I love reading reviews from fellow bloggers and getting blog recommendations. I am also a fan of Historical Fiction. Both of these come together and I listened to some great HistFic audiobooks over the last two weeks.
Mrs, England by Stacey Halls, Imogen Wilde (Narrator)
Published April 12, 2022 by Harlequin Audio, Harlequin Trade Publishing
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
In 1904, Ruby May, a Norland Nurse, is looking for a new position when the family she is working for emigrates to America. She accepts the only position available, working in Yorkshire as a children’s nurse for three children. It is for the Englands, a wealthy couple living in the isolated Hardcastle House. Mr. England owns the local factory and is gone most of the day. Mrs. England is a recluse, barely leaving her room and showing no affection toward her children. The children are wonderful and starved for affection and quickly form a bond with Ruby. The servants are aloof and outgoing, pleasant Ruby is unable to form a connection with them. Mr. and Mrs. England have a strained relationship, and Ruby knows things are not as they should be inside Hardcastle House.
This story is a mix of genres, historical fiction/thriller/women’s issues. In the early 1900s, women of wealthy families were still considered chattel owned by their husbands. They had little or no money of their own, often were not allowed to look after their own children and were just supposed to provide a male heir and look good. That seemed to be Mrs. England’s role, but she also seemed to have some mental health issues. I really enjoyed getting to know her and see her grow as a character. Ruby was an amazing character. She was such an honest, loyal, caring person to her own family and those in her charge. It was easy to see why the children became so attached to her. She was also very smart and perseverant, not giving in when doing the best for her charges. The children were wonderful. They wanted to be kids, but also wanted to experience life outside their home. The girls wanted to be educated as well as their brother, but that does backfire. Mr. England seems to love his family and want the best for them, but there are undertones there and I’m not sure if I can trust him. The house and the servants add another dimension to the story, giving it a gothic, spooky atmosphere. There are some twists, secrets revealed and a surprising ending making this one an enjoyable read/listen for me. Imogen Wilde does a wonderful job with the narration. Her voices are all unique and the expression and emotion she imparts added much to my enjoyment of the story. I definitely recommend this story, in whatever format they choose, but if you enjoy audiobooks, I recommend you listen to this story.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis, Karissa Vacker (Narrator)
Published January 25th 2022 by Dutton, Penguin Random House Audio
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Fiona Davis has an amazing talent of weaving a fictional tale centered around historical buildings and people. This story takes the Gilded Age Frick mansion, it’s family and well-known and infamous artist’s model, Angelica, and pens a mystery full of secrets and twists. This is a dual-timeline story set in 1919 as well as the late 1960s. In 1919, Lillian Carter, aka Angelica, is now alone after the death of her mother from the Spanish Flu. She is no longer the sought after model who’s likeness is found all over New York, and is wanted for questioning in the murder of her Landlord’s wife. While fleeing, she finds herself in the right place and is mistakenly hired as secretary for Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick. During her employment, she becomes close to the family and becomes entwined in Helen’s relationship with the man her father plans for her to marry. In the 1960s storyline, we meet English model Veronica Weber, who is in New York for a photo shoot at the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums housing the Frick Collection. She is accidentally left behind when everyone leaves and is stranded during a snowstorm with intern/budding art curator, Joshua, an African American. While they explore the mansion, they come across some hidden rooms and treasures that reveal a 50 year old mystery.
As always, reading a Fiona Davis book immersed me in the time and place she is writing about. The Frick Mansion and it’s family as well as learning about Audrey Munson (the model that Lillian’s character is based on) were fascinating to learn about. The story was well developed and paced with the 1919 time being the major part of the story. The 1960s storyline was also interesting as it dealt with a young African American who was trying to break into a caucasian dominated field. He had to be extremely careful not to step on toes, or be caught in the museum after closing. I really enjoyed learning about the artwork and the scavenger hunt does that in a fun and entertaining way. The mystery of the missing diamond and the death of Henry Clay Frick added some suspense and entertainment to the story. This is a book I highly recommend, but make sure you read the author’s notes about what parts of the story are fiction. Karissa Vacker does a wonderful job with the narration making this an enjoyable book to listen to.
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan, Jasmine Blackborow (Narrator)
Published February 23rd 2021 by Ballantine Books, Random House Audio
It is two years into WWII and Britain is feeling the effects of the blockades that have caused rationing and food shortages. There is a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front that shares recipes using alternate ingredients to prepare nutritious and tasty meals. The problem is that the male host is not appealing to the women left holding down the fort. The BBC comes up with a plan to hold a cooking contest to find a female co-host. Four very different women, hope to win the contest and change their lives. We meet a young widow, Audrey, who is in danger of losing her home; her sister, Lady Gwendolyn, who puts on heirs, but is hoping to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior; Nell, Lady Gwendolyn’s kitchen maid, who would love to leave a life of service; and Zelda, a trained chef, who’s always in the background while the men get all the accolades. Who will win the contest? How will these women change their lives?
I really enjoy stories about the people left at home to carry on their lives as best they can. This story shares some of the hardships they dealt with, the dangers and how they survived with what they have. The main characters were well developed and all go through a period of growth. My feelings toward them changes as the story goes on and I learn more about them. Each chapter is told by the point of view of one of the women. The recipes they come up with are interesting, but don’t sound all that appetizing. This is not just a book about a cooking show though. It is a story of family, friendship, illegitimate children, emotional abuse, secrets, survival, classism and greed. I enjoyed seeing the women find what was important to them and becoming successful. Overall, I enjoyed this story, even though the ending was predictable. Jasmine Blackborow narrated this story and does a great job. This is the first time I have listened to this voice actress and will happily pick up other works she narrates.