The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

The Girl From The Savoy is a charming story set in early 1920s post WWI London where eager to forget the pain left by war for a little while, many found distraction in the glitz and glamour of the dawning jazz era of the theater, obsessing over each new starlet to grace the stage.

Housemaid Dorothy Lane is no different. Joining the gallery girls in the high seats at every show she can attend, she dreams of seeing her own name on the marquee outside, the spotlight following her as she dances across the stage.  Hoping it will lead her one step closer to her dream of becoming the next great theater star, she moves to London, taking a job as a chambermaid at the famous Savoy Hotel.

A chance encounter on a rain soaked street on the way to her first day at the Savoy sets her on a path she’d dreamed but never really thought possible – friendship with current sweetheart of the stage Loretta May, muse to a composer on the brink of greatness, and time spent in the company of the up and coming Bright Young Things. And an audition. As her dreams become reality, Dorothy has to choose between the future she’d always hoped  for – and the past she thought she’d lost forever.

I have to admit it took me a couple tries to read this book. The first few pages just didn’t grab my attention. Thankfully I finally committed and pushed through,  quickly becoming engaged – and very happy I did.  Author Hazel Gaynor does an excellent job of exposing the hidden wounds of war- the emotional scars left on both the soldiers and the families and loved ones left behind. It’s easy to compare the diagnosis of ‘shell shock’ given to the emotionally damaged soldiers of that era to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) our soldiers deal with today,  making this story set in the glitzy and glamorous 1920s jazz age theater of West End London very real and relateable in today’s world.

 

 

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As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

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I am drawn to Historical Fiction because I am in awe of the level of suffering and loss past generations have endured and yet pushed through. I love reading and learning about their struggles and determination to overcome. We would not be here today to complain about our petty issues if not for our incredibly strong and brave ancestors.

This newest book from Susan Meissner, with her unmatched talent for weaving history through fictional story, is currently my favorite of this category.

In As Bright As Heaven, the outrageous amount of death and loss caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic during WW1 was brought to life through the Bright family. Moving from their safe and quiet life in Quakertown to take over an aging uncle’s funeral home in exciting Philadelphia, the family sees nothing but promise in their future. As they settle into city life, new schools and friends for the girls, new career and financial freedom for mom and dad – an unseen fog of death, a.k.a. the Spanish Flu, is creeping closer, destin to destroy life as they have ever known it.

I had to wait a while after finishing this book before discussing or reviewing. It took some time to reconcile the overwhelming presence of death through the book.

As difficult as it may have been, Susan has taken this little known part of history and wrapped it in a page turning family saga that will stay with you long after the final page.

Highly recommend.

*An estimated 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu, 1918-19. The nagging voice of conspiracy theorist continues to whisper in the back of my mind – could this have been an early, and horribly successful, attempt of germ warfare? Significantly more people died during this time from the influenza than causality of WW1 (1914-18).

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus – review

In September of 1874, Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the Great White Father, President Ulysses S. Grant. He came with a proposal that would ensure a future for his people, an opportunity to peacefully assimilate into the white culture rapidly taking over their homelands. Little Wolf asked President Grant to gift the Cheyenne tribe one thousand white women, to marry into the tribe and produce children. Completely logical to the Indian way of thinking, the women could begin to teach them the ways of white civilization, and the children born of mixed blood would be the first bridge bringing the two peoples together. He offered a fair trade of horses for the women.

Although publicly claiming disgust at the proposition, Grant agreed to participate. In great secrecy the government scoured prisons and insane asylums for female ‘volunteers’ to join the Brides for Indians program. In exchange for their participation, marriage to a Cheyenne tribesman for the period of two years or birth of one child – whichever came first, they would be rewarded with their freedom.

The story opens to May Dodd, headed west on a train with several other women in March of 1875 – the first installment of women to marry into the Cheyenne tribe. May had eagerly accepted the government’s offer. Having been confined to a lunatic asylum by her parents for the sickness of Promiscuity, she imagined the unknown and possible horror of living with savages could only pale in comparison to the nightmare of the asylum and the ‘treatments’ she had endured.  The story is told through her letters and journal entries.

In this incredible journey May finds the love, friendship, and freedom she had always dreamed of, and a level of betrayal she had never known possible.

This well written story quickly pulled me in, painting beautiful and cruel pictures of the last days of freedom for the American Indian, the strength and commonalities of women across all cultures, and the wonderful generosities of our great government.

A definite keeper, already back in rotation to re-read.

 

Longbourn by Jo Baker – review

LongbournLongbourn Manor, rural England, early 1800’s, also the setting of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’m a little ashamed to admit I have never read this classic, but may now need to.

This story centers around Sarah, the young house maid of Longbourn Manor and the other below floor servants who have been her family since she was orphaned as a young child. Sarah often dreamed of the world beyond the little town outside her neighborhood, but had comfortably reconciled herself to a life of repetition – each day the same as the last, for all the many years ahead.

The militia’s unexpected arrival in town, an eligible bachelor’s purchase of the vacant home next door, and the interesting stranger’s addition to the staff shake things up at Longbourn Manor, sending some of them down paths they’d never expected, bringing others full circle.

When Sarah is presented with every opportunity she thought she wanted, she has to choose between the life she’d dreamed of and a life of continued difficulty and hard times, with the chance of true love and happiness.

Some story twists and turns were a bit predictable, some completely unexpected, and some I thought improbable but still hoped for. I was not disappointed.

I loved this book. Should I now read Pride and Prejudice, or just leave well enough alone and stick to the story from the servants’ point of view?

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin ~ Review

brooklynThis is a fairly charming coming of age story of a young woman in small town Ireland in the years after WWII. Following her family’s wishes, she boards a steamer to cross the Atlantic to build a new life for herself in Brooklyn NY.

Not until she returns to console her mother after a family tragedy does she realize how much she has grown and changed. The first few days she is surprised to feel so disconnected from her childhood home and longs for her life in New York. But as the days pass she realizes the new mature, Americanized version of herself fits into this little town better than the girl she used to be.

I enjoyed this book. There are a few areas that left me with questions, but perhaps they will be answered in a book to follow? Hope so.

Has anyone seen the movie? Should I go see it or stick with my warm thoughts of the book?

 

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain….Review

circlingthesunI received an advanced copy of this book from Ballantine Books (an imprint of Random House) through a Goodreads First Reads contest. It will begin sale on July 28, 2015.

Circling The Sun is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Beryl Markham, known in the same circles as Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. Beryl was conveniently left out of Karen’s (pen name Isak Dinesen) autobiographical Out of Africa, even though she was very much a part of Karen’s story. After reading Circling The Sun, I understand why Karen may have chosen to not include her.

Regardless, Circling The Sun stands completely on its own. I was quickly lost in the story, the pictures Paula’s words painted of 1920s Africa, Kenya, and the land Beryl considered home. Not fitting the role polite society of the time expected of her, Beryl remained true to herself at all costs, despite many losses and many scandals. Following her heart led her to become the first female licensed racehorse trainer, the first female to hold a professional pilot’s license, and the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic east to west. Unfortunately many of the same choices led her to loneliness and heartbreak, although she did have the pleasure of knowing one true love – if only for a little while.

The story is told from Beryl’s point of view and gives some insight to the loneliness, fear, and sometimes desperation she often felt when making decisions others saw as bravery and fearlessness.As I read this novel it bothered me a little that I did not become as emotionally vested in Beryl as I often do when I read something I enjoy as much as I did this book. But as I was finally brought to tears in the last few chapters, I realized it was not the writing, but Beryl herself who held everyone at a distance – including me as the reader.

This book took me on a beautiful, if heart wrenching, journey and I am pleased to have read it. It is added to my ‘keeper’ shelf and I am sure I will re-read in the future. (I will also be adding Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, and Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa to my ‘to read’ list.)

The Siege Winter – Review

I wothe seige wintern this book through a Goodreads First Reads contest. Although a bit different from my normal taste these days, I was eager to sink into this historical fiction, a genre I don’t read as often as I’d like. I was not disappointed. The book begins with a seemingly important, though not clearly identified, man on his deathbed, eager to relay a story to a scribe before he passes, taking all his secrets with him. I immediately was reminded of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant – not for the story line, but the way it is presented. This is a well written tale of secret identities, murder, greed, and the levels one would go to in quest for the throne in twelfth century England. I was drawn in by the relationships between characters, loyalty, love, the bond that comes from fighting for a common goal – and against a common enemy. Definitely enjoyed this book and recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction novels, as well as to anyone who is new to the genre.

**The author Ariana Franklin passed away before completing this novel. Her daughter, Samantha Norman, finished the writing and brought it to press. I am sure her mom would be proud of the finished product.