The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay

June 14, 2016 Historical Fiction 17

How Goes It, Bookworms?

There’s no set formula that’s going to guarantee I pick up a book, but pitching me a book that’s historical fiction about a troupe of sisters performing a Vaudeville acrobatic act is about as close as you can get. Needless to say, when I was approached about The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay, I couldn’t say “YES PLEASE” fast enough. (I always say “please” and “thank you”, despite my self-proclaimed bad manners.) *I received a complimentary copy of this book through the publisher for review consideration. You’ll get my honest opinion whether you want it or not.*

thetumblingturnersisters1919 marks the beginning of some tough times for the Turner family. The patriarch is a low paid boot-stitcher in Johnson City, New York, until he is injured and unable to work. The four Turner daughters and their parents have always lived on the edge of disaster, but this loss of income devastates their precarious balance. Their mother decides that Vaudeville is the answer and sets about grooming her daughters for the stage in a hurry.

The girls cobble together an acrobatic act that lands them enough paying gigs on the Vaudeville circuit to keep the family from being evicted. Traveling from town to town on the train also affords Gert, Winnie, Kit, and the recently widowed Nell a sense of freedom they’d never known at home. They meet a host of fascinating characters and performers along the way, as well as being exposed to the seedy underbelly of show business.

Gaaaaah there is almost nothing I love more than tales of old-timey show business! I positively gobbled this novel up. Fay did a fantastic job of incorporating real-life events into the narrative and made the story sparkle with life and energy. I loved every little bit of this book, from the painfully cheesy jokes the performers would tell to the characters’ romantic entanglements. Heartbreak and hilarity abound.

I did, however, have one beef. I live in Peoria, IL. The phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” (it’s a famous expression, I swear) comes directly out of the Vaudeville era and references the fact that the town in which I live is a big ol’ bag of middle America. An act could play well in NYC, but that didn’t mean it would work everywhere. Peoria, however, represented the median sensibility of all the folk in the land. The Turner sisters were mentioned visiting two other Central Illinois towns (Galesburg and Champaign) but neither my town nor our little catch phrase got a mention! I’m not going to lie, I feel kind of slighted, you guys.

All that nonsense aside, I loved the book. If you are in the mood for historical fiction and are even half as fascinated as I am by Vaudeville, you should check out The Tumbling Turner Sisters.

Talk to me Bookworms! Does your hometown (or the town you live in, I guess, seeing as I’m not originally from Peoria) have a claim to fame? I want to hear about them! The weirder the better!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


17 Responses to “The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay”

  1. heather

    I was checking into my AirBnB in Bath England and the guy asked where I was from. I said Akron OH and he started in on a list of all the important things from Akron. He said that we have so much history! Yeah, a guy from Bath with all the Roman history just laying around willy nilly thought a U.S. city had history. Weird.

    For the record, we are famous for rubber. Goodyear and Firestone are from here. I live across the street from the Goodyear people’s mansion. In different times I could have been a serf. We also have Devo and Chrissy Hynde.

  2. mwgerard

    Hahahaha! I’m also from Illinois (and my grandparents once lived in Peoria). Have you read WAS by Geoff Ryman? Or QUEEN OF THE AIR (non fic) by Dean Jensen?

  3. Katherine Koba

    Billy Joel wrote a song about my hometown; or rather, wrote a song about changing economic times using my hometown as a framework:

    (Even though the song is called “Allentown” the references to factories and steel are more appropriate for nearby Bethlehem, but for rhyme/lyrics he called it “Allentown.”)

    Also, we’re home to the largest free music festival in the country??

    and the world’s oldest continuously-run bookstore.

    And where I live now (Stockholm) is famous for so many things I guess I’d be here all day. But the coolest things (IMO) are: the world’s largest permanent, to-scale model of the solar system (though tbf that spans the entire length of the nation, not just Stockholm) and one of the best-preserved 17th century warships (The Vasa).

    If you like reading about vaudeville, Harpo Marx’s biography has some fun inside takes on the industry!

    • Words For Worms

      This is all so cool! Okay, in the interest of demonstrating the smallness of the world, Peoria WAS home to the world’s largest scale model of the solar system (well, the sun is located in Peoria)… In 1992 at least. I got extra credit in college for my Astronomy class for visiting all the planets and taking selfies. Except they weren’t digital selfies. They were 1 hour film development selfies. Because old school.

  4. Megan M.

    Speaking of traveling performers, the Springer Opera House in my hometown of Columbus, GA is semi-famous I guess? It’s haunted (of course) and lots of famous people performed there, like Ethel Barrymore and Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth.)

  5. Unruly Reader

    Peoria was ROBBED!! I think my town should be known because Allan Pinkerton lived & worked here. Instead, it’s known for Santa’s [Satan’s] Village.

    This book sounds like a darn entertaining thing.

    • Words For Worms

      OH MY GOSH. Is Santa’s Village still a thing?! I went there as a kid a few times! There was a giant ice pole that everyone would lick which was probably responsible for the transmission of chicken pox to all of Chicagoland. Kids are gross.

  6. juliettefay

    Hi Katie ~ First of all a huge mushy thank you for this wonderful review! So glad you enjoyed the adventures of the Turner Sisters. Second, a big apology for not using the “How will it play in Peoria?” line. It was a classic, and I should have found a way to get it in there.

    As for not having the girls play there, as you know I only used actual vaudeville theatres that still exist today, and sadly none do in Peoria. This is no surprise since so many of them were torn down.

    Nevertheless, Peoria was very important in the vaudeville culture, and I’m glad you brought it up!

    Thanks again, my fellow booklover!


    • Words For Worms

      Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you found my review. Thanks for the enlightenment on the Peoria theaters- I did read in the notes that you only included theaters still standing and it doesn’t really surprise me that none here are. I’ll totally forgive you your slight on behalf of the residents of Peoria by leaving out our catchphrase… Providing you write more delightful books. Deal? 🙂

Talk to me, Bookworms!

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