Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Daughter of a wealthy Australian businessman, Sophie Higgs is among a select number of young women invited to Shillings Hall in England. There she receives instructions in etiquette and the power of charm from the mysterious Miss Lily. But with the coming of a world war, the women of Europe will need to find and exert different kinds of strength in Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by author Jackie French.

Indeed, don’t let the lovely book cover and the almost too lovely title give you the wrong impression. This isn’t a sweet little tale about English teas and parties (the story’s teas and parties notwithstanding.) This novel based on true events surrounding the Great War is very much a war story, and oftentimes a gruesome one at that.

It’s also a coming of age story. I couldn’t always make sense of the heroine, but I can appreciate the strength and purpose she finds in wartime.

That purpose is what led me to read this novel, since I first read a companion story, With Love from Miss Lily. Admittedly, that Christmas tale, in 30 pages or so, packed more of a punch for me than this novel did in over 500. There were longish lulls in this book between the parts that moved me.

Still, the overall substance and intrigue of the plot made it worth it. Granted, I was almost turned off the book during the last fifth of it. (Even with the roles feminine wiles play in war maneuvers here, having three semi-seductions in back-to-back scenes is overkill, and the ending chapters stretch and complicate matters maybe more than necessary.)

Nevertheless, my historical-fiction-loving self is curious about the promise of postwar challenges here. If/when Book Two of this series becomes available in the US, I plan on reading it.

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Note to my blog readers: this book contains some (not much, but some) content past my usual quasi-conservative preferences and should not be mistaken for Christian Fiction.

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Here’s my review of With Love from Miss Lily: A Christmas Story.

   

 

Elsie by Jessica Marie Holt

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Elsie: Homecoming Series Book One by Jessica Marie Holt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“I will wait,” he said… “But only if you do something for me.”
“Anything, George, name it.”
“Forgive me. And go on.

Elsie finally settled into contentment after becoming a widow. But now that her sons have convinced her to make a life change she never wanted, she comes to a pivotal crossroads in Elsie by author Jessica Marie Holt.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of short stories. I don’t place all the same expectations on them that I place on novels, as I prefer to appreciate short fiction for what it is, rather than what it’s not. Oftentimes, short reads give me a nice snack in between longer works.

However, when a story has a greater impact on me in twenty minutes of reading than many novels have on me in five to ten hours, it reminds me how amazing short fiction can be. A story like Elsie’s could easily be a quick shot of syrupy, dreary, shallow, or simplistic fare, something I’d fly through without taking too seriously. But this story is none of those things.

It’s beautifully written. Down-to-earth, yet intensely felt. Contemplative, poignant, and unafraid to do something outside of the predictable. Hey, it even gets disturbing. I sighed, smiled, or gasped here and there, cried “No!” out loud at least once, and found myself tearing up a good two and a half times besides.

Yeah. All that. In twenty minutes.

And without the unresolved, jarring halt of a cliffhanger, this story’s touching conclusion indicates that there’s more to come. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next story in the Homecoming series.

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Here’s my review of the next story in the Homecoming series, Amos.

  

 

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Detroit reporter Elizabeth Balsam is doing someone else a favor (in part) when she travels to a remote farmhouse to return an old camera and a box of photos to an aunt she doesn’t know. But Elizabeth’s farmhouse visit soon pulls her into a family mystery tracing back to the Civil War in We Hope for Better Things by author Erin Bartels.

It was nice to find this story is split into three timelines—a bonus for someone who loves historical fiction as much as I do. Although I didn’t get that attached to the characters, and the present-day developments in Elizabeth’s life weren’t a big draw for me, I really got into the story during the last quarter or so.

Now, extramarital indiscretion is sometimes vital to a plot. But whether affairs are physical or emotional, I just don’t enjoy watching them unfold and escalate over the course of a book, especially if the affair stretches out for years. I get frustrated with the characters.

While this wasn’t groundbreaking or that deep of a read for me personally, it does tell a timely story. I think it’s good when a novel doesn’t paint the Civil War era with a nostalgic, romantic, Gone-with-the-Wind kind of brush. Fiction that connects historical and contemporary times like this serves as a reminder that America’s racial problems didn’t end after slavery, or after the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s, or after the inauguration of the nation’s first black president, and that racism is in no way confined to one region of the U.S. or another. Nor is it a problem for any one race of people to confront alone.

I did get a little emotional during this story’s strong and poignant finish. It isn’t tied up with a neat and perfect “happily ever after” bow, but it’s beautiful all the same.

 

Contemporary Fiction is a Real Genre

In the midst of other fiction genres—thrillers, mysteries, romances, and whatnot—it seems contemporary fiction oftentimes gets overlooked or left out.

“Contemporary fiction? Oh, you mean general fiction.”

Well, yes. But also, no. Contemporary fiction isn’t merely a general or nonspecific classification, and it certainly isn’t a throwaway category.

Granted, if I had to pick a favorite genre, historical fiction would likely be mine. As I think about the many historical novels I’ve read over the years, not all of them have been about an actual historical figure or event. A good number of the stories have been about purely fictional characters experiencing various facets of life during time periods in the past. Experiencing life in a historical setting doesn’t necessarily mean the characters are investigating a crime, or searching for true love, or discovering magical gates to lead them into different realms.

You can think of contemporary fiction as a bookend to historical fiction, if you like. Not every contemporary plot is about investigating crimes, searching for true love, discovering magical gates that lead to different realms, or other scenarios that reflect genres folks may identify more readily. Many contemporary stories are about fictional characters experiencing various facets of life in contemporary times. And life is nothing to sneeze at.

You may find a story about a brother estranged from his siblings, navigating the winding path to reconciliation. Or a woman tackling the challenges of opening a shelter for survivors of abuse. Or a man whose best friend is diagnosed with a terminal disease, so the two of them interrupt their regularly scheduled schedules to go and snap all the pictures they can on a road trip they’ve been putting off for years. No telling how many contemporary scenarios I could come up with.

And as for women’s fiction—

“Women’s fiction? Oh, you mean romance.”

Nope. I mean women’s fiction.

The romance genre is its own thing, and its rules are specific. The development of a romantic relationship must be the main focus of the plot, the story must have an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending for the couple, and other rules that adhere to the romance genre formula. Sell a “romance” novel where the hero and heroine shake hands, say goodbye, and go their separate ways in the end, or where nothing romantic happens until late in the story because the hero and heroine are busy with other matters and only just meet each other halfway through the book, and you’re gonna have a lot of miffed romance readers on your hands.

They’re not in the romance genre, but these two contemporary stories certainly have romance in their storylines.

But that’s beside the point. Finding someone to date or to stand at the altar with isn’t the only thing that happens in women’s lives, folks. 😀 Women’s fiction encompasses much more than that, with women’s growth and experiences as the focus. Their health. Their careers. Their rights. Their relationships with friends and family. The list goes on. And, yes, a women’s fiction novel can include a romantic storyline, but it isn’t necessary.

Of course, this isn’t to say that women’s fiction is restricted to the contemporary category. You can find historical women’s fiction. Fantasy women’s fiction. Again, the list goes on. But women’s fiction is indeed a big component of contemporary fiction, where characters experience so many of the ins and outs of modern life.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll enjoy a good present-day mystery, or a present-day suspense story, or a present-day romance, or a present-day sci-fi adventure. But just because a present-day story may not be from one of those genres doesn’t mean the story is ambiguous or genre-less.

Contemporary fiction is a real genre.

A Few
Contemporary
Novels
I’ve Read