Spring always brings a sense of anticipation. The cold and gloom of winter brighten into the season of warmth and rebirth, where new life seems full of limitless possibilities, encouraging the idea that hard work can lead to success, maybe even to fame and fortune.
Inspired by the return of spring, the heroines of the novels we’ll look at this month all reinvent themselves to become, or be associated with, the rich, famous and powerful.
We begin chronologically with THE DREAM LOVER by Elizabeth Berg. In the late 1800’s, a young woman breaks away from a painful childhood and a failed marriage to establish herself under a new name and a new identity in Paris. Aurore Dupin has always dreamed of being a writer, and in a heady atmosphere of artistic, intellectual and social change, she takes the name “George Sand” and never looks back. Her unconventional, iconoclastic spirit finally free of restraint, she becomes one of the most famous and controversial figures of the age, taking as friends and lovers such leading lights as Frederick Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval and Alfred de Musset. Berg brings to life both her fascinating subject and the vibrant intensity of Beaux-Arts Paris.
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.
Paris in the nineteenth-century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?
Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.
Moving to the early years of the 1900’s, we have THE DRESSMAKER by Kate Alcott. Aspiring seamstress Tess Collins thinks she’s taken the first step to achieving her dreams when she is hired as personal maid to Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, famous designer for socialites and Hollywood royalty. Her first task is to accompany her volatile employer to New York—on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. One of the last to board a lifeboat, Tess is taken with other survivors to New York, where disturbing rumors begin to surface that Lady Duff Gordan insisted on saving herself at the expense of others. Can Tess remain with the woman when she suspects the rumors may be true? Or break with her employer, earning her enmity and perhaps the ruin of her dreams of becoming a designer? Amid the glamor and seductive allure of success, Tess must evaluate the consequences of pursuing her dream.
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.
Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she’s had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic’s doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.
Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.
On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period’s glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.
Paula McLain brings to life another of history’s fascinating figures in CIRCLING THE SUN: A NOVEL. Brought up in 1920’s colonial Kenya, Beryl Markham develops a passionate love for the wild—land, animals and people. Her mother having abandoned the family soon after their arrival, the rebellious Beryl grew up under the care of a housekeeper, other African children her closest playmates. When her father later gives up the farm, at sixteen she marries another farmer—a hopeless drunk—and finds purpose in training horses, bringing her to the notice of the dissolute Happy Valley set. Along the way, she becomes a friend of Karen Blixon, falls in love with Denys Finch-Hatton, and through him, finds a new outlet for her fierce need for freedom–in the air. Leaving Kenya, she will move on to become the first woman pilot to fly from Europe to America. For anyone who loved Out of Africa, McLain’s novel is a sympathetic and riveting story of the African milieu that molded this contradictory and complex woman.
Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.
Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.
Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.
Kate Alcott gives us another glimpse into the high life of celebrity and glamour with TOUCH OF STARDUST: A NOVEL. This time, it’s the vivid settings and outsized egos of the Golden Age of Hollywood, seen through the eyes of a young Midwestern woman with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. But the only job Julie Crawford can find upon arriving in California is in the publicity office of producer David O. Selznick, who is currently in the throes of making one of the most iconic movies of all time, Gone With the Wind. She’s drawn further into the heady excitement of the film world when the profane, uninhibited Carole Lombard hires her as her personal assistant. Carole’s unapologetic affair with technically-still-married Clark Cable creates headaches for a studio anxious to avoid negative publicity, but as friendship grows between Julie and her employer, she comes to admire this woman who lives life on her own terms—providing a model for Julie to break free of her own past. Set against the tumultuous making of Gone With the Wind, spiced by the drama and intrigue of two great love affairs—Rhett and Scarlet on the screen, and Lombard and Gable off it, and with troubling indications of a new war brewing in Europe, Alcott’s novel examines the choices Julie must make—and their cost.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind the scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress Carole Lombard.
When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Hollywood, she never imagines she’ll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie’s provincial Midwestern hometown. The young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, but the only job Julie’s able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick, who is busy burning through directors, writers, and money as he films Gone with the Wind.
Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie’s access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable, who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.
Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio because Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blond employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole’s mouth, and—as their friendship grows—Julie soon finds she doesn’t want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie’s model for breaking free of the past.
In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and offscreen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance her career aspirations and her own budding romance with the outsized personalities and overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.
Ready to throw on a boa, some pearls and embrace your inner self? May the arrival of spring—and a little time spent vicariously among this month’s larger-than-life personalities–help you take the leap!
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.
“Duty can also be pleasure, Lady Alyssa…”
When politician Benedict Tawny set out to save Lady Alyssa from a nefarious plot, he never expected to find himself trapped in a compromising situation with the alluring lady! Now duty demands he propose…and claim her as his bride!
Tainted by his illegitimacy, Ben knows he can’t give Alyssa the life of luxury she deserves. But if he can convince her to succumb to the undeniable heat between them, their convenient marriage might just lead to the love of a lifetime!
Romance Historical [Harlequin Historical Romance, On Sale: February 21, 2017, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780373299218 / eISBN: 9781488021190]