Jan Shapin

Novels and Plays

(Scroll down for all book reviews.)

A Red Year | Reviews

SET IN RUSSIA AND CHINA during the 1920s, this beautifully written novel tells the story of a true American dreamer—a woman who charged into danger in search of passion, justice and some money to pay her bills. A fascinating story.

Susan Breen, author, Maggie Dove mysteries



Thursday, July 27th: Tina Says…

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“I knew going into Red Year that I knew very little about China or the Soviet Union in the 1920s. And what I discovered is that there was a lot of interesting and exciting things taking place in this part of the world then... While this is a work of fiction, the events of the time period are fascinating...  I love that Shapin was able to bring this era to life and develop a story around it….A delight to read.”

Tuesday, August 1st: Kahakai Kitchen 


“I do admire Rayna's bravery, spirit, and tenaciousness, but I was challenged by understanding her motivations beyond getting and staying close to Borodin (who seemed to mostly regard her as a fascinating inconvenience). How much of her motivation was to fight for a cause versus a strong attraction that she felt was love and/or as she thinks at one point in the story, "...a way to dispel her morbid fear of an ordinary life." Is she a heroine, or a woman wanting an adventure who got caught up in the turmoil of history--or maybe a bit of both? At the end of the day, I'm not sure I know the answer--and maybe I'm not supposed to know. If you enjoy historical fiction and find world history and politics in the 1920s interesting--especially in Russia and China, Shapin does an excellent job in portraying them and making them vivid and full of life.”


Wednesday, August 2nd: Wining Wife 


In Jan Shapin’s Red Year, the themes of passion, integrity, and justice are explored within the backdrop of a communist Russia and China. Rayna faces a huge choice after applying to a Soviet espionage school – does she spy on Mme Sun? Does she stand up for the widow? Does she go home with her husband to Chicago? The research Shapin put into the backstory of the novel is very detailed, and the tale she weaves is fascinating. If you enjoy historical fiction, check out this novel


Sunday, August 6th: Jordan Frame


Really engaging, thoughtful book. Constant movement and characters that feel alive. It keeps you interested the whole read with its intriguing and sometimes morally ambiguous historical environment. The shocking part was realizing after I read that there was such a woman as Rayna, (and the other historical figures that appear in the book, very well done,) and that much of the book really did or might have happened. It brings you to a special place in time to tell human stories that may have never been told. Highly recommended to anyone interested in this eventful period of history, or just in the story of a normal girl doing extraordinary things.








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A Snug Life Somewhere | Media Reviews

TLC Book Tour Reviews 2014 - A Snug Life Somewhere


**Sharon’s Garden of Books: "A Snug Life Somewhere" is a well-written, fast moving novel that fans of historical fiction will enjoy. I highly recommend it.

**The Road to Here: This book had everything I look for in a great read.

**Ms. Nose in a Book Blog: It reads like a memoir and I absolutely loved it.

**Patricia’s Wisdom: What an instructional read and what an interesting history lesson.

**Unabridged Chick: Everything about this novel was delightfully unexpected…I couldn’t stop thinking about this book while reading and didn’t want to put it down.

**Priscilla and Her Books: Sometimes you come across a book that blows you away… A Snug Life Somewhere did just that.

**Dwell in Possibility: Highly recommended for readers who want a richly woven story that incorporates historical events as seen through the eyes of a fascinating young woman.

The Written Word: I liked Penny Joe...I think she was a perfect narrator for this book.

Melody & Words: Jan Shapin is an interesting stylist; her sentences are well constructed, her characters are very unusual, and her voice is distinct

Booksie’s Bag: The reader cannot help but cheer for someone so determined. Time to Read: One of the things I liked about the writing is how authentic it felt.  
Book Loving Hippo: The writing flowed very well and made the story progress quickly. 

Lisa’s Yarns: Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so I was drawn to this book which was set in a time period that I haven't read much about. 




A Snug Life offers an interesting tale of fiction, intertwined with historical events and figures taking place between World War I and World War II…It tells a full, complete story…”


Newport (RI) Daily News

Shapin's writing is lively and descriptive, and she fills the book with colorful characters….A Snug Life Somewhere offers insight into an era when labor and capital were locked in an often-bloody struggle…” 


Tacoma Weekly

"Shapin does a good job integrating the mores and movements of the early 20th century into this novel--her characters think and act realistically. Penny Joe's journey towards an elusive 'snug life' is an interesting one to follow, and the resolution is pleasing. Recommended."


Historical Novel Society

Historical Novels Review Online

"Penny Joe witnesses so much of our history and the reader is there. The author writes vividly of the demonstrations, but also of the grubbiness and poverty of the radicals….I would definitely recommend this book, both as the story of a remarkable young woman but also the underside of the labor movement…"


The Jamestown (RI) Press

In this century so far, novels by “our people” and our dreams of justice and freedom are rare. So, it is with some pleasure that I point you…in the direction of …A Snug Life Somewhere…”


Urban Work, Newsletter of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association

“A sweeping picture of a woman’s life, one that is, at times, heartbreaking and funny, ordinary and amazing...


Estella’s Revenge, A ’Zine About Books!




A Desire Path | Media Reviews

"Politics is power, and power always attracts. "A Desire Path" is a novel of romance and politics set amongst the aftermath of World War II, with the frost of the cold war coalescing. An affair between a union leader and a lawyer wife leads to cruel intentions, as well as a woman driven (to) defect to the Soviet Union. A riveting novel with much romance and intrigue, "A Desire Path" is well worth considering, not to be missed."

Midwest Book Review, December, 2012

"There are lots of novels written that deal with the personal lives of people in our society; not many of them about people involved in the political culture...Author Shapin has really done her research not just about the individuals but about the institutions, the secular churches of the 1930s and Cold War years. I loved it."


URBAN WORKS, Newsletter of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association

Ross K. Rieder, President


"I absolutely adore books set during the 1930s and 1940s, so I jumped at a chance to review this book. Pretty quickly I realized I was over my head, but in a pretty wonderful way. A large portion of this book focuses on two aspects of that historical period about which I know very little: labor unions and Communism. Because of this, I found myself wondering away from the text to learn more about these aspects of history, so to better understand the nuances of the book, particularly from Andy's perspective. This book sparked a long, detailed conversation with my husband. And I love when books push me to learn and grow. Fiction can be educational."


"All in all, this is a very interesting story, and Shapin is a strong writer, so she manages to make complicated information about a fairly confusing period in the history of various ideologies accessible to readers…. I'd recommend this for any reader interested in a nicely crafted, and very well researched, take on this period in history."


Dwell-in-Possibility (blog) 

"A Desire Path is a novel spanning a broad timeframe, but the story is told from three different perspectives with three different narrating points of view. The result is a well-woven tale that uses the fictional main characters to examine some real-life tough situations that Americans have faced in the fairly recent past. For that reason this book is not a quick read of light entertainment, but rather a genuine story with heart and possibly a message about the human spirit."


Lavish Bookshelf (blog)

"Broken into three parts, the book focuses first on Andy's story, then Anna's, and finally Ilse's. I found myself most drawn to Ilse--she was flawed but hopeful, wanting to find a way to put love over her choices. Her daughter, Helen, was another character that pulled on my heartstrings. Andy grew on me in his utter devotion to Ilse. He never gave up on her, even when she gave him no reason to hang on."


Mom in Love with Fiction (blog)

"If you like the historical aspect of historical fiction, then you will enjoy A Desire Path by Jan Shapin.."


A Bookish Way of Life (blog)

Reader Reviews | A Desire Path

WOW! What a book. Thank you so much for sending it to me. Both Harry and I thought it was riveting. It flows so beautifully that I was utterly engrossed, the history is fascinating, and the characters real as can be. I read, and read - couldn't put it down. Congratulations too on your magnificent, and well-deserved, reviews. A sterling achievement!


Eleanor Lodge, Boston

I marvel at your ability to tell the story in such a relaxed, conversational way. You have a lovely touch for the colloquial when you want to be succinct. What an achievement to tell a story and to give us some history at the same time. Of course I basked in the love story. Wondered if you had trouble deciding how to end that beautiful Ilse/Andy romance. I wasn’t supposed to love Anna Mae, and didn’t. What a boring fundamentalist!
 Helen Deachman, Ontario
Started to read the book last night and could not put it down until I was finished. Enjoyed it immensely.  I look forward to your next one. Again, thanks for the good read.
Warren Butler, Washington, DC

What you did with Anna Mae as a character is very compatible with what I felt when I read I Change Worlds and Right In Her Soul -- though of course she was unable to say it about herself. You definitely got the flavor of her difficulties in life. And the whole first section, about the trade union goings-on -- finally I get the picture why the unions are in such sorry shape now!

Marjorie Smith, Pennsylvania

I was mesmerized from the beginning to the end. What an interesting and compelling story and what an amazing way you managed to weave the complicating historical aspects of the story with the personal and most intimate. My congratulations and my thanks for a wonderful time I had reading your book.

Zoya Slive, Boston

Have read your latest and thoroughly enjoyed it. I find the history of that period fascinating and your in-depth view into the intricacies of labor movement and its relation/non-relation to communism was fun to read and piqued my history fascination with that time.

Joan Crigger, Washington DC

Wow!! What an amazing book. It was absolutely fascinating. I loved the characters and the story, andf as always admire your rich writing style. I am also impressed by your detailed knowledge of the history of the union movement and leftist politics. Anna Mae was one of- a-kind, for sure.

Dina Cramer, California

Reader Reviews | A Snug Life Somewhere

"We appreciated your perspectives on writing style and form, your personal insight into what motivated you, and your most fascinating history lesson....It was a rare opportunity to have the author right at our table and we treasured your visit."

- Jean Burditt, Reference Librarian

Kingston (RI) Free Library

"The members have been singing your praises. Your visit made the book more understandable and enjoyable. Thanks so much for coming."

- Peggy Roever, Library Director,

Ashaway (RI) Library

"Thank You.  Everyone really enjoyed the discussion and meeting you. Our best book club meeting yet!"

- Karen A. Taylor, Library Director

East Greenwich (RI) Free Library

"I was going through chemo and couldn't concentrate on anything.  But I opened your book and read it straight through! It was so wonderful I chose it for our reading group."

- Linda Low, Washington DC

"I liked the book so much I wanted to see it in the book discussion group."

- Judy Bell, Library Director

Jamestown Philomenian Library (RI)

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