I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
I really liked this story. I’ve read some of Ms. Armstrong’s work in the past and her prose is always easy to read and enjoyable. The premise here of a modern day female detective transported through time when she’s attacked in a dark lane in old Edinburgh is creative and right up this reader’s alley. Being a huge fan of Edinburgh and having experienced the magic of the city firsthand, in this reader’s opinion, it’s the perfect setting for the story. A very atmospheric town and extra creepy in 1869 when the lighting would have been candles or gas lights.
The heroine is plucky and savvy and learns quickly that she’ll have to work hard to try to fit in where most everything is unfamiliar. The work she has to do as a housemaid is tough yet she realizes a roof over her head in those hard times is worth the backbreaking chores. Even the cleaning of the chamber pots.
Ms. Armstrong does a great job evoking the era in housing and the sights/smells of an old city as well as the biases against women and people of mixed race.
The supporting characters are well-drawn and appealing with each having unique qualities. I especially enjoyed the brother and sister and how they interacted with the heroine as well as each other and the local police detective. There were parts that strained credulity, but being as it’s a time travel story, realism was always going to take a back seat.
The heroine was flawed and made mistakes which made the tale more exciting. A perfect heroine is always dull. The person whose body the heroine was transported into was a wicked person and I’m glad the heroine made many attempts to try to make things right with the people the real housemaid harmed.
It appears there will be more stories with these characters which is great as they each have their own unique back story and I, for one, look forward to exploring more of old Edinburgh with them and learning more about their lives.
I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
This fictionalized version of the true story of the founder of Shakespeare and Company in Paris (Sylvia Beach) was very well-researched and it was clear the author knew her subject well. The bibliography at the end of the book was extensive and I admire the author for all the hard work she did to familiarize herself with Paris in the early part of the 20th Century as well as her subject and the literati of the time. Her writing showed she had great affection for the era and all the inhabitants of the tale.
The friendships of Ms. Beach with Ezra Pound, Earnest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, as well as James Joyce added luster to her life and life to the bookstore. Sylvia battled mightily for James Joyce’s book Ulysses to be published—eventually becoming the publisher herself. The ins and outs of their relationship were explored well by the author of this book. Quite frankly, I didn’t have any idea what kind of person Joyce really was. We’ve all heard about him, of course, but the way he was portrayed in this book made me quite dislike him. As the book was well-researched (including letters between Beach and Joyce), I don’t doubt the author’s portrayal as accurate.
The face that Ms. Beach and her partner were living openly in a same-sex relationship in the 1920s was remarkable to me. Paris and France were always more liberal than most places—and I was glad to see these relationships (like Gertrude Stein’s as well) were accepted and not looked at askance. There may have been a bit too much behind closed doors scenes for this reader, but it wasn’t too jarring.
I also enjoyed learning more about Ezra Pound and the kind of person he was—a great friend to Ms. Beach. The parts of the book dealing with the publication, banning and legal fights over Ulysses were especially intriguing. The journey to the publication of the book was fascinating and, as a lawyer, I was intrigued by the court battles over obscenity and the banning of the book in the United States.
This book was a pleasure to read—while based on real people and true events, the author made the history come alive by creating a heroine of Sylvia Beach that showed her as a kind, fascinating individual who stood up for what and who she believed in even if one of those people treated her abominably. I enjoyed the journey of the story and the way the characters were made real and fresh.