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Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine (4/5)

11 Jun

My good friend Katherine loves fairy tales. She reads them, writes them: everything you can imagine about fairy tales that an MFA candidate would do, she does with fairy tales. She’s enjoyed a lot of fairy tale retellings lately and this one takes place in the 1920s so she was pretty sure I would enjoy it. And she was darn right.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Summary from Goodreads:

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself.

Everything I’ve read about New York City in the 1920s makes me want to live there. The high fashion, the dance clubs, and the woman’s rights movement at the times combine perfectly for a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. I thought Valentine brought the setting and characters to life well. Each girl had her own quirk and personality and while I couldn’t name them all for you, I never got them confused. The only criticism I have is that the first part of the book seemed really loosely bound to a timeline. It skipped around the girls going out for the fist time, trying new clubs, etc. Only once the Kingfisher was raided did it pick up a consistent timeline. I enjoyed it from then on, but it was two hours into an eight-hour story. I also think the description above gives you more than half the book, which is a bit more than you normally see in a description. Maybe don’t read it?

Jo was a great protagonist. She had a very strong personality and her maternal instincts were admirable. I believed each of the sisters as her own character, especially Lou and Ella. I thought their father was a bit hard to believe, but it was a fairy tale so some beliefs had to be suspended. The idea that he could have 12 daughters and be supporting them while interacted with no one, not even some servants, was unbelievable. Whatever he did, he was around the house a lot to be able to stop them from leaving in the middle of the day yet he was somehow very rich. I got the impression he was involved in some bootlegging, but Prohibition was established in 1920 and the crash of ’29 didn’t seem to have come yet. If they’d been dancing for around 10 years, he had to have money from somewhere else before he started bootlegging. OK, time to stop with my 1920s history now. Getting off the soapbox.

Though I liked Jo, Tom was my favorite character. He never pretended to be something he wasn’t and he was very giving. The first time he’s in the modern timeline, he’s helping Jo out of a tough spot, no questions asked. Without spoiling the ending, he does something for Jo that’s completely selfless and puts someone between them that they both care about very much, all at Jo’s insistence. He’s the kind of friend and partner I would want in any situation. On top of everything, he’s smart.

I think I related most to Jo. I only have one younger brother and have never been locked in the upper floors of my father’s house, but I led a group of 50 while in college. Trying to keep people from fighting and in step with the rules can be a challenge and I think I handled my group much like Jo. I was a bit of a militant, but only when we needed to be safe. She had a good leadership style that I appreciated.

Genevieve Valentine Image via the Author's Website

Genevieve Valentine
Image via the Author’s Website

I loved the ending. I’m going to talk about it here so if you haven’t read the book, skip this paragraph. I was glad that the story arc was finished when Lou came back and not when the younger twins were found or when their father died. It was a very fitting ending wich made me so happy. I was worried it would end sooner.

The beginning of the book was too muddled for me and it gave me a bad impression of the book. Later it was reversed, but it wasn’t the best place to start. It gave me the impression that there wasn’t much of a plot. I was worried about this being a cohesive story, but I was counting on that description to give me a plot.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Susie Berneis and I thought she did a good job. It was nothing outstanding, but she did a good job with voices, especially the father. He’s the only one who stands out to me as having a unique voice but with so many female characters, I’m not surprised.

The biggest lesson I got from this book was about family. A lot of books lately have dealt with the strength of non-traditional families and I like this message. Jo was a mother figure to all her sisters, even Lou, in the space their absent mother left. These were girls with no father and no one to raise them. To be honest, I’m wondering how they learned to read. But as soon as one of them learned, Jo would have been sure everyone else learned the same thing.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had to walk a thin line between mystical and realistic. Of course, it’s a fairy tale retelling, but at the same time it’s giving a very concrete setting of New York City, a very tangible place. I think the beginning of the book was more mystical and the ending more concrete. I would have liked if these were blended more.

Entertaining and a great setting. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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