30in30 #26: new author

gcls01gen080

Task #26 in 30 in 30 is to read a new author. The author is Sandra Moran and the book is Letters Never Sent.

For some reason I didn’t manage to speak with Sandra at Dallas last year, although I obviously saw her and took this pic. I was running around too much and too focused on getting pics I guess. I certainly hope she will be at Portland this year. I found out that we both run, so hopefully we have something in common to talk about.

One of the first things Carleen told me to do after the con was to get Sandra’s book and read it. Part of it was set in Chicago against the backdrop of the World’s Fair; she told me how realistic the description was and how I would recognise the street names, buildings and the atmosphere of Chicago in the 1930s. She also said (and read her review) that it’s a must read book and I always listen to her recommendations.

Here’s the blurb:

Three women, united by love and kinship, struggle to conform to the social norms of the times in which they lived.

In 1931, Katherine Henderson leaves behind her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy to live on her own and work at the Sears & Roebuck glove counter in Chicago. There she meets Annie—a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is and what she thinks she wants in life.

In 1997, Katherine’s daughter, Joan, travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden away in an old suitcase, she finds a wooden box containing trinkets and a packet of sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial.

Joan reads the unsent letters and discovers a woman completely different from the aloof and unyielding mother of her youth-a woman who had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control. Now she just has to find the strength to use the healing power of empathy and forgiveness to live the life she’s always wanted to live.

I usually pick thrillers or paranormal stories before ones that have historical elements, mainly because I’m not that interested in history. That said, I thought the way the book weaved between the 1930s and 1990s was done brilliantly. I loved that the 1930s wasn’t written as flashback, or as told by a storyteller in the 1990s. There were more details and we learned more about the characters and interactions of the older MCs, Katherine and Annie. And then we come back to the 1990s and we see how the daughter, Joan, was affected by the story of her mother. I also loved how the story unfolded, there was so much depth that it was a delight as each layer was revealed.

So often, we get characters who are tall, dark and impossibly beautiful, who are CEOs in their twenties, live in huge mansions and can walk on water while juggling. Ugh. We don’t get this in this book. America in the 1930s was economically and socially a very different time from now, and the hardships and social pressures were depicted realistically. Some of the actions and decisions made by the characters weren’t stellar either, and that makes them so real and so compelling to read.

There was a twist at the end of the story but I figured it out quite early — very shortly after Joan arrived at her mother’s house. The middle part of the book I wasn’t quite sure I’d gotten it right, and I was so happy when it turned out to be true. (I’m trying to be vague and non-spoliery here). I wasn’t obsessed with the clue though, I was busy being caught up with the story itself.

I have a couple of small criticisms. There was a mention of London Times, just in passing. It’s one of my pet peeves because there is no such paper. Secondly, there were two tiny, minute geographical inaccuracies about Chicago that only someone who is OCD will notice. Or perhaps streets were different in the 1930s and therefore I am wrong. Sometimes I get caught up with these small things and I end up not liking or even finishing the book, but it wasn’t the case here.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I finished it, and immediately scrolled back to the beginning to read it again. It’s one of those books that stay on your mind long after you finish, and you can’t help but think about the characters or the setting or a particular scene.