Tag Archives: heiress

Famous or Infamous?

FamousWomenDoes your bookclub select reading material based on a theme? Mine does on occasion and now I think we should have picked this gem to honor International Women’s Day (March 8th). The book I’m taking about is Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise. This volume contains a collection of stories about women who may have been more infamous than famous or were condemned to hide their talents in the shadow of their more famous relatives.

Bergman expertly takes us into the lives of women such as Standard Oil heiress “Joe” Carstairs, a cross-dressing speed boat racer and master of her own island; Allegra, the cast-off willful, illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron; “Tiny” Davis, an outspoken jazz trumpeter and vocalist in the first mixed-race female swing band touring the Jim Crow south; Butterfly McQueen, the maid in Gone With the Wind who wants to leave her body to science; and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s equally talented and fiercely loyal sister, Norma, just to name a few. Bergman gives us a glimpse into their lives, usually not in their voice, but through the observations of a close friend, loved one, or care-giver, which provides a unique view. The vignettes range in length from a lengthy short story to just a few pages, but each is packed with heartbreaking detail and insight.

Some of the stories feel complete, some feel as if we were allowed a peek through a window for just a moment in their lives. Each one, however, sent me running to the computer to read much more about these fascinating and tragic women.

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The Impersonator – A Mystery

ImpersonatorWho doesn’t love a tale of secret identities, impersonators of kings or heiresses, or body-doubles.  Mary Miley in her “First Crime Novel” award winning story, The Impersonator, gives us just that.  It is the tale of a down-and-out vaudeville actress who is approached by an unscrupulous uncle to take on the identity of his niece, the heiress Jessie Carr, who mysteriously disappeared seven years ago.  If actress Leah Randall can convince Jessie Carr’s family that it is she, Jessie, who has returned, she stands to inherit a fortune on her upcoming twenty-first birthday.  Leah/Jessie wins over the family–all but cousin Henry–who is the one who knows Jessie’s true fate.  The tale is told through Leah’s eyes as she likens the challenge to the greatest acting role of her life, but with life-and-death stakes if she fails.  The backdrop of events is early 1920’s Oregon in a world of Prohibition, bootleggers, jazz age costumes, and larger than life stars of vaudeville.  It’s a good tale despite seeing some of the twists and turns coming down the road beforehand, and will keep a reader engaged to the end in order to see if Leah/Jessie pulls it off.  The narrative voice of Leah is fun, if somewhat unbelievable.  The story sometimes drags a bit when the author puts all she’s learned about the era into the mouth of a character for a long exposition on a topic, but it is forgivable.  Miley has done her homework on the vaudeville era of the early ’20’s (but I did catch a few phrases that were not likely used at that time.)  The ending is very dramatic (no spoilers) and reads more like a romantic thriller perhaps, than a murder mystery.  Miley has followed up with a second novel out this year which continues this character’s story called “Silent Murders,” focusing on the silent movie era.

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