Uncategorized

Review: A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

51WNsvoA5RL._SY346_

My Interest

I had intended this memoir as my nonfiction work for Novellas in November, as well as for Nonfiction November. But, life got in the way and I missed the deadline. At 254 pages it was just a touch too long for #NovNov, but it still read like a Novella so that’s that. Plus, first hand account of the Blitz are always fascinating and this one was well worth the extra pages.

The Story

The Blitz was providing something besides bombs. It was making people talk to one another.” (p. 102)

Olivia Faviell Lucas, the real name of author Francis Faviell, traveled the world between the wars. At the time of this memoir, she was about to be married to Richard Parker, a Civil Servant. She lived in Chelsea right by the Royal Hospital, with her little dachshund, Vicki, and earned her living as a painter having trained at the Slade School. The story begin as the war is starting. Frances is a volunteer in the first aid and fire services. Her work takes her into the inferno of dropping incendiaries and other types of bombs in the beginning of the war and the time now known as the Blitz.

In spite of the war, hers is a nice life lived in pleasant surroundings–a home that we would today say was “curated,” that is filled with treasures from her travels including the green glass cat on the cover of the book. His story is told in the beginning of the book. We meet her friends, neighbors, housekeeper, and other residents of her lovely Chelsea neighborhood.

Her work with the wounded and the dead is often very grisly. It is the sort of things we often say “I couldn’t do that” because war has never forced us to try. Due to her language ability, she is called upon to help with a nearby community of Belgian refugees.

The war comes home to Frances while she is expecting her first child–she briefly loses her nerve, then steels herself and gets on with helping the wounded. Like the Queen Mother famously said after Buckingham Palace was bombed, she could look the East end “in the face” so too can Frances look that way at her Belgian refugees.

My Thoughts

“The Blitz was doing something else–it was cotninuing the slow difficult process already begun before the war of breaking down class barriers.” (p. 102)

Being political, my first thought was just WHO was the friend that The Rt Hon Leslie Hore Belisha always going to visit in Chelsea–enabling Frances to have a chat with her friend, a volunteer, who was his driver? lol.

More to the point, I wondered how people kept going. Today would we (Americans) ever agree to rationing? To everyone obeying a neighbor appointed as an air raid or fire warden? Please–we can’t even agree on getting a shot today. We’d fight over it till the end. And, people just kept going. Yes, some had what were then called “nervous breakdowns,” and smoking and drinking were rife, but people kept going. Send our children away? I cannot imagine doing that. I just cannot. Euthanize our pets (as many had to do)? Brutal–yet so many at that time did so for the good of all.

There are so many brave moments in this story it is hard to single out even one. The Belgian woman who is castigated for never going to visit her newborn baby is among the most vivid aside from some of the violence from the bombs (too horrific to discuss). Unmarried, not sure she’ll ever see the father again, in a strange country, very, very ill and yet she is harassed by neighbors and do-gooders to get out of her sickbed and go to the countryside to see her evacuated newborn who wouldn’t know her from Adam. That was truly harsh. So too was the clean, tidy, clergyman who told a woman who’d just lost her husband in violent circumstances to accept it as God’s will and move on. He wasn’t really wrong–she would have to accept it and move on at some point, but his timing was callus even for a world war. And, I was with Frances checking out those manicured hands that had never even dug to plant a vegetable, let alone dug up a human or their remains. Judgy? Yep–war is hell.

I’m off my reviewing game, so I’m not really making this sound anywhere near as interesting and as readable as it was. But it’s another of the rare books to which I’ve given a 4.5 rating. Several this year which is unusual. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Like everything coming from Dean Street Press, it is worth it.

My Verdict

4.5

Apparently this memoir is mentioned in this documentary.

Uncategorized

Aus Reading Month Review: My Brilliant Career

My Interest

This book has been on my TBR for years. For some reason, I got it into my head that it was huge. It isn’t. The someone (I forgot again to note who) blogged about the author–a woman, writing under a man’s name. That, and the number of pages, got me to boot it to the top of my TBR list since it worked for both Aus Reading Month and for Novellas in November–a different kind of “win-win.”

The Story

Sybylla is a firey, headstrong, Tom boy of the old school who won’t be reformed into a dainty drawing room porcelain doll, just waiting for a marriage proposal. But in Victorian-era Australia, that is what she should want to be and do. When her parents luck changes for the worst, Sybylla is finally rescued by her grandmother who brings her to live at her house with extended family.  Sybylla is afforded opportunities that would otherwise have been denied her. (Once such gives rise to the title phrase.) One opportunity is the very wealthy young man with whom she falls in love. But, surely she’d rather be a writer? Oh, it was confusing for her.

But the real world her parents are inhabiting is not yet done with Sybylla. That is what makes this book so much more interesting than a typical Victorian romance. I cannot write more or it would be a spoiler. 

My Thoughts

The descriptive prose in this book is magnificent. I felt I was THERE where ever Sybylla was at the moment. It was all very real and the later parts of the book were too real. It is justly called a “classic” in every way.

Uncategorized

20 Books for Christmas Review # 7 Christmas at Harmony Hill

51q8tgI2DBL._SY346_

My Interest

My Mom first told me about the Shakers–well, their furniture and crafts, years ago. I’ve wanted to visit Pleasant Hill in Kentucky for years. Over the years I have watched a few documentaries and read the novel linked at the bottom of this post, as well. So, when I saw this story on Kindle Unlimited’s offerings, I grabbed it.

shaker-map

The Story

In the last year of the Civil War, to accompany husband, Gideon, a Union soldier, Heather Worth works as one of his company of soldiers’ washerwomen. When she becomes pregnant, though, Gideon sends Heather home to her parents to await the baby’s birth. Unfortunately, being from Kentucky, a boarder state (and home of the then First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln’s equally divided family) Heather’s father’s sympathies lie with the Confederates. Arriving home to a very different family life [No Spoilers!] Heather instead goes to stay with her mother’s Aunt Sophrena at Harmony Hill, a Shaker community not far from her family’s home. 

Heather is not interested in being a Shaker, who disavow marriage and children for the life of “brothers and sisters,” but she is welcomed by them as they minister to those in need. She discovers her Aunt is enduring a crisis of faith–faith in the Shaker’s beliefs. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, Gideon, is discovering faith thanks to his dearly missed wife and thanks to his comrade in arms, Jake.

My Thoughts

I rarely read Christian fiction for a variety of reasons–most related to the quality of the writing. I was happily surprised at how good this book was. The story was interesting and told a good deal about Shaker life–all of which matched what I knew of it. The crisis Sophrena is enduring was made more real to me because she was 50 and I could relate much more to it than to such a situation in a younger (or even newer) Shaker. 

This book does talk a lot about Christian faith, but it does not preach and it does not take Bible verses out of context–two pet peeves of mine. The faith is presented with a light touch and in keeping with the nature of the story.

Christmas at Harmony Hill by Ann H. Gabhart

My Verdict

For the other Shaker novels by Ann H.Gabhart see her author page.

For another fictional look at Kentucky Shaker life see:

41yhXnKj+4L._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_

The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. Sadly, this book is not available in Kindle format. Older editions have a different cover.

For a documentary on The Shakers see this:

41lmgtqzgRL._SY445_

The Shakers [Ken Burns]

Uncategorized

Novellas in November Review # 2 and 20 Books For Christmas Review # 5: The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale by Charles Todd

51b8AqogPZL._SY346_

My Interest

A World War I “holiday” tale featuring a titled English lady? Sure, why not!

The Story

Lady Elspeth Douglas is in Paris with a heavily pregnant friend as war is declared. She thinks she may be in love with her friend’s brother, too. After staying on to help the friend deliver her baby, Elspeth set off on one of the more unlikely journeys of the war. Through amazing coincidences she runs into most of her former dance partners and her male cousins–all serving in highland regiments. She speaks Gaelic with the piper and French  with port authorities. Along the way she ends up, briefly, at the front. She helps with the wounded. Eventually she lands back in ole Blighty to be a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services–but “forgets” to include her courtesy title on the application. She’s a fabulous nurse (Of course she! She has pluck! She’s the daughter of an Earl, of course she gets her way!).

Along the way she has doubts about the Frenchman she’s all but agreed to marry when she runs into a neighboring well-born chap who knows her cousins from their public school (American Prep School–like Bush and the Roosevelts and JFK attended). But then, yes, Then! Somehow–but HOW? Her guardian, whom she at least acknowledges is not evil, pulls the plug on her free-spirited life. And, somehow, yes SOMEHOW, she goes back to France and miraculously the Frenchman has survived injury, being taken as a Prisoner of War and being exchanged (well it COULD all happen, right?). But she is so conflicted! Which man is right for her?

My Thoughts

Ok, I’m having a little fun with this review. It’s the sort of book where you must accept that people CAN run into each other at the Battle of Ypres, ok? And that no one, NO ONE, realized an Aristocrat who’d never uttered a word in any but the poshest of posh accents, could suddenly “pass” as a mere middle class girl of good family-the people she encountered were so dim they couldn’t tell her origins form her accent at a time when accent was everything.

What I liked was: Elspeth had no modern ideas of hiding away “living in sin.” She knew she’d be ruined. She played as fast and loose with the “rules” of her world as far as she could. She knew her limits. She mostly respected the authority of her Guardian, even loved him (he was her uncle) and adored her cousins. Yes she had “pluck” and even “spunk,” a quality that I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Lou Grant on (remember that scene in the Mary Tyler Moore Show? See the bottom of this post).

Miss Georgina Worsley with Major James Bellamy (left), Princess Mary (center), and Lady Sibyl Crawley (right)

I loved Elspeth’s romance with Peter–it was sweet and honorable. He was a good chap. She was a good girl. They did not hop into be ala 2021 but acted like folks pushing the outside of the envelope in 1915. I found it odd though that her Guardian looked down on nursing when the King’s only daughter trained as a nurse at this time and the King’s own mother founded the nursing service. Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, was kept in London and only nursed mothers and children, but….in the two great period dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs (the real one–from the ’70s) and Downton Abbey, posh aristo’s Miss Georgina Worsley, ward of the Hon Richard Bellamy, M.P. and step-granddaughter of the Dowager Countess of Southwald and Lady Sybil Crawley were nursing sisters. Dear Georgina even went to France where, she naturally, just happened to stumble upon wounded cousin “Jumbo” aka Major James Bellamy. Of course she did! See? It had to be acceptable to nurse! Georgina, like Lady Edith Crawly in Downton ended up a Marchioness!!! Of course poor Sybil….

My only true complain with this book wasn’t titles–they were fine. It was a stupid mystery worked in. It was really more like it had been started in the first draft and forgotten. No one remembered to edit it out. It was awful, but mercifully it only took up a few lines. When pulling the cover for this post I discovered this was another “between the numbers” sort of tale in the Bess Crawford mystery series. Lady Elspeth was a colleague of Bess’s in Queen Alix’s nursing service. I don’t have any interest in Bess, but I’d love a sequel on Lady Elspeth.

I’ve poked fun at this story, but the truth is I really enjoyed it! The stupid mystery cost it some in my rating. A final comment, there is Christmas in this story but I would not really call this a “Christmas” book. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it though.

Note: This is a little longer than Novellas in November’s suggested Novella length–308 pages in all, but it is a very light read.

My Verdict

Uncategorized

Novellas In November & 20 Books For Christmas Review #4: A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry

51PW2ziRAOL._SY346_

My Interest

Aside from my participation in 20 Books For Christmas (albeit for a goal of 10) and Novellas in November, I have been a fan of Anne Perry’s William Monk series for a long time. I admit that one book (I won’t say which) was “too much” for me in terms of grisliness, but I love Monk and Hester and the others. I do not normally review series books due to spoilers. This is a Christmas book–another “between the numbers” and does not feature any of the major characters, so it is a safe one to review. It works well as a stand-alone, too.

Anglesey is right by the map’s legend.

The Story

“Runcorn was second fiddle, never first, but he had played the more beautiful tune.”

Americans who have actually heard of the island of Anglsey today, know it as where Prince William was a helicopter search/rescue pilot in the RAF early in his marriage to Catherine, before Prince George was born. Until listening to this story, I had no idea that William flew over part of his “destiny” i.e Carnarvon Castle where his father and his great-great uncle David were both invested as Prince of Wales.

But that’s not part of the story…..

Back in the time of the previous longest-reigning Queen (Victoria, David’s Gan-Gan, and Williams Gr-Gr-Gr-Grandmother, Victoria) Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Runcorn, well know to Monk fans, is having Christmas mas on the island. While out for a walk he finds the recently dead body of a young woman, the sister of the vicar. The local police can go no further than to call it the work of a “madman.” Runcorn, with his training, knows better. The victim was a young woman with a penchant for turning down suitors and for living her own life. So who did kill Olivia?

My Thoughts

Keeping in mind that I listened to part of this on my way in to clean out my office after my job, and those of 7% of my division, were cut, I thought this one “draggy” places in it–strange for a novella. Anne Perry’s books rarely drag. It picked up speed, or Perry found her pacing, (I’m not sure which) at about the middle of the story. From there I was hooked. And, OH THAT ENDING! [No spoilers].

My Verdict