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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

'Uptown Girls' trilogy by by Joanna Shupe


Joanna Shupe’s ‘Uptown Girls’ is a historical romance (now concluded) series that began in 2019, and the third book was published last year in 2020. The books take place largely in 1891 New York City, and focuses on the three Greene sisters and uptown heiresses – three very different women whose bull-headed businessman of a father intends only the best for his daughters, but times they are a-changing and the girls are witnessing the suffrage and union movements unfold … and with these changes come their own ideas of how their lives should go, and it rarely correlates to what their parents want for them. 

First book ‘The Rogue of Fifth Avenue’ focuses on eldest sister Mamie, who is promised to be promised to the upper-crust son of her father’s oldest friend. But Mamie has been delaying signing the marriage papers, and instead she’s turned her mind and idealism to helping the city’s poor and working-class families – and the way she helps is by gambling with her sister in exclusive clubs (clubs that are also barred to them) and giving their winnings to the needy. But this Robin Hood behaviour has caught the attentions of her father’s busy-body lawyer, Frank Tripp – and he’s not impressed with Mamie’s wild and reckless after-hours behaviour, even if it makes her even more intriguing and tempting in his eyes. 

Second book ‘The Prince of Broadway’ is about second-sister Florence who has ambitions of opening her own (and exclusive) ladies’ gambling club – but to do that she needs a mentor in all things gaming; and that’s where the delectable and reclusive, elusive Clayton Madden comes into her schemes. He agrees to mentor her but the fire between them soon turns combustible.

Final book is ‘The Devil of Downtown’ about youngest sister Justine the “do-gooder” of downtown who has taken it upon herself to help track down wayward husbands walking out on their needy families, and making sure the City’s workers are not being exploited. It’s in her noble pursuits that Justine is forced to cross paths with notorious Bowery criminal King Pin, Jack Mulligan … and what follows is several deals with the devil that wind these two opposite souls closer and closer to one another, with delectable results. 

Right. So – can you tell that it’s Lockdown No. 6 in Victoria and I just need good, wholesome comfort-reads and that to me is historical-romance. The reliable, old faithful genre that without fail can lull me into compulsive reading habits and ensure I have something to look forward to when I dive into a series, or find a new author to explore their backlist. This week in lockdown that remedy for me has been Joanna Shupe; a his-rom author I’ve heard plenty about, but never read before but now I can’t seem to stop! 

Shupe is very much writing modern twists on historical-romances with wonderfully progressive heroes and heroines (where virginity is not a big deal, many female characters have already had previous sexual partners, crave their own careers and lives separate from the men they’re attracted to, and speak openly about welcoming the suffrage movements and the changes they herald! Not to mention a real upstairs/downstairs socio-economic outlook to the books, where the upper-class women don’t care for their status and gravitate towards working-class pursuits and men from all walks of life). If you like what Sarah MacLean is doing in the genre and similarly updating old tropes, then Joanna Shupe is the author for you!

I will say that in all of her books I found that she’d often go *one story-beat too many*. There’d often be one twist overboard, and an additional speedbump in the plot that the protagonists had to overcome that detracted from the rising tension of the climax and just meant that it dragged too long in the final act. That was a pretty common problem in all three books, but a relatively minor quibble. 

I’ll also say that I felt like the first book - ‘The Rogue of Fifth Avenue’ – was the most boring and disappointing, and didn’t seem to gel with the next two … Frank Tripp is more middle-class equivalent here (as a prominent attorney) and while there are secrets to his background, they’re not all that scandalous. Compared to the far better Books 2 and 3 featuring Madden and Mulligan as criminal underworld figures who capture the hearts of the Greene sisters – these books felt much more assured in their thematic purpose and promise, and were both the far more scintillating of the series. Even if the M/M of Madden and Mulligan and both men running gambling halls kinda confused me for a hot-minute in Book 2, it might have been nice to change up the underworld figures slightly – but I can’t deny I ended up loving both of them. So – yes – fair call, Book 1 is a bit of a snooze-fest but the next two are well worth the slog to get through. 

I also loved reading a historical romance set in New York City – something I don’t actually come across that often, but features prominently in Shupe’s backlist is the American industrial and just post-industrial era as settings, which I find really fascinating. It has this kind of ‘Gangs of New York’ feel to it, a lot of social mobility and recognisable places I so appreciated learning the history of. Really nice change from typical England/Scotland. 

All in all; loved these. I’m diving headfirst into Shupe’s whole list and loving it! 

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