Joy Callaway, Secret Sisters
As an alumna of a woman’s college, I can’t resist this study of young women in late nineteenth-century Illinois who decide to establish the first sorority at their coed college. The effort reveals the difficulties faced by women of the time in acquiring an education, especially in “male” subjects such as medicine, but the real topic of the novel is friendship, both among the women struggling to support one another as a tolerated minority and between the lead character, Beth, and the man she selects to help her win her case. My current read.
Sofia Grant, The Dress in the Window
My most recent read and the subject of a future author Q&A here on the blog. As the gorgeous cover suggests, this is a novel about fashion in the United States right after World War II, a time when rich women still had their own salons in the department stores where each dress was fitted to them personally by a dedicated staff. Two sisters—one a gifted clothing designer, the other a seamstress of extraordinary skill—try, each in her own way, to break into this rarefied world. But the echoes of their past and of the war that they and the country are striving so hard to forget twist their deep bond with resentments as pervasive as fabric and thread, and a deep secret threatens to tear them apart.
Linnea Hartsuyker, The Half-Drowned King
Next month’s interview for New Books in Historical Fiction takes a dive into the Viking past in the form of a young ruler betrayed by his stepfather and a love affair that may never have a chance to bloom. Shades of Tristan and Iseult blend with a tale of defeat and conquest to create what looks like an interesting novel.
Beatriz Williams, Cocoa Beach
This month’s interview, discussing the latest Jazz Age novel by an accomplished bestselling author with many fascinating points to make about her own and others’ work. Here Virginia Fitzwilliam travels from New York City to Cocoa, Florida, in the wake of her estranged husband’s death and discovers not only a fortune—perhaps based on illegal liquor in this era of Prohibition—but a host of relatives, hangers on, and others determined to secure some of the wealth for themselves, by fair means or foul. Compelling psychological and historical drama by an author with a real gift for creating complex and interesting characters.
Sarah Zama, Give in to the Feeling
Another Jazz Age tale, this one set in a Chicago speakeasy where certain members of the clientele and even of the staff live on another plane. Yes, they are ghosts, and not everyone can see them for what they are. Susie (Su Xie), an immigrant sent from South China to marry a man sight unseen, discovers when she reaches San Francisco that her intended bridegroom has died. His friend helps her out by taking her to Chicago and supporting her, but in return he demands complete and unwavering loyalty. Which becomes a problem for Susie when a man named Blood walks into the speakeasy and wants to dance... This novella only hints at the larger story the author is developing in her trilogy, but it goes down like a well-chilled wine. Another future subject for an author Q&A.
And last but not least, we have The Duel for Consuelo, re-released by Five Directions Press last Saturday (July 15) after being orphaned when Booktrope Editions unexpectedly closed last spring. I love this story of a smart and determined young woman whose simple path toward marriage to the youngest son of the local hacienda owner takes an abrupt detour in the waning days of the Inquisition. We redesigned the cover and reedited and reformatted the text, but the story remains largely unchanged. To give you a sense of what to expect, the book description follows, but you need not stop there. The book page at our site offers both audio and print excerpts, and our newsletter offers an interview with the author.
Like most well-born young women in eighteenth-century Mexico, Consuelo Costa Argenta hopes for a good marriage, preferably to handsome Juan Carlos, son of the local landowner. But Consuelo cannot simply follow her heart’s desire. Born to a Crypto-Jewish mother, raised as a Christian, living under the Inquisition, she must balance the safety of conformity against loyalty to her heritage. As her mother’s mind begins to fail, her hidden allegiance to her ancestral religion emerges, drawing the attention of renegade priests. They spin a financial web intended to ensnare Consuelo’s father, torture her mother, and threaten her own life and happiness.
Misunderstanding her father’s demands for money, Juan Carlos rejects her, and his parents arrange to send her to the nuns of Condera to pursue her education. Learning about herbs eases Consuelo’s pain, as does flirting with another potential suitor. But once Juan Carlos arrives at the Condera court and Consuelo’s father promises her to the wrong man, her future looks grim.
When the Inquisition’s renegade priests kidnap her mother, only Consuelo can save her. If she can first save herself.