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Red Letter Days: Book summary and reviews of Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Red Letter Days

by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford X
Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Feb 25, 2020
    400 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

A striking novel from the acclaimed author of Radio Girls about two daring women who escape McCarthy-era Hollywood for London, where they find creative freedom and fight the injustices of the Red Scare.

Nineteen-fifties America is bright and full of promise, and Phoebe Adler, a New Yorker brimming with talent and ambition, is forging her way as the rarest of things: a female television writer in Hollywood. But fears of a growing Red Menace cloud the optimism, egged on by the hate-mongering of Senator McCarthy. A blacklist is created to cast out communist sympathizers, smashing careers and ruining lives. When Phoebe finds herself caught in the hysteria's web, she flees to London.

Though postwar London is struggling and work is precarious, Phoebe finds camaraderie with other Americans living in exile, including the restless and ambitious Hannah Wolfson. Determined to fight the injustices of the Red Scare, Hannah is a successful producer who hires blacklisted writers at great risk to her career and company.

Together Phoebe and Hannah successfully fight unfair bias and sexism, but danger still looms in this supposed sanctuary. And when their families and friends—their very lives—are threatened, they will have to make impossible choices.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] thoroughly fascinating and too-little-known story of Hannah Weinstein and her role in supporting blacklisted Americans, regardless of gender or race." - Booklist (starred review)

"Phoebe's hair-raising escape from HUAC's condemnation offers a James Bond–like finish to Stratford's bracing adventure that effortlessly melds politics, romance, and history. This delivers on every level." - Publishers Weekly

"Well plotted and moving, with witty characters and an unnervingly timely storyline, Red Letter Days is smart, satisfying historical fiction at its best." - Shelf Awareness

"Red Letter Days is a look at a piece of American history told through the lens of two brave women, whose stories you won't soon forget." - PopSugar

"Stratford's novel effortlessly walks the line between hilarious and harrowing in her account of the tribulations of the victims of the blacklist – all told from a perspective that is unique and refreshing. And I simply adored the heroines Phoebe and Hannah, crafted from Stratford's meticulous research and fabulous imagination." - Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

"Red Letter Days is a blacklist-era game of cat and mouse that's positively Shakespearean in its witty dialogue, forged identities, banishments, unexpected romance, and even its drama within the drama. The final lightning-speed pages left me breathless." - Kerri Maher, author of The Girl in White Gloves

"Fairly singing with tension and triumph…weaves fact and fiction into a tale that serves as entertainment, warning, reflection and homage wrapped up in one highly readable package." - Greer Macallister, USA Today bestselling author of The Magician's Lie and Woman 99

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Reader Reviews

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Millicent

Chilling parallels...
I was born in 1947, the same year the blacklisting began, and I admit to a superficial understanding of the events of the McCarthy era. This book , based on real events that occurred to real people, blew my mind because history is repeating itself in real time today on TV. Anyone who watched any part of the recent impeachment proceedings and was now reading this novel had to stop and ask themselves ...Did we learn nothing from this despicable period in our history? The author made these characters and their lives come totally alive for me. I read this book compulsively , unable to stop until I knew what had happened to these characters who felt like friends. I was so invested in their lives and so fearful of the runaway train that was bearing down on them. They were strong women who were not broken by their circumstances or the weakness of other people in their lives. What a treat to read the historical information provided at the end of the book and realize that these strong women really existed! The book flowed like a screen play, propelled by the author's talent to write authentic dialogue. I have a high bar for books I will run around recommending to everyone. First, if I finish a book and I miss the characters immediately ...Secondly, if I find myself thinking about the book long after I finish it...Third, if I immediately start researching the author and the history involved, wanting to know so much more... Lastly, if I immediately recommend the book to my book club because I can't wait to talk to all of them about it! Red Letters Days checked all these boxes. We need to revisit this shameful period in our history and stop it from happening again.

George M. (Antioch, CA)

Fearing the Bogeyman
Growing up in the 50s I had little awareness that my country was going nuts and that people's lives were being turned inside out and ruined. That families were being torn apart. That American citizens were being persecuted for the political beliefs, or their ethnicity, by the country that I was being taught was the Greatest country EVER.
Sarah Jane Stratford, in her new novel "Red Letter Days", takes the reader on a journey to our nation's past with a charming and disturbing story of Americans being destroyed by their own government. A story about Americans having to flee the country, unable to work at home, and unable to freely associate with others the government might deem "un-American". Ms. Stratford makes the past come alive and allows the reader to experience the joys, pains and sorrows of average American people who are treated as pariahs by the government, which was heading a national meltdown over dreaded Communism.
I strongly recommend "Red Letter Days" and hope everyone who reads it takes it to heart.

Brenda S. (Winter Haven, FL)

Another American Mistake
The pace of this book was perfect. Watching (or reading) the process of finding a person, deciding that person was a Communist, and then ruining that person's life was swift and sad.

Ms. Stratford obviously did her research and the story was gripping. At one point, I just had to stop reading because I knew it was going to take a sad turn...and I just needed a little time to prepare.

This book will be recommended to our book club...there is much here to discuss. Thank you!!

V Myers (Texas)

The McCarthy Hearings
I am happy that I had the chance to read and review this book. I think I need to begin this review by giving a little background. In the era of the McCarthy hearings, I finished high school and began my college education. My life as a college student was vastly different than the life of a college student in today's world. I may have been especially naïve at the time but in 1955 I actually don't think many others my age (at least in West Virginia) followed national news and I don't think anyone I knew even thought of becoming active in politics or in any political organizations or groups. I began living in my sorority house in 1954 and I do not ever remember our new TV set ever being used to watch anything other than entertainment. I remember later hearing a few people talk about the McCarthy hearings and the black listed people but I did not witness those things first hand.

So I really enjoyed reading this book which made what I had missed back then come alive for me. I think the plot was believable and I felt as if I was given the opportunity to relive those years but this time with my eyes open. I also thought the character development was well done.

I would recommend that anyone interested in American History read the book. I believe that book clubs could enjoy discussing the book especially comparing the McCarthy hearings to a modern day hearing such as when Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court was being challenged.

Ann W. (New York, NY)

Fear and Loathing
This was a great read, engaging and pulled me into Phoebe, Joan and Hannah's lives. Based on historical events that I remember well, the HUAC hearing and Red Scare that destroyed the lives of so many people. Stratford deftly narrates the ethical quandaries faced by all. To testify, to escape. Hannah's courage was extraordinary and an important moral and relevant position in the present.
As a reader, I questioned what I would have done, hindsight is always easy. Stratford's novel explained directly and indirectly uncomfortable and perplexing situations that real people faced in that time. What does it mean to live, to act responsibly in your life and that of others? These questions are answered differently by Hannah, Phoebe and Joan. An enjoyable read.

Jean B. (Naples, FL)

Red Letter Days
When I was reading Red Letter Days I thought many of the scenes were over-dramatized. Surely, in this country, we were never that complicit with a government that completely disregarded the belief of our founding fathers that citizens had the freedom to have diverse viewpoints. Then I read the Author's Note at the end of the book and discovered that she based the events in her book on actual events! This novel sheds another light on one of the most disturbing times in our history. Hopefully, Red Letter Days will help government and citizens never to allow this to happen again.

...15 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Sarah-Jane Stratford

Sarah-Jane Stratford is an author and essayist who has written for the Guardian, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, Salon, and Guernica, among others. She is also a member of WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media).

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