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I had the pleasure of meeting another Eliza this week whom I think my Eliza would relate to as another independent minded woman of the early 1900s who works to help other women. Eliza Ferriday is one of the three main characters of Martha Hall Kelly’s newest historical fiction, Lost Roses, set during the build-up and ensuing years of WWI in New York, St. Petersburg and Paris, 1914 – 1921.
#amreading #bookreview #BookClub #historicalfiction #womenfiction
Kelly has employed an interesting timeline for her novels by taking us back in time with each release as a prequel, rather than moving forward with sequels. It’s an interesting approach and so far, it works well. I read Kelly’s NYT bestseller, Lilac Girls last summer where she first introduces the socially conscious women of the Ferriday family beginning with actress and philanthropist, Caroline Ferriday who is committed to helping Holocaust survivors. In Lost Roses, we learn the origins of Caroline’s commitment to helping others when we meet her mother, Eliza. Eliza works on behalf of the elite Russian families who fled Tsarist, imperial Russia while she also searches for her boarding-school friend, Sofya, a cousin to Tsar Nicholas II, who has also been forced to flee her home in Petrogard and slowly makes her way to Paris.
Once again, Kelly shares her characters with us in vivid detail. From Sofya’s angst and despair of living with her family as captives of the Red Army in their own home, to the delights and heartbreak Eliza endures at her homes in New York, Southampton and Connecticut, to the struggles the third character, a peasant girl, Varinka shares with her Mamak in their small country izba cabin, we understand each woman’s desire to live for themselves, and for the others around them. Despite the contrast in their backgrounds, the three women’s story becomes intertwined like a mass of rose bushes, complete with the stabbing pains of a thorn prick and the beauty found in the bloom of a multi-petaled flower.
Similar to Lilac Girls, Kelly also presents the ugly side of these historical events, especially the torture and killing at the hands of the Red Army. While these scenes can be difficult to read, they are part of history and Kelly doesn’t shy away from those realities. Those scenes are what makes her a talented storyteller.
I was fortunate to meet Martha Hall Kelly at an author event in May. She was comfortable in speaking and shared many details of her next book, which will be another prequel to travel back to the Civil War era and will present another Woolsey / Mitchell woman (Eliza’s maiden name) which includes Sunflowers in the title. Knowing this tidbit before I read Lost Roses allowed me to tune in to the additional hints dropped around the work of the Woolsey / Mitchell women throughout the pages of Lost Roses. I can’t recall if the same hints were dropped in Lilac Girls for Lost Roses – guess I need to re-read it now! Martha signed my copy and after telling her a quick overview of my Eliza’s story, she inscribed the front page for me.
Lilac Girls was Martha’s first novel. Prior to its publication, she had minimal writing experience which means she is a huge inspiration for me. Somehow she found an agent who “plucked her from the slush pile and insisted these stories needed to be told, and made it happen.” I hope this inscription is a good luck charm which will help me find an agent like Alexandra Machinist who will pluck my query from her inbox and decide the story of my Eliza and her friends needs to be told, too.
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