In honor of the New Year, traditionally a time for new beginnings, this month we’ll look at novels that feature protagonists embarking on a new phase of life after momentous events - the end of war, the beginning of a new reign, and the challenge of seizing an unexpected opportunity.
Proceeding chronologically, we start with THE WAR WIDOW by Tara Moss. War correspondent Billie Walker returns to Sydney in 1946, her husband Jack missing in Europe and her father recently passed away. After finding that, despite her experience, Sydney newspapers are only interested in hiring male former soldiers as reporters, the tough, determined Billie decides to reopen her father’s private investigation agency, taking on a wounded former soldier as her assistant. At first, their clients are mainly women suspicious of cheating husbands. But then a woman comes in asking Billie to locate her missing 17-year-old son. When Billie starts investigating the boy’s ties to a fancy dance club and a high-end auction house, people she interrogates begin to turn up dead. As Billie and Detective Inspector Hank Cooper dig deeper into the case, ties to Nazi war criminals and looted Jewish plunder emerge, threatening Billie’s business and her very survival. Moss’s novel recreates the angst and confusion of a woman trying to rebuild a life and career in an uncertain world after the most horrific conflict in human history.
The reconstruction of postwar lives in England is the focus of CORONATION YEAR by Jennifer Robson. Told from the points of view of three people during the build-up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, from January to June, 1953, it is mainly set in the venue where all three reside, the Blue Lion Inn - which is on the route through which the Queen’s gold couch will pass to her coronation. For Edie Howard, the hotel’s young owner, the ability to charge high rates for rooms overlooking the route is her chance to save her family-owned hotel from impending financial disaster. Italian Holocaust survivor Stella Donati lives at the Blue Lion as she takes up her assignment as photographer for Picture Weekly magazine - the most important of which will be to photograph the coronation parade. War hero and skilled artist James Geddes has been commissioned to paint the building opposite the hotel, an achievement he hopes will defuse the prejudice about his Indian heritage that has hampered his new career. But when threats emerge to the Blue Lion, the coronation and even the queen herself, these three people from disparate backgrounds bond together to find the truth, save the hotel - and their futures - from disaster. Robson captures the excitement, enthusiasm and hope for a new age felt by the people of pre-coronation London and our protagonists as they pursue their new beginnings.
We change venues to the New York and advance to 1956 with THE SPECTACULAR by Fiona Davis. Young dancer Marion Brooks is about to have everything she’s been told should make her happy: an imminent proposal from her college boyfriend with its promise of life as a happy suburban housewife and mother. But suddenly doubting this is truly what she wants, when she’s offered the opportunity to audition for the Radio City Rockettes, she seizes it. Despite the discord her choice causes with her family, life as a member of the prestigious precision dance troupe is as exciting and fulfilling as she’d dreamed. But her romance with young doctor Peter Griggs unexpectedly involves her in the dangerous search for the “Big Apple Bomber,” who has terrorized the city for sixteen years, planting bombs in crowded public spaces. With few leads, the police turn to Peter, who promotes the radical new technique of psychological profiling. In the efforts to find the bomber before he can kill or main more innocents, Peter must apply all his expertise - and Marion may have to risk all she’s come to value, even her life. Davis beautifully describes the life of this glamorous dance corps, the excitement of living in one of the world’s most vibrant cities, and the fear and tension that gripped it while facing the threat of an anonymous killer.
We jump forward a decade and change venues once again with THE WOMEN by Kristin Hannah. Frances “Frankie” McGrath is a nursing student when her brother ships out to Vietnam. Wanting to do her part and become worthy of having her own photo posted on her father’s wall of family military heroes, against her conservative parents’ wishes, she joins the Army Nurse Corps. Despite her training, the green and sheltered Frankie is totally unprepared for the chaos and destruction into which she’s catapulted. With death facing the nurses on all sides every day, the friendships forged are deep and comradery essential as they meet the almost impossible challenges of trying to save soldiers with devastating wounds while under fire themselves. But the battle doesn’t end with the war. Like other returning soldiers, Frankie and the nurses meet hostility and condemnation from a sometimes violently anti-war public. Like the men, they suffer from PTSD, trauma that leads to broken relationships, alcohol, and drug abuse with few resources available to help them. In addition to painting a vivid picture of a dark and divisive time in America, Hannah’s book offers a tribute to the patriotism and courage of Frankie and all the other women who served in Vietnam - and paid for that service over the rest of their lives.
Have you made your resolutions about forging a new path in the New Year? Grab a seat, a warm drink to fend off the winter cold and take your pick from among these illuminating stores about the cost and reward of launching upon a new beginning.
Real, intense, passionate historical romance
Award-winning romance author Julia Justiss, who has written more than thirty historical novels and novellas set in the English Regency and the American West, just completed her first contemporary series set in the fictional Hill Country town of Whiskey River, Texas.
A voracious reader who began jotting down plot ideas for Nancy Drew novels in her third grade spiral, Julia has published poetry and worked as a business journalist.
She and her husband live in East Texas, where she continues to craft the stories she loves. Check her website for details about her books, chat with her on social media, and follow her on Bookbub and Amazon to receive notices about her latest releases.
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