About the Book
It’s 1939. On the brink of World War II, Jane Benjamin wants to have it all. By day she hustles as a scruffy, tomboy cub reporter. By night she secretly struggles to raise her toddler sister, Elsie, and protect her from their mother. But Jane’s got a plan: she’ll become the San Francisco Prospect’s first gossip columnist and make enough money to care for Elsie.
Jane finagles her way to the women’s championship at Wimbledon, starring her hometown’s tennis phenom and cover girl Tommie O’Rourke. She plans to write her first column there. But then she witnesses Edith “Coach” Carlson, Tommie’s closest companion, drop dead in the stands of apparent heart attack, and her plan is thrown off track.
While sailing home on the RMS Queen Mary, Jane veers between competing instincts: Should she write a social bombshell column, personally damaging her new friend Tommie’s persona and career? Or should she work to uncover the truth of Coach’s death, which she now knows was a murder, and its connection to a larger conspiracy involving US participation in the coming war?
Putting away her menswear and donning first-class ballgowns, Jane discovers what upper-class status hides, protects, and destroys. Ultimately – like nations around the globe in 1939 – she must choose what she’ll give up in order to do what’s right.
Format: Paperback (312 pages) Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 28th June 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Tomboy is the second in the author’s historical mystery series featuring cub reporter Jane Benjamin. I can reassure readers who, like me, haven’t read the first book in the series, Copy Boy, that Tomboy works perfectly well as a standalone. The references to events in the earlier book provide new readers with a tantalising glimpse of Jane’s colourful journey to date. I say colourful but much of that colour is of a pretty dark hue as the occasional flashbacks to her early life demonstrate. She’s had a tough upbringing, witnessing violence and neglect as part of a family with an itinerant lifestyle. It’s given her a strong survival instinct.
Jane is feisty, resourceful, ambitious and determined her gender shouldn’t be an obstacle to achieving her journalistic ambitions. She’s had to learn to rely on herself from an early age but now finds herself with responsibility for her baby sister, Elsie. It’s a responsibility she feels quite conflicted about; she loves her little sister but she also wants to advance her career and the two don’t mix well. Jane’s clear-eyed about her own shortcomings and honest enough to admit she often makes decisions that adversely affect other people.
I really enjoyed the lively writing style and how the author recreated the atmosphere aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary from the luxury suites to the celebrities hobnobbing in the exclusive Verandah Grill (such as Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne and Fred Astaire) and, at the other end of the scale, the crew members in the bowels of the ship making their own amusement in the ‘Pig ‘n’ Whistle’. Thrust into an unfamiliar luxury lifestyle through her friendship with tennis star Tommie O’Rourke, Jane finds herself at sea, both literally and metaphorically. A bang on the head and a broken nose don’t help.
The mystery at the heart of the book is not quite of the ‘locked room’ variety as the suspicious death has already occurred before the Queen Mary sets sail, but all the people who might have been involved are amongst the passengers and as Jane delves deeper she uncovers some unexpected things, not always by legitimate methods. I thought things got a little jumbled up towards the end of the book (or perhaps that was just me) and Jane’s angst over whether she was doing the right thing seemed to overshadow the unravelling of the mystery. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my first encounter with Jane in whose company life is never going to be dull.
Tomboy is published today as an ebook and will be available in paperback on 11th August 2022. My thanks to Tabitha at She Writes Press for my digital review copy via NetGalley.
In three words: Lively, characterful, intriguing
Try something similar: The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear
About the Author
Shelley Blanton-Stroud grew up in California’s Central Valley, the daughter of Dust Bowl immigrants who made good on their ambition to get out of the field and into the city. She taught college writing for three decades and consults with writers in the energy industry. She co-directs Stories on Stage Sacramento, where actors perform the stories of established and emerging authors, and she serves on the advisory board of 916 Ink, an arts-based creative writing nonprofit for children. She has also served on the Writers’ Advisory Board for the Belize Writers’ Conference. Tomboy is the second book in her Jane Benjamin series. Her debut novel, Copy Boy, was the first. Shelley and her husband live in Sacramento with an aging beagle and many photos of their out-of-state sons. (Photo: Goodreads author page)