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on December 31, 2013
I've had good luck these past few months with some wonderful debut novels by some very promising authors. Jennifer Robson's first novel, Somewhere in France, keeps that streak alive and well. It is being touted in the promotional material as a book fans of Downton Abbey will love. I find that characterization a bit limiting. If you like good historical fiction with strong, able characters and an exciting, perilous setting with a believable love story thrown in for good measure, you will love Somewhere in France, even if you have yet to watch an episode of Downton. The only similarities between this novel and that series are the general time period, the Great War (which lasted less than a season in Downton time), and one character from an aristocratic background who yearns to make a contribution and decides to move beyond the role to which society has assigned her. That would be about it. Yes, the Downton allure may be a strong one, but this novel can stand (and sell) all on its own.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford has always felt like there should be more to her life than a debutante season and marriage shortly thereafter. As a young girl, she meets her brother Edward's school friend, Robbie Fraser, and she first reveals to him her desire for a stronger education. Robbie encourages her to pursue her dream. Years later, as war bears down on them, they meet again at a ton ball. Attracted to the woman Lilly has become, Robbie, now an accomplished surgeon, once again encourages her to follow her aspirations to do something worthwhile with her life.

What Robbie doesn't expect is for Lilly to volunteer as an ambulance driver and plunge herself into the turmoil and peril that is France and the Western Front during the Great War. Finding themselves in close proximity at the same Casualty Clearing Station, Robbie, now a field surgeon, must set aside his feelings and fear for Lilly if he is to do his job without distraction. Lilly, angry and confused, and constrained by the strict rules against fraternization, has no choice but to try to forget Robbie; ignore him as he has chosen to ignore her. Until the horrors of war touch them both, and everything changes.

Somewhere in France is a story as much or more about relationships and loyalty as it is about the changing mores of the time period in which it is written; Lilly and Edward; Edward and Robbie, Robbie and Lilly, their lives all circle around each other, against the ever present backdrop and horrors of war. Ms. Robson's secondary characters add a dimension to the story that reveals just how far Lilly has traveled from the persona of an earl's cossetted daughter. It's quite a transformation, and it's only one facet of the novel that grabs the reader's interest and doesn't let go.

I really hope the wait will not be long until Ms. Robson's second effort. Intelligently written, beautifully descriptive and fast-paced, Somewhere in France will appeal to Downton fans, but everyone who reads it, Downton fan or not, will love it. Highly recommend.

Review copy supplied by publisher.
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VINE VOICEon December 31, 2013
As I read this, I was reminded of Downton Abbey, most probably because I recently caught season one. But this heroine, Lily, so reminds me of Sybil. Now, remember, I've only watched season one, but I see in this book and in that season of DA, the tiniest little crack between aristocracy and "the working class".

During this time period, the Great War, that crack came to be. Aristocrats such as Lily wanted to make a difference, realized how trivial and silly and spoiled their lives were. Some wanted to work. Lily is expected to marry well and as the Dowager on DA would say, "You cannot have opinions until you are married. Once you are married, your husband will tell you what your opinions are!" Or something like that. That's the kind of family Lily comes from and she rebels and she joins the WAACs and becomes an ambulance driver in France.

Not many young ladies would leave a life of kept luxury and wealth to drive a lorry or ambulance in a muddy war zone. I really liked and admired Lily as I read. I enjoyed reading every bit of her experience as she steps over that crack, ditches her title, lives on pennies, works for a bus line, interviews with the WAACs, helps train her comrades, goes to France. I enjoyed every moment. I enjoyed watching her realize all she'd taken for granted, the way she'd appreciate a hot bath, a cup of tea.

And yes, she has a romance with her brother's best friend, a doctor. This was...okay. I liked him at times; didn't like him at others. I became a tad uncomfortable when they hooked up in the room her missing brother paid for. It felt to me a highly inappropriate time for that. It did not feel as though they were coming together in grief. I certainly think a telegram would have sufficed.

I even liked their letters to and from each other. I thought it quite cute when even though they were stationed at the same place, he wanted a letter from her, as they weren't allowed to speak. This was a sweet romance.

I have to say, however, there was an odd disconnect of sorts with the war itself. I kept thinking of what all an ambulance driver during that time would see, the soldiers she may accidentally bond with, the pain she may feel upon their passing, and yet, there were no side stories involving these men. We didn't meet or get to know any wounded, which is odd as this is a hospital.

I'd have appreciated some stories involving the patients and soldiers. Her brother was a character, but we learned so little of what he was facing. Just brief snippets.

But all in all, I feel this was a fine piece of historical fiction. It drew me into the time period, made me think, and honors the women who served as ambulance drivers during this "Great" War. It's a also a wonderfully strong heroine who knows what she wants and obtains it and believes in duty.
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on January 2, 2014
Lady Elizabeth Ashford wants to know what it feels like to fall in love. Tired of all the boring and stuffy suitors her mother finds suitable for her, she withdraws into the comfort of her brother's Edwards childhood friend, Robert Fraser. On the night of the ball she finds that after seven years of being away from one another and the games they spend time playing, they have both grown up quite a bit. She finds Robert charming and handsome but knows that her aristocratic parents will never let her marry a surgeon. They want her to marry and have children, but Lilly wants more out of life. She wants to travel and marry for love and not for money. She thinks Robert might just be the person she could fall in love with, if only her mother didn't intervene.

She learns after an unexpected quick departure that her mother had told Robert to forget setting his sights on Lilly. She was engaged to be married and they were only stalling on the announcement while waiting for the celebration of her brother Edward's wedding to die down. Her only ally is her brother Edward who truly wants to very best for his sister. However soon the war rears its ugly head and the men are thrust into battle in France during the Great War. Believing it will be over sooner than later, Edward takes up corresponding with his sister encouraging her to join in the effort to help. Knowing the campaigning for supplies to ship out is something more suited to her mother, she finds solace in learning to drive cars from one of the men in her families employ.

Yet once again Lilly is called out for her inappropriate behavior, first in corresponding with Edward and later Robert but in also taking up driving a car. Not the type of behavior for any lady. So Lilly does the unthinkable and moves out of her families home and influence and moves in with Charlotte Brown, a women who has tutored her as a young woman and now serves in the war helping out. She encourages Lilly to find something admirable to do. She moves to London and takes a newly formed position as an ambulance driver for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps or WAAC's since they need more men on the frontlines and she does know how to drive.

Soon love grows between her and Robert as they continue to correspond during the war and they find that just the simple letters are enough for them to get to know one another. Robert continues as a surgeon in the war now and tries as best as he can to reassure Lilly that the war will be over soon and even that her brother Edward faces no harm considering his deployment status as a Lord. However soon the war continues longer than expected and Lilly wants to know if there is hope with Robert and gets assigned as an Ambulance driver for the 51st, the same division that Robert works as a surgeon in. But all is not fair in love and war and it will take a miracle for Lilly and Robert to survive.

I received Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation for a favorable review and the opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. The love story and historical background are amazing and so beautifully put together. It reminded me of Downton Abbey a bit when the war entered the series and the youngest daughter left to be a nurse and learned to drive a car. In both instances the family believed the influence of the driver was at fault and had them dismissed. There are a few instances of profanity as Lilly encounters the military leaders who aren't used to having a female in the war but that is to be expected. There is the portion of the novel when Lilly and Robert meet at a hotel and end up making love with neither of them married. It may offend some readers and that is why I feel I should caution readers about the content. It was something that happened quite a bit during the war when people who fell in love didn't expect to see one another again. With that being said, I easily give this one a 4 out of 5 stars and can't wait to read more from Jennifer Robson in the future. Historical romance fans will definitely LOVE this one.
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on March 29, 2014
I like Historical Fiction, and although this takes place during the War it was not my cup of tea. I found myself skimming and wishing it was over, however, I did finish it. I read all the reviews and thank everyone that takes the time to wtrite one, but this time I can't go with the majority
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on August 9, 2014
I was very disappointed in this book, actually irritated. It had such promise. The writer is obviously gifted, but I feel she could have put her talents to better use. There was really no plot other than the romance, and no real doubt as to how things would turn out. Also lots of explicit sex, which I'd rather not read. I hope this excellent writer changes course.
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on January 4, 2014
It's so refreshing to find so many great books with strong female leads lately. Just like another novel I read recently, Lilly is just such a strong character. She's a woman who's not afraid to break away from all that's familiar to grow as an individual in very trying circumstances. I relished seeing her eagerness to try new things, her bravery in going into war torn France and experiencing all the horrors that entailed, and her steadfastness in sticking with her duty and to her guns when others tried to get her to a safer environment.

I really enjoyed how the author wasn't afraid to illustrate the horrors of WWI. She doesn't shy away from people going MIA in no-man's land, mind-numbing exhaustion of the medical staff, and the horrible wounds inflicted from bombs and shrapnel. The author shows how these war conditions impact all her characters, their relationships, and how they grow as individuals to astounding characterization effect. I felt like I experienced the timeframe and circumstances through the author's characters. Truly the mark of a great book.

My only gripe with this book is the light tone the ending took and how everything was wrapped up in a ribbon and sparkles. Everything was resolved with a saccharine resolution that I felt really contrasted with the rest of the novel, not to great effect. There were several scenes towards the end that were way to pate and eye-roll inducing, especially the cheering scene. These last few pages didn't jive with the rest of the book at all

In all, this book stands out. It's a lovely get away to another time, drawing you in with period details and characterization that astounds. Despite an ending that definitely doesn't stack up with the rest of the book, I still feel this book is a worthy investment of time and enjoyment. Definitely a nice introduction to this author.

Note: Book received for free through Goodreads Firstreads program in exchange for a honest review.
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on January 9, 2014
I enjoyed Somewhere in France. It isn't often that we get a woman's viewpoint of the war - a woman who is actually in the thick of it. The author shines a light on the emergency ambulance drivers who retrieved wounded soldiers at the front and brought them back to military doctors miles away. The main character is Lilly, an upperclass young woman wanting to prove (and genuinely wanting to be prove) that she is more than some wealthy man's daughter. Lilly is a likable character for this very reason. Her bravery and willing to risk it all when it is completely unnecessary makes the reader only hope that there were really people like her out there doing the war. Lilly's brother is Edward, and he too, yearns to break away from the confines of being the first born son in a well to do family. Edward is likable as well, and it seems highly improbable that the parents would raise 2 very courageous children. The novel is a love story within the confines of the dangers of war. The love interest is Robbie, and although he was a quieter character, he was easy to fall in love with. The book is easy to read and follow. I got through it quickly. Although I have read harsher accounts of the war, which really pull me into the story, I still enjoyed Somewhere in France. It seems to be that the story begs to be longer or have a second book following the fallout of the war. I encourage those who read this book to continue to the last page. Once Robson ends her novel, she does a Q & A with her father who is a German scholar. It is fascinating reading his interpretations of the war. I would recommend this novel to my friends who have an interest in history, specifically The Great War, and I would encourage the author to carry on with her writing. It seems that she has a wealth of information at her fingertips simply with the input of her father.
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VINE VOICEon April 21, 2014
This story centers around an Earl's daughter who wants to marry the man of her choice and to do her bit for her country. Her domineering mother thinks she knows best and won't allow it so daughter breaks with her family and goes off on her own to eventually find work as a ambulance driver in France. The time is the beginning of the First World War in England and the plot revolves around the coming war and the war years. This is a lively story once it got going, well told until there is a fairly graphic and many pages too long seduction scene - hence the 3 stars. I think the pages long "get together" didn't add to the story and it tried my patience. The heroine didn't ring true - inexperienced but knowing. I'd say give it a miss unless you are looking for the standard romance novel .
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on March 1, 2014
The time preceding WWI was the beginning of the End for the English Upper Class way of life. The War took a generation of England's finest young men and women were allowed to step out of their expected positions and make a difference. Lady Elizabeth is one of those young women who dared to dream of an education and being more than the mother of the next generation of noblemen. She has always had her brother Edward, Viscount Ashford, to encourage her and his good friend from University Robby, son of a dustman and a laundress who obtained his place by scholarship. Lily attempts to break free, but aside from a talented tutor, she has no skills and no desire for marrying anyone but Robbie. Her brother and Robbie both go to war: Robbie to a field hospital and Edward in the trenches with his men. Lily asks to stay in the country estate and her parents allow it. She talks their former driver who takes care of the vehicles to teach her to drive. He explains how the vehicles work and makes her learn everything including the lorries. She becomes very proficient but makes the mistake of being seen by an officious clergyman who writes her parents. She is called to London and that and the interception and reading of her letters from her tutor and Robbie have her parents telling her she is confined to her room and the driver is given two weeks notice to quit his home. His parents live with him and they too retired from service with the Earl and his father. Lily is so ashamed she packs her plainest clothes and her jewelry and take a taxi to her tutor's rooms. She sells her jewelry to buy a cottage for the displaced family and has to earn her own room and board.

Lily has never worked before but she works hard and becomes a ticket taker on the bus to free men to fight. Edward comes in for a few days at Christmas and tell her there is going to be a new Women's Army Corp. At last Lily has a chance to do something to help that matters. Robbie helps by providing a reference but when she goes in for her interview, they have found out that she is Lady Elizabeth and she thinks she is sunk. She points out that she has supported herself by her own earnings and is serious about doing her part to help. She is selected and trains for the motor division as an ambulance driver. Thanks to her excellent training she is the only one able to drive a lorry. The corporal who was supposed to train them tells them she is their new teacher and she finds pride and confidence in her abilities.

The war is going badly and they need to free men from driving ambulances so they are asked if they will volunteer to go over. She makes a good friend in Constance but is unable to share family stories because she is hiding her identity. Gradually the other girls accept her and a former trainee who went back to being an administrative assistant gets her and three friends assigned to Robbie's hospital to take patients from near the front to the tent hospital for surgery, to stabilize them or to let them die with someone holding their hand. Lily and Robbie cannot fraternize and their story goes back and forth as the tides of war continue. Then a footman from the estate recognizes her and outs her as Lady Elizabeth. Her friends quickly accept her after making her tell them about an upbringing they could only dream about but she has problems from some of the nurses. Edward is still in the front when the butler writes her a letter telling her that Edward is missing and presumed dead.

England's class system will never be the same and the middle class will not be kept down anymore. Can Robbie get over his fear of not being good enough for Lily to give them their HEA or will the war destroy them as it has so many families? Will Edward be found or is her only family to be gone forever? Will the girls, Lily and Robbie make it through this deadly war or will they die somewhere in France? This is a great read and you will leave with a real idea of WWI's horrors from three different views.
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on June 21, 2014
If you happen to like Harlequin romances, you might like this book. I found it very contrived and frankly unbelievable. Some of the terminology and situations simply didn't fit the times. It's always fun to read a love story, but puh-leese....
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