Posted in Cultural, French, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, World War I

The Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell

Publication Info: Published January 21, 2020 by Berkley. Kindle Pre-Pub edition courtesy of Berkley and NetGalley. Other editions now available.

Summary: Rosalyn Acosta works as a wine sales rep for her friend Hugh in California. He offered her the job and some essential financial support after her husband died of cancer, leaving her grieving and bankrupt. She dislikes sales and is an artist at heart, but it’s hard to support herself and make enough money to pay back creditors by painting.

Hugh sends Rosalyn to a sales conference in the Champagne region of France. She doesn’t want to go since she dislikes champagne and has too many painful memories of her honeymoon in Paris.

On the plane, Rosalyn is befriended by a boisterous, wealthy Australian woman, Emma, who offers her assistance. Rosalyn just wants to be left alone, but becomes intrigued by some old letters that Emma is trying to organize and translate. The letters were a legacy from Emma’s great Aunt, written to a young soldier in France during WWI, as part of the marraines de guerre project. Emma was captivated by the soldier’s love of a young woman named Lucie Marechal, who lived in the wine caves under Reims during the war. Emma is traveling to France for both business and research.

While helping Emma translate the letters, lonely, grieving Rosalyn is pulled into the simpler pace of the French vineyards and people. With the help of new friends, she discovers her true calling and begins to heal.

Comments: There are so many things that pulled me deeply into The Vineyards of Champagne. In this warm and lovely novel, I deeply related to Rosalyn’s numbed feelings of grief and betrayal. Emma is such a bright light despite her own issues. The determination of Lucie and the other townspeople to make champagne and and thrive amidst daily bombings and shootings tugged at something deep within me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would survive or give up in despair in similar circumstances. I was reminded of my paternal grandfather, himself a soldier during the Great War.

And bright and shining, flowing through the grief and loss, is a sparkling reminder of the many joys and celebrations in life: the champagne.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction and novels about World War I, as well as those with an interest in France, champagne and wine history.

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Historical Fiction, World War I

Girls on the Line by Aimie K. Runyan

Publication Info: Published November 6th 2018 by Brilliance Audio. Other editions available. I listened to the audio edition through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Summary: After Ruby Wagner’s brother is killed in one of the earliest battles in World War I, she decides to follow in his footsteps and aid her country in the war effort. She reads a notice that the Army Signal Corps is looking for female switchboard operators.

Ruby currently works as a switchboard operator for the local telephone company in Philadelphia. Thanks to her upwardly mobile mother, Ruby is also fluent in French and has excellent elocution. Ruby takes the exams and passes with flying colors. Much to her parents’ dismay, Ruby heads near the front lines in France, connecting calls and translating messages between Generals. She is also assigned to be the leader of her group, sometimes making difficult decisions as she balances duty with the women’s personal needs.

As part of the Main Line in Philadelphia, Ruby’s life was mapped out for her by her parents. They encouraged an engagement to a suitable young man and Ruby feels duty-bound to see the marriage through if they both survive the war. But the social changes brought about by the war, her new-found inner strength and her relationship with a young medic make her question the path she was expected to follow.

Comments: When I picked up Girls on the Line , I didn’t have high expectations, despite the glowing reviews on Amazon. And indeed, for the first few chapters of the book, the story seemed a bit simplistic and predictable. I was also put off by the narrator’s clipped tones. But as I got into the story, I not only came to feel deeply for the characters, but I also learned a lot.

My schooling rather breezed through World War I, and being a child of the 60’s, I wasn’t taught about women’s accomplishments. I’d never heard of the Hello Girls, the group of women on which this novel was based. The author does a credible job of bringing their experiences to life and it is obvious she did a lot of research. In the afterward, Runyan discusses some of the material she had access to as she wrote their story.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, especially novels concentrating on World War I.

My rating: 5 Stars

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, World War I

The Courage of Others by James Hitt

Publication Info: Published January 1, 2016 by Open Books. Kindle edition courtesy of the publisher.

Summary: Like many women during times of war, Esther Langston did her best to keep their home and small shop running while her husband Marsh was off fighting. But as she and her nephew, Davey Stoneman, awaited Marsh’s return with a combination of eagerness and trepidation, she worried. She worried about the condition of the store, but mostly her husband. His letters gave little indication of his health other than she knew he had been injured in the Great War.

When Marsh disembarks from the train, they barely recognize him. Thin and frail, his face covered with gray spots and his lungs in ruins, Marsh has come home to die. But Esther is determined not to let that happen. She quickly sends for Sister Rose, a black woman known for her healing potions, and pays her a small wage to sit with Marsh while she tends the store. Over time, Sister Rose’s ministrations take effect and Marsh begins to heal.

Rose has a grandson named Daniel who is close to Davey’s age. But because Davey is white and Daniel is black, friendship between the two boys is not only unlikely but forbidden. This is small town Texas in 1919 and blacks are expected to be subservient and uneducated. But Daniel is an intelligent young man and the school teacher illegally lends him books to read. It is because of this love of reading that the two boys initially strike up an uneasy friendship.

As Davey becomes more involved with Daniel, his grandmother and the black community, he secretly helps them convert an old building to a school. But when the narrow-minded townspeople get wind of this, tragedy strikes that alters several lives forever.

Comments: The Courage of Others takes place one hundred years ago, yet ignorance and bigotry are still unrestrained and frequently encouraged across the United States. It is terrible that as a nation we have not only made so little progress toward inclusion and humanitarianism, we’ve lately gone backwards.

The concise, direct writing style gets the message across without being preachy. The the tone and setting reminded me a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird, but was completely original. This book is appropriate for adults as well as middle grades and up, if it doesn’t get stuck on some banned book list for daring to speak the truth.

Highly recommended for readers of Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction.

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in British, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Uncategorized, Women's Fiction, World War I

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

Publication Info: Published February 12th 2019 by Lake Union Publishing . Hardcover. Other editions available. The Victory Garden

Summary: Emily Bryce chafes at the restrictions placed on her by her very proper British parents. She wants to work as a nurse like her best friend, Clarice. But with the WWI battlefield death of her brother, Freddie, her parents are now overly protective of their only daughter. Besides, her upwardly mobile mother feels it isn’t proper for a young lady to do anything to help the war effort besides visiting injured soldiers in the convalescent home next door. Nothing short of someone with a title or at the very least “one of their own kind”, is good enough for Emily.

On one of these sanctioned visits to the convalescent home, Emily meets Lieutenant Robbie Kerr, a member of the Australian Royal Flying Corps. Although from very different backgrounds, Emily and Robbie fall in love. After Emily turns 21, she is free to make her own choices. With Robbie back flying in the war, she decides to volunteer as a Land Girl, working the farms in Britain to help on the home front.

With a genteel upbringing, Emily is totally unprepared to be a Land Girl, but she is young, strong, healthy and willing to work. She soon befriends the girls she works with, women of completely different stations and backgrounds. After assignments picking potatoes and sowing hay, she ends up working for Lady Charleston, tending her large garden. She and two other women live in the tumble-down cottage on the estate.

After she learns that Robbie was killed in a plane crash, she discovers she is pregnant. Remembering her mother’s sharp criticism of another unwed mother, Emily decides to remain with Lady Charleston as companion, gardener and library organizer, rather than return home.  Emily blossoms as she continues to gain independence and learn skills in herbalism from an old book she found in the cottage.

But someone doesn’t like Emily and is determined to see her gone.

Comments: I’m a huge Rhys Bowen fan and I particularly like her stand-alone novels. I recently reviewed The Tuscan Child. I liked that book, but I like The Victory Garden better. Like her other historical fiction, the author uses the time period as a backdrop to the lives of her characters and doesn’t spend a lot of time on specific historical details. In The Victory Garden, the author does a credible job of describing English countryside life during WWI. But for me, it is the characters that shine, which is what I like most in her writing.

I absolutely devour Rhys Bowen’s books. She can’t write them fast enough for me to read them. I look forward to whatever she’s publishing next!

Highly recommended for fans of Historical Fiction, General Fiction or Women’s Fiction.

Posted in Europe, Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War I

House of Gold by Natasha Solomons

Publication Information: Pre-Pub Kindle edition, October 23, 2018 by G.P. Putnam sons. Pre-pub courtesy of First to Read. Originally published by Cornerstone Books, May 3, 2018.

Summary: Nicknamed the House of Gold, the Goldbaum’s Palace in Vienna, Austria in the early 20th century is an extraordinary display of wealth. The white limestone edifice trimmed in gold gilt, inside and out, gleams in the sunlight. At night, electric lights, a fairly new innovation, shine through the windows like beacons. The Goldbaums eat the finest foods and throw opulent parties. Beggars and street urchins feed themselves from the Goldbaums’ scraps.

The Goldbaums are a family of powerful bankers. With offices in the major cities in Europe, they hold enormous power and wealth. Governments come to them for loans. And yet, they are not completely trusted by other powerful banking families. The Goldbaums are outsiders because they are Jewish.House of Gold

The patriarch of the Vienna family needs an heir to continue the family name and tradition. He has two children; a son, Otto, and a daughter, Greta. Otto is expected to learn and take over the business. Greta is expected to provide the heir. An arrangement is made for her to marry Albert Goldbaum, a distant cousin.

Greta chafes at this. An impetuous, impish free spirit from early girlhood, Greta refuses to fit the mold of societal expectations. Albert, much more conservative, doesn’t know what to do with his wife and simply ignores her with barely concealed distaste.

As the world starts changing around them and the foundations of the old ways of life begin cracking and shifting, Greta and Albert begin to find common ground.  But war breaks out and they are once again pulled apart, their lives irrevocably changed.

Comments: House of Gold is a gentle, genteel family saga with memorable, fully-realized characters. It also drives home the harsh realities of poverty, war and anti-Semitism. I became increasingly emotionally involved in the book as I read—much more than I expected at its beginning.

Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction and family sagas. I think this book would also make a great period piece film or a Masterpiece-style mini-series.