Author: Rebecca S. Buck
Publisher: Bold Strokes Publishing
Cover Artist: Unknown
Rating: 4.0 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 01/01/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Lesbian Romance
Evelyn Hopkins leaves everything she knows and heads to London at the height of the Roaring Twenties, intent upon living her life to the fullest. But will the dark cloud of the Great War keep her from happiness and love?
Edward Hopkins returned from the war, but he is a shadow of his former self, broken by his experiences. His sister makes him a promise: to live her life well enough for both of them. London is a colorful world of jazz, fashion, and opportunities for lust and romance at every turn. When Evelyn meets handsome, eccentric Jos—with her butch style and gentle manner—she knows true attraction for the first time. But can love sustain them through tragedy and carry Evelyn into a new life she can be proud of?
This historical romance was also something of a coming-of-age story, though the protagonist was in her mid-20’s. It felt historically authentic, and the author did a fantastic job not only illustrating the look and aesthetic of the inter-war period in London (though what is up with all the pale yellow walls?), but of capturing the feeling and mood. Fueled by jazz, a strictly not-Victorian approach to sex, and a fierce desire to truly live in a way so many of the war’s dead and wounded could not, the crowd of 20-somethings Evelyn encounters when she leaps headlong into London in 1927 are a palette of modernism. Evelyn herself, traditionally and conservatively dressed and coiffed, is the main character coming of age. She literally does not know what the sex act is, as at 25 she has only heard it referred to as “wifely duty” and something “only the worst sort of woman” does outside wedlock. She finds herself the houseguest of Lillian and James Grainger, a brother and sister of extreme differences. Lillian is furiously burning the candle at both ends, singing jazz in a nightclub, embracing every trend and modernism and keeping it shallow. She tries to take Evelyn under her wing. James is an architect with a love for modern technology, but not so much modern society. He finds himself attracted to Evelyn’s unique combination of open-mindedness and backwater aesthetics, which he takes as representative of traditional moral values. The central plot conflict revolves around Evelyn’s discovery that she is an “invert” as James (the historically accurate voice of social conservatism in the book) calls it. Dorothy is cynical, intellectual, and loyal; she provides the even keel that balances some of the craziness from the rest of the pack. Clara and Courtney are more or less caricatures, but they also model stability and show what is possible; seeing their happy pairing is a vital part of Evelyn’s awareness and identity development. Vernon and Jos Singleton are the other major players in this story, Vernon as a sparring partner for the straight women and moral support for his sister, and Jos as Evelyn’s afraid-to-commit love interest fighting off her grief, fear, and well-earned cynicism about women.
Ties to family are a key theme in this novel, because everyone is mourning someone lost or damaged in the war, whether soldier or civilian victim of bomb raids, and their responses to their grief drive their approaches to modern life in London. Although Evelyn leaves her perpetually disapproving family behind almost as soon as the book begins, she finds in the Graingers a surrogate family and all that comes with it. She is dependent on them for social outlets as well as her room and board, so although she’s experienced at running a business and is 25, she is in the perpetual pickle of gay youth everywhere – what will happen to her living situation if her “preference” is discovered? Brother/sister relationships, specifically, play heavily into the plot–likely because families don’t scatter the way we do today–so most of the characters see their adult siblings daily. That said, parents and cousins and extended family are all but absent, which seems weird considering how much everyone interacts with immediate family.
Evelyn is a character that’s hard for me to like at first, but as she works out her identity and starts getting her act together, I came to enjoy her; so the book was a fun read for me. As a spontaneous free spirit with a traveling jones the size of, well, London, I cannot for the life of me imagine what possesses someone to live as a houseguest for weeks on end without so much as picking up a newspaper and looking for a job. Part of that is her angst over whether she’s staying in London or not, and angst wears thin for me quickly. Evelyn finally does start giving some attention to her need to build a real life of her own, and holds off Lillian’s attempts to transform her into a London flapper. But she also struggles with how to rebuff the interest of James. It really speaks to the sexism of the time, not so unfamiliar today, that she worries whether she’ll be thrown out because she doesn’t feel fond of James, and she does feel fond of Jos.
Jos and her demons feel incredibly familiar to me, and I definitely liked her character the best. Her tender butchness is beautiful, her work is her identity, and her emotional conflicts are thoroughly understandable. She and Evelyn stumble and fumble, but through the grace of their loyal friends and sometimes their own noble deeds, they manage to work it out.
And, finally, a technical note. This book really needed one more going-over by a proofreader. It wasn’t enough to harm readability or even to be a major annoyance, but it certainly was a minor annoyance – lots of places where the right word with the wrong ending appeared, or a stray article or preposition was left in during rewriting. I would rank it about as annoying as a paper cut on the ring finger of your non-dominant hand–doesn’t interfere with full function, but you notice it every couple of pages.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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