It’s summer reading time. Despite having a crazy June, I managed to squeeze in some reading. Several of the books were for research, but there were two historical fiction reads that fans will love.
The Spectacular by Fiona Davis: Fiona Davis’s books have always been hit or miss with me. I found her last book, Magnolia Place to be only so-so. Still, she remains an auto buy for me. Good thing too because The Spectacular might be her best book yet.
The book is billed as a story about Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes, and while the protagonist, Marion Brooks, is a Rockette, the book is about much more. Marion is a young woman pushing against the expectations of mid-century America. Her decision to pursue a dance career over marriage and motherhood puts her at odds her fiancé and alienates her from her family. To make matters worse, her attempt at reconciliation results in tragedy.
Marion’s story intersects with that of the “Mad Bomber of New York”, a real-life man who terrorized Manhattan for over 16 years. For reasons I won’t spoil, Marion becomes involved in the police investigation which leads to several life-threatening moments. There’s a secondary mystery as well involving her late mother.
While these side stories kept me turning the pages, it was Marion’s inner conflict that truly made the book for me. Davis does a terrific job of capturing her turmoil as she struggles between living an authentic life and meeting her family’s expectations. It’s a battle a lot of women in the fifties and sixties had to fight.
The book did disappointment me in one regard: I wished Marion’s father and sister had suffered different fates. Then again, what happened was realistic, so I can’t complain too much.
The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer: In her last book, The German Wife, Kelly Rimmer did the impossible – she managed to make a Nazi scientist’s wife sympathetic. As a result, she became one of my favorite authors. Therefore, I couldn’t wait to read her next book, The Paris Agent.
I’m happy to say she did not disappoint. It’s magnificent. My heart was in my throat from page one, when we meet her handcuffed protagonist bound for an unknown German destination. From there she weaves a complex story involving three heroines, three timelines, and a super-secret espionage program.
In 1944, the British send secret agents to assist the French Resistance. Suddenly, only a few months before D-Day, a double agent has put the entire mission at risk. Two female agents risk their lives to find the traitor.
In 1970, Charlotte Ainsworth agrees to help her father Noah locate the person who saved his life in WW2. To Charlotte’s surprise, he discovers her father wasn’t a mechanic during the war, but rather a British spy! A head injury has wiped away his memory of that time. All he remembers is this horrible feeling of guilt…
I love books about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. The two female agents in The Paris Agent aren’t super agents. They aren’t smarter or exceptionally athletic. They’re simply people who felt a call to do something for France. Like any person in their position, they make mistakes. At the same time, they are exceptionally brave, willing to risk their lives for a cause bigger than themselves.
The mystery revolving the double agent is well done. I was convinced I’d solved the mystery several times before the truth was revealed. Also hats off to Rimmer for making some strong story choices. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I’ll simply say she doesn’t hold back. Suffice to say, she remains one of my favorite authors.
The Paris Agent will be on shelves July 11.
Note: Kelly Rimmer will be our featured author on Step into the Story on July 18th. I can’t wait to chat with her.
Bonus Recommendation: Last month, I recommended Kristin Harmel’s The Paris Daughter, an emotional story about war, motherhood, and sacrifice. The book came out June 11th. Add it to your TBR pile. You won’t be disappointed.
I was provided advanced reads of both The Spectacular and The Paris Agent in exchange for my honest opinions.
*Step into the Story receives a small percentage of books purchased through Bookshop.org. The money is donated to literacy charities.
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