Girls on the Line

Girls on the Line

Girls on the Line by Aimie K. Runyan (Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction)

Good historical fiction informs as well as entertains. Girls on the Line does a great job of both as it takes us into the lives of young women who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I.

While books about World War II abound, not a lot of present-day fiction is set during the Great War. As the author notes, modern-day Europeans are much more aware of the first world war than Americans are. But 100 years ago, Americans — both men and women — were deployed to Europe to fight “the Hun.” Among those individuals were female switchboard operators who volunteered to serve on the front lines connecting the troops with their commanding officers via telephone.

Runyan has done a lot of research, including reading the diaries of women who served in the signal corps. Her story is rich with details as well as nicely developed characters whose fates we become invested in. We see independent young women struggle with the misogyny and paternalism of the era, including the arranged marriages common among high-society families, and we witness the deplorable lack of recognition for the heroism of the “Hello Girls” as the operators were called, when the war ends.

Five stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of an independent review.

Girls on the Line will be released on November 6, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

 

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The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman (Historical Fiction)

Another World War II novel, this one set in Springfield, Massachusetts, at the Springfield Armory. The author grew up in the area and has done a thorough job of researching the armory’s history and physical setting. She has read all of the old armory newsletters,  knows how the officers and their families lived, and understands how work in the munitions factories went. Still, I have a hard time thinking of this as historical fiction, for the story that is told could be set anywhere, any time. The armory and World War II simply provide an interesting (and currently popular) environment.

Two sisters have been estranged for most of their lives. Ruth, the serious one, has always resented her younger sister’s beauty and active social life. Everyone notices Millie; Ruth is invisible. They go their separate ways as adults, but then circumstances throw them back together when Millie shows up at Ruth’s door with a two-year-old and a husband who is MIA.

Ruth is happily married. Her husband is an officer stationed at the armory, and she has young twin daughters. Still, she is reserved and unsure of herself in social settings, and when Millie comes back into her life, old resentments flare. She relives every petty conflict and every perceived slight from their youth. Millie, meanwhile, is struggling to make ends meet and to take care of her child. She takes an armory job making triggers. But instead of endearing her to Ruth, their reversed social status only seems to make things worse. Ruth finds Millie a burden she must endure. Millie longs to get away from her bossy older sister.

The blurb for the novel refers to “deep secrets” that each sister carries, but they weren’t that deep nor were they a big surprise. There is some tension, a fleeting moment or two of danger, but any dangerous situations are quickly resolved. In short, there’s not a lot of new stuff here. As for the era, other than some name-dropping and a rare reference to a restaurant or club where Jews are not allowed, we’re not overly aware of the times. The war doesn’t really influence our protagonists’ daily lives beyond the fact that the armory makes arms and there’s a shortage of sensible shoes. The working class goes to work, and the haughty officers’ wives could be high society matrons anywhere.

Three stars.

This reviewer received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book will be released on January 22, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

Blood & Water

Blood&Water

Blood & Water by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Once again Katie O’Rourke (Finding Charlie) has filled a book with real people, this time a single dad, the estranged younger sister who suddenly shows up in his life, a young wife struggling with multi-generational family issues, and a seemingly mismatched couple — he’s an adventure-loving motorcyclist and she’s confined to a wheelchair. All are connected in some way, and each has a story to tell, but their stories aren’t always what we think they will be.

O’Rourke has a talent for putting believable characters in real-life situations. They see things through their own lenses, make regrettable mistakes, have knee-jerk reactions, and are plagued by self-doubt. Family relationships, past or present, may not be the best, but nothing is cliched. People remain unpredictable, and what you believe is going to happen may be way off base.

This is a well-rounded story told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters, each revealing new facets of that specific narrator’s life as well as the lives and backstories of the other characters. O’Rourke’s references to current politics give the book a sense of timeliness without being overdone or distracting. We believe this is her best yet and look forward to more.

Grandma gives Blood & Water four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author with a request for an honest review.

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (Psychological Suspense)

When I started this book, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Seven-year-old Hanna is not only unlikable, she’s terrifying. A tiny psychopathic manipulator, her goal is to get rid of her mother so she can have her father all to herself.

The mother, Suzette, appears to be a shallow upper class matron struggling to keep face while her daughter exhibits bizarre and sometimes violent behavior in public. The father, a successful businessman who is away a lot, knows Hanna only as a sweet, innocent child who adores him. He refuses to believe that she’s capable of the nastiness attributed to her by her mother and what he considers to be inept headmasters of private schools that keep expelling Hanna.

Before long, however, the personalities and backstories of Suzette and Hanna blossom as each narrates the tale in alternating chapters. Hanna becomes more terrifying, but Suzette is now someone I can care about. I found myself enthralled by Hanna’s resourcefulness as she gleefully tormented her mother in accelerated attacks. Meanwhile, the father begins to witness injuries and destruction that he cannot ignore.

The author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, including a child therapist who does her best to help the family cope with Hanna’s aberrant behavior. Hanna’s child side comes through as she gives snide names to adults like “Brown Teeth” and “Mrs. Stinky Breath.”

Suzette’s repeated navel-gazing regarding how she may have messed up as a mother became somewhat redundant at times, but not terribly. My one complaint is that the ending left everything hanging. Sometimes, you just want to know that the people you care about are going to be safe.

Grandma gives Baby Teeth four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. with a request for an honest review.

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall (Historical Fiction)

The lives and career ambitions of two young women — one in 1949 and one in 2018 — intersect in this timely novel that seeks to show how much and how little has changed for women over a span of almost seventy years.

From 1941 to 1976, the New York City subway system held a beauty contest called Miss Subways. Placards featuring the individual winners adorned the subway trains, each young woman getting her fleeting moment of glamor and fame for a month. For Charlotte in 1949, the contest offered an escape from her father’s heavy-handed control of her future, as well as a possible break into the male world of advertising as a career. In 2018, Olivia faces cutthroat male co-workers in her New York City advertising firm as she makes a last-ditch effort to land an important contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

We follow each young woman in her own era in alternating chapters. Although there are a few surprises, I found much of it predictable and some of the coincidences a bit much. I felt like Olivia made some poor choices for a supposedly savvy businesswoman, and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Still, it is an interesting read for the historical aspects and a look at life in NYC, both post-World War II and present day.

Grandma gives The Subway Girls three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Subway Girls will be released on July 10, 2018, and is available for pre-order.