Some terrific recommendations this month, so let’s dive right in!

Two Wars and a Wedding by Lauren Willig: Lauren Willig has been an auto-buy for me since she wrote the Ashford Affair. Her stories always take me to a place and time in history I didn’t know well. In Two Wars and a Wedding, she tackles the Greco-Turkish Conflict and the Spanish-American war, two events I knew little about beyond the sinking of the Maine and Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill. 

Two Wars and a Wedding is the story of Betsy Hayes, an idealistic Smith College student. When we meet her, she’s just arrived in Greece hoping to break into the male-dominated archeology field. Considering the book is set in 1896, you can imagine how well that goes. Instead of breaking new archeological ground, Betsy ends up falling in love, finding heartache, and ultimately becoming a Red Cross nurse during the conflict.  This story is juxtaposed with a second timeline set two years later that has Betsy traveling to San Juan to protect her best friend from the ravages of war. Instead, she again finds herself in the thick of battle, this time trying to save American lives. 

Of course, there’s more to the story. Betsy’s trip to San Juan isn’t completely altruistic. She has a secret that links back to those days in Greece….

What makes me love Lauren’s books is her dialogue. Her characters are always smart and sharp-witted, and they banter with the best of them. Plus, the amount of research that went into this book amazes me.  I had no idea how awful the conditions were for the soldiers in Cuba. Nor did I know how misogynistic and pigheaded the American Army was when it came to letting the Red Cross nurses help. 

By the way, if Betsy’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she makes an appearance in A Band of Sisters. She was a real person who would return from Cuba and form the Smith Women’s Relief Unit that served in France during WW1. 

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Homecoming by Kate Morton: I’ve been waiting for years for Kate Morton to release a new book, and man, did she deliver!

The book is the story of a middle-aged journalist called back to Australia when her grandmother becomes seriously ill. While there, she unexpectedly discovers a family secret regarding a horrific crime that happened some sixty years earlier.  As she assembles the pieces of the family mystery, Jess realizes that the stories from her childhood and the truth aren’t the same.

Morton tells the story through a “book within a book” format. While it’s a little jarring when switching from the present time to the book narrative, the technique works. I quickly found myself lost in the story of the Turner family and their tragic demise.

I adore books where you think you know where the story is heading, only to have the author throw an unexpected fork in the road.  That’s what Morton does in this book. About two-thirds through the book, she adds a new point of view character, and in doing so, very subtly shifts our perception about another.  Goes to show that everything is more complicated than it appears, even family history. 

Of course, the real reason to read a Kate Morton novel is for the language. She writes in such a beautiful, lyrical style that I’m willing to forgive her tendency to rely on out-of-the-blue coincidences to push the plot along. (Deus ex machinas, anyone?) With Homecoming, she manages to imbue everything with a sense of melancholy. You feel the loss and sadness in every sentence.  

The book will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

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Coronation Year by Jennifer Robson:  I adored this book! Coronation Year isn’t about the Coronation. Rather, it’s about the residents who live in a hotel on Queen Elizabeth’s Procession Route. Edie, Jamie, and were deeply marked by World War 2 and eight years later, are still struggling to find themselves. Over the six months preceding the Coronation, they help each other heal. 

When she was on Step into the Story, Jennifer mentioned that she likes to capture the details of everyday life, that is the little things that may not seem important but when added up, mean a great deal. I found this book to be full of hope and optimism. It’s about moving forward and starting fresh – sentiments that swept across England in June 1953. 

There’s a mystery too – a darn clever one – which keeps the book moving at a fast clip. 

If you need to continue your Coronation fix following Sunday’s ceremony, this is the book for you. 

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Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in the Jazz Age by Anne de Courcy.  Heir to the Cunard Shipping fortune, Nancy Cunard was a study in extremes. Beautiful and rich, she inspired and helped to publish some of the greatest artists of the Lost Generation. She was a vocal advocate for equality. She was a gifted poet in her own right. She campaigned tirelessly against fascism and racism. Later she would work as a translator for the French Resistance.

She was also a spoiled, alcoholic, self-destructive brat with no regard for fidelity or other people’s feelings.  The list of broken hearts she left behind is immense. 

Anne de Courcy does a fantastic job of capturing both sides of her personality. As I read about Nancy’s exploits, I was in equal parts impressed and repulsed by her behavior. At times I even felt sorry for her. Her parents all but ignored her, which only fueled her outrageous behavior. 

 One thing I wasn’t while reading this book was bored. Nancy was fascinating. I can see why so many people were drawn into her circle. Again, de Courcy paints a magnificent picture of post-WW1 Europe.  Her side tangents about that world were as interesting as her main subject. 

If you’re into reading about the Jazz Age or the Lost Generation, you’ll truly enjoy this book.

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