Tag Archives: England

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

You don’t call it a World War unless the war affects almost everyone in the world. That is why there seems to be pockets of stories about WWII which we might not have heard about before now. One of the most fascinating secrets from the 1940’s is the subversive activities of the British. The SOE (Special Operations Executive) in charge of espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in Occupied Europe was sometimes referred to as the Baker Street Irregulars (based on their location which is infamously connected to Sherlock Holmes). Also colloquially known as Churchill’s Secret Army, this government organization not only used men, but also had a special Section F which trained and sent women into the field at a time when women were mainly considered as auxiliary units. 55 female agents were sent out as radio operators and couriers with 13 being killed in action, many who died in concentration camps. Their expectations included unarmed combat but they were also trained to use weapons. Once the war was over, the SOE was disbanded. Unfortunately, since these women were not enlisted soldiers, they didn’t get the recognition their male counterparts received. It wasn’t until recently that well deserved medals have been awarded and even then the women had to jump through hoops to prove they deserved this honor.

In her research of this scenario, Pam Jenoff discovered a treasure trove of drama both on and off the field to include in her historical novel, The Lost Girls of Paris. There was secret love, bravery, courageous actions, questionable decisions, rogue behaviors, personal sacrifice, and finally betrayal, all packed into a relatively brief period of time.

To portray these events, Jenoff chose to follow the lives of three women. The book begins in early 1946, shortly after the war had ended, where American Grace Healey, a young war widow, accidentally finds a suitcase left under a bench in Grand Central Station. Opening it to take a peak inside she pulls out an envelope with twelve labeled photographs each featuring a different girl. Her determined quest to uncover the whys and wherefores behind this discovery is a running theme throughout the book.

Next we meet Eleanor Trigg, the one in charge of the secret female agents who were sent to France with their radios to decipher and transmit coded messages to assist the success of the French Resistance and clear the way for the anticipated arrival of American Troops. This time frame in 1944 included the weeks leading up to D Day in Normandy where the importance of  their work superseded everything, including the safety of those in the field. Trigg, feeling responsible for the girls she recruited, kept watch over their activities and wanted answers when anything went awry.

Finally, there is Marie Roux, a single mom, whose motivation for taking on this task is questionable. While fluent in French, there were certain aspects of her character which made her a less than stellar candidate for the position, despite the extensive training she and the other women endured. Yet she still was called to duty and sent to France, expected to execute orders without question (even though following orders was not her strong suit). Through Marie we get into the nitty gritty of espionage, with undercover air flights, hidden radios, and sabotage, all while hiding in plain sight despite the ever present Germans literally living next door. Spoiler Alert: Not everything runs smoothly.

Pam Jenoff, known for the novel The Orphan’s Tale as well as other stories based on WWII and the Holocaust, has found another tale which highlights the heroic role of women during wartime. Parts of this novel were fascinating but despite the fact that it was inspired by real events, some of the details seemed too far fetched to pass the smell test. Even if true, the complexities of the situation were so simplified as to be ridiculous at times which took away from the seriousness of the situation. However, the plot quickly flowed through the eyes of the three women and the reader can’t help rooting for their eventual success despite the reality that when it comes to war there isn’t always a big bow to wrap up a happily ever after ending. The best we can hope for is a couple of colorful ribbons.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

Our story, The Light Between Worlds, begins in London during the Blitz (the bombings of England’s capitol during WWII) where three children huddle together in an Air Raid Shelter waiting for their parents to join them when suddenly they find themselves in the “Woodlands” where the indigenous  creatures give them haven. Promised that they can return home at any time  to their original time and place, they take up residence in a castle, assisting in diplomatic discussions to prevent a war (which eventually breaks out anyway). After six and a half years, the two older siblings, James and Alexandra, decide its time to return home bringing the surprised and reluctant Evelyn with them. 

Back home they never quite readjust, especially Evelyn, who is living between the two worlds, longing for one while trying to find some sort of peace in the other. Six years later, Evelyn and James are both at their respective boarding schools while Alexandra has escaped the trauma of caring for her despondent  little sis by going to college in America. 

Told in two sections, from both Evelyn’s and Alexandra’s point of view, the past is featured in Italics. Most of the text is introspective as both girls reflect on their behaviors and their relationships. Poor James is also lost, not knowing what to do, and their parents are besides themselves, never understanding why their children are emotionally falling apart. When tragedy strikes, nobody is surprised, but there is enough guilt to go around. 

The author, Laura Weymouth, is from Western New York, my general location, and I was rooting for her debut novel to succeed. Unfortunately, C S Lewis did it so much better, so I recommend the YA population read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to see how it should be done. I don’t understand why Weymouth would write a book which has so many parallels to the classic The Chronicles of Narnia series. Perhaps this could be forgiven if the text were dynamic, but there is too much lamenting and not enough action. I would have liked to read  a lot more about The Woodlands so I could perhaps understand the attraction. To top it all off, at times I found the narrative confusing. Sorry, it just didn’t come together.

Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review,  This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

It is misleading to say that The Unbinding of Mary Reade (please note the extra “e”) is based on historical facts since the author, Miriam McNamara plays fast and loose with the so called “truth”. Yes, Mary Read, Anne Bonnie, and Calico Jack Rackham were pirates together, but the timeline is ignored leading to a misleading narrative. What is true is that the illegitimate Mary Read was brought up disguised as her half brother Mark so as to financially benefit off her “grandmother” with the proceeds of her deceit supporting her mother. Eventually she joined the British Military and fought against the French in the Nine Years War. Mary married, settled in the Netherlands, and ran an inn, but after her husband’s early death she once again took up the role as a man and ended up on a ship traveling to the West Indies which was taken hostage by pirates who she gladly joined. She accepted the governor’s pardon in 1718-19 and became a privateer, basically a pirate for the crown, but the ship mutinied and it was at this point she joined the pirates Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny (who also was disguised as a man). Eventually both their true identities were revealed. Ironically, Anne’s father had unsuccessfully forced Anne to take on a boys identity in her youth to hide the fact she was his illegitimate daughter.

While in the book McNamara portrays the two female pirates as roughly the same age, in fact, Mary Read was thirteen to fifteen years older. Of interest is the gender fluid nature of both these female buccaneers who seemed to take pleasure from men but were rumored to have an intimate relationship with each other as well, switching back and forth between the sexes as the situation dictated. That they were fierce fighters is not in doubt, shown by their efforts to hold off the invaders intent on taking them captive, although they were eventually outnumbered and captured because the male crew were too drunk to fight. Both ladies were “with child” so spared the fate of their male counterparts who were hanged for high treason. While Mary is believed to have died of child fever in a Jamaican prison (buried April 28, 1721), Anne was luckier, possibly rescued by her influential father, William Cormac, ending up in her birthplace of South Carolina.

As you can see, Mary’s life was actually quite fascinating, but the author somehow found a way to make it mundane. I had to force myself to finish this book, which seemed to drag on and on.

Back and forth between 1704, 1707, 1717, and 1719 alternating between the locales of London and the Caribbean, the backstory comes too late, leaving the reader confused as to exactly what is happening. Ultimately, the intriguing details of the lives of these two rebellious woman are not used to their best advantage. There was too much tell, not enough show, with the author too often describing the events rather than putting the characters in the midst of the action.

However, this book’s one saving grace is bringing Mary and Anne to our attention and I suggest a look at A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, published in 1724, which provides the basis of many of the myths surrounding this fascinating period on the high seas.

Two stars and a thank you though both Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord of Secrets (Rogues and Riches, #5) by Erica Ridley

Through her original series, the Dukes of War, Erica Ridley has created an entire world in Regency London whose background continues with the current series, Rogues and Riches. Lord of Secrets (Book #5) runs concurrently with the other novels where past events are now revisited as the couples attend a ball hosted by the Earl of Carlisle with references throughout to the Grenvilles as older brother Heath, heir to the baronetcy, is in search for a bride to please his demanding mother who also wants to marry his sisters to eligible gentlemen in The Ton. She’s doomed to fail since oldest daughter, Camellia, dreams of a scandalous singing career and middle daughter, Dahlia, spends her time running a girls school in the rookery, hardly a pastime to endear her to the aristocracy, while the littlest sister Bryony – well, let’s say that she’s the wildest of the bunch.

Brother Heath so wants to please his mom, yet the simpering youngsters barely out of the school room do not appeal. While looking for a slightly older potential mate, he doesn’t neglect his duty to scan the room for any wallflowers who would like to dance. He meets one lovely vision with red hair dressed in pink whose conversation peaks his interest, but she slips away. Once he discovers that she is simply a paid companion, that should end his interest, but instead he finds excuses to spend time with her, all under the guise of his friendship with Lady Roundtree . Even as he realizes that anything beyond “friendship”, and even that, is unacceptable, he still can’t stop himself.

Miss Eleanor “Nora” Winfield is a distant cousin who has been called into service as a paid companion to Lady Roundtree after the poor woman fractured her ankle. After living in poverty on a pig farm with her brother and grandparents, she suddenly finds herself in the lap of luxury even if she is treated like the hired help. With a luxurious place to sleep, gorgeous clothes appropriate for the social events attended by the elite, and sumptuous meals far beyond her simple tastes, Nora feels guilty knowing how her family is living hand to mouth. With the money she earns, life will be a little easier back home. To while away the time and give her brother a notion about her current lifestyle, she draws elaborate sketches along with funny caricatures based on her personal experiences and the scads of gossip which Mrs Roundtree loves to share with whomever will listen. To Nora’s chagrin, one of the pictures ends up in the local paper and becomes the talk of the town. Her caricatures are in high demand carrying a price tag which will give her family some stability. Yet, these same pictures have the potential to hurt others, an unintended consequence to a harmless activity.

Even worse, Grenville, known as the keeper of secrets and the fixer, is on the hunt to discover the perpetrator of these despicable drawings – one which includes his own sister. Nora must choose between her family and the man she is growing to love. Even though it’s a forgone conclusion, it was fun watching the two love birds find their way.

Full of witty dialogue, tender moments, amusing scenarios, and the comfort of old friends, this is the best book of the Rogues and Riches series so far. Yes, there was still a bit too much repetition, but it was manageable. My favorite scene was when Nora receives a warm reception from Grenville’s sisters while my biggest uncertainty is the question: “Where is the Baron?” He hasn’t once made an appearance even though his children are constantly requesting an audience.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, #5)

Geoffrey, Earl of Harrington, is clueless. Being self centered and single minded he doesn’t notice what’s happening in the world around him – not unless it directly impacts him and sometimes not even then.

That explains why he was still courting Lady Charlotte Carpenter when she was publically engaged to Constantine, the Marquis of Kenilworth, whose romance appears in The Marquis and I, Book #4 of the Worthingtons series. Any chance Geoff had while wooing his first choice for a wife disappeared when he took off back home to visit an impatient father, the Marquis of Markham, who insisted on micromanaging his son’s London life. Now Geoffrey has just a few weeks to find a suitable bride, a requirement for his job as an assistant to Sir Charles Stuart. His mate must meet certain requirements if she is to accompany him to Brussels. After all, not only does a diplomat’s wife have responsibilities, she also must be somewhat pleasing to the eye (since Geoffrey wants to enjoy his husbandly duties). After reviewing the “short list” of eligible young ladies he sets out to “meet” them at the next ball where he ends up eyeing Elizabeth Turley, best friends with Charlotte. Elizabeth is actually attracted to the stilted, cocky Earl, even though she feels like she is being interviewed for a position instead of being courted. She doesn’t want to appear too eager or marry someone just for the sake of convenience – either his or hers. Unsure if Harrington will come up to scratch, her brother, Gavin, convinces his friend Lord Littleton to provide some competition. Now Geoffrey has to put some effort into what turns out to be a whirlwind romance. With the help of Grandmama and Cousin Apollonia, he “makes a cake of himself”, but Elizabeth is worth the effort. Their passion in the bedroom is a bonus which makes him even more desperate for the upcoming nuptials.

Everything seems to be going well until Elizabeth overhears Geoff talking with his father. She’s devastated to hear her new husband agree that she has all the qualifications necessary to be an excellent hostess, without any mention of the love they had just proclaimed in their wedding vows. So for the rest of You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn, Elizabeth decides to withhold her affection from an oblivious husband who is baffled about what he’s done to offend his bride. However, neither has much time to contemplate their marital difficulties since there’s a war gong on, so the two must temporarily drop their differences and rise to the occasion. With a battle as a backdrop, their squabbles seem insignificant and the ultimate resolution, while overly dramatic, does provide a satisfying conclusion.

I have mixed feelings about this Regency Romance from The Worthingtons series (#5). Parts of it were fun (especially when Harrington and Littleton were fighting over Elizabeth), some parts dragged (too much repetition with both protagonists agonizing over their relationship), and some parts were filled with minutia. These little details, which would ordinarily have been annoying, were at times fascinating, as Elizabeth packed up an entire household complete with horses, conveyances, and servants and traveled to Belgium.

Then there’s that one-sided “spat”, where Elizabeth freaked out when Geoffrey didn’t proclaim he had feelings for her on that day she inadvertently eavesdropped. However, if she had thought about it, the idea of love was not something a son would necessarily confide in his dad, especially a domineering man like the Marquis. Her anger should have been directed on the fact that her competency was considered her best feature, as if she were a hired servant.

Elizabeth didn’t need to fret about her abilities because she was a whizz at any task thrown her way. Her talents went beyond her organizational skills, and included the ability to take charge during times of stress and then, mere hours later, appear beautiful and composed at a ball. All this at the tender age of eighteen – a little far fetched, to say the least.

For fans of The Marriage Game series, Geoffrey runs into Septimius Trevor at the solicitor’s office who asks him to touch base with Colonel Lord Hawkesworth while he is in Brussels and remind him to write home more often. While Quinn explores a few details about the battlefront, that is not her main focus, although the anger of the French locals at the interference of the British in overthrowing Napoleon, is well represented.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley who providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

How to Forget a Duke (Misadventures in Matchmaking, #1) by Vivienne Lorret

Vivienne Loretta’s writing style is perfect for capturing the essence of a Regency Romance and her newest novel, How to Forget a Duke, is the ideal example of how to get the job done, leaving the reader with that content feeling which comes from a happily ever after which seems oh so right.

Not that there’s a lot of action and excitement, just the blossoming connection between two seemingly incongruous people falling in love. Crispin Montague, fifth Duke of Rydstrom has a money problem. His cliffside castle in Sussex is in a constant state of disrepair and the monies from the estate can’t seem to keep up with the needs. His aunt, Lady Hortense, however, has promised some funds if he finds an adequate Bride, one that meets her approval. The 4000 pounds will do some good, but a wealthy heiress is what he needs, one who is willing to live in London, preferably at her own place, keeping her distance. Of course he can’t tell that to the Bourne Matrimonial Agency, all they need to know is that he requires a member of the Ton to be his wife.

Yet Jacinda Bourne, the private eye of the matchmaking company, knows that something is amiss, especially after she coerces his solicitor into revealing the details about His Grace’s financial shortcomings. Then when Crispin finds her trespassing in his study disguised as a maid, the two have a heated argument about the meaning of a contractual agreement versus what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Even worse, once Jacinda makes her escape, Rydstrom realizes she has discovered the name of the secret he is trying to protect. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches her establishment to ascertain the extent of her knowledge, her uncle informs him that the lady in question has left town on some sort of “quest”.

Crispin rushes to Rydstrom Hall to prevent Jacinda from once again intruding into his home, but when he does find the damsel she is battered and bruised with a nasty case of amnesia. Considering the fact that there’s a violent storm close at hand, the doctor and Miss Elmira Beels, a local townswoman from Whitcrest, along with Jacinda and the Duke, have to hightail it back to the castle until the weather changes. Doctor Graham determines Jacinda needs to stay put for at least two weeks but, although her memory is gone, her instinctual spying tendencies stay put leading to some altercations with Crispin who is unsuccessfully trying to keep her in the dark about his personal matters. This head butting leads to romantic interludes when their heated arguments turn to passion.

Book one of the Misadventures in Matchmaking shows a promising start to an interesting premise. The three sisters, each owning a different book in Jane Austin’s Emma trilogy gifted to them by their dying mother, believe in the power of Matchmaking, especially since their own mum married “the wrong sort” – her father, Michael Cartwright (Lord Frawley), a man who broke her heart when she discovered he had a second family. The girls, along with their uncle, are trying to make a go of the business, assisting members of the aristocracy in finding an appropriate mate. With the successful marriage of a Duke a feather in their cap, along with the patronage of The Duchess of Holliford, the group is sure to get more clients, leading to book two – Ten Kisses to Scandal.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

When I think of The Lying Game by Ruth Ware I picture four fifteen year old school girls sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of an old sinking house in The Reach, a home in a tidal estuary located near the coastal village of Salten not far from the English Channel. What a life they had spending time together swimming, laughing, and joking, breaking the school rules until they were finally caught and expelled, although little did the supervising nun know the extent of their misdeeds. Of course to tell would be breaking the rules of The Lying Game, a fun way to put one over on people of authority.

Here it is seventeen years later when Kate texts her three former dorm mates, Thea, Isa, and Fatima, with three words – I need you, and off they all come, back to the scene of the “crime” to face up their youthful indiscretions. Unfortunately, they’re not quite sure exactly what really happened way back when. Yet that’s what they are about to find out as the story unfolds, told by Isa with flashbacks about their Sophomore year at Salten Academy, dwelling on the days they hung up out with each other and Luc, Kate’s half brother, while Kate’s father, an artist, drew what he saw, even if their attire was questionable, especially on those hot, skinny dipping days. This ultimately compounds their troubles, but it’s how they deal with these issues that will determine their future, for better or for worse, as details are revealed and the repercussions of the events which occurred that fateful summer are in danger of ruining their lives.

While the premise showed potential, as a psychological thriller, this one is a little less than thrilling. There’s quite a bit of repetition along with a meandering plot and a climax that, while unexpected, isn’t really totally unpredictable. The reader could easily have figured out a lot of this stuff before the big reveal and the subsequent wrapping up of events, although there were some unanswered questions which didn’t have an adequate resolution. This is not a happily ever after sort of book, but we do get some closure, even if various actions didn’t seem to make sense or, at the very least, are a stretch. However, this book is a good character study on the effects of a guilty conscience as each girl tries to make peace with their dark secret, one which at the time sounded like their only viable option. Some editing might have made this a more exciting read.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.