Summer’s Gift by Jennifer Ryan (Romance)

Funny story. I selected this book to read and review because I thought it was written by a different Jennifer Ryan — the one who specializes in WWII Home Front stories that I love. Who knew there were two? I figured out my mistake about 20% in. This book is a Romance novel — full of physically beautiful, successful and wealthy people — not a bomb or make-do attitude in sight.

Still — although Romance is definitely not my genre — I kept reading. While there was literally nothing realistic about the characters, I found them likable (despite all their money and good luck, they were pretty grounded and decent) and felt quite happy when things worked out (that’s not a spoiler — all Romance novels work out — that’s the point! )

The writing was fine, I liked the characters, and while parts of it got a bit repetitive, I appreciated the strong messages about responsibility, good communication, and being kind without allowing yourself to become a piece of marshmallow fluff that people can trod on with impunity.

Thank you to Avon and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 20th, 2023

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan (Historical Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Characters: 5/5 Plot: 4/5
Another upbeat, can-do, WWII based piece of historical fiction from Jennifer Ryan, author of The Kitchen Home Front and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. Three women in Aldhurst Village help transmute the local sewing circle into a shining example of community spirit during the deprivations of war — launching a wedding dress sewing circle, transforming old, often moth-eaten wedding dresses into modern beauties available for loan to brides in need. Grace Carlisle — the dutiful vicar’s daughter, soon to marry her father’s curate; Cressida Westcott, renowned fashion designer, returning to the village manor house (from which she was evicted decades before due to non obedience) when her home and business in London are reduced to rubble; and her spoiled niece Violet Westcott, who wants nothing but to marry a title and live the luxurious life to which she is entitled.

There was romance and it is handled well, but the real treats for me were the friendships, the awakening of awareness of opportunities and alternate lifestyles for each of the women, and the well-researched details of life on the home front. Ryan’s tidbits about wartime clothing were fascinating: The rationing (40 coupons per year — about enough for a a couple of dresses), the government Make Do and Mend program, the restriction on bathing to 5 inches of bathwater twice per week to save on fuel, the “paint on stockings” made from gravy — useful if there are no dogs around! — and most interesting, the challenges for designers who had to make do with “less fabric, more synthetic materials, and absolutely no metal fastenings or elastic.” It was just technical enough on the design and sewing aspects to be interesting but not overwhelmingly confusing to a sewing ignormus like myself.

As always, Ryan captures the real community spirit of wartime in Britain — ordinary people “joining forces to overcome the difficulties of war.” While not avoiding the terror and depression of the time, the book manages to focus on the positive and uplifting aspects of people coming together to do what needs to be done.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 31st, 2022.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan (Historical Fiction / Women’s Fiction)

Writing: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 4/5

Warm-hearted, home-front WWII story about the way people (in this case mostly women) pull together in times of hardship. Based on the real life “Kitchen Front” radio cookery program which was designed to help its listeners make the most of wartime food rations — this is the tale of a competition to find a new, female, co-presenter for the BBC show. Four women in sleepy Fenley Village take up the challenge: Audrey, widowed mother of three trying to eke by with a home baking business; her estranged sister Gwendoline, married to the Lord of Fenley Hall and possessor of Audrey’s crippling mortgage; Nell, undercook at Fenley Hall and terrified of the outside world; and Zelda, a London chef bombed out of her kitchen and sent to the Fenley Pie refectory to work bringing a surprise with her. Alternating between their four voices we get the backstories, recipes, and current challenges (plenty of drama there!) while we follow their inspiring journey from fierce competitors to best friends using will, determination, and compassion to overcoming terrible adversity.

Definitely an upbeat story along with impressive food and food preparation descriptions (though I am only interested in eating food so I kind of skimmed those bits). This is one of those books where human initiative solves problems with the help of some luck and overly-easy good results, but it’s a nice, buoyant glimpse into a world with some obvious parallels to approaches to the problems of today.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 23rd, 2021.