loyalty and how much he loved what he did for a living. i liked helen and her painful need to gain a little independence of her own. you can't help but like beth - how you see bits and pieces of her spirit, despite her mother's coddling.

ruth was the one character i couldn't warm up to. maybe we weren't supposed to? but though she had her good points, i found her strictness, her obsessive need for order, her snobbery and her controlling distasteful. i was even kind of pulling for connie there for a bit.

but the triumph at the end of the story doesn't belong to ruth or jack - even though i was peeved ruth ended up pretty much getting what she wanted; it was beth and helen's. you get the feeling they will overcome their obstacles, even with a domineering mother like ruth.

worth the read, engaging read.
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Format: Paperback
In 1959 in England, the Singleton family of four goes on vacation at the seaside town of Blackpool. There the father, WWII vet Jack has a difficult decision to make between job offers as manager of Prospect Mill or being a union representative. He conceals his concerns from his demanding wife, Ruth who wants them to buy a new house. His sixteen year old daughter Helen hopes to find a boyfriend soon, but believes to do this she needs the latest fashion and freedom from her mom's strict control. His other child seven year old Beth has health issues having just been released from the hospital, but just wants some free time to enjoy the shore, fill in her "I-Spy" book as she tracks everyone and most important escape from her demanding mother's diligence.

This is an enjoyable historical family drama that stars four fully developed characters; all with differing needs and desires that come to a head during the four day vacation. The interrelationships ring true though the solutions at the end of the Singleton family vacation seem to quick and unlikely. Ironically the father and the two kids blame all on the mom due to her demanding manner though she uses her martinet orders to hide her fears from her loved ones. Fans will enjoy Sallie Day's fine trip back to 1959 England.

Harriet Klausner
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