The Runaway Duchess by Joanna Lowell

Apparently I only gave this 3 stars, but I am remembering it more fondly than that. Perhaps it was a 3.5 star type book.

The duchess in question has been raised in society but due to financial ruin and scandal is being married off to a revolting old man (as happens.) After the wedding she sees an opportunity in a mistaken identity at a train station and goes off with a nice man allowing him to continue to believe she is a famous botanist with whom he has had a lengthy correspondence. Off they go on a plant hunting expedition with her trying to keep up the ruse. I found the entire plant hunter/nurseries of England aspect absolutely fascinating. That was actually probably more interesting to me than their romance and steamy sex on the English moors.

Sick of Shadows by Marion Chesney

This seems to be book #3 in the Edwardian Murder Mysteries and I believe I had read book 1 or 2 at some point. Delightful and light with interesting historical detail. Lady Rose should have learned by now to stop leaping to conclusions and know that Harry has good intentions, but I’ll keep reading all about her!

Fun fact: Marion Chesney is the first historical romance author I ever read. I started reading the School for Manners in high school and loved it. So I’ve often read books by her. But not until I logged this book in Goodreads did I ever realize that Marion Chesney and M.C. Beaton are one and the same!!

Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

This was not something I would have picked out for myself but a colleague at work who likes YA also gave it to me. It turned out I couldn’t put it down (except sometimes when I said “Eek!”) and really enjoyed this story.
Having read nothing about it ahead of time I thought it was straight up historical fiction about medical trainings in Edinburgh in the 1800s and the difficulty of women breaking into the profession. I was pretty wrong! I really enjoyed the surprising twists and turns and creepy moments and bits of mystery and suspense.

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet

A graphic novel about WWII from the perspective of a girl in hiding. I’d put this between 3 and 4 stars because I quite enjoyed it. I was interested in knowing what parts were true and what was fictionalized and enjoyed the author’s note at the end. It was an interesting p.o.v. of occupied France and the Resistance and what it was like for Jewish children in hiding. The children get shuffled around, quickly, sometimes they are hiding in a village, sometimes in the woods. And in our time of instant photos of EVERYTHING it was interesting to see photography as a hobby and important record of history in the 1940s.

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan

I loved Ryan’s other books so much, so I was really excited to see she had a new one. And many thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy!
Although this wasn’t my favorite one of her books so far, it was still good. In fact, really good. I found all the information about clothing designing, the fashion industry during the war, and the wedding dress exchanges so interesting. It’s an aspect of WWII that I really hadn’t encountered in any of the historical fiction I’ve read. As for the stories of each of the main characters, they were romantic and feel good. This was really a story of transformation as each of the three main characters really undergoes a personal crisis (brought on by the war) that helps her find her true self, what she wants out of life, and how to reconcile that with her past. In all of Ryan’s books she truly shows how the ordinary British citizen found the extraordinary in themselves as they did their part for the war.
The one thing I didn’t love about this, compared to her others, was that I found the historical details and information a bit clunky. Too much information delivered through dialogue in a way that seemed very unnatural and only existed to educate the reader.

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

Read August 22 2021

Talk about being behind in writing my reviews! I read this at the end of the summer and now it’s November. Fortunately, I liked this book so much, have since recommended it to others, and it made such an impression on me that it will be easy to recall and write about.

This is some solid historical fiction all about the Smith college alumni who formed a group to go aid French villages in WWI. There is an excellent afterword which explains what was true, what was made up, and the research the author did. I did also visit her website to look the historical maps of the area to better visualize what was going on. This was all equally as fascinating as the fictional story.
The story is told from different points of views, including the one girl who has always felt a bit of an imposter, coming from a poorer family. What was especially interesting to me was that these women were no 18 year olds-they’d been graduated for a while. Also, the socialite women who didn’t have paid jobs but worked very hard basically in social services in the tenements, tending to poor immigrants, were total heroes and then used that “overlooked women’s work” when they were in France. It was also interesting just how much hard work they all did. Their job was to go help villages that had been destroyed by the Germans. As a reader in 2021, I kept thinking, “but…but…I know the war isn’t over yet and it’s really too soon to rebuild because I’m pretty sure it’s all going to be destroyed again.” But they don’t know that! And they worked so hard to help everyone plant crops, build shelters, find food, and have services. Despite the sadness that comes with war stories, this managed to not be a depressing story. I thought it was great and filled with historical detail.

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce

[Another big backlog of reviews coming….]

Read 9/15/21

I loved Dear Mrs. Bird so I was very excited to read this sequel to it. I anticipated a warm WWII book and that’s exactly what I got. Perhaps even more so than in the first book, though, I found myself flinching a bit at the historical sexism and the earnest “come on girls we’ll stand up for ourselves, but carefully and not step on anyone’s toes.” Again, it all seemed historically accurate but really so unbelievable and it makes you think “What was wrong with people in the 1940s?!” It also seems wild that the big war effort that was top secret but so important was just propaganda in women’s magazines.

Light fare.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Another book I read 3 months ago and am just now getting to! Well, I gave this 5 stars so it shouldn’t be hard to remember and write about. When I told a friend about it we were laughing because she was saying “Does it have ___?” and I would say Yes. Over and over again. So yeah, it has a lot of elements you might expect in a WWII story featuring 3 women from different backgrounds, each with their own stories, brought together and changed by the war experience at Bletchley Park, where they worked as codebreakers. Honestly, that alone would probably be enough for me to like this. I’m fascinated by Bletchley Park, fascinated by the Official Secrets Act and how many men and women adhered to it for decades, keeping their work (and often, in women’s cases, their intellect) a secret from even their spouses. But I did also really enjoy each of the women’s stories and I liked the setup here-that in the future the women hate each other and one of them is locked up in a mental instution (where it is truly terrible what they did to people) and as the story goes back in time you wonder “what is going to happen to lead to the future being the way it is??” The future time, btw, is two weeks before Prince Philip’s wedding to Elizabeth, and he is introduced as one of the character’s ex-boyfriend. So that right there is fascinating, because when we do go back to the Bletchley days they are dating. I happened to read this the weekend of Prince Philip’s funeral, so it was really interesting to read about him as a dashing young naval man. I think I’m the only WWII fiction fan who hasn’t read Quinn’s other book, The Alice Network, but perhaps I’ll get around to it. I really, really enjoyed this.

Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

I first read Leviathan back in 2011 (a decade ago). I loved the trilogy and eaglery awaited each installment. This March it was a treat to be able to read all three right in a row. It was also fun because Paul read them too (his first time) and so it was fun to be able to discuss them with him.
As before I loved the steampunk adventure, the WWI historical details (and was grateful for the end notes to let me know what was real and what wasn’t), and just what a great adventure it was. Here’s a fun thing–for many years (apparently 10!) I had remembered a scene in a book featuring Nikola Tesla but I could never remember what book it was. Imagine my delight when I came across that in this trilogy and was able to scratch that itch of remembering.

HIghly recommended!

(posting, June: read, March 2021)

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

I looooooved The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and the Spies of Schilling Lane, so this has been a highly anticipated book for me–WWII, Jennifer Ryan, and COOOKING?! Sign me up. This was just a wonderful weekend treat of a book.  As with her others there are many well researched details about village life during the war. Despite the black market, this felt overall “lighter” than the other two titles. There are 4 contestants in this cooking contest, each woman is a terrific cook, and each has her own story. Chapters alternate viewpoints. Differences in class are fascinating. Nell is a girl working in the kitchen of a manor house, Gwen is the Lady of the manor and a total snobby gold digging B&*( who has turned her back on her sister, Audrey. Audrey is a widow with three children who married for love and is not struggling to keep it all together and likely to lose her house. The outlier is Zelda, a glamorous Londoner with a scandalous secret. Each of these ladies has her reasons for wanting to win this competition.  I really appreciated just how much cooking was talked about and how central it was to the story, along with the inclusion of many many recipes. And the recipes did not disappoint with their weirdness (whale steak) as the women had to make do with rations and ingenuity. (Sidebar: I follow a British lady on IG who routinely cooks and bakes from WWII recipe pamphlets. It sounds like a really challenging time to live in and I don’t think I would look to recreate those challenges and hardships.)
Was this a bit sentimental and blatantly a heartwarming story of women and friendship? Yes it was and I loved it.