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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Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard

I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. Eden and Bonnie are bffs (in England, it’s British.) Bonnie is super studious and straight laced whereas Eden has been known to not be a model of good behavior. So everyone is shocked when Bonnie runs away with her secret boyfriend.  Eden is surprised but doesn’t think too too much about it. Until she finds out that it’s a matter of police interest because the secret boyfriend is a teacher from their school. Suddenly it’s a national news story and everyone is insisting that Eden must have known everything and that she should tell them the truth. What I found so interesting about this story is that it wasn’t at all just about the tawdry running away with the teacher story. It was really about Eden’s inner turmoil and sudden questioning of her relationship with Bonnie and even of her own family relationships and what kind of person she is, all because of this. If she and Bonnie really were so close why didn’t she know about this?
A good solid story.

*though really, even after reading lots of British books I still don’t get what these GSwhatever exams are.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

This title sucks you in, doesn’t it? And so did the story. I loved this premise of a man who had inadvertently gotten trapped in a somewhat elaborate ongoing lie. The people he works with-really, the only people he sees- all believe he has a wife and two children. But really he is single, alone, lonely. He does have online friends from a model train forum (I rather liked that their passion for this was shown as yes, a singular passion, but not really made fun of.) Stuck in this rut, things get shaken up when Peggy joins the office and for the first time he sees possibilities of being happy. And I really liked this emphasis throughout the story on the possibility of being happy. The possibility of being loved and loving. The possibility of change.
It’s British, which lent its own charm. And it’s also well written with some gentle humor and terrific lines. I can definitely see comparisons to A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant.

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!

The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman

What a delightful story hidden away on our shelves! The other night, needing something to read for just 20 minutes in the bath, I turned to Tabby’s bookshelves, where I easily found ever so many books I wanted to read. But, rather than dipping into familiar old Gone Away Lake, I thought I’d give this book a try. My friend had given it to her a few years ago and we hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Well-I ended up in the bath for so long because I couldn’t put this down! It reminded me of A Little Princess (orphanage), Stuart Little (directly and frequently referenced), The Borrowers (tiny creatures in walls) and all kinds of wonderful children’s stories. Stealing and selling babies is a pretty intense plot point, but there you have it. Other dark elements, such as death by cat, are also not shied away from. Carolyn is an orphan and something is going on at her orphanage. Meanwhile in the mouse colony behind the walls there are political machinations and a fascinating art theft scene.

A brisk pace and short chapters keep this moving along quite quickly and I really enjoyed the storytelling. Would be a wonderful read aloud for a family or class.

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!