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Joan by Katherine J Chen: When Sydney Young of #HFChitChat recommended Joan as our Step into the Story book of the month, I didn’t want to read it. A story about Joan of Arc minus the religion? As a Catholic, that was incongruous to everything I believed.
Well, thank goodness I have to read our guests recommendations, because otherwise I would have missed out on one of the best books I’ve read all year. Joan is a marvelously written story about a woman born to be a warrior. It is not a call from God, but life events that shape her into a fierce woman capable of defending the English troops. Chen’s Joan is is strong and fearless but also prone to rashness and arrogance. It is the latter that contributes to her downfall.
One of the things I appreciated in this book was how Chen, while stripping Joan of her piety and devotion, doesn’t leave God entirely out of the picture. This Joan doesn’t believe she’s a messenger of God, but others in the book do, and Chen sprinkles in enough details to make you wonder if perhaps God did have a hand in Joan’s ascent.
Whether you believe the true Joan of Arc story or not, you need to read this book. The opening scene alone is some of the best writing I’ve ever read. RECOMMENDED READ
Defending Alice by Richard Stratton: The premise of this book sounded amazing. A mixed-raced woman marries into a wealthy family during the Roaring Twenties. Their ensuring divorce turns into a trial of the century.
The story is based on the real life divorce trial of Alice Jones and “Kip” Rhinelander. By all accounts, Alice and Kip were deeply in love and that Kip was manipulated into the divorce by his powerful father. The fact that neither remarried and that Alice continued to call herself Alice Rhinelander for the rest of her life gives credence to this.
Mixed-race heroine, thwarted love affair, manipulative father, headline grabbing trial – all the ingredients you need for a thrilling novel, right? Sadly, Stratton fails at the recipe. His novel is told through the point of view of Alice’s lawyer and Kip. Alice’s story is revealed second-hand through diary excerpts and relayed conversations. That’s right, the woman with the most to lose doesn’t get a point of view. Instead, we got a very detailed account of the legal system in 1920s New York and of Alice and Kip’s sexual history. I kept waiting for the book to get better. It didn’t. I gave up at the halfway mark and did not finish.
Defending Alice is out November 22. Thank you Netgalley for the advanced read.
Clark & Division by Naomi Hirahara: I really enjoyed this book which is the first in a new mystery series. In it, twenty-year-old Aki Ito is released from a WW2 detention camp and heads to Chicago to join her sister Rose. When she arrives, she learns that Rose killed herself by jumping in front of a train at the Clark & Division Station. Aki worshiped Rose and refuses to believe she would commit suicide.
Aki’s investigation into Rose’s death exposes her to Chicago’s underbelly of gangs, gambling dens and police corruption. Little by little she discovers the truth about Rose’s death. More importantly, she discovers a new version of herself, a version that clashes with her parent’s traditional Japanese culture.
I loved Aki from the very first page. She’s demure yet strong. Part of the book’s appeal was reading how she grew into herself over the course of the story. While the mystery is interesting, it takes a back seat to Hirahara’s portrayal of what life was like for Japanese-Americans during World War 2. The prejudice they faced, both before and after the war, was unbelievable. I learned a great deal.
A few of the storylines in Clark & Division were left open-ended, but that’s to be expected from the opening of a series. I’m looking forward to visiting the Clark & Division neighborhood again. RECOMMENDED READ
The Call of the Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh: I love when a historical fiction introduces me to an unusual setting or moment in history. In this book, I learned about the Wrens, better known as the Women’s Royal Navy Service or the female branch of Britain’s Royal Navy. These brave women served in both World Wars in a number of capacities, including cooks, telegraphists, typists, radar plotters, and as in this book, motorcycle dispatch riders. The Call of the Wrens is also a story about finding a purpose and belonging to something bigger than yourself.
There is so much to like about this book. The first two thirds of the books were filled with a subtle dramatic tension that had me struggling not to peek ahead, and I admit, there’s a huge twist right before act 3 that I didn’t see coming.
Both timelines featured strong female protagonists. In the first timeline, you have Marion, a shy orphan in love with her childhood friend who comes into her own while in France during the Great War. In the other, there’s Eleanor, a privileged race car driver with a secret who, against her family’s wishes, joins the Wrens during World War 2. Walsh did a great job of creating two strong-minded and immensely likeable protagonists. I found myself deeply invested in their stories, especially Evelyn’s. (Marion’s story had me biting my nails the entire time. I just knew something bad was going to happen to her. Does it? I’m not going to tell.)
The twist I mentioned above is what ties the two storylines together.
I had a hard time putting this book down. You will too.
The Call of the Wrens is out November 15, 2022. Thanks to Netgalley for the advanced read. RECOMMENDED READ
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And don’t forget to tune in to Step Into the Story on November 15 when Donna and I dissect Kelly Rimmer’s The German Wife.