These are just two of the books I've read recently, in this case both from NetGalley. I'll be adding some more of these catch-up posts over the summer. Too many good books to ignore!
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Serafina is a most attractive heroine - despite growing up in isolation she's bright and bold and courageous, an excellent role model. Faced with the disappearance of a child on the Biltmore Estate where she lives, she overcomes her fears of the forest outside and learns much in the process. The Biltmore setting is splendid, I immediately wanted to know more about this iconic house and to explore its nooks and crannies further - I'd have loved this book if I'd read it as a child and am delighted to find there is already a sequel.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
I felt that this was a novel of two parts. The first part seemed like a successor to the Tilling of E.F. Benson, with its authors, a protagonist who wants to be a writer, its local busybodies... Part two got much more serious, as war becomes ever more imminent and the young men start to sign up for the Front. Belgian refugees arrive and the horrors of war start to bite. It seemed to me that the transition was a little uncomfortable, though perhaps that's reasonable and possibly intentional on the part of the author, reflecting the kind of shock that people must have felt at the disintegration of their cosy lives - it certainly makes this a novel hard to classify. I wanted to read it for its Tilling setting, since I'm a big fan of Benson, but felt at the end that it could equally have been set anywhere else along the English south coast, without losing anything. I gave it four stars on Goodreads, but perhaps if it had been possible to do so, I've have gone for 3.5 instead. I'd still recommend it though, with the reservations I've described.