ARC Review: Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce

In a stirring and impeccably researched novel of Jazz-age Chicago in all its vibrant life, two stories intertwine nearly a hundred years apart, as a chorus girl and a film student deal with loss, forgiveness, and love…in all its joy, sadness, and imperfections.

“Why would I talk to you about my life? I don’t know you, and even if I did, I don’t tell my story to just any boy with long hair, who probably smokes weed.You wanna hear about me. You gotta tell me something about you. To make this worth my while.”

1925: Chicago is the jazz capital of the world, and the Dreamland Café is the ritziest black-and-tan club in town. Honoree Dalcour is a sharecropper’s daughter, willing to work hard and dance every night on her way to the top. Dreamland offers a path to the good life, socializing with celebrities like Louis Armstrong and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. But Chicago is also awash in bootleg whiskey, gambling, and gangsters. And a young woman driven by ambition might risk more than she can stand to lose.

2015: Film student Sawyer Hayes arrives at the bedside of 110-year-old Honoree Dalcour, still reeling from a devastating loss that has taken him right to the brink. Sawyer has rested all his hope on this frail but formidable woman, the only living link to the legendary Oscar Micheaux. If he’s right—if she can fill in the blanks in his research, perhaps he can complete his thesis and begin a new chapter in his life. But the links Honoree makes are not ones he’s expecting . . .

Piece by piece, Honoree reveals her past and her secrets, while Sawyer fights tooth and nail to keep his. It’s a story of courage and ambition, hot jazz and illicit passions. And as past meets present, for Honoree, it’s a final chance to be truly heard and seen before it’s too late. No matter the cost . . . 

  • Title: Wild Women and the Blues
  • Author: Denny S. Bryce
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • Genre: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Trigger warnings: Car crash, abuse, death of a parent, death of a sibling, emetophobia ( ch 13), cancer mention (brief; ch 15), brief mention of suicide attempt (ch 15), assault (ch 33), rape (ch 43) 
  • Rating:  ★★★★

I was incredibly excited at the opportunity to read and review Wild Women and the Blues — a book that was described as Ordinary People meets Chicago the Musical (I haven’t read Ordinary People, but you could pretty much get me to read/watch anything by comparing it to a musical), and a synopsis that reminded me of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo meets The Electric Hotel

You know those books that you know are just going to break you from the very first chapter? This was one of them. Wild Women and the Blues opens with Sawyer, a graduate student obtaining a doctorate in media studies, at a senior living facility, trying to get the courage to speak with Honoree Dalcour — a 110 year old lady, who he’s hoping will offer some answers, help him complete his thesis, and fix his life. Which is a lot to pin on a 110 year old, not to mention, anyone.

At the senior living facility, Sawyer is greeted by an overprotective nurse assistant, Lula Kent. After explaining that he’s only there to ask Honoree some questions about some photographs – photographs, along with a film reel, that he found in the attic of his grandmother’s house – from 1925, he’s begrudgingly let in. But as is the case with all things, everything comes at a price. Honoree is determined that Sawyer shares his secrets too — after all, “What happened in 1925 and why it happened is my business.” While Sawyer’s still intrigued by the photographs, and the people in them, his curiosity soon expands to wanting to know more about Honoree herself. 

Wild Women and the Blues is a thriller in itself, with more and more mysteries unraveling along the way. Why did Sawyer take a year off? Who is Honoree? Why is she so reluctant to speak about the past? What happened in 1925? Who is Sawyer’s grandmother, Maggie, and why does Honoree speak so poorly of her? How did she get the photographs? Where do Sawyer and Honoree’s stories intersect? 

Wild Women and the Blues is told from different points-of-view, one following Sawyer in 2015, and the other following Honoree in 1925. While I was curious about Sawyer and Honoree’s relationship, I found myself more interested in what was happening in 1925 Chicago. Just like Sawyer, I was entranced by Honoree, and the cast of characters. Her love story with Ezekiel, her friendship with Bessie, her tragic past and her drive to be more, made her an incredibly interesting and dynamic character. Reading about Honoree felt like I was reading an incredibly well-written memoir about a 1920s chorus girl, about lost history that we were so lucky to find out more about years later. And lucky we are. Wild Women and the Blues, and Honoree’s story, is a gift. Bryce’s writing truly made me feel like I was in Chicago. As Honoree’s best friend, Bessie was a character that intrigued me and I felt like she was underused — until the twist, that is. Wild Women and the Blues is a rollercoaster in the best way, with more twists and turns than I could ever imagine. 

“I’m better at telling other people’s stories than I am at telling my own. It’s why I make films.”

Unfortunately, I felt really disconnected from Sawyer. I’m not sure if I just simply couldn’t connect to Sawyer, or if Honoree’s life and her story were simply so much more interesting. Even though I wasn’t as invested in Sawyer, I still felt compelled and encouraged to finish the book just to see if the questions we’d been asking alongside him were solved. I wanted to know who was in the photographs, and how they were obtained. I wanted to know more about how their stories tied in together, why Honoree was so enraged at any mention of Maggie, I wanted to know everything. I loved the way this book ended, with all loose-ends tying up nicely. While reading it, I kept asking myself “How is this going to be wrapped up? I’ve got 90% left and there’s no way this will be resolved.” But it was, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.I was incredibly impressed with Bryce’s ability to weave together these two stories so seamlessly, and all the topics that were covered. After reading it, and even now, as I’m writing this post and remembering how it made me feel, I had chills. I felt unsettled but in the best way. Wild Women and the Blues is a book that will surely stick with me for days to come.

Links for Wild Women and the Blues: Goodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | Indiebound

Denny writes historical fiction, and her debut novel, WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES from Kensington Books will be on sale on March 30, 2021.

A public relations professional, she spent more than 20 years running her marketing and public relations firm. For nearly 10 of those years, she wrote and read Buffy/Spike fan fiction. A devoted fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Angel (the TV series), she is also a classic film buff and loves genre TV. Current favorites include A Discovery of WitchesThis is Us, The Flash, and Seal Team.

Before fanfiction, and her days as a PR Diva, the graduate of Barat College at DePaul University, was a professional dancer, part-time singer, and “bad” actress. She worked with professional dance companies in Chicago and New York, and a theatrical production, which almost debuted off-off-off-Broadway.

In college, she minored in history but her love of 20th century American history, 19th-century British history, and Africa she credits to her maternal grandmother, Ella Elizabeth Joseph, who immigrated from Montego Bay, Jamaica to New York City in 1923, and her father, Leicester Collinwood, born and raised in Bermuda (a British Overseas Territory) who came to America to attend Wilberforce University in the 1950s.

When Denny stopped writing fanfiction, she started writing original fiction. An RWA Golden Heart® Winner, she now writes book reviews for NPR Books and recaps OUTLANDER on Starz, and other entertainment articles for FROLIC Media.

She is represented by Nalini Akolekar at Spencerhill Associates and recently relocated from Northern Virginia to Savannah, Georgia, but enjoys traveling across the USA, Europe, and the Caribbean.

Photo credit: Valerie Bey

Follow Denny: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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