"Impeccably researched, full of life’s wisdom, and a tribute to intrepid women who risked their lives in the face of war."
In 1917 Birmingham, 18-year-old Marion Hoxton ages out of an orphanage and joins the Women’s Royal Navy Service — the Wrens. There, she finds purpose as a motorcycle courier delivering trained pigeons to the front and a sense of community with other young women hoping to make a difference during the Great War.
Two decades later, Marion is strong-armed out of her solitary life by her former fellow Wren Sara Brown to rejoin the service as a trainer while World War Two storms England and a new generation steps up. Twenty-year-old socialite Evelyn Fairchild — who spent her childhood sidelined by surgeries — is determined to prove she is just as capable as the next enlisted woman. As strangers connected by a shared secret, Marion and Evelyn bond.
Impeccably researched, full of life’s wisdom, and a tribute to intrepid women who risked their lives in the face of war.
Reviewed By: Janet Somerville
Review posted at https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/reviews/2023/01/12/round-up-four-best-new-books-for-historical-fiction-lovers.html
[A] fascinating look at the lives of these brave women who served to “free a man for the front" . . . I highly recommend this book if you are interested in historical fiction and especially if you enjoy reading about strong female characters.
Twenty years apart and in two different wars, both Marion and Evelyn hear The Call of the Wrens. Both young women enlist as motorcycle dispatch riders with the Women’s Royal Naval Service, affectionately called the Wrens, and discover that they have more in common then they know.
Marion enlists with her best friend Eddie during World War I, where they both become dispatch riders, only with it to end in tragedy. Twenty years later, Evelyn has finally overcome her disability and can think of nothing better than to serve her country during World War II. Marion is called back into service, where she meets Evelyn and everything changes.
This was a fascinating look at the lives of these brave women who served to “free a man for the front.” These women volunteered for dangerous missions bringing messages to the front lines to fight for freedom and their country. I am very thankful that I came across this book to learn more about these unsung heroes. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in historical fiction and especially if you enjoy reading about strong female characters.
Reviewed By: Christina Boswell
Review posted at https://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/the-call-of-the-wrens/
Reviewed by Nancy Carty Lepri
“A tale filled with strong emotion, hope, and determination, this is highly thought-provoking and entertaining.”
This novel encompasses two intense and exciting novels in one, though they tie together nicely. We first meet Marion Hoxton who in July 1940 lives in West Devon, England—if you want to call it living. She resides somewhat reclusively in a tiny cottage where she reminisces about the past. When her friend Sara comes knocking at her door, she tries to ignore her presence, but Sara is wise and knows Marion is home. She will not be deterred.
The two women had been close when they served as "Wrens" during World War I. Wrens is the term used for the female sector of the British Women's Royal Navy Service.
Previously Marion led a lonely life, abandoned as a baby and tossed around from one orphanage to another. The only company she had was reading her beloved books. She did not socialize with the others and has become mute. Then at age 14, she is moved to St. Anne's Home for Boys and Girls, which is her residence until she is 18.
The other youngsters tease her for not talking, but she takes it in stride and spends most of her time sitting in a corner reading or working as a typist. The only one who shows interest in her is a 13-year-old boy named Eddie Smith. Though her complete opposite—comical and magnetic—Eddie sees something in Marion and draws closer to her. He watches as she sits in solitude until he approaches her with questions—questions where he only receives a nod or a shake as answers. The two become inseparable and Marion begins to speak, but only to him.
Marion teaches Eddie to read so he, too, can discover the mysteries books provide. Sometimes they sneak off at night and roam the streets, though they know it's dangerous. The war begins shortly after Marion arrives at the home, and sirens blast, but nothing deters the two from venturing out. One time they find an abandoned motorcycle they take back to the orphanage to hide. They decide to call it "Alley Cat" . . . shortened to Alli because they found it in an alley. They conceal it well and drive it on the nights they go out unbeknownst to anyone.
Then comes Marion's 18th birthday and the time for her to leave St. Anne's. But where will she go? She has no one and no place. "But the time had come, and it was only Marion being spit out.
"Sister Florence's gaze jumped to and from the pamphlet she held. 'You've been schooled well, and it should be quite within your skill set to find work, domestic or otherwise until you marry. As it is, I'm told the war is requiring an endless number of men. There's a shortage, so much so that women are being asked to volunteer.' Sister Florence placed what she'd been holding on the desk. 'I believe this may be an ideal opportunity for you after you leave here.'
"Marion read the pamphlet's bold-typed words: JOIN THE WRENS AND FREE A MAN FOR THE FLEET.
"Women's Royal Naval Service? she thought, reading the thinner line at the very top. In the foreground a woman stands proudly in a cap, jacket, tie, and skirt, saluting. A battleship floats in the background.
"'They call themselves the Wrens,' Sister Florence offered. 'I wrote the director, and she told me it's a new women's branch of the Royal Navy. They enlist women to fulfill the non-fighting tasks. Typist. Cooks. Stewards, Typists,' she repeated. 'Like you."
And with this, Marion's fate is sealed. She does not want to leave the home, and she especially does not want to be apart from Eddie, but she has no choice. Training is tough, but she has a position and makes new friends who are like sisters. Assigned as a typist at first, she feels smothered sitting behind a desk, and soon she is thrilled when given the job as a motorcycle dispatch rider. She works with her roommate and friend Sara. They train carrier pigeons while Marion transports them to the front lines to pass information back and forth.
As the war escalates and Marion is faced with many ups and downs—happiness and surprises as well as pain and heartaches.
In alternating chapters, Evelyn Fairchild comes into the picture. It is 1936 and at age 21, she is the only child of wealthy parents and living in Weybridge. Born with the disability of a club foot, she endures many operations over the years, yet she is still being smothered by her mother who does not want to let her out of her sight.
When Evelyn takes driving lessons, she finds it stimulating, giving her a sense of independence. With this newfound freedom, Evelyn discovers The Brooklands, a motor-racing track, and she is captivated by it. Against her mother's wishes, she becomes an accomplished driver, and going by the moniker Dare-D-Evelyn, she wins several times.
Unfortunately, Evelyn soon learns the track will be turned into a plant to produce aircraft due to the conflict with Germany and the possible start of another war. More young men are being conscripted into fighting, and more planes need to be built. Evelyn is upset about no longer being able to race, but she is more worried about her childhood friend, Percy Harrington. Though he is a physician, she wonders if he will be exempt from going into battle. Percy is the only pal she's ever had what with being so sheltered. He is also the man her parents have chosen for her to wed.
Evelyn does not want to marry. She wants to race cars, be independent and her own person, and to especially get out of the suffocating clutches of her mother. Soon she realizes a way to escape is to join the Wrens. This causes dissension between her mother and her, but she needs to make the break. Stationed in London her training is vigorous training, and she prays she can endure it with her handicap.
Evelyn’s commanding officer happens to be none other than Marion. She is intimidated by Marion for she feels she is constantly watching her, but what is worse, she allocates the easiest assignments to Evelyn. Does she think because of her disability she is not able to do her job? Even though the training is tough, Evelyn passes proving she can handle the duties. But there is something puzzling about Wren Marion. Why does she seem to pay more attention to Evelyn?
Though the two different women presented in diverse time periods are somewhat conflicting, as the story evolves, the objective for this unusual approach is described and fully explained. A tale filled with strong emotion, hope, and determination, it is highly thought-provoking and entertaining. It is clearly evident Ms. Walsh has spent indeterminable hours researching and putting together a well-written and memorable story about past events to make them truly authentic as well as informative.
The Call of the Wrens
WRITTEN BY JENNI L. WALSH
REVIEW BY TRISH MACENULTY
From its intriguing cover to the author’s note at the end, this book will captivate readers. Alternating between the story of Marion, a “Wren” in the Great War, and Evelyn, who serves in World War II, the story delves into the important and often overlooked history of the British women who risked their lives to serve their country.
Marion is an unwanted orphan, who refuses to speak to anyone until she finds acceptance and love with Eddie, an orphan like herself. When she ages out of the orphanage, she has only one option: join the Women’s Royal Naval Service. But Eddie isn’t about to let her go without him, so he joins the Navy and makes sure they are always in close proximity. When tragedy befalls them, Marion becomes a bitter recluse until an old friend convinces her to come back to the Wrens, just in time to become a mentor to Evelyn, a young woman who has overcome a physical disability and familial disapproval to become a motorcycle messenger for the resurrected service.
The characters (including a brave pigeon) are sympathetic and believable, the plot has plenty of surprises, and the history of these heroic women is fascinating. I read this book on the beach and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, but it would be also be an ideal read in a cozy chair with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace.
Review appeared in HNR Issue 102 (November 2022) and can be found online at https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-call-of-the-wrens/
“In The Call of the Wrens, Jenni L. Walsh shines light on courageous women whose feats during two world wars remain relatively unknown…I’d recommend this book to history buffs and fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. Walsh really captures the intensity of war, transporting the reader back in time and driving home the anxiety and uncertainty of the era, but also the fortitude and sacrifice of the men and women who dared to join the fight.”
In The Call of the Wrens, Jenni L. Walsh shines light on courageous women whose feats during two world wars remain relatively unknown. While the story’s protagonists are fictional, the ladies who served in Women’s Royal Naval Service – or Wrens – were not. They were brave and selfless women who risked everything when their country asked.
The novel follows Marion, an orphan aged out of state-sponsored care, through World War I as she joins the Wrens and then finds herself on the outskirts of the war, training and delivering carrier pigeons by motorbike as she moves ever closer to the battlefront.
Likewise, we are introduced to Evelyn, well off in society but who shuns a life of finishing school and serving a husband. Against her parents’ wishes, she runs off to join the sisterhood during World War II and becomes a dispatch rider. Both women show remarkable courage and resolve, their stories slowly weaving together in alternating timelines until at last they converge.
The Call of the Wrens features some of my favorite tropes of found family, underappreciated history, and slow burn romances. Most of all, it features strong women coming into their own. Walsh’s novel builds slowly at first, but the pace quickly kicks up as Marion and Evelyn become aware of their own strengths and motivations as they find themselves drawn closer to the action of the war.
I’d recommend this book to history buffs and fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. Walsh really captures the intensity of war, transporting the reader back in time and driving home the anxiety and uncertainty of the era, but also the fortitude and sacrifice of the men and women who dared to join the fight.
Reviewed By: Sara Kruszka
Review posted on Nashville Book Review on November 2, 2022 at https://nashvillebookreview.com/product/the-call-of-the-wrens/
Issue: October 1, 2022
The Call of the Wrens.
By Jenni L. Walsh
Nov. 2022. 400p. Harper Muse, paper, $17.99 (9781400233885)
Walsh (Side by Side, 2018) follows two English women, Marion and Evelyn, showing how they became involved with the Women’s Royal Naval Service, more commonly known as the Wrens.
The reader is introduced to Marion at the start of WWII, when her friend Sara comes to meet with her and persuade her to rejoin the Wrens for the coming war, continuing the work she had done in WWI. Her history gradually unfolds over the course of the book, taking several twists and turns until her connection with Evelyn is finally revealed. Evelyn has been protected and coddled her entire life owing to a physical disability and her posh upbringing. She finds ways to act out and be rebellious, but it isn’t until Churchill declares war that Evelyn finds a way to slip out of her mother’s grasp by joining the Wrens.
This well-written, straightforward book will be of interest to readers curious about the types of work available to English women who wanted to aid in war efforts during both world wars.
— Rebecca Gerber
Walsh (Becoming Bonnie) hits the jackpot with an impressive fictionalization of the life of Eleanor Dumont (formerly Simone Jules), a blackjack dealer in the Old West. In 1849 New Orleans, Simone, 19, is happy to be marrying trader David Tobin. But after Simone’s parents and sister die in a fire and David reveals his interest in taking over her father’s jewelry shop, Simone boards a ship bound for San Francisco for a fresh start. With a mind for numbers and memories of her mother playing 21, Simone endears herself to a gruff saloonkeeper when she brings in thousands of dollars at the blackjack tables, using her velvety feminine voice to throw the drunken gold panners off their game. A romance with Black freedman Arthur Reynolds is cut short after a New York merchant named Reuben Withers accuses Simone and Arthur of card sharping, then stabs him to death. Simone tracks Reuben across the West and sets up a gambling club in Nevada City, Calif., where she changes her name to Eleanor, earns the nickname “Madam Moustache,” and wonders if Reuben will show his face. Walsh weaves emotion and suspense with historical details of a woman persevering in the face of inequality as she finds a way to earn a living. Readers will relish Walsh’s fully developed portrait.
First reviewed on Publishers Weekly site on 7/14/21: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-948018-95-1
Middle grade fiction readers will find By the Light of the Fireflies a fine historical novel based on the life of Colonial girl Sybil Ludington, following Sybil and her family's struggle during the Revolutionary War.
The story opens with the Loyalists to the British Crown coming for her father. They are accusing him of being a traitor to England.
Sybil believes in her father, and in the magic light of fireflies which (legend has it) appear when you need them most. But can they help her family when war swirls around them and they all are endangered?
As Sybil steps into a role she'd never envisioned, young readers receive an action-packed story that captures the environment and atmosphere of the times: "I used my musket to point into the dark forest, my own gaze following the long barrel. I heard Rebecca’s gasp. My gun felt heavy in my hands. I should fire it. It was what Papa told us to do. Fire it and he’d come running. He’d handle the situation, in this case: his capturers. Or worse: his assassins. I quivered. I wouldn’t fire my gun. That felt like hand-delivering a worm to a bird’s nest to be gobbled."
Forced to be assertive and proactive beyond her years and experience, Sybil becomes an inadvertent heroine as she struggles to protect everything she loves from the Loyalists and the evolving battle that engulfs her home.
Revolutionary War history and motivations on all sides come to life in the course of a survey that does an outstanding job of capturing the political and social sentiments of the times.
Jenni L. Walsh is especially adept at capturing the Sybil's first-person observations and emotions: "I pushed us north, toward the hamlet of Stormville. That’d be the point where I turned us south again. I yearned for Stormville. I wanted nothing more than to see that strip of homes. My hands were red. They burned from the cold, from where I gripped the reins and my stick. My jawline hurt, where my teeth had clenched for so long. My legs and back and torso ached from keeping beat with Star. My stomach felt hollow and grumbled for food. My eyeballs even felt as if they’d been rattled to the point of pain."
These drive a story line that personalizes the history in a manner that makes it understandable, realistic, and quite accessible.
Middle grade readers who normally eschew fact-laden historical fiction will find the emotional driving force particularly strong in By the Light of the Fireflies. This approach strengthens the compelling story of a young girl's trials, which forces her into the unexpected role of becoming a female war hero in times where girls and women normally are staid.
A concluding note from the author reinforces the real historical events that receive such evocative, personalized attention in the plot.
--Midwest Book Review
Reviewed June 2021
From its enticing cover to the turn of the last page, this novel is engrossing. A fabulously entertaining story about a remarkable woman who just wanted to be herself.
WRITTEN BY JENNI L. WALSH
REVIEW BY FIONA ALISON
From its enticing cover to the turn of the last page, this novel is engrossing. Alongside other historical women way ahead of their time, Simone Jules was the first female professional croupier. Her tale dabbles in love and revenge, but her game of choice? Vingt-et-un, which she introduced to the West in 1849.
After a family tragedy overtakes her life, Simone arrives in San Francisco, determined to reinvent herself, no longer a daughter or twin sister or fiancée. The miners flock to her table to spend their gold. Simone is striking, intoxicating, with a feminine allure, made even more so by her silky French accent, which she uses to advantage. She is well-mannered, intelligent, and business-savvy. She never allows a client to touch her. Her gambling houses are respectable—no cussing, no brawling—and she doesn’t hire girls! After another tragedy, she joins a mule train for a few years, reinvents herself as Eleanor Dumont, and sets up Madame Dumont’s with her own hard-earned money. Until the inevitable happens and the miners move on again, drawn to the seductive whispers of gold.
Simone is a drifter, a very successful one, a survivor with the will to overcome anything life throws at her. She sets up in many places from San Francisco to Kootenay, always dealing vingt-et-un, her specialty. We experience her wanderings, her hardships, and loneliness with her. The commotion and cacophony of noise in a place being built from the ground up and the subsequent quiet of the foothills are exactingly rendered. Many memorable characters come and go, but what stands out is Simone’s autonomy, her self-reliance, her freedom to go where she likes and do what she likes. A fabulously entertaining story about a remarkable woman who just wanted to be herself.
First published on the HNS Website (May 6, 2021): https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/a-betting-woman-a-novel-of-madame-moustache/
"Walsh’s easy, flowing prose breathes life into colonial America.... Middle-grade historical fiction fans will be swept up in the bravery of one young woman’s fight to save her country against a British attack." - Publishers Weekly, Editor's Pick
Walsh (I Am Defiance) again brings a powerful woman from history to life with this middle-grade adventure featuring 16-year-old Revolutionary War hero Sybil Ludington. Based on true events, By the Light of Fireflies takes on George Washington’s inner spy ring in the heat of the battle between Patriots and Loyalists, spotlighting the role that young Sybil played during an all night, 40-mile ride through colonists’ territory to muster the militia against an impending British attack. In Walsh’s spirited depiction, Sybil is a courageous, quick-thinking Patriot who dreams of growing up to be something more than a farmer’s wife–and realizes that ambition is within her reach through the fight to advance the revolutionary cause.
Sybil’s father, Henry Ludington, is a Loyalist captain in name only and spends his free time helping Patriots spy on the British. When pressures mount, he enlists Sybil and her sister, Rebecca, to help decipher code written with invisible ink on letters bearing crucial information about the British army, its troops, and their planned maneuvers. This opportunity is a dream come true for Sybil, who idolizes Paul Revere and hopes for her own chance to prove her mettle–a chance that emerges when she gets asked to ride all night in a terrifying crusade to save her family and her country. “I didn’t realize it was weird for me to want to be brave or daring or courageous like a man was,” she memorably declares.
Walsh’s easy, flowing prose breathes life into colonial America. Readers will find themselves in the thick of the Revolutionary War as well as eighteenth-century living: Walsh uses period appropriate language (“Mama shook her head bigly”) and detail, such as a family strategy game of “Nine Man’s Morrice in the parlor,” to capture the feeling of the past, and her handling of the long ride is crisp and suspenseful. History-minded young readers will be roused by this stouthearted protagonist’s unflinching dedication.
Takeaway: Middle-grade historical fiction fans will be swept up in the bravery of one young woman’s fight to save her country against a British attack.
Great for fans of: Celeste Lim’s The Crystal Ribbon, Pam Munoz Ryan’s Riding Freedom, Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Print Date: 05/31/2021