Book Review: Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

It’s not often that an ARC I’m lucky enough to read via NetGalley becomes an all time favourite book deserving a permanent place in my library collection, but Patti Callhan’s Once Upon A Wardrobe is just that good. Now that it’s on sale to the public (released today), I’ll be adding it to my bookshelves. It will be a classic to be read throughout the years.

When asked what I loved in particular about this story by a fellow booklover, I had a difficult time putting it into words. It is about CS Lewis and his inspiration for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but it told his story through a bigger story. It was heartbreaking, but Callahan also did a remarkable job of blending fact and fiction and making you want to celebrate imagination.

There is so much warmth and love in this book, like being wrapped in a hug made of words. It’s a delightful celebration of worlds beyond our imagination and a tribute to wonder and whimsy.  It’s Magical. Poignant. Immersive. Beautiful!

There are heartbreaking moments, lovable characters, rich backdrops, and the plot intricately weaves this fictional emotional tale of reason vs. imagination with these historical anecdotes and crafting of a real life person. I particularly enjoyed the afterword from C.S. Lewis’ stepson. I’d recommend for those who have read Becoming Mrs. Lewis, of course, but also for fans of historical women’s fiction.

My thanks to the publisher, Harper Muse, for my complimentary copy. Opinions are entirely my own.

Once Upon A Wardrobe
Patti Callahan
ISBN 9780785251729
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
https://www.patticallahanhenry.com/

Happy Thanksgiving… In All Life’s Imperfect Chaos

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends. I believe that even in the imperfect chaos of life, even in big messes, if we dig deep enough we can truly always find something to be thankful for. I often need to remind myself of this because I can tend to lean towards pessimism and not always seeing the bright side of things. Here’s a bit of an eye rolling funny tale that stemmed from my disappointment this weekend.

In a series of unfortunate events and miscommunication with our local public health department, we erred on the side of caution and our Thanksgiving plans were disrupted. We missed the no stops big family feast today. On one hand, I had some disappointed teenagers here but I also had a valid excuse to chill a little bit. I am not a fan of the big turkey dinner but I love turkey leftovers. That desire for hot turkey sandwiches tomorrow and in an determined effort to still make the weekend special for my crew, I opted to buy some turkey on Friday.

I didn’t need a huge bird – it’s just four of us. I also don’t have a lot of experience with turkey! I opted for bone-in turkey breasts thinking shorter roasting times would be a win. Everything I read lead me to believe this would be the best solution to a low fuss meal that would still get me those yearned for turkey leftovers.

I started my feast prep after we got home from church. Potatoes in the crockpot for creamy scalloped potatoes. A delicious paprika and lemon prep for the turkey. Caesar salad, steamed broccoli, and cheater crescent rolls on the side. Gravy from drippings freshly made. By 6 p.m. the house smelled amazing and my turkey breasts – chef’s kiss. Then I found out my company (expected tomorrow) was going to stop by in an hour. (Anyone who knows me knows that alone would send me into a tizzy!)

Kevin was asked to carve the breasts. He’s feeling really perplexed by the task while I realize my potatoes overcooked, the broccoli oversteamed, my gravy congealed, and the bottoms of my crescent rolls had burnt. We’re off to a good start but that turkey – it’s going to salvage a meal….

Except there was no meat on those breasts that I paid a small fortune for. The breasts, my father in law informed me, were in fact turkey backs… bones best for broth and not much else. I mean the little bits of meat Kevin managed to pull off were delicious, but my wonderful turkey dinner? It was a disaster!!! And worst of all, no leftovers.

So where do I find gratitude in a weekend that didn’t go to plan? I’ve got a really nice turkey broth simmering on the stove. Not a single person complained about dinner (I think they were scared.) My in-laws had a good laugh at my expense. I still enjoyed a slice of pumpkin pie. And we’ll never forget the Thanksgiving that “Mom tried” and you know what? At least I didn’t set the kitchen on fire.

Books, Balance, and Boundaries

We’re half-way into September, and while life hasn’t returned to normal, our days in the Brown household are fairly normalish. The last few months have had some hurdles, milestones, and adjustments – we’ve celebrated (a 14th birthday, 17 years of marriage, a 40th birthday, and a birthday we’ve stopped counting) and we’ve grieved (our good boy, Diesel, passed away suddenly this summer.) We’ve had to adjust to changes – both boys in high school, different/more work responsibilities, later school hours, decisions for the future (trades vs. university track) and life in general.

I, myself, have made the decision to invest in me. I had my second personal training session today and I was frustrated and embarrassed to the point of tears. Thankfully, the woman I’m working with is safe and patient and reminded me that I showed up and I pushed through. I may not be able to move tomorrow, but these little steps will make for a healthier, happier me and u can’t wait to see my core strength, respiratory & cardiovascular systems, and range of motion inprove. Aside from my physical health, I continue to try to maintain boundaries, protect my heart, and work on healthy habits – spirit, soul, and body.

I’ve been big into books as always. Unfortunately, August felt like a bit of a blah reading month, but gratefully, September has been ripe with good book pics. Some misses, but overall I’ve found thought-provoking, attention-grabbing, or just downright entertaining novels.

Here are 5 titles I’m recommending but reader discretion is advised for various content warnings. Some of them had some difficult scenes.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, originally a complimentary ARC courtesy of NetGalley, this has been out for a while. One of Hannah’s best, in my opinion, it was both captivating and heartbreaking.

Frying Plaintain by Zalika Reid-Benta, familiar due to it’s setting and Jamaican Canadian references. While I obviously couldn’t relate to many of the issues, I felt connected in this coming-of-age collection of short stories that explores the tenuous mother-daughter relationship and cross-cultural experiences.

What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy, just released in Canada, is a poignant look at the lives of 10 fictional interconnected individuals in the time leading up to and immediately following the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010. Told in distinctive voices, it goes beyond the grief and loss of the catastrophe and provides deep introspection and a commentary on some issues with foreign aid. It wasn’t always pretty or easy to read – it needed digesting – but it was spectacular in its own right.

The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews, another complimentary digital ARC via NetGalley, publishes September 28. This was a novella, short and sweet but with that magical cozy feel you want in a Christmas story.

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan, a find in a local Little Free Library. I enjoyed this from an educational and historical aspect. Set in early Roman Britain, tge author explores life and love in a pagan community, the influence of the Druids, and changes that came with the Roman invasion, it was an immersive book rich in historical detail. Published in 2020.

Blog Tour: The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross – An Excerpt

I am a sucker for a dual-timeline novel involving family and WWII legacies. I’m so lucky to have a digital review copy of JoAnn Ross’ latest work, The Inheritance, to add to my must-reads this month. I absolutely love the cover and have an excerpt to share with you below as part of the HTP Books Fall 2021 Women’s Fiction Blog Tour.

Prologue

Aberdeen, Oregon

Conflict photographer Jackson Swann had traveled to dark and deadly places in the world most people would never see. Nor want to. Along with dodging bullets and mortars, he’d survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, gotten shot mere inches from his heart in Niger and been stung by a death-stalker scorpion while embedded with the French Foreign Legion in Mali.

Some of those who’d worked with him over the decades had called him reckless. Rash. Dangerous. Over late-night beers or whatever else passed as liquor in whatever country they’d all swarmed to, other photographers and foreign journalists would argue about whether that bastard Jackson Swann had a death wish or merely considered himself invincible.

He did, after all, rush into high-octane situations no sane person would ever consider, and even when the shit hit the fan, somehow, he’d come out alive and be on the move again. Chasing the next war or crisis like a drug addict chased a high. The truth was that Jack had never believed himself to be immortal. Still, as he looked out over the peaceful view of rolling hills, the cherry trees wearing their spring profusion of pink blossoms, and acres of vineyards, he found it ironic that after having evaded the Grim Reaper so many times over so many decades, it was an aggressive and rapidly spreading lung cancer that was going to kill him.

Which was why he was here, sitting on the terraced patio of Chateau de Madeleine, the towering gray stone house that his father, Robert Swann, had built for his beloved war bride, Madeleine, to ease her homesickness. Oregon’s Willamette Valley was a beautiful place. But it was not Madeleine’s child-hood home in France’s Burgundy region where much of her family still lived.

Family. Jack understood that to many, the American dream featured a cookie-cutter suburban house, a green lawn you had to mow every weekend, a white picket fence, happy, well-fed kids and a mutt who’d greet him with unrestrained canine glee whenever he returned home from work. It wasn’t a bad dream. But it wasn’t, and never would be, his dream.

How could it be with the survivor’s guilt that shadowed him like a tribe of moaning ghosts? Although he’d never been all that introspective, Jack realized that the moral dilemma he’d experienced every time he’d had to force himself to re-main emotionally removed from the bloody scenes of chaos and death he was viewing through the lens of his camera had left him too broken to feel, or even behave like a normal human being.

Ten years ago, after his strong, robust father died of a sudden heart attack while fly-fishing, Jack had inherited the winery with his mother, who’d professed no interest in the day-to-day running of the family business. After signing over control of the winery to him, and declaring the rambling house too large for one woman, Madeleine Swann had moved into the guesthouse next to the garden she’d begun her first year in Oregon. A garden that supplied the vegetables and herbs she used for cooking many of the French meals she’d grown up with.

His father’s death had left Jack in charge of two hundred and sixty acres of vineyards and twenty acres of orchards. Not wanting, nor able, to give up his wanderlust ways to settle down and become a farmer of grapes and cherries, Jack had hired Gideon Byrne, a recent widower with a five-year-old daughter, away from a Napa winery to serve as both manager and vintner.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call them?” Gideon, walking toward him, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses, asked not for the first time over the past weeks.

“The only reason that Tess would want to see me would be to wave me off to hell.” In the same way he’d never softened the impact of his photos, Jack never minced words nor romanticized his life. There would be no dramatic scenes with his three daughters—all now grown women with lives of their own—hovering over his deathbed.

“Have you considered that she might want to have an opportunity to talk with you? If for no other reason to ask—”

“Why I deserted her before her second birthday and never looked back? I’m sure her mother’s told her own version of the story, and the truth is that the answers are too damn complicated and the time too long past for that discussion.” It was also too late for redemption.

Jack doubted his eldest daughter would give a damn even if he could’ve tried to explain. She’d have no way of knowing that he’d kept track of her all these years, blaming himself when she’d spiraled out of control so publicly during her late teens and early twenties. Perhaps, if she’d had a father who came home every night for dinner, she would have had a more normal, stable life than the Hollywood hurricane her mother had thrown her into before her third birthday.

Bygones, he reminded himself. Anything he might say to his firstborn would be too little, too late. Tess had no reason to travel to Oregon for his sake, but hopefully, once he was gone, curiosity would get the better of her. His girls should know each other. It was long past time.

“Charlotte, then,” Gideon pressed. “You and Blanche are still technically married.”

“Technically being the operative word.” The decades-long separation from his Southern socialite wife had always suited them both just fine. According to their prenuptial agreement, Blanche would continue to live her privileged life in Charleston, without being saddled with a full-time live-in husband, who’d seldom be around at any rate. Divorce, she’d informed him, was not an option. And if she had discreet affairs from time to time, who would blame her? Certainly not him.

“That’s no reason not to give Charlotte an opportunity to say goodbye. How many times have you seen her since she went to college? Maybe twice a year?”

“You’re pushing again,” Jack shot back. Hell, you’d think a guy would be allowed to die in peace without Jiminy Cricket sitting on his shoulder. “Though of the three of them, Char-lotte will probably be the most hurt,” he allowed.

His middle daughter had always been a sweet girl, running into his arms, hair flying behind her like a bright gold flag to give her daddy some “sugar”—big wet kisses on those rare occasions he’d wind his way back to Charleston. Or drop by Savannah to take her out to dinner while she’d been attending The Savannah School of Art and Design.

“The girl doesn’t possess Blanche’s steel magnolia strength.”

Having grown up with a mother who could find fault in the smallest of things, Charlotte was a people pleaser, and that part of her personality would kick into high gear whenever he rolled into the city. “And, call me a coward, but I’d just as soon not be around when her pretty, delusional world comes crashing down around her.” He suspected there were those in his daughter’s rarified social circle who knew the secret that the Charleston PI he’d kept on retainer hadn’t had any trouble uncovering.

“How about Natalie?” Gideon continued to press. “She doesn’t have any reason to be pissed at you. But I’ll bet she will be if you die without a word of warning. Especially after losing her mother last year.”

“Which is exactly why I don’t want to put her through this.”

He’d met Josette Seurat, the ebony-haired, dark-eyed French Jamaican mother of his youngest daughter, when she’d been singing in a club in the spirited Oberkampf district of Paris’s eleventh arrondissement. He’d fallen instantly, and by the next morning Jack knew that not only was the woman he’d spent the night having hot sex with his first true love, she was also the only woman he’d ever love. Although they’d never married, they’d become a couple, while still allowing space for each other to maintain their own individual lives, for twenty-six years. And for all those years, despite temptation from beautiful women all over the globe, Jack had remained faithful. He’d never had a single doubt that Josette had, as well.

With Josette having been so full of life, her sudden death from a brain embolism had hit hard. Although Jack had im-mediately flown to Paris from Syria to attend the funeral at a church built during the reign of Napoleon III, he’d been too deep in his own grief, and suffering fatigue—which, rather than jet lag, as he’d assumed, had turned out to be cancer—to provide the emotional support and comfort his third daughter had deserved.

“Josette’s death is the main reason I’m not going to drag Natalie here to watch me die. And you might as well quit playing all the guilt cards because I’m as sure of my decision as I was yesterday. And the day before that. And every other time over the past weeks you’ve brought it up. Bad enough you coerced me into making those damn videos. Like I’m some documentary maker.”

To Jack’s mind, documentary filmmakers were storytellers who hadn’t bothered to learn to edit. How hard was it to spend anywhere from two to ten hours telling a story he could capture in one single, perfectly timed photograph?

“The total length of all three of them is only twenty minutes,” Gideon said equably.

There were times when Jack considered that the man had the patience of a saint. Which was probably necessary when you’d chosen to spend your life watching grapes grow, then waiting years before the wine you’d made from those grapes was ready to drink. Without Gideon Byrne to run this place, Jack probably would have sold it off to one of the neighboring vineyards years ago, with the caveat that his mother would be free to keep the guesthouse, along with the larger, showier one that carried her name. Had he done that he would have ended up regretting not having a thriving legacy to pass on to his daughters.

“The total time works out to less than ten minutes a daughter. Which doesn’t exactly come close to a Ken Burns series,” Gideon pointed out.

“I liked Burns’s baseball one,” Jack admitted reluctantly. “And the one on country music. But hell, it should’ve been good, given that he took eight years to make it.”

Jack’s first Pulitzer had admittedly been a stroke of luck, being in the right place at the right time. More care had gone into achieving the perfect photos for other awards, but while he admired Burns’s work, he’d never have the patience to spend that much time on a project. His French mother had claimed he’d been born a pierre roulante—rolling stone—al-ways needing to be on the move. Which wasn’t conducive to family life, which is why both his first and second marriages had failed. Because he could never be the husband either of his very different wives had expected.

“Do you believe in life after death?” he asked.

Gideon took his time to answer, looking out over the vine-yards. “I like to think so. Having lost Becky too soon, it’d be nice to believe we’ll connect again, somewhere, somehow.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, there are days that I think this might be our only shot.”

“Josette came again last night.”
“You must have enjoyed that.”
“I always do.”

Excerpted from The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross, Copyright © 2021 by JoAnn Ross. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

If The Inheritance piques your interest, it published on September 7th and should be available for purchase at all your local booksellers and major book retailers. Be sure to look for it on shelves close to you! If you’d like to read and discuss, I’m always interested in hearing thoughts from other booklovers.

My thanks to HTP Books for the complimentary copy of this much anticipated novel.

Book Review: The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable – A Harlequin Summer Reads Historical Fiction Title

A number of titles are being buzzed about on blogs and bookstagram this summer including a few historical fiction releases from Harlequin. My most recent read was The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable. It comes out August 17th at all major booksellers and is available for pre-order now. As usual, I’d encourage you to hit your favourite local indie bookstore to pick up a copy if you think it might just be your cup of tea.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

From New York Times bestselling author Michelle Gable comes a dual-narrative set at the famed Heywood Hill Bookshop in London about a struggling American writer on the hunt for a rumored lost manuscript written by the iconic Nancy Mitford—bookseller, spy, author, and aristocrat—during World War II.

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

MY THOUGHTS:

I went into this one without any real knowledge about it other than it involved a bookseller and a secret and was set in London during WWII. That alone made me think it would be a good match for my reading tastes. I had some preconceived idea that it would follow a similar plot line to “every other” WWII historical novel hitting the shelves in the last few years. I was wrong to make any assumptions as it centered more on the life of Nancy Mitford in the past timeline and an author’s interest in Nancy Mitford in the present timeline.

Michelle Gable is a new to me author and has a distinctive voice. She focuses on exploring the struggles and social life of Nancy Mitford and her contemporaries during WWII. The novelization was less World War II themed and more of a fictional biography than I anticipated. It wasn’t a quick read – not one of my one and done sit down in a single session reads – it was heavy on detail but well written. The contemporary angle was more to my taste but even still I wish it had been fleshed out a little more. There was a definite parallel between the past and present with a mystery manuscript to tie both timelines together.

I would recommend for fans of Nancy Mitford, those who have read or watched an adaptation of In The Pursuit of Love, or anyone who enjoys a glimpse into the often “sordid” life of Britain’s historical upper class.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

MICHELLE GABLE is the New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, I’ll See You in Paris, The Book of Summer, and The Summer I Met Jack. She attended The College of William & Mary, where she majored in accounting, and spent twenty years working in finance before becoming a full-time writer. She grew up in San Diego and lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, with her husband and two daughters. Find her at michellegable.com or on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest, @MGableWriter.

Author website: https://michellegable.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MGableWriter 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mgablewriter/

The Bookseller’s Secret : A Novel of Nancy Mitford and WWII Michelle Gable
On Sale Date: August 17, 2021
ISBN 9781525806469
Trade Paperback
400 pages

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

Content warning for infidelity, war, and some profanity.

Book Review: Hostile Intent by Lynette Eason

Oh… hey there…. it’s been a while. July was a weird hot mess of a month, and I was honestly clinging by a thread some days – a fragile, fraying thread.

Now August is here and attentions shift as we’re halfway through official summer holidays. The boys prepare for a week at camp and back to school – grade 9 for one and grade 11 for the other. I settle into my expanded responsibilities at work. The one thing that remains constant is my love of books… but I share that with the caveat that July was also a weird reading month. I did a lot of skimming and opted to not finish a few titles.

Thankfully, August is already starting off better, book-wise. My most recent read, finished into the wee hours if the morning and released today, was Lynette Eason’s Hostile Intent.

Hostile Intent was a one-sitting read for me. I have loved the entire series and this final installment did not disappoint. If you enjoy a clean thriller/suspense with fast pacing, romance, intrigue, and non-stop action, I’d recommend not only this title (easily read as a standalone) but Eason’s entire Danger Never Sleeps series. It falls under the Christian suspense category and delivers some dark subject matter and all the gripping elements you expect in a fast-paced thriller.

I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. Opinions are entirely my own. My thanks to the publisher, Revell Books, for the Advanced Readers Copy.

5 Books I’m Recommending Right Now

I have been ever so slowly making my way through my NetGalley shelf.  While I am absolutely thrilled with the generosity of the publishers in granting my requests, I may overestimate my reading capacity when they all seem to be approved at once.  

These are titles that I’m received as Advanced Readers Copies that I am recommending for various readings.  I’m including a few different genres and a note that they are not all new releases because I am that far behind.

Also, they weren’t all books that I’d necessarily “rave about” or read again, but are titles I belive have inherent entertainment or educational value – so perhaps not 5 star reads, but books I enjoyed for one reason or another and wouldn’t have regretted if I had purchased.

5 Books I’m Recommending Right Now:

The Beach House by Jenny Hale is a heartwarming summer romance.  This was a quick read, but would be perfect for tucking into your beach bag.  Bonus points for a beautiful cover. From Bookouture – June 9, 2021.

Silence In The Library by Katherine Schellman is an engaging historical romance (and in exciting news, there is more Lily Adler to come!) This is the second book in the series and I have truly enjoyed both books. The writing works for me and I like the characters. From Crooked Lane Books – July 13, 2021.


No Days Off by Max Domi – I didn’t love the hockey references and in fact, my eyes may have glazed over at times (but I am admittedly not a sports girl!) – so I obviously didn’t read it from the fandom perspective. I did appreciate Domi’s transparency in sharing his journey to the NHL while attempting to balance Type 1 and celiac disease without giving up on his dreams.  I couldn’t relate to all of the “perks” he has had in learning to manage his diagnosis, but I could relate to much of his experience and feelings. (Side note, I apologize for the things I’ve said when high or low!) I recommend as inspiring non-fiction that encourages you to keep on going or for anyone interested in an accurately descriptive glimpse of what living with Type 1 can be like. As an extra bonus, a portion of proceeds of the sales has been donated to the JDRF.  From Simon & Schuster Canada – October 29, 2019


Trisha’s Kitchen by Trisha Yearwood – this cookbook is rife with some good ol’ comfort food recipes. I want to order a copy for my collection but don’t think I could cook from it every day without gaining a zillion pounds.  They are “accessible” recipes for the most part containing nothing too exotic and a lot of pantry basics, presented with a down home twist and glimpses into the Yearwood/Brooks home.  From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – September 28, 2021


In The Mirror, A Peacock Danced by Justine Bothwick was a descriptive dual-timeline historical novel about a woman’s journey to find herself, set amidst lush backgrounds of early 20th-century India and the slightly greyer background of mid 20th-century England. it was a slow paced but enthralling read. From Agora Books – June 24, 2021

My thanks to each of the publishers for the complimentary reads.  I’ve listed the release dates and publishers.  As you can see, some are readily available, some may need a pre-order, or even re-order.  If you’ve read any of these titles, let me know which ones in the comments! And as always, share your thoughts.

Mid-Year Update

You’d think in a world where we’re forced to slow down and stay at home, things would be easier for an extroverted introvert. Unfortunately, I feel likes it’s been harder to juggle things adequately while still maintaining healthy boundaries between work, home, health, parenting, and play. I recognize that my struggles haven’t been as heavy in some areas as others have experienced but also recognize that we’re all juggling our own plates – some of us better than others. In any case and all political discussion aside, I’m thrilled that we’re heading back into some of our normal activities even if I roll my eyes at some of what’s going on.

One of the big changes I’ve made recently has been avoiding certain social media platforms. If something doesn’t build you up or better you in some way in a world heavy with distractions, I’m all for pruning it out. I’ve found some outlets that are working better for me and having fun with my contributions.

A big celebration for us this month is the 8th grade graduation of our youngest. He’s been making do with a very strange school year and has missed out on many rites of passage compared to his brother’s experience. I think we have to hand it to students across Ontario – they’re remarkable. In our case, the boys have played the hands they’ve been dealt, but J. in particular has worked with commitment and responsibility and graduated his elementary school journey as an honours student with an academic award in mathematics and a community-sponsored award for perseverance. How on earth have they gone from being little chubby babies to high school students in the blink of an eye? I’m so proud of both of them.

Kevin and I also celebrated this month – seventeen years of wedded wonder. (Snicker, snicker…) We treated ourselves with a weekend getaway to Niagara Falls with a newly renovated room at the Sheraton Fallsview with a -you guessed it – view of the Falls. It also had a Juliette “balcony” and two queen beds. Best sleep I’ve had in months and the days were filled with nothing exciting – books, walks, naps, food – absolute bliss.

All in all, not much ever seems to change and yet everything seems to be constantly changing. I continue to read as my decompression strategy. I hope I’m imparting my kids with life skills and foundations for success. (NOT always without complaints, I might add.) I work. I feel. I hope I learn. And I continue to wonder how everyone always seems to have it all together.

Overall, I cannot believe we’re halfway through 2021 and I know we have some more changes on the horizon. I look forward to this with equal parts dread and excitement and possibly a big part of me that would comfortably settle for staus quo. Can we just press pause for a moment?!?

Harlequin Summer Beach Reads Blog Tour: The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan

I’m presenting the second title I’m reviewing for the Harlequin Summer 2021 Beach Reads Blog Tour today and it was a perfect beach read or backyard book. Today is the last day in the tour for Sarah Morgan’s newest release, The Summer Seekers. It is aptly named as it’s a quintessential summer read!

Book Summary:

Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!

Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.

Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.

Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.

When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She’s not the world’s best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?

As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late to start over…

My Thoughts:

The Summer Seekers is an absolutely delightful lighthearted novel with charming characters full of humour and heart. Don’t let the lightheartedness fool you though, there are some deeper issues addressed while the characters tackle growth, trust, and tinges of regret. It is a sweet, feel-good read and most readers will find it relatable to some degree as it presents the challenges and joys of family, friendships, and the standards we and society place on ourselves. It’s a good reminder to put aside the critical voices, personal fears, and over-commitment and prioritize a life lived freely of the weight of unreasonable expectations. If this doesn’t make you want to pack your bags and head cross country (or to the nearest coast) to soul-search and live a vivacious life, I’m not sure what will! Just be sure to make some new friends and cherish the old ones along the way!

Recommended for: fans of contemporary women’s fiction and romance

THE SUMMER SEEKERS
Author: Sarah Morgan
ISBN: 9781335180926
Publication Date: 5/18/2021
Publisher: HQN Books

My thanks to the publisher for the gifted ARC. Opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour & Excerpt: The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

While I would typically share a review in my stop on a blog tour, I opted to share an excerpt this time around. Thank you to Park Row Books for the complimentary advanced review copy of The Woman with the Blue Star, the latest release from Pam Jenoff, published earlier this month. It is spectacular and I would recommend for fans of Pam Jenoff, obviously, but also for anyone who enjoys WWII historical fiction. It was unique enough to stand out among a very saturated market. (I mean those of us who enjoy this genre can’t quite get our fill!) It is a remarkable tale that you won’t be able to put down as you fall in love with Sadie and Ella in a tale of extraordinary courage from ordinary women brought together in volatile circumstances.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II.

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.


EXCERPT:

Sadie

Kraków, PolandMarch 1942

Everything changed the day they came for the children.

I was supposed to have been in the attic crawl space of the three-story building we shared with a dozen other families in the ghetto. Mama helped me hide there each morning before she set out to join the factory work detail, leaving me with a fresh bucket as a toilet and a stern admonishment not to leave. But I grew cold and restless alone in the tiny, frigid space where I couldn’t run or move or even stand straight. The minutes stretched silently, broken only by a scratching—unseen children, years younger than me, stowed on the other side of the wall. They were kept separate from one another without space to run and play. They sent each other messages by tapping and scratching, though, like a kind of improvised Morse code. Sometimes, in my boredom, I joined in, too.

“Freedom is where you find it,” my father often said when I complained. Papa had a way of seeing the world exactly as he wanted. “The greatest prison is in our mind.” It was easy for him to say. Though he manual ghetto labor was a far cry from his professional work as an accountant before the war, at least he was out and about each day, seeing other people. Not cooped up like me. I had scarcely left our apartment building since we were forced to move six months earlier from our apartment in the Jewish Quarter near the city center to the Podgórze neighborhood where the ghetto had been established on the southern bank of the river. I wanted a normal life, my life, free to run beyond the walls of the ghetto to all of the places I had once known and taken for granted. I imagined taking the tram to the shops on the Rynek or to the kino to see a film, exploring the ancient grassy mounds on the outskirts of the city. I wished that at least my best friend, Stefania, was one of the others hidden nearby. Instead, she lived in a separate apartment on the other side of the ghetto designated for the families of the Jewish police.

It wasn’t boredom or loneliness that had driven me from my hiding place this time, though, but hunger. I had always had a big appetite and this morning’s breakfast ration had been a half slice of bread, even less than usual. Mama had offered me her portion, but I knew she needed her strength for the long day ahead on the labor detail.

As the morning wore on in my hiding place, my empty belly had begun to ache. Visions pushed into my mind uninvited of the foods we ate before the war: rich mushroom soup and savory borscht, and pierogi, the plump, rich dumplings my grandmother used to make. By midmorning, I felt so weak from hunger that I had ventured out of my hiding place and down to the shared kitchen on the ground floor, which was really nothing more than a lone working stove burner and a sink that dripped tepid brown water. I didn’t go to take food—even if there had been any, I would never steal. Rather, I wanted to see if there were any crumbs left in the cupboard and to fill my stomach with a glass of water.

I stayed in the kitchen longer than I should, reading the dog-eared copy of the book I’d brought with me. The thing I detested most about my hiding place in the attic was the fact that it was too dark for reading. I had always loved to read and Papa had carried as many books as he could from our apartment to the ghetto, over the protests of my mother, who said we needed the space in our bags for clothes and food. It was my father who had nurtured my love of learning and encouraged my dream of studying medicine at Jagiellonian University before the German laws made that impossible, first by banning Jews and later by closing the university altogether. Even in the ghetto at the end of his long, hard days of labor, Papa loved to teach and discuss ideas with me. He had somehow found me a new book a few days earlier, too, The Count of Monte Cristo. But the hiding place in the attic was too dark for me to read and there was scarcely any time in the evening before curfew and lights-out. Just a bit longer, I told myself, turning the page in the kitchen. A few minutes wouldn’t matter at all.

I had just finished licking the dirty bread knife when I heard heavy tires screeching, followed by barking voices. I froze, nearly dropping my book. The SS and Gestapo were outside, flanked by the vile Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst, Jewish Ghetto Police, who did their bidding. It was an aktion, the sudden unannounced arrest of large groups of Jews to be taken from the ghetto to camps. The very reason I was meant to be hiding in the first place. I raced from the kitchen, across the hall and up the stairs. From below came a great crash as the front door to the apartment building splintered and the police burst through. There was no way I could make it back to the attic in time.

Instead, I raced to our third-floor apartment. My heart pounded as I looked around desperately, wishing for an armoire or other cabinet suitable for hiding in the tiny room, which was nearly bare except for a dresser and bed. There were other places, I knew, like the fake plaster wall one of the other families had constructed in the adjacent building not a week earlier. That was too far away now, impossible to reach. My eyes focused on the large steamer trunk stowed at the foot of my parents’ bed. Mama had shown me how to hide there once shortly after we first moved to the ghetto. We practiced it like a game, Mama opening the trunk so that I could climb in before she closed the lid.

The trunk was a terrible hiding place, exposed and in the middle of the room. But there was simply nowhere else. I had to try. I raced over to the bed and climbed into the trunk, then closed the lid with effort. I thanked heavens that I was tiny like Mama. I had always hated being so petite, which made me look a solid two years younger than I actually was. Now it seemed a blessing, as did the sad fact that the months of meager ghetto rations had made me thinner. I still fit in the trunk.

When we had rehearsed, we had envisioned Mama putting a blanket or some clothes over the top of the trunk. Of course, I couldn’t do that myself. So the trunk sat unmasked for anyone who walked into the room to see and open. I curled into a tiny ball and wrapped my arms around myself, feeling the white armband with the blue star on my sleeve that all Jews were required to wear.

There came a great crashing from the next building, the sound of plaster being hewn by a hammer or ax. The police had found the hiding place behind the wall, given away by the too-fresh paint. An unfamiliar cry rang out as a child was found and dragged from his hiding place. If I had gone there, I would have been caught as well.

Someone neared the door to the apartment and flung it open. My heart seized. I could hear breathing, feel eyes searching the room. I’m sorry, Mama, I thought, feeling her reproach for having left the attic. I braced myself for discovery. Would they go easier on me if I came out and gave myself up? The footsteps grew fainter as the German continued down the hall, stopping before each door, searching.

The war had come to Kraków one warm fall day two and a half years earlier when the air-raid sirens rang out for the first time and sent the playing children scurrying from the street. Life got hard before it got bad. Food disappeared and we waited in long lines for the most basic supplies. Once there was no bread for a whole week.

Then about a year ago, upon orders from the General Government, Jews teemed into Kraków by the thousands from the small towns and villages, dazed and carrying their belongings on their backs. At first I wondered how they would all find places to stay in Kazimierz, the already cramped Jewish Quarter of the city. But the new arrivals were forced to live by decree in a crowded section of the industrial Podgórze district on the far side of the river that had been cordoned off with a high wall. Mama worked with the Gmina, the local Jewish community organization, to help them resettle, and we often had friends of friends over for a meal when they first arrived, before they went to the ghetto for good. They told stories from their hometowns too awful to believe and Mama shooed me from the room so I would not hear.

Several months after the ghetto was created, we were ordered to move there as well. When Papa told me, I couldn’t believe it. We were not refugees, but residents of Kraków; we had lived in our apartment on Meiselsa Street my entire life. It was the perfect location: on the edge of the Jewish Quarter but easy walking distance to the sights and sounds of the city center and close enough to Papa’s office on Stradomska Street that he could come home for lunch. Our apartment was above an adjacent café where a pianist played every evening. Sometimes the music spilled over and Papa would whirl Mama around the kitchen to the faint strains. But according to the orders, Jews were Jews. One day. One suitcase each. And the world I had known my entire life disappeared forever.

I peered out of the thin slit opening of the trunk, trying to see across the tiny room I shared with my parents. We were lucky, I knew, to have a whole room to ourselves, a privilege we had been given because my father was a labor foreman. Others were forced to share an apartment, often two or three families together. Still, the space felt cramped compared to our real home. We were ever on top of one another, the sights and sounds and smells of daily living magnified.

“Kinder, raus!” the police called over and over again now as they patrolled the halls. Children, out. It was not the first time the Germans had come for children during the day, knowing that their parents would be at work.

But I was no longer a child. I was eighteen and might have joined the work details like others my age and some several years younger. I could see them lining up for roll call each morning before trudging to one of the factories. And I wanted to work, even though I could tell from the slow, painful way my father now walked, stooped like an old man, and how Mama’s hands were split and bleeding that it was hard and awful. Work meant a chance to get out and see and talk to people. My hiding was a subject of much debate between my parents. Papa thought I should work. Labor cards were highly prized in the ghetto. Workers were valued and less likely to be deported to one of the camps. But Mama, who seldom fought my father on anything, had forbidden it. “She doesn’t look her age. The work is too hard. She is safest out of sight.” I wondered as I hid now, about to be discovered at any second, if she would still think she was right.

The building finally went silent, the last of the awful footsteps receding. Still I didn’t move. That was one of the ways they trapped people who were hiding, by pretending to go away and lying in wait when they came out. I remained motionless, not daring to leave my hiding place. My limbs ached, then went numb. I had no idea how much time had passed. Through the slit, I could see that the room had grown dimmer, as if the sun had lowered a bit.

Sometime later, there were footsteps again, this time a shuffling sound as the laborers trudged back silent and exhausted from their day. I tried to uncurl myself from the trunk. But my muscles were stiff and sore and my movements slow. Before I could get out, the door to our apartment flung open and someone ran into the room with steps light and fluttering. “Sadie!” It was Mama, sounding hysterical.

“Jestem tutaj,” I called. I am here. Now that she was home, she could help me untangle myself and get out. But my voice was muffled by the trunk. When I tried to undo the latch, it stuck.

Mama raced from the room back into the corridor. I could hear her open the door to the attic, then run up the stairs, still searching for me. “Sadie!” she called. Then, “My child, my child,” over and over again as she searched but did not find me, her voice rising to a shriek. She thought I was gone.

“Mama!” I yelled. She was too far away to hear me, though, and her own cries were too loud. Desperately, I struggled once more to free myself from the trunk without success. Mama raced back into the room, still wailing. I heard the scraping sound of a window opening and felt a whoosh of cold air. At last I threw myself against the lid of the trunk, slamming my shoulder so hard it throbbed. The latch sprang open.

I broke free and stood up quickly. “Mama?” She was standing in the oddest position, with one foot on the window ledge, her willowy frame silhouetted against the frigid twilight sky. “What are you doing?” For a second, I thought she was looking for me outside. But her face was twisted with grief and pain. I knew then why Mama was on the window ledge. She assumed I had been taken along with the other children. And she didn’t want to live. If I hadn’t freed myself from the trunk in time, Mama would have jumped. I was her only child, her whole world. She was prepared to kill herself before she would go on without me.

A chill ran through me as I sprinted toward her. “I’m here, I’m here.” She wobbled unsteadily on the window ledge and I grabbed her arm to stop her from falling. Remorse ripped through me. I always wanted to please her, to bring that hard-won smile to her beautiful face. Now I had caused her so much pain she’d almost done the unthinkable.

“I was so worried,” she said after I’d helped her down and closed the window. As if that explained everything. “You weren’t in the attic.”

“But, Mama, I hid where you told me to.” I gestured to the trunk. “The other place, remember? Why didn’t you look for me there?”

Mama looked puzzled. “I didn’t think you would fit anymore.” There was a pause and then we both began laughing, the sound scratchy and out of place in the pitiful room. For a few seconds, it was like we were back in our old apartment on Meiselsa Street and none of this had happened at all. If we could still laugh, surely things would be all right. I clung to this last improbable thought like a life preserver at sea.

But a cry echoed through the building, then another, silencing our laughter. It was the mothers of the other children who had been taken by the police. There came a thud outside. I started for the window, but my mother blocked me. “Look away,” she ordered. It was too late. I glimpsed Helga Kolberg, who lived down the hall, lying motionless in the coal-tinged snow on the pavement below, her limbs cast at odd angles and skirt splayed around her like a fan. She had realized her children were gone and, like Mama, she didn’t want to live without them. I wondered whether jumping was a shared instinct, or if they had discussed it, a kind of suicide pact in case their worst nightmares came true.

My father raced into the room then. Neither Mama nor I said a word, but I could tell from his unusually grim expression that he already knew about the aktion and what had happened to the other families. He simply walked over and wrapped his enormous arms around both of us, hugging us tighter than usual.

As we sat, silent and still, I looked up at my parents. Mama was a striking beauty—thin and graceful, with white-blond hair the color of a Nordic princess’. She looked nothing like the other Jewish women and I had heard whispers more than once that she didn’t come from here. She might have walked away from the ghetto and lived as a non-Jew if it wasn’t for us. But I was built like Papa, with the dark, curly hair and olive skin that made the fact that we were Jews undeniable. My father looked like the laborer the Germans had made him in the ghetto, broad-shouldered and ready to lift great pipes or slabs of concrete. In fact, he was an accountant—or had been until it became illegal for his firm to employ him anymore. I always wanted to please Mama, but it was Papa who was my ally, keeper of secrets and weaver of dreams, who stayed up too late whispering secrets in the dark and had roamed the city with me, hunting for treasure. I moved closer now, trying to lose myself in the safety of his embrace.

Still, Papa’s arms could offer little shelter from the fact that everything was changing. The ghetto, despite its awful conditions, had once seemed relatively safe. We were living among Jews and the Germans had even appointed a Jewish council, the Judenrat, to run our daily affairs. Perhaps if we laid low and did as we were told, Papa said more than once, the Germans would leave us alone inside these walls until the war was over. That had been the hope. But after today, I wasn’t so sure. I looked around the apartment, seized with equal parts disgust and fear. In the beginning, I had not wanted to be here; now I was terrified we would be forced to leave.

“We have to do something,” Mama burst out, her voice a pitch higher than usual as it echoed my unspoken thoughts.

“I’ll take her tomorrow and register her for a work permit,” Papa said. This time Mama did not argue. Before the war, being a child had been a good thing. But now being useful and able to work was the only thing that might save us.

Mama was talking about more than a work visa, though. “They are going to come again and next time we won’t be so lucky.” She did not bother to hold back her words for my benefit now. I nodded in silent agreement. Things were changing, a voice inside me said. We could not stay here forever.

“It will be okay, kochana,” Papa soothed. How could he possibly say that? But Mama laid her head on his shoulder, seeming to trust him as she always had. I wanted to believe it, too. “I will think of something. At least,” Papa added as we huddled close, “we are all still together.” The words echoed through the room, equal parts promise and prayer.

Excerpted from The Woman With the Blue Star @ 2021 by Pam Jenoff, used with permission by Park Row Books.


The Woman with the Blue Star
Pam Jenoff
On Sale Date: May 4, 2021
9780778389385, 0778389383
Trade Paperback
$17.99 USD, $22.99 CAD
Fiction / Historical / Jewish
336 pages