Judy Alter admits to being a storyteller, not a historian. In this tale of the early inhabitants of her beloved, Chicago, she is guided by her characters in the delightful story she weaves. Cissy Palmer, married to the proprietor of the famous Palmer House Hotel which exists to this day, interacts with real and imagined personalities and lives through real events (The Great Fire, a POW Civil War camp, The Hay Market Riot, and the Columbian Exposition.) I stayed at the Palmer House many years ago and so that made The Gilded Cage a fun and informative read for me.
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Susan Wittig Albert is a genius at imagining the parts of the story left blank by history as she demonstrated in both The General’s Women (Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower and Kay Summersby) and Loving Eleanor (Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hicks). With compassion and insight, she brings the complicated relationships she has researched thoroughly alive, giving us a realistic sense of their personalities, needs, and motivations. In The General’s Women, we are also taken into the behind-the-scenes military realm of World War II as Ike strategizes to defeat Hitler’s forces. A bonus is Albert’s lengthy author’s note at the end outlining her extensive research and how and why she wove it together the way she did. A bibliography is included for those interested in learning more about the people and places central to this compelling story.
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Barbara Stark-Nemon’s attention to detail in her extensively-researched historical novel, Even in Darkness, based on the true story of her great aunt, Klare Kohler, is remarkable. It brings to life the events surrounding this German-Jewish family before and during World War II and the holocaust. What touched me the most is the way Klare accepted love into her life even though it did not present itself in conventional forms. I suspect that is the secret to her being able to thrive despite living through one of the most horrendous of times in the history of the world. Stark-Nemon’s story is beautifully and soulfully written. Her great aunt is an inspiration for anyone facing difficult choices in life.
Susan Wittig Albert’s impeccable research makes Loving Eleanor a winner. It brings to life one the darkest periods in our nation’s history, The Great Depression, making you feel you are there with the characters struggling through it.
Best of all is the story of what women friends do for each other. Because of Lorena Hick’s deep love and mentoring, Eleanor Roosevelt fulfills her destiny as a beloved public figure bestowing compassion and wisdom during a time when it is sorely needed.
Added to that is a poignant story of Eleanor and Hick’s (the name those in her inner circle called her) intimate love, beautifully and sensitively told.
What touched me is Eleanor and Hick’s courage in being true to themselves despite many forces working to fit them into a mold. Both these women are extraordinary.
“Do what you feel in your heart is right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt