In 1917 Julia Stimson, a gifted nurse, teacher, and administrator from St. Louis is offered the opportunity to recruit and train 64 nurses to serve near the front lines in France during WWI. She is up to the challenge. On arrival, the nurses encountered primitive conditions and an ineffective system for dealing with life-threatening battle wounds. Julia worked hard to convince doctors that her nurses were capable of so much more that would greatly benefit the wounded soldiers. Slowly the doctors accepted the additional help leaving the severely wounded for them deal with.
The novel draws on the life of Julia Stimson (1881-1948). Julia wanted to become a doctor but was discouraged from entering the male-dominated world of medicine by her family. Among her various positions of leadership, Colonel Julia Catherine Stimson was head of Nursing Service of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.
The novel is a story of courage, sacrifice, friendship, bravery, compassion and a little romance.
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.
Fast Girls is a fictionalized account of the US Women’s Track team in the 1936 Olympics and the events that lead to Betty Robinson, Louise Stokes, Helen Stephens, and their teammates competing in the Nazi-sponsored games. While Jesse Owens was the public star of the games that same year, these trailblazing women were quietly carving out a place for themselves in history.
The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam marked the first time women were allowed to compete in track events. Seventeen year old Betty won the gold in the 100 m race, matching the world record time, and took the silver in the women’s 4×100 relay. Robinson missed the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games following a near death accident. She fought her way back to competition strength to earn a place on the 1936 team.
Louise Stokes and Tiyde Pickett were the first Black women to be selected to compete in the Olympic after qualifying in the 1932 Olympic trials. Both women accompanied the US team to Los Angeles, but both were left off of the relay team that year. Stokes and Pickett were both among the eighteen Black athletes at the 1936 games. Stokes was once again left off the relay roster, failing to compete for a second time. She was welcomed home to Malden, Massachusetts with a hero’s welcome and she went on to found the Colored Women’s Bowling League.
Helen, the “Fulton Flash” Stephens was a sprinter who never lost a race in her career. At 18 she competed against and beat Stanisława Walasiewicz (aka Stella Walsh-Clevelanders may recognize her name!), the reigning champion and world record holder in the 100 m race. While in Berlin, she had an unpleasant encounter with Adolph Hitler. Shortly after the Olympics she retired from running, but went on to play professional baseball and softball and eventually became the first woman to own and manage a semi-professional basketball team.
All of these amazing women overcame different hardships in order to pursue their dreams. While the world remembers the name Jesse Owens, these women also raced their way in to Olympic history in 1936. If you like captivating historical fiction, courageous women, and a good underdog story, you’ll probably enjoy Fast Girls. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself putting down the story to further research the events in the book. Their stories are heartbreaking and inspiring and deserve to be known.
Recently widowed Poppy Harmon discovers that her husband left her penniless. He was a gambler and even gambled away their daughter’s trust fund money. He had taken out a second mortgage without Poppy’s knowledge. Poppy is a retired actress who played a detective’s secretary in a 1970’s television series. She counts her time on tv as experience being a private investigator, applies for and gets her California private investigator license. Together with her best friends Iris and Violet, she opens a detective agency. They hire Violet’s 12-year-old computer whiz grandson to create their website. The three 60+ year old women don’t garner any business until they start using Matt’s face on their website. (Matt is the actor boyfriend of Poppy’s daughter.) With the arrival of Matt, the agency is hired to retrieve stolen jewels for singer Shirley Fox, a fellow resident at the Palm Leaf Retirement Village in Palm Springs, California.
The first entry in the Desert Flowers Mystery series is a cute quick cozy. I look forward to reading the other two in the series.
Katharine was just 16 when she married nobleman Edward Burgh. After his untimely death, she married Catholic baron John Latimer, a widower twice her age. While John is on his deathbed, Katherine falls in love with Thomas Seymour, and they plan to marry. At 30 years old, Katharine attracts the attention of Henry VIII who pursues and finally persuades her to marry him. Katharine is now queen and stepmother to Henry’s three children – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. Katharine is a highly educated secret Protestant who wants to sway Henry in religious reforms she supports. After Henry is dead, Katharine finally marries Thomas Seymour, who at this point is more interested in Katherine’s stepdaughter Elizabeth as a way to obtain more power. Sadly, when Katharine gives birth to her longed-for baby, she does not survive.
The final entry in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir is a treat for fans of historical fiction and this era. I have learned so much about these women, not just information about their downfalls and deaths. I have included a list of the series in order of publication.
An excellent speculative fiction alternate history set during the Napoleonic Wars featuring a time travelling LGBTQ+ love story. In The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley, Joe Tournier wakes up on a train station platform with no memory of who he is. He’s in London, but everyone is speaking French. When he receives a postcard with his name on it, mailed a hundred years ago, Joe journeys to the lighthouse pictured on the card and is kidnapped through a portal into the past by a mysterious man.
Pulley’s novel is at once both a romantic love story across time and space and a well-researched alternate history that examines how the use of future technology would change events in the past, and how far nations would be willing to go for information from the future. This book is for anyone who has ever wondered what would have happened if the French won at Trafalgar, if the telegraph was invented fifty years earlier, or even what would happen if a sailing ship battled against a steam-powered battleship. The twisty, turny plot may be confusing or hard to follow at first, but the payoff in the end is well-earned. Pulley does not pull her punches, either in the story or the action, but her take on naval ship battles is visceral without being over the top with gore. For anyone who loved Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series.
Look for the Kingdoms on May 25!
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!
Fans of Helene Wecker’s award-winning historical fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni, rejoice – after eight years of waiting, we finally get a sequel!
The Hidden Palacecomes out on June 8 and picks up shortly after the end of the first book (don’t worry – there are unobtrusive reminders in the text to get you up to speed with the preceding events). The evil sorcerer who had imprisoned jinni Ahmad in a metal vial (spoilers!) was defeated at much personal cost in the first book. Ahmad and Chava, the golem, now must weather the rapid changes at the turn of the twentieth century in New York City: the sinking of the Titanic, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and the beginning of the Great War, as well as changes in their relationship to each other and their communities.
Once again, Wecker has crafted an immigrant chronicle for the ages that grapples with the dual problems of the diaspora: attempting to assimilate into a new culture while at the same time keeping close one’s native culture, all while trying to find a place in the world. The Hidden Palace is a sweeping character-driven epic of a family forged in love, not blood ties, whose members fight and love and learn, falling apart and together organically. Even though I only read The Golem and the Jinni once many years ago, this new book felt like coming home, as if I never really left Ahmad and Chava’s world and was now spending time with treasured friends. The tone is melancholy with measured pacing so that readers can truly immerse themselves in the world, and while no one gets a happy ending, exactly, Wecker ends her novel on a hopeful, bittersweet note. The Hidden Palace is a worthy successor to its smash hit predecessor and will wrap you again in a fully realized world you won’t want to leave.
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!
It’s 1917 when 19 graduates (1888-1914) from Smith College formed the Smith College Relief Unit and headed to Grecourt, France. The French government had asked the volunteers to work there. People were desperate. Their lives and homes had been totally disrupted and destroyed by the Germans. They needed basic necessities.
There are three main characters in the novel including: kindhearted Emmie Van Alden, Kate Moran a good friend of Emmie’s who was a scholarship recipient at Smith, and Dr. Julia Pruyen disliked by Kate and a cousin of Emmie’s. All of the women came with necessary know-how and willingness to learn new skills including assembling a truck delivered with all the parts in boxes, driving, taking care of livestock, and basic nursing care.
The story is based on real-life experiences found in documents stored in the Smith College Archives. Those records include directors’ reports, financial information, letters, journals, photographs and albums, news clippings, correspondence with the War Service Board and information about the reconstruction. The novel showcases bravery, perseverance, a little romance and a few secrets revealed in the midst of constant danger. This is a treat for fans of historical fiction.
Security consultant ‘Jane Smith’ receives a mysterious note with a key that leads her to an abandoned storage locker. Within is a taxidermy extinct hummingbird and a set of clues left by an infamous eco-terrorist named Silvina. As Jane follows the trail to find the matching salamander, she is plunged into a dangerous world where she races trained killers to find answers. Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, Hummingbird Salamander, is an intricate noir eco-thriller.
This latest offering from VanderMeer explores themes of trauma, identity, generational abuse, and environmentalism. It is more grounded and easier to follow than the surreal Annihilationand the Southern Reach trilogy, so it is a more accessible entry point for people new to VanderMeer’s unique brand of eco science fiction. But fans of those earlier novels shouldn’t worry, as there is still the same pervasive aura of unreality and surrealism that devotees have come to expect.
In 1939, Odile Souchet is working her dream job at the American Library in Paris. She loves being surrounded by books, co-worker friends, and wonderful subscribers (patrons) including her boyfriend who shows up on a regular basis. When the Nazis occupy the city, the library director, Miss Reeder, cannot guarantee the safety of the collections, employees or patrons. Soon the Nazis dictate who cannot use the library, especially French Jews, and what materials can be available.
Much later in 1983, Odile is living in rural Montana. 7th grader Lily Jacobsen befriends her elderly neighbor. Odile becomes Lily’s confidant and support when her mother becomes ill and dies. At times Odile’s home becomes an escape after Lily’s father remarries and she has two brothers to help take care of. Regrettably Lily snoops through Odile’s things, and their friendship is almost destroyed. By invading Odile’s privacy Lily uncovers decades old secrets.
The novel is based on some historical facts. Dorothy M. Reeder was the director of the American Library. During WWII, the library did manage to stay open. It started the “Soldiers’ Service”, providing books and magazines to British and French troops. When Jews were barred from the library, Miss Reeder and her staff personally delivered materials to them putting themselves at great risk.
This is a great book for lovers of historical fiction.