I hope you’re reading the wonderful posts on Women’s History at Read-A-Romance this month. (You can see the full calendar of authors here.)
Like a few of the writers, two of my favorite time periods are the World War eras, though World War I seems especially heart-breaking.
After reading Beatriz Williams’ and Evangeline Holland’s wonderful posts that touched on the impact of the Great War, two books I’d had on hold on Overdrive/audio for a few weeks came up—Simone St. James’ An Inquiry Into Love and Death, and Jennifer Robson’s After the War Is Over.
I simply love Simone St. James’ romantic ghost stories. Her writing is lush and elegant, and her exploration of ghosts, who may or may not be malevolent, and how they interact with contemporary evil, is always fascinating and intriguing. Meanwhile, the heroes, who are still learning how to survive the horrors of war, are helped along by smart, capable women determined to make a difference and willing to confront trouble in many forms. I highly recommend her!
After the War Is Over is the first book I’ve read by Robson, and it’s great. The main character reminds me a bit of another favorite interwar character, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, but the storyline isn’t quite so complex or wrenching (though it’s definitely both of those to some degree). Charlotte Brown comes from a middle-class background, attends university, becomes a governess to an earl’s sister, and then goes to work for a suffragist before war turns everything upside down. Serving as a nurse, she is devastated when she hears that the earl, whom she’s secretly in love with, is MIA, then stunned when he is discovered alive but wounded in a Belgian hospital, having been a prisoner of war. Charlotte cajoles and scolds and gets him on the path to health, all while juggling her job, a social life in her boarding house, and a new role as a columnist for a Liverpool newspaper, exploring the ill-served veterans, poverty and class and women’s issues in a changing world. She’s another author I’ll be reading more of. If you’re interested in the interwar years and the massive social restlessness of the time, you’ll really like her too, especially as she manages to entwine a lot of day-to-day history of the time into an engaging, romantic story.
One book I still haven’t managed to read but really want to (reading is so much harder for me than listening, since I usually have a book I’m supposed to review) is Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War, since it’s about my favorite historical era and some of the stories are written by my favorite authors (one by Jennifer Robson, too, so I’m looking forward to more from her).
But after reading Evangeline Holland’s great RAR post, I was determined to read her story, After You’ve Gone, from the collection. Morven, a “colored Scot,” is deserted in Paris when her American husband dies in the trenches. Once the war ends, she’s not sure where to go and meets up with a friendly band of African-American YMCA tourists and a lieutenant who may be able to connect her to her husband’s family in Mississippi. But he has some unpleasant surprises; despite an immediate connection to the man, Morven can’t trust that he can heal her heart. Holland’s story is just under 40 pages, but she manages to create realistic descriptions of immediate post-war Paris and the front; a warm, raucous Southern farm family; and the start of the Paris jazz craze, as well as sell us on the spark of a love-at-first-sight romance. Holland’s romantic tale is part of the Fall of Poppies anthology, and is also sold as a stand-alone short story in e-form.
Piper Huguley was yesterday’s essayist at Read-a-Romance and she included this line in her essay (referring to the heroine in her book, A Virtuous Ruby):
“Ruby was partially based upon incidents in Glenda Gilmore’s book, Defying Dixie, where Gilmore posits that the stirrings of the Civil Rights movement started in the aftermath of World War One, when Black soldiers returned home and wanted better treatment.”
I’d always considered World War II as a pivotal African-American experience that was one of the roots of the Civil Rights Movement, but had never really understood that it went even further back, to the Great War.
Reading that alongside Evangeline Holland’s post and story, in which the hero opens a jazz club in Paris directly after the war, and the Black hero and heroine are integrated into a Parisian cultural life much more easily than they probably would have been in an American city of the time, was a peek into history from a perspective we’re treated to far too infrequently.
Holland is an expert in Edwardian history, and has written both fiction and non-fiction on the era.
Looking ahead, I have an embarrassment of riches on the audiobook front. The CD version of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before just came in, and I just received and downloaded the Overdrive version of Nadia Hashimi’s The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. (She’s up today at Read-a-Romance.) Can’t wait to listen to those.
As for books, when I have time, I’ll be delving into more of the Fall of Poppies collection, and reading A Virtuous Ruby.
What about you? What are you reading or looking forward to?