How long can you keep your identity a secret? For Sylvia, once known as Iris, the answer was "until now". She began her life as one of six girls born into the famous East Coast Chapel family whose fortune from a successful firearms company insured that she and her sisters would be very marriageable. Sadly a curse of massive proportions begins picking off the sisters as soon as they marry. Not wanting to end up in an institution like her mother or worse, Iris finds the only way out is to take on a new identity as Sylvia Wren an artist living a quiet life in New Mexico. That is until a journalist puts together the pieces. Gothic writing style combined with a historically accurate story with a feminist twist that focuses on age old battles women faced of not having control of their lives and total intolerance for being different. This is based on a very famous heiress with gun money roots, Sarah L. Winchester who also struggled with a curse. This will appeal to lovers of gothic classics as well as more spirited reads celebrating feminist viewpoints like PLAIN BAD HEROINES. 4 stars
1964 Hollywood royalty go on a safari to celebrate the marriage of everyone's darling Katie Barstow to her Prince Charming. Traveling with them are their closest friends - fellow actors, her agent and publicist as well as her brother and sister in law. In addition to the friends they have a big game hunter and a small army of porters and guides. What could go wrong? The trip starts off well with everyone amazed by the splendor of the African savannah and the chance to see these creatures up close. All is well until it isn't. Russians seem to arrive from nowhere guns blazing and soon those who are left have been captured or thought dead. They come to a stunning realization that they are in as much danger from their captors as they are from what lies in the tall grass. These are dangers they are not prepared for as they are pitted against animal violence and human violence. An adrenaline filled nightmare with snippets of the golden age of Hollywood. This is the romantic landscape of OUT OF AFRICA, the violence and politics of Wilbur Smith's novels and the animal cast of John Wayne's HATARI - be prepared to think twice about visiting a zoo in the near future. This may be one of my favorite Chris Bohjalian books so far. 5 stars
Monsters are all around us lurking in the back studio alleys, the casting rooms and on the screen.
Luli Wei learned at an early age how to control men and took full advantage of that skill to land her screen time as a child actor then playing lesser background characters. When her chance at real roles came she didn't hesitate knowing that she would sell her soul to become a screen legend. The head of the studio didn't hesitate to take his pound of flesh either. We meet the men and women of Hollywood moviemaking in the 1930's where who you are, who you love and what you are wiling to sacrifice for a dream all play a major role. This is the land of monsters both good and bad. The historical side of this with all the discrimination, hiding of non approved relationships and the many ways to take unfair advantage by those in power is right on target. The other side of the story is about magic and monsters - those smoky shape shifting creatures in power and those who will give up everything for a taste of immortality on the screen. An atmospheric and unique look at the monsters around us and in us on and off the silver screen. 4 1/2 stars
Willy May's journey takes her from small town Texas, to England when she marries a beer baron, to her private yacht and finally to Mustique Island. It is the 70's and women are just starting to exert themselves but Willy has always been very private so why not celebrate a fresh start with a beautiful house on a privately owned island. Willy May does her best to straddle the extravagant lifestyle of the Brits who live there including Princess Margaret with the islanders who she has grown to love. When her grown daughters come to join her on Mustique she hopes they will stay but they are looking for their own version of home. This colorful and wild story is based on the very real guests of Mustique Island and the very real issues of class, race and the cost of tourism that accompanied them.
It is a warm human story blended with historical gossip and an armchair chance to rub elbows with British royalty and rock legends. Fans of DAISY JONES AND THE SIX, SISTER STARDUST and MARY JANE will find much to reminisce and love hers. 4 stars
Piggybacking on THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK this is a continued story of the courageous rural librarians of Kentucky. It is 1953 and not much has changed in the backroads and hollers of Kentucky. There still are the abuses and hatred of those who are different - the blue skinned , the women who must now work alongside men in the mines or those women who take what some consider jobs away from hard working men. Honey is sent to live with an elderly woman when her parents are sent to prison for their interracial marriage. Honey works hard and is self sufficient yet even when she takes on the job her mother once held with the pack horse Liberians the law still sees her as a candidate for the children's home. As Honey makes friends with a young woman who has taken the fire tower lookout position and strengthens the bond between the back country families and the book women, she still has a long road ahead of her to stay free. A terrific historical look at a section of the country that has been underwritten in history books and a heartwarming story of the tough and courageous people of rural Kentucky who take care of their own in good times and bad. Anyone who enjoyed the first book will love the continuing story but it is not necessary to read the first book to enjoy this fully. 4 stars
A spectacular family saga of love, courage and separation. This is the history of the Cabrellis, artisan jewelers from the seaside town of Viaregio. Domenica yearns to be a nurse but is outspoken and is exiled to nurse at a convent in Southern France and then Scotland. A Scottish sea captain as well as her childhood best friend will fall hard for her and war will keep her from returning to her beloved childhood home but she keeps her fierce spirit. She becomes one of the Italians who find their second home in Scotland only to be treated as traitors when WWII breaks out and Italy is on the wrong side. Again and again we have heard these fascinating stories of pride and hard work from people who leave their homeland to make a new country their home and leave it better for their input. The later part of the story takes place several generations later when their rich family history is passed on to the youngest headstrong granddaughter. For fans of THE SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA and ETERNAL.
This is a must for Chicagoans as much of how the Sullivan family does is based on that midwestern mantra - Maybe this year will be the end of the Cubs curse, but probably not. It is 2016 and the Cubs have a real shot at winning the World Series (spoiler, they won!), a reality show tyrant has just been elected President and the elder Sullivan has just passed away. The Sullivans have run a successful restaurant just outside of the city and are a mess. While the story centers around life at the restaurant and its people, it is mainly a solid family drama that could take place anywhere. Affairs, sketchy relationships and the basic imperfections that make up most American family drama are all at play here. While the plot doesn't seem to include any earth shattering events it is a deep dive at a classic midwestern family. It gets my vote for one of the most unusual and eye catching book titles. 3 stars
A dual story of fame, fortune, love and revenge. 1928 Two sisters work at a famous hotel catering to the black elite of Los Angeles. Daisy and Henrietta take their jobs very seriously at the Hotel Somerville and are privy to secrets, scandals and the comings and goings of the Hollywood elite until
something happens to wedge the sisters apart. Fast forward to 1968 where Frankie is pregnant and fleeing an abusive husband in Chicago. She needs a getaway which is just what Aunt Daisy will provide but she has no idea what she is getting herself into. Daisy is looking to settle old scores and it will be a roadtrip for the books. Old Hollywood meets Thelma and Louise plus one young hippie roadtrip. A wonderful slice of Hollywood glamour that has been largely unnoticed paired with the turbulent 60's civil rights movement. 4 1/2 stars
Nellie Bly is out to prove that women can do a job better than men or at least just as well. After fighting for a chance at writing articles in NYC newspapers other than the society pages and being told that it is no place for a lady, Nellie shows them that journalism is no place for anyone who is afraid of getting their hands dirty or taking a risk. She has herself committed to one of the worst mental institutions in the city knowing that she can get in and hoping that her editor remembers to get her out. What she finds there is appalling- little food, unsanitary conditions, little or no medical treatment as well as constant humiliation and boredom. The articles she wrote exposing the atrocities caused public outcry for change and helped free the innocent mentally sound women imprisoned there. Nellie's tough brand of investigative journalism shook up the system and encouraged young women to tread boldly where only men walk. An in-depth look at the women's movement as well as a fast paced adventure and the fierce charm of Nellie and the other women stunt reporters- this looks like the first in a series with more to come. Fans of Fiona Davis and Marie Benedict as well as Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST will find much to love. 4 stars
Rachel is happily married living in New York City in the 50's but in the nightmares she is still that little Jewish girl in Berlin trying to survive. Her mother was a successful artist but not really the maternal type neither was her mysterious artist model or her uncle but Rashka had an ok childhood before the war. Now she is just trying to adjust and become the perfect Jewish wife to her New York born husband Aaron. Rachel is also an artist but is so paralyzed by wartime trauma that she cannot paint. When one of her mother's paintings is found at a local pawnshop all the old memories come flooding back and Rachel must find a way through it or loose herself to the tremendous guilt she carries. Told by a few narrators in a dual timeline we follow the events before and after the war which are tied together nicely at the end. Another classic example of riveting historical WWII fiction. 4 stars
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