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Posts Tagged ‘1950s’

leavittEisenhower-era conformity and Cold War suspicion inform Caroline Leavitt’s  involving Is This  Tomorrow (Algonquin, trade paperback review copy), where the mystery of a missing child shapes the lives of a neighboring  family. Ava Lark sticks out in the Boston suburb where she rents a house in 1956: a head-turning, divorced, Jewish working mom. Friendly, too, which goes over well with the neighborhood husbands and kids but not the wives and mothers. Her smart 12-year-old son Lewis is also an outsider, casually bullied at school by students who don’t understand his religion and by teachers who wish he would stop with the questions. But he does have two close friends, the fatherless siblings Jimmy and Rose.

When Jimmy disappears — and Ava may have been the last to see him — the police and neighbors have questions, which scare off Ava’s boyfriend, jazz musician Jake. Fast forward to 1963. Lewis has left home to work as a nurse’s aide; he shuns intimacy. He long ago lost touch with Rose, now a lonely schoolteacher who still pines for Lewis. Ava has moved forward, using her pie-making skills to supplement her job as a secretary, but she still lives in the same neighborhood. When Jimmy’s remains are found, Lewis, Rose and Ava awkwardly reunite and face uncomfortable revelations. Leavitt’s spot-on with her ’50s/’60s suburbia as she explores the mystery of  family and character.

lookingformeA brother goes missing in Beth Hoffman’s Looking for Me (Viking/Pamela Dorman, advance readers’ copy), her follow-up to her memorable first novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Like that book, this new one also offers a firm sense of place (the Kentucky hills and Charleston, S.C.) and a colorful cast of Southern characters. The narrative’s a bit choppy, though, as furniture restorer Teddi Overman jumps around in telling  about life in 1990s Charleston, where she owns a successful antiques store, and her girlhood on a Kentucky farm, filling in the backstory in fits and starts.

The Charleston scenes, from the time she apprentices herself to a crusty old dealer to the time when she runs her own show, would make a charming chick-lit tale on their own. Teddi meets her best pal Olivia in a cemetery for quick heart-to-hearts; she turns trashed items into treasures; she enjoys a sweet romance with a local attorney. The visits to Kentucky add drama, as Teddi contends with a controlling mother and wonders about the whereabouts of her free-spirited brother, who disappeared into the woods he loved years ago. Packing up the old house after her mother’s sudden death, Teddi finds clues that Josh may still be alive. “We sift and search and question as we try to discover our truths and the truths of those we love. . .”

typistThe Roaring Twenties are just a dull hum for Rose Baker, the canny narrator of Suzanne Rindell’s clever debut The Other Typist (Amy Einhorn/Putnam, digital galley). An orphan raised in a convent and living in a drab boarding house, Rose takes pride in her work as a police stenographer at a Manhattan precinct in 1923. She doesn’t make mistakes when she takes even the most lurid confessions under the watchful eye of the fatherly sergeant or the flash lieutenant. 

Enter the new girl in the typing pool, the glamorous, enigmatic Odalie, and prudish Rose, first disdainful of this other typist, is soon vying for her attention. The two become fast friends, and Rose immerses herself in Odalie’s life of speakeasies, bootleggers and posh hotels. But this Cinderella tale darkens as Rose’s fascination with the unreliable Odalie turns into obsession, and Rose is in over her head. Or is she?  Murder will out.

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