1924. May Marshall is determined to spend the dog days of summer in self-imposed exile at her father’s farm in Keswick, Virginia. Following a naive dalliance that led to heartbreak and her expulsion from Mary Baldwin College, May returns home with a shameful secret only to find her father’s orchard is now the site of a lucrative moonshining enterprise. Despite warnings from the one man she trusts—her childhood friend Byrd—she joins her father’s illegal business. When authorities close in and her father, Henry, is arrested, May goes on the run.
May arrives in New York City, determined to reinvent herself as May Valentine and succeed on her own terms, following her mother’s footsteps as a costume designer. The Jazz Age city glitters with both opportunity and the darker temptations of cocaine and nightlife. From a start mending sheets at the famed Biltmore Hotel, May falls into a position designing costumes for a newly formed troupe of African American entertainers bound for Paris. Reveling in her good fortune, May will do anything for the chance to go abroad, and the lines between right and wrong begin to blur. When Byrd shows up in New York, intent upon taking May back home, she pushes him, and her past, away.
In Paris, May’s run of luck comes to a screeching halt, spiraling her into darkness as she unravels a painful secret about her past. May must make a choice: surrender to failure and addiction, or face the truth and make amends to those she has wronged. But first, she must find self-forgiveness before she can try to reclaim what her heart craves most.
I am beginning to think that maybe WW2 historical fiction isn’t my favorite anymore. I think it is fiction told during the Jazz Age, which is also part of the war time but has its own vibe to it. More stories seem to include black characters and touches on the struggles that they dealt with during this time instead of an author acting like they didn’t exist.
May has had a very unconventional upbringing. She was raised by her father after her mother left them. She also experienced trauma as a young child when her infant brother died. Though all that happened she was able to grow into a fine young lady and go off to school. Now being a bit naive caused her to get in a bit of trouble and that sent her back home. Her strength faltered slightly and in my opinion that was expected considering what she was dealt with and then coming home to an alcoholic father who is selling illegal moonshine.
You get a sense that May experienced some deep depression but she does manage to get thru it. You also see her picking up her strength as she decides that she is going to leave home and pursue a career even though every one around her, including her childhood best friend Byrd. Once her mind was made up, there was no changing it and May did what she could to get to New York which was a totally different vibe from her home state of Virginia.
May is chasing her dream and also chasing the ghost of her mother. She has to quickly learn that life in New York is not like the life she led in Virginia. She has some minor setbacks but she doesn’t let that deter her. Her determination helped land her a job in Paris. Once again she was chasing her dream and the ghost of her mother. Once in Paris, life was not what she thought it was going to be. The war was just starting and her fellow Parisian coworkers treated her as if she didn’t know anything.
Throughout everything May went thru, she continued to push forward even if she made some reckless decisions and put herself in some pretty shady situations.
I am glad that she finally learned the truth about her mother so that she could stop chasing that ghost. She also found her footing in life.
This book touched on so many issues and one of the things that I enjoyed about it is that the author did not try to round the edges of these situations to make readers feel more comfortable. I feel that the ending was realistic and a great fit for this story.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for historical fiction with a strong female lead who deals with real life issues and to anyone looking for a story that is not all flowers and sunshine.
Available August 18th in hardcover and ebook.
A special thank you to Suzy Approved Book Tours for having me along on this tour and for the gifted copy. Also, thank you to Blackstone Publishing for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.