Two Historical Fictions

Natalie Meg Evans returns to Paris and the world of high fashion in The Secret Vow, but this one is set a generation earlier than her previous novels, opening in late 1918 as Katya (Princess Ekaterina Ulianova Vytenis) and her family run from the Russian secret police, targeted as aristocrats and Tsarists. Katya heads for Paris, where some cousins have already emigrated, with her unstable but determinedly aristocratic mother Irina, her angry younger sister Tatiana, and her older sister Vera’s infant daughter Anoushka.

.

Rescued from total disaster in Sweden by Harry Morten, a British/Swedish businessman, Katya and her family arrive in Paris to find a situation far different from what they expected. The Russian emigres in the city are struggling, the money Katya’s far-sighted father invested in France seems out of reach, and Katya’s mother slips into a drug-hazed depression.

.

Katya, however, has a spine of steel, not that she recognizes her own strength, and she talks her way into a seamstress position, discovering along the way that Harry Morten runs his textile business from an office in Paris.

.

Evans makes the reader feel as though she’s actually visiting Paris in the wake of the First World War, as Katya encounters a variety of characters, some inclined to help her, others only out for themselves—and sometimes it’s not easy to tell them apart. If you’ve read Evans’ earlier books (and I urge you to do so), particularly The Dress Thief and The Milliner’s Secret, you may recognize a character or two in The Secret Vow, as their younger selves sneak into the story. The Secret Vow is a great entry into Evans’ world of historical fiction.

.

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions is the third book in Amy Stewart’s series following the adventures of Constance Kopp, a real woman who did indeed make law enforcement history in New Jersey in the early twentieth century. Constance and her very different sisters, Norma and Fleurette, are fascinating characters, making their way as independent single women in a time and place when that was not at all easy.

.

In this book Constance, now deputy sheriff (and jail matron), finds herself dealing with the problems on the women under her care. Some of them have indeed committed crimes, but girls who have done nothing worse than leave their parents’ home for a job and a room in a boarding house can be thrown in jail and sentenced to years in a reformatory at the whim of parents, police, and judges. Constance sees no justice in this, an attitude which just might trip her up when Fleurette decides to spread her wings.

.

Stewart’s research is as thorough as possible (don’t skip her “Historical Notes and Sources” at the end of the book), and nearly all the characters in the book are based on real people, wonderfully fleshed out, from the young women accused of immoral behavior to the theater troupe that fascinates Fleurette.

Two Historical Novels

Recent reading: two historical novels loosely based on the lives of real American women.

.

I stumbled across Thelma Adams’ The Last Woman Standing by chance and thoroughly enjoyed it. Adams has taken what little is known of the life of Josephine Marcus Earp (and much of that is hazy and/or disputed) and the-last-woman-standingwoven a fascinating tale of her meeting and falling in love with the legendary Wyatt Earp. It’s no spoiler to say that Josie (or Sadie, as she was also known) and Wyatt remained together for nearly fifty years, until his death, for Josie tells that story herself in the first chapter.

.

When Josie leaves her humble Jewish home in San Francisco to marry a man she met in Tombstone (when she spent a brief time with a traveling theater troupe), she finds her fiance unreliable, and Wyatt Earp irresistible. A great deal happens in the next year or so (1881-1882), both in Josie’s personal life and in better known history (remember the OK Corral?), and Josie relates it well.

.

The book has not been marketed as a romance—it doesn’t really fit the genre pattern—but romance lovers will enjoy it. So will readers who enjoy historical detail, including some insight into Jewish family and community life in nineteenth century San Francisco and Tombstone.

.

The Last Woman Standing isn’t biography (and doesn’t claim to be), but it is wonderful story telling, and lays out Josephine Marcus Earp’s life the way we all might hope it was.

.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun, relating the further adventures of Constance Kopp and her eccentric sisters, loosely based on real people and events. In this second novel, Constance is working as the jail matron while awaiting her official deputy sheriff’s badge, Norma continues lady-cop-makes-troubleher passion for messenger pigeons, and Fleurette has turned eighteen and become a blossoming performer in local theater.

.

At the jail in New Jersey, Constance deals with women who may be criminals or victims (in 1915 it could be hard to tell the difference), especially one who seems remarkably happy to stay in jail, even when it appears she could not have committed the murder she’s accused of.

.

When a prisoner escapes on Constance’s watch, she throws herself into the pursuit, defying Sheriff Heath’s orders and charging into New York City in search of the criminal. Along the way she stays at a hotel for women, where she meets a lawyer, a reporter, and a filing clerk, and she roams the streets of the city, where she meets much less respectable characters and makes an arrest.

.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble is just as entertaining as Girl Waits With Gun. Stewart adds an author’s note at the end separating fiction from fact. I hope we’ll be seeing more of Constance Kopp, Lady Cop.

Random Reviews

The cover of Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun caught my eye, so I took it home, stuck it on my TBR-soon shelf (alas, some books only stay there until they get demoted to the TBR-eventually shelves—I can’t keep Girl Waits With Gunup), but didn’t read it until a friend raved about it on Facebook. I had picked it up expecting a mystery, but this is actually a rather slow-paced novel about the three Kopp sisters (who were real people, as were many of the supporting characters and the situation), told in first person by the eldest, Constance. The three sisters are delightfully distinct, and rather eccentric, characters, whose adventures over a year or so in 1914 New Jersey swing from terrifying to exhilarating. A well-written, imaginative, and thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of three unusual women a century ago.

.

Ria Parkar, the heroine of Sonali Dev’s second book, The Bollywood Bride, is a woman with one foot in Bollywood–and one in Chicago. In India she’s a movie star; in Chicago she’s one member of a large, loving Indian-American family, gathering to celebrate a wedding. But Ria has secrets she has guarded since she was a little girl, secrets that tore her away from the man she still loves, Vikram Jathar.

.

By the middle of the book I was growing a little impatient with Ria’s insistence on keeping her secrets to The Bollywood Brideprotect other people, never giving them, and Vikram in particular, a chance to make their own decisions, but then I got caught up in her past and sat up way too late reading the second half of the book straight through.

.

Aside from the rekindling romance between Ria and Vikram, Dev paints a fascinating picture of Indian culture joyously preserved in the suburbs of Chicago. I want to go eat in Uma’s kitchen!

.

I really loved Fannie Flagg’s I Still Dream About You, the story of Maggie I Still Dream About YouFortenberry, former Miss Alabama (forty years or so ago), one-time model, never married, now a real estate agent in an office that seems to be sliding down hill. Maggie has decided that it’s time to leave this life on her own terms (but this is NOT a depressing book, far from it) and has devised a detailed (complete with to-do lists) suicide plan. But Maggie is so responsible and conscientious, socially and financially, that her obligations keep getting in the way. She can’t bear to leave a bill unpaid, an account unsettled, or a friend in need.

.

This is a delightful book about a woman of a certain age finding unexpected meaning in life and in the future, and coming to terms with the past. It’s full of quirky characters, the history and culture of Birmingham, Alabama, and even an entertaining historical mystery involving a steamer trunk and a skeleton. Alternately hilarious and touching, this is a wonderful novel. Highly recommended.

 .

Fair Play, Deeanne Gist’s second book set at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (following It Happened at the Fair) follows Dr. Billy Jack Tate, a female physician who finds herself working at the Women’s Building atFair Play the Fair, where she meets (and treats) Hunter Scott, a Texas Ranger spending six months as a Columbian Guard. When Hunter finds an abandoned baby on the Fair grounds, the two of them team up to find the baby a refuge at Hull House, where they learn of the terrible conditions of tenement living and the sad fate of so many children. Their desire to help the children brings them together, but will Billy’s career drive them apart? Another sweet romance from Gist, tempered with heartbreaking descriptions of life in the late 19th century slums of Chicago.