The Front de l’Indépendance is determined to print the truth free from Nazi control in 1943 Belgium. After being threatened by Gruppenfuhrer August Wolff, journalist Marc Aubrion and colleagues agree to put out a pro-Nazi issue of Nazi propaganda La Soir. Instead, they intend to put out an anti-Nazi satire issue, a “Faux” Soir, effectively condemning them to death. Based on a true story, this novel is told from the perspective of the street urchin chosen as gopher and pet by Aubrion, who gives Helene, a girl pretending to be a boy for safety sake, missions for her fellow street urchins to support their endeavor. Helene’s perspective oversteps her boundaries of knowledge throughout the book, making Dear Reader wonder why the author chose her as the 1st person narrator. Ramzipoor does brilliantly include a Nazi government official in the Faux Soir caper, with the inevitable question of where his loyalty lay, and credible gay characters, one of whom outshines the main character. The twist at the end feels delayed—it seems as though that information would have been given right up front, making the timing awkward and the twist a bit anti-climactic. Despite its flaws (unrealistic dialogue, over the top characters) in the craft, Ramzipoor is a natural storyteller, and in choosing a unique tale from the oft-drawn-from well of the WWII era, she has presented an unforgettable story of unexpected heroes where the lesbians survive. I was fortunate to receive this fascinating debut novel from the publisher Park Row through NetGalley.
After disagreeing with their father over her interactions with a traveling gypsy family and his indiscretions, Luella disappears, so Effie finagles her way into the House of Mercy, a home for wayward girls, but doesn’t find Luella there. Instead she discovers that she is trapped there, because no one believes wayward girls. Born with a hole in her heart in the early 20th century, her family has considered Effie to be living on borrowed time her entire life. Now she struggles to breathe while working hard labor, since the nuns at House of Mercy are unaware of her condition. A girl with a vague past named Mable plots escape with her, and Mable’s heart-rending story then intertwines with Effie’s. Burdick carefully lays out the challenges in Effie’s family and the obstacles of a misogynistic society that conspired to place her in such an undesirable and dangerous situation. The author provides further information on these mislabeled prisons for girls whose sexuality or unwanted status placed them there, and she also addresses the controversial use of “gypsy” as a historical reference that people in that era would have been most familiar with and used themselves. I received a digital copy of this excellent historical fiction from the publisher Park Row through NetGalley.
Jesse Jameson Williams’ daughter and his lawyer inform Morgan, imprisoned for a crime her boyfriend committed, that his will states that she must restore the banner by Anna Dale, who won the right to create it for the Edenton post office in a nationwide art contest. To cut her prison time, she must learn the restoration process and complete the project within a limited time for his namesake gallery to open and his daughter to keep her family home. Morgan is stymied by the challenge, the time limit, the working relations with his daughter and colleagues, and the oddities she discovers in the mural itself. Told through alternating chapters, from Morgan’s in the present and Anna’s in the 1940s, pieces slowly come together to explain the oddities and the reason Morgan was chosen by the artist. Chamberlain’s ability to evoke emotion abounds in this heart-rending novel of artistic creativity, secrets held close, and the prejudices that run rampant in small towns. Her work continues to impress as she branches out again into historical ficiton set in her adopted state of NC. I received a digital copy of this wonderful story by one of my favorite authors from the publisher St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley.
The FBI visits Mrs. Ford, a middle-aged widow in a tony coastal neighborhood, to question her connection to a Chaldean gun-runner who happened to have her name and address on his person. Their story began with two young women—troubled Annie and her straight-laced friend Susan—working in a Detroit discotheque as cocktail waitresses in the late 70s. Naivete inadvertently placed them amidst the territory negotiations between the Chaldeans and the Italian brothers who owned the discotheque. Royce brilliantly juxtaposed their young lives upon the questionable atmosphere of the discotheque and the shady men who ran it and frequented it, the flashbacks graphically detailed and relevant to Mrs. Ford’s current incarnation as the widow of Jack Ford. I graciously received this intriguing thriller from the publisher Post Hill Press through NetGalley for an honest review.
Teenager Cussy Carter becomes a traveling librarian, delivering reading material to folks beyond means of travel other than four-legged. Nicknamed Bluet as the last female of the Blue People of Kentucky, she bravely faces dangerous trails to support literacy in her part of the world, and connect with her neighbors, often as the only other face they see. As bigotry causes cataclysmic shifts in her own life, she maintains her route, offering more than books to her customers. Richardson presents a compelling portrait of an isolated people, especially the family who suffers more severe hardships for their indigo skin, in the hollers of Appalachia. Combining that history with the librarians who traversed ignorance as much as menacing terrain provides a unique character in Cussy Carter. I was fortunate to receive this wonderfully written story from the publisher Sourcebooks Landmark through NetGalley.
Irish ex-pat Daniel carries his wife Petra’s ashes on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. He finds a walking partner in Californian Ginny, who runs hot and cold, is stalked by a macabre creature, and loses the ability to differentiate between reality and hallucination, yet remains determined to release Petra’s ashes at the end. O’Cinneide brilliantly portrays an unreliable narrator—with Daniel more interesting than endearing, elusive supporting characters, and an ending that remains intriguing though unsurprising. I was fortunate to receive this well-written, well-researched supernatural historical fiction from the publisher Dundurn through NetGalley.
Teenager Minou Joubert is sent to Toulouse with her brother for her own safety from 16th century Carcassonne, though she has allied herself with Piet Reydon, a Huguenot subversive. Minou learns a powerful secret that changes her destiny and endangers her beyond her expectations. She must then rescue her little sister from the evil mistress of Puivert. Mosse presents the religious factions at Languedoc in all their gory detail with gorgeous writing. Blended into history are power shifts, unorthodox alliances, and unique and distinctive characters. I was fortunate to receive this beautifully written historical fiction novel from Mantel through NetGalley.
Sara is tricked into prostitution and held there by an unjust debt. A Huguenot silk weaver’s wife, Esther, takes her in as a charity case to be her personal maid, self-righteously upholding her elite status in this way. Both women become involved in the silk weavers’ revolt in the only way possible for women to do anything in the late 18th century, through romantic entanglements, Sara seeking freedom and Esther desiring to see her own designs woven. Inspired by a historical figure ahead of her time, Velton creates a compelling fictionalized tale of the Spitalfield Riots, with sex, unrequited love, betrayal, and death. I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book from Blackstone Publishing through NetGalley.
In 19th century Ireland, Mrs. Moloney interrogates her daughter’s fiance Micheal to determine his ability to properly support them, debating fate of divine purpose versus consequences of actions, secrets of God and those revealed to man. She then relays stories passed down to her by her parents of how the fates of certain families were sealed, admonishing Michael to decide whether it was providential destiny or mere consequences of their actions. It is her story—the incident that changed her life’s trajectory and estranged her from her parents—her refusal to be a product of her time. O’Callaghan blends Irish folklore and Christian mythology with fiction, about the origins of Christianity in Ireland, specifically the Ceile De, or Companions of God, and their Cailin an Tsagairt, or Priest Women, who were threatened by Roman Papacy and Norman invaders. Though the daughter’s inexplicable ignorance (contrasted by her fiance’s knowledge) and sudden symbolism at the end are confusing, this is a beautiful story rich with legends, family, and mercy. I was fortunate to receive this wonderful novel through a Goodreads giveaway.
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The last Iberian sultan’s mapmaker Hassan and Circassian concubine Fatima share a love for a poem by Al Attar in which they only have the opening lines. They continue the tale together, alternating and combining their own stories of the birds looking for their king. Hassan draws maps that reshape reality, coming under the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition when Fatima is too open with Luz, Queen Isabella’s advisor, emissary, and secret inquisitor. Fatima must find a way to save her best friend, embarking on a journey—guided by a jinn in animal form—where she finds her true self on the hidden island of the bird king. Friendship is tested, credibility is stretched to the limit, and redemption is found. Magical realism blends historical events and mythology well, thought there are a few too many cliffhangers in the latter half of the tale. It’s a beautiful story of desire to escape a horrid time in Spain’s past. I was given a digital copy of this fantastic story from Grove Press through NetGalley.