Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Reviews

Review | She Wears the Mask

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review | She Wears the MaskShe Wears the Mask
Author: Shelly Stratton
Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Format: ARC
Pages: 262
Source: Netgalley

The Synopsis

Gripping and moving, She Wears the Mask is a novel about two women from two very different worlds, both burdened with secrets from their pasts, who form an unexpected bond…

1950s Chicago: Angelique Bixby could be one of many fresh-faced sales girls working along the Magnificent Mile, but she’s unique. She’s a white woman married to a black man in 1950s Chicago, making her stand out among the tenements on the South Side where she lives. Despite the challenges the couple faces, they find comfort and strength in their love for one another. Angelique is content, as long as she has her Daniel by her side and their baby in her arms, until she loses them both—one to death and the other to dire circumstances.

1990s Washington, D.C.: Angelique Crofton is a woman of privilege. A rich, aging beauty and mother of a rising political star, she has learned to forget her tragic past. But now that she is facing her own mortality, she is finally ready to find the daughter she left behind, remember the young woman she once was, and unearth the bittersweet memories she had long ago buried.

Jasmine Stanley is an ambitious lawyer—the only black woman at her firm. She is too busy climbing the corporate ladder to deal with her troublesome family or their unresolved issues. Tasked with Angelique’s case, Jasmine doesn’t know what to make of her new client—an old debutante with seemingly too much time and money on her hands. Jasmine eagerly accepts the challenge though, hoping if she finds Angelique’s long-lost daughter, it will impress the firm’s partners. But she doesn’t count on the search challenging her mentally and emotionally. Nor does she expect to form a friendship with Angelique, who is much more like her than she realizes—because Jasmine is harboring secrets, too.

The Review

Shelly Stratton’s She Wears the Mask initially caught my eye on NetGalley because the synopsis gave me The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo vibes. And even though I have never read Taylor Jenkins Reid’s beloved book, I didn’t hesitate to download She Wears the Mask. It sounded like a very “me” book.

Now, I’m normally a skip the author notes type of person, but I noticed She Wears the Mask was self-published and I wondered why. Stratton states in her notes she tried to get the novel traditionally published but couldn’t find it a publishing home. This made me pause, She Wears the Mask sounded like the dual-timeline historical\women’s fiction publishers love. Why no takers? There were no answers in Stratton’s author note but she believed in this story and the characters and took a chance by self-publishing the novel. Stratton’s belief in her story and characters made me even more interested in the novel. Taking a chance to self-publish can be a risk, especially for a novel of this type.

So, I decided to take a chance on She Wears the Mask.

Long story short, after reading the novel I understand why Stratton believed the stories of Jasmine and Angelique were special. As with most dual-timeline women’s fiction novels, there are two “main characters”. In She Wears the Mask, readers are introduced to Jasmine and Angelique. Two equally complicated women with complex, difficult backstories. While learning about Jasmin and Angelique and how their past spaced the women they have become in the when the novel opens, it was easy for to understand as a reader why they made certain decisions. Even if most people would consider their actions questionable. They were just very realistic characters that I connected with instantly.

One of the issue that often arises in dual-timeline narratives is the past overshadows the present. Stratton avoided this problem, making sure the reader ends up equally invested in both. Instead of what I find happens, the present story being used to tell the story from the past. This also aided in the development of Jasmine as a character. Angelique’s story did not overshadow Jasmine’s, Jasmine was allowed to have her own fully fleshed out character arch. She was allowed to grow naturally in the story instead of a having a few reflective chapters serving as character growth tucked away at the end.

One of the standout element of She Wears the Mask is the storytelling. After reading the first couple of chapters, I got confused about “the present” and questioned why the book read like a novel was from the late 1980s or the 1990s. I had to flip back a couple of chapters to see the clearly labeled 1994 time stamp. Stratton nailed the 1990s speech patterns and slang without being overdone. The writing style is on par for books in this category, women’s fiction. The writing is not a standout, but what I expect from this genre. I didn’t have any problems with writing, Stratton writing style kept me engaged in the Jasmine and Angelique’s journeys.

The only “major” issue I had is the final plot twist. I will not discuss the twist in depth (no spoilers) but I thought the last plot twist was a little tired and predictable. Authors drop in a tidbit of information and allows the readers general knowledge to fill in the rest. This twist is not very imaginative and I’ve seen one-to-many times.

Overall, She Wears the Mask was a pleasant surprise and Shelly Stratton has earned herself a place on my list of authors to watch.

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