Release Day Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

tuesday, february 12thAs 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.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

As every avid reader knows, there are characters you simply adore from the minute they make their appearance in a book.  For me, Emily Bryce is that character and I devoured her story in a single day.

At the tender age of twenty-one, Emily makes the bold and brave decision to defy her wealthy parents, leave the comfort of her posh country home for a life devoted to helping others.  As the Great War rages on, Emily longs to do her part for the war effort, to help those in need, and to ease the suffering of others.  While Emily is determined to make her own way and marry the man she loves, an Australian fighter pilot, her parents are determined to keep her at home or cut her off completely.  The depth of Emily’s devotion to her calling and her love are such that she willingly walks away from her safe and cozy life and walks right into the world of back-breaking labor, harsh conditions, and a heartbreak she never imagined possible. 

As a land girl, Emily learns the ins and outs of life on a farm and with her fellow land girls helps keep the community fed through their efforts.  The work is hard, the hours are long, but the skills are invaluable and will serve Emily for the rest of her life.  As it happens, Emily’s newfound skills take her into the home and employee of the most irascible Lady Charlton who not only takes Emily in, but helps her heal from the broken heart she has most recently suffered.  What’s more, Emily isn’t the only land girl to come to Lady Charlton’s quaint little village; with two of her best friends alongside her, Emily quickly becomes a part of the community and finds a family she never expected to have. 

The life Emily is carving out for herself isn’t at all easy, but it is hers and she’s proud of her confidence, her growing skills, and her ability to stand on her own two feet.  Unfortunately, not everyone is pleased with Emily’s presence and just as she’s becoming comfortable in her new world, it is once again upended and threatened.  With nothing to do but turn to her friends, Emily makes the best of yet another awful situation and prays she’ll come out standing on the other side.

The Bottom Line:  I simply couldn’t put this book down and read it cover to cover in a single day!  Emily Bryce is no simpering, spoiled brat with an attitude of entitlement, but a young woman who knows her mind, her heart, and her soul and is willing to stand and fight for all.  I rather admired Emily and her determination and that admiration only grew as her story unfolded.  From the moment she left the comfort of her family home, Emily faced tremendous heartbreak (more than once!), conditions quite unfamiliar to her based on her station in life, and a whole host of people she would have never been permitted to associate with in her former life.  With kindness, compassion, and shear determination, Emily proves herself at every level and earns the friendship and respect of the women she serves with and alongside.  While the first part of Emily’s story is certainly interesting, I found her time at the Charlton estate to be fascinating.  Despite all she has suffered, Emily blossoms at the Charlton estate and finds herself and her place in the world.  Her evolution is swift, but it is completely realistic and born out of necessity.  Another aspect of this read I very much appreciated is the support system that builds up around Emily; she and the other land girls are friends, confidantes, and trusted companions no matter the circumstances.  What’s more, this small group of women open their circle to include the other women of the community who, like them have given so much to the war effort.  At every level, this is a wonderfully written book that tells the story of fictional characters most assuredly based on real people.  I found everything about this book interesting and though it is sad for much of the read, there are moments of pure joy that carry you through the sadness.  Just as moments of pure joy most assuredly carried the women in Emily’s world through their own moments of sadness.

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Paperback

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