Monday, December 30, 2013

Somewhere in France, by Jennifer Robson

I've had good luck these past few months with some wonderful debut novels by some very promising authors.  Jennifer Robson's first novel, Somewhere in France, keeps that streak alive and well. It is being touted in the promotional material as a book fans of Downton Abbey will love. I find that characterization a bit limiting. If you like good historical fiction with strong, able characters and an exciting, perilous setting with a believable love story thrown in for good measure, you will love Somewhere in France, even if you have yet to watch an episode of Downton. The only similarities between this novel and that series are the general time period, the Great War (which lasted less than a season in Downton time), and one character from an aristocratic background who yearns to make a contribution and decides to move beyond the role to which society has assigned her. That would be about it. Yes, the Downton allure may be a strong one, but this novel can stand (and sell) all on its own.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford has always felt like there should be more to her life than a debutante season and marriage shortly thereafter.  As a young girl, she meets her brother Edward's school friend, Robbie Fraser, and she first reveals to him her desire for a stronger education.  Robbie encourages her to pursue her dream.  Years later, as war bears down on them, they meet again at a ton ball. Attracted to the woman Lilly has become, Robbie, now an accomplished surgeon, once again encourages her to follow her aspirations to do something worthwhile with her life.

What Robbie doesn't expect is for Lilly to volunteer as an ambulance driver and plunge herself into the turmoil and peril that is France and the Western Front during the Great War. Finding themselves in close proximity at the same Casualty Clearing Station,  Robbie, now a field surgeon, must set aside his feelings and fear for Lilly if he is to do his job without distraction. Lilly, angry and confused, and constrained by the strict rules against fraternization, has no choice but to try to forget Robbie;  ignore him as he has chosen to ignore her. Until the horrors of war touch them both, and everything changes.

Somewhere in France is a story as much or more about relationships and loyalty as it is about the changing mores of the time period in which it is written; Lilly and Edward; Edward and Robbie, Robbie and Lilly, their lives all circle around each other, against the ever present backdrop and horrors of war. Ms. Robson's secondary characters add a dimension to the story that reveals just how far Lilly has traveled from the persona of an earl's cossetted daughter. It's quite a transformation, and it's only one facet of the novel that grabs the reader's interest and doesn't let go.

I really hope the wait will not be long until Ms. Robson's second effort. Intelligently written, beautifully descriptive and fast-paced, Somewhere in France will appeal to Downton fans, but everyone who reads it, Downton fan or not, will love it. Highly recommend.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Devil Wears Kilts, by Suzanne Enoch

So after a long hiatus due to graduate school, and not being in charge of my reading lists, I'm finally able to read what I want again.  It's a great day for me!

I've been out of the loop in regards to what's new in the world of Romance Literature, despite seeing many book posts on many authors Facebook pages.  I can't remember where I saw this particular book, but a kilt-wearing devil seemed to be a great way to get back into the swing of things.

Suzanne Enoch's tale of romance begins with Lady Rowena, a girl who is ready for her season in London the moment she turns eighteen.  Unfortunately for her, big brother Ranulf, Marquis of Glengask, has other ideas.  A nice birthday party with the clan should be enough for her.  Surrounded by only brothers most of her life, Rowena has no intention of staying hidden away in the Scottish highlands.  With her maid's help, Rowena escapes to London, causing uproar and general unrest at Glengask.  Ranulf, knowing what dangers lay beyond Rowena's sheltered life, immediately follows her to London with a mind to bring her straight back to Scotland.  His arrival in London is anything but gentlemanly, and for the first time ever, a female stands in his way.  Lady Charlotte stands for no one to be rude, especially in her own house!  Sparks, and any other sharp, pointy objects fly as Ranulf and Charlotte butt heads.

Our hero and heroine become interesting chaperones for Rowena and Charlotte's sister, Jane.  When they aren't arguing over the use of violence to settle disagreements, or whether or not Ranulf is gentleman enough to go into London society, they get to know one another.  Ranulf, determined not to make the same mistake his father did when bringing his English mother to the highlands, must worry for his sister's safety from rival clans in London while trying to keep in Charlotte's good graces.  Charlotte, nearly a spinster at the ripe age of twenty-five, knows she shouldn't be attracted to the devil in the kilt.  But then again, why not?

'The Devil Wears Kilts' was a great return for me as a reviewer, as it provided plenty of action, drama, and of course, romance.  Great secondary characters, (including 2 enormous Scottish Deerhounds), and a well-written story make this novel a great way to spend an evening inside by the fire.