Normally we do a buddy read focusing on a trope or archetype, but when we were talking about our goals for the year, Erin wanted to explore the setting of the 1920s. This (mostly) aligned with the TBR Challenge prompt for June: After the War, so we decided to do a “Between the Wars” week for our buddy read and discussion this month.
(We note that Holly and Ingrid may not, in fact, choose to read a book set between WWI and WWII for the TBR Challenge, to which notice Erin offered a disappointed pouty face.)
This is a historical romance setting where we haven’t read a lot, so if you have some that we shouldn’t miss, drop the titles below!
Bottom line: Do you like the 1920s-1930s setting?
Holly: With the caveat that I’ve only read, like, three romance novels set in the Interwar Period, I’m going to say yes.
Erin: You know, I do. I don’t know why I find this somewhat surprising considering this time period formed the basis for my college thesis.
Ingrid: I have read very few of these books, but the ones I read were very good.
Beyond the datestamp, what would you expect to see in a book set in this period?
Holly: I expect that the characters are probably processing some trauma, either from World War I (see, for example, The Quid Pro Quo by A.L. Lester) or the financial insecurity of the Great Depression.
I also expect there to be some social upheaval going on in the background. This period was incredibly politically turbulent in both the US and Europe.
Erin: What I would first expect is Prohibition with some Jazz Age Gatsby-type imagery (art deco covers, amiright?), and then the Depression with its job shortages and increases in legitimized radical movements (I’m talking about Communism, but also this is the period of the Catholic Worker Movement, so socialist ideas are everywhere), plus Jim Crow…but actually this is an extremely rich period in terms of post-war recovery (that doesn’t go very well), shifting wealth (wealth disparities), and the resultant social movements. Also, Prohibition is only in the U.S. so that’s very limited. Also, also, WWI marked a significant shift in how warfare was conducted between nation-states, including who was involved, so I do expect to see repercussions of that as society shifts back into a non-wartime lifestyle but with the mental specters of the war still present.
Ingrid: I think I’d say an undercurrent of upheaval simply from the time…plus, the presence of some opulence v poverty. Maybe a few references to “progress” and “change”.
What do you think is fun about the setting?
Holly: This setting is incredibly rich, creating tons of opportunity for authors to tap into historical events. In the US, we’ve got Prohibition and the rise of organized crime; we’ve got the Harlem Renaissance; we’ve got the Great Migration.
Erin: Politically and socially it’s an interesting period, with more modern elements than Gilded Age or Victorian settings, but also it predates most of our modern social and political markers that occurred after WWII. There are cars and airplanes, but no computers. Social movements that we might have studied in 20th C. history are present but not in the context of today. There are still class divides, but the Industrial Revolution and the rise of New Money industrialists presents a different cast than does a landowning aristocracy and a sociopolitical landscape centered in monarchy or landed gentry.
But mostly the radical movements of the early 20th century are the most fun. I mean, we all like our weekends, right?!
Ingrid: I agree with Holly—there are a lot of perspectives that could come from this time period with wildly different feelings and outcomes. There’s just so much going on!
What do you find problematic about the setting?
Holly: This is the flip side of the fun part of the setting—we also see the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and the whole Communism thing in Russia. Let’s not fall into the trap of romanticizing mass murderers, mkay?
Erin: In and of itself, nothing. Depending on the author’s background and understanding of the historical landscape, however, it would be really easy to neglect to acknowledge what’s going on in the landscape. A story about a Dupont-type character could very easily overlook everything that’s going on with race and class and money in this period. A story with an exclusively white cast would probably overlook a lot of the legalized racism occurring. Etc. So basically it’s the same as other historical romance?
Ingrid: That’s all very, very true. And in today’s climate, that could hit a bit differently than it might have years ago.
What’s one book you loved that features this setting? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the setting?
Holly: “Let Us Dream” by Alyssa Cole is a novella set in 1917 New York (so I guess it’s technically not the Interwar Period, but it’s close) and it’s fabulous. The problems and triumphs of the characters are really specific to their time and place. (I talk about it in more detail in my review of the anthology Daughters of the Nation.)
I also enjoyed Trouble and Strife by Laura Kinsey. Unlike basically everything I’ve talked about in my discussion of the time period, this book is very quiet and domestic. There’s not a lot of political or social upheaval going on, but there’s still a very strong sense of place (Birmingham, 1931).
Erin: In my attempt to prep for the TBR Challenge this month, I found that I actually have several on my TBR list that I’ll just have to bump forward, because I haven’t actually read that many, and I really like what authors are doing with the setting. So I might have more to say later.
To answer the question, it wasn’t the first I read, but Spellbound by Allie Therin (and the whole Magic in Manhattan trilogy) managed to ensorcel me (see what I did there?) not only with the magical intrigue but also because Therin really did consider so many different identities—class, race, sexuality, and their intersectionality—in such a wonderful way as she also unpacked other trauma, including Arthur’s post-war recovery and Rory’s childhood of abuse and abandonment. I really appreciate that many of the authors I’ve been reading who have published in the past couple years have been conscious of the great scope of what was happening during this period (which I will also discuss in my K.J. Charles and Jordan L. Hawk reviews this week).
Ingrid: Forever Eve and After Eve by JB Lexington was pretty trippy feeling and interesting!
Books we mentioned in our discussion: