Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen

I’m startled to see that this is #12 in the series because I’m fairly certain I haven’t read twelve Her Royal Spynesses. I guess that means that I can always go back and have more to read-it certainly doesn’t make you unable to follow what’s going on. I love this series so much. It’s mystery the way I like it-light and British and historical. And, although I consider these light and fun books, Bowen’s historical detail is wonderful.
In this latest installment Lady Georgiana is finally (FINALLY) about to be married to Darcy, having received approval to renounce her right to the throne (because honestly, if she were to be queen a crazy plague would have had to wipe out at least 35 members of the royal family.) I was getting a bit annoyed with how drawn out this was, so was glad it was finally about to happen.
I enjoyed this one very much, in part because I enjoyed seeing Lady Georgiana finally get bold and assert herself in various areas of her life (that nasty Fig! those terrible servants flaunting her instructions! even Darcy!)
As usual she is able to pick up on all sorts of clues that something is not quite right and bravely investigate and put pieces together.
Tremendously enjoyable


Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

I already thought Hilary McKay was a marvelous underappreciated writer, and now I think even more so! (Is she really underappreciated? Maybe not, based on awards, but it seems like no one else I know reads her books. And they should.) This will immediately draw some comparison to The War that Saved My Life. It is some solid hard core historical fiction. I am pretty curious the targeted age reader because  while it has a youngish looking cover and was in the children’s section I’m not sure the 5th graders I know would stick with this. In part because she doesn’t flinch from the realities of WWI trench warfare, and in part because these characters are followed from childhood to adulthood. Reading as an adult, though, I found this very appealing and loved discovering that I would be reading about not just a few summers in childhood, but these characters’ nearly full lives.

Clarry and her brother Peter, their cousin Rupert, their friends Simon and Vanessa. Rupert, Peter, and Simon all go to a boarding school, while Clarry struggles against and upbringing in which she’s flat out told that as a girl she needs to know nothing. Fortunately Clarry finds ways around that and loving support from those outside the family.

As a keen reader of WWI and WWII fiction I assumed from chapter one that surely one of these beloved characters would die-the only question being which one? I almost didn’t want to get too fond of the characters, but of course I ended up loving them all.  Except for Clarry’s horrible hideous cold father.
I loved watching the changing relationships and growing up and just thought this was an all around terrific book. Honestly I felt like it read almost like an adult WWI book.

As always with a WWI book I ended up feeling sad at the end because all I could think was “you lived, but any babies you have will grow up just in time for WWII and you’ll have to live it all over again.”

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

I was sooo looking forward to this (even though I still haven’t ever read God in Ruins, but I loved Life After Life so much) and, while I did like it, I can’t say I loved it.

This was a very atmospheric story. I felt the whole time like fog would would be rolling in everywhere and you never know who to trust. Both things that are explicitly stated in the story, as well as I’m just assuming. Gaslight the film is referred to, as well as the idea that someone might be experiencing gaslighting. What we do know that in WWII Juliet Ambrose is working for MI5 in a rather boring clerical fashion in a spy setup. She is in an apartment transcribing the audio recordings of all the goings on in the apartment next door. The story is told mostly in 1940 and 1950.  We know that something big probably happened in that operation, and it’s either happening again or haunting Juliet in some way. Basically this story is a whole lot of “I can’t quite see the picture…everything is hazy”, which is kind of spooky and mysterious, but also a little frustrating. I actually had a bit of trouble keeping some characters straight and some things I’m still not exactly sure what happened! Overall I’d give this  3.5 stars.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This was a delightful and satisfying decade long love story. On a dreary winter day close to Christmas Laurie looks out the bus window and sees a man at the bus stop. It’s a lightning fast love at first sight for both—but the bus pulls away.  After a year of hoping to find her mystery man (I guess they don’t have “Missed Connections”) it’s not a surprise to the reader that her very best friend’s new boyfriend is none other than “bus boy.”  The story continues for the next decade-checking in with the main characters every few months and alternating points of view between Jack and Laurie. There’s not just a love triangle because Laurie also has other romantic entanglements. This book felt a bit like a collection of all the things I like in British romances and movies and deliberate references to Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary feel like a nice acknowledgment from the author that she’s aware of that. There’s a cheerful loud Aussie, drunk roommates, Christmas parties and whatnot, a woman eager to work in the magazine industry, and missed declarations of love. But you know what? I like all those things and so it was very nice to read a new book that had them all and I thought this was a good one.

The Munitions Girls by Rosie Archer

This is one of the set of 3 books Paul got me for Christmas-all British, WWII, with pretty nostalgic tinted covers. Objectively speaking I don’t think this was a very well written book. For historical fiction it seemed like the author very methodically, deliberately, and somewhat awkwardly inserted popular culture information repeatedly. I get that she’s trying to sprinkle in historical details but in dialogue it just didn’t work. And of course the story was completely predictable and also kind of flimsy. But you know what? I still enjoyed it. And you know how I always say that each WWII book I read lends some new piece of information or thing to consider when reflecting on that? Even in this book I did learn something new and interesting. Pixie, the main character, works at a munitions factory. She and the other girls are called “Canary Girls” because the toxic poisons they routinely handled (and breathed in) colored their hair and skin yellow. From a 2018 perspective it was crazy to read about 8 months pregnant Pixie, visibly poisoned and ill from the factory, still working there. (and even when her open sores healed up all I could think was “Is Pixie going to survive this war only to have cancer in 25 years??”)

An enjoyable light WWII read showing the strong spirit of women working through the war.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

I love Kate Morton’s books but had never read this one, which is actually her first. I can see that she established her type of story and style of writing right from the get-go because this is similar to the others in terms of steeped in historical setting, flashbacks, secrets, and surprises. I loved it. Especially fun about this one was how much like Downton Abbey it was (before Downton Abbey was a thing.)

Grace is only 14 when she goes into service as a housemaid at Riverton. It’s the cusp of WWI (just like DA). I loved all the historical detail not just about being in service but about the rapid changes in the next two decades with regards to the big English households and changing ideas about the titled classes and service. With hints from the present day Grace it’s hard to grasp how she could go from being a servant who knew her place to a career woman.

A tragic scandal is at the heart of the mystery and of course all is revealed and connected by the end.

I really enjoyed this!

The Vintage Teacup Club by Vanessa Greene

Boy did this book deliver on title + cover + the mood I was in. It was just the perfect book for what I wanted to read: cozy, satisfying, not too dramatic, predictable, and British. And with teacups.

The premise is that three women meet and bond over purchasing a vintage teaset that then they will share as they all must have it for different purposes. There’s Alison-the mom who is making a living with her arts, including turning teacups into candles; Maggie who is gorgeous and divorced and an uber successful florist who will use the set for a society wedding with an Alice in Wonderland theme, and then Jenny, who will use it in her own wedding, which has a vintage tea party theme.  The three become great friends, at first meeting to scavenge flea markets and stalls to find more, but then more often as they become part of each other’s lives. Each has a small drama- an ex husband returning, a conflict with a client, an unwelcome parental appearance, a bratty teen, and possible marital discord.

This book is reinforcing my belief that England is just filled with awesome flea markets that everyone goes to all the time, finding beautiful vintage stuff. Also that everyone in England goes to the florist often to pick up a bouquet.

As charming and satisfying as a cup of tea in a dainty vintage cup.