Review of "Lady Clementine" by Marie Benedict

Benedict, Marie. Lady Clementine. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492666905 | 322 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

After having read Stephanie Barron’s book about Winston Churchill’s mother last year, I was excited to read Marie Benedict’s Lady Clementine, to get to know his wife, since I heard she played a role in supporting him throughout his career when doing some further reading on him and his family. And while, narratively, the story does feel a little uneven, jumping around at times (although I understand the necessity to cover roughly half a century) and sometimes feeling a little slow, I enjoyed this one, and feel like Benedict managed to more or less engage me with her subject.

Benedict captures Clementine’s growth as a person and the impact her growing political involvement has in her complex marriage with Churchill. I enjoyed insight into what how their respective dysfunctional families bonded them, but also admired the way she maintained her marriage to Winston, in spite of political differences.

This is another solid Marie Benedict book, highlighting a largely uncelebrated historical woman who played an important role in history. I recommend this to all lovers of historical fiction.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2R6veHn

Review of “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict

Benedict, Marie. The Only Woman in the Room. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019.

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492666868 | 254 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

Having liked Marie Benedict’s prior book, Carnegie’s Maid, and also being intrigued by Hedy Lamarr as a person who defied expectations of women at the time and invented the technology that would eventually make cell phones possible, I was excited about The Only Woman in the Room. With such an exciting life, showcasing two such distinct talents, I was sure I would love this book and getting to know Hedy a bit better.

And I found Hedy a decent heroine, who made the most of her circumstances at first, then had the bravery to escape and form a new life for herself in America in increasingly turbulent times as Hitler rose to power and World War II began.

But while Benedict convincingly evokes Hedy’s voice, I found myself losing interest at various points, because the story is a lot of day-by-day stuff, especially early on. While it does pick up eventually, only some parts of the book really engaged me, while others felt rather dull by comparison. This is yet another book I found myself reading recently that I found felt much too long due to the pace being so slow, yet the book was less than 300 pages.

However, I think Benedict did the best she could to convey a cohesive narrative, and while it’s not her best book, I still enjoyed it for introducing me to Hedy in greater detail. I recommend fans of historical fiction give it a try.

Review of “The Light Over London” by Julia Kelly

Kelly, Julia. The Light Over London. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501196416 | 293 pages | Historical Fiction

2 stars

The Light Over London was recommended by Theresa Romain in her readers’ group around the time of publication, and my interest was piqued, because I’m always looking for more World War I and II books. But once I got into the book, I found myself disappointed, as, were it not for the ending, I would call it another casulty of romance readers’ rejection of the World Wars as a time period, consigning them to historical fiction.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I obviously love historical romance, and there are plenty of historically rich historical romance books out there, even if historical accuracy and sense of place are not universally demanded within historical romance. But it is an expectation in historical fiction, as well as adding some substance and something new to help readers feel like they’re learning, and perhaps leave some resources for them to get more accurate information at the end. While Kelly does endeavor to provide some context for the experience of a gunner girl during the war, I felt it was largely overshadowed by the ill-fated romance.

I think this would make a good book for someone who is just starting to learn about the World War II period, because, bizarre twist ending notwithstanding, it does decently depict the stakes of love during World War II. However, it lacks any real originality to make it worth reading for anyone who is more well-read in the period.

Review of “The Golden Hour” by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. The Golden Hour. New York: William Morrow, 2019. H

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062834751 | 468 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted about The Golden Hour, as I often do when it comes to Beatriz Williams books. I love that she writes books with complex, interwoven plots that can take a while to come together, but sometimes it works better than others. And this is a case where some of the more minute things worked, but I found that while there was some payoff, given the fact that it doesn’t really pick up until the last one hundred pages, I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of her prior books.

Conceptually, the book is great, highlighting a topic I knew nothing about: when the Duke of Windsor served as Governor of the Bahamas during World War II. I had heard about some of his and the Duchess’ more questionable connections during the World War II period and the years preceding it (which are alluded to, but not discussed heavily, in the book), but it was fascinating to find out that he was given another political appointment following his abdication. And the fact that there’s an unsolved murder that occurred during his tenure, which formed one of the more interesting elements of the book once it FINALLY kicked into high gear surely did not help his reputation in that regard.

Because of all this, I found the 1940s chapters compelling, even if there was an incredibly slow build up to the excitement discussed in the blurb, and, adding to my frustration, there were two narratives, a sort of “Before” and and “After” following that period’s heroine, Lulu, which aided in suggesting what would happen on her end, but did not help the pacing.

And while I did like the tie-in with the early 1900s/World War I heroine, Elfriede (who, in typical fashion, also serves as the connection to another of Williams’ books), the ending both confused me and let me down, as if it was meant to be two books. Her narrative prior to that was compelling in its own right, with her own love affair with some tragic undertones and questions revolving around the whereabouts of her beloved, who went off to war. But, aside from the initial familial connection between the two arcs, with Lulu falling in love with Elfriede’s son, I felt the ending which purports to bring it all together was a little too confusing.

This is still a great read, and there were things I really enjoyed, like the historical context and some elements of both story arcs, but perhaps I just picked it up at the wrong time for me when I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for a read like this one. But I would still recommend it, especially to readers who have more consistently enjoyed Williams’ past work, or those who are in the mood for a more complex, multi-layered historical fiction read.

Review of “American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt” by Karen Harper

Harper, Karen. American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062748331 | 357 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I knew a bit about Consuelo Vanderbilt from having read another author’s book loosely inspired by her life as well as subsequently watching excerpts form the Smithsonian’s channel on YouTube and looking up bare facts online…not to mention reading Therese Fowler’s recent book about her mother Alva, with a coincidentally similar cover, due to usage of the same stock image. Therefore, I was definitely disposed to feel sympathy toward her.

But Harper brings to light the bigger picture that I missed from my surface-level research, stripping back the “poor little rich girl” narrative to unveil Consuelo’s true strength of character. Despite being more or less forced into a loveless union, she is well-suited to the duties that come with being a duchess beyond simply bearing the “heir and a spare,” like endearing herself to the people around her, especially the less fortunate, something she continued to do after the dissolution of her marriage to the duke. She also highlights the complexities of the relationship between Alva and Consuelo in a beautiful way: growing up, Alva was hard on her, but in the toughest of times, Alva was one of her biggest supporters.

And this is just one example of showing layered characters and complex relationships, in spite of it being told solely through Consuelo’s perspective. One of my favorites has to be the way the duke’s second wife, Gladys, was written, particularly at a point when she confronts Consuelo after their own marriage has failed and they’ve separated. Despite the fact that this woman had played a role in wronging Consuelo, I could not help but feel a bit of pity for her at her diminished mental state and found myself feeling even more contempt for the duke than I had previously.

I very much enjoyed this book, and how it highlights that Consuelo not only got her happy ending after all, but also the other great things she did throughout her life as well. I would recommend this to any fan of historical fiction.

Review of “The Lieutenant’s Nurse” by Sara Ackerman

Ackerman, Sara. The Lieutenant’s Nurse. Toronto, Ontario: Mira Books, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778307914 | 335 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I was super excited for The Lieutenant’s Nurse, given how much I adored Sara Ackerman’s previous book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, so much so that I didn’t even bother to investigate what the story was about before adding it to my TBR. But once I did take the time to find out, I was even more excited, given the untapped potential (at least in historical fiction books) of the storyline focusing largely on the days leading up to and following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

And Ackerman remains consistent in building on a sheer breadth of research to craft an engaging story rife with history, drama, romance, and even friendship. While the setup suggested that the love triangle would overwhelm everything else, instead of being just one part of the story, I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Eva and Clark do have evident feelings for one another, but it doesn’t feel like it overwhelms the plot or the stakes of the book, especially with so much else going on.

I was especially intrigued by Eva, since she seems to have left a dark secret behind her in Michigan, and I felt these flashbacks to her past were interweaved into the story in a great way, as well as leading up to a great conclusion. And on Clark’s side, it was fascinating to have the question explored of whether the Americans knew about the attack beforehand.

All in all, this is a wonderfully lush book with a compelling story and rich detail. It’s a definite must-read for all fans of historical fiction.

Review of “The Memory of Us” by Camille Di Maio

Di Maio, Camille. The Memory of Us. Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016. 

Paperback | $14.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503934757 | 391 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

The Memory of Us is a book that piqued my curiosity, as I heard it was inspired by “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles. But sadly, while the book had a lot of promise, especially in the first half, the execution, especially to bring the heroine from her old life to her new life as we see her in the prologue, is underwhelming.

I loved the first half, because it presented a fresh twist on the forbidden romance, not only with Julianne dealing with the choice between her fractured family life and the man she loves, but with Kyle dealing with his forbidden feelings as he prepares to become a priest. And my love for Kyle endured to the end, as I felt his story arc went through a natural progression from what I could tell, going back to the priesthood once he believed he lost the love of his life.

However, I found it difficult to understand Julianne’s perspective and her decisions. While I can’t fully blame her, as her parents were both terrible and made poor decisions themselves, the decision that ultimately sent her on the path she ends up on lacked impact. To my understanding, she loses her best friend and her looks in a bombing, and then she suddenly decides she’s unfit to be her newborn daughter’s mother and then she pretends to be dead, which made no sense. By the end of the book, I really didn’t have much sympathy for her.

Review of “A Bridge Across the Ocean” by Susan Meissner

Meissner, Susan. A Bridge Across the Ocean. New York: Berkley, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0-451-47600-5 | 368 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Susan Meissner is yet another new-to-me author, but I will definitely be picking up more of her books, as I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It has an intriguing concept, and like many stories with a mystery that motivates the plot, things did not turn out quite like I imagined upon first starting the book.

There are several different POV characters across time periods, Brette in the present day, Annaliese and Simone in the 1940s, and an evocative, unidentified voice written in italics, the identity of which foreshadows a major reveal later in the story.

I love how Meissner not only makes each character distinct, but manages to combine a number of elements into the story. She presents the sometimes unbelievable phenomenon of seeing ghosts through a relatable lens, and shows Brette’s growth as she reckons with the implications this biological gift could have on future generations of her family. And with Annaliese and Simone’s story, I enjoyed seeing a great display of female friendship and camaraderie, because despite the fact that they’re backgrounds are different and there could easily have been tension, given their pasts, the only thing that mattered was that they’d both been in a bad situation in their past, so their superficial differences were not important.

 

Review of “Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” by Sara Ackerman

Ackerman, Sara. Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Don Mills, Ontario: MIRA Books, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-7783-1921-4. $15.99 USD. 

5 stars

I discovered Sara Ackerman at the same book event during which I discovered Bridget Quinn, and I was surprised and excited, after living in Hawaii all my life and largely considering the majority of the local literature as “not for me,” to find a Hawaii resident who wrote a book in a genre I was interested in. And upon digging into the book, I found it was a truly enjoyable reading experience.

Mixing first and third person POV can be a hit-or-miss with me, and in this case, it definitely worked well to differentiate the voices of both Violet and her daughter, Ella, and even makes sense narratively when it comes to the crucial moment when Ella reveals that she knows what really happened to her father.

The story also benefits from a diverse and colorful cast of characters, which reflects the demographics of Hawaii during the war. I love how Ackerman managed to capture the real sense of community between people from different backgrounds, presenting a narrative about the experience of Japanese Americans and their friends in Hawaii during a time when the government was against them, especially if they were in a position of influence.

Despite the story focusing mostly on the bond between the female characters, there are romantic elements, including a slowly building relationship between Violet and Parker, one of the soldiers temporarily stationed there. But it isn’t the major driving force of the story, so even if the ending left the romance feeling a little unresolved, I still felt that the book had accomplished all of the things it had promised to do, with no disappointment was I read the final words, as I had a feeling that things would be all right between them.

Review of “The Diplomat’s Daughter” by Karin Tanabe

Tanabe, Karin. The Diplomat’s Daughter. New York; Washington Square Press, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-5011-1047-4. $16.00 USD. 

4.5 stars

The Diplomat’s Daughter is a moving story that provides more depth to the narrative of racism, ostracism, and persecution during World War II. And while some of this was common knowledge, due to having been taught about it in history classes, I found I learned a lot more with an in-depth look at what happened and its emotional impact on those involved.

Along with the impact of experiencing the atrocities firsthand, I found myself growing personally invested in the relationships Emi had with both Christian and Leo, and wondered how it would all be resolved. And while I found some resolution in that regard, I expected more from the ending, which was building up to a big romantic conclusion, only to end just as the actual romantic reunion is about to occur. While I am aware that this is not necessarily a romance novel, I felt a bit cheated, after having gone through over 400 pages of the characters dealing with constant injustice. While the open-ended ending might work for some, it felt a bit anticlimactic, and I needed more assurance that there really would be a satisfactory ending.