Historical novelist John Jakes (the North and South trilogy) settles once and for all when "the good old days" were: the decade before the American entry into World War I, when an idyllic nation embraced the new century with hope and ambition. Times were simple then, he suggests, and in this sweeping sequel to his bestselling novel Homeland, so were the aspirations of the next generation of Chicago's wealthy Crown family.
Their pursuits are distinctly modern—for that time. Frustrated stage actress Fritzi Crown, 26, heads off for a place called Hollywood. Her brother Carl, a Princeton dropout, pursues fantasies of auto racing and aerial barnstorming. And cousin Paul photographs world events, from suffragette protests to atrocities committed by the German army in Belgium. Meanwhile the young Crowns have a Ragtime-like knack for catching the eye of the soon-to-be-famous, like Mary Pickford, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill.
Readers, like the characters themselves, have little chance to savor personalities or relationships as Jakes's plot, embellished by rich historical detail, whisks the appealing Crown clan across the continents at breakneck speed. (Dutton, $24.95)