Lost Roses: A Novel, by Martha Hall Kelly – A Review

Lost Roses 2019 x 200Are there any historical fiction readers out there who have not read the insanely popular Lilac Girls yet? Hello!

Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel was published in 2016 – and like all book fledglings was sent out into the world with high hopes. Early reviews were rather mixed, but it hit the NY Times bestseller list immediately, a phenomenon for a debut novel. It has become one of those rare books in publishing that has an enormous wingspan, remaining on the bestseller lists for years.

One cannot even imagine the pressure on Kelly’s shoulders to produce her second novel, Lost Roses, released last month by Ballantine Books. A prequel to Lilac Girls, many of her readers will have high expectations. If she was smart, she would stick to her winning formula: base the story on real-life women facing challenges during historical events; transport readers into their lives and times through first-person narratives that are impeccably researched; offer page turning-prose that keeps you up into the wee hours; and finally, develop characters that we can empathize and care about. A very tall order, indeed.

Again, the story features a tryptic of women struggling on the home front during a world war. Lilac Girls introduced us to Caroline Ferriday in the 1940’s WWII. Lost Roses begins a generation earlier in pre-WWI and features Caroline’s mother Eliza Ferriday, an American socialite and philanthropist, her friend Sofya Streshnayva, a Russian aristocrat, and Varinka Kozlov, a Russian peasant.

The story spans pre-WWI Paris, New York, and St. Petersburg and continues through “the war to end all wars,” the Bolshevik revolution (Red Russians), the assassination of the Tsar and his family, and the exodus of aristocrats (White Russians) from their native land. Much has been written about this era. It was the largest global war in European history mobilizing millions of soldiers and multiple countries. Approximately 9 million military and 7 million civilians perished in the conflict. History books record every battle in vivid detail. Lost Roses focuses on the war’s effect on three indomitable women who fight their own battles for their families and themselves while the menfolk are away at war.

Inspired by actual people and events, Kelly has taken personalities and historical events and created a clever and compelling story. Each of the three characters: Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka take their turn by chapters telling their portion as the narrative unfolds. I was concerned that this first-person structure with multiple points of view would be disjointed—three voices who are often not together revealing the conflicts and events independent from each other. It is a format that is challenging, yet I found it interesting and engaging.

Kelly’s writing style is at times very reminiscent of two classic historical fiction authors that I admire: Rosamunde Pilcher and Colleen McCullough. Her research on Russian history and the Ferriday family was impressive and added greatly to the ambiance and effectiveness of the plot.

As a second novel, Lost Roses is a sparkling success. Many of her faithful readers will find the sweeping storyline and historical backdrop mesmerizing. Besides some uneven pacing, my one concern was for the characters. Caring about over-privileged Russian aristocrats and tony Americans on both side of the pond is a daunting task that few could overcome—just think Dr. Zhivago meets The Age of Innocence. I never warmed to any of them, nor did I want to give them a hug—the sure-fire test of a winning story. More vodka while reading could be your solution to my lament.

4 out of 5 Stars

Lost Roses: A Novel, by Martha Hall Kelly
Ballantine Books (2019)
Hardcover, eBook and audiobook (448) pages
ISBN: 978-1524796372

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books © 2019; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com

A Modest Independence: Parish Orphans of Devon Book 2, by Mimi Matthews – A Review

A Modest Independence Matthews 2019 x 200The second book in the Parish Orphans of Devon series is a historical romance road trip novel with an intriguing premise; can two unlikely companions travel together from London to India under false pretense to join forces to find a lost friend?

In A Modest Independence, author Mimi Matthews’ explores an improbable romance of an impertinent, strong-willed woman and an equally independent bachelor who are thrown together under eyebrow-raising circumstances. There are so many impediments to their success, on several levels, that I was compelled to discover if they could overcome all the obstacles that the author had placed in their path.

Starting in Victorian-era London, England we meet spirited heroine Jenny Holloway who has recently come into a small fortune. Determined to remain independent and never marry, she wishes to travel to India to find the Earl of Castleton, the missing brother of the woman who gave her a modest independence. Her attorney Tom Finchley, who holds her purse strings, is concerned for her safety and hesitant to release her funds so she can travel. Raised in a Devon orphanage, he is a self-made man who now has a very prosperous London practice. We were introduced to this couple as supporting characters in the first book in the series, The Matrimonial Advertisement. Tom harbors feelings for Jenny and decides to travel with her to protect her, help her find the missing brother, and explore the possibility of a romance. Continue reading

That Churchill Woman: A Novel, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

that churchill woman barron 2019 x 200Between 1870 and 1914, there were at least a hundred marriages of American heiresses to British peers. Fueled by microeconomics—supply and demand—American industrial tycoons bought position, prestige and coronets by bartering their daughter’s dowries to cash-strapped aristocrats. One transatlantic trade was Brooklynn born Jeanette “Jennie” Jerome. In 1874 she became one of the first “dollar princesses” when she married Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of the Duke of Marlborough. Her wildly rich father reputedly paid a dowry equaling 4.3 million dollars in current currency. What a way to start a life-long marriage—and what delectable fodder for this new biographical fiction of Jennie’s life, That Churchill Woman, by Stephanie Barron.

Lady Randolph Churchill is one of those larger-than-life women from history whom we look upon with shock and awe. Most people will know her as the scandalous American mother of Winston Churchill, the famous politician and prime minister of Great Britain, however there is so much more to know about this intelligent, fiercely independent woman. Born in 1854 into wealth, privilege and the excess that it generates, she was raised in New York City, Newport, Rhode Island and Paris. Her childhood was colored by her parents Leonard Jerome and Clarissa “Clara” nee Hall’s Victorian marriage. He was a notorious womanizer. She turned the other cheek and befriended his long-time mistress Fanny Ronalds. When the affair finally ended the two women banded together, left their respective husbands, and sailed for Paris with their children.

Another significant event in her early life was the death of her younger sister Camille when she was nine. Devastated by the loss, her father consoled his young daughter with sage advice: “The only way to fight death, Jennie, is to live. You’ve got to do it for two people now—yourself and Camille. Take every chance you get. Do everything she didn’t get to do. Live two lives in the space of one. I’ll back you to the hilt.” Continue reading

A Very Austen Valentine Blog Tour: Author Interview with Robin Helm, Laura Hile, and Wendi Sotis

a very austen valentine book 2 x 200Just in time for Valentine’s Day on February fourteenth, a new Jane Austen-inspired anthology has been published to fill our romantic hearts with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and many other characters from Austen’s beloved novels. A Very Austen Valentine contains six novellas by popular Austenesque authors: Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, Susan Kaye and Mandy H. Cook and includes stories inspired by Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility. Featuring many of our favorite characters, readers will find sequels, adaptations, and spin offs of Austen’s works in this new book.

I am very happy to welcome three of the A Very Austen Valentine authors to Austenprose today. They have kindly agreed to an interview.

Welcome ladies. Here are a few questions to introduce us to your new anthology, your writing process and philosophies, and an opportunity to tell us about your next project.

Can you share your inspiration for this Austen-inspired anthology?

Laura: Several years ago Robin Helm and I talked about putting together an anthology – no small feat, as Laurel Ann knows (Jane Austen Made Me Do It) – and last Christmas we banded together with Wendi Sotis and Barbara Cornthwaite to release our first. Who knew that Jane Austen and Christmas would combine so well? Our readers, that’s who! We were overwhelmed by the response to A Very Austen Christmas. Next, we decided to take on Valentine’s Day. This holiday was not widely popular during the Regency, but when we found extant Valentine cards from the period, we were off and running. A Very Austen Valentine is the result.

We call our anthologies “books that friendship built” because, this is absolutely true. They are our way of introducing our writing friends to our reading friends – like you. We plan to include guest authors in each. Susan Kaye (Frederick Wentworth, Captain Series) and Mandy H. Cook (The Gifted) are with us for this one. Continue reading

Unmarriageable: A Novel, by Soniah Kamal – A Review

unmarriageable kamal 2019 x 200It is a truth universally acknowledged that readers and writers are obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. Since Sybil G. Brinton’s 1913 Old Friends and New Fancies, the first original Jane Austen-inspired novel, there have been thousands of prequels, sequels, and variations penned by those who wish to never let the characters quietly rest in literary heaven. Next up for our praise or censure is Unmarriageable, a retelling set in Pakistan in 2000 by Soniah Kamal. Never one to suffer Austen renovators gladly, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

Over the years I have read and reviewed many P&P inspired books containing a variety of themes including: zombie bedlam, religious conversion, S&M and slash fiction. There have also been some retellings that I really enjoyed, yet I yearned for the full story retold in a fresh and reverent light. It’s the Holy Grail of Austen fandom. Could moving the story to Pakistan at the turn of the twenty-first century be the opportunity to explore southern Asian culture infused with Jane Austen’s story of reproof and redemption? If so, it would be catnip to Janeites!

Unmarriageable’s premise and opening chapters were immediately promising. Kamal had converted Austen’s characters into clever doppelgangers of her Regency equivalents: the Bennet family became the Binats with sisters Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia becoming Jenazba, Alysba, Marizba, Qittyara, and Lady respectively. After being introduced to the Bennet family, whose financial and social position had fallen subsequent to a scandal that destroyed their fortune, the anticipation of meeting Mr. Darcy, now transformed into Mr. Darsee (snort), was quenched by the modern interpretation exhibiting all of the noble mien of the original—rich, proud, and dishy. ZING! Continue reading

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life, by Lucy Worsley – A Review

queen victoria 24 days x 200

Just in time for the premiere on 13 January 2019 of the third season of Victoria on Masterpiece Classic on PBS, Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life is a new biography of one of the United Kingdom’s (and the world’s) most famous queens. Arriving like a gift on a royal red velvet cushion, fans of the TV series and British history will devour and adore this book.

In her usually upbeat and engaging style, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, television presenter, and one-woman British history hurricane, Lucy Worsley’s biography of Queen Victoria is a selective and sympathetic view of the life of the most powerful woman of her generation. Structured as twenty-four significant dates in her life, it is a personal look at her family history, social context, and her inner thoughts and impressions. Drawing upon a variety of sources, including her own personal diaries and of those around her, Worsley also adds quotes and references from the Queen’s major biographers and historians of the Victorian era.

Some readers may assume that the most significant dates in the Queen’s long life such as her coronation, marriage or the death of her beloved husband Albert would be the most interesting dates of her life. However, I found the quieter moments even more moving, insightful and tragic. For example, on the 20th of June 1837 not only did she learn that her uncle William IV had died, making her Queen, she met privately for the first time with her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne who would become a close advisor, stalwart advocate and dear friend to the young Queen. Starved for male companionship after the death of her father in her infancy and a childhood dominated by a weak mother and her circle of cronies, Melbourne would become the antidote to her lonely and isolated life helping her to transition to monarch and rule her country. Continue reading

My Favorite Books of 2018, by a Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Jane Austen Fan

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Dear readers:

Along with oodles of other media outlets and book bloggers, it’s time to reveal my own favorite books of 2018. It has been a serendipitous journey—full of adventure, comfort and surprises—mostly generated from reading beloved authors and stepping outside my sphere.

Traditionally I gravitate toward classic or modern authors in the historical fiction genre, focusing on novels inspired by Jane Austen. My reading choices this year were diverse within historical and contemporary fiction, romance, mysteries, and nonfiction, exploring new tropes and themes. However, they all share a common thread—sharp writing, comprehensive research, compelling stories and levity.

In my very, very small way I hope that my reading experiences this past year will act as a catalyst to those seeking a curated list of books from the vantage of a Janeite. Enjoy!

BEST AUSTENESQUE FICTION

The Longbourn Letters x 150The Longbourn Letters, by Rose Servitova

Lo and behold. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins are pen pals! For those familiar with these two minor characters in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, you will not be disappointed in the full story of their relationship featuring Mr. Bennet’s dry sarcasm in all it’s glory  while he goads his cousin and heir in pursuit of amusement, and in return the Odious One’s (Mr. Collins) obsequious prosing and sermonizing right back at him. I enjoy Austenesque novels that expand upon Austen’s characters more than any other type in the genre. Servitova’s creative and reverent take on the Bennet & Collins relationship is an impressive debut novel that many Janeites will enjoy, if only they knew about this sharp sleeper. 5 Stars Continue reading