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Suzanne Hayes

REVIEW:  Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

REVIEW: Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

empire-girls

Ivy and Rose Adams may be sisters, but they’re nothing alike. Rose, the eldest, is the responsible one, while Ivy is spirited and brazen. After the unexpected death of their father, the women are left to reconcile the estate, when they make a shocking discovery: not only has their father left them in financial ruin, but he has also bequeathed their beloved family house to a brother they never knew existed. With only a photograph to guide the way, Ivy and Rose embark to New York City, determined to find this mysterious man and reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

Once in New York, temptations abound at every turn, and soon the sisters are drawn into the glitzy underbelly of Manhattan, where they must overcome their differences and learn to trust each other if they’re going to survive in the big city and find their brother. Filled with unforgettable characters and charm, Empire Girls is a love letter to 1920s New York, and a captivating story of the unspoken bond between sisters.

Dear Ladies,

Last year I enjoyed your WWII epistolary novel so much that when I saw this offered for review I immediately requested it. I wasn’t sure but it didn’t seem as if it would be letters again – and it’s not. Instead the story unfolds as alternate POV chapters with both sisters telling their side of things.

It’s immediately obvious that these two sisters are – or think they are – worlds apart in temperament and life goals. Rose is content to stay in their small town and sees herself taking care of their aging father while Ivy is wild to break out and Be Someone. Their plans get altered and their lives changed overnight when their father dies and they discover the truth. Only a trip to NYC might fix things but the sisters view their enforced journey with 180 degree differences. Rose wants only to discover their brother, get the estate settled and head home while Ivy wants to discover everything, try it all and never look back.

It should be obvious that the city will treat the sisters differently and that living there, in Greenwich Village, will change them in dramatically varying ways. Rose is horrified with the noise, the pushing people, the dirt and watching her sister become a “fast woman” from drinking illegal hootch and starting to smoke. Meanwhile Ivy is bursting to see and do everything. She has a list of ways to kick up her heels and won’t be satisfied until she’s checked off every one of the things on it.

With little to go on, the sisters start to search for their brother but honestly the effort they put into it seems, for weeks, haphazard at best. It was quickly clear to me that the search and its outcome were merely a catalyst for the changes Ivy and Rose would experience. Slowly, timid Rose and exuberant Ivy start to realize how much they’re evolving and their time in NYC is altering them. Rose begins to relax and slips so easily into a life that Ivy just knew was for her. Meanwhile the goals Ivy has prove elusive as she starts to wonder if she really fits what she dreamt of.

Rose and Ivy have always felt they know each other. Sometimes they haven’t liked each other much and have made cutting remarks designed to hurt. As the weeks go by, their opinions and long held views begin to also change. More secrets from their father’s past emerge and a stormy argument threatens to destroy the already fragile bond between the women. I did enjoy watching Rose and Ivy transform and learn as much about themselves as they finally learn about each other. One character calls it correctly in saying that for the first time, these two actually feel and act as if they’re sisters who care about each other.

Each sister gets a romance. Rose hadn’t thought she’d ever marry but soon she finds in a handsome Italian-American poet/chef the perfect person who sees her as she is and desires her just as she is. Ivy’s romance is actually the one which ended up making me smile as she exchanges letters and confidences with a man she never noticed before. I had my fingers crossed about them and my hopes were fulfilled – though I’d loved to have seen their fancy dinner in the swanky restaurant.

As the truth behind the secrets is finally uncovered, there are a lot of plot threads to be tied up. Everything fits together but I felt things got finished off almost too neatly. Rose and Ivy mention that they discover just what they need to know just when they need to know it but after one too many of these reveals, I couldn’t help but feel slightly manipulated. Also, Rose’s beau and a friend of their brother mentions how awful the conditions were that the men endured in the trenches in France but we’re barely shown any of this and are left with the hope that they will help each other through their nightmares.

I’m currently enamored with the 1920s and am delighted to have discovered another book set then. The feeling of the period is well evoked with dropped waist dresses, stocking seam checks, using fans blowing over ice for the heat, bathtub gin and speakeasies. The wrap up of the story felt a little too neat but I enjoyed watching Ivy and Rose take on NYC and come out on top. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

REVIEW: I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta...

“I hope this letter gets to you quickly. We are always waiting, aren’t we? Perhaps the greatest gift this war has given us is the anticipation…”

It’s January 1943 when Rita Vincenzo receives her first letter from Glory Whitehall. Glory is an effervescent young mother, impulsive and free as a bird. Rita is a sensible professor’s wife with a love of gardening and a generous, old soul. Glory comes from New England society; Rita lives in Iowa, trying to make ends meet. They have nothing in common except one powerful bond: the men they love are fighting in a war a world away from home.
Brought together by an unlikely twist of fate, Glory and Rita begin a remarkable correspondence. The friendship forged by their letters allows them to survive the loneliness and uncertainty of waiting on the home front, and gives them the courage to face the battles raging in their very own backyards. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other’s unwavering support.

Dear Ladies,

This book interested me for a number of reasons. I try and seek out books set during World War II because it’s such a pivotal point in history but few of them show the home front – regardless of which national one that might be. I also enjoy epistolary novels and in addition have recently been watching the phenomenal “The World at War” series. But there’s an even more important reason this book called to me.

I'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta NyhanI love the feeling of friendship that pervades the story as it mirrors something similar in my own life. I’ve been best friends with a circle of women for over 13 years now. We group email each other every day, all day long. I know things about these women that even their families don’t know. We’ve been there for each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, happy and frightening. When something happens to one of us, the others are usually the first to be told. So I can easily identity with Glory and Rita and the way they get to know and care so deeply about each other without having ever met.

The War is the most important thing in the country and the all out effort that most Americans put into supporting it and Our Boys is obvious. It might seem overly Rah-Rah now to our cynical selves who have Watergate in our backgrounds on top of other things which cause us to question everything the gov’ment tells us, but in that day and age, this wasn’t the case. These people truly felt every thing they were asked to do was helping the war effort and it was their patriotic duty to do it. Telegrams would initiate hysteria, people were suspicious of “spies,” everyone did the best with what they had – whatever that might entail, use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

Rita and Glory don’t exist in a vacuum and the secondary characters flesh out the world in which they live – Glory and Rita’s husbands and son serving overseas, Charlie and Levi who for various reasons didn’t get drafted, Roylene the almost illiterate, downtrodden woman, and Mrs. Kleinschmidt – the suspected German immigrant proving her American bona fides. Together they all give a vivid picture of the people who serve and those waiting for them at home. These are the people volunteering at the USO, tending their Victory gardens, dealing with wartime rationing – some of those recipes actually do sound intriguing, writing letters to GIs, monitoring the blackout curtains – even in Iowa, and worrying that pneumonia could kill children in this era before widely available penicillin.

To be honest the tone of letters did become a tad preachy at times, the advice sought and given almost too pat and perfect in timing. Rita and Glory hardly ever get truly upset with each other in spite of some things each does that annoy and distress the other. They seem almost too willing to forgive and forget after offering a heaping helping of unconditional acceptance. Perhaps this is more in keeping with the mores of the day but some things deserved more “Snap Out of It!” than “Oh, hon, I totally understand.”

One thing I really enjoyed was seeing hints of some of the changes on the horizon for the post war era. Glory wonders how women will go back to kitchen after all the experiences they’ve had in the factories and serving in the military. The Life magazine cover – taken by Elizabeth Bourke White – of the concentration camps signals part of the end of the innocence of the age. That horror and knowledge of the evil men can do will forever cloud their lives now. The men returning home will discover that many of the women they left behind are not who they once knew while the women will learn how the war has altered those who saw its horrors first hand. “I’ll Be Seeing You” offers a little seen glimpse into a time that radically changed a nation and set the stage for the world we know now. It shows women being strong, and weak and human. But most of all being friends. B

~Jayne

 

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