Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Little Shadows: Marina Endicott



The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott is a historical novel set in the years preceding and during World War I. It is the story of three sisters, teenagers as the story begins, who travel with their mother to support the family as a vaudeville act. The book is 527 pages long, and that is the first chunkster of that size I have read in over a year.

I often have a difficult time reviewing books I like a lot. I loved this book and it is hard to describe why. I was engaged in the story immediately. I loved the way the author switched back and forth between the sisters (especially) and the mother (occasionally). It took a while for the characters to grow on me, but I enjoyed all of the story telling and the pictures of life in vaudeville.

Through the first half of the book, we follow the sisters in their travails in vaudeville. They all love the life and entertaining people, and I liked that it wasn't a chore for them. If they were tied down in one place for too long, they got bored. In the money or not, they wanted to be entertaining in vaudeville more than anything else.

At around the midpoint of the book, the sisters are all maturing and various aspects of life intrude upon their plans and goals. I don't like to say more than that, but at this point, I was more involved with the characters and pulling for them with their various problems or triumphs in life. This book covers the years from 1912-1917 and thus World War I figures a great deal. That was also a plus for me. I like to learn about wars in a fictional setting.

I am no expert on vaudeville. I have seen vaudeville depicted in movies, although maybe the life was described more glamorously there. We have seen early sound Vitaphone shorts with actors from vaudeville featured, and my husband has several books on the topic. Marina Endicott has done extensive research, as she describes in her acknowledgements and at her website. This book shows the poverty and uncertainty in the vaudeville life for most performers, and how their fortunes may rise or fall based on luck just as easily as talent.

Many of the sections are preceded with quotes that relate to vaudeville and often these quotes come from this book, How to Enter Vaudeville by Frederic LaDelle.


I learned about this book from Moira at Clothes in Books. Her excellent blog has introduced me to several authors, and I am grateful to have experienced this one. See Moira's take on The Little Shadows here and here and here.

This book was written by a Canadian author, and a great deal of it is set in Canada. This book is my 5th book for the Canadian Book Challenge 7. Since I started participating in the Canadian Book Challenge in 2012, I have learned a lot about Canada that I did not know.

22 comments:

  1. Sounds like a book worth reading. I like books that combine history with fiction, so this is one that I'll be adding to my "want to read" list.

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    1. Ann, the author does a great job of blending fiction with history, and I think you would enjoy this book. Hope you give it a try.

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  2. So glad you liked it Tracy, I'd have felt guilty if you didn't, when it is so long! But it is a great book, and deserves to be better known round the world, not just in Canada...

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    1. It did take me a while to get through it, Moira, but it was never a chore. A wonderful book.

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  3. Sounds very intriguing, Tracy! I'm pinning it for future read!

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    1. I hope you give it a try, Peggy. It is definitely worth it.

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  4. Tracy - I learned about this book from Moira, too, and have been wanting to read it since. I'm very glad you enjoyed it as much as you did. I must absolutely read it now I've had such great endorsements from the both of you.

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    1. Margot, I enjoyed it a lot. No dull spots. I do like vaudeville but it was the process of preparing acts and how the people interacted and were like an extended family that made the story so interesting.

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  5. Happy to see you have managed to get through one of the chunksters you were dreading! Sounds like a good one. I don't think I've ever read any books about the world of vaudeville.

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    1. Marie, this one wasn't bad at all. I have a few more "very large books" that I plan to read this year, and I hope I have such a good experience with them.

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  6. Glad you enjoyed it, but not one for me I'm afraid.

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    1. Not too surprised about that. Maybe the next one...

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  7. So did you -- as the Daliy Mail blurb says on the cover-- throw flowers at the end? :^D

    I'm glad that the writer didnt' glamorize vaudevile life. It was indeed the toughest and often most humiliating form of making a living as an entertainer. I've read many a memoir of people who lived through that era. Some of them have horror stoires to tell. Gypsy Rose Lee and W.C. Fields' autobiographies are perfect places to start to know the real story. Bob Hope and George Burns toughed it out in vaudeville, too before they became staples of TV.

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    1. John, I am also glad that the author gave a realistic view. The sisters had good luck and bad. I will check into the autobiographies you suggested. My husband and I were just talking about Grace Allen in vaudeville while I was working on the review.

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  8. I often have the hardest times reviewing books I love too! Because I get pulled into them immediately, I usually take fewer notes. They also frequently have an indescribable something that makes them resonate with me. It can be very difficult to put into words!

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    1. Katie, I spent more time thinking about this book and its qualities that drew me in than it actually took to write it... Once I got going.

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  9. Tracy K, I just love you for referring to it as a "chunkster" because, when it comes to schlepping books to and from work, size definitely matters!

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    1. Sergio, I got the term from a challenge I joined last year... and then failed utterly at reading anything over 450 pages. I have plans for several longer books this year, so I may rejoin it.

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  10. Good review, Tracy. I don't mind the 500-plus pages so long as at that size it is a physical book and not an ebook I'm reading. I prefer reading historical books and historical fiction in actual book form.

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    1. I am with you, Prashant. I almost refuse to read a really long book as an e-book. And it should be the other way around. As Sergio points out, a long book is heavy. But I don't like reading in the e-format for that long.

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  11. Terrific review. I am off to look for this one. Thank You!!

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    1. Keishon, thanks very much. I hope you find a copy and enjoy it. I want to read more by this author, although her other books are said to be different.

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