For your Valentine gift this year, I’m offering up an in-depth fictional look at four fascinating women who defied the rules of their time to live life on their own terms, bringing them fame, notoriety, love, and heartbreak.
Moving chronologically, we begin with THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN by Stephanie Barron. When beautiful, willful, wealthy Jennie Jerome, who grew up in Gilded Age Newport and Second Empire Paris, agrees to marry the son of a duke she’s known for just three days, she’s thrust into the maelstrom of British politics and society. The husband of the new Lady Randolph Churchill is a member of the Marlborough House Set, well-born men seeking political rank and fortune. As a charming but free-thinking American skeptical of British social rules, Jennie quickly wins both admirers—and enemies. Mother of one of the twentieth century’s most important men, she works to further her husband’s Parliamentary career while remaining true to herself. And when, as tragic illness loosens her husband’s grip on sanity, she falls in love with compelling diplomat Count Charles Kinsky, she must decide how much destruction she’s willing to risk to follow her heart.
The Churchill story continues with LADY CLEMENTINE by Marie Benedict, which gives us insight into the fierce but quiet woman who shared her life with Jennie’s son, Winston. Long overshadowed by her famous husband, the Clemmie that emerges here is far more interesting and talented than a mere foil for genius. After a scandalous childhood as the daughter of a famously promiscuous mother, when 23-year-old Clementine met 34-year-old Winston Churchill, both were swept away by the other’s strong-minded intelligence. Thus began a love affair that would endure political downturns, financial difficulties, frequent separations and occasional tantrums. Clemmie excelled as a politician’s wife, helping Winston with his speeches, tempering his brashness, charming diplomats and political opponents alike. Although her husband could be mercurial and demanding, he valued her advice and depended utterly on her support. She carved some space for herself, sponsoring war work and taking long jaunts away from her family, but for the most part, her life was consumed by Winston, to the detriment of her children and to the brink of depression. But as Benedict’s books clearly shows, the brilliance that was Winston Churchill would not have been possible without the steadfast woman by his side.
We move to pre-World War II Britain in THE KENNEDY DEBUTANTE by Kerri Maher. When Joseph Kennedy was named ambassador to Great Britain, he brought his family with him, introducing his charming and effervescent daughter Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy into the cream of London’s High Society. Quickly drawn into the circle of the young, rich and famous, Kick falls in love with Billy Hartington, future Duke of Devonshire—a match neither the Catholic Kennedys nor the Protestant Hartingtons favor. When war interrupts, sending the Kennedys back to the U.S., Kick joins the Red Cross and works as a journalist, determined to return to England and the man she loves. Although Maher’s account gives us interesting background on the other Kennedys—ambitious parents Joe and Rose, rising stars Joe Jr. and Jack, the troubled Rosemary, it is Kick who holds center stage as she struggles to reconcile duty to her family and faith with the demands of her heart.
We complete our look at famous ladies with THE OTHER WINDSOR GIRL: A NOVEL OF PRINCESS MARGARET, ROYAL REBEL by Georgie Blalock. With the heightened interest in the Queen’s younger sister generated by the epic miniseries, “The Crown,” Blalock’s book gives us a timely in-depth look at a girl and a woman who struggled to find her place in the shadow of a throne which limited her choices and magnified her mistakes. In the midst of grim post-War II Britain, a nation still beset by shortages and rationing, the fashionable, witty Margaret shines, star of the young, wealthy aristocrats who form the “Margaret Set.” Seen through the eyes of Vera Strathmore, the woman who becomes one of Margaret’s ladies-in-waiting, we see Margaret as she careens into a love affair with divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend—the only man she wants, and one that religion and duty forbid her to marry. The heartbroken and bitter Margaret is fair game for the dashing, dangerous photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, who tempts her to rebel even as he deceives her. An intimate glimpse into the scandals, intrigues and heartache that made Margaret both admired and pitied.
Ready to learn more about the lives of some famous ladies who were larger-than-life? Pick out your favorite Valentine chocolate, your favorite 20th century time frame, and settle in for a great read!
BOOKS RECOMMENDED IN THIS COLUMN:
The Paris Wife meets PBS’s Victoria in this
enthralling novel of the life and loves of one of history’s
most remarkable women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous
American mother, Jennie Jerome.
Wealthy, privileged, and fiercely independent New Yorker
Jennie Jerome took Victorian England by storm when she
landed on its shores. As Lady Randolph Churchill, she gave
birth to a man who defined the twentieth century: her son
Winston. But Jennie—reared in the luxury of Gilded Age
Newport and the Paris of the Second Empire—lived an
outrageously modern life all her own, filled with
controversy, passion, tragedy, and triumph.
When the nineteen-year-old beauty agrees to marry the son of
a duke she has known only three days, she’s instantly swept
up in a whirlwind of British politics and the breathless
social climbing of the Marlborough House Set, the reckless
men who surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Raised to think
for herself and careless of English society rules, the new
Lady Randolph Churchill quickly becomes a London sensation:
adored by some, despised by others.
Artistically gifted and politically shrewd, she shapes her
husband’s rise in Parliament and her young son’s difficult
passage through boyhood. But as the family’s influence
soars, scandals explode and tragedy befalls the Churchills.
Jennie is inescapably drawn to the brilliant and seductive
Count Charles Kinsky—diplomat, skilled horse-racer, deeply
passionate lover. Their impossible affair only intensifies
as Randolph Churchill’s sanity frays, and Jennie—a woman
whose every move on the public stage is judged—must walk a
tightrope between duty and desire. Forced to decide where
her heart truly belongs, Jennie risks everything—even her
son—and disrupts lives, including her own, on both sides of
Breathing new life into Jennie’s legacy and the gilded world
over which she reigned, That Churchill Woman paints a
portrait of the difficult—and sometimes impossible—balance
between love, freedom, and obligation, while capturing the
spirit of an unforgettable woman, one who altered the course
Historical [Ballantine Books, On Sale: January 22, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781524799564 / eISBN: 9781524799571]
New from Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room! An incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill.
In 1909, Clementine Churchill steps off a train with her new husband, Winston. An angry woman emerges from the crowd to attack, shoving him in the direction of an oncoming train. Just before he stumbles, Clementine grabs him by his suit jacket. This will not be the last time Clementine Churchill saves her husband.
Lady Clementine is the ferocious story of the brilliant and ambitious woman beside Winston Churchill, the story of a partner who did not flinch through the sweeping darkness of war, and who would not surrender either to expectations or to enemies.
Historical [Sourcebooks Landmark, On Sale: January 20, 2020, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781492666905 / eISBN: 9781492666905]
Now in paperback, the captivating novel following the exploits of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, the forgotten and rebellious daughter of one of America’s greatest political dynasties.
London, 1938. The effervescent “It girl” of London society since her father was named the ambassador, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy moves in rarefied circles, rubbing satin-covered elbows with some of the twentieth century’s most powerful figures. Eager to escape the watchful eye of her strict mother, Rose; the antics of her older brothers, Jack and Joe; and the erratic behavior of her sister Rosemary, Kick is ready to strike out on her own and is soon swept off her feet by Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire.
But their love is forbidden, as Kick’s devout Catholic family and Billy’s staunchly Protestant one would never approve their match. And when war breaks like a tidal wave across her world, Billy is ripped from her arms as the Kennedys are forced to return to the States. Kick finds work as a journalist and joins the Red Cross to get back to England, where she will have to decide where her true loyalties lie—with family or with love. .
Women’s Fiction Historical [Berkley, On Sale: August 13, 2019, Trade Size / e-Book (reprint), ISBN: 9780451492050 / eISBN: 9780451492067]
In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret’s fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret’s second Lady-in-Waiting.
Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.
In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?
Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancé was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.
But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…
Historical [William Morrow Paperbacks, On Sale: November 5, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062871497 / ]
Buy THE OTHER WINDSOR GIRL: Amazon.com | Kindle
| BN.com | Powell’s Books | Books-A-Million | Indiebound | Ripped Bodice | Love’s Sweet Arrow | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR
About Julia Justiss
Real, intense, passionate historical romance
After twelve years as a vagabond Navy wife, an adventure that took her from Virginia Beach, VA, to Monterrey, CA, to Tunis, Tunisia to Oslo, Norway and back, Julia Justiss followed her husband to his family’s East Texas homeland. On a hill above a pond with a view of pasture land, they built an English Georgian-style home. Sitting at her desk there, if she ignores the summer heat, she can almost imagine herself in Jane Austen’s Regency England.
In between teaching high school French and making jaunts to visit her three children (a Seabee in Gulfport, MS, a clothing buyer in Houston and a mechanical engineer in Austin, TX) she pursues her first love—writing historical fiction.