Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline WinspearThe American Agent (Maisie Dobbs, #15) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #15
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs, “one of the great fictional heroines” (Parade), investigates the mysterious murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz in a page-turning tale of love and war, terror and survival.

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice—Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend—and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.

My Review:

It’s March, which means it’s time for this year’s Maisie Dobbs adventure. I’m just sorry her publisher isn’t sponsoring the “Month of Maisie” any longer, as that always made for a terrific excuse to pick up one of the earlier books in the series as well as the new one.

For Maisie, the year in 1940, and London is in the middle of the Blitz. And so is Maisie, as she and her best friend Patricia are doing in London what they did in the Great War so many (and so few) years ago.

They’re driving an ambulance and taking the wounded from the “front” to hospital. It’s just that this time, that “front” is the streets of London. Their roads are better paved this time around, but the shelling is even more deadly.

Just because Maisie is driving an ambulance every night, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t solving cases during the day. Even though she’s “dead on her feet” half the time, victims of murder still need justice.

Her worlds collide. One night, Maisie and Patricia have an observer on their ambulance run – a female American journalist. Cath Saxon is reporting the war from a woman’s perspective – with the hope of becoming one of the “boys” working for and with Edward R. Murrow.

Just as Cath gets in – she’s out. She’s found murdered in her rented rooms, and both Scotland Yard and the American Embassy call on Maisie to find out who killed her. It might just be a love affair gone wrong. It might have something to do with her reporting. There’s also a chance that her powerful family back in America decided that Cath’s sympathetic reports of the plucky and heroic English response to Hitler’s Blitz might be too embarrassing for their Hitler-sympathizing friends back home.

Maisie is supposed to be working with an American agent on this case. Mark Scott is the same American agent who saved her life during her nearly disastrous Journey to Munich. But as the case progresses it’s clear to Maisie that the man who is supposed to be working WITH her is working on an agenda of his own – and mostly far from Maisie’s inquiries.

And that at least part of his hidden agenda has more to do with Maisie herself than any case either of them might be investigating.

Escape Rating A: This is a series that I absolutely love, and eagerly await the next book. So I’m already on tenterhooks for book 16, hopefully next March. But in the meantime there’s plenty to discuss regarding The American Agent.

One thing that struck me as I read about Maisie and Patricia’s exploits as ambulance drivers was the way that it brought home just how close World War II was to World War I. Both women served in the Great War, Maisie as a nurse and Patricia as an ambulance driver. As this book opens, they are still only in their early 40s, still in their prime. And serving again. Although there are many young people who think that war is glorious, as evidenced by the behavior of Patricia’s son in To Die but Once. At the same time there are plenty of people populating Maisie’s world who served in the first war, are serving in the second, and know from grim experience that war is terrible. And are equally aware that they must fight, that surrender is unthinkable.

However, there are plenty of people who have taken that belief that war is terrible, but either believe that Hitler is unstoppable or don’t care who dies as long as their profits continue. And some who agree with his many and terrible hatreds and prejudices. (If that sounds familiar, it bloody well should as things stand today!)

Ironically, we are re-watching Poirot, and the later episodes of that series also deal with the impending war. The Clocks had been rewritten to take place before the war, and part of the plot revolved around government agents who were giving secrets to the Nazis to make Britain fall faster so that the war would end sooner. The Duke of Windsor was part of this movement, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family.

There were also plenty of people in America who believed that Hitler’s win was inevitable – or were in at least economic cahoots with Germany. And there was a significant amount of Antisemitism involved, people who believed that Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews was the right way to go. (Yes, that’s appalling. But true.)

Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, was a prominent member of the America First Committee, which wanted America to stay out of the war and tacitly agreed with the Antisemitic tone of the party. One of the other prominent members of the America First movement was Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. Joe Kennedy was also the U.S. Ambassador to Britain during this story, and Maisie’s American Agent is using the hunt for Cath Saxon’s killer to poke into Joe Kennedy’s dubious dealings. Because there were plenty to poke into.

It works as a ruse because Cath’s father, a prominent U.S. Senator, is also an America Firster. And he, along with his “friends” were dead set against Cath reporting material that was sympathetic to the British cause. The family was dead set against Cath being a reporter at all.

Maisie has to look into just how dead they were set. And wonders if her investigations will lead her into places that the U.S. Embassy will not want her to go. Or, at least to report.

But Maisie never presumes, never presupposed and never lets herself get dead set on any hypothesis. She follows the clues where they lead her. No matter how much she has to dig, and how many secrets she uncovers along the way.

It’s what makes following her so interesting, and her character so fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more of Maisie’s war in the next book. And while I wait, I think I’m going to treat myself with a dive into What Would Maisie Do?

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola CornickThe Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Gothic, historical fiction, horror, timeslip fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree comes a spellbinding tale of jealousy, greed, plotting and revenge—part history, part mystery—for fans of Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine


London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later…

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

My Review:

After reading The Phantom Tree last year, I was expecting The Woman in the Lake to be yet another marvelous piece of timeslip fiction by this author. I loved The Phantom Tree and was looking forward to more.

That’s not quite what I got.

The Woman in the Lake is what I call horror-adjacent. It’s really creepy with a constant air of menacing danger. Although it does “slip time” between the 18th century and the 21st, those slips just add to the air of Gothic horror.

You’ve heard about “Say Yes to the Dress”? This is a story where all of the people touched by it should have not merely said “No” to the dress, but really should have screamed “Hell NO” and run far and fast.

The dress is pure evil. Also laced with arsenic. And yes, you really can kill someone that way. The Borgias did, after all.

How the dress came to both embody and emanate so much evil is something that we only find out part of. We do learn how it was made – we just don’t ever find out how it got to be so powerfully malevolent in its own right.

What we see in this story about all the lives that revolve around and are ruined by this one beautiful, deadly, golden dress is that in the way that time slips and history almost repeats – there is a path to freedom.

But the only way to reach it is through fear, and pain. And even more fear.

Escape Rating B: This story was well and truly creepy. A bit creepier than I generally like to go. It did make the cross country plane trip go very fast – but I’m really glad I read it with ALL the lights on – and with plenty of company.

It’s not really about the dress. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The dress can’t make anyone do anything they weren’t already inclined towards, but it does seem to remove the inhibitions of conscience. We all have nasty thoughts from time to time, but conscience, or fear of consequences, prevent most of us from acting on the worst of those thoughts.

The story begins, and circles back around to, a group of men who did not have to let their consciences be their guides. In fact, the opposite. The Moonrakers of Swindon were smugglers. Smuggling wasn’t romantic, it was organized crime. Led by a group of men who would do anything to protect their illicit trade – including murder. In other words, these were men who terrorized an entire region and explicitly told their consciences to STFU.

The plan was for the gang leader to aid and abet a local lord with the murder of his wife, only for the plot to go horribly awry. And for the dress that was intended to do the deed to go skipping through history, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Until it fetches up in the 21st century, in the hands of a woman who has no clue that she’s part of its long lost history, and a man who intends to reenact that long ago attempted murder.

One of the things that I loved about this book was the way that the story and the history came full circle in the end – and in a surprising way. Not just that history almost but not quite repeated, although it nearly does, but that everything that went around really did come around by the end.

One of the things that drove me a bit batty was the air of creeping menace that hangs over the entire story. It sucked me in. I kept looking for an exit, much as the heroine keeps looking for a way to escape her own past. As was certainly true for the heroine, the only way was through.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings. This is not the kind of book that I usually enjoy, but I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down until the end. And I’m still creeped out by the whole thing.

One final note, the ending of the blurb feels very wrong. The revelation at the end does not threaten the heroine’s sanity. Quite the opposite. Instead, the revelation at the end proves that she has been sane all along. It may also kill her.

I’ll be over here in the corner. Still shuddering…

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Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + GiveawayThe Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 305
Published by Lake Union Publishing on February 12, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.

As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.

When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.

As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.

My Review:

Unlike this author’s previous standalone books, The Victory Garden is set in 1918 as World War I is drawing to its close.

However, just as In Farleigh Field, this is a book about the homefront of the war and not about the ugliness of the war itself. Not that there isn’t plenty of ugly at home.

As the story begins our heroine is immured at home in Devon. Her upper-middle-class parents are determined that the ugliness of the war will completely pass her by – whether that’s what she wants or not. And not that it has not already touched her life. Her brother Freddie was killed in action in the opening battles of the war, and her parents are determined to keep her under their eye and locked away so that nothing can possibly happen to her. Of course life is never like that – even Rapunzel found a way out of her tower, after all.

Emily is the bird in the gilded cage, but with her 21st birthday on the horizon, she will be able to unlock the door of her cage herself – if she is willing to deal with the consequences of her actions.

She falls in love with a young man that her ultra-conservative, ultra-conventional mother considers to be completely unsuitable. Ironically, there’s nothing wrong with Flight Lieutenant Robbie Kerr except for his Australian cheek. His family is probably as well off as hers. The problem with Robbie is that his Aussie upbringing has led him to think that all of the mannered conventions of the English upper crust are patently ridiculous – which of course they are.

Meeting Robbie gives Emily a taste of life on the outside of her mother’s over-protective restrictions, and her 21st birthday gives her the opportunity to fly away. She wants to become a volunteer nurse, but in 1918 the need was for somebody, anybody, to harvest the crops of England with all the men gone.  So Emily joins the Women’s Land Army. She finds herself in the midst of a surprising sisterhood – a sisterhood that becomes her salvation when Robbie is killed in action and she finds herself unwed and pregnant.

The story in The Victory Garden is the story of that sisterhood. Emily can’t go home to her disapproving parents, and many of her fellow “Land Girls” have no homes left to go to. Instead they band together, returning to a small village they worked during their Land Army tenure. A place where the men have all gone to war, and the women are left keeping life together by any means they can.

And together, they find a way to move forward – even as the worst history of the village repeats itself with nearly disastrous consequences for Emily – and for them all.

Escape Rating A-: You may not be able to go home again, but that doesn’t stop you from making a new home someplace else, with people of your own choosing. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you find that place and those people.

In the end (also in the beginning and the middle!) this is a story about sisterhood. In what amounts to a lovely bit of role reversal, the few men in this story exist to push the women’s story forward. It makes for a terrific story – and it also makes sense.

England lost an entire generation of young men in World War I. (It has been posited that this is the reason that so many of the Commonwealth countries did so much of the fighting for Britain in WW2 – either because Britain didn’t have that generation of men to lose, and/or because the powers that be were determined not to sacrifice a second generation so soon after the last one.)

Whatever the truth about WW2,by this point in WW1 there just weren’t any able-bodied young or even young-ish men left on the homefront. And it was clear by 1918 that society was going to have to change after the war was over because there was a resulting generation of young women that had no men to marry. So when some of the characters talk about the world being different after the war, and women filling many of the jobs that men used to do, it feels right.

Things were not going back to the pre-war “normal” because the conditions that allowed that situation to be “normal” no longer existed.

So what we see in this story is a whole generation of women stepping up to take care of each other, because no one is going to do it for them. Even the women whose husbands do come home face a life where they will be the primary breadwinners because their husbands are suffering from permanent, life-altering wounds, PTSD (known as ‘shell shock’) or both.

Emily is the focal point of the story because she is the one who makes the biggest changes. This story is her journey to self-sufficiency – with more than a little help from her friends. We like her because we understand her determination to stand on her own two feet – in spite of everything that life and war has thrown in her way.

And while she begins the story as a pampered little miss, it’s a role that she rejects the moment she is able – while still attempting to not cause her parents more worry than she possibly can. And we feel for that tightrope she is walking. She wants to live her own life. She needs to do her bit. And its the making of her. And the story.

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Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + GiveawayThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances

My Review:

The story told in The Lost Girls of Paris is absolutely fascinating, all the more so for being rooted in history.

In some ways it’s a lot like the nonfiction stories in Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and other books that have brought the hidden contributions of women to recent events in history out of the shadows and into the light.

During World War II, women stepped up to do all the jobs that used to be reserved for men before the war, because there were few men left at the homefront. This was true in the U.S. and it was especially true in Britain and France as men were either in the armed services, conscripted into labor camps in France, or dead.

As the Allied forces prepared for what we now know as D-Day, the Allies needed the French Resistance to step up their sabotage and misinformation efforts. War is, as always, a very dirty business.

When it became nearly impossible to place any more male agents in France, the Special Operations Executive created a women’s section, run by Eleanor Trigg (based on real-life SOE Officer Vera Atkins), to place female agents in France. By that point, there were so few young, able-bodied men around that male agents were unmasked almost as soon as they hit the ground.

It was hoped that women would be able to blend into the remaining population. They were trained to do the dirty work needed to bring that hoped for invasion to fruition – even if they didn’t personally live to see it.

The story of The Lost Girls of Paris is about those female British agents, and the story is told from three perspectives. Eleanor Trigg, the creator of the women’s section, the designer of their training and the person who chose each and every woman who entered the program; Marie Roux, one of the women she recruited who went to France in those dark days, and Grace Healey, a young widow in the immediate aftermath of the war, who discovers a suitcase full of photographs under a bench in New York’s Union Station, and finds herself drawn into a quest to reveal the truth.

Not just the truth of what those women endured, but the truth about their betrayal by their own government – and that same government’s willingness to bury their history along with their bodies – whether their actual corpses can ever be found – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this book. The story it tells is both compelling and harrowing, but some parts more than others.

I found Eleanor Trigg to be a fascinating character. (She reminds me a bit of the character of Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War – a woman who also served in the SOE.) A Jewish refugee from Poland, Eleanor and her mother have reinvented themselves as Englishwomen – but Eleanor is never quite accepted as “one of us” by the government bureaucracy – or its bureaucrats.

She began as a secretary to the Director of the SOE, became his unofficial right hand, and then the chief of the women’s section – only to be unceremoniously discarded even before the end of the war – and set up to be a scapegoat for the dirty deeds done by her agents on behalf of the government and by the government TO her unsuspecting agents.

Eleanor seems like a one-woman representative of all the ways that women were distrusted, disrespected, successful in spite of systemic misogyny, and then betrayed and discarded when they were no longer needed.

Grace’s perspective from the post-War United States is a reflection of that misogyny and betrayal. Her husband died in an auto accident before he deployed, leaving her a widow but not exactly a war widow. She comes to New York City searching for work and purpose in a country that wants all its women to go back to home and hearth and pop out babies. But the soldier who should have returned to her after the war can’t, and she’s not ready to move on.

Putting herself into the middle of Eleanor’s search for truth gives her purpose and new life. As someone who was not a part of the original events, she is both an unimpeachable witness and empathetic searcher.

I’ll admit that I had problems with Marie. The parts of the story that covered her recruitment and training were absorbing – and the story of her capture and torture were harrowing beyond belief, but I stopped being interested in her as a character when she got captured. Not because she was captured, but because of the way it happened. She literally brought it on herself by being TSTL (too stupid to live). Her capture and subsequent torture became inevitable – when they shouldn’t have been. Many of the female agents were captured, tortured and killed through betrayal, bad luck or just circumstance. It wasn’t necessary for Marie to be a fool for love to show the terrible fate of so many of these brave women. For this reader, the spark of romance in this part of the story was unnecessary and detracted from their courage and sacrifice.

On my other hand or hands, the entire story is compelling from beginning to end. I finished it in one day and could not put it down – although I had to pause at points while Marie was being tortured. Those parts of the story are not for the faint of heart – but they are an important part of the story all the same.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of The Lost Girls of Paris to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam JenoffThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances

I seldom do excerpts but I made an exception in this case for two important reasons. The first is that I am also part of the review tour for this book, so I will be reviewing The Lost Girls of Paris in a couple of weeks. The other reason is more personal, I’m away as this is being posted, so I was happy to have the opportunity to post this ahead. That being said, I enjoyed The Orphan’s Tale tremendously, so I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s work!

Excerpt from The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

But Eleanor simply nodded in confirmation. “I know.”

“But how?”

“You’ve sat in that same café every day, haven’t you?” Grace nodded. “You should stop that, by the way. Terrible habit. Varying one’s routine is key. In any event, you sit there and read books in French and one of our people noticed and thought you might be a good recruit. We followed you back to work, learned who you are. We ran you through the cards, found you qualified, at least for initial consideration.” Marie was stunned; all of this had been going on and she’d had no idea. “We have finders, recruiters looking for girls who might be the right sort all over Britain. But in the end I decide if they are the right sort to go. Every single one of the girls passes through me.” There was a note of protectiveness in her voice.

“And you think I do?”

“You might,” Eleanor said carefully. “You’ve got the proper credentials. But in training you’ll be tested and see if you can actually put them into use. Skills on paper are useless if you don’t have the grit to see it all through. Do you have any political allegiances of your own?”

“None. My mother didn’t believe in…”

“Enough,” Eleanor snapped. “Don’t answer a question with any more than you have to.” Another test. “You must never talk about yourself or your past. You’ll be given a new identity in training.” And until then, Marie thought, it would be as if she simply didn’t exist.

Eleanor held open the door to the toilet. Marie walked through into a study with high bookshelves. A black phone sat on a mahogany desk. “You can call here.” Eleanor remained in the doorway, not even pretending to give her privacy. Marie dialed the operator and asked to be connected to the post office where Hazel worked each day, hoping she had not yet gone home. She asked for Hazel from the woman who answered.

Then a warbling voice came across the line. “Marie! Is something wrong?”

“Everything’s fine,” Marie reassured quickly, so desperately wanting to tell her the truth about why she had called. “Just checking on Tess.”

“I’ll fetch her.” One minute passed then another. Quickly, Marie thought, wondering if Eleanor would snatch the phone from her hand the moment five minutes had passed.

“Allo!” Tess’s voice squeaked, flooding Marie’s heart.

“Darling, how are you?”

“Mummy, I’m helping Aunt Hazel sort the mail.”

Marie smiled, imagining her playing around the pigeonholes. “Good girl.”

“And just two more days until I see you.” Tess, who even as a young child had an acute sense of time, knew her mother always came on Friday. Only now she wouldn’t be. Marie’s heart wrenched.

“Let me speak to your auntie. And Tess, I love you,” she added.

But Tess was already gone. Hazel came back on the line. “She’s well?” Marie asked.

“She’s brilliant. Counting to a hundred and doing sums. So bright. Why just the other day, she…” Hazel stopped, seeming to sense that sharing what Marie had missed would only make things worse. Marie couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit jealous. When Richard abandoned her and left her alone with a newborn, Marie had been terrified. But in those long nights of comforting and nursing an infant, she and Tess had become one. Then, she’d been forced to send Tess away. She was missing so much of Tess’s childhood as this bloody war dragged on. “You’ll see for yourself at the weekend,” Hazel added kindly.

Marie’s stomach ached as though she had been punched. “I have to go.”

“See you soon,” Hazel replied.

Fearful she would say more, Marie hung up the phone.

Author Info:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant’s Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat’s Wife, The Ambassador’s Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

Review: The Show by John A. HeldtThe Show (Northwest Passage #3) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #3
Pages: 293
Published by John A. Heldt on February 16th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

My Review:

While The Show is the third book in the author’s Northwest Passage series, it is much more of a direct sequel to The Mine, the awesome first book in the series, than the second book in the series, the marvelous The Journey, turned out to be.

In the Northwest Passage series, at least so far, the protagonists accidentally, or in the case of The Show, accidentally-on-purpose, discover methods of traveling in time. The time travel is complete handwavium – it’s purely a plot device and nothing more. And no more or less believable than the methods used in Outlander.

Not that the time period is the same as Outlander, or even the same from one book in the Northwest Passage series to another. In The Journey, the heroine travels within her own lifetime, and makes changes to her life in the past. Definitely changes for the better from her perspective, but one wonders about the butterfly, its flapping wings, and the effects on the futures of all of the other people who were within her original orbit.

That’s a question that raises its hand and waves vigorously by the end of The Show.

Because both Joel Smith in The Mine and Grace Vandenberg in The Show travel outside of their own lifespans. And then more.

In The Mine, Joel travels from 2000 to the summer of 1941, and leaves on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. He leaves, at least in part, because he knows about WWII and fears that if he finds himself in the Army there is the possibility that he will save someone who should have died, or kill someone who should have lived. He’s worried about that butterfly quite a bit.

But he didn’t worry about it enough not to fall in love back in 1941, and not to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs that allows someone to follow him to the future. That someone is Grace, the woman he loves and would have married if he had stayed in 1941.

So she comes forward to the future, to him.

It’s all sunshine and roses – not to mention marriage and children, until yet another portal whisks her away from 2002 to 1918. Her journey is just as accidental as Joel’s original trip to the past – but the consequences are even more devastating.

When Joel left 2000 for 1941, he was a young man, fresh out of college, with no dependents and relatively few cares in the world or hostages to fortune. When Grace leaves 2002 for 1918, she’s a wife and mother of two little girls. She leaves everything behind – and can’t figure out how to get back.

Just as Joel did in 1941, Grace manages to make a life back in the past, with relatives that would become hers in the fullness of a time that she has already lived but they haven’t yet experienced.

She has her parents again, this time as contemporaries. She has a front row seat on their courtship. She even manages to fall in love again. It’s not the same, but it’s a life that could be sweet.

And then she discovers that she has one last chance, and it is the last chance, to go back to her real life in 2002 – if she’s willing to leave behind everything she’s found in 1918 to take the chance that this time she can go home.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed The Show, but it doesn’t hold up quite as well as my memory of The Mine – which you really need to read before going to The Show. Nor did it grab at my heartstrings in the way that The Journey did.

I think that one of the reasons this didn’t grab me quite as hard was that the blurb for the book gives the big plot twist away. We know from the opening pages that Grace is going to travel back in time – and it hangs over the story like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Grace’s advent into 2000 was way too easy, and I just wanted the story to get to the interesting – and hard – parts.

Grace’s life in the 21st century also raises questions that Joel’s life in 1941 didn’t. How did Grace and Joel even manage to get married in 2000 without Grace having a birth certificate? How did she get a driver’s license – which she definitely did. It’s a detail that niggles at me.

Joel was rightfully worried in 1941 about what would happen if he turned up at an Army recruiter’s office after Pearl Harbor with no birth certificate or ID of any kind. But in the rush to get bodies in uniform he would have had a way easier time than Grace should have had even in the pre-9-11 21st century.

Grace’s story in 1918 was much more tightly focused on Grace, her dilemma and her once and future family than Joel’s was in The Mine. We don’t see nearly as much of the era in which she finds herself as we did with his story. That may also reflect that Grace, as a young woman, would have had fewer opportunities to engage with the wider world in 1918 than Joel did in 1941. Part of the reason that The Journey got to me so much was that I identified with Michelle’s choices very strongly, while Grace’s don’t resonate with me in the same way.

However, one of Grace’s choices that I did empathize with was her eventual decision to move forward in 1918. A choice that some readers seem to have been appalled by. As far as Grace knows, she’s stuck in the past. She doesn’t believe that she has any hope of returning to 2002. She mourns her life there and misses her husband and children desperately, but she came back to the past already pregnant and needs to make some kind of future for herself and her child.

One final thought about that butterfly flapping its wings. Joel worried about changing the past and thereby changing his future. Grace, on the other hand, when the opportunity arises, rushes to change the past in a way that should prevent the future that gave birth to herself. It’s the ultimate paradox of time travel, and it bothers me that it isn’t addressed in any way.

Then again, this series feels as if its intended as historical fiction mixed with romance and not SF – where the time paradox would get done to death. I’m considering it as much handwavium as the time travel mechanism itself.

And I’ll be back for the next book in the series, The Fire, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up.

Review: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

Review: The Gown by Jennifer RobsonThe Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

My Review:

Wedding dress of Elizabeth II. Photo taken on her wedding day, 20 November 1947

This is not about Elizabeth. Instead, it is a story of friendship, and family. And it is a story about the making of what is now a historical artifact, but was, once upon a time not so very long ago, a dress in which countless young women invested their hopes and dreams.

That one of those young women became the Queen of England is not the point of this story. Instead, this story is about two of the women, representing so many more, who worked tirelessly to make not just Elizabeth’s dreams but their own come true.

Even if theirs, at least, turn out to be rather different from what they expected.

There is a 21st century framing story wrapped around this gown, but the purpose of the frame is to take the reader back into the lives of two women in 1947, Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, one English and one French, who have both been scarred by the war – one more than the other.

And who were equally marked by the dark and dismal years after, but again, one more than the other.

Ann and Miriam meet in the embroidery room of the designer Norman Hartnell, whose signature was his use of embroidery in the gowns he designed for the upper crust of English society, particularly the royal family.

So we are there with Ann and Miriam as they work together on one of the studio’s great creations, and as they survive the intense furor that surrounds its secrecy. An intensity that costs them both so much.

As the story begins, we are at the end. Ann has died, and left her granddaughter Heather a mysterious legacy – a box of intricate embroidery samples – but no clues. Ann was extremely reticent about her life before she moved to Canada in 1948, and her family knows nothing about who she was, where she came from or why she emigrated. And that’s the way she wanted it.

But the mystery intrigues Heather. When she discovers that the beautiful samples in the box match the designs on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown, she is determined to discover whether her grandmother was one of the women who worked on it – and why she kept it a secret.

Heather’s search leads her back to the past – and into her own future.

Escape Rating A: It’s not the framing story that really grabs the reader – it’s what’s within that frame. Heather’s search is interesting for what it reveals, not for itself. But what it reveals is an incredible story with light and color, depth and heartbreak.

Miriam and Ann come from entirely different backgrounds. Ann is as English as the Tudor roses that she embroiders on the gown. Miriam, on the other hand, is a transplant. A refugee from Paris, a young woman who spent the Occupation hiding in plain sight from the Nazis until she was finally caught as a member of the Resistance. She was fortunate that the Nazis never discovered that she was also a Jew. Unlike the rest of her family, Miriam survived the war. But could not make herself remain in France and found herself in the studio of Norman Hartnell, working beside Ann.

As they work side by side on the gown, and eventually become friends, roommates and sisters-of-the-heart, the paths of their lives meet and eventually switch. Ann is forced to leave behind the work she loves and go to Canada. She never takes up the needle again – or at least not the embroidery needle. Miriam, after so much tragedy in her early life, finds happiness and eventually fame.

But the two never forget each other, even though they never meet again. That Ann sends Heather to Miriam brings the story beautifully full circle.

This is a story that is all about the feels. The desperation of the post-war austerity years, the fast friendship between two women who are otherwise alone in the world, the joy of doing fulfilling work and the pain of hard decisions.

And it’s as beautiful as the gown it celebrates.

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Review: The Journey by John A. Heldt

Review: The Journey by John A. HeldtThe Journey (Northwest Passage #2) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #2
Pages: 231
Published by John A. Heldt on November 4th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Seattle, 2010. When her entrepreneur husband dies in an accident, Michelle Preston Richardson, 48, finds herself childless and directionless. She yearns for the simpler days of her youth, before she followed her high school sweetheart down a road that led to limitless riches but little fulfillment, and jumps at a chance to reconnect with her past at a class reunion. But when Michelle returns to Unionville, Oregon, and joins three classmates on a spur-of-the-moment tour of an abandoned mansion, she gets more than she asked for. She enters a mysterious room and is thrown back to 1979.

Distraught and destitute, Michelle finds a job as a secretary at Unionville High, where she guides her spirited younger self, Shelly Preston, and childhood friends through their tumultuous senior year. Along the way, she meets widowed teacher Robert Land and finds the love and happiness she had always sought. But that happiness is threatened when history intervenes and Michelle must act quickly to save those she loves from deadly fates. Filled with humor and heartbreak, THE JOURNEY gives new meaning to friendship, courage, and commitment as it follows an unfulfilled soul through her second shot at life.

My Review:

We went to a Bob Seger concert over the weekend. It relates to this book on two levels. The first is that sense that I get from the best of his music, like Night Moves, Against the Wind, Main Street and Like a Rock, of someone older looking back at their life with both reminiscence and regret. It truly is “strange how the night moves, with autumn closing in.”

The song Night Moves was released in late 1976, and would have still been playing on the radio, at least occasionally, when widowed Shelly Preston slips back in time from 2010 to 1979. I remember because I was listening to the radio too during the 1970s. In 1979, when the heart of this story takes place, I was 22 to the original Shelly’s 18. I made some of her choices then, and some of the choices she made later as well.

But I managed my life do-over much less dramatically than Shelly does when she goes down that dark stairwell in the old abandoned mansion and finds herself back home again, in 1979, watching herself go through the trials and tribulations of her senior year in high school. She does not “become” the young Shelly, this isn’t that kind of story. Instead, she takes a job at the local high school, becoming the adult friend and mentor that Shelly needed but didn’t have during her first go around.

The older Shelly, calling herself Michelle, does not choose the Star Trek “Prime Directive” as her modus operandi for her second trip through 1979. She is determined to do what she can to save whomever she can, and to give the younger Shelly the chance for a happier life.

That she gets to experience her own slice of happiness is a joy and a wonder. Even if it isn’t meant to be.

Escape Rating A+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, and sometimes I talk about how the story made me feel. If you haven’t already guessed, this is definitely one of those reviews that’s all about the feels.

At the beginning, I actually felt too close to the older Shelly. Her reflection on her life and the choices that led her to them hit way too close to home, to the point where I actually had to step back for an evening to get some distance from those feelings.

That a story made me reflect that much and feel that deeply is a testament to the writer. I absolutely loved his first book, The Mine, when I read it back in 2012. I have all the others but never went back to his writing – caught up in the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. I will not make that mistake again. This is a writer that seriously speaks to me.

Speaking of The Mine, do not let the description of The Journey as #2 in the Northwest Passage series keep you from reading this book, whether first or second. Although Joel Smith’s and Shelly Preston’s paths do cross in The Journey, it’s a very brief meeting and has no effect on either story.

These are both time travel stories with a hint of romance, and both are very powerful stories, but they’re not really tied to each other in the way that series sometimes are.

Also the time travel in both stories is fairly simple handwavium, as it should be. The time travel isn’t the point. It’s what the protagonists do with their new lives that’s the point. And it’s marvelous and beautiful and heartbreaking.

If you’re looking for a book to sweep you up, make you reflect, and possibly even make you ugly cry just a bit, take your own trip back in time with The Journey. Bring tissues.

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + GiveawayAsk Me No Questions (A Lady Dunbridge Mystery #1) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #1
Pages: 352
Published by Forge on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble, Ask Me No Questions is the first in the Lady Dunbridge Mystery series featuring a widow turned sleuth in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City.

A modern woman in 1907, Lady Dunbridge is not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She’s ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm.

From the decadence of high society balls to the underbelly of Belmont horse racing, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

Although this is the first book in a new series, it has a bit of the feeling of starting in the middle (in a good way), as Lady Philomena Dunbridge seems to have already solved at least one mystery ahead of the police when we first meet her. In London. Being lectured to and ordered about by her father.

Who seems to have forgotten that Phil is a widow of independent means, and no longer under his control. He also doesn’t seem to understand just how determined she is to stay that way.

In her determination, Phil takes herself off to America to stay with her best friend, Beverly Reynolds. Phil is hoping that Bev’s membership in the smart set of Gilded Age New York City will provide her with the entree that she needs into New York high society.

And far, far away from the stultifying traditions of “jolly olde England” where she will be forced, one way or another, to occupy the place reserved for dowager countesses. At 30ish, Phil is much, much too young to be a dowager, or to put herself on any kind of shelf.

She comes to New York to live.

Only to be greeted at the dock by the corpse of Bev’s husband, leaving her with a mystery to solve.

That Reggie Reynolds was shot by Bev’s gun would automatically make her a suspect, even if he hadn’t been found in the arms of his mistress.

At first, the police seem determined to pin Reggie’s murder on either Bev or the mistress. And while Phil has no compunctions about letting the poor floradora girl face the music if she’s guilty, it doesn’t seem possible. Especially when a second dead body turns up in Bev’s library, also shot with her gun.

And that’s where the story goes off to the races. Literally. Because Reggie had a horse running at Belmont, and Devil’s Thunder was favored to win. Favored to win enough that all of Reggie’s many, many creditors should have been paid off.

Unless, of course, that was the point of his murder after all.

Escape Rating A-: Phil reminds me a great deal of Phryne Fisher, and for this reader, that’s an excellent thing. Although the Lady Dunbridge series is set in Gilded Age New York, as is Joanna Shupe’s marvelous Four Hundred series, it’s Phil’s likeness to Phryne that sticks in my mind. And also more than a bit of Lydia Kang’s excellent A Beautiful Poison)

Both women are more than a bit cynical and jaded. While the both acknowledge benefits of kowtowing to society expectations, they also are very much aware of just how hollow and hypocritical those expectations are. Phil has to live by her wits a bit more than Phryne does, so she gives a bit more than lip service to those expectations, but their attitudes are similar.

And while Phil does not bed hop to the degree that Phryne does, it is clear that she also takes her pleasures where she finds them, if a bit more discreetly than her Australian counterpart.

Phil has also become an amateur detective, although in her first official outing she is still at the point where she becomes involved because a friend – and also herself – are under threat of being embroiled in the police investigation. She’s not yet taking paying clients – although there’s a hint that she may have an unofficial, semi-official paying client in future books.

What makes Phil so much fun is that she definitely has all of her wits about her, and never, ever looks down her nose at anyone who might be able to help her in her investigations. Like her butler and her lady’s maid, both of whom seem to be quite a bit more than they seem.

She also never looks a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it’s an actual horse – or at least an actual clue about a horse. The recommendation she receives from a mysterious stranger to read Sherlock Holmes’ Adventure of the Silver Blaze is a bit of a clue-by-four, but her pursuit of said clue is every bit as much fun as her pursuit of the mysterious stranger.

I simply had a lot of good fun with Phil, much as I do with Phryne. If you enjoy historical mysteries featuring intelligent and cynical female detectives, this is a real gem and I sincerely hope the series continues. Soon.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel GaynorThe Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 383
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home comes a historical novel inspired by true events, and the extraordinary female lighthouse keepers of the past two hundred years.

They call me a heroine, but I am not deserving of such accolades. I am just an ordinary young woman who did her duty.”

1838: Northumberland, England. Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands has been Grace Darling’s home for all of her twenty-two years. When she and her father rescue shipwreck survivors in a furious storm, Grace becomes celebrated throughout England, the subject of poems, ballads, and plays. But far more precious than her unsought fame is the friendship that develops between Grace and a visiting artist. Just as George Emmerson captures Grace with his brushes, she in turn captures his heart.

1938: Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteen-years-old and pregnant, Matilda Emmerson has been sent away from Ireland in disgrace. She is to stay with Harriet, a reclusive relative and assistant lighthouse keeper, until her baby is born. A discarded, half-finished portrait opens a window into Matilda’s family history. As a deadly hurricane approaches, two women, living a century apart, will be linked forever by their instinctive acts of courage and love.

My Review:

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter might have been more appropriately titled if the apostrophe had been in a different place. Because this isn’t the story of one lighthouse keeper’s daughter, but instead about two lighthouse keepers’ daughters, living in lighthouses both a century and an ocean apart.

As the story opens, we aren’t sure what links our two heroines – although we certainly do find out.

In 1838 on the coast of Northumberland, Grace Darling is the daughter of the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse on Farne Island. As a woman, she can’t officially be the assistant lighthouse keeper, or have a hope of inheriting the duties of the lighthouse keeper from her father, but she loves the lighthouse and the work every bit as much as her father and her brothers do.

In the midst of a terrible, Grace, that night’s lookout, sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to a “so near but yet so far” rock. The storm will sweep those pitiful survivors away if Grace and her father can’t get to them. But the storm is more than capable of sweeping Grace, her father and their tiny boat away if they try.

That trying turns Grace into a heroine, rowing the boat with her father and holding it against the storm as he helped the few survivors into the boat. Her heroism made a her national heroine, and brought her unwanted attention for the rest of her life.

In 1938, Mathilda Emmerson has been sent from her home in Ireland to Newport, Rhode Island, to the care of her cousin Harriet Flaherty, herself the lighthouse keeper in Newport. Mathilda is in disgrace, having fallen pregnant after a night of indiscretion. Her mother intends for her to have the child in America, leave it behind, and return to her life as the dutiful daughter of a politician.

In Mathilda’s possession is Grace Darling’s book of procedures of lighthouse keeping, and her locket. The items have been passed down in her family from mother to daughter for the past century.

Through the eyes of Grace in the 19th century and Mathilda in the 20th, we learn how Grace’s book made its way from Northumberland to Ireland to America, and finally about the ties that bind these two women from such different times and places.

And that those ties are much closer than Mathilda ever thought.

Escape Rating B: For this reader, this was ultimately a sad book, and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at points. But it felt to me as if the sadness wins out. I think how a reader will feel about this will depend on which of the two women one ends up identifying with. I found Grace’s story to be ultimately tragic. I identified with her strong desire to find and keep a sense of purpose, but I wanted better for her than she had.

Her doomed romance felt like a bit of a misunderstandammit to me. They did love each other, they would have been happy together, but neither of them could break out of the restrictions of their time to actually say anything.

Grace Darling by Thomas Musgrave Joy

As fiction, it felt disappointing. Discovering afterwards that Grace’s part of the book is based on a true story, and that the real Grace Darling never married and died young as she does in the book, makes her part of the story make more sense.

I still wish she’d had a happier ending, or was a bit less of the tragic romantic heroine.

Matilda’s story is the one that is supposed to stick with the reader, and its ending is ultimately hopeful, albeit bittersweet. She does come into her own as the lighthouse keeper, but not until after some rather melodramatic family business that was foreshadowed more than a little bit. And, in keeping with the tone of the book, she has to suffer her own tragedy before she triumphs.

For a story that is for the most part rather quiet – giant storms notwithstanding – the story is very readable and pulls the reader along, or rather back and forth across time and the ocean, from one protagonist to another.

Discovering that Grace Darling was a real historical figure was quite a surprise after finishing the book. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. While her life isn’t stranger than fiction, it certainly made for an interesting story.

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