Tag Archives: World War Two

#BookReview ‘The Hidden Palace’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2 #Malta

The Hidden Palace by Dinah Jefferies, second in the ‘Daughters of War’ trilogy, wasn’t quite what I expected. I felt disconnected from the first book which means it’s perfectly possible to be read as a standalone novel. Dinah JefferiesFlorence Baudin, one of the three Baudin sisters featured in Daughters of War, first in the series, has fled France leaving her sisters behind. It is 1944 and she is in England at the isolated Devon cottage of Jack, the English SOE agent who led her through France and Spain to safety. Florence is finally reunited with her mother Claudette who had stayed in England for the war. As sharp and feisty as ever, Claudette doesn’t make her daughter feel welcome but has a surprising request. Will Florence find her younger sister Rosalie who ran away from the family home in Paris in 1925? Florence, desperate to be closer to her mother, agrees despite the absence of clues, despite it being wartime.
This is a dual timeline story. 1944 with Florence, and 1925 with Rosalie Delacroix who flees Paris and goes to Malta where she finds work as a dancer. Rosalie is a more dynamic character than Florence, she makes things happen. Rosalie swaps career from dancer to journalist, publishing editor to campaigner, not all of which felt natural for her character. This is a novel of two separate stories – of aunt and niece, two decades apart – linked by genes but not impacting on each other.
Basically this tells of the search for a missing person. From the book blurb I anticipated a story set during the WW2 siege of Malta but it was late coming; at 70% through the novel Rosalie was still in 1930s. When war does come, I wanted to know more about Malta at this time. It was such a dramatic period in history and is seldom written about in fiction. Rosalie’s work as a plotter in the underground control centre during the defence of Malta is good, but slim pickings. Jefferies contrasts well the beauty of Malta with a darker underlying menace, prostitution, trafficking of women. This is an island invaded and settled by foreigners over many centuries with the looming threat of another world war. The hidden palace of the book’s title is a mesmerising maze of a building, like something out of an exotic Mary Stewart suspense novel. Is it a sanctuary or a prison. It’s a mysterious setting I was hoping would be used as a sanctuary during the war or perhaps a secret military headquarters.
The theme of unity and divisions between sisters shows how misunderstandings, if not addressed, can become impenetrable division. The deepest of bad feelings are better aired and faced, than deeply buried. Running away does not leave the old trouble behind, but also causes new problems.
I like to be immersed in characters and prefer long sections so I become emotionally involved. This story jumps around a lot between timelines which can be disorientating. The use of a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter is meant to add tension to keep the reader reading, but there needs to be a worthy pay-off each time. When chunks of years were skipped in Rosalie’s story, I wanted to know what was missing. It was like looking at a family photo album with pages torn out.
So, a bit of a curate’s egg. It didn’t advance the story of the three Baudin sisters, as I was expecting. But Rosalie’s story in Malta kept my attention.

Click the title to read my review of DAUGHTERS OF WAR, first in this trilogy.

And here are my reviews of some of Dinah Jefferies’ other novels:-

If you like this, try:-
The Gabriel Hounds’ by Mary Stewart
The Postcard from Italy’ by Angela Petch
The Last Hours in Paris’ by Ruth Druart

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THE HIDDEN PALACE by @DinahJefferies #bookreview https://wp.me/p2ZHJe-63n via @SandraDanby


#BookReview ‘The Partisan’ by Patrick Worrall #thriller #ColdWar #spy

The key protagonist in The Partisan by Patrick Worrall is a female Lithuanian resistance fighter who becomes a Cold War assassin. How nice to read a thriller set in the Baltic States, a fresh take on war and how to survive it. At the heart of the story is Greta, the partisan. I admired her, and feared her. Patrick WorrallAn ambitious timeline ranges from the Spanish Civil War to the Sixties Cold War as Greta turns from wartime fighting, one of the Three Sisters, to post-war vengeance tracking down the war criminals on her list and eliminating them. Greta’s story intersects in 1963 with Yulia and Michael, Soviet and English teenage chess champions respectively, and a Soviet plot to win the Cold War. The 1963 chess sub-plot got in the way. Greta is the fascinating character, I wanted to read about her. Her story is thrilling enough.
I couldn’t help but wonder if a more limited reach would help the story’s rhythm. The story jumps around a bit. In the first half I would prefer spending longer with each character to understand them, before the pace picks up as tension rises and point of view gets snappier. I wanted to read about Greta’s story in one long narrative thread instead of a timeline jumping between 1940s and 1963. I particularly enjoyed Greta’s interviews with journalist Indrė in 2004 and was unable to get beyond the jumping around when I wanted to settle in with one character. The character list is long with many similar names to remember – who is on which side, who is double-crossing who – and this took me out of the story.
I’m always partial to a good thriller and like to find debut authors, so I’ll be watching out for the next book from Patrick Worrall. It’s different, try it.

If you like this, try:-
The Diamond Eye’ by Kate Quinn
A Hero in France’ by Alan Furst
V2’ by Robert Harris

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THE PARTISAN by Patrick Worrall #bookreview https://wp.me/p2ZHJe-5T8 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Last Hours in Paris’ by Ruth Druart #WW2

The Last Hours in Paris by Ruth Druart is a different kind of Second World War romance. At times it is a tough read, the hatred is visceral and uncompromising. It feels real. Ruth DruartThis is the story of three people in the last days of occupied Paris and the years following when repercussions continued and the war, though never spoken of, remained tangled in the roots of daily life. Those who fought the Germans, those who stayed behind and lived under German dictatorship. In peacetime everyone must live alongside each other again. The different memories, experiences, losses, are difficult to assimilate.
In Paris 1944 Élise Chevalier a bank clerk by day, secretly helps to smuggle Jewish children from the city. ‘Paris was no longer Paris. It was an occupied city, and even the buildings seemed to be holding their breath, waiting.’ No longer her familiar city, Paris is sinister, threatening, frightening. One day in her favourite bookshop Élise is threatened by two French policemen and is defended by another customer, a German soldier. And so begins the story of Élise and Sébastian Kleinhaus and the terrifying, impossible time in which they live.
In 1963 in rural Brittany, eighteen-year old Joséphine Chevalier uncovers a story about her mother that she could never have imagined. She fears it is impossible to truly know someone. ‘From now on, she’ll always be wondering what part of themselves people are hiding.’
A slow burn to start, Druart takes her time, allowing us to feel connected to the characters as she gradually raises the emotional temperature. The peripheral characters are well drawn, particularly Élise’s younger sister Isabelle, bookshop owner Monsieur le Bolzec and Breton farmer Soizic. Each brings their own experience, judgement and dignity to what is an impossible, unbearable situation for everyone. The definition of family and home, love, protection and separation. ‘Maybe home wasn’t a place at all, but the people you wanted to be with.’
Whatever you may think of what happened in Paris at this time, Druart tells this sensitive story of young people, inexperienced, naive and hopeful, living in a time of such violence and betrayal, of secrets, survival, moralising and vengeance. After surviving the hardships, violence and deprivations of war, how can they adapt to find a new life of possibilities. How can they forgive the secrets and betrayals and move on.
A strongly emotional interpretation of life in occupied Paris that is hardly an obvious setting for a story about love. But this is a love more than romance. It is a love of family, responsibility, truth, sacrifice, forgiveness, of letting go of past hurts and wrongs and looking to the future.
Highly recommended.

Click the title to read my review of WHILE PARIS SLEPT, another World War Two story by Ruth Druart.

If you like this, try:-
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
The Book of Lies’ by Mark Horlock
After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LAST HOURS IN PARIS by Ruth Druart #bookreview https://wp.me/p2ZHJe-5T2 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Diamond Eye’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2

What a wonderful book is The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn. The fictionalised story of a real Soviet female sniper fighting in what is now Ukraine in the early years of the Second World War, this is a novel I didn’t want to put down. Kate QuinnThe life of Kiev resident Mila Pavlichenko, young mother and history student, changes when the Nazis invade. Already an accomplished shot with a rifle, she leaves her young son Slavka with her mother and goes off to war. In the 18 months of her time on the frontline as a sniper, the real Mila scored 309 official ‘kills’. She is injured fighting in Sevastapol and, once recovered, is ordered to join a diplomatic mission to the USA to persuade the Americans to join the European war. The action in America is probably the most fictionalised part of The Diamond Eye which is based in part on Mila’s memoir. Quinn states in her Author’s Note that parts of the memoir are clearly Mila’s own voice, other entries seem like Soviet propaganda.
This is not just a war story with guns and death and trenches. Quinn tells the story of a young woman, torn from all that is familiar, who finds strength inside herself and with her comrade snipers, to do what must be done. Some of her fellow soldiers have brief times at her side; others, the most skilled snipers, survive. She discovers how difficult it is, when you know you may die tomorrow, to open yourself up to friendship, or love. She acquires a nickname, ‘Lady Death,’ and spurns the frequent attentions of her senior officers. Her girlfriends also volunteer, her estranged husband turns up as a combat surgeon, but there are few light moments in her life. Her primary motivation is to defend her homeland, that is the only thing keeping her away from home. Between missions she gathers leaves and sends them to Slavka, she carries her dissertation with her and takes it from her backpack to read to remember the life she once had. Quinn alternates the dark story of Mila’s fighting, first at Odesa and then at Sevastapol, with her later trip to Washington in 1942 plus excerpts from the diary of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who Mila met on that trip.
This is a shocking story and a compelling one. The sections about sniper technique and tactics are not for the faint-hearted but the current war in Ukraine adds a reality check and there are light-hearted moments in Washington as Mila meets the American press, not alerting her hosts to the fact that she can speak English. Also lightly woven through the fighting sections are snippets of Russian folklore, a reminder that Mila’s country has roots and traditions much older than the Soviet Union.
Quinn creates a heroine we care for. Brave and determined with a sharp edge of sarcasm, this is Mila’s story as imagined by the author. The two parts of the story – the fighting, the subsequent trip to America – are key to the growth of an unusual and exceptional young woman. So what if the final section lurches into ‘thriller’ territory, it made the pages turn even faster.
Highly recommended.

And here’s my review of THE ROSE CODE, another WW2 thriller by Kate Quinn.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden [#1 Winternight trilogy]
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
Corpus’ by Rory Clements [#1 Tom Wilde series]

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THE DIAMOND EYE by @KateQuinnAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5QW via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Postcard from Italy’ by @Angela_Petch #WW2

I’ve never been to Puglia in Italy, the south-eastern coast down to the heel, except in the pages of The Postcard from Italy by Angela Petch. Vividly she brings to life the coastline, the stone-built trulli houses, the caves. It is a magical setting. Stretching backwards from today to the closing months of the Second World War, this is an enthralling family story of love and separation. Recognising love when it’s there, but also understanding when it’s absent. Angela PetchIn 1945, Puglia, a young man awakes, injured, disorientated. He doesn’t know who he is or how he came to be in a trullo, a rural stone house, cared for by strangers. The teenage boy Anto explains how his grandfather Domenico saw him fall from a warplane. Called ‘Roberto’ by his rescuers, his memory stubbornly refuses to return. He can speak English and Italian but knows nothing about fishing or farming. As he helps them in their daily routines, gathering food, catching fish, tending vegetables, repairing the trullo, his nights are full of confusing dreams.
In present day Hastings, England, Susannah mourns the recent death of her father Frank and the descent of her grandmother, Elsie, into the clouds of dementia. Clearing Elsie’s house, Susannah finds a yellowing postcard of a beautiful farmhouse in Puglia and a message of love. Realising this is the same farmhouse in a painting by her father but unaware of family links with Italy, she can’t reconcile this message of love with her brittle, acidic grandmother who always preferred Susannah’s blonde-haired younger sister Sybil. So, while a friend looks after her antique bric-a-brac shop at home, Susannah takes a holiday in Puglia. Determined to find the house in her father’s painting, she learns to heal herself, to speak a little Italian and in so doing falls for two handsome men.
Petch uses conventional wartime story themes – amnesia, separation of loved ones, the vulnerability of loneliness and grief, and the fear of those who exploit war for gain – and adds the twists and turns of flirting and love. Petch has written four novels set in Tuscany, so Puglia is a new setting for her but her knowledge of Italy shines on every page. Susannah’s holiday is extended as she turns detective but the clues, when she finds them, bring more questions rather than answers.
Susannah is the spine of the story but my favourite character was Anto, so complex, so brave, so intriguing. This is a wonderful book to sink into, a perfect holiday or weekend read.

Here’s my review of THE TUSCAN SECRET, also by Angela Petch.

If you like this, try:-
Another You’ by Jane Cable
The War Child’ by Renita d’Silva
The Tuscan Contessa’ by Dinah Jefferies

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THE POSTCARD FROM ITALY by @Angela_Petch #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Qk via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by @ajpearcewrites #WW2 #romance

Sometimes I hear about a book when it is launched but somehow miss the tide. Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce was published in 2018 and two weeks later became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. In 2019 it was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. The first few pages are fresh and engaging, light humour at a time when people when people were living day to day in the Blitz. My only doubt was that I would find the jolly tone too much if it continued for the whole novel. AJ Pearce

It is 1941 in London and Emmy Lake applies for a job as a war correspondent and  instead finds herself typing up letters for the problem page of a distinctly faded women’s magazine, Woman’s Friend. The premise is fascinating. The tone is full-on jolly which at times is irritating. The strength of the book for me lies in the second half.

Emmy lives with her friend Bunty on the top floor of Bunty’s grandmother’s house. Both girls have daytime war jobs and volunteer in the evenings. Emmy is frustrated by her boss Mrs Bird’s dismissive rules about letters from emotional young women and starts to reply directly to the women, hiding the letters and posting her replies in secret. When she doesn’t get found out, she becomes bolder, and prints one of her replies in the magazine. Dumped by telegram by her boyfriend, Emmy agrees to go out with Bunty and her boyfriend William and finds herself set up with a blind date. As Emmy’s love life takes a turn for the better, the girls’ friendship is tested as it has never been tested before. Inevitably, Emmy’s letter writing catches up with her in spectacular fashion and she is sent home.

The book is at its best when examining the relationship between Emmy and Bunty, the depth of their loyalty, and what happens when cracks begin to appear. This is a lightweight, cozy war romance which takes a serious tone towards the end. An easy weekend read.

Read how AJ Pearce researched London in World War Two for Dear Mrs Bird.

If you like this, try:-
Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter
You’ll Never See Me Again’ by Lesley Pearse
One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis

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#BookReview DEAR MRS BIRD by @ajpearcewrites #WW2 #romance https://wp.me/p5gEM4-49f via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Daughters of War’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2 #adventure

It’s a while since I read a book in gulps, not wanting to put it down, not wanting to leave the story. Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies is the first of a World War Two trilogy about three sisters. And what characters they are, each individual, quirky, vulnerable, stubborn, brave and refreshing. I lurched from having one favourite, then another. At the end I was equally drawn to each. Dinah JefferiesIn the Dordogne live three sisters – Hélène, Élise and Florence – alone in their mother’s house during the German occupation. Hélène is the eldest, a nurse, the mother hen, the worrier. Élise is the rebel, helping the Resistance, disappearing at night. Florence, the youngest, is a gardener, a cook, a nature lover. They are tired of the war, terrified by the Germans and their increasingly violent and indiscriminate reprisals, desperate for a normal life without remembering what that might be.
Backstory is important and there are many mysteries, unspoken memories and fears, which can only by explained when something happens to trigger understanding. We see the girls’ mother Claudette, in England for the war, only through their memories but she is a pivotal character nonetheless.
The story opens in spring 1944 when the girls’ quiet life at their stone cottage in the woods is altered by two arrivals. Jack, a British Special Operations soldier, has parachuted in with orders to train the Resistance in preparation for the invasion. Tomas, a young German soldier, has deserted and is found hiding in their garden shed. What follows is a tale of innocence, love, bravery, cruelty, loyalty and honour.
Jefferies’ descriptions of the French countryside – the trees, the birds, the wildflowers, the Dordogne scenery, coupled with the descriptions of Florence’s cooking – work as a shocking juxtaposition to the horror of war in this oh so beautiful tranquil place.
A page-turner.

Read my reviews of these other standalone novels by Dinah Jefferies:-

If you like this, try these:-
Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams
The Blue Afternoon’ by William Boyd
Birdcage Walk’ by Helen Dunmore

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DAUGHTERS OF WAR by @DinahJefferies #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5vI via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The War Child’ by @RenitaDSilva #WW2 #historical

Two women, two generations apart. In The War Child, Renita D‘Silva explores the connections between a mother and child, through danger and separation, self-sacrifice, unstoppable events and the pressures of modern life. D’Silva tells the dual timeline stories of Clara and Indira over many decades, setting the strength and promise of women across four decades against the twentieth century prejudices of chauvinism and racism. Renita D‘SilvaIn London, 1940, teenager Clara is woken by her mother as their home is bombed. Her mother presses into Clara’s hand a necklace, a St Christopher’s medal, with the promise that it will always protect her. Orphaned, Clara is taken in by her aunt and begins helping at a local hospital treating injured soldiers. When nurses and doctors ignore a wounded Indian soldier because of the colour of his skin, Clara nurses him to health. When the war ends, she decides to fulfil a long-held promise to herself. Inspired by sitting on her father’s knee and listening to his stories of India, Clara takes a job as nurse companion to a delicate boy whose parents are re-locating to India. And there, she falls in love.
In India, 1995, 33-year old Indira is chairing a board meeting when she gets a message to ‘go to the hospital’. Fearing her young son is dying – he is in hospital for a minor surgical procedure – she finds her husband and son both well. The message refers to Indira’s father who has had a heart attack. Indira returns home to her parents, somewhere she hasn’t been much of late as she seeks to avoid their simplistic boring life, resenting their dissatisfaction with her life choices.
Sometimes raw and painful, always emotionally complex with surprising twists that make you gasp, The War Child is another brilliant book by my first-choice author for Indian historical romance. D’Silva is such a visual writer that India is a real place on the page, the colours and scents are both beautiful and challenging, her descriptions as full of contrasts as fresh guava sprinkled with chilli powder.

I’ve loved every one of Renita D’Silva’s books I’ve read to date, so far my favourite is The Orphan’s Gift. Click on the title to read my reviews of A Mother’s Secret, Beneath an Indian Sky, The Girl in the Painting and The Orphan’s Gift.

If you like this, try:-
The Tea Planter’s Wife’ by Dinah Jefferies
Heat and Dust’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
The Sapphire Widow’ by Dinah Jefferies

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THE WAR CHILD by @RenitaDSilva #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5mW via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Man in the Bunker’ by Rory Clements #thriller #WW2

The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements gripped me from beginning to end. It starts at the end of the Second World War when spy Tom Wilde thinks real life is beginning again. But the dilemma is in the book’s title. Who was the dead man in the bunker in Berlin? Were the burnt remains really that of Hitler? If not, where is he? Rory ClementsThis is the sixth in Clements’ thriller series about American historian-turned-spy Wilde who spends the war working for the English and American secret services, and each of them has been unputdownable. It is now late summer 1945 and the European war is over. Germany is defeated, in ruins, starving and with millions of Holocaust survivors, displaced people and refugees. The country has been carved up between the allied forces to bring security and discipline but it is a world in which it is easy to disappear, to reinvent yourself. It is a world in which lies are told for survival. As in the previous Wilde books, it is difficult to know who is telling the truth, who is lying and why. Clements is a consummate thriller writer who writes with emotional depth, political intrigue and historical research.
The action starts at a running pace and never stops. Two men are killed on a remote road in southern Bavaria. In Cambridge, history professor Tom Wilde is anticipating the arrival of new undergraduates and his wife Lydia is applying to study medicine. Then three visitors arrive with an incredible request. Wilde must find Adolf Hitler. At first Wilde laughs, then he refuses. That night, Lydia says he will regret refusing. The next day Wilde changes his mind. First, he questions some German scientists who are imprisoned near Cambridge, their rooms bugged, their conversations and gossip recorded. A clue leads Wilde to Garmisch where he teams up with the unpredictable Lieutenant Mozes Heck, a Dutch Jew who hates the Nazis. As they identify Nazis who were close to Hitler, their progress is continually impeded by the conditions in defeated Germany; starvation, bomb damage, medical crisis and the flood of Holocaust survivors and misplaced citizens. And by Heck’s secret, personal mission.
The ending is particularly intriguing. Is The Man in the Bunker the final book of the Tom Wilde story or will it morph into a Cold War series?

Click the title to read my reviews of the first five books in the Tom Wilde series:-
Hitler’s Secret
A Prince and a Spy

If you like this, try:-
Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore
V2’ by Robert Harris
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor

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THE MAN THE IN BUNKER by Rory Clements #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5o5 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Camomile Lawn’ by Mary Wesley #WW2

It’s many years since I first read The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. I remember liking it, and that one of the characters is called Calypso, but nothing else. So it was with delight that I read the wartime story of Calypso and her four cousins – Oliver, Polly, Walter and Sophy. It renewed my intention to re-read all Wesley’s novels. Mary Wesley

The story is enrichened by the mode of telling. It starts in Cornwall in the summer of 1939 as the cousins of assorted ages gather for what will be the last time. There is a poignancy hanging in the air as the run their ritual race, The Terror Run, along the clifftop path, joined by their neighbours, the Floyer twins.

The cousins are the children of the three Cuthbertson siblings – we see the parents only fleetingly, if not at all – but they are gathered at their Uncle Richard’s house and picnic on the camomile lawn. What follows are the piecemeal stories of individuals and how they overlap with each other as the war progresses. Overlaid, are short passages from the Eighties as they travel independently to Cornwall for a funeral. Drawn into the cousins’ stories are their neighbours, in Cornwall and London, wartime acquaintances, lovers, and refugees Max and Monika. Amidst the bombings, the rationing and the worries about loved ones fighting, Wesley tells a story of a family both united and separated, as individuals strike out on their own, liberated by wartime urgencies. There are affairs, unexpected babies, hints of underage sex, all without accusations of blame or betrayal. Each makes assumptions about the others, assumptions the reader may know are misplaced given we are privileged to see into the minds of each cousin, and sometimes assumptions which are proven right or wrong only at the very end of the novel.

Paths cross, diverge and cross again. Not everyone is nice, not everyone is honest. They are people getting through the war, trying to keep things together; some turn to drink and partying, one keeps guinea pigs, most feel emboldened by the openings presented to them by war. And all the time, fear lurks in the pit of their stomachs. And through it all, the house in Cornwall and memories of that last party on the camomile lawn, remind us of pre-war normality. At a time when ‘normal’ ceases to exist.

Very different from other wartime novels. Now a classic.

Read the First Paragraph of The Camomile Lawn here.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Half of the Human Race’ by Antony Quinn
My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young 

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THE CAMOMILE LAWN by Mary Wesley #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-48g via @SandraDanby