Awake Unto Me – Kathleen Knowles (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

One of the greatest pleasures reading offers is that
wonderful feeling of being transported into another time; another world that
you can’t wait to get back to. Even better is when that feeling comes on you
unexpectedly, and you’re hooked by page ten—totally lost to the ride. Kathleen
Knowles’ accomplished debut, Awake Unto Me, is just such a wonderful
time machine. 

Kerry O’Shea is a rough and tumble denizen of the unsavory
Barbary Coast, daughter of a whore and a father who “crimps” (or shanghais)
unwary sailors for a living. Beth Hammond is a respectable shopkeeper’s
daughter on the better side of the tracks. They do, however, have Dr. Addison
Grant in common. Grant and O’Shea’s father ran a lucrative card sharping scam
for a while, putting Grant through medical school. Grant, in turn, promises to
take care of Kerry should something happen to her father—and it does. Beth
turns to nursing, her supervising doctor being Dr. Grant. Circumstances force the
girls to share a room in Dr. Grant’s house, and of course, love blooms between
them.

Knowles, a San Francisco resident, gives Awake Unto Me
a wonderful sense of place—richly detailed and immensely transportative. But
place means nothing without people, and Knowles is just as talented at creating
characters. Her Kerry O’Shea is tough, vulnerable, tenacious and loving. Cheeky
and determined, she gets what she wants—from a cook’s job (unheard of for a
woman) in a swanky hotel to the love of Beth Hammond.

And she certainly has some obstacles to overcome there. Beth
is a dedicated nurse with an incident in her past that has prevented her sexual
self from developing. However, she works hard to overcome her difficulties so
she may fully embrace her relationship with Kerry. The mostly welcoming space
in Dr. Grant’s household allows the women this freedom. I say ‘mostly’ because
of Dr. Grant’s disapproving wife, Laura, who throws some interesting hurdles in
their way. Grant, however, is a forward-thinking man. He has an inkling of what
is going on with Kerry and Beth and, though he doesn’t understand it, he
refuses to stand in the way of their happiness.

Knowles’ prose is direct and to-the-point, nothing wasted or
off target, which is why her characters are so fully fleshed. The smallest
details emphasize a trait or expose a layer, and those details are well-chosen
indeed. Awake Unto Me is a family album snapshot of two women standing
in front of a middle-class Victorian house, close to each other (but not too close),
wearing secret smiles that both expose and mask their true relationship to each
other. Smiles of satisfaction and pride in achieving the goals they set for
themselves. Like pioneers.

Real pioneers.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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