Summary and book reviews of The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor

The Hours Count

by Jillian Cantor

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor X
The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2016, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mollie Smith Waters

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About this Book

Book Summary

A spellbinding historical novel about a woman who befriends Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and is drawn into their world of intrigue, from the author of Margot.

On June 19, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to commit espionage. The day Ethel was first arrested in 1950, she left her two young sons with a neighbor, and she never came home to them again. Brilliantly melding fact and fiction, Jillian Cantor reimagines the life of that neighbor, and the life of Ethel and Julius, an ordinary-seeming Jewish couple who became the only Americans put to death for spying during the Cold War.

A few years earlier, in 1947, Millie Stein moves with her husband, Ed, and their toddler son, David, into an apartment on the eleventh floor in Knickerbocker Village on New York's Lower East Side. Her new neighbors are the Rosenbergs. Struggling to care for David, who doesn't speak, and isolated from other "normal" families, Millie meets Jake, a psychologist who says he can help David, and befriends Ethel, also a young mother. Millie and Ethel's lives as friends, wives, mothers, and neighbors entwine, even as chaos begins to swirl around the Rosenbergs and the FBI closes in. Millie begins to question her own husband's political loyalty and her marriage, and whether she can trust Jake and the deep connection they have forged as they secretly work with David. Caught between these two men, both of whom have their own agendas, and desperate to help her friends, Millie will find herself drawn into the dramatic course of history.

As Millie - trusting and naive - is thrown into a world of lies, intrigue, spies and counterspies, she realizes she must fight for what she believes, who she loves, and what is right.

June 19, 1953

On the night Ethel is supposed to die, the air is too heavy to breathe. The humidity clings to my skin, my face wet with sweat, or maybe tears. It is hard to tell the difference. To understand one thing from another anymore. It's as if the world were ending the way I always imagined it would. And yet I'm still here. Still driving. Still breathing, somehow, despite the heavy air, despite what I have done. The sky is on the edge of dusk. No mushroom cloud. No bodies turned to dust.

I'm driving Ed's Fleetmaster up Route 9, the road to Ossining, along the sweltering Hudson. There are a lot of cars, all headed the way I am, slowing me down. I push anxiously on the gas, wanting the miles to speed along, wanting to get there before it's too late. I hope the car will make it, that I haven't damaged anything that will cause it to stall now at the worst possible time.

I wish I could've left earlier, but I had to wait until I was able to take Ed&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. After Millie first meets Ethel, she idealizes her life and marriage. How are Millie and Ethel different? Similar? How does their friendship play out in each other's lives?
  2. Does Millie's view of Ethel and this story change what you have thought or known about Ethel Rosenberg historically? What were your previous perceptions?
  3. Millie and Ethel both make their children their top priority. Compare their roles as mothers in the 1940s and 1950s to what motherhood is like today. Do you think Ethel and Millie are good mothers?
  4. Millie and Ethel are both women of their time. How do changing ideas of family, motherhood, birth control, autism, and psychology play roles in the novel?
  5. What do you think of Millie's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Any time an author delves into historical fiction, he or she must make the work plausible, which Jillian Cantor does. The Hours Count invites readers into a world that astutely blends fact with fiction.   (Reviewed by Mollie Smith Waters).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Plot twists tease the reader into wondering who's telling the truth, who's working for the KGB or the FBI, but despite its historical context, the book reads like a predictable, although engaging, love story.

Publishers Weekly
While the love story is the weakest element in this narrative, the novel is notable for its affecting depiction of motherly love and the skillful way it captures the suffocating air of the McCarthy era.

Booklist
The Hours Count is a provocative, gripping read about the era in U.S. history when fear of the bomb and anti-Russian sentiments ran rampant.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Cantor (Margot) has perfectly captured the climate of America after World War II. This intriguing novel that intertwines facts about the Rosenbergs into the life of an average American housewife is highly recommended for historical fiction fans.

Author Blurb Christina Baker Kline, New York Times-bestselling author of Orphan Train
Taut, atmospheric and absorbing, this story provides an intimate window into a world most people only know from the headlines.

Author Blurb Laura Moriarty, New York Times-bestselling author of The Chaperone
Fraught with tension and wise with empathy, this is the story of a shameful time in our nation’s history, but also of friendship, love, and loyalty.

Author Blurb Natasha Solomons, New York Times-bestselling author of The House at Tyneford
Utterly gripping and almost unbearably moving. A thought-provoking novel about a terrible aspect of America’s recent past, with the pace of a thriller.

Author Blurb Anton DiSclafani, New York Times-bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
A deeply compelling retelling of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s famous betrayal. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, this book will leave you wondering about the intersection of truth and politics, responsibility and love, long after you've finished reading it.

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Beyond the Book

Julius and Ethel Rosenbergs' Children

Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, accused of being Soviet spies, are at the center of Jill Cantor's novel, The Hours Count. After their marriage in 1939 the Rosenbergs moved to New York City's Knickerbocker Village where they lived with their two sons, Michael and Robert (renamed John and Richie in the book), until their arrests on charges of espionage in 1950. When Julius and Ethel were executed on June 19, 1953, their young sons were left orphaned. What became of them?

Michael and Robert MeeropolAfter Ethel's arrest, the boys lived for a short time with their maternal grandmother, Tessie Greenglass, but she then placed them with the Hebrew Children's Home. Later, Sophie Rosenberg, their paternal grandmother, took them in. But after their parents were ...

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