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!

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

This book has the distinction of having been the first book on my “to read” list on Goodreads since April 5, 2011. I’ve seen its cover taunting me at the top of that (currently 375 items long) list for years and just kept ignoring it. I’d read other books by Haigh and really liked them, so not sure what held me back. Well. This was WONDERFUL. I started it yesterday, got sucked in, and finished it this morning. She has a way of writing that I really enjoy, but is hard for me to describe. I care about the characters, and yet the writing is very matter of fact, laying out what happens to everyone over the span of many many years. There were so many characters to get to know, each with their own story. And of course the whole setting and time were just ripe for making everyone’s lives sound interesting-WWII to the 1960s in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Immigrants living in different sections of town, strong cultural and religious traditions, little Company houses with no  phones (and fairly recent indoor plumbing), men dying at young ages from the back breaking lung blackening work of the coal mines. The focus is on one family and the five children in it. I loved everything about this.

Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David Levine

Imagine my surprise to find that not only was the sequel to Arabella of Mars out, but #3 is on the way soon! I really enjoyed the first one-historical, navel adventure, but instead of sailing on water they sail in the air currents between Earth and Mars-a delightful sci-fi/romance/historical adventure. In this sequel Arabella must head off to Venus with a new captain and crew to see if she can help orchestrate an escape for her beloved Capt. Singh, who is  a prisoner of war on Venus. For the record-the descriptions of Venus are such that in no way would I ever want to live there. ugh, I could feel the humidity exuding from the pages. And so fascinating-the natives are basically frog people. So clearly sci-fi, but fully enmeshed with the Napoleonic wars, Lord Nelson, and the American inventor, Mr. Fulton. This felt a little bit long but I was definitely invested in the story and anxious to see a successful escape. The naval battles were positively swashbucklingly exciting. Looking forward to #3!