Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

Here's what I love about historical fiction:  each novel is a mini-history lesson that leads me on a search to find out more about the subject.  Sometimes I read historical fiction already familiar with the historical background of the novel, other times it's a brand new bit of history I've never heard of before.  Such is the case of A Memory of Violets.  It is the story of the London flower girls during the late Victorian and Edwardian Eras.  The exact opposite life of Downton Abbey.  

This novel is told in two parts; one by diary, the other by Tilly Harper, who travels from her home in the Lake District to London in 1912 to become a housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls.  It's quite a mouthful!  Mr. Shaw, a social activist of his time, rescues crippled and blind flower girls off the streets of London.  He has a row of homes in which the girls live, and a factory where they create silk flowers to sell.  Their skills are remarkable, and the flower girls have a reputation for quality and beauty in their work.  All of these young ladies have come from desperate situations, living in the most horrific and dangerous conditions.  This is their chance to have a happy, productive life. 

Tilly Harper has left her home and come to London because of a terrible accident that injured her younger sister and left Tilly full of blame and completely shunned by her mother.  She leaves hoping for a new life and some happiness.  Once at Violet House, she discovers a diary hidden in her room and soon becomes engrossed in the lives of Flora and Rose, two young flower girls from 1876.  Written by Flora, it reveals the heart wrenching details of Flora's search to find Rose, her younger sister.  Rose, only four at the time--and blind, was wrenched out of Flora's hands one day while they were out selling flowers.  Flora, crippled and unable to walk without a crutch, can't find Rose.  She never finds Rose.  Flora is rescued by Mr. Shaw, and becomes a housemother at Violet House.  She dies without ever knowing what happened to Rose. Can Tilly finish the search for Flora, and find out what happened to Rose? 

At the heart of this novel is the love of sisters and family, whether it's a family you're born into, or a family you create.  It is about being brave enough to look for answers in places that may cause pain, but ultimately are cathartic and healing.  It is about good people doing what they can to help others less fortunate, with no wish but to bring comfort, happiness, and hope.  

If you're interested in more information about the flowers seller of London, click on this link:http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/10/11/the-flowergirls-of-1851/ .  It's a short bit of history on the flower girls.  

I enjoyed this novel.  I'd recommend it to fans of English history, flowers and gardening, and historical fiction. Hazel Gaynor is also the author of The Girl Who Came Home.  

Rating:  7/10 for a unique subject, a storyline that flows quickly, and characters that tug at your heart. 

Available in paperback and e-book.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Need a Little Romance? Some of My Favorite Romantic Reads

Valentine's Day is here.  I myself prefer spending the day laying on my couch, covered in a blanket, and reading a good book. Today the wind is howling outside, which makes it a perfect "leave me alone I'm reading" kind of day.  

Here are a few of my favorite romantic reads.  There's historical fiction, contemporary, young love, heartbreak, and happy endings.  We all know the path of love is never smooth--especially when you finally find it!  Whether you're in the mood for something light or something with a bit more heft, I've got you covered.  In no particular order, here are some of the books that have made my heart go pitter patter:

One of my all time favorite pioneer novels.  All I can say is Jack!!

If you've never read this novel, please do.  It is delightful. 

Stuck on an island....older woman, younger man.  Good stuff.

Teen love done very very well.

Historical fiction with an excellent romantic tale.

Considered a classic romance--time travel and a knight!

The true story of Ree Drummond and her Marlboro Man.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen: A Sequel to Garden Spells

If you haven't read Garden Spells, go no further.  You must read it before you read First Frost.  Alright.  Now that I've got the warning out of the way, I'll tell you about First Frost.

The Waverly sisters are back:  Claire and Sydney.  It's been ten years since the end of Garden Spells, and a lot has happened.  Yes, they're still in Bascom, North Carolina.  And yes, the apple tree in the back yard still throws apples at people (most specifically men).  But I can't tell you anymore because that would spoil Garden Spells!

As you may have guessed from previous posts over the years, I love Sarah Addison Allen.  Her books sprinkle a bit of magical realism into my life, and
mixed into that is a heap of Southern charm that I can't resist.  Add in the complexities of sisterhood, and I'm hooked.  I wish Bascom really did exist, because I'd probably live there.  First Frost  is charming and delightful, and leaves me thinking maybe, just maybe, there could be third book featuring the Waverly sisters.  I was happy to leave Garden Spells where it ended; but clearly that was silly of me.  As soon as I found out about First Frost, I was counting down the days before I could grab a copy and dive back into Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world. 

 My blog didn't exist when Garden Spells was published in 2007, so here's a quick rundown:  Claire Waverly lives in Bascom, North Carolina and runs a catering business.  Her sister Sydney arrives back in town with her young daughter, Bay, on the run from an abusive husband.  It's been years since Sydney left town, and there's a divide between the sisters.  Add to this the reputation in town of the Waverly women.  It's rumored (and true) that each Waverly woman has some kind of peculiar "gift".  For Claire, it's her ability to create dishes that use flowers.  Each flower's specific meaning results in a dish that will evoke certain feelings in anyone who eats it.  Sydney's gift is quirky:  she can give you the best hair cut and style you've ever had.  It will fill you with confidence, and have everyone give you a second glance.  It may change your life.

Can the sisters forgive and forget the past?  And what about love?  Garden Spells  was such a delightful read that it still remains one of my favorite books. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves cooking, flowers and gardens, whimsy, books about sisters, and contemporary novels with a touch of something special.  And when you're done reading it, dive into First Frost.  It doesn't have the same punch of Garden Spells, but it is a sweet novel that will answer questions and have you enjoy revisiting the Waverly sisters.  You probably won't want to leave, either. 

Rating:  7/10 for a welcome visit with the Waverly sisters.  Happily ever after takes work, and that's what I loved about this novel.  

Available in hardcover, audio, and e-book.