Monday, August 24, 2020

BLOG TOUR - She Wears the Mask

She Wears the Mask by Shelly Stratton

Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Paperback & eBook; 262 pages
Genre: Historical/Women's Fiction

No one can ever really know what lies behind the mask . . . 

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.

Available on Amazon


Title:   She Wears the Mask
Author:  Shelly Stratton
Publisher:  Lashell Stratton-Childers
Genre:   Women's Fiction
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   262
Date of Publication:   August 11, 2020
My Rating:  4 Stars

This sensitive story by Shelly Stratton tells the tales of two women - that of a white woman who married a black man in 1950s Chicago and also that of a woman in 1990s Washington D.C., living a life of privilege. How these women's lives intersected is told in this compelling book.

Interracial marriage was unheard of in the 1950s. Actually, it did not even become legal in the United States until 1967 when the Supreme Court settled the case Loving v. Virginia. So, for Angelique Bixby to have married Daniel, she was taking a chance. However, love is all that married, and it made Angelique very happy. Sadly, however, her happiness was cut short.

But then the story quickly shifts to the 1990s. Angelique, now, Crofton, is aging, still beautiful, a woman of means and she is the mother of someone making waves in the political arena. But, her health is deteriorating and she seeks to find daughter she lost decades ago.

Jasmine Stanley is a successful black attorney in an otherwise all-white law firm. All Jasmine seeks to do is to rise as high as possible in the firm. Tasked with Angelique's case, she has no idea why this woman is seeking her daughter, but hopes if she can dig through years of broken trails, that she can impress her bosses. It doesn't take long for Jasmine to discover that Angelique has secrets, much to the dismay of Angelique's son and daughter. What is more is that Jasmine has secrets of her own.

What a noteworthy story! I found the cover to be striking, but the story much more so. I read a lot of books that sway between the past and the present, so I have gotten quite used to that style. Reading the Angelique of old and the Angelique in the present, all while intermingling Jasmine's story was done remarkably well. The book dealt with sensitive issues of race, loss and grief, all the while written in quite a dramatic fashion. I was completely drawn into this story and I definitely cannot wait to see what else this author has in store for her readers.

Many thanks to Shelly Stratton and to HFV Book Tours for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

Please enjoy the following excerpt:

April 2, 1950
Chicago, Illinois

Today, Angelique is wearing her best hat—a felt bonnet with a bow on the side, and her best dress—a hound’s-tooth number with a pleated skirt that is missing only one button. Daniel has done the same—he’s wearing his best suit and tie and he spit shined his shoes that morning so much that she swore he would run out of spit or wear the leather thin. They want to make a good impression, to show the landlord that they are respectable people and will be good tenets if he rents the apartment to them. But standing in front of her possible future home, waiting for Daniel to return, Angelique feels more than just a little overdressed. As she adjusts the blanket around Emma Jean and looks around her, she wonders if all their effort was worth it.

She is standing on a concrete peninsula on the sidewalk surrounded on three sides by rocks, dirt, trash, and a sludgy pool of mud and melting snow. She can hear the blast of the subway train as it passes nearby and the sound of honking car horns. Behind her is a series of four-story brick buildings with exteriors covered in soot, and in front of her is an abandoned building made of broken windows, charred wood, and exposed beams. Half of its exterior is gone, like it was bombed during an airstrike. A burnt sign, “Garfield’s Furniture Emporium” hangs along the front though a few of the letters are missing.

The adults in the neighborhood seem to use part of the lot across the street as a makeshift parking lot, parking their Chryslers and Plymouths at odd angles among the rubble and debris. But the children use it as a playground. More than a dozen of them are running around the broken bricks and warped steel, playing a rowdy game of tag in the snow or sword fighting with pieces of wood.

“I guess this is a home now, Sweet Pea,” Angelique whispers to her daughter.

They arrived at Chicago’s Grand Central Station about a week ago from Cleveland. Angelique was more than hesitant to start all over again when she had already settled into a new place after leaving Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, but Daniel explained to her that they had little choice in the matter.

“Mrs. Jackson said we gotta go, sugar,” he told her a few weeks ago, referring to his landlady who was renting out the basement of her house to them. “She said the walls in here are too thin to have a baby hollerin’ all day and night. The neighbors are complainin’.”

But it was Angelique’s opinion that them getting kicked out of their home had less to do with their newborn and her wailing, and more to do with Angelique herself.

Daniel had rented out the basement for more than a year with no problems with Mrs. Jackson until Angelique—his new wife—had arrived. Then suddenly Daniel started getting all these complaints about them playing the radio too loud, using too much water, taking too much time in the upstairs water closet, and cooking food that offended the widow’s delicate senses.

Angelique suspected the older woman who flirted with Daniel shamelessly had hoped to land him for herself, but her hopes had been dashed when “he brought that trashy white gal up in here,” she overheard Mrs. Jackson say on the telephone one day. Emma Jean’s birth was the perfect excuse Mrs. Jackson needed to kick them out.

They had to move somewhere, and Daniel said an old friend from North Carolina had told him the place to go was Chicago. Plenty of other Negroes had made the journey there from down South years before, traveling on trains and in caravans up North to the Promise Land on Lake Michigan. His friend said he could set up Daniel with a good-paying job at one of the slaughter houses in The Yards to replace the two jobs Daniel was juggling now, one of which kept him out late at night and away from his new little family. His friend said they could easily find a place to live on the South Side.

When they first arrived, Angelique was enchanted by some of the stately houses on the South Side’s Grand Boulevard, those sparkling gems in Bronzeville where the wealthy Negroes of Chicago lived. But she knew she and Daniel had to set their sights a lot lower. The only places they could afford on the South Side were dingy tenements—no place to raise a baby, Angelique argued. So despite his friend’s warning not to even bother, they tried other parts of the city, venturing out like Lewis and Clark in uncharted territory.

The landlords were all smiles when Angelique arrived by herself to look at apartments, with her fresh, pretty face and eagerness. The apartments weren’t big but they were much nicer and airier than the ones they had seen on the South Side—much closer to the place she shared with her friends Dorcas and Nancy back in Cleveland before she married Daniel. But when Daniel showed up or when she brought their baby, Emma Jean, along with her, they were met by confusion or outright hostility.

“I’m sorry, but no. No!” one woman told them, shaking her head so hard that she must have hurt her neck. She slammed the door in their faces.

“We don’t rent to race traitors or niggers,” one man told them in an Irish brogue before spitting a line of tobacco at their feet and turning his back on them.

The irony wasn’t lost on Angelique that someone had probably told the same man 40 years ago, “We don’t rent to the Irish.”

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 17
Review at Books, Writings, and More

Tuesday, August 18
Feature at I'm All About Books

Wednesday, August 19
Interview at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals

Thursday, August 20
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Friday, August 21
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Monday, August 24
Review & Excerpt at Robin Loves Reading

Tuesday, August 25
Interview at Bookish Rantings
Excerpt at The Caffeinated Bibliophile

Wednesday, August 26
Feature at Reading is My Remedy

Thursday, August 27
Review at Passages to the Past

Friday, August 28
Guest Post at History from a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, August 31
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a $50 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, please use the Gleam form below. The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on August 31st. You must be 18 or older to enter. She Wears the Mask

 About the Author

As long as she could remember, Shelly Stratton (who also writes under the penname Shelly Ellis) has wanted to be an author. In college, she studied journalism and started out as a crime reporter for a small local newspaper. Now she is an editor at a trade journal. She became an author when she was selected as one of four finalists in the BET Books First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was having her first short-story romance published in an anthology. Since then, she has authored ten books and has been nominated for various awards, including a NAACP Image Award® in the Literary Fiction Category, an African American Literary Award in the romance category, and a RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. Shelly lives in Maryland with her husband and their daughter. She loves to paint, read, and watch movies.

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  1. What a great review! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and we really appreciate you hosting the tour!

    HF Virtual Book Tours