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The Show Girl

by Nicola Harrison

It’s 1927 when Olive McCormick leaves Minnesota seeking fame and fortune in New York City. She is determined to become a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. When Olive is hired as Ziegfeld show girl, she soon becomes a wildly popular singer and dancer. Olive enjoys her exciting city life along with her independence. When she meets Archie Carmichael, a wealthy handsome businessman, he is supportive of her career, until the couple starts talking about marriage. Archie wants children and is quite able to support a stay-at-home wife. Olive has a past she is unwilling to share with Archie and calls off their wedding.

With the stock market crash of 1929, Olive’s father is desperate. The family’s life savings and his job are gone. Archie too loses everything. When Olive’s aunt May passes away long-held secrets are revealed. Fortunately, Olive reaches out to Archie and her talents, and his forgiveness allow them to move ahead with a new plan.

Surprises, romance, history and glamour await the reader of this breezy story.

~Emma

What We’re Reading Now–September edition

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith

This challenging and haunting debut novel straddles the line between horror and literary fiction, following three women in Vietnam in three different time periods: 1986, 2009, and 2011. In the 2011 narrative, young American ex-pat Winnie goes missing without a trace. The book is an unpredictable mash-up of Vietnamese folklore, colonial history, revenge, violence, and ghosts- all of which have something to do with Winnie’s disappearance. I have yet to finish the book, but the puzzle of these intersecting characters and timelines is intriguing and I’m looking forward to how this all comes together in the end. Nicole

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

The Vietnam War is coming to an end, and as Saigon is about to fall, a Captain begins to plan his General’s escape from the county.  Together, with a select few, they flee Saigon on one of the last army transports over-crowded with other refugees.  The Captain, half-French half-Vietnamese, a man of two minds, is a communist agent whose role is to observe and report back on the military cadre as they establish themselves in America.  As suspicion of a mole rises, the Captain must deflect attention away from himself at terrible costs.  This was an especially interesting and relevant contemplation of war, refugees, politics, and film considering the parallels of current events.  Trent

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley

Patrick loves his niece and nephew, but he is not prepared to be their caregiver when their mother dies and their father checks himself into rehab. A six and nine-year-old don’t really fit into his solitary actor’s life, but he’s resigned to making the best of it. He has Guncle Rules (Gay Uncle Rules) and treats for dinner. The trio stumbles through the summer not realizing how much they are all helping each other. I loved this one so much. It gave me the same feelings as The House in the Cerulean Sea-charming, delightful, and the perfect book for right now. This book was so funny I could almost forget it was, at its heart, a book about grief and loneliness. A must-read, feel-good story. Megan

Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah, Duchess of York

In 1865 London, Lady Margaret Montagu Scott is supposed to be delighted with the man her father chooses to be her husband. She is not! The night her engagement is to be announced, she runs off. Margaret’s family is embarrassed in front of 200 aristocratic guests. Her father refuses to have anything to do with her. Margaret is banished from the family and soon devotes her time and energy into helping the poor.  She heads to Ireland, America and then back to England. This is a fun gossipy tale. Emma

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery

Lavery’s collection of personal essays struck me with a range of emotions but mostly it had me laughing. This insightful and clever memoir switches from genres and formats with each chapter (and interludes) showcasing the author’s skill as a writer. I highly recommend the audiobook version which is read by the author. Greg

The Wonder Test by Michelle Richmond

On-leave FBI agent, Lina, and her son Rory head to Silicon Valley to clear out her recently deceased father’s house (which is in an extremely snobby and upscale neighborhood) as they are also recovering from her husband’s death. As Rory tries to adjust to life at his exclusive new school, he discovers all academics revolve around something called “The Wonder Test”, a national exam in which his school continuously places first. Students who do poorly on practice tests are required to see tutors in the evenings and on weekends, encouraged to “be sick” on exam days, and there have been some strange teen disappearances. Lina can’t help but to investigate as she attempts to make sense of this strange town and keep her son safe. Sara

Review of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki book cover and catalog link

Shizuka Satomi, revered and feared violin instructor, is known as the Queen of Hell in the classical music world. As it turns out, the name is more apt than most people know – Shizuka made a deal with the devil to deliver seven talented, tortured souls to hell. So far, she has sent six souls to the fire, and while seeking her seventh, meets Katrina Nguyen. Katrina is a young runaway trans girl who is seeking safety and peace to play violin and be herself, and to Shizuka, is the perfect seventh soul to complete her deal. To further complicate things, Shizuka begins to fall for Lan Tran, the local donut lady who is actually an interstellar starship captain in hiding from the Galactic Empire. Lyrical and moving, Ryka Aoki’s new novel Light from Uncommon Stars surprises and delights at every turn.

This sort of mash-up should clash like discordant notes played off-key, but instead it sings like the most harmonious melody. The novel somehow combines science fiction aliens and a fantastical deal with the devil into a larger, cohesive whole, and this is only by the skill of the author. Aoki’s novel is queer, light, and witty, but with a darker edge that does not shy away from the lived experience of many trans people, with lyrical and dreamlike prose that employs extensive musical allegory. The author examines questions of identity, purpose, existence, and the ineffable beauty of music: how one person can competently play a piece of music without that spark that makes music special, and another can play like a beginner but infuse their feelings and message into the song, lighting the world on fire. For a defiantly joyful, queer meditation on family and identity, try Light from Uncommon Stars, coming out on September 28, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

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When the Summer was Ours

Roxanne Veletzos

It’s 1943 in Sopron, Hungary when 20-year-old Eva Cesar is at her family’s country estate. Eva has her life planned out. This is her last summer of being single; she will marry Eduard, a Red Cross doctor; and she will study to become a nurse and work beside him. Things change when there is a chance encounter with Aleandro, a Romani violinist and artist. Aleandro is supporting his young brothers by performing music in the street for monetary donations.

Aleandro and Eva fall in love. When Eva’s father hears about their relationship, he beats Eva. She runs to her nanny Dora for safety. Discovering that she is pregnant, she stays with Dora for support and help in raising her daughter, Bianca. Aleandro, considered an undesirable, ends up at a Nazi concentration camp where his artistic ability saves his life. He draws portraits of the various Nazi guards and officials. On the sly he creates drawings of life at the camp.

Eventually Eva marries her doctor; she becomes a nurse; and together they raise Bianca. Aleandro doesn’t realize he has a daughter. Wherever life takes them, neither Eva or Aleandro forget each other and the summer of 1943.

Spanning decades, this is an unforgettable love story.

~Emma

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Three Words for Goodbye

by Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb

It’s 1937 when Clara and Madeleine Sommers are invited to their grandmother’s estate. Violet wants the young women to deliver three farewell letters: one to Paris, one to Venice, and one to Vienna. (Violet hasn’t seen these people since she left Europe 40+ years ago.) The two sisters do not like each other much and haven’t spoken in a year. Still they are willing to fulfill their grandmother’s dying wish. Clara has been busy planning her wedding to millionaire businessman Charles Hancock but is excited about the art she will see. Journalist Maddie is anxious to travel to Europe to witness the growing threat of Hitler and Mussolini. Violet has made first-class travel and hotel arrangements for the pair including traveling aboard the Queen Mary and the Orient Express and flying home on the Hindenburg. Everything is set for an adventure of a lifetime.

This is a story of long-held secrets revealed and family ties strengthened despite differences.

~Emma

Review of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door

Cover of Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune. Catalog link.

Ruthless lawyer Wallace wakes up at his own funeral and thinks he has to be dreaming. But when a stranger at the service turns out to be a reaper sent to collect his soul, he starts to believe. She takes him to a mysterious tea shop run by Hugo, a ferryman who helps souls in their transition to the afterlife. Afraid and angry, Wallace refuses to move on, effectively leaving him in limbo in the teashop. Gradually, with the help of Hugo, the reaper, and a couple of resident ghosts, Wallace begins to learn to be a better person and care about other people. Under the Whispering Door is T. J. Klune’s newest novel after The House on the Cerulean Sea, the sleeper hit and bestseller of last year. 

Whispering Door is all at once a queer love story, a metaphysical treatise, and an introduction to philosophy. It also runs the gamut of emotions; at times funny, serious, and sad, with a main character whose personal growth is organic, if somewhat sped up. Though the subject matter can be heavy, Klune’s outlook on death and the afterlife is altogether positive, and the book’s tone remains upbeat even while discussing difficult topics. After his breakout hit, Klune has clearly found a formula that works, and he has perfected it further here. In fact, my only complaint is that this new novel is too similar to the plot of Cerulean Sea: a grumpy loner finds a new family and becomes a better person. The book is predictable, but that is part of its charm – it is chocolate chip cookie-style comfort food packaged in a story about grim reapers and the afterlife. Fans of the previous novel will love this book, and newcomers will enjoy the quirky and uplifting story.

Look for Under the Whispering Door on September 21, 2021. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the Advance Reader Copy!

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The Personal Librarian

by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray

Belle Marion Greener’s father, Richard Greener, was the first black man to graduate from Harvard. He became a strong advocate for civil rights. After Belle’s parents separated, her mother, Genevieve, moved the children to New York City and there they became the Greene family. Belle became Belle da Costa Greene. Belle’s mother wanted the best for her children and being able to pass as white afforded the family more opportunities.

In 1906 Belle, who was working at Princeton University, was offered the opportunity to run the Pierpont Morgan Library. She was hired to curate J.P. Morgan’s manuscripts, books and artwork. Soon she was entrusted with finding and purchasing materials for the collections. Belle became a powerful force to be reckoned with in the male dominated art world. She lived with the secrecy of her black heritage her entire adult life passing as an olive-skinned white woman of Portuguese descent. She befriended art historian Bernard Berenson who also had a deep dark secret.

The novel does an excellent job of describing a little-known chapter in American history.

~Emma

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The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

by Kelli Estes

A debut novel written in 2015, Inara Erickson inherits her Aunt Dahlia’s
estate (Rothesay) on Orcas Island. (Orcas is the largest of the San Juan
Islands of the Pacific Northwest.) The estate is in poor condition but Inara
wants to remodel it. She wants to create a boutique hotel. Her father just
wants the property sold but is willing to give his daughter a chance and will
finance the improvements. He does reserve the right to call in the loan at any
time. Inara uncovers an embroidered silk sleeve in a hidden spot under the
stairs. She is determined to learn the meaning behind the sleeve which appears
to tell a story.

Inara contacts David Chin, a local professor of Asian history, to help
determine the history behind the silk sleeve. In the late 1800’s, the people of
Seattle wanted to get rid of its Chinese community and forcibly removed most of
them. Mei Lin is the embroiderer who was a survivor. Life was not easy for Mei
Lin and Jacob, her American husband. The sleeve and the rest of the robe tell
the story of Mei Lin’s family. With David’s assistance and stories from Inara’s
father, it’s discovered that there are generations old connections between Mei
Lin and Inara and David Chin. Some of the history is horrific to imagine.

Part mystery and part romance, the novel looks at an often-forgotten period
of Pacific Northwest history. In particular the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
which suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrant’s
ineligible for naturalization.

~Emma

 

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by Alan Brennet

in the 1890’s, 7-year-old Rachel Kalama contracts leprosy. She is forcibly removed from her home in Honolulu and moved to the quarantine settlement on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the north shore of Moloka’i. Rachel’s uncle Pono also contracts leprosy and is moved to the same leper colony. Fortunately, Sister Catherine befriends Rachel and she occasionally sees her father. Rachel grows up in the settlement and eventually marries Kenji Utagawa who is also suffering with leprosy. Soon they that have a daughter who is immediately taken away from the young couple to safeguard the baby’s health. Years later Kenji is killed trying to protect a young woman who is being beaten up by her boyfriend.

When a cure is found for Hansen’s disease, Rachel is finally allowed to leave Kalaupapa. Her goal is to find her daughter given up for adoption over 30 years ago.

Since 1866, more than 8000 people, mostly Hawaiians, have died at Kalaupapa. Kalaupapa is now a refuge for the few remaining residents who are cured, but were forced to live their lives in isolation. The site is now Kalaupapa National Historical Park. (Currently the Hawai’i Department of Health has restricted the entrance of tours to Kalaupapa and will not be approving entry permits at this time due to the Kalaupapa patients being a high-risk population to COVID-19.)

Published in 2003, this is not an easy read. There is much sadness, but Rachel is a determined survivor. She learns to cope with the devastating disease and the heartbreak.

~Emma

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The Berlin Girl

by Mandy Robotham

It’s 1938 when London journalists Georgie Young and Max Spencer are assigned to Berlin. Their job is to report on events as Hitler’s Germany marches toward war. The freedoms and rights of the Jewish people are quickly disappearing. Georgie hires Rubin Amsel as her driver. Rubin and his wife Sara are Jewish. Sara’s brother Elias is handicapped, and the Nazis are anxious to house those they consider undesirable in prison camps like Sachsenhausen near Berlin. When Elias is taken away, Rubin and his wife Sara send their children away to England to keep them safe. Soon Georgie captures the attention of Kasper, a Nazi officer. They go out a few times and Georgie hopes to garner information to obtain freedom for Elias. When Max is taken into Nazi custody and as he is being transferred to Sachsenhausen, Georgie helps him escape.

Georgie and Max recognized the danger of the Nazi government and tried to warn what was to come in their articles sent back to London. Many turned a blind eye. This is a book for anyone interested in pre-war Germany.

~Emma