The Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

I absolutely loved this! It’s a prequel to Lilac Girls, which I never did actually read. And having read little about this it wasn’t until I read the Author’s Note at the end that I realized that this was not only a prequel about the generation before the (apparently?) main character of Lilac Girls, but also that these were real people! I thought it was just general historical fiction and had no idea so much of it (people, their homes, their businesses) was actually real.

The setting is World War I and it takes place in America and Russia, as well as Paris. Basically all the Russian history was fascinating and unknown to me. I seem to know much less about WWI than WWII. I loved all the details about the peasants and the aristocrats and the scenery itself (wolves and woods) was fascinating.

The main characters are the two close friends Sofya (Russian) and Eliza (American). Each desperately hopes the other is safe and the p.o.v. switches back and forth between them, as well as another girl, Varinka. Varinka is a Russian peasant who definitely has an atrocious, truly awful, life.  And yet, I disliked her. Much of the Russian conflict had me thinking that both the peasants and the tsar’s regime were acting like savage animals and one was not better than the other. There was some fairly horrifying stuff in here. Of course I loved the resiliency and bravery of Sofya and Eliza as each dealt with the impact of the war in different ways-Sofya was more a matter of actual survival, while Eliza found a way to channel her own sorrows into helping others

A fascinating and riveting read.

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The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage

I loved how this was both historical fiction (Roswell, New Mexico, 1940whatever) and science fiction (a UFO really did crash and there were aliens on it.)  This was such an odd story, or at least, certainly unique. On the one hand you’ve got this sweet story about a boy and his parents trying to recover after the death of their son. Similarly they all love and care very much about the boy’s best friend, who father is a drunk and neglects his child.  Then you’ve got this historical setting that was so vivid I felt hot and thirsty just reading about it. It’s all ranches and dust and children riding horses to get to ranches. And then there’s the Martian (or, as more accurately, Moontian) who crash lands.
Maybe not the fastest paced book ever, but I still enjoyed it and appreciated the novelty of pretty much all of it.

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.”

The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

This is WWII fiction, so I wouldn’t call it “light” but it was a lovely very pleasant easygoing type of WWII story. I very much enjoyed the set up of the present day woman finding and old diary and reading it and trying to piece together what happened to the author. Those chapters alternated with the woman’s story as she lived it during WWII, including being part of the Ack-Ack male-female bombers.  A little light romance as well as the present day main character being prompted to figure out her own grandmother’s WWII secrets made this all together a very nice package.

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!