Winter in June, Kathryn Miller Haines, Harper, $13.99.
Kathryn Miller Haines brings her light touch to bear on World War II New York city in her Rosie Winter series, but in this third outing, she takes Rosie out of the city on a USO tour where she ends up in the Salomon Islands (a major staging point for the Pacific theater). While Haines still includes her trademark humor, this book, because of the setting, is slightly darker than it's predecessors. Rosie has joined the USO along with her friend Jayne to search for her ex-boyfriend, Jack, who is MIA. Rosie still has unresolved feelings for him and thinks they parted on poor terms. Of course trying to find one missing soldier in the middle of the Pacific is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but Jayne and Rosie also want to help the war effort, and joining the USO is a way to do that.
Kudos to Haines for finding a completely believable way to get her heroine onto a new canvas. Rosie Winter probably would have joined the USO. The details of her journey are what gives this book a truly unique quality. I don't think I've ever read a novel in this particular setting, and was interested enough to google images of the military base (I recommend it). The story kicks off with a bang as Rosie and Jayne are waiting to board the ship that will take them to their assignment, when a dead girl is fished out of the water, making the boarding process an extremely long one. Her ability to convey what that departure must have been like—"Each good-bye broke my heart a little"—adds a great deal of emotional texture to her narrative, and it's carried through the book, which brought me to tears a few times.
The setting of the USO camp, the raggedy company of performers, centered on a Hollywood Star in exile, Gilda DeVane, all are vividly drawn and very memorable, not just Rosie, Jayne, and Gilda, but all the girls. I think one of the distinguishing features of a good writer is an ability to create many characters who all are memorable. I don't think it's easy, as I've read plenty of books where one of the side bar characters turns out to be the killer, and you're frantically flipping pages back, trying to figure out who in the heck that person is. That's never a good sign. Though the story is fine and the victim actually made me sad, what really shines here is the setting. How such a young woman seems to have so easily channeled the world of the 1940's is a mystery to me, but it's one I'm willing to have unsolved, if it means I can continue to read about Rosie Winter.
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