A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A perfect book to fall into my hands on summer vacation! Set in 1899, plenty of historical detail about society, London Seasons, gentleman’s clubs, calling cards, chaperones, rides in the park, servants, etc.  What was so enjoyable about this was that our heroine is a young widow (her husband was a philanderer) who has plenty of spunk and stands up for herself after the required year of mourning by purchasing her own home in London. Much to the dismay of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, both of whom rely on her large purse to keep the family estate going. Conveniently, Frances is independently wealthy. And American. That’s right-she’s an American heiress who married a titled British man! Juicy. (If you haven’t read The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, go do so.) This is actually a mystery-poor Frances is being set up all over the place, plus there are some robberies happening at the society homes. She takes on meddling and solving herself, along with the handsome next door neighbor.

I enjoyed this immensely and am THRILLED there is already a sequel available at my library and I love the direction this series is going in.

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The War Bride’s Scrapbook by Caroline Preston

Many years ago, when it was a YALSA Alex Award winner, I read The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt and I loved it. Recently I was looking at my stuff on Goodreads and my eye was caught by that bar off to the right where they list other books you might like based on what you’ve read. My eye was caught by the The War Bride’s Scrapbook and imagine my delight when I clicked on it and found out that it was by the Frankie Pratt author! and the same format! A story told in scrapbook form with textual narrative and actual ephemera (photographed.) I was intrigued by the setup of the book-that the war bride purchased an actual war bride scrapbook at the store, designed for war brides to help assemble keepsakes and make the waiting more bearable and end up with these loving mementos.  There’s a lot of implied and stated story here that is fairly sad–Lila never felt cute, didn’t have boyfriends, was plump, and so when she has an impulsive romance and marries Perry before he ships out (meet time to wedding-less than 3 weeks) you can’t help but think it’s because her self esteem is low. To make the story be a story for us there are some things I don’t think anyone would put in a scrapbook (narrative about sex.).
There is no cheerful glossing over of the effect of war on Perry. In fact, there’s always a bit of a gloom hanging over–will they still love each other when he comes back? Will he be changed? etc etc.

I loved the whole setup of this book. I can’t imagine how much time it took to put this together!  More scrapbook novels, please!

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

I really liked this WWII story. Emmy and her bff Bunty (!) and childhood friend William are all making a go of it in London and Doing Their Part during the war, despite nightly bombings. William and Bunty are engaged, Bunty and Emmy are roommates on the top floor of her grandmother’s house, the rest of the family are safely back home in the village. All is so gay and merry, except not really. William works as a firefighters and Emmy volunteers on the night watch, taking calls during bombings and directing the firefighters to the bombed out streets. One night she sees William in action and realizes just how close to death he is nightly. Meanwhile, Emmy believes she has found a wonderful foray into wartime journalism only to be disappointed to find she is typing letters to an agony aunt. Furthermore, Mrs. Bird (who doles out the advice) disapproves strongly of any letters that have a whiff of Unpleasantness about them-this includes matters of infidelity, longing, marriage, the war, pregnancy, etc. Basically, all the letters from women who really need some advice and support she turns away. Emmy desperately wants to help these women and so….she writes back.

I really enjoyed this. As always, reading about living through the London bombings just amazes me. How did people continue to get up and go to work? Go out to a nightclub? Keep on keeping on? but they did. All while tragedy happened right by them, daily. My favorite aspect of course was the magazine and letter writing. Mrs. Bird is such a great Terrible Person, cruelly brushing off people with real problems.

I wish there had been a little more at the end, but it was overall satisfying.

Time after Time by Lisa Grunwald

I LOVED this. Just a really nice and clever romance with a lot of historical detail. I got this as a prepub a little while ago and have been saving it to read. I love time travel so much and this author wrote Henry House, which I loved. I really only read a couple of sentences of the description. So imagine my surprise once I started reading to realize it wasn’t time travel! Who could blame me for thinking that though? I mean, “Time After Time” is a classic time travel title. Although this is not time travel the basic plot does directly connect to the things I like about time travel: a person out of time and therefore catching up on events and life.

In this case a young man who works in the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station as a leverman meets a beautiful young woman. It’s practically love at first sight, but then she’s gone for a year. Next year he sees her again and they have a little more time together. And finally when they catch on, even more time together. In short, she’s trapped between life and death-a ghost! Their love and romance is true, but for obvious reasons she must remain secret. Obviously this causes conflict in his life, and guilt on her part. Like with time travel you wonder how on earth there could be an ending that would be happy for all. There really can’t, can there?

I loved how Grand Central was described and shown as practically it’s own town within NYC. And once WWII begins and it is transformed-well that was a fascinating aspect that I really haven’t read about in any other historical fiction.

This was a sweeping emotional story and I loved it!

The Portal (Tangled in Time) by Kathryn Lasky

I was pretty bummed to get to the end of this and realize that it’s but the first in a series and everything was not resolved.  There are a lot of threads in this story, sometimes successfully woven together, other times less so. Rose is recently orphaned and lives with her grandmother, who she doesn’t really know. Girls at her school have taken bullying to extreme levels and everything stinks. An aspect of Rose that I liked was her interest in fashion. Her grandmother seems to have some dementia but is mostly lucid when they work together in her elaborate greenhouse. And that’s where the time slippage happens, sending rose back to the 1500s where she starts work for Princess Elizabeth. I loved Rose’s 21st century perspective on the behaviors and customs of the 16th century (especially her outrage over dwarfs as entertainment and clothing laws.)

There’s a mysterious locket, a mystery about her father, and of course the terrible history of Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and King Henry killing his wives.

Decent time travel fiction, but again I wish it wasn’t a series.

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan

I loved The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir so when this prepub came into my hands I couldn’t wait to read it. It is also a WWII story featuring some feisty women, and this time also a marvelously mild mannered nervous, fond of routine, landlord, Mr. Norris.  The action starts when Mrs. Braithwaite, a bossy lady with a huge presence who thinks she’s better than everyone, gets booted out of the WVS in her village. Everyone is fed up with her, plus her philandering husband divorced her, so somehow she’s tarnished. Unsure what to do she heads to London to visit her daughter Betty. To say the two aren’t close is an understatement. When she arrives in London she discovers her daughter is missing and sets out to find her, thus setting in motion a whole chain of exciting action and events, because of course–there are spies.

I loved seeing Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris as unlikely heroes. I adore a stout lady wielding a handbook and dealing with crooks. And, like in Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, there really is more than meets the eye here. It’s not just a jolly “let’s play spies” romp. There is some soul searching, revelations about the past, serious danger, and the ever present truth of the bombings changing people’s lives in an instant.

A solid, entertaining, and ultimately heart warming WWII story.

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Carey Gilbreth

I LOVED this book when I was a kid. And it’s one of those books where certain things in it stuck with me. Whenever I see someone with elbows on the table I want to “Thump” them, whenever I hear boring prattle I want to say “not of general interest”, whenever Paul drives around a corner too fast I whisper in my head “not so fast, not so fast.” (It turns out that last one I never could remember where it especially came from, and it was in this book, which delightful to see. ) Sadly, neither of the kids or Paul has ever read it.
We recently took a trip to Virginia and this was the perfect opportunity to get everyone else in the family to have the same frame of reference as me. To my delight, they all enjoyed this very much (audiobook, of course.) and I was THRILLED to hear it all over again as it’s been quite a while. It really is a fascinating look at not just a large family, but the really the motion study business and Frank and Lillian’s careers.  And of course all kinds of interesting details about the time period.

Anyway, we all liked it a lot and hopefully we’ll listen to Bells on Their Toes next.