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.
Vern flees into the woods to escape the cult she grew up in, heavily pregnant. As she and her babies scrape out a living in the forest, they are pursued by a hellish fiend and the hauntings, visions that afflict her and everyone else belonging to the cult. Her body begins to change, becoming something more, something stronger and faster. When she and her children are forced from the safety of the trees, Vern must reckon with her upbringing and return to the place where it all began.
This excellent Gothic horror novel set in the present day United States features well-drawn characters and a mostly LGBTQ+ and BIPOC cast. Solomon deftly explores themes of identity, transformation of self, human intimacy, and grappling with generational trauma. A salient and incisive addition to the horror genre, this book is a deep meditation on the lasting effects of white supremacy and systemic racism.
I am currently reading The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin. It’s January 1888 on the Nebraska-Dakota border when an unseasonably warm day turns into a deadly blizzard just when school lets out for the day. Despite heroic efforts 235+ people died that day. Also, I am just starting Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession. Leonard writes articles for children’s encyclopedias. Paul is a substitute postman. These good friends both in their 30’s live in the parents’ homes. They meet regularly to play board games. I know there’s more to come since this book was highly recommended by a co-worker. Emma
I’m listening to The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Not only is the French Revolutionary history itself fascinating, but the author reveals the travel and effort he put into the research. This book is about the novelist Alexandre Dumas’s father who was also named Alexandre Dumas. The senior Dumas was the son of a French aristocrat and a Caribbean African slave. He achieved the rank of General in the French military, for a time equal to the up and coming Napoleon. How did this happen? I was clueless about the Civil Rights Movement in Paris in the mid 1700s that allowed former slaves and children of slaves freedom, education, and position in society. This was specific to Paris, did not apply to the American colonies, and the progress would later be undone by a new wave of racist policies. Still, General Dumas was an adventurous swordsman and leader of the cavalry who would repeatedly inspire characters in his son’s novels including the betrayal faced by Edmond Dante in The Count of Monte Cristo. Byron
I started reading The Queen’s Gambit shortly after seeing that Netflix has released a new series based on the book. I had seen some very positive reviews of the book and learned that the author, Walter Tevis, also wrote the novels, and excellent Paul Newman films, The Color of Money and The Hustler. However, I was skeptical that competitive chess would be edge-of-your-seat thrilling material, but The Queen’s Gambit is as much a story of loneliness, addiction, and genius as it is of chess. Had The Queen’s Gambit been just a book about chess, then I would have still been wrong because the chess bits are thrilling. Trent
Agent of the Library Irene is sent to obtain a certain book by any means necessary and is drawn into an art heist, complete with a rag tag team of misfits, carefully laid plans, and secret island lairs. This new chapter in the Invisible Library series is a fun romp through heist movie tropes, with a twist. Shannon
I have just finished The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington and loved every second of it. Written by the artist and author Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) this collection of stories spans throughout her career. The surreal stories within were best enjoyed when I allowed the narrative to unfold with their own internal dreamlike logic. A great introduction to Carrington’s work. Greg
Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. This book is about a group of magic-filled children, seen as utter misfits by the world, but you will immediately fall in love with each and every one of them. It is about two kind, smart, and brave men who stumble forward into a friendship and gentle love. As TJ Klune has said himself, “it’s important, now more than ever, to have accurate, positive queer representation in stories”. Finally, it is about the false promise of blind faith and the courage to challenge that promise. I simply love this book. I implore you to read it now, you will not regret it. Mary
I just started reading this book on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and am very much enjoying this weird and riveting story thus far. Written by one of Japan’s most highly regarded novelists, this book follows Toru Okada as he searches for his wife’s missing cat in a Tokyo suburb. He soon finds himself looking for his wife as well in a strange underworld that lies beneath the surface of Tokyo, full of odd and sometimes menacing people. I have no idea how this will end but look forward to getting there! Nicole
Once upon a time, all women had a little magic- a few words to make dishes sparkle, a rhyme to mend a seam. And some knew stronger things, such as a spell to break a fever, dry up a cough, or help a woman through a difficult labor. But that all changed with the Salem witch trials. Witches were burned at the stake with their children watching; witchcraft was deemed illegal, and women were treated worse than ever with no power to protect themselves. But witching was never completely gone. It was passed on by grandmothers and mothers in fairy tales and innocent sounding nursery rhymes that were actually spells. Spells that could work magic if a woman had the words, the way, and the will. Led by the three Eastwood sisters (magical things always come in threes), the downtrodden women of New Salem have enough will to make up for any lack of words or ways, and they are determined to bring real magic back into the world to set right some of the many, many wrongs they have suffered at the hands of men. Sara