Stacey and I were lucky enough to receive advance copies of this wonderful book at the same time, so naturally we decided it was an opportune time to do another joint review.
Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford, or Lily, as she prefers to be called, is trapped by her status in life. Her family expects no more from her than a well-connected marriage. While Lily dreams of more, she has no idea how to go after what she wants: an education, an occupation, and a life with meaning. However, when war breaks, Lily finally finds the impetus she needs to overthrow her parents’ constraints. With perseverance, she obtains employment as an ambulance driver and contrives to get herself stationed near her brother’s best friend, Robbie Fraser.
Robbie is surgeon of low (Scottish!) birth working near the front lines. After Robbie gets thrown out of a party at Lily’s parents’ house, he drops out of Lily’s life. When she begins her search for purpose and work to help the war efforts, they become reacquainted. Robbie and Lily start up a correspondence at beginning of the war, and while he admires her commitment, he’s thrown for a loop when Lily shows up at his hospital, which is much closer to danger than he would like Lily to be. Robbie struggles with his growing feelings for Lily because of his fear for her safety but also because of their difference in social station. He wonders what will happen when the war ends. Will Lily return to her parents and her life of privilege? Would it be better to simply end things before they get a chance to begin?
Somewhere in France is a historical novel set during the turbulent times of the First World War. While romance was a significant part in the novel, the historical detail and realities of daily life during wartime made this far more than a romance. I read the entire novel in one sitting and I can’t wait for more from this debut novelist. Somewhere in France was lovely, harsh and optimist all at once, and I recommend it to historical fiction fans that are interested in this period in history.
I cannot express how much I loved Somewhere in France! This was a thoroughly engrossing read, and I couldn’t put it down. I was initially intrigued because of the romance aspect to the novel, but there was some much more to this story than an unlikely romance between the social classes. The historical details were fantastic. We didn’t get a romanticized version of Lily’s experiences during her time as an ambulance driver. She was confronted with the effects of war, the destroyed bodies of the soldiers that she transported to the hospital. She also had to deal with the everyday hardships of no rest, no bathing, catching lice, and living without the luxuries that she used to. I felt that we really got a picture of what life was like for those supporting the soldiers on the front lines, and it was completely fascinating. I don’t really think these support workers are considered all that often, so it was an interesting change. I also liked the fact that Lily was an ambulance driver rather than a nurse, which is what you might expect to see. But because of Lily’s upbringing and her lack of education, she wasn’t qualified to be a nurse. Even being an ambulance driver meant that Lily had to learn to drive, something she had never done before.
Lily was really a fascinating character in the novel. She had a luxurious upbringing and gave it all up to follow her dreams. While it wasn’t always easy for her to do without, she eventually came to terms with it because it finally meant that she was doing something worthwhile. I think the author handled this transformation within Lily well, and I believed that someone as sheltered as Lily had been could become the competent and confident young woman that she was by the end of the novel.
As for the romance between Lily and Robbie, it really was swoon worthy in a sweet sort of way. The romance didn’t overpower the novel, but complimented the wartime atmosphere. I liked the fact that Lilly and Robbie had already known one another as children, otherwise I would have been tempted to believe that they were swept away in a romance that was started by the wartime atmosphere, but would ultimately not have had much substance. Instead, Lily and Robbie know each other, they knew each other’s history and dreams, and it made their relationship all the more endearing.
To sum it up, historical fiction fans need to read Somewhere in France. It was a fantastic read and anyone who enjoys a highly atmospheric setting with a good helping of romance will love this one. This period in history is tragic, but it’s also compelling. Robson is writing a follow-up to be published in 2015 and I can only hope that it will feature a romance between Charlotte and Lily’s viscount brother, Edward. I feel like Somewhere in France was hinting at this relationship, and I would like to be proven correct.
I really enjoyed this book, but not as much as Jaclyn. I agree, the historical detail was fantastic, and I loved Lily’s character. I also liked the romantic arc, and I loved that the war was so vivid, so much a part of both Robbie’s and Lily’s experiences, and that the novel reflected the sad and horrific nature of war, as it winds around the romance between Lily and Robbie.
I became thoroughly engrossed in Lily’s experiences of learning to drive ambulances, of dealing with discrimination on the front, and of living and working on the supply lines. Robbie’s experiences as a war doctor were also vivid. The way the author describes the exhaustion, the never-ending rounds of patients and ambulance rides, and medical community brought the story to life.
Lily is an amazing character. Her determination, her focus, is really on having a Purpose in life. This is something just about everyone can relate to, and it definitely added depth to her character. She did not choose to be a wartime ambulance driver, working in dangerous conditions, because Robbie was there – she chose because she needed to feel useful, to do her part to help the war. And that makes her much more interesting. The way she tackle obstacles and problems, and even the realistic cold feet that she got once or twice, made her so human and so utterly easy to relate to. She struggles with her change in status (she hides her birth among her coworkers and the soldiers and doctors at her camp), she struggles with her change in situation (anyone would, I think!), and yet whenever she has the opportunity to make a choice about her future, she chooses because she needs that Purpose. She grows in independence, courage, and strength throughout.
As Jaclyn says, the romance is sweet. Robbie is mostly a supportive character, but he does struggle with his protectiveness. I love that he learns to let Lilly stand on her own feet. I also love that Lily learns to lean on Robbie a bit, that she eventually realizes that she can be independent and be with Robbie.
The only thing I didn’t like about this novel was that the ending felt rushed to me. There was a period of time that Robson skipped over, which also made it seem a bit disjointed.
Overall, I also highly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and historical romance. And I second Jaclyn’s desire to read about Charlotte and Edward in the next book. Clearly something is going on between those two, and I want to find out how it ends!
City of Shadows takes place in Berlin in the between-wars period. Atmospheric, its main elements are the post-Great War depression in Germany, a murder mystery, a mystery surrounding a young woman who might be the former Grand Duchess Anastasia, and the rise of Naziism. There is also a second-fiddle, sweet romantic arc.
Another read set during the between-wars period is Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare. If you’re looking for a little of the paranormal in your historical, this ghostly tale is for you. It also captures the feelings of loss during this period beautifully.
For another book about a wartime romance, check out The Bronze Horseman. This one has a stronger, more explicit romantic arc, but vividly describes life and love in wartime and Communist Russia. Tatiana is a young girl smitten with soldier Alexander, and this story is about how they struggle together and are torn apart and come together again.
Saving the Rifleman is another wartime romance. It a short read that’s more heavy on the romance than the historical detail. However, it is an interesting look at the nursing profession at that time. It’s also a romance of the classes just like Lily and Robert.