Tag Archives: London

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 Lady is Daring by Megan Frampton (Duke’s Daughters series, Book 3)

Lord Carson (Bennett), heir to the Marquis of Wheatly, has avoided matrimony twice, both times to daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Marymount. In the first book of Megan Frampton’s Duke’s Daughter series, Lady Be Bad, Lady Eleanor ends up marrying Bennett’s younger brother Alexander and in the second book it’s his best friend who winds up with one of the other sisters, Lady Olivia. It seems three times the charm in The Lady is Daring when the Marquis urges his son to woo one of the remaining two siblings since he needs money to support his extravagant lifestyle. Bennett, who spends his days running the estate and his evenings trying to find investors for his business ventures, doesn’t have the time or inclination for an arranged marriage to benefit his dad’s other family – a mistress and their two children. Lord Carson’s disdain for his father is matched by his love and devotion for his invalid mother who only wants what is best for her son.

Then one night, Bennett’s life takes a turn when he has a bit too much to drink and somehow believes it’s a good idea to take a nap in an empty carriage.

In the meantime, Lady Ida, youngest daughter of the Duke, has decided to steal this very carriage so she can “rescue” her wayward sister who ran away with their dancing instructor and was now ostracized from society. This headstrong, singleminded plan of Ida is yet another example of the rash behavior of an adventuress who is more inclined to follow her own interests instead of the strictures of The Ton. She disdains the entire idea of matrimony since, after all, who would want to marry someone like her who is more concerned with topics such as gas lighting instead of more lady-like pursuits such as embroidery?

Unfortunately, Lord Carson refuses to allow Lady Ida to proceed without his protection, disrupting her plans. He reasons that since she is the sister of his brother’s wife, he can’t very well leave her to fend for herself. The two disparate personalities somehow find a commonality and a romance is inevitable as they deal with the numerous obstacles which they encounter on their quest. Bennett even finds Ida’s obsession with the mating habits of hedge hogs endearing.

The Lady is Daring was takes place in 1846 making it a Victorian Romance. Don’t look for historical accuracy, or for that manner common sense, in this “traveling” comedy of errors. However, if you are looking for a fun, quick read with some steamy love scenes, this book is for you.

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

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 Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson

The Duke of Alban, close friends of the King and Queen, is devastated to witness His Majesty losing his mind plus hanging out with the aimless Prinny has become such a bore. In need of a change of scenery, he decides to visit his Hunting Box in Swaledale and reconnect with his beloved Aunt Eliza who has a home on his Yorkshire property. The last time he had been with his aunt was to find comfort and heal after the betrayal of his wife who had not only run off with a courtier but drowned in a freak accident off the coast of Italy shortly thereafter.

Since Autumn was a good time for hunting, Alban decides to invite along the down-in-the-dumps Bartholomew Norton, a close boyhood friend who could also use some time away. Suddenly the group grows to four with the pushy Earl of Orkenay and the unfamiliar Sir John Fitzhenry, a young baronet, tagging along ready for a house party.

The Duke is in for a surprise when his discovers his aunt has become blind and Kitty Douglas, her companion, is not some old biddy, but a lovely young widow whose deceased husband had gambled away their funds forcing her to seek gentile employment. There’s an instant attraction, but the class barriers get in the way of any meaningful relationship. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a flirtation. Luckily, the forward thinking Lady Rebecca DeVere Severn and reticent Hannah Billings, two of Kitty’s friends, both widows, are also visiting, which is an extra inducement for the men to spend time at his aunt’s house.

Everyone pairs up, with Kitty having the attention of both the Duke and the Earl. While their compliments are flattering, the Earl’s attempts at seduction leave her cold, but an accidental touch from the Duke gets her juices flowing. From his letters to Aunt Eliza, Kitty has imagined the man of her dreams, but in person the two are at constant odds despite their mutual attraction. Neither gentleman has marriage in mind, but Kitty is not interested in a transient relationship. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings are inevitable before true love is revealed.

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson was originally published in 2004 as The Duke and Mrs Douglas. Too bad the author didn’t take this opportunity to review her work and do some editing. While the story seemed interesting at first, it dragged on too long with too much repetition. There just wasn’t enough plot to sustain a full length novel, but it would have made an excellent novella. This is one your grandmother could read since a deep kiss is as graphic as it gets, although, for a Regency Romance, some of the language used in polite company would have been shocking. While Kitty was a naive, albeit likable character, the Duke was an obnoxious, self absorbed man who, in my mind, never quite earned redemption. His only saving grace was his love and solicitude towards his Aunt Eliza, especially since I wasn’t feeling the romance between him and Kitty. I wish the characters had been fleshed out a bit more to make their intentions (since everyone seemed to have an angle) more relatable. The mystery of their actions is briefly revealed towards the end of the book, almost as a throwaway thought. Too many lost opportunities!

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

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I’d never read a book by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, but his 1992 Man Booker Prize winner, The English Patient, is on my “to read” list, so I thought I’d give his newest novel, Warlight, which is on the long list for this year’s Man Booker Prize, a try.

Part one of the novel deals with the childhood in 1945 London of Nathaniel (Stitch) whose parents abandon him and his sister Rachel (Wren) when they are in their teens and place them in the hands of some somewhat unsavory characters (The Moth and his pal The Darter) who involve them in their nefarious everyday activities. Not that fourteen year old Nathaniel minds. Who wouldn’t want to skip school to drive around to various destinations with a car full of greyhounds or, better yet, steer a boat through the waterways of England to various ports to deliver these same goods – unknown quantities with questionable pedigrees – to compete in underground dog racing? He learns a lot about secrecy, especially concealing his sexual trysts with Agnes, who finds them empty houses for sale listed with her real estate brother – homes bereft of furniture where they can do the deed without being disturbed. Fun times, but living on the edge can be dangerous and the siblings start to wonder where their mother really is (they could care less about their dad) when they discover her trunk, which had been carefully packed in their presence, untouched in the attic still full of her things. She definitely is not in the stated destination of Singapore.

Which leads to Part Two, where Nathanial, fifteen years later, is on a quest to discover the truth about his mum, Rose. Rachel is out of the scene and no one else is around from those forgone times of his youth, so he’s going it alone, surreptitiously searching for evidence at the Intelligence Agency where he works. Nathaniel’s narrative provides details from his teen years as clues into the truth, showing up as he attempts to find some sort of explanation, as the faces and names from his past provide the stepping stones necessary to reconstruct his mother’s days during the war to find the answers he desperately needs in order to move forward with his life.

Reading Warlight is like walking through a murky night getting glimpses of where you are headed but still not quite sure you are going in the right direction. Some of the visualizations are fascinating, but the plot meanders making it difficult to follow, causing the reader to make guesses as to what is actually happening, not daring to ever ask why. The concept of Schwer, part of the secret language between siblings, is ever present, representing the struggles during a post war London reconstructing after the Blitz. Even the occasional ray of sunshine Ondaatje allows to peer through his words does not provide enough light to overcome the dreariness left by the war nor its effects on this family. A thoroughly depressing book which fails to be lifted out of its angst by Nathaniel’s discoveries. However, the entire tale has a haunting effect as compared to most literature which is too often read and forgotten, although it is a complicated, difficult read, not for the casual reader. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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.