The Rose Code

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

This immersive, compelling read features an unlikely trio of friends who work at Bletchley Park during World War II, secretly trying to break the codes used by the Germans and Italians. Debutante Osla Kendall, who reads German fluently, is dating Prince Philip of Greece. On the train from London she meets ambitious Mab, a typist whose height gets her work on the machines at Bletchley Park and who is anxious to evacuate her little sister Lucy from London’s East End. Shy Beth, whose demanding mother rents Mab and Osla a room, finds her skill at crossword puzzles leads to work as a codebreaker. The strain of the work and the demand for complete secrecy affect the women’s relationships, although outlets such as their Mad Hatter book group help somewhat. In 1947 the women are no longer friends, yet Mab and Osla meet for tea in York in response to a desperate plea from Beth, who is trying to discover who framed her as a traitor. This crisis is set during the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the royal wedding of Osla’s Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth. I loved the focus on the women’s war work and found this book, with its intensifying pace, hard to put down. Only the 624 page count will keep this book from being the top pick of many book groups. Readalikes include Code Girls by Liza Mundy, The Gown by Jennifer Robson, The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott.

Brenda

The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Readers of historical fiction who like a strong sense of place and enjoy multi-period novels will enjoy this appealing novel. In 1907, Venetia Smith designs a variety of garden rooms for Highbury House in rural Warwickshire. A rose fancier provides romantic interest here. In 2021, Emma Lovett is searching for plans, drawings, and letters to help her and her crew restore Venetia’s neglected gardens.

In 1944, widow Diana Symonds and land girl and amateur artist Beth Pedley try to prevent the gardens being plowed under for crops during World War II. Most of the house is a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers run by Diana’s sister-in-law, which causes some conflicts. Cook Stella Adderton and her young nephew Bobby are also featured here. The stories all connect in the end, making for a satisfying read, though the characters struggle with loss in two of the time periods. I should mention that some of the names are confusing; in one chapter we meet Captain Hastings, then he’s referred to as Graeme further on; I would have liked a list of characters.

Readalikes include The Lake House by Kate Morton, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert, and historical novels by Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Rhys Bowen. Readers may also want to browse the gardening section; I found some beautiful books by Jackie Bennett: The Writer’s Garden and Shakespeare’s Gardens.

Brenda

 

Readalikes for The Bridgertons

Readalikes for Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series

The Bridgerton series begins with The Duke & I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. Four others follow, along with three collections of novellas.

If you’re waiting to read some of the Bridgerton books, try these prequels first:

Because of Miss Bridgerton, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband, The Other Miss Bridgerton, and First Comes Scandal. These are about the Rokesbys, the generation before the eight Bridgerton siblings.

Regency Romances

Ashley, Jennifer. A MacKenzie Clan Christmas

Balogh, Mary. The Proposal, A Matter of Class, A Very Special Christmas

Beverley, Jo. Forbidden, The Rogue’s Return, To Rescue a Rogue, The Secret Wedding

Britton, Christina. A Good Duke is Hard to Find

Byrne, Kerrigan. All Scot and Bothered, How to Love the Duke in Ten Days

Chase, Loretta. Ten Things I Hate About a Duke

Coulter, Catherine. The Sherbrooke Bride, The Sherbrooke Twins

Darcy, Clare. A Regency Trio

Dare, Tessa. Any Duchess Will Do, The Wallflower Wager

Enoch, Suzanne. Hit Me with Your Best Scot, Scot Under the Covers

Heath, Lorraine. Beyond Scandal and Desire, The Earl Takes a Fancy

Heyer, Georgette. The Convenient Marriage, Cotillion, False Colours, Frederica,  The Grand Sophy, Venetia

James, Eloisa. My Last Duchess, Say Yes to the Duke

Jordan, Sophie. The Duke Effect, The Duke’s Stolen Bride

Kelly, Carla. Libby’s London Merchant, Marian’s Christmas Wish, Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, One Good Turn, Summer Campaign, The Unlikely Master Genius

Kleypas, Lisa. Chasing Cassandra, Devil in Spring, A Wallflower Christmas

Leigh, Eva. My Fake Rake, Would I Lie to the Duke?

Lorret, Vivienne. Lord Holt Takes a Bride, My Kind of Earl

MacLean, Sarah. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, Daring and the Duke, The Day of the Duchess, How the Dukes Stole Christmas, Wicked and the Wallflower

Quick, Amanda. I Thee Wed, Wicked Widow

Quincy, Diana. Her Night with the Duke

Quinn, Ella. The Marquis and I, The Most Eligible Lord in London

Riley, Vanessa. The Duke, the Lady, and a Baby

Sebastian, Cat. Two Rogues Make a Right

Spencer, Minerva. Notorious

Waite, Olivia. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows

Waters, Martha. To Have and to Hoax

Regency Anthologies

How the Dukes Stole Christmas

A Homespun Regency Christmas

Joy to the World: A Regency Christmas Collection

The Last Chance Christmas Ball

Seduction on a Snowy Night

Victorian Era Romances

Dunmore, Evie. Bringing Down the Duke, A Rogue of One’s Own

Garwood, Julie. For the Roses

Shupe, Joanna. A Daring Arrangement, The Devil of Downtown, The Prince of Broadway, The Rogue of Fifth Avenue

 

Happy reading!

Brenda

V2

V2: A Novel of World War II by Robert Harris

While I haven’t been reading many World War II novels lately, I’m a fan of Robert Harris’s novels, including Conclave, Pompeii, Munich, and The Second Sleep, so I started reading V2, and found it a compelling read. In November 1944, Section Officer Kay Caton-Walsh is in the London flat of her boss, Air Commodore Mike Templeton, when the building is hit by a V2 rocket. Kay gets the cold shoulder from Templeton when she’s mistaken for his wife, so she’s happy to take an assignment in Belgium. In Medenham, England, Kay has been analyzing photographs, searching for clues to the launch site of Germany’s V2 rockets. In Belgium, she will calculate the trajectory of the missiles while they’re still in the air, and after they hit London. In this thrilling story about the race to stop the silent, insidious V2s, which threatened Londoners from September 1944 to March 1945, a parallel plot features German engineer Rudi Graf. Graf, who only wanted to work with Wernher von Braun to send rockets into space, helps launch the V2 missiles. How far is Graf willing to go, for Germany, or for his conscience and the future? Another well-researched novel from master storyteller Harris, this is a good readalike for The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, Code Girls by Liza Mundy, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal.

Brenda

 

Ask Me No Questions

Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble

Philomena (Lady Dunbridge), her butler Preswick, and her new maid Lily have just stepped off the boat in New York City for a visit to Phil’s friend Bev Reynolds when shots rings out. Bev’s husband Reggie is found dead in his roadster, in the arms of his mistress Mimi. Phil is just out of mourning herself, but neither widow is grieving her spouse. Reggie’s true love was breeding and racing horses, and some of the most exciting scenes are at the stable and the Belmont racetrack. Detective Sergeant John Atkins is investigating Reggie’s death when another body is found, casting suspicion on Bev. Phil, Preswick the butler, and Lily investigate, as Phil takes the reader on a whirl through Manhattan society in 1907. Lively, entertaining, and sassy, with a strong sense of place, an enjoyable first mystery set in the Gilded Age. Tell Me No Lies and A Resolution at Midnight continue Phil’s adventures.

Brenda

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Marrying right before World War I, Agatha Miller followers her mother’s advice to put her new husband Archibald Christie first. Unfortunately, other than surfing and playing golf, nothing Agatha does seems to make Archie happy. She even puts time with her daughter Rosalind at a lower priority, and leaves her behind to travel with Archie. Finally, Agatha thinks about what makes her happy: time with her daughter, mother, and sister Madge, and writing mysteries. It’s not so enjoyable reading about Agatha and Archie’s increasingly unhappy marriage. Then Agatha suddenly vanishes in December 1926, the same day she and Archie have a loud argument during breakfast. The story really takes off here, and the disappearance is related from Archie’s point of view, as the police become suspicious of his role in her disappearance. I wanted to know more about Agatha Christie’s life after reading this novel, which is based on the real disappearance of the author. It’s been 100 years since the first Hercule Poirot mystery was published; so it’s perfect timing for a novel about the creator of Poirot and Miss Marple. This mystery will be published in late December.
Brenda

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart

Lady Cecily Kay, a botanist, is in London in 1703, studying Sir Barnaby Mayne’s collection of botanical illustrations. The amazing collections filling the mansion are a source of fascination for many other collectors, and Lady Cecily joins them on a tour. She is surprised to meet Meacan, a childhood friend who is doing some illustrations for the eccentric Mayne. When Sir Barnaby is found dead in his study at the end of the tour, an unlikely suspect confesses, then flees. Lady Cecily and Meacan investigate, learning more about the society of obsessive collectors. The early 18th century London setting is fascinating, and the mystery is intricately plotted. Readalikes include The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. Historical fiction readers looking for an unusual setting will also be interested in this intriguing, absorbing read. I don’t see a connection to Hart’s other historical mysteries, beginning with Jade Dragon Mountain, but I enjoyed them as well.

Brenda

This Side of Murder

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

In this atmospheric and intricately plotted mystery, war widow Verity Kent attends an engagement party in 1919 that is anything but a celebration. Verity drives to the coast in her late husband Sidney’s roadster, and travels to Umbersea Island, where she finds that most of the guests are connected to Sidney’s army unit. When one of the men is found dead and bad weather strands the guests and a few employees on the island, the tension level cranks up to high. Everyone seems to have a secret, including Verity, who did intelligence work during the war that even Sidney didn’t know about. Many plot twists kept my interest, along with the fast pacing and a very clever mystery. This is the first Verity Kent mystery; the sequel is Treacherous is the Night.

Brenda

The Other Windsor Girl

The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Princess Margaret is 19 when Vera Strathmore’s cousin Rupert introduces them. Vera, who lost her fiancé in the war, writes romance novels under a pen name and dreams of moving to New York City to write. Swept up in Princess Margaret’s social set, Vera becomes a lady-in-waiting to the temperamental princess. In Blalock’s novel, the princess enjoys dancing, drinking, smoking, flirting, and Captain Peter Townsend. Vera puts her writing dreams on hold indefinitely, and her work for the princess gets more demanding over the years. Viewers of The Crown will be familiar with the plot and setting, but Vera’s viewpoint has both clarity and empathy. A fun, escapist read, with plenty of gorgeous gowns.

Brenda

The Lost Jewels

The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

Long buried treasure. An American historian specializing in jewels, Kate Kirby. Her great-grandmother, Irish immigrant Essie Murphy. An antique pendant worn by Kate’s cousin Bella. All of these, along with a handsome photographer, are linked to the true story of the Cheapside Jewels, over 500 pieces of jewelry buried in a cellar sometime before the Great London Fire of 1666, and uncovered in 1912. They include a diamond from India, an emerald from Columbia, and a cameo of Queen Elizabeth I. Kate and photographer Marcus search for the story of these jewels and find long-hidden secrets of Essie and her sister. A page-turner that’s occasionally bittersweet but ends happily in two time periods, this is a good readalike for historical novels by Beatriz Williams, Kate Morton, and Fiona Davis.

Brenda