post WWI

Ghosts in the Manor House: “Lost Among the Living”

25329513Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
NAL: April 5, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free From Publisher

I’d go there again!
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I’ve been a long-time fan of Simone St. James and I longingly await each new book. I will admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of the book, but there is a turning point in Lost Among the Living and when I reached that there was no way I was putting the book down. If you read it, you will no exactly which event I am referring to.

Jo Manders is a young widow still mourning the loss of her husband, Alex, three years after his disappearance during the war. Due to the fact that Alex’s body was never recovered, Jo has been living in a state of limbo and strained finances, as she cannot receive her widow’s portion without petitioning the court. Instead of pursuing the legal channels, Jo accepts Alex’s aunt’s offer to become her companion. After traveling on the continent with Dottie it’s time to return home. Dottie’s son is returning from his stay at a hospital and Dottie wants to be home to greet him; Jo must also go as she has no other place to call home. (more…)

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Readable History in “Flight of Dreams”

25614670Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Doubleday: February 23, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free From Publisher

I’d go there again!
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Flight of Dreams tackles the crash of the Hindenburg, an event that I know little about. Lawhon fictionalizes the events that lead up to the famous crash, creating her own version of why the zeppelin exploded in New York. Considering the inescapable fate of the Hindenburg, I was not expecting to be so caught of in the suspense of Lawhon’s version of events. The Hindenburg is going to crash and some of the characters that readers meet are going to die. There is no escaping this fact. But, Lawhon gives readers such a compelling and human story about the people who were on board, and it’s the human element that captured and held my attention throughout. (more…)

Crime Fighting Psychic in “The Other Side of Midnight”

22467404The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James
NAL Trade: April 7, 2015 (Historical Fiction; Mystery)*

Outstanding Adventure!
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A psychic, if she is to have a career, must deal with both skeptics and believers. They both bring their own set of problems – skeptics with their endless needling questions, believers with their suffocating faith. My mother taught me that, in the middle of the storm, the medium herself must have one philosophy: Believe, or don’t believe. It is up to you.

Ellie Winters is a psychic, she doesn’t contact the dead, but she finds things, things that people have lost. She’s been living a lonely life for the past three years since a bad falling out with her close friend, Gloria, and the death of her mother. Ellie’s dreary, but safe life is about to be changed when Gloria is murdered, only leaving a note behind that Ellie can find her.

Gloria’s older brother pulls Ellie into the investigation of her death and soon Ellie also finds herself the target of a murderer. Joining forces with the James Hawley, the man who announced to the world that Ellie and her mother were frauds, Ellie and James investigate the final séance that Gloria presided over. (more…)

After the War is Over

21936660After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson
William Morrow: January 6, 2015 (Historical Fiction)*

My rating: Outstanding Adventure! vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3

After the War is Over is Robson’s follow-up to the excellent Somewhere in France. To be clear, it isn’t essential that you read Somewhere in France before this one; however, I do think readers who have read the previous book will get a better appreciation of After the War is Over.

After the War is Over is set in England after the first world war (obviously). During the war, Charlotte Brown served as a nurse, something that she was able to do as a university educated young woman. Now that the war is over Charlotte is more than content returning to her old job in Liverpool, helping those that have suffered from the war.

As Charlotte gains satisfaction in her new life, she’s pulled back into the past by her best friend Lily (subject of Somewhere in France), who’s brother has come back from the war a changed man.

Edward Neville-Ashford, Earl of Cumberland, has returned home wounded both in body and spirit. He’s lost a leg and it’s clear that he’s not the same, care-free young man he once was. Each time Charlotte encounters him she tries to talk to him, help him, but to no avail. Needing to move on from her girlhood infatuation, Charlotte distances herself from the Neville-Ashford family. (more…)

Two eras collide in “An American Duchess”

20579284An American Duchess by Sharon Page
Harlequin HQN, September 30, 2014 (Historical Romance)*

My rating: Beach vacation, with a fancy drink (3.5/5)

I’ve been fairly taken with World War I novels for the past while, thanks to an introduction to the post-war years via Simone St. James. With this year’s centenary, it’s been remarkably easy to get your hands on anything WWI related. I’ve been particularly drawn to the aftermath of the war and the inevitable coping strategies that the survivors use to help themselves deal with the changed world around them. Because of this interest I was especially interested in reading An American Duchess as it takes place shortly after the end of the war in 1922, at a country estate no less. Downton Abbey anyone?

Zoe Gifford is an American heiress who has arrived in England to marry Sebastian, the second son of a duke, in order to gain access to her trust fund. Zoe’s fiance has died, so she’s not interested in love and plans to divorce Sebastian not long after the wedding. She simply needs access to her funds, and this is her only option. Sebastian has his own reasons for a marriage of convenience, but when Sebastian’s elder brother, Nigel, disapproves Zoe starts to rethink her plan. Not because she’s offended that the stuffy duke doesn’t think too much of her or her mercenary plan. No, it seems that Zoe starts to develop feelings for the duke once she starts to learn there’s more to his rigid behaviour. (more…)

The Great War Reading List

This August marks World War One’s Centennial. I’ve always been fascinated by both world wars, and it’s impossible not to see how both events have influenced fiction. I remember reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down as a kid and having my teacher point out to me the comparison to WWII; the same goes for The Hobbit. I’ve always loved making those kind of connections in my reading, and to date, I’ve probably read much more fiction related to the second world war than the first. However, with the centennial year here, there has been explosion of WWI fiction. Today’s top 10 is my Great War reading list. As usual for me, it’s a mix of the serious and lighthearted. I like the books that take a hard look at the war, especially the aftermath, but I also want some that show the happily-ever-after for those affected. Without further ado, here’s my wartime reading list in no particular order:

Wake Somewhere in France Three Day Road Silence For the Dead Overseas (more…)

Wake: Women in the Aftermath of WWI

17829483Wake by Anna Hope
Random House, February 11, 2014 (Historical Fiction)

My Rating: Outstanding adventure! (5/5)

“War wins,” he says. “And it keeps on winning, over and over again.” (p. 255)

Wake is the debut novel from Anna Hope, and in my opinion it is a stunning debut that takes a hard look at the realities of life after the war. It was beautifully written and the approach that the author takes, using the lives of three women, to examine the war was original and provided another perspective to view a momentous moment in history.

The novel is formed around the days leading up to the Unknown Warrior‘s procession through London in November 1920. The mood is grim. The country is still coming to terms with the war. Veterans are struggling to make ends meet. Women are mourning the loss of theirs sons, brothers, husbands, and lovers. Others just want life to move forward; they want the country to move on. The author shows these varying circumstances through the eyes of three different women. (more…)

Ghostly Investigations in ‘Silence for the Dead’

18114136Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James
NAL Trade, April 2, 2014 (Historical Fiction)*

My rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)

It’s 1919, the Great War is over, but the battle continues on for those that were scarred, both mentally and physically from the battles. Like St. James’ previous novels, post-war life is tackled; however, with Silence for the Dead, the theme of mental illness and PSTD takes the forefront.

Kitty Weeks is a young woman on the run from a painful past. She thinks she has finally found a relatively safe situation as a nurse at Portis House, a far away asylum for former soldiers broken from their time in the war. The problem is Kitty is no nurse, and there are strange happenings at Portis House, a large home that was seemly abandoned by its former owners.

Kitty is slowly drawn to the mystery of the disappearance of the former owners of Portis House as she gets to know her patients, and learns that they all share a similar nightmare featuring the same villain. Kitty gains a partner in her investigations with the patient, and war hero, Jack Yates. But can Kitty trust this apparently insane (and handsome and charismatic) patient? Or will trusting Jack cause Kitty to lose her long sought for sanctuary.

(more…)

Book Review: An Inquiry into Love and Death

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An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James
Publisher: NAL Trade
Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery / Romance
Rating: Outstanding Adventure

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this one since I read St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare, yet when I got my hands on An Inquiry Into Love and Death I was strangely reluctant to start it. It was one of those times when you’re so excited to read a book, you just want to save it and you don’t want to be disappointed. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed with this one, it had all the elements that I loved from St. James’ first book – highly atmospheric, touch of the supernatural, dash of mystery, and a good helping of romance.

In An Inquiry into Love and Death Oxford student, Jillian Leigh receives the news that her ghosthunter Uncle Toby has died, and she has to identify the body and take care of his effects. Jillian drives to the seaside town of Rothewell and becomes embroiled in a ghostly mystery she had not anticipated. Along the way she meets RAF pilot turned Scotland Yard detective, Drew Merriken, who is investigating some mysterious happenings in the sleepy seaside town.

What I loved about this one was the atmosphere that St. James evokes. This book is set in 1924, shortly after world war one and you can feel the sadness and melancholy that you would expect people to feel after the war; after realizing all that they have lost. This same atmosphere was also present in The Haunting of Maddy Clare and I think its a perfect match for the post-war era. The setting of the novel seems to mimic this melancholy, but I also think that the investigation of ghosts (the focus of both St. James’ books) also demonstrates a mentality that I think people would embrace after such a tragedy as war. I thought this atmosphere was marvelously well done and it wasn’t at the expense of characters. I like a character driven novel and I liked that in An Inquiry into Love and Death we had a character driven plot that was also highly atmospheric. I find that it’s difficult to find a novel that had both strong characters and a strong sense of place.

I also loved the creepiness factor. The exploration of ghosts is a major theme and the way the ghostly encounters are described are terrifying. For example, one of the very first encounters Jillian has with the ghost, Walking John, hits you viscerally:

“At the top of the window – the very top – a hand was pressed to the glass.
 
The hand was reaching down – from God knew where – ans flattened to the glass. It was grayish white, damp. The  pads of its fingers were rotted black. I glimpsed blackened fingernails and a ripped, ruined thumbnail. As we watched, the hand pressed harder into the window glass – as if being used to launch the body – and disappeared. It left behind no mark.

‘Drew,’ I said. ‘It’s climbing up the wall.'”. (p. 123)

I think what also helps the scariness of the ghostly encounters is the way that Jillian reacts to them. You can feel her terror when she sees and experiences things that just couldn’t possibly be real. By having Jillian narrate her reactions, the horror of her experiences are ramped up another notch.

This was a very good read, and I think it will appeal to Downton Abbey fans for its atmospheric setting, but I think it will also appeal to a wider audience because it has a little bit of several genres: historical, romance, mystery etc. I will be anxiously awaiting St. James’ next book! And, if you haven’t read The Haunting of Maddy Clear do so immediately.

Read-alikes:

The House of Velvet and Glass The Uninvited Guests The Dressmaker The Anatomist's Wife (Lady Darby, #1)