I am delighted to host a stop on a blog tour of a new release this week! Yes, it’s another book review, but this one is something a bit different, because a) there’s a raffle for a giveaway for British and American readers, and b) I’m pairing it with a recipe.
Today is November 6th. In less than a week, it will be Remembrance Day, when we commemorate the conclusion of the First World War and think about the brave men and women who lost their lives fighting for their countries. It is nearly a century since the armistice was signed, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, but the results of that war linger. In Canada, we wear poppies to remember the fields where soldiers lie buried in the mud of northern France and Belgium; school children still learn and recite John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields“; we reflect sadly that the Great War was not, indeed, the war to end all wars, and that our brothers and sisters still fight and die for their nations and their people, and we hope for the day when we will finally see a lasting peace.
Poppies are symbolic of the loss of the war because of their prevalence in the fields where slain soldiers were buried; their red blooms a cheery contrast to the terrible loss and devastation all around them. Ginger Monette’s World War I-based novel does not dwell on poppies, but death and devastation are the sad background to her story, a skillful combination of mystery and romance. From the rubble of ruined towns and ruined lives, in the midst of a field hospital where doctors and nurses work tirelessly to save lives and mourn those they are unable to save, two people find each other through the smoke and carnage.
Poppies are also the source of a wonderfully tasty seed that decorates and flavours pastries and other treats across Europe. Since this is primarily a food and cooking blog, I thought it would be interesting to find some recipe that reflects the location of the novel and the flower that has come to symbolize the Great War. Chatting with the author of this novel, I learned from her that English nurses working in field hospitals in the region would sometimes write home about the bun shops they found in the towns near their hospitals, and since bread is one of the delights of French cuisine, what could be better than a traditional brioche recipe? Add some poppy seeds, and it’s a perfect recipe to cook and nibble at while reading a fine story. Click here for the link to the recipe for Poppy Seed Brioche. But be warned: this bread is addictive!
Keep reading after the review itself for the link to the giveaway.
Now for the novel itself… here is my review.
Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette
Pride and Prejudice is, for me, the literary equivalent to J.S. Bach. As a musician, I have heard and played Bach’s music so many times over the years, I could not begin to enumerate them. I have performed his music on period instruments in the style of the late 1600s; I have performed his music on modern instruments, and on instruments that hadn’t been imagined when the great composer lived. I have heard Bach played on synthesizer and steel drums, hummed and vocalized by a capella choirs, and set to rock and roll rhythms with a beat box in the background. And it all works. His music transcends time and style, dependent only on the skill of the musician to bring the music to life.
Likewise Jane Austen’s classic. Variations set during the early nineteenth century in England work. Modern retellings work. Add some zombies, and amazingly, it still works. Her characters are iconic, her story, like Bach’s music, timeless. And here, it is the skill of the author that brings the tale to life, skill which Ginger Monette possesses in abundance. Her novel is carefully researched, beautifully written, and tells a lovely and timeless story.
Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes is a retelling set neither during the Regency period nor in modern day, but during the tumultuous years of the First World War. The elegant balls have been replaced by trenches, the grand estates literally overrun by the army to create field hospitals to treat wounded soldiers. The elegant gowns and dashing frockcoats have become nursing aprons and army uniforms, as often as not torn and coated in blood and mud. In the skillful hands of author Ginger Monette, these details only serve to highlight the relationship between the characters, bringing them into stark relief, and letting us see the beauty that can arise from the ashes of war.
Elizabeth Bennet sees her life falling apart as the war progresses. Her family is in tatters, her home destroyed, and her dreams of becoming a doctor in ruins. The blame for all of this she places squarely on the shoulders of Captain Darcy, whose mission to Longbourn she sees as the beginning of the disasters. Eventually, however, she finds new purpose as a Volunteer Aid Detachment nurse at a field hospital just behind the lines in northern France, all the while insisting to herself that she will never rely on a man for anything. As for Darcy, he has forsworn all sentimental attachments after seeing his men slaughtered on the battlefield. Sent on an unwanted intelligence mission, he finds himself back in the presence of the woman who spurned him and broke his heart. However, it could very be that Elizabeth herself is the traitor he is seeking!
The bulk of the story takes place after Darcy’s initial proposal of marriage, and traces the growth and changes in the characters as they are forced to work together. Ms. Monette sketches these changes with a deft hand, letting the characters grow naturally and organically, with startling epiphanies of insight interspersed with periods of reflection and change. The characters are real and vibrant and full of life. While a romance at heart, there is also a mystery to be solved in this novel. The various story lines, and the characters that drive them on, are nicely woven together, creating a rich and believable world in which the many actors play their roles. There is just enough suspense, just enough human drama, to keep us reading late into the night, waiting to see what will happen next. And romance. Of course, romance!
While Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty From Ashes is a complete story in itself, the mystery is not completely solved in this book. For that, we’ll have to wait till the release of the second volume, due to be published on January 1, 2017.
I’m not a fan of rating novels with numbers, since I feel that it’s unfair to reduce the sweep of a story and the lives of carefully constructed characters to numbers, but I most definitely enjoyed this one, and would heartily recommend it! (And it’s even better with a toasted slice of brioche… of course!)
Since this second instalment of the story takes place at Donwell Abbey, the details inspired by Downton Abbey, Ms. Monette is giving away some Downton Abbey tree ornaments! Check her website for details, and if the gods of the Internet smile upon me, you can enter the contest here:
Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes is available at Amazon, and check out this special bonus!