Friday, May 24, 2019

The Secret Life of Mrs. London - Rebecca Rosenberg

Summary: 2019 Gold Medal IPPY Winner! 

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: One of my favorite things about historical fiction, or historical fact-based fiction, is that I learn about connections in history I didn’t know about before. I am, of course, talking about this book in particular, but it seems to happen a lot. Did you know that Jack London’s second wife, Charmian London, had an alleged affair (and I don’t know how extensive it was, the book is fiction) with Harry Houdini? It didn’t even occur to me that Jack London and Harry Houdini lived at the same time, let alone had a relationship, let alone that Harry Houdini would then have an affair with Jack London’s wife. I mean, my mind is blown. Maybe you do a better job of putting history together than I do, but I love finding out these little fun facts. Even though this book embellishes the relationship between Houdini and Charmian, the fact that there was any relationship at all is just fascinating to me.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was learning more about both Jack London and Harry Houdini. I feel like Harry Houdini is on everybody’s radar—he’s still legendary, even with all of the magic acts that that go on today. He is, without a doubt, a legend. I didn’t know as much about Jack London. I knew he was an author, but I didn’t realize how prolific he was or how popular he was at the time. His books are still popular today, of course, but at the time he was really, really famous. This is something else I love about historical books—they can give you an idea of what was popular then and how it relates to our history in general. Just like we have popular authors today and popular magicians today who have made an impact on our culture, these two made a huge cultural impact on people living at that time.

Another thing I love about historical fiction is that it gives a cultural glimpse into what life was like back then. I am fascinated by how people used to live—what they ate, what they did, where they lived, what they saw, etc. Good historical fiction does a great job of transporting the reader back to time and place. I feel that this book did a good job of that. There were cultural things that existed then that don’t exist now, especially in regard to food and servants and medical treatment. I don’t know about you, but I am forever grateful for modern medicine when I read about historical medical treatments.

Although I found the content of this book to be really interesting, I didn’t always love the execution. It was very much a women’s literature book, and at times it felt like a romance novel. I’m not saying this because there was excessive, descriptive sex or something (although there was some), but the emotional instability of the women and the somewhat cheesy writing in regards to the women’s thoughts and feelings made it feel like a women’s lit book. I know some people really enjoy that, I’m not necessarily one of them. These were strong female characters, don’t get me wrong, and they definitely had some depth to them, I just felt like the writing was a little cheesy at times in regards to them and their relationships with the men. I am not a romance novel reader, however, and I think that this part of the writing could be more on par with romance novel writing, albeit very tame romance novel writing.

If you are interested in history, especially Jack London and Harry Houdini, I think this would be an interesting book for you to check out. As mentioned above, much of it is fiction, although it is based on the real relationships between the men and women in this book, which I found to be fascinating and also really surprising.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex.

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