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Book Review: Grace in the Wings by Kari Bovee

Grace Michelle never asked for stardom or fame. Content to sew costumes with her mentor Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, Grace doesn’t need adoration from anyone, but when her sister Sophia, a rising starlet in the Ziegfeld Follies, begins a rapid downhill spiral and then ends up dead, Grace is thrust into the spotlight by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. Flo was her savior, rescuing Grace and Sophia from a life on the streets when they were mere children, and now Grace feels obligated to take up the reins and save his floundering Follies, but Grace knows her sister’s death was no accident and definitely not the suicide those around her believe. However, the only place to find the truth is California where her sister was last seen alive with her new husband, Jack Pickford, brother to the famous actress Mary Pickford. When Flo sends her from New York to Hollywood on a promotional tour, Grace reluctantly agrees even though it means traveling with Chet Riker, a private investigator indebted to mobster Joe Marciano with whom Flo has made a shady deal to finance his new show. Haunted by Sophia’s death and overwhelmed by the pressure to bring Flo success, Grace doesn’t need to fall for the handsome stranger, but neither can deny the longing they feel. As Grace gets closer to the truth, she realizes everyone is keeping secrets, even Chet, and the only person she can rely on is herself. But will she be enough? 

A significant issue raised within the novel is that of female independence. At twenty years old, Grace is just beginning to understand who she is and what she wants from life. Having moved from seamstress to junior designer, she is finally on the path she most desires, one spent in the shadows of the stage, not in the gleaming gel lights. Grace has no desire to become a stage sensation and is content to let Sophia have that honor though both have spent the last seven years taking dance, voice, and acting lessons thrust upon them by their benefactor, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. However, Sophia succumbs to the lure of alcohol, drugs, and the attention of powerful men, leaving Grace to pick up the pieces with a forced sense of obligation. She cannot comprehend why her sister would give up the power she has gained through her career to follow a frivolous, unstable man (Jack Pickford) across the country. She is also completely flabbergasted to learn that Sophia had carried on an illicit affair with more than one man, including and most especially, Flo. Grace is disgusted and shocked and quickly comes to the realization that Sophia’s feelings for these men in no small part come from fear for her future, falling victim to promises of marriage that are never going to find fulfillment. Sophia and Grace have had to claw for survival, especially Sophia, who always took care of her younger sister. As Grace finds her voice literally and figuratively, she knows she cannot follow in her sister’s footsteps, neither on stage nor in life. As she investigates Sophia’s death, she becomes emboldened and more sure of herself. She learns to challenge those in power, people to whom she normally would have cowed, and the more strength she finds, the more righteous anger develops–mostly for Flo for having taken advantage of first Sophia with their physical relationship and then Grace by forcing her into a career she doesn’t want. Though she will fulfill her obligatory role in his new scheme, she vows to fight for freedom once she has finished, to never again allow a man to take care of her but to put her own feet on the ground when and where she chooses. 

Chet Riker is more than just a pretty face. Tall, dark, and handsome, he fits the mold of most romance heroes; however, Chet’s story adds another layer to this period thriller. Chet is haunted by his memories of World War I, a man with a complicated past, but not in the expected “brooding hunk” way.  Chet was given up by his mother when he was a boy. Old enough to remember her, he spent his life wanting to find her again someday, but when he does, he discovers she is dying and in need of an expensive operation. His need for money drives him to borrow and gamble and leaves him in the debt of a vicious mobster. That debt takes him to Flo, who then attempts to use him in an illegal scheme, and eventually sets him up as an unwitting conspirator in his machinations to use Grace. He knows he must pay off his debts or risk his PI career–and possibly his life. Torn between his anger at being used by these two men and his newfound love of Grace Michelle, Chet will have to decide between honor and honesty or ruthlessness and reputation. His story, much like Grace’s, will force him to fight for independence or to remain a captured pawn in a game of titans. 

Set against the glamorous stage of the Roaring Twenties, this star-studded whodunnit will not disappoint fans of mystery and history.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

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