Four New Historical Fiction Books Reviewed


Blue Bird

By Genevieve Graham

Simon & Schuster Canada, 352 pages, $24.99

In his 10th novel to explore little-known aspects of Canadian history, Graham deftly weaves a present and a past bound together by family secrets, at the heart of which lies buried treasure and a century-old murder.

In 1918, Windsor-born brothers John and Jerry Bailey served on the World War I front as tunnellers, whose dangerous work required them to dig under trenches to block and bomb the Axis powers. Jerry is injured and treated by Lieutenant Adèle Savard, a Canadian nurse, a “blue bird”, who works at a casualty evacuation station near Dunkirk. Returning home after the war, facing the personal devastation of the Spanish Flu pandemic, the brothers start a profitable bootlegging business, transporting liquor across the Detroit River during Prohibition.

In the present, entrepreneur Matthew Flaherty discovers a cache of wrapped whiskey bottles in the walls of a Windsor home he is renovating and enlists local museum curator Cassie Simmons to help uncover the mystery.

A propelling and poignant story about the enduring power of love.

Bloomsbury Girls

By Natalie Jenner

Saint-Martin press, 368 pages, $23.99

It’s January 1950 and intrepid Cambridge graduate Evie Stone finds work cataloging rare books at Bloomsbury Books & Maps in London. Her colleagues include Grace Perkins, mother of two and wife of a mercurial husband; Vivien Lowry, a glamorous aspiring writer whose fiancé was killed in World War II; Lord Jeremy Baskin, whose great-grandfather won the shop in a card game in 1850; and Herbert Dutton, the longtime store manager whose 51 Rules of Conduct reveal his indocility.

Evie is privately on the trail of the 1827 first edition of “The Mummy!” A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century”, a strangely prophetic novel. It is perhaps the only surviving copy, the possession of which could change its future.

Daphne du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Brownell (the recent widow of George Orwell), Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett add glorious shine. Their banter is warm and witty, with the women always saying “whatever they wanted, dripping with irony or sarcasm but with a strange seriousness all the same”.

A literary feel-good confection that will make you smile in solidarity with these girls who dare to fulfill their dreams.

The foundling

By Ann Leary

Scribner/Marysue Ricci books, 336 pages, $24.99

The Foundling, by Ann Leary, Scribner/Marysue Ricci Books, 336 pages, $24.99

Based on a true story from Leary’s family history, this gripping novel follows 17-year-old Mary Engle as she is hired as secretary to Dr. Agnes Vogel, a respected psychiatrist and superintendent of Nettleton State Village for Women. feeble-minded childbearing age.

It’s 1927 and eugenics is hailed as a progressive social science. Women are institutionalized when they are considered a nuisance to their family or a social embarrassment to their husband. They remain compelled to do physical work there until the menopause.

One day, Mary recognizes an inmate, Lillian Faust, a young woman who grew up with her in the orphanage, of unknown parents, left as a foundling, and although Lillian might be a troublemaker, she was definitely not freeble-minded. Lillian’s secret truth combined with investigative reporting on Mary’s nosy boyfriend, Jake, causes Mary to question everything she observes.

Heartbreaking, yet ultimately redemptive, Mary’s moral coming-of-age combined with a terrific twist at 11 o’clock makes this riveting retelling of an often-hidden history essential reading.

The ghosts of Paris

By Tara Moss

HarperAvenue, 432 pages, $34.99

Ghosts of Paris, by Tara Moss, HarperAvenue, 432 pages, $34.99

In this gripping sequel to “The War Widow”, former war correspondent turned private investigator Billie Walker is hired by a wealthy Australian client, Mrs. Vera Montgomery, to find her missing husband, Richard. The trail leads from Sydney in 1947 to London and Paris where Billie is haunted by memories of her own missing husband, Jack, a war photographer presumed dead and buried in an unidentified grave in Warsaw.

Always “one to run into chaos”, Billie is tempered by her secretary, Samuel Baker, who accompanies her on her mission. Nothing is worth doing, Billie admits as an unexpected letter from a former war correspondent finds her in post-Blitz London, the contents of which are unsettling if true.

A smart, sassy, ​​and subversive protagonist combined with kept and revealed secrets to propel the plot will have you flipping through the pages to the satisfying ending.

Janet Somerville is the author of “Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love & War 1930-1949”, available now on audio, read by Ellen Barkin.


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