Tag Archives: 1930s

Review: Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade (March 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0451418905
  • Source: Publisher

Laura Kelly is a young seamstress living in 1928 upstate New York. After her father’s death and her own “fall from grace” (becoming pregnant out of wedlock),   the only way Laura and her young daughter, Grace, can survive is by the kindness of others. Unfortunately, this small town has shunned Laura since Grace’s birth, finding it far more difficult to sustain a livelihood.

Just miles away, poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay lives with her husband Eugen. The couple throws outrageous parties, shocking townspeople with her bohemian ways. Edna (referred to as Vincent) becomes entranced with Laura’s talented work and begs her to create an elaborate wardrobe for her. Unfortunately, an act that took place during one of Millay’s elaborate parties has Laura torn between standing strong against Millay’s bohemian lifestyle and the realization that she has to accept whatever work comes her way if she wants to survive.

What Robuck has created in Fallen Beauty is a completely awe-inspiring juxtoposition between two characters: Laura, a fallen beauty, punished by the townspeople after one act of indiscretion; and Millay, a brilliant, carefree poet who seems to have it all…except the love of one man. These two woman, at polar ends of a moral parallel, brought together out of coincidence and convenience. At the surface, it seems as though it is Laura who needs Millay to survive, yet in time Millay discovers she needs Laura just as much, if not more.

The character readers will find most endearing is that of young Grace. I’m certain her naming was intentional, for it is this young girl that brings together so many ailing individuals. Grace’s innocence allows characters to lower the curtain of insecurity that shields them, allowing them to see the life, and love, standing right before them.  Grace is the beacon of hope that so many of the characters in this novel needed to see beyond all the darkness and despair surrounding them.

While this is a fictionalized telling of Millay’s life, Robuck obviously undertook a tremendous amour of research so that she could so expertly capture Millay’s persona. Admittedly, I do not know much about this poet yet Robuck’s vision of this saucy, surly woman has me compelled to know more about her. This is a trademark of Robuck’s talented writing: each and every time I finish reading one of her novels I scramble to learn more about the individual she based it upon.

Robuck has made a name for herself in the historical fiction genre.  While it’s not a genre I read as often any more, each time she releases a new title I make it a mission to read it. She captures everything I appreciate most about this genre and, in doing so, influences a whole wave of new readers to embrace it as well. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1250014522
  • Source: Publisher
Isabelle McAllister is a feisty eighty-nine year old woman. Over the years, she’s formed quite a friendship with her hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis, a single-black woman in her thirties. She’s followed Dorrie around as she’s moved from one salon to another, finally opening up her own. Yet what Isabelle asks of her has nothing to do with her hair…but her past. Isabelle asks Dorrie to put her life on hold and driver her from her home in Arlington, TX to a funeral in Cincinnati the very next day.

Dorrie is more than happy to fulfill Isabelle’s request. The two woman, separated by age and race, have known each other for years. Dorrie realizes it must mean a lot to Isabelle to attend this funeral and she’s honored to be asked. After making arrangements for her children and tying lose ends at home, the two women embark on the journey.

Although Isabelle has been Dorrie’s client for years and have shared in casual conversation, neither woman really knows a great deal about the other. As the miles pass, Isabelle opens up to Dorrie about her guarded past.  As a teen growing up in 1930s Kentucky, she fell in love with Robert Prewitt, the son of her family’s black housekeeper, in a town in which blacks weren’t allowed after dark. Isabelle reveals to Dorrie a young life riddled with pain and loss, further proving the importance of this journey. In turn, Dorrie learns a great deal about herself on this journey, that love is possible if you just open your heart to it.

Due to my own marriage, when I began the journey with this book, I knew it would hit home with me. While we never had to face many of the challenges Isabelle and Robert faced, there were definitely some obstacles we had to overcome. His life was never in danger but we had to deal with looks and glares when we went out in the public. Seventy years certainly seems like a long time, but not when you are forced to endure racism that has endured for centuries. Thankfully, however, our boys were born years later, in a time in which the color of one’s skin didn’t determine their fate or value in life.  Now that they are older, we remind them how lucky we are to be a family, that not too long ago the love we share would be forbidden…illegal.

I love that Kibler uses her own grandmother’s story as an inspiration for this novel. She truly captures the very essence of an inter-racial relationship…then and now. Additionally, the transformation that both Isabelle and Dorrie take on their journey is incredibly endearing and heartwarming. Two young women with vastly different lives brought together seemingly by fate for I do not believe Isabelle could have taken this journey with anyone but Dorrie. The relationship they share, while unlikely, is wholly believable and sincere, the gifts they give one another are invaluable.

Calling Me Home is an incredibly memorable and heartwarming novel, rich with subject matters meant to be discussed. It’s a novel that I dare you NOT to fall in love with, for I grew such a strong attachment to this book that I read it not once, but twice. Isabelle and Robert’s relationship really hit home with me, characters that were forced to deal a fate no one should ever have to face in the name of love. I cannot wait to discuss this book with my own book club once it comes out in paperback. Until then, I fondly anticipate my reunion with Isabelle and Dorrie…and Robert. Highly, highly recommended.

Calling Me Home is the February book club selection for the She Reads book club. Check out what other members of the blog network thought of this book and join in on the discussion!