Tag Archives: historical fiction

A Week in a Life Forever Changed

CBR_Logo2The Reason for Time
A Novel
by Mary Burns

The summer of 1919 was a dramatic one, even by Chicago standards: a dirigible, the Wingfoot Express, crashed in the Loop; riots broke out after a racial incident at the 29th Street beach; six-year-old Janet Wilkinson went missing; strikes and lockouts broke out across the city; and the Spanish Influenza continued to claim victims here, across the country, and around the world.

burns reason for timeGary Krist told the tale of these “12 days of disaster” in his highly acclaimed 2011 book, City of Scoundrels. Author Mary Burns tackles this remarkable stretch in her latest novel, The Reason for Time.

Set over the course of a matter of days in the summer of 1919—July 21 to July 30—The Reason for Time is told by one Maeve Curragh, an Irish immigrant living with her sister Margaret in a shabby boarding house for women. The novel opens as Maeve witnesses a blimp fall out of the sky and crash into flames, right into the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, killing thirteen people. Maeve, walking nearby on Jackson Boulevard among the throngs leaving work for the evening, suffers a cut on her neck from some sort of debris, leaving her with a story of her own on that notable day.

A news junkie, Maeve scours late and morning editions for news of the crash—as she does for the rest of the week, which has no shortage of alarming headlines: the blimp, the riots, the strikes, the Wilkinson story. As it turns out, the week is a momentous one for Maeve as well.

Where Krist reported the events of the time, Burns takes a different tack, imagining how the week unfolded during the life of one individual. It’s a compelling angle. That week in July was much more than just the story of the thirteen who lost their lives when the blimp crashed into the bank, much more than the story of the transit strikers who risked their jobs, much more than the story of the hundreds of rioters who tore through the streets of Chicago, even more than poor Janet Wilkinson’s story. Indeed, millions of Chicagoans had their own stories of that week.

Maeve drives this story, recounting the strange days that would forever change her life. From her goings-on while working at the Chicago Magic Company to her involvement with the charming streetcar conductor Desmond Malloy, Maeve lives her own life—a life at once ordinary and remarkable—while the city reels in tumult.

Burns blends fact and fiction in The Reason for Time, a day-by-day account of these strange days colored by attention-grabbing headlines that heighten the tension. Maeve is drawn to these loud headlines, shouted breathlessly by newsboys hawking their wares. At the same time, she looks inward, contemplating the events that are shaping—and have shaped—her own world. As such, the story is both fevered and thoughtful as the days unfold, a well-paced work that ebbs and flows with just the right amount of tension.

Packed with detail, The Reason for Time is told in Maeve’s Irish dialect, full of contemporary idioms. Maeve’s voice has a distinct rhythm all its own, which can be difficult to decipher at first, but in the end lends the story a rich authenticity. Maeve herself feels real as well, a complex character full of hope and savvy, flawed but not too flawed, doing whatever it takes to survive the immigrant life in a tough, dirty, bustling big city. A spirited, spunky young woman, Maeve is not perfect. But she is likable, and her story is compelling… Compelling, if not a wee bit predictable. One might say predictable with a twist. It’s not too difficult to see where Maeve’s story will end, although Burns somehow manages to make the ending still feel surprising. Even if some readers might be a step ahead of the plot, The Reason for Time is still satisfying.

Full of history, local color, compelling characters, and a complex storyline, The Reason for Time is a quick read, but one that lingers and makes one wonder about the many other stories that could be told of that tumultuous summer of 1919.

Four-Star Review

April 2016, Allium Press of Chicago
$16.99, paperback, 216 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9967558-1-8

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen




Leave a comment

Filed under fiction

Superstition + Science: A Love Story

CBR_Logo2Alchemy’s Daughter
by Mary A. Osborne

A thoughtful, intelligent addition to the young adult genre, Alchemy’s Daughter by Mary A. Osborne proves that a star-crossed love story can also teach history, science, and spirituality.

Well-rounded and real characters fill up Osborne’s picture of medieval Italy. In the fourteenth-century village of San Gimignano, a young girl studies alchemy. Santina Pietra is the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant who dabbles in alchemy during late nights spent in his attic. Santina eavesdrops on her father and his young friend, Calandrino. She becomes enthralled both with the magical idea of turning metals into gold and with the captivating Calandrino.

alchemy's daughterAs Santina experiences a striking tragedy in her youth that transforms her mind and heart, she seeks solace in her studies of ancient texts and in conversations with Calandrino. The young scholar becomes her tutor, and the two like-minds find themselves embedded in a forbidden love story.

When forces beyond her power seek to separate the two young lovers, Santina feels abandoned and seeks out the companionship of the village midwife. Through a long and challenging apprenticeship into midwifery, Santina comes to believe in a truer form of alchemy that perhaps doesn’t turn metal into gold, but points to the enlightened soul as the final destination. She believes that the study of science may lead to the elixir, or the philosopher’s stone.

Through hardship, Santina develops strength. When faced with a problematic birth thought to be impossible to overcome without death as a result, she and the midwife choose science and spirituality over superstition. This decision leads them both into danger as the villagers brand science as witchcraft.

Santina’s journey into adulthood leads her through the darkest of times, where the strength of her mind determines her fate, not a rescue by a white knight. She experiences the plague sweeping through Italy, and she endures with bravery, treating the ill and being cast once again as a witch for saving lives with a mixture of science and spirituality.

While Alchemy’s Daughter resonates with readers of historical fiction, Renaissance literature, and the YA genre, Osborne succeeds most in writing a work of fiction that entertains as well as enlightens. Readers can feel good about recommending this novel to the young adults in their lives as Santina’s story has the ability to inspire and provoke thought while still weaving in an exciting love story.

DSC_0051 - Version 2

Author Mary A. Osborne

Alchemy’s Daughter asks questions of its readers, encouraging an interactive read that goes beyond the fast-moving plot line. What would have happened, readers may wonder, if superstition had never stood in the way of science? Had progressive women and men not been killed as witches and heretics but praised as leading minds, what might the world look like in the twenty-first century? These questions challenge readers to see themselves in a wider world view, opening minds to the turmoil of history and the potential for the future.

Santina’s mentor, the aging and persecuted midwife, continues along the path that she knows to be her purpose regardless of the mounting dangers. On the first night of their meeting, Santina approaches the midwife looking for advice and perhaps a potion to cure her young, broken heart. The midwife tells Santina that she must focus on herself before she can fully love someone else. She asks Santina, “How big do you want your life to be?” It’s a question Osborne herself asks of her readers. Alchemy’s Daughter presents an engaging journey into a forgotten past, and in doing so offers up a coming-of-age story that transcends genre.

Mary A. Osborne lives and writes in Chicago. Alchemy’s Daughter is her second novel. When not writing adventures of the Alchemy Series, Osborne hosts alchemy parties that mix a bit of fun with art and inspiration. These parties focus on spiriting teenage girls to realize their ambitions and turn them into life goals. For more information on her alchemy parties, visit Osborne’s alchemy website at mysticfiction.com or check out her author site at MaryAOsborne.com for blog updates from the author.

Four-Star Review

May 2015, Lake Street Press
Historical Fiction/Young Adult
$16.95, paperback, 280 pages
ISBN: 978-1-936181-17-9

—Reviewed by Mindy M. Jones


Filed under fiction