Tag Archives: WWI

Mini-Book Review — The Brilliance of Stars

27 Feb

My book club’s selection this month is The Brilliance of Stars by J’Nell Ciesielski. I had heard quite a bit of positive chatter about this historical novel set in the WWI-era and featuring spies and was anxious to read it. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It is a very well-written novel that started out strong with me. Two teenaged orphans stumble upon a nefarious Russian plot and are swept into a secret organization with roots in early American history. Charged with clandestine activities that serve American interests, yet unsanctioned by any government, Talon is a wonderful creation filled with clever and skilled spies honed to wreak havoc in the name of good. So far so good. History, suspense, and a sizzling romance made me want to read more. But . . . the deeper into the book I got the weirder and more implausible the story became. At least that’s my opinion. I am the first to say that a reader must suspend disbelief, but I had a hard time believing what I was reading. The book takes the reader on an adventure from Washington, D. C. to Russia in the throes of revolution to the remote wilds of Romania. The bad guys are very very bad (creepy/evil is a good term too) and the good guys do things (assassinations, bombings, etc.) in the name of good. Themes such as abandonment and self-worth fill the pages. Like I said, a lot of people have loved this book. I’m just not one of them. There is a big cliffhanger at the end which may persuade me to read the sequel. I’ll have to think on that a bit.

Audience: Adults.

(I purchased this book from Amazon. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Amid the chaos of the Great War, two elite assassins learn precisely how dangerous it is to have something—or someone—worth losing.

Washington, DC, 1914. Ivy Olwen knows how to survive on the streets without two coins to rub together. Then destiny thrusts her into the nest of a covert agency of assassins sworn to drive back the world’s darkness, and she acquires a new set of lethal skills. Her education—from explosives to etiquette, sharpshooting to sabotage—is as far reaching as the organization’s missions. But it’s the hours she spends among the towering bookshelves in the library and stargazing on the roof with Agent Jack Vale that make her heart fly.

Jack knew plenty of hardship before the agency refined his rough edges, transforming him into the man who never misses. But he didn’t know the feeling of home until Ivy entered his world. Now Jack’s heart drums with a singular purpose: he will fight for her, fight alongside her. No matter the cost.

When the pair is sent on a seemingly simple mission to take down Russia’s newest and most dangerous arms dealer—a soulless man using the Great War as an opportunity to further his own depraved agenda—they discover that no amount of training could have prepared them for a manhunt that takes them across the frozen tundra, to the Crimean Peninsula, and along the Trans-Siberian Railway . . . only to discover that there is evil in the world they will never understand.

The first book of an epic duology from bestselling author J’nell Ciesielski, The Brilliance of Stars incorporates her signature blend of thrilling adventure, glamorous espionage, and sweeping romance.

Bestselling author and with a passion for heart-stopping adventure and sweeping love stories, J’nell Ciesielski weaves fresh takes into romances of times gone by. When not creating dashing heroes and daring heroines, she can be found dreaming of Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. She is a Florida native who now lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and lazy beagle. Learn more at http://www.jnellciesielski.com.

February Book Club Selection — The Brilliance of Stars

1 Feb

I am so looking forward to reading The Brilliance of Stars by J’nell Ciesielski. An historical novel with lots of intrigue and suspense plus romance? My book club is going to love it! Have you read it? We would love to know your thoughts.

Amid the chaos of the Great War, two elite assassins learn precisely how dangerous it is to have something—or someone—worth losing.

Washington, DC, 1914. Ivy Olwen knows how to survive on the streets without two coins to rub together. Then destiny thrusts her into the nest of a covert agency of assassins sworn to drive back the world’s darkness, and she acquires a new set of lethal skills. Her education—from explosives to etiquette, sharpshooting to sabotage—is as far reaching as the organization’s missions. But it’s the hours she spends among the towering bookshelves in the library and stargazing on the roof with Agent Jack Vale that make her heart fly.

Jack knew plenty of hardship before the agency refined his rough edges, transforming him into the man who never misses. But he didn’t know the feeling of home until Ivy entered his world. Now Jack’s heart drums with a singular purpose: he will fight for her, fight alongside her. No matter the cost.

When the pair is sent on a seemingly simple mission to take down Russia’s newest and most dangerous arms dealer—a soulless man using the Great War as an opportunity to further his own depraved agenda—they discover that no amount of training could have prepared them for a manhunt that takes them across the frozen tundra, to the Crimean Peninsula, and along the Trans-Siberian Railway . . . only to discover that there is evil in the world they will never understand.

The first book of an epic duology from bestselling author J’nell Ciesielski, The Brilliance of Stars incorporates her signature blend of thrilling adventure, glamorous espionage, and sweeping romance.

Bestselling author and with a passion for heart-stopping adventure and sweeping love stories, J’nell Ciesielski weaves fresh takes into romances of times gone by. When not creating dashing heroes and daring heroines, she can be found dreaming of Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. She is a Florida native who now lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and lazy beagle. Learn more at http://www.jnellciesielski.com.

Top 10 Tuesday — Top Anticipated Books From New-To-Me Authors

10 Jan

Happy Tuesday! I was a bit stumped with today’s TTT prompt. Not that I don’t have plenty of books that I am anticipating. But I have already covered this topic in some form or fashion in the past month or so. I don’t want to bore everyone by repeating myself again and again. So I decided to look for books that are from new-to-me authors, those whose books I have yet to read for one reason or another, but that I need to read if you know what I mean! Some are upcoming releases; some have been in the book world for a little while. Some are from never before discovered authors; others from authors I know I need to read. I was astounded by the book choices that now populate my gargantuan TBR list. Help me now!

For more bloggers’ anticipatory lists, go to That Artsy Reader Girl.

Top Anticipated Books from New-To-Me Authors

The Antiquity Affair by Lee Kelly and Jennifer Thorne

Two estranged sisters must band together to solve a puzzle three millennia in the making in this female-heroine take on Indiana Jones.

1907: The dawn of Egyptology is a time of imperialism and plunder, opulence and unrest, and Dr. Warren Ford, esteemed archaeologist, is the man of the hour. His daughters—prim intellectual Lila, on the eve of her debut as a Manhattan socialite, and doting nonconformist Tess, who dreams of following in his footsteps—have always lived their lives in the shadow of their famous father’s exploits. But when a secretive organization becomes intent on finding a lost artifact legendary for its dangerous power, it isn’t Dr. Ford they turn their sights on—it’s his two remarkable daughters.

Tess and Lila called themselves The Fearless Fords in their childhood, dreaming of daring international adventures together, but the sisters have barely spoken for years. Presented now with a grand adventure and a puzzle that will require all their wits, the two women face a choice. Will they follow the clues fast enough to win the ultimate prize? Or will they prove clever enough to change the game entirely?

The Antiquity Affair is a high stakes trans-Atlantic thrill ride, with the page-turning excitement and romance of classic adventure novels and a poignant story of sisterhood at its core—all the messy and beautiful truths of what it means to be family.

Bastille Day by Gregory Garrett

Veteran TV journalist Calvin Jones travels to Paris, where he negotiates love, friendship, and despair in award-winning novelist Greg Garrett’s Bastille Day.

With brilliant pacing and gorgeous prose, acclaimed novelist Greg Garrett tells the story of American TV journalist Calvin Jones, who travels to Paris to work with a producer friend he knows from their dark days covering the war in Iraq.

Cal Jones has had a quiet ten years, by design. After surviving the loss of two people he loved in the Iraq war, which he covered as a national correspondent, he fell apart and retreated to a local news job in Texas. Cal is still wrestling with those old demons when he goes to Paris to work with an old friend and encounters Nadia, a brilliant, lovely, and sad Saudi Muslim woman in Paris with plans to wed a Saudi sheikh in a family-arranged marriage.

Against his own better judgment, Cal falls for Nadia, even dragging her from the Seine when she attempts to solve her insoluble problem by taking her own life. He begins to risk a heart he thought was too badly broken to ever love again, and as the wedding ticks closer, to hope that perhaps Nadia can make a choice that includes him. Then their time rescuing each other is interrupted by the terror attack in Nice, which Cal is called out to cover. Back in that setting, Cal is thrown back into the memories of senseless violence and extremism that shattered him in Iraq—and that threaten to shatter him and his hopes now.

Garrett’s characters wrestle with the ghosts of their pasts, as they long for love, friendship, and faith in the present. Bastille Day is a gloriously-affecting novel about how our histories can damage us, but hope can heal us.

Beneath His Silence by Hannah Linder

Will Seeking Justice Lead to Her Own Demise?
 
A Gothic-Style Regency Romance from a Promising Young Author
 
Second daughter of a baron—and a little on the mischievous side—Ella Pemberton is no governess. But the pretense is a necessity if she ever wishes to get inside of Wyckhorn Manor and attain the truth. Exposing the man who killed her sister is all that matters.
 
Lord Sedgewick knows there’s blood on his hands. Lies have been conceived, then more lies, but the price of truth would be too great. All he has left now is his son—and his hatred. Yet as the charming governess invades his home, his safe cocoon of bitterness begins to tear away.
 
Could Ella, despite the lingering questions of his guilt, fall in love with such a man? Or is she falling prey to him—just as her dead sister?

Bless Your Heart, Rae Sutton by Susannah Lewis

Sometimes what your life is missing is an eccentric group of older ladies to take you under their wing?.?.?. 

When Rae Sutton’s mama passes away and leaves her the house where she grew up, Rae can’t imagine how the little old place might restore her broken life. Mourning the recent loss of her marriage, she takes the house and settles back into her tiny hometown with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Molly Margaret, and their overweight dog. 

There she’s embraced by her mother’s close-knit circle of friends, the Third Thursday ladies. Though almost half their age and far less confident of positive outcomes, Rae joins their ministry-slash-book-club-slash-gossip circle and allows the women to speak wry honesty and witty humor into her tired heart. As a new career and a new romance bring their own complications, Rae relies on the unlikely family she’s found and begins to wonder if her future holds more hope than she ever could have imagined. 

The Call of The Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh

The Call of the Wrens introduces the little-known story of the daring women who rode through war-torn Europe carrying secrets on their shoulders.

An orphan who spent her youth without a true home, Marion Hoxton found in the Great War something other than destruction. She discovered a chance to belong. As a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service—the Wrens—Marion gained sisters. She found purpose in her work as a motorcycle dispatch rider assigned to train and deliver carrier pigeons to the front line. And despite the constant threat of danger, she and her childhood friend Eddie began to dream of a future together. Until the battle that changed everything.

Now twenty years later, another war has broken out across Europe, calling Marion to return to the fight. Meanwhile others, like twenty-year-old society girl Evelyn Fairchild, hear the call for the first time. For Evelyn, serving in the war is a way to prove herself after a childhood fraught with surgeries and limitations from a disability. The re-formation of the Wrens as World War II rages is the perfect opportunity to make a difference in the world at seventy miles per hour.

Told in alternating narratives that converge in a single life-changing moment, The Call of the Wrens is a vivid, emotional saga of love, secrets, and resilience—and the knowledge that the future will always belong to the brave souls who fight for it.

A Cry in The Dark by Jessica Patch

Deep in the Kentucky hills, three women have been found brutalized and murdered.
But the folks in Night Holler have their own ways and their own laws.
And they’re not talking…

Led to an isolated Appalachian Mountain town by a trail of disturbing murders, FBI special agent Violet Rainwater’s determined to catch a serial killer with a twisted agenda. With locals refusing to reveal their secrets, Violet’s only ally is Detective John Orlando. But even John has an ulterior motive—he’s convinced this case is connected to his wife’s murder. 

As they dig deeper, Violet uncovers a link to her own unresolved past. For years she’s worked the cold case of her mother’s abduction, which had led to her birth. The need to look into the eyes of the sinful man who fathered her consumes Violet. Until she can, she’ll never have peace. Because she’s terrified she might be exactly like him.

In this chilling novel, when the present collides with Violet’s mysterious past and John’s tragic loss, they must unravel the warped, sinuous connections before the killer strikes again. But solving the case might not be nearly as terrifying as the possibility that Violet’s finally found her roots…

Hardly Any Shooting Stars Left by B. K. Froman

A captivating tale of humor and mystery by an award-winning author.

After her father’s death, a creative, free-spirited young woman plans to leave her Oregon ranch and hometown of busybodies. But she didn’t count on a corpse in her shop—or murder. Forced to create friendships with strange, crabby, or too-helpful neighbors, she must face a murder charge and confront aching childhood memories in a town and a life stuck in the past.

Lexi DePriest has always been a loner with a sharp wit and lack of concern about fitting in. If she could quickly sell the family ranch—her father’s life’s work—she’d get out of the Oregon valley, but life has never been easy.

When her crackpot neighbor shoots the drone she uses to check fences and cattle, a battle begins. Nosy eyes in the tiny community are watching, some malevolent—and dangerously nearby.

With no explanation,a man is found murdered in her shop, and the trust she’s built in herself and with a few townsfolk unravels. It takes a crabby school secretary and a Scottish welder to secretly examine murder suspects. The investigation gives her a rare choice to fit in to the home where she’s always lived—but will she choose community, family, or herself?

Indigo Isle by T. I. Lowe

“Storms show up and there ain’t a thing we can do to stop them.”

Sonny Bates left South Carolina fifteen years ago and never looked back. Now she’s a successful Hollywood location scout who travels the world, finding perfect places for movie shoots. Home is wherever she lands, and between her busy schedule and dealing with her boss’s demands, she has little time to think about the past . . . until her latest gig lands her a stone’s throw from everything she left behind.

Searching off the coast of Charleston for a secluded site to film a key scene, Sonny wanders onto a private barrier island and encounters its reclusive owner, known by locals as the Monster of Indigo Isle. What she finds is a man much more complex than the myth.

Once a successful New York attorney, Hudson Renfrow’s grief has exiled him to his island for several years. He spends his days alone, tending his fields of indigo, then making indigo dye―and he has no interest in serving the intrusive needs of a film company or yielding to Sonny’s determined curiosity. But when a hurricane makes landfall on the Carolina coast, stranding them together, an unlikely friendship forms between the two damaged souls. Soon the gruff exterior Hudson has long hidden behind crumbles―exposing the tender part of him that’s desperate for forgiveness and a second chance.

A story of hanging on and letting go, of redemption and reconciliation, and of a love that heals the deepest wounds, from the author of the breakout Southern fiction bestseller Under the Magnolias.

The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell by Kelly Flanagan

Elijah Campbell is on the verge of losing his writing career, his faith, and his marriage when a recurring childhood nightmare drives him back to his hometown, Bradford’s Ferry. There, his encounters with loved ones both past and present shed light on the reason his wife left him—and the meaning of his nightmare. However, beyond the light he begins to glimpse something even more terrifying—a decision he must make either to continue hiding the secrets of his past or unhide the only thing that can save his marriage: himself.

In psychologist Kelly Flanagan’s nonfiction works (Loveable, True Companions), he drew from clinical insight to explore the spiritual depths of identity and relationships. Now, in this debut novel, he weaves a compelling and plot-twisting tale that brings new life to those insights, along with fresh revelations about personal growth, spiritual transformation, and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.

If You Liked . . . As Dawn Breaks

28 Feb

Feedback is showing that my book club really liked As Dawn Breaks by Kate Breslin. We will be discussing it next week (Covid caused some delay with our schedule, but we are back!) This WWI-era novel has a lot for us to talk about — historical details, espionage, munitions, women’s roles in that time — good stuff! If you were a fan of this book too, I have some more recommendations. One is another novel by Kate Breslin — she has several set during WWI so any of hers are a good choice. I hope you find a book that piques your interest.

The Warfront And Spies

The Far Side of The Sea by Kate Breslin

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life — a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield. 

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives.

An Unusual Role for A Woman in 1916

Harbor Secrets by Melody Carlson

It’s 1916 when newspaper woman Anna McDowell learns her estranged father has suffered a stroke. Deciding it’s time to repair bridges, Anna packs up her precocious adolescent daughter and heads for her hometown in Sunset Cove, Oregon.

Although much has changed since the turn of the century, some things haven’t. Anna finds the staff of her father’s paper not exactly eager to welcome a woman into the editor-in-chief role, but her father insists he wants her at the helm. Anna is quickly pulled into the charming town and her new position…but just as quickly learns this seaside getaway harbors some dark and dangerous secrets.

With Oregon’s new statewide prohibition in effect, crime has crept along the seacoast and invaded even idyllic Sunset Cove. Anna only meant to get to know her father again over the summer, but instead she finds herself rooting out the biggest story the town has ever seen—and trying to keep her daughter safe from it all.

More Spies!

The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White

Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network–field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren’t enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by an enemy who just won’t give up. He’s smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart?

Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves from the very secrets that brought them together.

First Line Friday — As Dawn Breaks

28 Jan

February is almost upon us! Can you believe it? I am already reading upcoming book club selections. By The Book will discuss As Dawn Breaks by Kate Breslin. Have you read this book yet? I’d love to pass on your thoughts. By the way, I love this cover!

Now for the first line:

Only by searching the bowels of hell would he find the devil.

Her daring bid for freedom could be her greatest undoing.

Amid the Great War in 1918 England, munitions worker Rosalind Graham is desperate to escape the arranged marriage being forced on her by her ruthless guardian and instead follow her own course. When the Chilwell factory explodes, killing hundreds of unidentified workers, Rose realizes the world believes she perished in the disaster. Seizing the chance to escape, she risks all and assumes a new identity, taking a supervisory position in Gretna, Scotland, as Miss Tilly Lockhart.

RAF Captain Alex Baird is returning home to Gretna on a secret mission to uncover the saboteur suspected in the Chilwell explosion, as Gretna’s factory is likely next. Fearing for his family’s safety, he’s also haunted by guilt after failing to protect his brother. Alex is surprised to discover a young woman, Miss Lockhart, renting his boyhood room, but the two eventually bond over their mutual affection for his family–until Alex receives orders to surveil her.

Rose squirms beneath Alex’s scrutiny while she struggles to gain her workers’ respect. But when her deception turns to danger, she and Alex must find a way to put their painful pasts behind them and together try to safeguard the future.

If You Liked . . . Last Christmas in Paris

30 Dec

My book club really liked Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. The novel was set in WWI and told almost exclusively through letters between the characters. It was complex, yet unputdownable. If you liked it too, here are more recommendations.

An Epistolary-ish novel — The London House by Katherine Reay

Uncovering a dark family secret sends one woman through the history of Britain’s World War II spy network and glamorous 1930s Paris to save her family’s reputation.

Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.

Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.

Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.

In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.

WWI-Era Novel — The Far Side of The Sea by Kate Breslin

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life–a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield. 

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

Set at Christmas, But Not Really A Christmas Book — Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher

Elfrida Phipps, once of London’s stage, moved to the English village of Dibton in hopes of making a new life for herself. Gradually she settled into the comfortable familiarity of village life — shopkeepers knowing her tastes, neighbors calling her by name — still she finds herself lonely. 

Oscar Blundell gave up his life as a musician in order to marry Gloria. They have a beautiful daughter, Francesca, and it is only because of their little girl that Oscar views his sacrificed career as worthwhile. 

Carrie returns from Australia at the end of an ill-fated affair with a married man to find her mother and aunt sharing a home and squabbling endlessly. With Christmas approaching, Carrie agrees to look after her aunt’s awkward and quiet teenage daughter, Lucy, so that her mother might enjoy a romantic fling in America.

Sam Howard is trying to pull his life back together after his wife has left him for another. He is without home and without roots, all he has is his job. Business takes him to northern Scotland, where he falls in love with the lush, craggy landscape and set his sights on a house.

It is the strange rippling effects of a tragedy that will bring these five characters together in a large, neglected estate house near the Scottish fishing town of Creagan. 

It is in this house, on the shortest day of the year, that the lives of five people will come together and be forever changed. Rosamunde Pilcher’s long-awaited return to the page will warm the hearts of readers both old and new. Winter Solstice is a novel of love, loyalty and rebirth.

After The Great War — As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters – Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa – a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

Top 10 Tuesday — Winter TBR

14 Dec

I have scaled back my reading a bit in the past 2 years, due both to design and circumstances. My 2021 reading goal is 100 books. With 18 days left, my list stands at 90. I don’t think I am going to make it. 😉 Oh, well — life! Even with reduced time to read, I still plan to read some really great books. Today’s TTT list includes a variety of genres, which I like. I enjoy mixing it up a bit. I hope you find a book to love too!

To find out what other bloggers are reading this winter, check out That Artsy Reader Girl.

Top 10 Books on The Winter TBR

After She Falls by Carmen Schober

As Dawn Breaks by Kate Breslin

The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy

A Heart Adrift by Laura Frantz

A Light on The Hill by Connilyn Cossette

Saving Mrs. Roosevelt by Candice Sue Patterson

Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen

The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

Sunrise by Susan May Warren

Audiobook Mini-Review: Last Christmas in Paris

9 Dec

My book club chose a book with a little meat this month. We usually choose a light and often romantic Christmas novella for our December selection. This year our group wanted a little more. Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb was the perfect choice. This WWI-era epistolary novel tug at the heartstrings, taught us things about the era, and gave us a lot to think about — highly recommended!

An unforgettably romantic novel that spans four Christmases (1914-1918), Last Christmas in Paris explores the ruins of war, the strength of love, and the enduring hope of the Christmas season.

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently… 

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author. Her 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME won the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards, and THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER was shortlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award. LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award, and their latest collaboration, MEET ME IN MONACO, was shortlisted for the 2020 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Hazel’s most recent novel, THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE, set in China during WW2, is out now.

Hazel was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015 and her work has been translated into fourteen languages and published in twenty countries to date. She is co-founder of creative writing events The Inspiration Project, and lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. In 2019, Meet Me in Monaco was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Goldsboro RNA award in the UK, as well as the Digital Book World’s Fiction prize. To date, Heather’s books have been translated to fifteen languages. Up and coming, her next solo novel, THE NEXT SHIP HOME, is inspired by true events and reveals the dark secrets of Ellis Island as two unlikely friends challenge a corrupt system, altering their fate and the lives of the immigrants that come after them, out in Feb 2022. 

My Impressions:

I chose the audiobook version of Last Christmas in Paris, as I often do for my book club selections. An epistolary novel, the audiobook had the advantage of numerous narrators to give voice to the characters. While my book club really liked the format of the novel, some of them struggled at first with keeping straight in their minds just who the letters were from. They admitted, though, it did not take long to become swept up in the story. The book focuses on the years of WWI and is set on the homefront of England and in the trenches and hospitals of France and Belgium. As can be expected the letters begin with all the optimism and enthusiasm of their youthful writers. It soon becomes apparent that the war will not be over quickly, and the letters take on a more sombre and serious tone — the characters are growing up. Evie and Thomas are the main letter writers, and their relationship grew in wonderful ways. My book club members remarked on the lost art of letter writing in today’s texting world. I loved how the authors combined the mundane life back in England ( the lost Christmas goose) and the realties of war in Europe (a Christmas Day truce with both British and German soldiers meeting in no-man’s land). The novel is at turns sweet and romantic and heartbreaking. One member stated she had a hard time reading the book because she cried so much! I didn’t cry, but found the book very moving and one that will last with me a long time.

Last Christmas in Paris was a different sort of book for my book club this December, but one we really enjoyed. It created a great discussion along numerous lines. I highly recommend it.

Highly Recommended.

Audience: Adults.

(I purchased both the paperback from Amazon and the audiobook from Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

December Book Club Pick — Last Christmas in Paris

2 Dec

My book club usually reads a Christmas novella in December, but we wanted a little more meat, if you know what I mean. This year we chose Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Web. Told through letters and set during WWI, this could be a challenging book for the busy holiday season. I listened to the audiobook, which had multiple narrators, and it was fantastic! I’m looking forward to discussing the novel early next week. Won’t you read it with us? Here’s the link to our FB group. All the other details below.

An unforgettably romantic novel that spans four Christmases (1914-1918), Last Christmas in Paris explores the ruins of war, the strength of love, and the enduring hope of the Christmas season.

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently… 

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author. Her 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME won the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards, and THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER was shortlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award. LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award, and their latest collaboration, MEET ME IN MONACO, was shortlisted for the 2020 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Hazel’s most recent novel, THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE, set in China during WW2, is out now.

Hazel was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015 and her work has been translated into fourteen languages and published in twenty countries to date. She is co-founder of creative writing events The Inspiration Project, and lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. In 2019, Meet Me in Monaco was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Goldsboro RNA award in the UK, as well as the Digital Book World’s Fiction prize. To date, Heather’s books have been translated to fifteen languages. Up and coming, her next solo novel, THE NEXT SHIP HOME, is inspired by true events and reveals the dark secrets of Ellis Island as two unlikely friends challenge a corrupt system, altering their fate and the lives of the immigrants that come after them, out in Feb 2022. 

Book Review And Author Interview — In The Shadow of Your Wings

18 Oct

Please welcome JP Robinson, author of the WWI-era trilogy, Northshire Heritage. JP shares a little about his writing journey, process, and the books in this series. I read book 1, In The Shadow of Your Wings, and my thoughts on that book are below.

Many authors say that they have always been a writer — making up stories as a child. When did you first become a writer?

There’s a lot of truth to this. I began writing in high school for our school paper then went on to become a freelance journalist for a newspaper in New York. That was my first experience with professional writing and I LOVED it. Meeting people and capturing their stories and emotions was something that I loved doing. So it set the stage for internships while I earned my degree in English and French, ultimately leading me to where I am now.

Was there a special someone, such as a teacher, parent, or other relative, who encouraged you to pursue writing?

Absolutely. I remember my English teacher, Mrs. Gravino, standing outside her classroom and telling me to write to change the world. I think it was so meaningful because I was the minority in many ways. I was one of probably three Black students, I was new, I’d been homeless for several years, and I was a firm Christian in a very secular New York high school.

While all this was going on my mom was battling cancer while my dad tried to find a way to get us all together again. So this one teacher was kind of the anchor point in a very turbulent part of my life. Her encouragement really gave me the clarity I needed.

Why did you choose the historical fiction genre?

Historical fiction has been something I’ve loved to read all my life. I’m an amateur historian of European civilization and have taught western civilization as part of my curriculum. So, when I started writing fiction, I naturally gravitated toward bygone times of heroes, empires, and the ordinary people who quietly shaped history.

Were there any obstacles you faced in your journey to publication? 5. What types of research do you pursue? Books, on-site visits, etc.

This is a great, and in-depth, question.On average I spend more than 100 hours of research per book. Research for me involves poring of digital copies of newspaper clippings, books, of course the internet, drawing from experts in the field and on-site visits when possible. If I can’t get there physically, Google maps and images from the time period I’m writing about often help me develop an accurate picture.

For example, I currently working on a project centering around a Black family in Nazi Germany. I was recently in Cologne, Germany and used the data from that trip to build a realistic–and accurate–setting. But my protagonist was walking from one location to another and I used Google maps to determine if that would be possible while keeping in mind that the story is set in the 1930s and some of the streets now weren’t around then.

So it’s a lot of data correlation laced with some imagination.

What does a typical writing day look like? Are you structured or informal in your writing schedule?

Great question. Pre-COVID our kids were in school and I had a lot more time to do my day-job (I’m a former teacher) and still get in a few hours writing. We’ve made the transition to homeschooling our kids and I confess that the shift has slowed down my productivity. Still, I’m able to clock 1-2 hours per day in the evenings. 🙂

Can you tell us a little about what inspired your latest novel.

I’d be glad to. The Northshire Heritage trilogy was inspired by a sermon called The Fundamental Foundation for Faith preached in the 1950s, I think, by a minister named William Branham. He’s passed on now but in one of his recorded sermons, he was talking about the Fall and redemption. That sparked a thought in my mind, a comparison between the Father in Genesis 3 and the father presented in Jesus Christ’s parable of the prodigal son.

I know, it might sound strange because the novel centers around espionage, politics, and a brutal war, but tightly woven throughout are references to these two pivotal moments in which God expresses different parts of His divine nature and plan.

After writing all three books, I truly felt like I had a deeper appreciation of what God went through to save the world. As a father of three myself, the content also resonated with me.

What do you want your readers to take away with them after finishing one of your novels?

There are a lot of themes packed into Northshire: forgiveness, redemption, enduring love in marriage when things don’t go as you’d like… But I think I’d spotlight the theme of the overcoming power of faith.

One of the characters loses her child (spoiler alert) and her response is a tribute to my sister and her husband, whose baby died on Father’s Day a few years back. I saw their faith bring them through a crisis, made worse by the date Elisha died and by the fact that they’d been testifying, as Christians, that God would bring their baby through.

Well, he died in my sister’s arms, and still their faith held them in that moment of tragedy. Northshire captures that theme, reminding readers that no matter how bad things may be in our world or in our life, faith in God is its own source of strength.

Readers always want to know what is next for an author. Do you have any works in progress you can share about?

Right now I’m neck-deep in a totally different style project that focuses on minority characters. I’m Black but so far I’ve enjoyed challenging myself to write books that center around ethnicities and cultures that are different than my own. And, to a certain extent, I’m doing that again here as the European Black experience is a bit different (in some ways) than the Black experience of the Caribbean which is where I’m from.

This is a slice of history that very few people know about and I’m SO excited to be meeting with experts in Europe, collaborating with museum directors etc, to create an authentic and compelling piece.

Like most of my books this one includes spies, romance, political games set in the Rhineland against the backdrop of Hitler’s rise, and a Black family that is at the center of it all.

All that to say, I have to have the first draft done in forty-five days (yikes!) and,if all goes well, I hope to see it on the shelves in 2023.

Thanks JP for sharing with my readers!

She’s a spy in love with the enemy. 
Leila Durand, an elite German spy charged with infiltrating the home of British icon Thomas Steele, hopes to use the war to move beyond the pain of her shattered past. But everything changes when she falls in love with Thomas’s son, Malcolm. Is there a way to reconcile her love for Germany and her love for the enemy? 

He’s a son who wants to break free. 
Malcolm, wealthy heir to Northshire Estate, wants nothing more than to be free of his father’s rules. When Thomas becomes too judgmental, Malcolm makes a choice that threatens to bring the Allied world to its knees.

In the Shadow of Your Wings presents inescapable truth that resonates across the past century. Then as now, the struggle for faith is real. Then as now, there is a refuge for all who come beneath the shadow of God’s wings.

My Impressions:

In The Shadow of Your Wings is an historical novel set in England, France, and Germany during WWI. An intense read with very realistic details of the ugly stuff of war — zeppelin attacks, trench warfare, and the effects of Germany’s poisonous gas weapons — this book also deals with the ugliness and beauty of the human soul. The contrast between the many characters, both historic figures and fictional, is stark. Spies determined to devastate their enemy’s defenses, scientists with personal glory as their goals, and those who depend only on self populate the pages of this book. But there are also those who rely on God, even in the most unimaginable circumstances. I’m not sure enjoyment would be a good word for my reading experience, but I will say the fight between good and evil as detailed in the book was intriguing and got me thinking. The complex structure of the book involves multiple story lines — the list of characters and their relationships at the beginning of the book is very helpful. It’s worth the time to review it. The ending of the book leaves a number of threads left dangling, so be prepared to plunge into book 2, In The Midst of Flames. All three titles in the series are available, so you may want to schedule a little binge-reading time.

Audience: adults.

(I purchased the ebook version from Amazon. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

JP Robinson began writing as a teen for a local newspaper. He holds degrees in both English and French and is a state-certified teacher. JP is known for weaving contemporary issues into vivid plots with the goal of connecting readers to God. When he’s not writing or teaching, JP loves spending time with his wife and children. 

Connect with the author, watch videos and more at JPRobinsonbooks.com.

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Follow him on Twitter: @JPRobinsonBooks