Blackberry & Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

9781538507759_1faedOriginally published in Library Journal, May 2019.

Velton’s intriguing historical fiction spotlights both the successes and hardships of Huguenot silk weavers in 18th century England. Young and alone, Sara Kemp, arrives in Spitalfields, London. She is soon swept away to the Wig and Feathers tavern by a forceful brothel proprietress, thus beginning a dangerous, dismal life of prostitution. Esther Thorel, the wife of one of the finest master silk weavers, offers Sara a position as lady’s maid and a fresh start away from her unsavory past. Esther, a painter, longs to design silks, but her husband Elias dismisses her talent while resenting her barrenness and inability to provide a son to teach his trade. Enter Bisby Lambert, an exquisitely talented journeyman commissioned by Elias to weave his masterpiece on the Thorel’s attic loom. As the weaving begins to take shape, the tumultuous Thorel household, full of secrets and longing, begins to unravel.  The story unfolds in alternating points of view between Sara and Esther, women of vastly different life circumstances who are both harboring secrets. VERDICT: Fans of Tracy Chevalier and Jennifer Chiaverini will be captivated by Blackberry & Wild Rose for its atmospheric, historically-rich drama and forbidden romance.

 

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

9780778330271_56037Originally published in Library Journal, January 2019.

Jenoff seamlessly weaves together the stories of three remarkable women and the impact of WWII on their lives. In the New York train station, Grace Healy, a newly widowed legal secretary, stumbles upon a suitcase with the name Trigg, containing a dozen photos of women with only first names and no other way to identify them.  Eleanor Trigg, an outsider with a painful past, is the leader of a group of secret female agents. Her girls are sent into occupied Europe as radio operators, charged with the task of sabotaging the Germans and arming the citizens. Grace feels a connection to Eleanor and the girls, yearning to discover why they never made it home, creating an element of mystery to the story. Marie, a young single mother, takes a job with Eleanor’s unit of the Special Operations Executive in London, posing as a French woman. Marie is sent to Paris to serve in the Vesper circuit under the direction of roguishly-handsome Julian. The City of Lights will bring great passion and heartache for brave patriot, Marie. VERDICT: Recommended for fans of Lilac Girls and The Alice Network, Jenoff’s fast-paced historical fiction boasts an intriguing plot and strong female characters.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

41NHeAVyDlL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I was in the mood for a Christmas-y romance and this one totally hit the spot! Debut novel, One Day in December, by British author, Josie Silver, is the December book choice of celebrity & avid book lover, Reese Witherspoon’s, Book Club called Hello Sunshine. I love a good forbidden romance, especially one as quirky as this one! Her writing style reminds me of JoJo Moyes and Sophie Kinsella.

Set in modern day London, this is the romantic comedy story of Laurie and Jack, unfolding in alternating viewpoints throughout the months of December since the moment they first spot each other as strangers in a bus station and fall instantly for one another after one glance. Talk about swoon-worthy! The problem is that neither know the other’s name or anything about them. Laurie is left to dream about “bus boy” and she keeps an eye out for him everywhere she goes, which no success of locating him again. She describes his features in vivid detail to her very best friend Sarah, and they both believe that “bus boy” is the one for Laurie, should she ever find him again.

Fast forward a year and the extremely beautiful Sarah begins dating Jack and she is convinced that Laurie must meet him and become chummy with him. Laurie agrees because she loves Sarah like her own sister. However, you may have guessed it, the moment she sees Jack, she is forced to hide her surprise and bury her true feelings. Jack is bus boy! Sarah has no idea she has fallen for Laurie’s “one that got away,” and Laurie is unsure whether Jack realizes who she is either. Thus follows a series of meetups (many in the month of December) over the years between the tragically tangled triangle of Laurie, Sarah, and Jack in which blissfully unaware Sarah falls deeper in love with Jack, and all the while Laurie tries to convince herself that Jack is not her 100%. Oh, the agony I felt for Laurie and Jack! Readers learn in Jack’s perspective that he too has often thought of the girl from the station, remembering her as well. But, will he ever tell Laurie? I guess you’ll have to read it, now won’t you!?

I would very highly suggest this book to any fiction readers. It’s such a sweet story with an ending that I know you’ll love. The author writes the characters right into the readers’ hearts, so that when Laurie cries, readers find tears in their own eyes. Read it! You won’t be sorry.

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You is the much anticipated, highly necessary, second installment in the Me Before You series, featuring Louisa (Lou), a character readers, myself included, absolutely love. I say “second installment” rather than “final installment,” because I’m hoping that Jojo writes many more stories featuring Louisa. For those of you wanting to read this book, I would highly suggest reading Me Before You first. It is absolutely wonderful, and you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve devoured it like a piece of chocolate lava cake.

I enjoyed After You just as much, if not more than Me Before You. Louisa has been traveling around Paris, hoping to experience new things to help counterbalance the grief of losing Will. She then settles down in a London flat, but it doesn’t seem much like a home, lacking any personal items or furniture. She takes a job as a bar maid in the airport, where she works thankless hours on not so fun tasks with no satisfaction or hope of finding something else. Perhaps the worst is the ridiculous outfit and wig she has to wear at work (you’ll have to read it for the specifics!).

After an unfortunate accident, Louisa finds herself in the hospital and then in need of help while she recuperates for 9 weeks. She moves back in with her loud, and mostly dysfunctional family until she can no longer handle the monotonous conversations, bickering between her Dad and Mum, and repeated family meals. Back to London she goes for more unhappy days of work and lonely nights in her flat. Then, an unexpected visitor turns up at her doorstep, someone with a connection to her past with Will, and her life becomes much less boring, and much more chaotic in a flash. She joins a grief counseling group against her initial wishes, and becomes rather connected to the motley crew of fellow grieving men and women. Leaving the group one day, she has a pleasant run in with the handsome EMT, Sam, who helped her after the accident months prior. She hadn’t realized at the time how kind and caring he was, and oh so handsome! Lou finds herself not so lonely any longer. When the story ends, we see Lou embarking on a new journey with a fresh outlook and so many people supporting her unselfishly. I only wish I could have a few more chapters to read!

The scenes from this book caused me to both laugh out loud and also wipe tears from my face. As a matter of fact, I cried through the last two chapters! Some of the things that come out of Lou’s father’s mouth are just plain hilarious. Also, the grief group has its share of characters who will say anything that comes to mind. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say; and Lou (as well as the reader) is subjected to plenty of humor. Jojo Moyes has a knack for developing characters in such a way that readers do not want to turn the last page, because they will physically miss the characters. I find myself in a depressive sort of state today after finishing the book. I miss Lou, Sam, Lily, Mr. and Mrs. Clark, the Traynors, and even sourpuss Richard from the bar. What a story this was! I absolutely loved it, and I will be most thrilled if Jojo Moyes decides to keep Lou’s story alive for many more installments.

Now, what in the world am I going to read next? Stay tuned, readers…

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall will be published February 9, 2016. This is a beautiful book with a fabulous, intriguing cover.

Black Rabbit Hall is a wonderful debut novel for Eve Chase. Fans of Kate Morton would likely be fans of Black Rabbit Hall, with its mysterious corridors and hidden family secrets. Part of the story takes place in the 1960’s when Amber Alton is a teenager spending summers at Black Rabbit Hall, her family’s old estate home in Cornwall, outside of London. Amber, her twin brother Toby, younger brother Barney, and younger sister Kitty pay no attention to time while at Black Rabbit Hall, especially since none of the clocks read the same. All they know is that they are happy and well-loved by their mother and father, and Peggy, the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook. Not much happens at Black Rabbit Hall, which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of London. Then, unfathomable tragedy occurs and everything about their carefree days changes drastically.

Other portions of the novel follow Lorna, a thirty-two year old school teacher who is engaged to marry Jon. Lorna and her late mother, who has just recently died in a freak accident have visited Black Rabbit Hall in the past, though Lorna doesn’t remember much about when or why. There are pictures of them at the front gate when Lorna was a child. Lorna feels drawn to the crumbling estate and wishes to be married on the property, despite her fiance’s wishes and best intentions. The more time Lorna spends at Black Rabbit Hall, the stronger the connection becomes.

Though there are flowers growing up from the floorboards, bitter drafts from creaky windows, and rooms filled with vintage pieces of the Alton’s lives, Lorna is determined to stay in the house and find out what happened to the first Mrs. Alton and the four children from the photographs. The current, elderly but stately, Mrs. Alton inhabits a small wing of the estate, along with her servant and caregiver, Dill. There are vivid descriptions of the house, the beach, and the nearby woods where young Toby spends his days, building a tree house and hiding out from his stepmother. Eve Chase does a wonderful job of creating characters who really come to life in the novel. I was humbled and saddened by the hardships that Amber and her siblings had to endure at such a young age. The writing is beautiful and the story seamless, even though the plot switches back and forth between 3 decades.

This is not a ghost story, so do not be turned away if, like me, you do not like supernatural or fantasy fiction. It is, however, a story about family, love, and long buried secrets which most always are unearthed. While reading the final paragraph describing the arrival of one of the Alton siblings, I had chills and tears streaming down my face. Now that means this a beautiful story. Not many books cause me to have chills.

So, what are you waiting for? Read it!

Don’t Get Me Wrong by Marianne Kavanagh

I enjoyed this modern day spin on Pride & Prejudice. It takes place in London, so it has the British quirkiness that I have come to love in a story. I would place Marianne Kavanagh in a similar category as authors JoJo Moyes and Sophie Kinsella.

Eva and Kim are sisters living together, but on their own without parents since they were in their late teens. Their selfish and arrogant father left them for Jia, a younger wife with whom he now has two little boys. Grace, their selfish mother, left them for Jean Luc and his Parisian estate. Kim and Eva are close, and when Eva’s friend Harry becomes part of the picture, Kim starts to feel like a third wheel and get left out of much of Eva’s daily life. Harry is handsome, rich, and a charmer. Women fall all over themselves for Harry, including Eva and Kim’s friends Damaris and Izzie. Kim can’t understand because she finds Harry, a banker, to be flashy, arrogant, and insensitive. She doesn’t give him much chance to change her mind, and decides that she will go on hating him, even though she has to be around him all the time. Harry doesn’t understand why Kim hates him, so he deals with her in a joking manner, which fuels her anger and resentment toward him. Kim assumes that Harry is Eva’s lover and therefore the father of her young son, Otis, as well. One would think Harry is the father, especially because he pays for the flat where Eva and Otis live. He offers to help Kim, but her pride and vendetta towards Harry prevent her from accepting.

The story follows Kim, Eva, and Harry through the years as they travel and move from place to place, Harry ending up in New York for a time and Eva living in various communities around the world. When a few successive tragedies strike the group, Kim finds herself unable to escape Harry and his kind demeanor and offer of assistance. Will she let go of the feelings she has been harboring for years? I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, because I wanted more from the characters, mainly from Kim and Harry. However, the author didn’t tie up the ending in a neat little bow. There is quite a bit of heartache in the novel, but selflessness and love can be found as well from Damaris’s mother Christine, and Harry with his relationship toward Ethan, a young boy at the gym where Harry goes for boxing.

I would suggest this book for fans of general fiction, comedy, and/or romance. It’s quirky, witty, and fun.