Lost roses by Martha Hall Kelly

Eliza Ferriday travels to Russia to visit her friend Sofia and godson Max in St Petersburg. But the Russian people in the countryside are starving and turning against the tsar and the elite. When Eliza has returned to America, a world war and a revolution break out and she doesn’t receive any more letters from Sofia. What happend to her friend?

This book is about three women during WWI and the Russian revolution. The Russian revolution is so brutal and such a break from everything before that I find it incredibly fascinating events to read about. This novel offers three female perspectives. The American Eliza really existed and founded an aid organization for Russian emigrants (known as ‘The whites’) fleeing the revolution in their homeland. Yet I found her perspective the least engaging as she was further removed from the action in Russia.

Sofia is the finance minister’s daughter. She hires the peasant girl Varinka to look after her infant son Max. But their estate is attacked by rebels and Varinka cares for Max when Sofia and her family are locked up. In this way, we get a perspective on the conflict from both an elite family and a peasant family. However, Varinka’s life is very dramatic and maybe a bit too much for my taste.

Lost roses is a complex story with many different plot lines that I can’t all describe here. Each character goes through bad things and for that reason the author also added a lot of positive coincidences (especially the romances). Sometimes this made it a little less believable, but it also fitted the story.

Martha Hall Kelly writes smoothly and she has apparently written two more books about the Ferriday Woolsey family so I should definitely check them out. Eliza’s daughter Caroline, who’s a main character in Lilac girls (the first in this ‘series’), also appears in this book. But you can easily read them as stand alones.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything from Hall Kelly? Do you have any recommendations about the Russian Revolution?


The Alice network by Kate Quinn

The American Charlie St Clair travels with her mother to Europe to get an abortion. During a stopover in England, she has second thoughts and boards a train to London to look for Eve Gardiner. Her French cousin Rose disappeared during WWII and Eve Gardiner’s name pops up. Eve has her own reasons for joining Charlie’s search when the name of Réné appears in the case. This Réné exploited a restaurant with the same name as another establishment where Eve worked as a spy during that other Great War.

Kate Quinn is an author who has been recommended to me for so long that it was finally time to read her. The Alice Network is perhaps her best-known book. It tells the story of a spy network during WWI that was hugely successful and mostly consisted of women. Quinn explains in her epilogue what did and didn’t really happen and I found it amazing that so many details of this novel were real.

Besides Eve’s perspective during WOI, there’s also that of Charlie a few years after WWII. She’s looking for her cousin Rose who fought against the occupying forces somewhere in France but disappeared. And then you have the Scot Finn who also served in this war and who’s in Eve’s employment.

There are two wars with certain parallels, though I preferred the ‘historical’ perspective of Eve. However, for some reason I found it hard to really relate with Eve or Charlie. But the story kept me interested. I only had some problems with the pregnancy storyline. I understand why it’s included. But it felt a bit artificial.

Quinn writes well, but I wasn’t blown away yet. It’s definitely a war novel with an original and interesting angle. And I love it enough to read more of her books. I might be looking for ‘The rose code’ or one of her earlier novels about Ancient Rome or The Borgias.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything from Quinn? Or do you recommend any other novel about spies during WWI?