The Hollow Ones

               I didn’t intend to spend the last three days speed reading “The Hollow Ones” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Grand Central Publishing 2021; $28). Indeed, I had other things to do—deadlines to meet, a new workout program to keep up with, and my daughter’s wedding to help plan. But I didn’t do any of those. Instead I caromed around the universe, going back and forth in time, following this complicated by fascinating novel written by two greats in their field. del Toro is a prolific writer, producer, and director who wrote and director the four time Academy Award winning movie “The Shape of Water.” Hogan, an American novelist, screenwriter, and television producer, who co-authored, with del Toro,  The Strain trilogy. He also wrote the novel “Prince of Thieves” that was made into a movie “The Town” with Ben Affleck .

Guillermo del Toro. Photo by Lorenzo Agius.

               This is not a book for the faint of heart—and I typically fall into that category. But I just had to figure out what was going to happen next after the first chapter. That’s when  Odessa Hardwick, a young and inexperienced FBI agent arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder taking place along with Walter Leppo, her seasoned partner. Inside an upscale home, the two encounter the owner butchering his family. Odessa, believing her partner is under attack by the murderer, shoots and kills him. But then the unexpected occurs, Walter takes a knife to the only surviving family member and Odesssa is forced to kill him to save the child. She already is under a lot of stress when she had to question if that was a shadowy figure she saw fleeing from Walter’s body after his death?

               Most likely, given the supernatural forces that are in play here starting with why this prosperous home owner killing his family, why did Walter suddenly take over the job of butchering them, and what the heck is going on anyway? Odessa, distraught and doubting her actions and indeed, her own sanity, is  given the assignment while awaiting the results of the inquest into the killing of Leppo, to clear out the desk  of ailing FBI agent Earl Solomon who started his career investigating lynchings during the early 1960s in the American south.

               “Solomon puts her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, with whom the dying Solomon has been professionally — but unofficially — aligned since his rookie days,” says Hogan, who describes his collaboration with del Toro as long talks over breakfast batting around ideas which they then expand until finally turning out chapters.

Hugo, an immortal has seen a lot through the centuries. To solve the mysteries of the moment, they must retrace what happened in 1582 when he was a young attorney and a portal to another world was accidentally opened allowing the evil and dangerous hollow ones to enter ours.

               Hogan, who describes the hollow ones as “nasty creatures who live to possess human victims, jumping from host to host” is vague about whether this is the first in a series focusing on Hugo and Odessa solving supernatural crimes. He does acknowledge though that Blackwood’s story which in this novel encompasses England 1582, the Jim Crow South of 1962, and New Jersey in 2019 is only 20% told.

               If they do have another book coming, I need to get all my chores done ahead of time so I can immerse myself once again.

Chicago Writer Takes Us Back to the Gilded Age in New Novel

Renee Rosen. Photo by Charles Osgood.

         Chicago author Renee Rosen is again taking us on a trip to the past. In her previous novels, she’s explored the city’s jazz roots (Windy City Blues), the Chicago Fire and the founding of the city’s iconic department stores (What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age), and Prohibition-era Chicago (Dollface). Now, in The Social Graces we meet two mega-wealthy women—Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor who starting in the 1870s vied to become the leader of high society.

         If that meant spending $10 million in today’s money to stage a ball at the Waldorf Hotel, so be it.

         “Think the original ‘Real Housewives of New York City’ but in Worth gowns,” says Rosen about the competition which in many ways also sounds like middle school. “They had plenty of balls such as the circus ball with a live elephant. Entertaining was the only arena where women could exert some influence. After all they had few rights, they couldn’t even vote, so they literally created this high society where they made the rules and determined who belonged and who didn’t.”

         At first Caroline Astor ruled New York and Newport, Rhode Island society. She was old money while Vanderbilt was one of the nouveau riche and after all, no matter how much new money you had it wasn’t as good as the old.

         “Mrs. Astor was the gate keeper, the reigning queen, she decided who was invited to her annual ball,” says Rosen, noting that only 400, the number her ball room could hold, were invited to this ball and thus they were deemed to be the elitist of the elite. “If you weren’t invited, you either left town or turned off all your lights and pretended you were out of town.”

         Determined to replace Caroline, Alva hosted her famous Masquerade Ball at her Fifth Avenue mansion, inviting  1200  though not Caroline who finally was able to get an invitation. It was so excessive, it helped catapult her to the top.

          Rosen didn’t want to just write about these women, she wanted to know them.

         “I admired both Caroline and Alva for several reasons and I disliked them for several reasons,” she says. “Alva certainly wouldn’t have been mother of the year.”

  And yes, it is true. Alva locked her daughter Consuelo in her room so she couldn’t marry the man she loved and instead forced her to wed the impoverished Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough. He in turned just wanted her vast fortune to restore his very outdated palace which didn’t even have central heating or hot water. The marriage, by the way, made Consuelo a relative of Winston Churchill and the yet-to-be-born Princess Diana.

         “Alva was such a trail blazer,” says Rosen. “This was a time when so many men had mistresses and women had to put up with it. But when Alva’s husband Willie K. started canoodling with other women, she put her foot down and divorced him. She became a suffragette. She wasn’t a licensed architect, but she knew all about building. There was something really vulnerable about Caroline. I  think she was very lonely. She was at the top of society but at some level she knew that none of it really mattered. There was a whole lot of wealth but very little substance.”

Renee Rosen Virtual Events

April 27 6PM CST / 7PM EST

A virtual evening at the Newport Mansions & the Newport Preservation Society

Hosted by An Unlikely Story. Register Here

April 29 12PM CST / 1PM EST Hosted by Bookends and Beginnings

Literary Lunch Break with Karen White. Register Here

May 5 4PM CST / 6PM EST A Special Virtual Gilded Age Event

Featuring Chanel Cleeton, Marie Benedict & Renee Rosen Hosted by InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel & Berkley Publishing. Signature cocktail recipe & special VIP raffle gift, courtesy of Pomp & Whimsy! General & VIP tickets Register Here

May 10 7PM CST / 8PM EST Hosted by Blue Willow Bookshop

In Conversation with Chanel Cleeton. Register Here

June 22 7PM CST Literature Lovers’ Night Out

Please check back for details & registration.

This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette

               “It’s amazing how women get lost in history,” says Stephanie Dray, the New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette.     “I want to tell their stories.”

At first, the story she was going to tell was that of  Beatrice Chanler, a success London actress with a troubled marriage  who received the Legion of Honor for her philanthropic service during World War.  But then Dray discovered a packet of love letters that were not between Chanler and her husband and she knew she would have to start all over.

               Ultimately, Dray would write the stories of two more women whose connection through the centuries was the French country chateau of the Marquis de La Fayette, one of the heroes of the American Revolution.  And each time, she would set that book aside as more details emerged.

               “Chateau is set in three time periods–during the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two,” says Dray whose previous books include “My Dear Hamilton,”

               In each period, there was an extraordinary woman who rose to the occasion. The first was Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. More than a spouse, she was her husband’s political partner and, like him, faced the danger of the guillotine during the  French Revolution. The third woman is Marthe Simone, a teacher and writer, who at first wanted to avoid any activities that could put her at risk from the Nazis during World War II but then becomes an active participant in helping hide Jewish children at the chateau.

            “She, like the other two women, deserved to have her own book,” says Dray. “But then I saw the importance of telling all their stories in one novel. I was a government major in college and then I went to law school, but I was really only a lawyer for ten minutes.  But I’ve always been interested in government as people, this story is about the rise of the republic and the continued survival of the public.”

            Writing about the Chateau Lafayette became so much a part of Dray’s every day living that when she saw the castle for the first time she was so nervous she had to have her husband hold the camera.

            “All the video I took is very shaky,” she says.

            Indeed, she becomes so immersed in her stories that when she was writing “America’s First Daughter,” she found herself speaking with a southern accent. That passion is evident in one of the take-aways she hopes readers get from reading The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

            “The Franco-American alliance saved this country three times over,” says Dray. “This book is relevant to those in powdered wigs and those today.”

Virtual event with Stephanie Dray.

When: April 3 at noon

What: Barbara’s Bookstore with Stephanie Dray in virtual conversation with Lauren Margolin “The Good Book Fairy” blogger.

To Register: https://barbarasbookstores.com/event/stephanie-dray/

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’

%d bloggers like this: