Historical Fiction is a genre I enjoy, especially when I learn something new. All three of these books are about time, events or people that I knew nothing or little about. I recommend all of them highly.
Last Dance on the Starlight Pier by Sarah Bird, Cassandra Campbell (Narrator)
Published April 12th 2022 by St. Martin’s Press, Macmillan Audio
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Last Dance on the Starlight Pier shows us a part of life, and the struggles during The Great Depression. I had heard of dance marathons before, but not the role they played providing for couples and families during the 1930s. This story is told through Evie Grace Devlin. Evie had been a very young performer in the days of vaudeville, having been pushed on the stage by an unloving, selfish and abusive mother. When the days of vaudeville began to wane, she left and moved to Galveston to start a new life. She worked diligently to become a nurse, only to be kept from getting “pinned” as an actual nurse because of a mean spirited director and prejudice. She goes to see her uncle who gets her a job working as a “nurse” tending to contestants at dance marathons, and Evie soon finds absorbed into the cruel and rough world. These marathons support many employees (dancers, trainers, announcers etc.) but also contestants from the various areas they are put on. Spectators would also pay to come and watch, cheering on their favourites. Conditions were difficult with contestants dancing pretty much nonstop 24 hours a day, sleeping on the dance floor against their partners, and even dancing on broken bones. Having them ruin their health for a few coins so they could entertain the masses is heartbreaking. As time goes on, Evie becomes a part of the show, but she still desires to be a real nurse.
I found this to be an interesting story, a part of history I knew nothing about. Evie was a great main character. She was a victim of circumstances who tried to pull herself up by her bootstraps but was thwarted more than once. She didn’t give up and continued to look for ways to follow her dreams. I liked many of the characters, but also disliked the ones who were written as the villains. People did what they had to do in order to survive, and at times it broke my heart. There were other themes in the story such as the attitude of people toward gay characters and how lobotomies were used to “cure them”. Prejudice towards people who did not have money or came from poor areas, money separating classes and organized crime families. Even though there is a lot of sad stuff happening in this historical novel, it’s a different view of this time in history which I found interesting. I did pop out and do a search about these dance marathons and found this book well researched. I found sections of the book a bit repetitive and longer than need be, but the characters were easy to like and the audio brought it to life for me. Cassandra Campbell does an excellent job with the narration, giving voice to the various characters and immersing the listener into the atmosphere. If you enjoy audiobooks, I definitely recommend that format. This is my first book by Sarah Bird and I will definitely read more. If you enjoy historical fiction, I recommend Last Dance on the Starlight Pier.
The Resistance Girl by Mandy Robotham, Antonia Beamish (Narrator)
Published March 31st 2022 by HarperCollins UK Audio, Avon
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Historical Fiction is a genre that I very much enjoy and when I find a book about a time, place or event that I know little or nothing about, I am pleased. The Resistance Girl is set in Norway during WWII, dealing with the efforts of the resistance as well as Hitler’s plans for the Norwegian people. Rumi Orlstad lives in a small Norwegian town of Bergen and her widowed father Peder is a fisherman. Peder is involved with the Shetland Bus, a network that smuggles information, agents, weapons and supplies back and forth across North Sea and while looking out for German patrols. Rumi knows exactly how dangerous it is, her fiancée Magnus was lost at sea two months ago and he was on the way to the Shetland Islands and she vowed that she would not get involved, but when two agents were dropped into Norway during a snow storm, Rumi is the only one available to try and find them. She locates them but they were in danger due to freezing, so she takes Jensen Parkes to her neighbor Marjit Sabo to help treat the freezing SOE. Jen’s is half Norwegian, he should be able to blend in with the town’s residents and not be caught by the Germans as he works with the resistance. Anya Lindvig is Rumi’s best friend, she’s working at a hotel in Stavanger when she’s assaulted by a German soldier while on a date. Anya is placed in a home for unwed mothers in Hop, and she discovers it’s a Lebensborn, one of Germany’s secret Aryan Maternity Homes. The Germans admire the Norwegian’s hardiness and their Aryan appearance, blond hair and blue eyes, so they want to use them to produce babies for the Third Reich and childless German couples. Rumi is determined to help Anya escape Hop house, for her friend to be safe and keep her newborn baby.
The Resistance Girl is very well written and researched story. I enjoyed reading about the close relationships in the story as well as learning about life in Norway during this time. The main characters all had stories and reasons to get involved with the resistance and I couldn’t help but become invested in their stories. The courage they portrayed was uplifting, although the situations were heartbreaking. The relationship between Rumi and Marjit gives the reader a peak into a normal life before the war with evenings together sharing a drink and knitting using traditional Norwegian patterns. Jens, who grew up in England to a Norwegian mother, risked his life to work with the resistance and spy networks. It was interesting to read about his service that included transmitting messages to England, taking part in acts of sabotage, and hiding in different safe houses to stay one step ahead of the Germans. I found the parts about Anya and the Lebensborn very interesting yet shocking as well. I knew they had this program in Germany with unwed mothers, but did not know about the plans Hitler had to produce a stronger generation. Mandy Robotham’s descriptive writing brought this time to life and had me sitting on the edge of my seat at times. This was a well plotted story that builds to a tense conclusion and ends with peace in 1945. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Antonia Beamish. She does a nice job with the narration and helped to immerse me into this time and place. There are some slower parts in the middle of the story, but overall, a great listen.
The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull
Published February 8th 2022 by Mira Books
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Last Grand Duchess is the story of Olga Romanov, the eldest child in the Romanov family. It is set during their last years, during the war with Germany, revolution and the confinement and eventual murder of the family. We read about Olga’s sheltered life living with her parents and siblings, her love interests, work in the hospital during the war and the eventual end of her life. I knew about Father Grigori Rasputin, a controversial priest and friend of the tsarina, but the story shares how he became so important to the family and how he is perceived by the Russian people. But, this is Olga’s story and we see her life as she divides her time between suitors, home, elegant ballrooms, and hospitals, while she and her family face increasing danger from political unrest.
Knowing how this story ends, I tried to keep aloof from the characters. The story was well researched and developed as we learned about this time through the eyes of a loyal daughter. The characters were well developed and as much as I tried, I found it difficult not to come to like and relate to Olga. She was a likable character, one that cared about the Russian people, especially when we see her working in the hospital. The writing was descriptive, and vivid that allowed me to visualize the places and events described. The ending was well written, without graphic details of the fate of the Romanovs, but still letting the reader know what happened. I enjoy learning from historical fiction, and I definitely did with this book. I feel for this family wiped out for political power and definitely want to learn more. This book shared the family with me and made them real with all their issues, decisions, mistakes, illnesses, betrayal and even a little romance. If you enjoy historical fiction, want to learn more about the Romanov family or a period in history that you may not know about, I definitely recommend The Last Grand Duchess.