Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Book Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and look at 1918 England
Cons: Too much going on; not my type of book
The Bottom Line:
Historical book
Brings time period to life
But not right for me

I Was the Wrong Audience for this Book

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Rhys Bowen’s mysteries for years.  I’ve also followed her to her recent standalone novels, which have been slowly venturing beyond the mystery genre.  That brings us to The Victory Garden.  Set during the final months of World War I, this book leaves the trappings of mystery far behind.

Emily Bryce is about to turn twenty-one, and she is ready to start doing something to help with the war effort.  Her parents have kept her at home with her mom hoping to find someone from the aristocracy to marry her off to, but Emily is determined to find her own path.  While she is envious of her friend who is a nurse on the front lines, she is hoping to find a way to help out closer to her home in England.

Then Emily meets Robbie, an Australian pilot recovering from an injury at a hospital in the area.  Even though her parents forbid it, she keeps seeing him behind their back.  She also soon joins up with the Women’s Land Army, helping to keep the farms in England running to provide food for everyone.  Will her parents ever accept her choices?

This book clearly falls into general fiction.  The only real mystery is how Emily will overcome what life is throwing at her next.  She does go through quite a bit as the story unfolds.  I’m not going to mention anything else specific since doing so would spoil the book.

However, as I read, I struggled to get into the story.  I’m not completely sure why.  It was obvious early on that the book wouldn’t have a mystery, which I suspected from reading the book’s description, and I’m usually able to adjust my expectations pretty easily when that happens.  I do enjoy historical fiction, so that wasn’t the issue either.

If I had to give the book a sub-genre, I’d call it a coming of age story, or possibly women’s fiction.  And I think that is part of my issue with the book.  There’s a reason I don’t tend to read those type of books – I don’t generally enjoy them.  So that is on me for picking up something I don’t normally enjoy.

The book covers a year in Emily’s life, and what a year it is.  Honestly, I think that was my other issue with the story – it tried to do too much.  If one of the things she had to deal with had been taken out of the book, and some of the others had been given time to be further developed, that might have helped me connect to the story more.  Instead, some of what Emily is going through is summarized so much that we don’t get to feel what she is going through as we are told things instead of being shown them.  I felt like I was being kept at arm’s length at times instead of invited into the story.  I did tear up a time or two, but I felt like I should have been more emotionally invested in the book.

I was compelled to keep reading because I enjoyed the characters so much.  Emily is a strong protagonist.  She meets quite a varied group of people over the course of the book, and they all come alive as well, sometimes in just a few pages.

And I was completely taken back in time as I read.  England in 1918 was facing some serious issues as the war wound down, and those are brought to the forefront.  We don’t think often enough of the sacrifices that were being made on the home front during these times of war, and this book does a great job of making us remember just how much everyone suffered during that time period.

So The Victory Garden isn’t a bad book, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Rhys’s other books.

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