Monday, 25 July 2016

Emma's Review: The Santiago Sisters by Victoria Fox

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

They should have stayed as one. They couldn’t survive apart.
It was fate, forever destined to come to this: from birth to death, two halves of the same whole.

Twins Calida and Teresita Santiago have never known a world without each other…until Teresita is wrenched from their Argentinian home to be adopted by world-famous actress Simone Geddes.

Now, while Teresita is provided with all that money can buy, Calida must fight her way to the top – her only chance of reuniting with her twin.

But no one can predict the explosive events which will finally bring the Santiago sisters into the spotlight together…

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback

I’ve been waiting two years for a new book to be published from Victoria Fox and finally she is back with The Santiago Sisters and boy was it worth the wait. This is pure escapism at its very best mixed with the right balance for me of glitz, glamour, lies, secrets, mystery and filled with characters that are at times despicable in their actions so much so that you start to detest them yet something is compelling you to read on to discover how the story pans out. I have to admit this block/bonkbuster genre - call it what you will - wouldn’t be my go to genre all of the time.  I love historical fiction which couldn’t be further from what this book is about but every now and again you need to read a book like this which doesn’t require much thinking (I mean that in a good way) and you can just read and enjoy it for what it is - a good decent storyline with a big twist and plenty of sex scenes thrown in. The mantle has been left empty with the recent passing of Jackie Collins but Victoria Fox is more than capable of taking up the reins and with The Santiago Sisters she has written a book that proved hard to leave out of my hand so obsessed was I with the diverse lives of twins Calida and Tess Santiago. This book although not quite as good as her previous novel Power Games is an excellent read even if you just pick it up in the airport by chance on your way to a sun holiday you won’t be disappointed.

The book is split into four distinct parts which take us through the lives of the Santiago Sisters from when they were ten years old and living on an estancia in Argentina right on later in their lives to the bright lights of Hollywood and New York and all the celebrity world has to offer - and all the good and bad and in between. The plot is filled with so many characters that you have to have your wits about you and work out just who is it I should be keeping an eye on? How relevant are they to the overall picture? I had a fleeting idea about a third of the way through the book as to what the final outcome may be and then dismissed this and upon reaching the end was kicking myself that I had forgotten about said person. With books like this that have such a large scope and plot I get so wrapped up in what is going on that I often forget very early parts of the book and then towards the end I think ah why didn’t I think of that? Now it all makes sense.

The Santiago Sisters opens with a prologue that makes you want to eagerly turn the pages and race through the chapters until you reach that pivotal moment when all is revealed. Tess Geddes, a world famous actress, has disappeared in New York and no one has any idea as to what has happened or why? Then throughout the book there are brief sections where a woman is alone and captured and praying her life will be saved. But what has led us to this point? To discover that we are taken back to the beginning when two sisters, twins, the polar opposite of each other are living with their parents on a farm in rural Argentina. Calida is the older of the two, she is cool, calm, quiet and filled with strength and fortitude. Teresita who later goes on to change her name to Tess is the younger sister, she is carefree and loves to take risks. Despite their differences in character and personality there is a bond that can never be broken between the pair. ’But there was a pull too, a force of belonging that could never be changed and never be dimmed. It was blood, a mirror heartbeat, a laugh that echoed her own’.

The scenes set in Argentina were expertly written and really build up the sense that both sisters came from nothing and helped us to understand their motivations and actions later in the novel. It’s clear from the outset that Teresita has bigger plans, lofty ambitions that she would love to see come true and with the death of their father events start to happen. Outside forces change the destiny of Teresita’s life for ever even if it means leaving Calida behind. Into the picture steps Simone Geddes, an actress at the top of her game but she always wants more, to be continuously one step ahead of all the rest. She is married to director Brian (who really doesn’t do much for her anymore) and has two step children the frankly quite evil and wicked Emily who is just like the mean girls from the film and her brother Lysander who may be lazy and just a layabout but when needed he plays his role to perfection. Simone wants her own child but nature has not allowed this to happen and being the powerful celeb she is it means nothing just to ‘adopt’ a child at the drop of a hat. Into the lives of the Santiago Sisters sweeps Simone and once she catches sight of Teresita there is no stopping her and is swept away from the farm and becomes Tess Geddes. Simone sees what she can make of Tess whilst maintaining her power and acclaim in the film world. I felt so sorry for Cailda that the twin she had spent all of her life with was gone at the drop of a hat, that Teresita could so readily give in when an opportunity came knocking at her door. I felt she should have protested more at her mother’s actions but I suppose everything was done under false pretences. Calida is left behind but has some form of support in the form of farm worker Daniel Cabrera who was instantly likeable from the start and I found myself hoping to read a lot more of him throughout the novel.

The time spent setting up the story was well worth it as then we are taken on a rollercoaster ride following the separate journey’s of the sisters. Through misunderstandings, mis-communications, lies and deceit they both believe that the other does not want them in their lives anymore yet their feelings run deep and there is so much hurt that revenge and hatred begins to come into play. Victoria Fox did a superb job building and building both the plot and developing her characters. We see the transformation that Tess undertakes from being transplanted to Simone’s house, school and then to Hollywood and a film career but all the time in the back of her mind is how could my mother have made a decision to give me away so easily? She knows nothing can be done about this as major lies were put into place and someone does not want them coming to light for fear of the repercussions. The author vividly describes the lives of film stars and their ‘set’ when the cameras aren’t rolling. No one seems loyal to anyone apart from the friendship Tess Develops with school friend Mia Ferraris. They all seem to want to out do the other and will step over anyone that comes in their way. Love doesn’t even seem to be a word in their vocabulary a relationship is more a means of furthering their career rather than finding long term happiness.

I have to say there are plenty of sex scenes throughout the novel which is to be expected in this kind of book and I am not really shocked by what I read but there was one involving numerous people which made me raise an eyebrow and had me thinking does this kind of thing really happen in Hollywood? I suppose the author got her inspiration from somewhere! Just as Tess is reaching the dizzying heights of fame Calida too is striking out on her own although her path to the top is no means as easy as the way Tess had everything more or less handed to her on a plate. Photography is Calida’s passion and through sheer hard work and determination she becomes successful and becomes well able to play the game. But at the centre of her mindset is her ambition that she will have her revenge on the twin who left her behind and who has failed to make contact. Fury, bitterness, hatred coupled with sadness and heartache has made her the person she is today. If love and happiness is too late for her then she doesn’t want Tess to have any either.

This is quite a long book at over 500 pages but so much is packed in and you never know what is around the corner that you don’t notice that the pages are whizzing by. Calida and Tess are characters who you love to hate in equal measure. You have sympathy and understanding for one girl in a particular chapter and then by the next your opinions and feelings have reversed due to the actions that have unfolded. The tension and surprises just keep on coming the further you read into the  book you never really know how everything will each its climax. The conclusion when it comes is explosive and surprising although I did feel for all the time invested in the numerous characters the ending as in the epilogue did feel slightly rushed. I find that often happens in books the point where you are longing to reach in a book finally arrives and deserves exploration but it never comes. Yes it wrapped up what happened to each character but still I felt it deserved to be part of the story with a few dedicated chapters rather than the epilogue we were given. Despite that and the shocking events that unfold throughout each character got their just deserts or apt ending and this made for a deeply satisfying read.

The Santiago Sisters proved to be a superb story that that should be read in as few sittings as possible and reminded me just what I enjoy this genre of book every now and again. Hopefully Victoria won’t keep us waiting as long for her next scintillating story.

Many thanks to Mira UK for a copy of The Santiago Sisters to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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