Official Synopsis from Goodreads: From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.
As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.
When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.
As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1918 Devonshire, England
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Review: A sweet and calming read.
The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen is a standalone historical fiction novel set in England during the First World War. I’m a big fan of Rhys Bowen’s mystery series (Constable Evan Evans, the Royal Spyness Mysteries, and Molly Murphy), but I’ve gone back and forth with her standalone historical books. I loved In Farleigh Field, but really struggled with The Tuscan Child. I’m thrilled to say that I really enjoyed this read, The Victory Garden, and found it quite enchanting!
Our main character is Emily, a wealthy young woman who is at a crossroads. Her brother has been killed in the war, and she wants to do her part to support the cause, but is unsure of how exactly she wants to help and feels trapped at home. She ends up volunteering to be a Land Girl, and learns how to work on a farm so that the valuable crops can be harvested as most of the men are out fighting in the war. I’ve always been fascinated by the Land Girls, Victory Gardens, and herbal remedies, so I was quite excited to read this book, and it didn’t disappoint! I really felt I was there working on the farm with Emily, and struggling with her as she loses her fiancé and tries to find her way. Emily was plucky, and she was also a bit naïve, so sometimes I grew frustrated with her.
The synopsis, while not misleading, does basically spell out everything that happens in the book, and Emily doesn’t start to read the diaries about herbal remedies until about 63% through the book, and so I wish that the synopsis that is out there wasn’t quite so detailed as to the happenings of the book. There’s a predictability here, but it’s a good, comfortable predictable. This is a book that you can curl up in front of the fire with on a wintry day and be transported to WWI England.
In terms of the characters, I liked Emily, and I also liked her friends Alice and Daisy, whom she meets when she joins the Women’s Land Army. They were supportive and kind, and helped Emily when she needed them. I also enjoyed Lady Charlton, the imposing Lady who lives at one of the homes that Emily works at. Emily’s parents however I did not like at all! I thought they were quite horrid, and their treatment of Emily was terrible.
All in all, this is a good book with a solid story. The characters are (for the most part) likable and genuine, and there’s a comfort here and I very much enjoyed this! There are a few melodramatic moments, but it was overall quite enchanting!
Bottom Line: Sweet and predictable, but overall enchanting!