By Ekta R. Garg
May 29, 2019
Genre: Historical fiction
Release date: April 9, 2019
Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it! / 3.5 stars
Three women tied by their circumstances face personal challenges and the horrors of war. As each one fights her battle, their trials and goals bring them together and drive them apart. Author Martha Hall Kelly gives readers a prequel to her smash hit debut novel in the well-intentioned book Lost Roses.
In New York in 1914, Eliza Ferriday, daughter of a well-known physician mother and politician father, is sad and happy all the same time. Her dear friend, Sofya Streshnayva, will be leaving New York to go home to Russia soon, and Eliza knows she’ll miss her a great deal. Considering that she has her own trip planned for Russia, however, Eliza’s sadness is edged by excitement. Sofya’s family is related to the tsar of Russia, and Eliza can’t wait to attend the glittering parties and eat the delicate cuisine her friend’s family enjoys.
Sofya, too, can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to Eliza, so she’s not too put out when she goes into labor at the farewell party that the Ferridays have organized for her family. She delivers a healthy baby boy whom she names Max, and everyone—her younger sister, Luba, her husband, Eliza, and the rest of the family—instantly falls in love with him. She sees Max as a shining light in an ever-darkening world.
The Streshnayva family comes home to Russia only to face continual unrest. The commoners have become more vocal in their objections to the tsar’s refusal of their rights. Sofya’s father moves the family to their country estate in Malinov, hoping the home farther away from the city will offer more safety. Her husband, Afon, takes his place with the army to fight against the insurgents, and Sofya and Luba do all they can to indulge their stepmother while also complaining about her unreasonable expectations of what is and isn’t available in the country.
Not far away from the Streshnayva lives Varinka with her mother and Taras, the boy Varinka’s father took in before he died. Taras bullies Varinka and her mother, forcing them to do his bidding. When word comes that Finance Minister Streshnayva has come to stay in the country with his family, Taras sees the opportunity to further the cause of the peasants. Varinka just wants to work for the family, one step below royalty. She’s hired as a nursery maid and falls in love with Max just like everyone else has.
When the tsar loses power completely, all of Russian aristocracy collapses. Sofya’s family is captured and terrorized by Taras and his comrades. In the chaos, Varinka slips away with Max. Sofya knows she has to get Max back at any cost, but she’s lost contact with the outside world—including Eliza—and doesn’t know who to trust. Back in New York, Eliza has begun an organization to help Russian migrants by finding them homes and jobs. She hopes that her efforts will lead her back to Sofya so she can help her friend and her godson.
Author Martha Hall Kelly makes a connection to one of the key characters in her first novel, Lilac Girls, by going back a generation. In Lilac Girls, New York socialite Caroline Ferriday moved the story forward. In Hall’s latest book, Caroline’s mother Eliza plays a crucial role. By telling the stories of these incredible women, Hall gives readers worthy characters to cheer on.
In Lost Roses, she balances all three main characters by letting them tell their stories in first person. Although the method does create a sense of intimacy, at times readers might find the scenes blending from one character to the next. Some chapters stand out as distinct in their voices; others not so much.
The writing does sparkle in some places. For example, in one scene Eliza describes entering a building in the slums of New York on her mission to rescue someone who is sick. Eliza says:
“I followed her down a dark hallway to a windowless kitchen in which a gray stew pot steamed on a black iron stove, a rug below it so dirty and worn into the wood, as if being slowly digested by the floor.”
Hall’s diligent research into the time period grounds the story in reality, and the fact that she’s sharing the accounts of real women make her novels that much more endearing. The action in Lost Roses moves at a good pace, sometimes too good as the emotion of the characters struggles to keep up. In the end, however, readers will keep flipping pages to find out just how these characters resolve their problems. While a surprise at the end of the book about one of the three women feels a little forced, for the most part the three stories intertwine in an organic manner.
Those wanting to learn more about citizen heroes, particularly women, during wartime will probably enjoy this novel. For me, Lost Roses Borders on Bookmarking it.