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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Whistling Women

ISBN: 9781503950887

Publisher: Lake Union

Publication Date: 11/17/2015

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 3 Stars

Set against the backdrop of the 1935 world’s fair, Whistling Women explores the complex relationships between sisters, the sacrifices required to protect family, and the devastating consequences of a single impulsive act.

Kelly Romo’s assured and compelling debut novel, Whistling Women (Lake Union; November 17, 2015), takes readers back in time nearly a century to an America where economic pressures and shifting societal norms were shaping a new world.

Centered on two indomitable female characters—a long absent aunt and the niece she never knew she had—this wholly original historical novel brings to life San Diego, circa 1935, as its dazzling world’s fair provides the backdrop for a story of family, fidelity, and the choices women have been forced to make to protect themselves and those they love.

After a life of downturns and narrow escapes, Addie Bates has found refuge in an unusual place. The Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony, north of San Francisco, is the brainchild of Heinrich, a German naturist with forward thinking ideas. To promote the benefits of his lifestyle—and the money that would come with an increase in visitors—Heinrich transports the colonists south to San Diego, where they will be an “exhibit” at the California Pacific International Exposition. Addie is reluctant to go, not out of any sense of modesty, but because she has a secret past connection with the city.

She moved there as a teenage orphan to live with her then newly married sister, Wavey. Wavey—who for years returned Addie’s letters unopened until the younger sister finally gave up writing—still lives there. With trepidation, Addie hopes for a reconciliation.

What Addie does not know is that Wavey has not one daughter, as she remembers, but two. Rumor, the younger girl, is spirited and inquisitive, and when she encounters the stranger at the door who bears a striking family resemblance, she is intent on figuring out who this stranger is. But, Wavey refuses to tell her daughters anything or even admit that she has a sister. Determined to discover the truth, fifteen-year-old Rumor resorts to petty subterfuge in an effort to piece together the puzzle of the past. What she does not know, and no one is ready to tell her, is that Addie’s transgressions extend to the greatest sin of all: murder.

Steeped in meticulous research that brings Depression-era San Diego and the wonders and oddities of its famed world’s fair to life, and told with great poignancy and candor, Whistling Women underscores the limited choices that women had, not so long ago, in charting their own destinies.

My Review

A special thank you to Lake Union and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Kelly Romo delivers an emotional debut of two estranged sisters, WHISTLING WOMEN, complex relationships, choices, forgiveness, sacrifices, consequences, and family--in an era when women had limited choices. The novel opens in 1935 in Northern California at the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony where Addie is living. Providing a safe haven for her to hide from a crime. Addie has read the letter so many times- a letter from her sister, Wavey. Now the residents are packing up to go on an exhibit at the 1935 world’s fair in San Diego. Her niece Rumor wants to meet her aunt and bring their family together; however, to do so, the women will have to face their past in order to move forward. Sometimes there is a need for cracks in order for the light to get in. When the parents die, Addie is sent to an orphan asylum. Later Wavey wants her to come and live with her family. Something happens which is the big mystery. The two sisters are separated, each taking a different turn. Addie belongs to a nudist colony; single, no children. Wavey has two daughters, Mary and Rumor. Told thought the voices of Addie and Rumor, Whistling Women is an exploration into the values of family and sacrifices. Complex relationships between sisters and the power of love. Mary/Rumor and Addie/Wavey. Secrets bind and at the same time tear apart families. A little slow at times; however, enjoyed the nudist colony intertwined with the Biblical, sin and wickedness, wit and history of the era. "A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end…or so the saying goes." Some think it means that these are traditionally considered unnatural and improper activities for females, and that females who perform them are unnatural and ill-omened. Everyone has their own interpretation. There are a couple of interpretations for the saying itself --I like this one: "Be who you’re meant to be. In other words, march to your own beat or drummer. Rather than worrying what other people think of you—Live life as you see fit for YOU."

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About the Author

Kelly Romo currently lives in Oregon with her three children where she teaches writing, literature, social studies, and digital publication. She loves the outdoors; hiking, kayaking, and camping. Kelly grew up in California running around with all her thrill-seeking cousins and siblings; jumping off cliffs into the Colorado River, exploring caves on the beaches of Mexico, riding dirt bikes, water skiing, and snow skiing. Kelly has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing (fiction) and a Master of Arts in Teaching. Whistling Women is her debut novel and came out of her love for San Diego and Balboa Park. Even though the characters are all works of fiction, the world’s fair, nudist colony, and famous figures are based on the historical facts of the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Website Twitter

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