Historical Fiction

Holy Sexual Awakening

I have a habit of not reading the back of a book before reading it. I read the back to decide if I want it on my shelf, but I won’t reacquaint myself with the story before jumping in. The back of An Almond for a Parrot says Tully Truegood will have a sexual awakening but I wasn’t prepared for how steeped the whole story would be in promiscuity. I couldn’t decide how I liked the book and considered once on putting it down early on, but I’m glad I finished it. The characters were good, Tully went through development, and the magical element enhanced the story.

During the eighteenth-century, Tully grows up an only child with a drunk father and aimg_2577 cook, who isn’t very good at cooking. She never leaves the house and remains uneducated until her father remarried an opinioned woman who brings with her two daughters. This is where I almost put it down, but unlike Cinderella, the new Mrs. Truegood and her daughters are accepting of naïve Tully. Mrs. Truegood find Tully tutors for reading elocution and her new sisters, Mercy and Hope, are there to show her how to wear her new gowns. Mercy is also instrumental in Tully’s sexual awakening. Not only does Mercy explain physical pleasure to Tully, she demonstrates it. It wasn’t the idea of two new step-sisters pleasuring each other that I had a hard time with, but (for lack of a better word) how horny Tully got. Granted she was 16 and the world literally just opened before her but physical pleasure was all she thought about. I don’t say sex because what was under a male’s breeches was still a mystery to her and she was focused on her nights with Mercy for the time being. I was surprised how eloquent Wray Delaney treated the sex scenes. And there’s a lot of them. But they never sounded vulgar. Delaney stayed with the time period and used terms like ‘purse’ and ‘maypole.’ When the sex was passionate for Tully, Delaney made sure her language reflected that so we were never taken out of the scene.

The magical element was subtle but played a huge part for the story. It wouldn’t have been the same without it. Tully is a seer. Since she was little she has been able to see the dead but she never thought much of it. Not until she starts training with Mr. Crease. He shows her how to control it and use it to her benefit, but also the benefit of himself and Queenie. Tully’s father being a drunk and gambled away all his money, married Queenie to settle his debts. Tully finds out Queenie is a courtesan and owns a brothel called The Fairy House where Mercy and Hope work. Tully leaves her father’s house to live at The Fairy House where Mr. Crease trains her to they can perform together at the masquerade ball for the opening of The Fairy House. Mr. Crease can’t explain everything Tully is able to do but together they put on a show for the elite of London, and thus starts her reputation of being a witch. This doesn’t stop gentleman for paying a handsome sum to spend the night with her.

The only thing that bothered me about the start of her career as a courtesan is she seemed to luck out. Her first client pays to take her virginity and pays to make her his full time mistress. While he is in London, she can’t be visited by any other man. And of course he is handsome and passionate and she falls in love with him. Her second client moves her out of The Fairy House to live with him in his estate and even furthers her education by teaching her French. She again falls in love and returns to The Fairy House with jewels and money after his death. It was all too easy and convenient. It’s not until her third client that she learns what it means to be a whore, continually sleeping with a man who reminds you he’s paid for this and expects you to be arm candy when seen in public together.

The more I think about the story, I like it. We watch as Tully starts as a sheltered young girl to grow into an opinioned young woman. Delaney did a great job moving the story forward with drama and even a little action. It was an historical fiction that was easy to read, even with the graphic sex scenes. They never pulled me out of the story and were suited for the plot. It was maybe too much of a happy ending with everything working out a little too perfectly, but it was hard not to be happy for Tully that it all came together.

Field Nurse’s Horror

The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo is a historical fiction book about World War ll. It’s an event authors continue to use as their back drop, probably because of the savagery of it, the horrors of the Holocaust that continue to peak our morbid curiosity. Teresa Messineo doesn’t focus on the Holocaust, doesn’t even bring it up. Instead she tells us the stories of the field nurses. The women who volunteered, were sent overseas with the troops and set up medical tents img_2424amongst the fighting to care for the soldiers as soon as they were wounded. The Fire By Night follows two friends after they’ve been dispatched to their separate posts and the horrors they faced.

Jo and Kay met in nursing school and when they enlist together, they are sent to opposite ends of the world. Jo spends most of this story in France. She was left behind in a makeshift medical tent, waiting for the convoy to bring them to the hospital that never comes back. Kay is among thousands of people in a Japanese POW camp in Manila. While Jo stays busy keeping her six patients alive with her dwindling supplies, Kay reminisces about Hawaii before Pearl Harbor and write to Jo, knowing these letters will never reach her. Both women survive but will battle their demons while trying to figure out how to live in civilization once again.

Teresa Messineo managed to turn prose into poetry. Everything on the page was eloquent and gut wrenching. Messineo dug deep into what these women were thinking, how they were feeling, what they did to survive. My one critique of the story is from the middle; while chapters alternated between Jo and Kay, they became repetitive. Both women would feel such dismay, they wanted to give up altogether, but something would happen right at the end of the chapter, they would remember why they couldn’t give up and their spirits would be lifted enough to make it through to the next day. This went on for several chapters until both women were recused from their respective prisons.

It’s always good to stretch out of your genre once in a while. I’ve always enjoyed the historical fiction I’ve rea, I just have to remind myself not to take it as truth. Teresa Messineo’s writing easily makes this book worth reading. I really did enjoy seeing World War ll from a nurse’s point of view. Jo and Kay were strong and vulnerable in all the right ways. With The Fire By Night being Messineo’s debut novel, I can’t imagine what will be next.

 

 

By Emily Coleman