Book Review & Giveaway: The Courtesan’s Daughter by Susanne Dunlap

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An ARC copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


I always enjoy taking a trip back in time and this is why historical fiction novels are one of my favorite genres to read. When done well, you’re transported to a completely different time and I always find comfort in reading about these older years.

In The Courtesan’s Daughter we meet Sylvie and Justine. The year is 1910 and the setting is in New York. Justine is Sylvie’s mother and seems to be hiding some pretty big secrets from her daughter, but life has continued on this way for quiet some time. But Sylvie is now 17, nearly 18 and wanting freedom from the life her mother has so adamantly set out in front of her. Rather than falling in line with going to college and becoming a teacher, she dreams of being on the big screen. Moving picture films are releasing and this is where Sylvie sees herself.

As both of their worlds come to a climactic change in just one evening, Justine’s past, that she’d hoped would stay behind her, has reared it’s ugly head and Sylvie has left home to seek out this alternate future for herself. A story of discovery, for both mother and daughter, in ways that intersect and veer far in opposite directions. These two women are faced with some of the biggest challenges for women of that time, and that still exist today.

I fell in love with both characters very deeply. Feeling for the mother and understanding why she tried to hide things from her daughter, and conversely I felt for Sylvie wanting to dig herself out of poverty and forge a path for herself. But things are never as easy as they seem and Sylvie’s sheltered lifestyle causes her some hurdles that she never saw coming.

The journey is always the best part and even with the challenges they both had to face, they come out stronger and more aware of themselves than either one of them was before. Utilizing the exciting events from this time frame, Dunlap weaves together the glamour of the movie industry and the arrival of portrait photography and demonstrates that there are always darker sides to everything. Knowledge is power and both women need to learn some new things about themselves and the changing world around them before they can take the next steps forward.



What happens when a daughter’s dream and a mother’s sordid past collide?

New York, 1910. Seventeen-year-old Sylvie and her French-immigrant mother Justine eke out a living doing piecework in a tenement on the Lower East Side, while Sylvie attends school so that she can escape their life of poverty by becoming a teacher.

At least, that’s what her mother believes should happen. Sylvie, though, has a different dream. She wants to be a star in the new moving pictures, just like the beautiful Vitagraph Girl. When she meets a dangerously handsome Italian boy at church one Sunday and he encourages her ambitions, she begins secretly taking steps toward the career she knows her mother won’t approve of.

But Sylvie isn’t the only one with secrets. Justine has kept her sordid past from Sylvie ever since they came to New York fifteen years before, stitching together a fabric of lies along with the shirtwaists she finishes every day, doing everything in her power to keep the truth from her daughter-that she fled Paris as a courtesan after committing a crime that could still get her arrested, or worse.

When Justine’s past catches up with her in a single act of brutality, Sylvie witnesses what she thinks is her mother’s betrayal and runs away during a freak blizzard, putting them both in grave danger.

Ambition, survival, and unexpected alliances combine in this mother-daughter story that proves love can conquer all-at a price.


Susanne Dunlap is the author of twelve works of historical fiction for adults and teens, as well as an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach. Her love of historical fiction arose partly from her studies in music history at Yale University (PhD, 1999), partly from her lifelong interest in women in the arts as a pianist and non-profit performing arts executive. Her novel The Paris Affair won first place in its category in the CIBA Dante Rossetti awards for Young Adult Fiction. The Musician’s Daughter was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Bank Street Children’s Book of the Year, and was nominated for the Utah Book Award and the Missouri Gateway Reader’s Prize. In the Shadow of the Lamp was an Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award nominee. Susanne earned her BA and an MA (musicology) from Smith College, and lives in Biddeford, ME, with her little dog Betty.


Enter to win a copy of The Courtesan’s Daughter by Susanne Dunlap.

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on May 19th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

The Courtesan’s Daughter

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One response to “Book Review & Giveaway: The Courtesan’s Daughter by Susanne Dunlap”

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful review! We appreciate you hosting the tour!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


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