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A Great Start to My Net Galley Year

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This year has been a very successful one for me in terms of NetGalley books awarded, read, and reviewed.  10 books so far either read or enjoyed on audio! And 2 books I did not review because I DNF-ed them.

Net Galley Books Read and Reviewed in the First Half of 2022

My Reviews

After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel by Natalie Jenner

Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamus O’Reilly

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas

Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames]

Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

Under the Golden Sun by Jenny Ashcroft

Before June ends I should also finish I may finish one more book from Net Galley.

What about you? Do you request and review books from Net Galley? Do you have a post like this? Leave me a link. Or, just leave me a comment.

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Review: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

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#TheSixteenTreesoftheSomme #NetGalley

My Interest

Say the words “The Somme” and you generally have my attention. World War I ends one of my favorite historical periods. That battle is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. The loss of life is beyond fathoming. Add to that a Norwegian author (translated into English) and a country I haven’t yet “read” in my reading the world project and you have a book I had to read. I’m so glad I did. Not only did it introduce me to the Shetland Islands, but this story weirdly incorporated a part of a character’s story in one of my own works in progress.

The Story

“If you look at life as a whole, most of our conduct is second-rate.”

At the Somme battle site from World War I there is a group of trees affected by an apparently one-time use of an odd poisonous gas. The grain and coloration of the wood is some of the finest ever. An Edinburgh timber merchant has a big financial stake in this wood–it is perfect for the bespoke sporting guns British aristocrats lust after and use to shoot grouse on the Glorious 12th and other birds throughout the year.

In 1971, a small boy goes missing for a few days after his parents are killed by an unexploded shell at the forest area containing the trees. The area is cordoned off by signs and barbed wire due to the unusually large number and close proximity of unexploded shells from World War I. 

Two Norwegian brothers take different paths in World War II. One, who farms the family farm for a living, fights for the Nazis in the Norse Legion. The other is killed in the French resistance, or by the French resisitence…or…is he?

Why would the “caretaker” of a grand house on a Scottish Island be so reluctant to gossip about her employers?

My Thoughts

Wow! This story takes twists and turns that amazed me. Admittedly, I’m not a big murder or mystery book reader, but wow all the same. And for once a contemporary author did research and put much of it into the story without boring the reader to death. I learned more about the Somme tragedy, a good bit about the natural environment in the north of Norway and on the Shetland Islands, as well as more about bespoke shotguns [see the bottom of this post]–all of which kept me paying rapt attention. The characters were believable, the story was told in a very compelling manner and there was no ridiculous “oh, look, old Uncle Whoever’s secret stash of letters” to start us off. The story was told in the present and the events of the past were uncovered in the present. I really liked that. One more cheesy dual-timeline story would have sent me over the edge. Both the author and the translator did a great job of conveying atmosphere and of pacing the story in a way that kept me wanting more each time I had to stop listening.

Note: There are 3-4 sentences later in the book that will be distressing to pet lovers, I was ok and I’m a big pet lover, but some may not be.

My Verdict

4.0

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme: A Novel by Lars Mytting, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

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Review: Mary Churchill’s War

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My Interest

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I collect everything on the Churchills, so this is a natural for me. Seeing it on #Netgalley, I had to have it. I will be buying the print book, but this review is based on the audio in which the editor (and reader of the text connecting sections of the diary) is Mary’s elder daughter, Emma.

Winston and Clementine Churchill suffered the sort of loss all parents dread. Going away and leaving the children with a nanny only to be called home to a dying child. Their fourth child, Marigold, died, soon after her parents returned home. A year later, Mary was born. Unlike the older children, Mary was cared for by a distant relative who had trained as a Norland Nanny. Winston and Clementine were very involved children for their class and day. Winston had been so neglected by his own father that he destroyed his son Randolph by spoiling him and never correcting his bad behavior. The three (surviving) older children all had difficulties with relationships and with alcoholism. Mary, however, was married for life to one man, had five healthy children, many grandchildren (one of whom was a bridesmaid Princess Diana–a very distant relative). Winston and Clementine both gave of their time and love to all of their children, but Mary having had a very stable and well-regulated childhood, turned out the healthiest. [In this the Churchills and the Roosevelts were so much alike–disasterous marriages for the children, etc., only it was FDR’s mother who spoiled them. FDR and Eleanor lost a baby son. Their 5 children had around 14 marriages between them].

The Story

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When the Diary starts, Mary is about to be 18, World War II is starting and Winston is not yet Prime Minister. Mary is in the last days of school–still a fairly rare thing for a girl of her class (Clementine had gone to school though). The Churchills included their children in the luncheons and dinners they gave, so their children were very well versed in public affairs, the arts, and literature from this exposure alone. Randolph only was indulged and allowed to argue and debate with guests even if it sent his mother from the table in anger and disgust. The girls, were to make polite conversation. So Mary often had a ring-side seat to some of the greatest moments in 20th Century history and met most of the Allied war leaders including Roosevelt. (She found FDR not as brilliant as her father and found FDR Jr, very handsome but a bit tedious; She admired Eleanor).

Her diary has the usual confidences about young men, about what she sees as her personal failings and, funnily enough some Bridget Jones-ish moments about her weight! She confides her thoughts on her siblings (she finds she can no longer lover or like her brother), her sister-in-law Pamela (whom she often calls “Spam) [and who would always be charitably described in books and memoirs as a “courtesan”] and on finding her eldest sister, Diana, a bit difficult (she was 13 years older). It is her sister Her cousin, Clarissa (later to be the 2nd Mrs. Anthony Eden–click for my post on her), who ran with a very artsy crowd, worked at Vogue and skipped any military service, she found hard going (as did I when I read her memoir). Her sister Sarah, the actress, and her mother, Clementine, she mostly got on well with and enjoyed spending time with each of them She and Sarah shared the duties of ADC to her father on his long trips to the wartime conferences (a role the Winston must surely have wished Randolph to have been capable of undertaking). But, it is her father whom she openly idolizes, adores, cherishes. He is almost a religion to her. She is so grateful (which is a huge sign of maturity I think) when he takes time out to speak to her. But, Mary, too falls afoul of “Papa” when she criticizes the sainted son, Randolph. She bitterly and quite rightly resents this.

One fun note–her thoughts on the movie Mrs. Miniver were like mine. It was a lovely film, but the family didn’t seem very British or middle class! I’ve always thought Walter Pidgeon was too “American”–Leslie Howard would have been a better choice to me.

My Thoughts

Mary shows herself to be a a little (and understandably) priggish, very upper-class, and yet also very sincere. Her religious faith, her sense of duty, and her devotion to family and country are very typical of her time. She would go on to raise a Member of Parliament who became a Cabinet Minister (oldest son, Nicholas) and was wife of an MP & Cabinet Minister who also severed as the UK’s Ambassador to France and as the man who handed Rhodesia over to become Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (where her daughter had an affair with Andrew Parker-Bowles). Her home “training” stood her in good stead to be the wife of a successful politician–which it did, especially when Churchill suffered his stroke after the war–but that’s in a different book!

I wasn’t sure what I would be listening to when I started this book, but in the end I found it to be much, much more interesting than I had imagined. It’s too bad that Mary didn’t go on to try for Parliament. I think she’d have given Mrs. Thatcher some serious competition even without a University degree.

Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames] and Emma Soames

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Review: Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly

#DidYeHearMammyDiedAudio #NetGalley

My Interest

My constant search for audio books for my long commute led me to this memoir on Net Galley. I am fascinated by big families, so a widowed father with 11 kids–why not? The author is one of the kids.  Dad did well enough to provide a housekeeper even when his wife was alive. I liked the sound of it. Add to it that this is a novella-length memoir and you have the perfect book to finish the week that starts finishing a book on the wrong day. I like “week-length” audio books for my commute. Sometimes, though, I have to to take longer ones.

The Story

My parents were formidably, perhaps even recklessly Catholic.”

“To be one of eleven was…demented.… [and] It didn’t help that we were so close in age and traveled often singling in the kind of large, vaguely municipal transport vehicle usually reserved for separatist churches and volleyball teams made up of young offenders.”

MINOR SPOILER ALERT

I know that in Ireland “Mammy” means Mom. Here in the USA, however, the term is cringe-inducing and might get you banned from social media if you used it. (While reading this book, I watched a  Neil Sean YouTube video that included the Al Jolson film, “The Jazz Singer” and I cringed just thinking the word  “Ma….”].

Anyway, the book’s title comes from the fact that when the author was little, his mother died of breast cancer, and he in his kindergarten-aged-logic went around telling everyone at the wake, “Did ye hear Mammy [Mommy] died?” like it was news. Ouch! Recounting his life in a series of vignettes (columns?), O’Reilly tells about life as one of the “wee ones” of the family–those who rode at the back of the families airport shuttle bus. The little boy with the cereal box full of toy dinosaurs, whose engineer Dad, recorded on VHS (and catalogued) nearly everything broadcast in Northern Ireland in the Full House tv years grew up to tell the story of how little he remembers about the mother he knows was wonderful. He also tells about how his father coped by keeping busy.

It was the Dad I really liked. He did obsessive things like catalog everything he recorded on 3 to 4 VCRs, he kept a garage full of stuff as interesting as three chain saws, and how was a true Catholic–not just one who wasn’t successful with any birth control method. He gave of himself and his time to the church, his family, and his community. He thought his kids were best served living in nowhereville, having poor little entertainment aside from a house crammed with books, and did little or nothing to get involved at school. In spite of this–or maybe because of it, his kids did well. I wish I’d been more like Séamas’ dad. Maybe my kids would be readers today!

The O’Reilly kids sang at church events but didn’t get preachy–this is not the Irish Catholic Duggar family. At least Séamas (and I assume others) read every book in the house and followed his own rabbit trails of interests so that he came to know all kinds of weird facts about stuff like dinosaurs. Séamas, though, also came to a point where he did not sleep, constantly felt he deserved more attention but, guess what? He didn’t go off the rails. He did not become a drug addict or kill people or anything like that. Instead,  he had his appendix out and go back to life. And, he learned to tell his story with humor and grace. After all, if your dad was the kind of guy who had a pet name for his favorite step-ladder, how could you not turn out ok?

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly releases tomorrow, June 7, 2022, but is available now for pre-order.

My Verdict

3.0

A good, fun, memoir

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Review: The Secret Life of Alfred Entwistle

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Thank you to #NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

#TheSecretLifeofAlbertEntwistle #NetGalley

My Interest

While their stories are vastly different, this story made me think of a distant cousin who came out at age 70. It also fit my goal of reading (in this case listening) to more books written by men. Plus, there’s a cat mentioned in the blurb. 

The Story

First a tiny problem: I thought this was modern day. Everyone has cool phones, wifi etc, yet it says Albert is retiring at age 65. Fine–that would make him a year older than my brother. Here’s the problem: In the story he uses 1953 in his password and he leaves school in 1969. Hmmm. If he was 65 today, he’d have been 12 in 1969.

Now the story….

Albert has spent his whole life living in the same town, in the same house and has only had the one job–as a postman (mailman). Back when he was a teenager, when being gay was still a crime in the U.K. [“England” not the University of Kentucky], he fell in love with a new boy in his school named George. Now he is facing retirement and lonely. He looks back on his life and what went on in those days. His police officer father who spoke so derogatorily of the men who hooked up in the public restrooms, the teasing and even bullying of effeminate boys at school. Today, things are different. Albert is a kind soul. He does good in his life. But there is one act that act he can’t forgive himself for and he needs to right that wrong.

Meanwhile, on a nasty housing estate (i.e. a bad government housing project), Nicole is a young, single Black mother trying to bring up her daughter after the father deserted them (somethings are the same the world over). She is struggling to get thru her Cosmetology School and get a job as a stylist and nail technician. She has big plans–she wants to have a mobile salon (I’d love to have that come to my house). Her new guy is a college student (“at Uni”) and is suddenly giving her a song-and-dance about his parents and the allowance they give him.

Albert and Nicole come to be friends when Albert asks her to help him with his new phone. He advises her on the boyfriend, while she helps him find his old love. Together they find companionship and true friendship and have a good bit of fun together.

My Thoughts

I wasn’t sure how this book would go down with me. If it was uber-woke, I’d toss it. Thankfully, it was delightful. I learned that those who fought for gay rights, cared for and watched friends die of AIDS, and advocated for new laws, may not be so terribly thrilled when someone like Albert (or my distant cousin) comes out after the “hard work” is done. That surprised me, but only because I do not live in that culture and, until last year, I’d worked in a very conservative college and was a tad too sheltered. (Take today: I had to Google what “DEI Skills” meant. Turns out my very conservative former employer actually HAD them, just didn’t call them that. And yes, of course they could have done way better at it, but that’s a different post).

I liked Albert–the writing about his loneliness, his fear of reaching out–I totally understood that. It was so well put that I got teary a few times. And, oh his sweet Gracie-cat! Oh! I felt for Nicole–the guy can always leave. Always. I’ve been a single Mom, but I was one by choice. It sucks even though for my kids I’d do it all over again any time. I’ve also been her boyfriend’s parents–advising my kids to skip, or at least go very slow, with potential partners who already have kids in your 20s. It’s that hard to be a young parent–and the single parent has a ton of stuff to work out.

Small Spoiler (sorry, I just have to)

But, it was George I liked most. I’m not really into drag Queens–they’re fun in their way and I loved Julie Murphy’s books with them in them, but I can take it or leave it. George, though, is a drag queen now and a fairly well-known one. And, George was my favorite character. He never let anyone stop him from being who he was. He fought to change the world for teenage boys (and girls and other genders) just like him–marginalized for seeing things differently. He was true to himself. He took the risks knowingly, while Albert stayed home and delivered the mail, took care of a mother he came to loathe and loved his sweet, wonderful, cat. Albert did many sweet and lovely things for people, but George fought for the common good and didn’t compromise. I liked that. I liked Albert, too. Anyone who does what he did for Edith–well, he’s a good guy. In fact, I liked all the characters. This was a really good read.

 

My Verdict

4.0

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain releases on May 31, 2022, but is available for pre-order. 

(I do not make any money from Amazon).

 

 

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Review: Valor by Dan Hampton

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Thank you to #Netgalley who gave me a copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

How amazing that I’d find a World War II (nonfiction) book, set in the Philippines, featuring a guy from a Kentucky family after having just read a novel set in the Philippines in World War II and have just read two books featuring young men from families in…you guessed it…Kentucky! Plus there was a lot of talk of Australia. Now, just where were two of my books set recently? Yep, Australia!

My interest in World War II is always with me. When I saw this book, I immediately requested it.

The Story

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Map of the Philippines in 1944–Batan is at the very top of the map.

Bill Harris, son of a Marine Corps General, Annapolis grad, and all-around decent guy, happened to be serving in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked, General MacArthur fled with his wife, child, and nanny, and the U.S. forces surrendered. Bill did not like the idea of being held captive–being a Marine he preferred to go on fighting. He and a buddy (I thought the story sounded a bit familiar) escaped. The buddy went on to be Governor of Indiana many years later and I have his book on this escape in my Kindle. (I haven’t finished it. He may have been elected governor, but he wasn’t a gifted storyteller).

In a odyssey that would span most of the war, and at times would involve more Americans, Bill Fields starved, swan miles, paddled, sailed, hiked, climbed and more to stay free. When finally his freedom ended the war was nearly won.

My Thoughts

This adventure was very exciting. I often stayed in the car in the parking lot at work listening until the very last minute. Ditto in the driveway at home. It was that interesting. I especially enjoyed the comments the author made about “Dugout Doug”–General MacArthur, who like Britain’s Lord Mountbatten, was an early adopter of modern public relations tactics to promote himself. How a 5-star General got away with skedaddling to Australia to sit out the war (supposedly it was to avoid capture to continue directing the war–it really just got him out of having to surrender) while his men were taken prisoner, yet he STILL got the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, is a testament to the man’s ego and powers of self-promotion. You can read the citation here. Then men Bill Fields knew had little regard for him before the surrender and even less after. (Though to be fair, he did get a lot right in the reconstruction of Japan).

Harris had MacGyver-level resourcefulness. He used just about every bit of his Naval Academy education and training as well as all that was taught him after graduation at Quantico to stay alive, stay free, and keep going. This refusal to be defeated, his insistence on continuing to try and try again, earned him a spot on the U.S.S. Missouri to see the Japanese surrender.

This is an amazing story and deserves to be made into an outstanding movie.

Valor by Dan Hampton

My Verdict

4.0

To learn more about the battle for the Philippines in World War II, check out this page from the U.S. National Archives.

Governor Whitcomb’s Book on the Escape

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Escape From Corregidor by Edgar D. Whitcomb

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Review: Under the Golden Sun by Jenny Ashcroft

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My Interest

Thank you to #Netgalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

I enjoyed the author’s earlier book, Meet Me In Bombay, in spite of some problems with the story. I liked the sound of this story, too. World War II, an orphaned child, a long journey–so much to attract my interest.

The Story

Rose, who has recently been discharged from the Women’s division of the RAF for an unwed pregnancy, signs on to accompany a mixed-race child back to his family in Australia. Her uncle is close to the Prime Minister, her boy friend is an upper-class New Yorker working for a newspaper (whom the audio performer unfortunately makes sound like a gangster in a B movie). She instantly falls in love with Walter (the child) and agrees to accompany him to his extended family in Australia.

Their ship with go in a convoy hoping to evade German u-boats.The boy’s mother was struck by a bus and his grandmother is dying. Her Uncle (the one friendly with “Winston”) asks, sanely, “is there anyone else [the boy] can go to?” Still recovering from her miscarriage, Rose sees this as a great opportunity. Her brother, Joe, is an RAF pilot who happens to have known the child’s uncle, Max, who flew for the RAAF before miraculously surviving a crash. Rose arrives in Australia after the long months at sea and …..

My Thoughts

I’ll be totally honest: I was in the mood for a book like this! I need some adventure, some romance, and some tweaking at the heartstrings. This book fit the bill and then some.

Were there problems? Mistakes? Yes, The only one I’ll harp on (ok, aside from “grabbing her seat belt” in an Australian Ute in 1941) was that “Winston” had Rose’s family over to ride at Blenheim Palace. Now Winston could very well have rung up or written to his first cousin (Consuelo Vanderbilt’s son) the Duke of Marlborough and asked him to let friends ride the Duke’s horses on the Blenheim estate, but I think it much more likely that “friends” of “Winston” would have gone to HIS home, Chartwell, in Kent and ridden his horses. But, that’s just me. Minor point.

I liked this story very well in spite of any flaws. I thought Walter was sweet. I thought Rose’s Uncle Lionel was right to be concerned, but I knew she’d be ok in spite of everything. This is a great poolside or beach read.

My Verdict

3.0

Under the Golden Sun: A Novel by Jenny Ashcroft

Questions for the editor: They waited for a SHIP to take them from Brisbane to Sydney in 1941??

Previous review of a Jenny Ashcroft book

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Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft

Historical Fiction

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Review: The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

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#netgalley

First, thank you to #Netgalley for a copy for this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

This book is the sequel to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by the same author. It is the book that involved author JoJo Moyes in an accusation of plagiarism due to the similarity of some passages of her book on the same subject. I have also read nonfiction books on the pack horse librarians–those books are at the end of the linked post.

The Story

In first book, we met Cussy Mary Carter is a “Blue,” a person with a rare condition that turns her skin blue. This time we are treated to the story of her daughter, “Honey.” This time both miscegenation and eugenics rear their ugly heads in the hills and hollars of the Eastern Kentucky of the early 1950s. Cussy and her husband are arrested for miscegenation–the marrying of white and black, and are thrown in prison. That leaves their daughter, Honey, a little short of 18, with having to have a guardian or face being sent to reform school until age 21. Her first guardian dies, leaving her vulnerable. But will a job with a new version of the pack horse librarians help her to win legal emancipation? Elsewhere in the community, someone is terrorizing the new female forest service fire-watcher. In prison, near Louisville, Cussy is subjected to lingering eugenics laws and forcibly sterilized while her husband rides out isolation from a prison polio epidemic.

My Thoughts

If anything, I thought this book was as good as the first one. There was plenty of action, a few good friendships for Honey, and lots of ways to see society trying to change. I loved all of that. Firewatcher Pearl, widowed single Mom and trailblazing female miner, Bonnie, and store clerk. Francis open up new vistas for Honey and help her take those last few steps out of childhood and into adulthood.

My only dislike was the insistence that Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Lady Chatterly’s Lover were put into the court scene. It was not only in the “back woods” of Kentucky that people objected to these books. This was the 1950s–not today, people were much more conservative (even though my paternal grandmother bought Lady Chatterly). I would not have been shocked if someone had ended a library outreach program in the 1950s over even one of those books–even if they were not owned by the library itself (as was the case in the story). I thought that was cramming a bit too much of 2022 into the story. [For those new here, I am a librarian. I am very well-versed in the censorship debates].

In spite of this one little blip, I thought this was an excellent read. I honestly hope there will be a third book.

The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

My Verdict


4.0

Historical Fiction

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Review: Little Souls: A Novel by Sandra Dallas

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Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Interest

I’ve read a couple of other books by Sandra Dallas (see the bottom of this post) and I keep hoping there will be one of her books that I really love. I’ve be “fine” with them, there were “fine,” I just want to be wowed by this author. This story seemed to have that potential. It’s a timely story beings set in the Spanish Flu epidemic that began in the last year of World War I, 1918 and lasted until 1920. It also features two independent ladies–sisters, who move to a new place all on their own. And, for once, that place wasn’t New York, but Denver, Colorado.

The Story

Sisters Lutie, an illustrator, and Helen, a nurse, move to Denver and find work. Lutie illustrates ads for a department store and Helen works at a hospital. They rent the basement of their house out for extra income. A family moves in with an unstable husband, a long-suffering wife, and a little daughter who needs protecting.

Meanwhile, both of the sisters find prospective husbands–Helen, naturally finds a young doctor, and Lutie, unexpectedly lands the son of a local judge–a powerful and wealthy man. The sisters watch as America enters the war–Lutie’s finance ships out with the other Doughboys. Meanwhile, in the basement, all is not good. The husband takes his frustrations out on his little family. When the wife dies, the daughter is left too vulnerable. Meanwhile, the flu strikes.

My Thoughts

My first thought is, why hasn’t Oprah promoted this book? Then I remembered it isn’t out until April 26th. It packs about as much depressing stuff into a story as possible. All of the normal Oprah book type stuff. Rape, murder, trafficking, incest, rats, blackmail, false accusations, disease, a hooker with a heart of gold–you name it, its in there, albeit in small doses and thankfully not graphically depicted. This has Oprah’s Book Club written all over it.

Then there were things like this: “The Rocky Mountain News said we wouldn’t need to be afraid of the influenza if we voted Republican.” Make it stop already! Trump is gone. Quit with this stuff. Stay in the time of the story, please. Wilson was President then and he was a Democrat. And then prescient statements like this: “You know…they’re saying the [flu] could kill as many people as the war…..” And then this gem” “I’d like to be a fine artist painting pictures to make people see the injustice in the world, that cause them to protest discrimination….” Right…exactly. That was happening all over the place in 1917, right? In the U.S. it was all but illegal to gather during World War I. President Wilson re-segregated the Civil Service and cracked down on anything that could stir dissent against the war or for the Germans.

I was interested enough in the sisters’ story to finish the book, but oh boy what a finish! Will the woke never end in contemporary fiction? The heart-strings were tugged as well as the corset strings. I cared about Lutie and Helen and Dorothy and admired their spirit and independence. I was impressed with the way they helped and protected Dorothy. But the author had them swear like modern day women. If Helen had been overheard swearing she’d have been fired. Probably Lutie would have, too. And women did NOT smoke in public then. None. Maybe in a Paris nightclub, but not in Conservative Denver, Colorado ice cream shop. Do not “modernize” things to appeal to today’s readers. It doesn’t work.

This story just had too many bad things going on. It was depressing more than serious. I didn’t expect all unicorns and rainbows, but I didn’t expect a Penny Dreadful either. The soliloquy by the judge’s wife made me giggle, roll my eyes AND yell “Oh, please” and it was supposed to be serious. I also thought the Epilogue was silly and shouldn’t have been there. It seemed like a sop to book clubs (or a ruse by the editor to keep the author from writing a sequel?)

My Verdict

2.5

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas

My Reviews of Other Books by this author:

A Quilt for Christmas

The Persian Pickle Club

I also read this book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Historical Fiction

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Review: The Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

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Thank you to NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

#NetGalley

My Interest

Although it had flaws, I LOVED author’s previous book, The Jane Austen Society. Natalie Jenner can tell a wonderful story! I’ve always been a book store fan and a London bookshop–I read Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road in high school and have been in love ever since.

The Story

“But the war had a way of slipping back through even the thinnest of cracks in a fractured world. Women such as Vivien and Grace had hope for a fresh beginning for everyone’ but five years on, new opportunities for women were still being rationed along with food.”

“Instead, Evie Stone was back to cataloguing books. But she did not look dismayed as she sat there….For all her aspirations. Evie was most comfortable alone, surrounded by these simple physical objects that held far more exploration, and explanation of the world outside than she had ever acquired from people.”

Evelyn “Evie” Stone is back from the previous book, The Jane Austen Society. She’s had a meteoric rise from maid, to friend of a movie star and on to being one of the first female graduates of Cambridge due to her academic discovery that let to saving the last home of Jane Austen. Now thanks to a jealous fellow student, she is out of academia and cataloging rare books at Bloomsbury Books, owned by the very lovely Earl of Baskin (who reminds me more than a little of an Earl of my own creation in a work in progress of my own).

“Ambition is all well and good, but there are some parts of everyday life that one should never miss.” (Lord Baskin)

“Vivien wrote to keep pace with a talent that had been fostered in private and unsupported by the external world….talent was something no one could take away…..the gift was also her enemy. Its ease of appearance masked the diligence and self-control required to master it.”

The  other “Bloomsbury girls” (as women were still called circa 1950) include Grace, the wife of a man destroyed by the war and forced to “go out to work” to support her husband and sons. Grace lives up to her name. She is lovely and hard working. Then there is Vivien who rose a bit above herself in getting engaged to the Earl of St. Vincent who was killed in the war. Like Princess Diana she wears a Cartier tank watch–a gift from her late fiance. She is also secretly a writer–doing so in a steno pad she hides under the cash register.

“Rule No. 7. The reputation of the shop must never be called into question in any forum, public or otherwise.”

“…hard work and diligence were not always enough. The girls of Bloomsbury Books made sufficient wages to survive and nothing more.”

Meanwhile, Bloomsbury Books is run on the overbearing rules of it’s manager, Mr. Herbert Dutton, and one of his rules starts each chapter. Mr. Dutton is suffering ill health. The other men in the shop include Frank, who is always away on buying trips (interesting–same name as in 84 Charing Cross Road) and the “Golden Boy” of the shop Alec who oversees fiction and is fully a man of his time. There is a retired “sea captain” -type who looks after history and recent immigrant from India, Ash, who is in charge of science. Lord Baskin appears when he wants. He has used the store to get over his bad marriage. The Bloomsbury “girls” do not head departments. They make tea, encourage customers, and ring up sales. The store carries a pitiful few books by women.

“…was a reminder not to leave everything behind–to not become so focused on the future that what made you special in the first place had to be forged all over again.”

“But what if it all goes right?”

The “girls” are fed up. An unusual incident brings Daphne Du Mauier and Sonia Blair (aka Mrs George Orwell) and a few other real people into their fictional lives. Change is about to rock Bloomsbury Books. And, once again it is a “find” of Evie’s that will make it happen. Gentlemen of Bloomsbury Books, hold onto those bowler hats!

My Thoughts

Unlike in the Jane Austen Society, where the author got carried away with modern Woke-Speak a time or two too many, my only “oh, brother” moment was when it was mentioned that Vivien referred to Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller as “The misogynists.” I truly did laugh. The word was never mentioned when I studied both in a class in college as long ago as the ’82” so I’m thinking it a bit much for ’49 or ’50.

Never mind that blip–I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I especially enjoyed letting light in on the dastardly doings of academics which are largely unknown to those outside that realm. Time they were revealed! This story uses a sort of intellectual #metoo moment to show the skullduggery and dirty dealings that eggheads (as academics were commonly called back then) used to get ahead and get full professorships or endowed chairs at universities–even universities far, far, down the food chain from Cambridge.

I liked the quiet dignity with which Grace coped with her situation and found her one friendship in the book (not that with the other “girls”) to be completely believable (no spoilers). Grace, Evie, and Vivien all grew in very believable ways. I liked the women the “grew into” over the course of the story. I especially liked the moment that comes to nearly everyone with experience in which the fight for it to be “what” you know (or the talent you have) to matter more than “who” you know ceases to rankle so much and you allow people to step and in and make calls or whatever on your behalf. That’s a valuable one, no matter if it does still grate on the nerves.

I thought the great secret in manager’s office to be totally believable, too. I’ve been in libraries, and around rare book collections, rare book dealers, and auctions of the same (and similar professions) all of my working life. The secret worked–it was not at all a modern p.c. element. I also thought Evie’s personal life was completely believable. I felt for Ash–I helped an engineer from Congo enroll in a welding program this week. It’s still there today, so I thought Ash’s situation and responses good, too. The whole book just “worked” well to me. It is still a light read and meant to be. I like that in many books. All of those statements, no matter how they may sound, are high praise from me.

I can’t wait to see what happens to Evie’s career next! Surely, book three is in the works?

My Verdict

4.0

The Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Additional Comments

“He lived in a state of constant anticipation–of the next weekend shoot, the next charity ball, the next commemorative ceremony.” [I doubt it!]

Obligatory aristocratic title mistake: An Earl’s younger son is “the hon.” not “Lord.” Think Prince William’s cousin, “The Hon. Edmund Spencer” of today. And, Lord St. Vincent would never be referred to as “Lord Albert St. Vincent.”  If the Earl’s name is “Albert” he would commonly be referred to as “Albert St. Vincent.” Think “Hugh Westminster” of today.

“Poor [Noel] Coward can only play in three keys,” Lady Browning [said to Vivien] “and poor Clarissa can’t sing in any of them….”

Clarissa Spencer-Churchill was absolutely entitled to call herself that–it was her name. But like the other descendants of Lord and Lady Randolph [Spencer-] Churchill, she (and her Uncle Winston), only used “Churchill.”

“She chewed thoughtfully on the end of her pencil….”

There is an epidemic of pencil chewing in fiction at the moment. I’ve never seen anyone above the fourth grade do this!

Note: One confusing point. According To Richard Mead’s book, General Boy: The Life of General Sir Frederick Browning, “Boy” Browning was known as “Tommy” in the family. “Lady Browning” as Daphne Du Maurier was referred to in the book (it was her title and her due, of course) refers to her husband by this name once. I think this was possibly a bit too obscure for most readers. I at first thought they’d made a mistake and confused “Boy” Browning with his Palace co-worker Alan “Tommy” Lascelles. I was wrong. I do not think many would know this name though. I still feel “Boy” would have made more sense or better yet, simply “my husband.

I also read this book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction