Review: A Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker

Review: A Matter of Happiness by Tori WhitakerA Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on November 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A cherished heirloom opens up a century of secrets in a bittersweet novel about family, hard truths, and self-discovery by the author of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish.
Melanie Barnett thinks she has it all together. With an ex-fiancé and a pending promotion at a Kentucky bourbon distillery, Melanie has figured out that love and career don’t mix. Until she makes a discovery while cleaning her Jordan MX car, a scarlet-red symbol of the Jazz Age’s independent women that she inherited from her great-great-great-aunt Violet. Its secret compartment holds Violet’s weathered journal—within it an intriguing message: Take from this story what you will, Melanie, and you can bury the rest. Melanie wonders what more there is to learn from Violet’s past.
In 1921 Violet Bond defers to no one. Hers is a life of adventure in Detroit, the hub of the motorcar boom and the fastest growing city in America. But in an era of speakeasies, financial windfalls, free-spirited friends, and unexpected romance, it’s easy to spin out of control.
Now, as Melanie’s own world takes unexpected turns, her life and Violet’s life intersect. Generations apart, they’re coming into their own and questioning what modern womanhood—and happiness—really means.

My Review:

Melanie Barnett and her ‘Great Aunt Grape’ were simpatico in a way that Melanie and her judgmental, disapproving and disappointed mother were not. So it wasn’t at all surprising that the late and much lamented Violet Bond left her classic 1923 Jordan Playboy car to Melanie when she died.


1920 Jordon Playboy at Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum

What is surprising is the treasure trove of her personal papers and memories that Violet hid inside the car – just waiting for Melanie to check all the compartments and bring them to light.

As this story opens, Melanie is finally claiming that legacy, wishing that she had taken a look a whole lot earlier. But the time is now, and Melanie discovers the whole truth of Violet’s story just in time to help her decide the path she should take for her own.

In spite of her mother’s constant needling that Melanie’s choices are all the wrong ones. Inspired by Violet’s story, Melanie takes a good hard look at what she’s doing and where she’s going, and figures out that when it comes to the matter of her happiness the choices will have to be her own.

Just as Violet’s did. No matter what anyone else might think.

Escape Rating B+: I picked up A Matter of Happiness because I loved the author’s first book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. I liked A Matter of Happiness quite a bit, but it didn’t quite match up to the first book, although I think that the nostalgia of its Cincinnati setting pulled a bit more at my personal heartstrings than this one did. But I think that’s a ‘me’ thing and not a commentary on either book. A Matter of Happiness was definitely worth the read.

Like Millicent Glenn’s story, this one also exists in two time frames – but it is also told by two rather different people. Melanie’s story is set in pre-COVID 2018 (I have a feeling that authors are going to avoid the COVID years a LOT because they were just SO WEIRD). Melanie is at a bit of a crossroads in her life. The man she thought she’d marry thought that she would be happy to give up her career for his big promotion. But that promotion was taking him to Silicon Valley, and her career is in the Kentucky bourbon industry, which necessitates that she live, unsurprisingly, in her home state of Kentucky.

And now she’s sworn off men, devoting herself to her career, pursuing a promotion to management at the company she’s been working at for several years. She hopes that if she reaches a management position that her striving, seeking, disapproving mother will finally be proud of her.

But she’s found her great-aunt’s diary in the hidden compartments of that old car. A diary of Violet Bond in the 1920s, in her 20s, at a crossroads in her own life. Going off to Detroit to get a job in the burgeoning automobile industry, living on her own by her own wits and on her own wages, pursuing a career and swearing off men – albeit for different reasons than Melanie.

Melanie sees a bit of her own journey in her beloved great-aunt’s story. And we see a bit of our own in both of theirs. And in reading about the choices and the sacrifices that her aunt made in order to live the life she wanted, Melanie finds her own way forward.

Along with a secret that changes her perspective on how both she – and her mother – see their past and their places in a family they thought they knew.

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Review: This Place of Wonder by Barbara O’Neal

Review: This Place of Wonder by Barbara O’NealThis Place of Wonder by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 316
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 19, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the wake of a personal tragedy, four women face the past, their futures, and each other in a novel of broken ties and healing by the Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids.
When famed chef Augustus Beauvais dies, he leaves behind a celebrated reputation―and four women grappling with loss, anger, pain, and the question of how the world will turn without him…
Meadow, the ex-wife with whom Augustus built an empire―and a family―still holds a place for him in her heart, even as she continues to struggle with his infidelities, which ended their twenty-year marriage. More unforgiving is Maya, his estranged daughter, who’s recently out of rehab but finally ready to reclaim her life. Norah, his latest girlfriend, sidelined her own career for unexpected love and a life of luxury, both of which are now gone with Augustus. And then there’s Rory, Meadow’s daughter, the voice of calm and reason in a chorus of discontent.
As Meadow, Maya, Norah, and Rory are flung together by tragedy, grief, and secrets yet to be revealed, they must accept―or turn away from―the legacy of great intentions and bad decisions Augustus left them. And when the circumstances around his death are called into question, their conflicted feelings become even more complicated. But moving forward is the only choice they have, and to do so, they’ll need to rely on family, friendship, and inner strength.
Set on the stunning, rugged California coastline, This Place of Wonder is an emotional, lush, and empowering story of four women finding their way in a changed world―and what a wondrous journey it will be.

My Review:

As wonderful as this story is, its protagonists are not exactly in a place of wonder as it opens. Unless that wonder is wondering WTF happens now that Augustus Beauvais is dead.

Not in the way that stories like this used to be written, with all of the late man’s “relicts” desperate to figure out how they are going to survive in the literal sense now that their financial support is gone. Thankfully, women’s stories don’t work that way anymore.

But Beauvais was a towering figure (literally as he was 6’4”) in the American culinary scene of the 1990s and early 2000s. And even though his best days may have been behind him, he was still a huge personality and an outsized influence on everyone whose life he touched.

Especially the four women he, in various ways, tried to save. Because he needed to be needed. And because he couldn’t save the one woman who mattered the most.

Meadow was the love of his life, something that was as true on the day he died as it was on the day he met her, even though they had been divorced for eight years because the two things he seems to have been incapable of being were faithful in marriage or alone either inside or outside of it.

Rory, the daughter he adopted and Maya, the daughter he abandoned. And last, but surprisingly not least in the end, Norah, the much, much younger woman he thought needed saving, but who, in the end, turned out to be strong enough to help his family save themselves.

In the aftermath of Beauvais death, in the midst of the suspicious questioning of police who are adding two plus two and reaching a number that might be getting a bit too close to four, Maya learns that the father she never forgave left her everything except one final opportunity to get him to accept the blame for so many things he did that were so very wrong. And Meadow accepts that just because she built a life more or less without him it doesn’t mean that she will ever be ready to let him go – no matter how much she needs to.

Escape Rating A-: Like several of the author’s previous books that I have enjoyed, When We Believed in Mermaids, The Art of Inheriting Secrets and Write My Name Across the Sky, This Place of Wonder is about a multi-generational group of women who share a tragedy in the past that has come crashing down in the present.

What links all four of these women, besides their obvious links to Augustus Beauvais, is that they all see – or at least saw – themselves as damaged. Or perhaps it’s that Beauvais saw them all that way and that’s how he drew them into his orbit – because he needed their damage to fix his own.

Only Meadow – and by extension Augustus, are old enough to even have a past – or at least one far enough in the past for it to be hidden. For good or for ill, Rory’s and Maya’s lives have been lived in the public eye – because of their relationships with August and Meadow.

Who isn’t actually Meadow at all. Or at least wasn’t, back in the days before the internet made all the salacious details of everyone’s life available at the press of a few keys.

Which is what Norah came to California to discover, once upon a not very long ago time, before she got caught up by Augustus’ magnetic pull. And with the loss of his overwhelming presence, its a search she picks back up again. Because Norah is a whole lot stronger, and a whole lot less damaged, than anyone thought.

The stories are on a collision course from the opening of the book. Augustus is dead, in the arms of yet another damaged young woman. His death was sudden, the tests are inconclusive and the stories told by the women in his life almost but not quite match up. At least not until the other half of the story is revealed, and Norah’s probe into Meadow’s past reveals exactly how the past connects to the present.

But for a lot of the book, that investigation is in the background. In the foreground is the way that this strange and damaged family stitches itself together and learns that the hole in their center is something that has always been there. That, in some ways, it’s easier to deal with now that they know it will never be filled. And that they have a way forward without it, and without him, both together and separately.

And it’s that part of the story that gives this its heart. In spite of where they came from. In spite of what was done to them – and in spite of what he did to them as well. That they are, each of them, the legacy of a flawed and fascinating man. And that they are all, together and separately, so much more than that.

And they always have been, even if they haven’t always been able to see it.

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Review: The Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah

Review: The Taste of Ginger by Mansi ShahThe Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 318
Published by Lake Union Publishing on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In Mansi Shah's stunning debut novel, a family tragedy beckons a first-generation immigrant to the city of her birth, where she grapples with her family's past in search of where she truly belongs.

After her parents moved her and her brother to America, Preeti Desai never meant to tear her family apart. All she did was fall in love with a white Christian carnivore instead of a conventional Indian boy. Years later, with her parents not speaking to her and her controversial relationship in tatters, all Preeti has left is her career at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm.

But when Preeti receives word of a terrible accident in the city where she was born, she returns to India, where she'll have to face her estranged parents...and the complicated past they left behind. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of her heritage, Preeti catches a startling glimpse of her family's battles with class, tradition, and sacrifice. Torn between two beautifully flawed cultures, Preeti must now untangle what home truly means to her.

My Review:

“That love is all there is is all we know of love.” Not just romantic love, but love in all its forms. The love between a parent and their child, the love between all the members of an interconnected family, the love between friends, and the hope of love that might grow in spite of all the forces arrayed against.

Especially when one of those loves – or all of them – confuse the pluperfect crap out of us.

Not that Preeti Desai doesn’t begin this story in a state of confusion – or that her entire history isn’t fraught with it. Preeti is caught between two worlds, two perspectives, and multiple variations of all of those different versions of love.

Her parents immigrated from India to the United States when Preeti was still in elementary school. Or when she was of an age to be in elementary school in the U.S. A child who could, and did, do her very best to assimilate and adapt to the world in which she was now immersed. No matter how cruel children could be to anyone who was different, and how much of herself and the traditions she was born into she had to drop along her way.

Preeti’s parents wanted both her and her older brother Neel to be successful according to American culture, while still retaining all the traditional beliefs they had been raised with. That meant good grades, good schools, and careers in worthy professions. Her parents scrimped and saved in order for Neel to become a doctor and Preeti a lawyer.

As much of a shock as it was for her parents, who had been upper-middle class professionals in India, to discover that their qualifications did not immigrate with them and both their status and the family finances took a huge hit, they were able to maintain their immersion in the culture they had physically left behind by not leaving it behind. Chicago is filled with many nearly self-contained neighborhoods, and “Little India” on Devon Avenue is one of those neighborhoods.

For Neel and Preeti, but especially for Preeti, straddling those two worlds was somewhere between difficult and impossible. The tradition her parents expected her to adhere to, where women were expected to maintain the home and fade into the background there – no matter what their professional accomplishments – was the exact opposite of the expectations of the American workplace – especially for an attorney climbing the ladder towards partnership in a high-powered firm.

By the time this story opens, Preeti’s family, particularly in the relationship between her mother and herself – a relationship that is so often fraught between mothers and their grown daughters – had fractured into stilted conversations and cold silences – a frozen bridge that neither could cross.

Until tragedy struck. And Preeti felt compelled to set all of that history aside to take the next plane back to the place of her birth, to do whatever she could to help her brother and his wife through the death of their child.

Preeti comes for Neel. But that puts her on the horns of ALL the dilemmas. She and her mother need to be on the same side – a place they haven’t been since her parents moved to the U.S. Preeti is stuck living with all the expectations of gender, clan and caste in a place that she barely remembers, under restrictions that she often doesn’t see until she’s blown past them.

The longer she’s in Ahmedabad, the more she sees the beauty of not just the place, but of reclaiming the part of herself that she left behind. And the more she and her mother are finally able to see themselves as women who may not always meet each other’s expectations, but who love each other all the same and can finally accept each other as they are and not who they expect the other to be.

Escape Rating A+: This is an absolutely lovely, heartwarming and occasionally heartbreaking story. I was so absorbed in it that I didn’t even notice the cats using me as a trampoline. I was just completely gone. It is incredible that this is the author’s first published novel, because it is just so very, very good.

It’s also explicitly not a romance. Not that Preeti doesn’t have romantic problems, because she does. She’s 30 and unmarried in a culture that thinks she’s a spinster because she isn’t married while proclaiming her as “unclean” because she’s been out on dates. But Preeti’s romantic tribulations are symbols and symptoms of all the other issues in her life and not the meat of the story.

The story reads like it’s about two things. On the surface – and pretty deeply underneath that surface – it’s about the interconnected relationships in her extended family. One of the explicit messages is that there is no right or wrong here, everyone only wants what’s best for everyone else. The issue is in defining that best for someone who lives at the crossroads between the collectivist culture of her birthplace and the individualist expectations of her adopted home.

Preeti has to find her own way to a comfortable seat at that crossroad. She and her mother have to find a path through the minefield of their relationship, and accept each other as who they are – a difficult minefield for any mother and daughter to navigate.

The story is also about the price that America demands from those who immigrate to this country. The melting pot melts the newcomer’s resistance to American culture and values. If the newcomer is visibly different from the American “norm’ – meaning especially not white – they are expected to give up the culture they left behind even though, as Preeti finally admits to herself, knowing that they will never be fully accepted because no matter how hard they try, they can never completely blend in.

This is a story that has a lot to say about relationships of all kinds. Preeti’s family issues are the heart of the story, along with Preeti’s own journey of self-discovery. The Taste of Ginger is just a beautiful and thought provoking story and I loved every minute of reading it.

I hope you will, too.

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Review: Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWrite My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 366
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The USA Today bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids returns with a tale of two generations of women reconciling family secrets and past regrets.
Life’s beautiful for seventysomething influencer Gloria Rose, in her Upper West Side loft with rooftop garden and scores of Instagram followers—until she gets word that her old flame has been arrested for art theft and forgery. Knowing her own involvement in his misdeeds decades earlier, Gloria realizes she could be the next arrest and must flee. But first, she needs to make sure her nieces are protected from any fallout.
The sisters, though in their thirties, are still constantly at odds with each other. Willow, struggling to live up to their mother’s fame as a singer-songwriter, is recovering from a failed album and yet another heartbreak, while Sam is desperate to revive her floundering video game company.
When circumstances out of their control bring the three women back together, they will each have to reckon with and reconcile their interwoven traumas, past loves, and the looming consequences that could either destroy their futures or bring them closer than ever.

My Review:

This is the story of two pairs of sisters all of whom were, in their own ways, trailblazers. Sam and Willow are in their late 30s when this story opens. Sam was one of the first women to head her own gaming company, and one of the first to design action/adventure games specifically intended to appeal to girls. While her company was an “overnight” success 20 years ago, in internet time, 20 years is a century, and her company is floundering.

Her sister Willow is a musician, a violinist who’s most recent solo album tanked. Sank without a trace, taking her boyfriend, her current home and pretty much everything she owned down with it. Willow is a folk/electronica violinist with a unique sound who just hasn’t found the right audience. But at 35, her time couch-surfing and hoping for a big break is running out.

Gloria and her sister Billie came of age in the so-called “Swinging 60s”. Gloria was a stewardess for TWA, back in the days of Coffee, Tea or Me, when stewardesses were expected to tolerate getting groped on every flight in return for the opportunity to visit exotic places for multi-day layovers back when international travel was an expensive novelty and not an every-hour-on-the-hour occurrence.

Bille was a rock musician in the 1960s and 70s, said to be a combination of Joan Jett and Janis Joplin. Unfortunately Billie followed Janis’ trajectory all the way down to an early death, leaving her sister Gloria to raise the daughters she left behind – not that she was all that present when she was alive.

And Billie’s ghost still haunts them all when this story begins. And not just because Gloria is still living in the luxury New York apartment that Billie bought with the royalties from her first album, the place where Gloria raised her girls to adulthood and left them with a yearning to blaze their own trails.

But they’re both failing when this story begins, while Gloria is faced with the sudden failure of the facade she has been maintaining for over 50 years. The man she has loved for all of those years has finally been caught. By Interpol. Suddenly, the biggest of her youthful sins looks like it’s either going to send her on the run or land her in jail for the rest of her life.

Escape Rating A-: Let me get this out of the way first, because it drove me crazy. If the title of the book is giving you an earworm you can’t quite place, it’s because it IS a line in a song, just not the title and not exactly word for word. In the 1971 song by the Stylistics, it went “Write YOUR name across the sky…” but Billie Thorne turned it around because she’d learned from both her mother and her sister not to let anyone else define or restrict her life. Which didn’t stop the world from doing it anyway.

Like the two previous books by this author that I have read, The Art of Inheriting Secrets and When We Believed in Mermaids, this is a story about the past crashing headlong into the present, pushing all of the characters to remember people and events that they have forced into the background of their minds and hearts, until their memories crash into the same heartbreaking epiphany and they’re all finally able to move forward.

I liked this one just a tiny bit better than the previous books, although I certainly liked both of them quite a lot. But the difference in this one was the character of Gloria, who represents a different generation and an entirely different perspective on the people and events that shaped all of their lives. Because through Gloria’s memories we’re allowed to see the late Billie Thorne as she was, through the eyes of someone who was an adult at the time, and not just through the memories of the childhoods that she scarred.

This is also explicitly not a romance, although there are romances in it, and that includes 74-year-old Gloria. For both Gloria and Sam, it’s a second chance at romance, while Willow puts herself and her music first, and finds love as the reward.

As much as the story’s focus is on Sam and Willow, it was Gloria’s story that held my attention. As much as all three women are at crisis points in their lives, it was Gloria’s that brought me the most “feels”, probably because I’m closer to her age than to either of her nieces. I loved that Gloria is happy with the career she had, and has found a second act through her plants and her friends and her instagram feed and followers, because I know how that goes. At the same time, while she doesn’t handle the crisis she is faced with terribly well for most of the story, it was all too easy to slip inside her feelings of desperation, her desire to protect the ones she loves, and her acknowledgement that the long ago events that brought her to this pass were of her own making.

I certainly liked the way that all three of these women’s stories resolved themselves. Gloria faced the demons of her past. Sam found a way to silence the demons inside her head, or at least learned to stop letting them spill out of her mouth. And Willow, in learning from the stories of her mother AND her sister, played her way to the top of the world. A feel good ending all around that I hope will bring as big a smile to other readers’ faces as it did mine.

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

I’m very happy to say that I’m giving away a copy of Write My Name Across the Sky to one lucky US commenter on this tour. But some of you will hate me because the question in the rafflecopter is about songs that give you earworms and how you get rid of them, which will probably implant the song you least want stuck in your head in your brain. “It’s a Small World After All” anyone?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys BowenThe Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, World War II
Pages: 412
Published by Lake Union Publishing on April 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Love and secrets collide in Venice during WWII in an enthralling novel of brief encounters and lasting romance by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and Above the Bay of Angels.
Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.
It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.
Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins.

My Review:

This dual timeline story follows the adventures – and misadventures – of two women in two separate eras but in the same exact place, La Serenissima. Venice.

Their stories are linked, not just by the city, and not just by these two women’s relationship to each other, but also to a family that influences both of their lives.

They are also both at points in their lives when they are making fresh starts – and bittersweet endings.

As we meet Caroline, her marriage is ending, and so is the life of her beloved great aunt, Lettie. Lettie and her sister, Caroline’s grandmother Winnie, raised her after the death of her own parents in their tiny country town not too far from London. Caroline loves both women, but Lettie has been both her inspiration and her rock for all of her life, and now that support is gone.

Leaving behind one final request, that Caroline go to Venice, a place that Lettie seems to have loved but that Caroline never knew was such a part of her great-aunt’s life, along with enough money for Caroline to make the trip, scatter Lettie’s ashes, and perhaps figure out what made the request so important to the dying woman that she hung on long enough to make that one last request.

So Caroline goes to Venice to learn what she can, in hopes of figuring out what compelled Lettie, and to take the opportunity to figure out where her own road will lead her next.

What she discovers, or who she discovers, is the woman her staid, upright, prim, proper and utterly respectable great-aunt Lettie used to be. A young woman named Julietta, an art student trapped in Venice when Britain declared war on Italy.

A woman who became a spy, a mother, a prisoner of war and a refugee. A woman who left behind everything she loved and everything she held dear to make a new life back in her old home. A life that seemed to be a complete rejection – or a tomb – for the woman she had once been.

A woman determined, in her last moments, that it was time for someone she loved to uncover her truth.

Escape Rating B-: World War II is a rich period for historical fiction of all types and stripes. To the point where I have three books in a row that are set during the same period, Friday’s The Consequences of Fear, this book today, and tomorrow’s The Last Bookshop in London. This is also not the only book this year to be set in World War II Italy, the other being Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson, which is somewhere in my virtually towering TBR pile.

All that’s to say that it feels like parts of this story have been done before, and recently, and perhaps for this reader a bit of World War II historical fiction fatigue has set in. So I found this take on that historic conflict to be a bit too much like too many things I’ve read before, in spite of the change in setting.

And as a result of that fatigue I enjoyed Caroline’s side of the story more than I did Julietta’s. I’d rather have seen Caroline actually researching Lettie’s history rather than just reading Lettie’s diary.

I think that the issues I had with Lettie/Julietta’s part of the story was that so much of what she did has been written before, and the parts of the story that were unique to her were a bit too predictable, especially her doomed romance and its results.

Let’s just say it was a VERY good thing for Caroline that Lettie was her great-aunt and not her grandmother.

One piece of Caroline’s story that I felt a great deal of resonance for was the way that it intersected with 9/11 and its aftermath, both in the portrayal of how countries outside the US both viewed the tragedy and moved on, and the way that it impacted people who were not remotely close to the event. It echoed for a while for all of us, and that was captured well.

So this is a story I’m kind of on that painful fence about. I liked Caroline a lot, I ended up seeing Julietta as both heroic and  incredibly naïve at the same time, and I wanted the 21st century story more than I did the historic one. Your mileage may vary, especially if you’ve not experienced the same kind of WW2 historical fiction fatigue or you’ve not read much about that period in Italy as opposed to the more usual settings of France or Britain..

And on my other hand, I have previously enjoyed several of this author’s WW2 stories, particularly In Farleigh Field and The Victory Garden and will undoubtedly be back again the next time she returns to the period.

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Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + GiveawayMillicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three generations of women—and the love, loss, sacrifice, and secrets that can bind them forever or tear them apart.
Millicent Glenn is self-sufficient and contentedly alone in the Cincinnati suburbs. As she nears her ninety-first birthday, her daughter Jane, with whom she’s weathered a shaky relationship, suddenly moves back home. Then Millie’s granddaughter shares the thrilling surprise that she’s pregnant. But for Millie, the news stirs heartbreaking memories of a past she’s kept hidden for too long. Maybe it’s time she shared something, too. Millie’s last wish? For Jane to forgive her.
Sixty years ago Millie was living a dream. She had a husband she adored, a job of her own, a precious baby girl, and another child on the way. They were the perfect family. All it took was one irreversible moment to shatter everything, reshaping Millie’s life and the lives of generations to come.
As Millie’s old wounds are exposed, so are the secrets she’s kept for so long. Finally revealing them to her daughter might be the greatest risk a mother could take in the name of love.

My Review:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall: I am my mother after all.” There are whole Etsy shops devoted to pillows and wall hangings and samplers with this quote. It’s the title of a 2011 memoir by Susan Kane Ronning that revolves around a daughter’s resistance to repeating her mother’s mistakes.

It’s also the theme of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish, a story of the three – soon to be four – generations of Glenn women; the titular Millicent, the tense relationship she has with her adult daughter Jane and the terrific relationship she has with her granddaughter Kelsey – a relationship in which she sometimes feels that Jane, Kelsey’s mother, is intruding.

And Kelsey’s soon-to-be child, gender still unknown, who will make her, at 91, a great-grandmother. A child that all three women are over the moon about, regardless of the stresses in the relationship between them.

Stresses that lie in the past, in the secrets that are hidden in that past. Secrets that Millicent has held close to her heart and grieved over for decades, but that finally need to come into the light. She is, after all, 91, and feels every single one of those years. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t talk soon, her chance will be gone.

And she’s right, but not in the way that she expected. Because secrets come to light on their own time – no matter how much their keepers wish otherwise.

Escape Rating A-: First, this is a timeslip story, or perhaps it might be better described as a memory story. It operates in two timelines; its 2015 present and Millicent’s past in the late 1940s and 1950s, as she replays in her head the history that she has not shared with her daughter and granddaughter – and that she needs to rather desperately.

Initially, Millicent is desperate because of her own circumstances. At 91, even though she is healthy and active for her age, she can’t help but be aware that her time is running out. When Jane admits that she has discovered a lump in her breast, Millicent is suddenly faced with a more immediate threat. Her daughter, like Millicent’s husband, could have cancer. That fear overlays this story like a sword of Damocles.

In the present, Jane wants no muss and no fuss, she wants to take care of herself, as she always has. She certainly doesn’t want her mother to fuss over her as she feels like she has always had to take care of herself.

Through Millie’s memories, we get glimpses of why that is, although not the full story. The full story we do get is the story of women’s lives in the 1950s, the stresses and strains that led to Betty Friedan’s watershed book, The Feminine Mystique, the book that showed that so many women’s lives, lives that seemed perfect on the surface, were restricted in a straitjacket of competitive domesticity, and filled with frustration, boredom, tragedy and all too often, pills and/or booze.

Millie holds the tragic secrets of her own experience close, perhaps a little too close, just as she did Jane when she was growing up. At least some of the time. The rest of the time, Millie left her daughter to her own devices as she worked her way through her grief, her despair, and the pills she took to cope with both.

When the secrets finally come out, the catharsis is both extended and delayed, as they still have to navigate through Jane’s health scare and Kelsey’s advancing pregnancy. In the end, there is healing – but it’s hard won and painful. The band aid over the past that Millie wanted to ease off gently gets pulled off with a hard jerk – and Jane thinks her mother was one.

And perhaps she was.

I ended up with a whole truckload of mixed feelings about this story for all sorts of personal reasons.

I think that people who don’t live somewhere storied or famous or both, like New York City, don’t expect to see their hometown portrayed in fiction. Millicent’s story takes place in Cincinnati, where I grew up. Millicent would have been part of my mother’s generation, and the Cincinnati she remembers from the 40s and 50s match stories my mother told me, or echo things that I remember being told were in the recent past when I was growing up in the 1960s.

If you are ever in Cincy, Union Terminal is every bit as magnificent as it is portrayed in the story, and well worth a visit for its museums and its gorgeous restoration. It was a building that needed to be preserved, but for most of my growing up years it was a white elephant that the city couldn’t find a purpose for. It was a relief when the museum complex moved in and turned out to be a fantastic use for the space.

Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center

But the Cincinnati described in the story is the place I remember. As much as I say that Cincinnati is a nice place to be FROM, I was happy to see the author do it proud. Although I still prefer Skyline Chili to Empress (or Gold Star),  Cincinnati chili really is ordered as described and they are all a taste of home, along with Graeter’s Ice Cream, which is still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Part of the poignancy of this story, at least for me, was how much the relationship between Jane and her mother Millie reminded me of the stresses and strains in my own relationship with my mother, although the causes were different. But that emotional distance, that chill that happens between two people who love each other but can’t quite reach each other was extremely real, and even cathartic that they managed to find a peace together that my mother and I never quite did.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming story about four generations of women, the secrets that kept them apart and the truths that finally brought them together.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + Giveaway

Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + GiveawayRelative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Julia Kydd #1
Pages: 320
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

My Review:

The title of this one is certainly a play on the words “relative” and “fortunes” and just how they relate to each other – with a heaping helping of the corruption of the old saying about where there’s a will, there’s a way – not that that doesn’t also apply.

But in the case of this story, the version of that cliche that I’m thinking of is the one that goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a relative” or even a bunch of relatives, all with their hands out for a piece of the estate – no matter how small.

The beginning of this story involves two different wills in two different families involving two very much alive female legatees. At least until things go completely pear-shaped.

And if you are reading this while female, the number of times that the males in this story control their female siblings’ money and their very lives, supposedly for their own good, will make you grit your teeth and want to scream.

Which doesn’t change the fact that there’s a dead body, an absolutely disgusting coverup, and a desperate need for Julia Kydd to solve the mystery – so she can protect her friend, so that she can wrest some of her own money from her half-brother’s oh-so-protective hands, and so that she can stake out her own claim on independence.

If she can just get past all the men trying to pat her on the head, tell her not to worry her pretty little self and just marry someone already so that she can become some other man’s burden. When all she really wants to do is determine her own life for her own self.

And who can blame her?

Escape Rating B-: This is a story with a lot to unpack in it. Some of which drove me absolutely bonkers.

I was expecting a historical mystery, with the emphasis on the mystery part of that equation. What I got instead was historical fiction, with the emphasis on the history, during which a murder happens to occur and get solved by the heroine.

This is also the first book in a series, and has to carry the weight of the set up of the series, the characters, and all of the worldbuilding to put it properly within its frame – the Roaring 20s in New York City – and mostly among the glitterati.

In the end, although the murder actually takes place before the story opens, the race to solve it doesn’t really kick into gear until ¾ of the way through the book. Discovering that solution is a race to the finish, but the setup is a very slow burn – and I certainly burned right along with Julia.

Julia’s reasons for being in New York, as well as the reason for Naomi Rankin’s death, are very much wrapped up in all of the ways that men can and often do subjugate women, and all the ways that the system of the patriarchy is set up to not merely allow them to do it, but actively encourages them to do so. For the women’s own good, of course.

And that particular theme is a drumbeat over that first ¾ of the book. That things really were that way isn’t up for debate. They were, it was awful, and things aren’t as much better now as we like to think they are. But I got tired of being beaten about the head with those facts over and over and over. As, no doubt, the women subject to them did.

There would have been plenty of other ways to make those same points while still getting on with the mystery, which was itself completely wrapped up in women’s rights and women’s issues. The situation was bad, and the death of Naomi Rankin and the reasons for it offered plenty of opportunities for highlighting just how bad it was without hitting the reader over the head with it at every turn in that long setup.

Particularly as there was so much setup and exposition that the identity of the murderer and at least some of their motives (although not all) became obviously fairly early on.

Your mileage may vary, particularly as the historical detail is excellent. As a reader, I would have been happier with a bit less setup and a bit more mystery. But what I did get was interesting enough that I’ll be back for the next book in the series, Passing Fancies.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Relative Fortunes to one US/CAN commenter on this tour. And I’ll be extremely interested to discover what that reader thinks of the story!

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Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWhen We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

My Review:

This is the story about the deconstruction of a life. Not in the sense that things fall apart, because the lives of both Kit and Josie Bianchi fell apart a long, long time ago. The echoes of what happened in their childhood have rippled like aftershocks through everything that has happened since.

Including, but definitely not limited to, Josie’s death – and the faking thereof.

When We Believed in Mermaids is rather about the examination, in memory, of those long ago events. What begins as a look back at a seemingly perfect childhood that was ripped apart by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 reveals cracks in that perfection – just as the girls’ examination of their cliffside house revealed cracks that made the house’s fall inevitable.

There were plenty of warning signs that a disaster was coming – but the adults were too wrapped up in themselves, and much too damaged themselves, to see it. And the girls were children. It’s only as adults that they are able to look back and see that what went wrong was hardly their fault.

But now they are both adults. And both still scarred. Both, in their own ways, isolated because of it. Kit, whose life has come to be confined to her ER practice, her surfing, and her cat. While Josie, who seemingly has it all, is isolated by her secrets. No one knows her true self. Her past is another country, on another continent, and it happened to someone else.

One brief moment in the background in someone else’s camera frame brings Josie’s worlds into collision. And Kit’s walls come tumbling down.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story that can best be described as quietly charming. It feels like one of those stories where not a lot happens on the surface, but that surface is only 10% of what’s happening. Underneath, Kit and Josie are paddling like crazy.

While the comparison is to an iceberg, there’s nothing cold about the story – including its two settings, the California coast and Auckland, New Zealand. Where it’s a hot and steamy late summer when Kit arrives to investigate that three-second sighting of the sister who has been presumed dead for 15 years.

We begin the story from Kit’s point of view as she believes, disbelieves, questions and investigates a possibility that has haunted her for all of her adult life. What if Josie is still alive?

In alternating chapters we find ourselves looking through the eyes of a woman named Mari. Who seemingly has it all, a rich and handsome husband, two terrific kids, a storied house to investigate – and a gigantic secret.

As both Kit and Mari remember their childhoods, with each dive into the past revealing more cracks in that originally perfect surface, their memories converge. It’s obvious fairly quickly that Mari is Josie, and that she’s rightfully worried that her few seconds in that background shot are going to bring her world crashing down – and she’s right.

But until the crash, it’s Kit’s view that holds the attention. While Mari has found the life she dreamed of, and is afraid of losing it – Kit is very much still seeking, not just Josie, but a life that will not merely sustain her but support her and enrich her spirit. Her search, including her hesitant relationship with the handsome Spanish guitarist Jose Velez, opens her heart and shakes her certainties – even as she hunts down the sister she never expected to find.

Kit’s on a quest, and somewhat ironically, Josie is the macguffin she’s looking for. But all the while, both of them are internally exploring their memories of the life they once shared together. As those memories reach toward the present, Josie and Kit reach towards each other.

And the possibility of a shared – and much brighter – future.

I picked up When We Believed in Mermaids because I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets by this same author very much, with just a few quibbles. The same is true about When We Believed in Mermaids, including the quibbles. Both are stories where events in the present cause the narrator(s) to search through their own pasts as well as the past of a place that they become involved with in the course of the story, so if you like one you’ll definitely like the other.

In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, I had a couple of issues with the way that the hesitant romance in that book proceeded, but loved the look back into the past of the house she inherits and the mother she discovers that she never really knew. There’s also an old house in Mermaids, and I was hoping for as interesting a reveal of its history as there was in Secrets, but alas, it was not to be. The secrets about Sapphire House, when finally revealed, felt anticlimactic. That was the one part of the story where I really expected more.

Then again, I love stories about research done well and filled with fascinating reveals. And there were plenty of those fascinating reveals in Kit and Josie’s hesitant journeys down memory lane. As I said, this story is quietly charming, and I was certainly charmed. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer all you have to do is believe in these mermaids!

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

I’m giving away a copy of When We Believed in Mermaids to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly HarmsThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 332
Published by Lake Union Publishing on May 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

My Review:

Even those of us who don’t need an actual #momspringa (because we’re not actual moms) can relate to Amy Byler’s need to take a vacation from her own life to see what’s working, what’s not, what might have been and what might be.

Not that Amy WANTS that vacation from the real, but she certainly does need it. Watching her embrace it makes for a fun and fascinating book, a story about friendship and sisterhood and learning that while having it all may be a myth, having all you really need is definitely possible.

And that “all” is different for each of us – as it is for Amy and her two best friends, Lena and Talia.

Our story begins when Amy spots her “ex” husband at her local small-town pharmacy. John left 3 years ago for a business trip to Hong Kong – and never came back. Leaving her with their two school-age kids, their historic fixer-upper of a house, a library degree that she hadn’t dusted off in ten years and not much else.

She ranted, she raged, she cried but most of all, she coped. Now he’s back and she’s sure that he’s going to disrupt her fragile but workable apple-cart. An apple-cart that has meant that she has turned over her entire life to being the “best” mother possible to make up for the dad who ran away to find himself with a younger woman.

Now he’s back in an attempt to “fix” his relationship with his children. And Amy knows she has to let him try – even though she rightfully doesn’t trust him at all. The kids will be better off with him in their lives – if he sticks this time. He doesn’t need to stick in Bucks County, but he does need to stick to his relationship with them.

He has one chance. She’s letting him have the kids for one week. The kids, who are not fooled by any of this, decide to take him for all he’s worth while he’s around. Not in a bad or entitled way, but making his responsibilities crystal clear – especially since he hasn’t paid a dime in child support while he’s been living it up in Hong Kong.

But that week leaves Amy with a giant-sized hole in her life. For the past three years she hasn’t done anything for herself. She doesn’t know what to do with herself without being constantly needed by her kids, who are now in their teens.

In desperation, she decides to go to New York City, the city she loved when she was single in her 20s, a lifetime ago. She finds a library conference to use as an excuse, and plans to spend a week with a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

When the week turns into an entire summer, and when her friend’s dying magazine uses Amy’s vacation for one last hurrah before they go all digital or fold, a new hashtag is born – #momspringa.

Amy’s #momspringa is both the breaking and the making of her – all at the same time. It makes her question her life and her purpose. Because if she’s not a mother 100% of the time, then who is she? And if she doesn’t take some fulfillment for herself, is she anyone at all?

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I loved this book, but I’ll confess that it had a hard start. And a slightly sticky bit near the end. At the beginning, Amy is extremely invested, understandably so, in being both a mother and more than a bit of a martyr about it.

While the situation makes total sense under the circumstances, I had a difficult time identifying with her until she starts breaking out of the concrete-lined rut she is stuck in – even though that rut is far from being all her own making.

In other words, I had a hard time relating to her intense investment in being a mother and sacrificing herself to that, because it’s not merely not my experience but not an experience I ever wanted.

Her problems with and resentments of the douchebag ex I was completely on board with. Even those of us who have met the “handsome prince” have kissed (and sometimes married) more than a few frogs along the way. And there’s no question this guy was a frog of a husband. Whether he’s also a frog of a father is a big part of the story.

But after the first third of the story, it’s all about Amy’s empowerment, Amy’s steadfast female friendships, and Amy’s journey to find a way to have a fulfilling life that is not 150% wrapped around her kids. Not that those kids aren’t supremely important, but Amy having some life just for Amy is important for them too.

There are also a lot of fun conversations between Amy and her daughter, and between Amy and the colleagues she meets at the conference, about the joys of reading, and about the love of books in general and some books in particular. There’s also some lovely feels about just how marvelous it is to match the right book with the right reader that I really identified with – after all, that is part of the reason that I started this blog and have kept up with it for so many years.

In the end, or rather in the middle, this was a book where I absolutely had to skip to the end to find out whether, after everything, Amy went back to the douchebag ex. Because if she did I was going to die.

I lived. And so does Amy Byler.

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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: supplied by 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.

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

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