Blog Tour & Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

In a continuation of the blog tour for historical titles released from Harlequin this winter, one of the titles I was excited to be invited to read was The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. I previously reviewed The Girl from the Channel Islands. Other titles in this campaign include Find Me in Havana and The Last Bookshop in London. I’m seeing all four covers popping up in social media, recommended reading lists, and reading groups I’m part of so lovers of historical fiction are taking notice! Today’s focus is on The Lost Apothecary which I will say upfront exceeded my expectations.


FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

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A forgotten history.
A secret network of women.
A legacy of poison and revenge.
Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

MY THOUGHTS:
In all my explorations of historical fiction, apothecaries are not a subject I’ve spent a lot of time musing over with more than a passing thought. I opened this title worried it would either be too gruesome, touch on topics that I have a hard time reading about, or *gasp* just bore me. This is the quandary the reader faces every time they pick up a title from an author they’re unfamiliar with. Thankfully, my worries were absolutely needless in this particular instance.

My only single complaint for this title had not to do with the content, but rather, the length of the book or perhaps just the speed I read it – by the final chapter, I wanted more! It was immersive and easy to read without any confusion switching between the dual timeline. I was struck by the author’s artistry as she created a likeable villain, so to speak, while illuminating a crafty tale of women scorned (hell hath no fury, and all that…) The ignorance (of the naïve, uneducated variety) often seen on subjects we take for granted was spotlighted and necessary to the tale. While the present-day scenario happens all too often, I wasn’t entirely sure how the two stories would intertwine beyond Caroline’s curiosity. I enjoyed how Penner adeptly designed two entirely different worlds and brought them together. The Last Apothecary was a beguiling work of historical fiction that moved quickly and broke my heart.

This title doesn’t hit the market until March 2, 2021 but you can preorder a copy for yourself today! My thanks to the wonderful team at Harlequin for sharing this title with me in advance.

The Lost Apothecary : A Novel 
Sarah Penner
On Sale Date: March 2, 2021
ISBN 9780778311010, 0778311015

Book Review: A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy

As I was browsing Bethany House titles available for request through NetGalley a few weeks back, something about the cover of A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy caught my eye. As I read the description it piqued my interest further and I thought I’d give it a shot, requesting it, but not quite knowing what to expect. Thankfully, the publisher approved my request and I tucked it away on my shelf to read at a later date. A few days later, as I was trying to select a new book to read, I accidentally clicked on the title while swiping through my Kindle library and decided to roll with it. I had zero expectations going in, but I was absolutely blown away.

This novel was exquisite in its attention to detail – not in a monotonous or droning way – but in the essence of how the author captured the senses in every paragraph. With some well-crafted wording, we’re transported from 2021 into a time and place far from home. I don’t generally read about the British colonization of India, for no other reason than it just hasn’t struck my fancy. Duffy has changed that for me by bridging the two worlds of British society and Indian culture and highlighting the plight of a people caught in the middle.

Ottilie (how would you pronounce that name?) is incredibly transparent – she’s suffered enormous loss. She is struggling with acceptance. She has questions and is struggling with faith in God in a land that has many. It’s a bit of the age-old “how can bad things happen to good people” presented in fiction form. Even though Ottilie and I had very little in common, I could relate to her in many of her day to day struggles on one level or another.

Ottilie also struggles with acceptance and belonging due to the harsh realities of her dual-heritage, facing outright prejudice and hate due to her mother’s blood. She’s smart. She’s independent. She’s loyal. She’s beautifully gifted in an art that is rare and lovely. (Google: Beetlewing Embroidery.) Ottilie is also very lost and struggles in her mourning and her identity as everyone she cares for seems to be taken away.

My heart broke for the injustice of this novel and the theme of searching for home – the longing for acceptance, love, and belonging. At the same time, as the author struck a chord with her tale, in a desire to recognize that not everyone can or should tell another person’s story, did she do justice in a book whose very core message highlighting difficulties due to one’s family tree or the people group they belong to? I actually struggled with that throughout the entire novel. Yes, it was beautifully written, but was it Duffy’s story to tell? After the final chapter and a few days of musing, I’m no closer to a concrete answer on that front, but I think Duffy told Ottilie’s story well. She also created an awareness that prods me to dig deeper into learning about the history of Anglo-Indians – to hear their stories and to learn. I don’t often read the author’s notes or afterword, but in this instance I did and some of my musings were quelled – the author addressed some of my concerns in her notes after the novel itself, acknowledging her sensitivity reader and other resources. Was it enough? I don’t know, but again, this novel was beautifully crafted and didn’t hide from difficult issues.

Overall, this was a moving page-turner of a tale. It brought me to tears, to frustration, to empathy. It didn’t coat over messy moments. It made me want to dig deeper, and that’s not something that every piece of fiction can do. It was an engaging work of fiction with notes of bittersweet honesty. Thankfully, it wasn’t just darkness and uncertainty, struggle and loss, but also a richly captivating beacon of beauty, hope, and welcome. I’d recommend you pre-order for yourself today!

I received a complimentary Advanced Readers Copy of this title from Bethany House.
All opinions are entirely my own.

A Tapestry of Light
Kimberly Duffy
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: March 16, 2021
ISBN 9780764235641

Book Review & Blog Tour: The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

It’s no secret that I have an affinity for WWII novels. Looking across at a small cubby on my bookshelf and of the 16 titles in the stack, almost half take place in that era. One of the greatly anticipated historical winter releases from Harlequin just so happens to take place on the Channel Islands during Nazi occupation. The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat has romance, takes place in WWII, features remarkable gutsy women, and is based on a true story?!?! Count me in!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
An extraordinary story of human triumph against impossible odds

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands–the only part of Great Britain to be occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies, and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more–this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight wIth the help of her friends and community–and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle, neighbors turn on neighbors, and Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

A sweeping tale of bravery and love under impossible circumstances, Hedy’s remarkable story reminds us that it’s often up to ordinary people to be quiet heroes in the face of injustice.

MY THOUGHTS:
I didn’t find this novel to be an epic swept away whirlwind tale with danger and daring around every corner – you know the type, I mean. However, I loved the “every day” feel of The Girl From the Channel Islands – we were flies on the wall while the characters went about life, however miserable or mundane or dangerous it was in any given scene.

It made me ponder what it would be like to lose everything and then to fall in love with the supposed enemy. I was also struck by the reminder of how unfair war was to everyone involved – not all Germans were evil, not all serving on the front were evil, the Allies were guilty of their own sins, and war is just horrible (an understatement, I know) all the way around.

The romance felt secondary to the primary story arc, but was a very elemental detail in Hedy’s decisions. I offer a content warning for a few scenes. Hedy, Kurt, Dorothea, and Anton were all just very ordinary, offering their own subtle resistances as they struggled for survival. The devastation to the island (and islanders) of Jersey was visible, the thread or hum of danger while eking out a meager existence palpable, the uncertainty and fear and hunger felt in the captivating tale. I particularly enjoyed that this gave a “fresh face” to the WWII historical romance, transporting us to a seldom explored location in this era and telling a unique aspect of the story.

I was slightly disappointed in the ending, but I don’t want to offer any spoilers so I will leave you with this. If you have questions about what happened next, or want to read more about the novel and the key players, check out this article from The Times of Israel. A quick Google search and I have more information then I will ever need! In a nutshell, this was a moving tale of simple bravery, ordinary people living with extraordinary courage, and the resiliency of humanity when balanced with compassion and friendship.

My thanks to our friends at Harlequin for sharing an Advanced Readers Copy with me! If you pick up a copy for yourself or have read the previously released version, Hedy’s War (UK edition), let me know if you agree with my take. This title releases next week (February 2nd) and will be available through all major booksellers (although I encourage you to order through your favourite local bookstore!)

THE GIRL FROM THE CHANNEL ISLANDS 
Author: Jenny Lecoat
ISBN: 9781525806414
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House Books

Book Review: A Castaway in Cornwall

Every once in a while a reader will stumble across an author that is such a great match for their reading interests that you know no matter which title you pick up, you’re going to love it. Julie Klassen is one of those authors for me. Her books aren’t always fast paced, but there’s just something about them that works time and time again.

A Castaway in Cornwall was published in December but I just got around to reading it a few days ago. I was not mistaken – I was met, as expected, with a work of fiction that hit all the right notes for me at the right time. It’s an atmospheric telling, obviously about a castaway in Cornwall – a shipwreck survivor – and the woman who nurses him to health, a castaway in her own right. That’s an overly simplistic capture of the plot, but I don’t want to spoil the story – I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. Inside you’ll find a lot of coastal or sea-worthy jargon with an emphasis on flotsam and jetsam (do you know the difference?) and a reflection of the Cornish history of smuggling and wreckers woven into the period piece.

The lead characters in this novel have some depths to them – secrets, pasts, scars – but they’re steadfast – which is not to be confused with boring. The book as a whole is not fast paced, and it’s not a romp – it takes its time to get from cover to cover, but it’s an enjoyable journey nonetheless. I would classify it as historical inspirational fiction with intrigue and an innocent, slow-burn romance. Bonus points for the cover art – I just absolutely love the colour palette and soft design. This title felt quite a bit like a novel written just for me.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 9780764234224

Book Review: The Thief of Blackfriars Lane by Michelle Griep

We’re well into the third day of the first month of a brand new spanking year that we as a family brought in much like we do every other strike of midnight – sleepy, contemplating bed for the adults, and wide awake, gaming, for the teens. You’d think for someone who spent more time than usual encamped at home this year that my reading goals would have been a breeze to meet, but I miscalculated and by the last of 2020 had not met my benchmark at all. Oh well! A new year… a new book… some new reading goals!

The Thief of Blackfriars Lane by Michelle Griep was the perfect official inaugural read for this booklover. While I technically finished another title prior, that title straddled the line between years and is accounted for somewhere in a reader’s no-man’s land. This smashing work of fiction, however, was published January 1st and seemed the exactly right title to start my new book year fresh. I finished it in the wee hours of the morning, being fully ensconced in this sweet, mysterious, and fast paced romp, aided in part by a miscalculated (but enjoyable) coffee at 9 p.m. last night. As I put my Kindle to sleep around 3 a.m., and contemplated sleep myself, I remembered again how much I truly enjoy Griep as an author of historical Christian fiction. Why do I not read her work more often?

I was swept back in time and settled in for a delightfully vivacious adventure. The author crafts a beautiful word picture that will immerse you in the action, location, and emotion on every page. The romance lends itself to sweetness and naivete, while the need to meet a deadline lends a sense of urgency and need to engage. Through this clever and compelling novel with elements of faith and trust, I was transported through the smelliest, darkest parts of London where danger and deception lurk to the glittering ballrooms of the wealthy (where danger and deception lurk) to the noble halls of the historic metropolitan police. A 5-star read to start the year off right. What a delight!

Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Publisher: Barbour Fiction

I was provided with a complimentary digital copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron

It’s been sometime since my last post – life and all that. As I was going through my bookshelves (actual bookshelves) I wondered how anyone has time to read all the books – because again, life and all that. In my ongoing purge and organization, I actually made the decision to donate (4) 8″x8″ books that I’ve accumulated through my lifetime reflecting various reading patterns that I just don’t enjoy anymore. (Apologies, Percy Bysshe Shelley & Lord Byron…) I also found some treasures in the mix, and a few titles that gave me sentimental pause but remain in a pile of undetermined fate.

I am happy to say that even though my library has grown smaller, I have climbed out of my reading slump. I’ve read a few great titles that I’ve truly enjoyed. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen even more massively behind in my reviews. Today I’m choosing to tell you about a recent favourite that hasn’t even hit bookshelves yet – sharing early in the hopes that my thoughts on it remain fresh and my review accurate to my time of reading. If I can’t post a review, I try to take notes about my feelings and the things that strike me about a book, but, in my opinion, fresh thoughts are always conveyed better in a situation like this.

Without further ado, I’d like you to turn your attention to The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron, publishing Februrary 16, 2021. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it is a beautifully written story about Paris in WWII and the courage of a select few members of La Resistance. I had concern that it would be just another tale written like many others on the market today – nothing wrong with it, but nothing to make it different… but I was pleasantly surprised that it read different, with exquisite description and detail, gripping narrative, and a basis on true events (I quite enjoyed the author’s notes at the end regarding her research.) It’s a beautifully crafted story told with layers of care at a pace that will keep you engaged, beginning to end.

My only criticisms or points of note are to mention that the novel is more than one timeline and it helps to pay attention to the where and when at the beginning of each chapter to keep one’s threads from tangling. I didn’t find it confusing, but did have to go back once or twice to clarify my point in the timeline. Secondly, with a steady pace throughout the whole novel, the ending felt not rushed, or unexpected, but perhaps slightly lackluster even though all the loose threads were tidied up. I just wanted something a little “more.” I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do. Overall, I’m adding this to my recommendations of must-reads for 2021. It does contain elements of faith which shouldn’t be surprising coming from a Thomas Nelson publication.

From the Publisher:

Based on true accounts of how Parisiennes resisted the Nazi occupation in World War II—from fashion houses to the city streets—comes a story of two courageous women who risked everything to fight an evil they couldn’t abide.

Paris, 1939. Maison Chanel has closed, thrusting haute couture dressmaker Lila de Laurent out of the world of high fashion as Nazi soldiers invade the streets and the City of Lights slips into darkness. Lila’s life is now a series of rations, brutal restrictions, and carefully controlled propaganda while Paris is cut off from the rest of the world. Yet in hidden corners of the city, the faithful pledge to resist. Lila is drawn to La Resistance and is soon using her skills as a dressmaker to infiltrate the Nazi elite. She takes their measurements and designs masterpieces, all while collecting secrets in the glamorous Hôtel Ritz—the heart of the Nazis’ Parisian headquartersBut when dashing René Touliard suddenly reenters her world, Lila finds her heart tangled between determination to help save his Jewish family and bolstering the fight for liberation.

Paris, 1943. Sandrine Paquet’s job is to catalog the priceless works of art bound for the Führer’s Berlin, masterpieces stolen from prominent Jewish families. But behind closed doors, she secretly forages for information from the underground resistance. Beneath her compliant façade lies a woman bent on uncovering the fate of her missing husband . . . but at what cost? As Hitler’s regime crumbles, Sandrine is drawn in deeper when she uncrates an exquisite blush Chanel gown concealing a cryptic message that may reveal the fate of a dressmaker who vanished from within the fashion elite.

Told across the span of the Nazi occupation, The Paris Dressmaker highlights the brave women who used everything in their power to resist darkness and restore light to their world.

Early Praise:

“Stunning. With as much skill and care as the title’s namesake possesses, The Paris Dressmaker weaves together the stories of two heroines who boldly defy the darkness that descends on the City of Light.” —Jocelyn Green, Christy Award-winning author of Shadows of the White City

“A thoroughly satisfying blend of memorable characters, evocative writing, and wartime drama that seamlessly transport you to the City of Light at its most desperate hour.” —Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things

“With real life historical details woven in with her fictional tale, the story popped off the page. Readers will be thinking of this book long after they’ve read the last word.” —Rachel Hauck, New York Times bestselling author

My final thoughts on this one are to say I highly recommend this title. It was exquisite and enjoyable. I mentioned in Instagram that it contained all my favourite things in a book (even though I’m not even sure what those “things” are) – it hit all the right notes for me. I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for a permanent place on my bookshelves.

“I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.”

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

I have had some disappointing reads lately that have just been “blah” and left me in a bit of a reading slump. I haven’t been quick to pick up any new NetGalley titles because I’ve been leery of feeling disappointed and not quite knowing how to weave my thoughts into constructive criticism – which is the whole premise of the program. When a reminder popped up that I was to post as part of the Harlequin 2020 Fall Reads Historical Fiction blog tour for Nicola Cornick’s newest title, The Forgotten Sister, I realised I had procrastinated long enough and it was time to jump into something new. It took me a day to read and it was easy-going – no drudgery involved. What a relief!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…

Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

MY THOUGHTS:

This was a well-crafted easy-to-read novel. During the opening scenes, I had some doubts about compatibility, but kept reading and was pleasantly entertained. I shouldn’t have doubted, as I’ve read and enjoyed Cornick’s work before. I pondered the relevance of the title at times but that too resolved itself to my satisfaction. This is a fanciful work of fiction with some extrasensory elements. I don’t typically travel to the Tudor period in my historical reading, so was unfamiliar with some of the key characters. The author’s note at the end made it even more interesting to me!

I was able to read the book throughout one day (without neglecting my family!) I was entertained, my curiosity was piqued, and the plot caught me by surprise. Overall I would recommend The Forgotten Sister as it held (without taking away from the merits of Cornick herself as an author) a Susanna Kearsley-esque appeal. Released today, you should be able to pick up a copy from your favourite local bookseller or any of the usual online retailers

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.

THE FORGOTTEN SISTER 
Author: Nicola Cornick 
ISBN: 9781525809958
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Publisher: Graydon House Books 

Book Review: The Guardian of Lies by Kate Furnivall

I’ve been *gasp* in a bit of a reading slump lately. There’s been so many things on my to-do list to tackle and when I’ve sat down to read, it’s been hard to ignore the little voice whispering “get up and do things…” So I’ve been a bit more productive lately, but my to-read pile continues to grow. Fortunately, I actually picked up this title months ago and have been eagerly waiting to share my thoughts. I do think it was enticing enough that those niggles of guilt would have been quieted long enough to even read it this week.

The Guardian of Lies is the second title I’ve read by Kate Furnivall. My first experience with her work was The Survivors – a gritty and gripping historical novel – that I reviewed previously. Not as gritty as her previous title, I found The Guardian of Lies to be just as engaging with twists and turns as the heroine finds herself questioning the allegiance of neighbours and family loyalties in Cold War-era France. This title is rife with danger, intrigue, secrets, and betrayal – who can you trust, where can you turn – and a bit of romance to balance the scales.

A fast-paced read, this is not the typical era I indulge in with my historical fiction picks. I wasn’t familiar with many of the incidents or significance of some of the references, but it wasn’t difficult to be immersed in the events or to feel the gravity of the tensions conveyed. It was an atmospheric and captivating novel from start to finish. It opens with heart-pounding action from the very first chapter and finishes along the same veins. The dark and shadowy world of espionage will have you questioning and doubting and surprised at some of the outcomes. Definitely a gripping page-turner that’ll keep you hooked with a well-thought out plot and remarkable characters!

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Simon & Schuster Canada
Publication Date: July 2019

Harlequin 2020 Summer Reads Blog Tour – The Black Swan of Paris by Karen Robards

If you enjoy WWII romantic historical fiction, you’ll want to head over to your favourite bookseller and pre-order Karen Robard’s new title, The Black Swan of Paris. If you don’t pre-order, be sure to add your name to your local library’s wait list or set a reminder to buy this book. It releases on June 30th – exactly a week from today!

Engaging, With A Beautiful Cadence & Voice

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
For fans of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a thrilling standalone by New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards about a celebrated singer in WWII occupied France who joins the Resistance to save her estranged family from being killed in a German prison.

In Occupied France, the Resistance trembles on the brink of destruction. Its operatives, its secrets, its plans, all will be revealed. One of its leaders, wealthy aristocrat Baron Paul de Rocheford, has been killed in a raid and the surviving members of his cell, including his wife the elegant Baronness Lillian de Rocheford, have been arrested and transported to Germany for interrogation and, inevitably, execution.

Captain Max Ryan, British SOE, is given the job of penetrating the impregnable German prison where the Baroness and the remnants of the cell are being held and tortured. If they can’t be rescued he must kill them before they can give up their secrets.

Max is in Paris, currently living under a cover identity as a show business impresario whose star attraction is Genevieve Dumont. Young, beautiful Genevieve is the toast of Europe, an icon of the glittering entertainment world that the Nazis celebrate so that the arts can be seen to be thriving in the occupied territories under their rule.

What no one knows about Genevieve is that she is Lillian and Paul de Rocheford’s younger daughter. Her feelings toward her family are bitter since they were estranged twelve years ago. But when she finds out from Max just what his new assignment entails, old, long-buried feelings are rekindled and she knows that no matter what she can’t allow her mother to be killed, not by the Nazis and not by Max. She secretly establishes contact with those in the Resistance who can help her. Through them she is able to contact her sister Emmy, and the sisters put aside their estrangement to work together to rescue their mother.

It all hinges on a command performance that Genevieve is to give for a Gestapo General in the Bavarian town where her mother and the others are imprisoned. While Genevieve sings and the show goes on, a daring rescue is underway that involves terrible danger, heartbreaking choices, and the realization that some ties, like the love between a mother and her daughters and between sisters, are forever.

MY THOUGHTS:
Robard balances the glitz and glamour of famed Paris nightlife with the tension and danger of being part of the Resistance in the midst of Occupied Europe. Opulence is countered with uncertainty, daring with danger. This novel is a bit of a slow-burn that will keep you fascinated from the very first chapter. The intricate story lines crisscross to create a beautifully crafted novel rife with romance, intrigue, heartbreak, and hope.

It was not as thrilling as other WWII novel’s I’ve read – the identity of the Black Swan in the novel also lends a layer of protection and benefits to the heroine that play very much into the pace of the story itself. Her celebrity affords a perfect veil and she becomes a ticket to move in circles otherwise inaccessible – but with this level of security also comes a risk that seems to be less intense (though no less real or relevant) than perhaps communicated in other characterizations found in this genre. When I say thrilling, I suppose I refer to pace. It’s very much engaging, but the excitement comes in to play well after you’ve begun to know the key players and care about them. Overall, it was a touching, engaging piece of fiction with a beautiful cadence and voice – reader discretion advised mostly for some grisly scenes.

My thanks to my friends at Mira Books (Harlequin) and the author for the complimentary copy of this title and chance to share my thoughts as part of the 2020 Summer Reads Blog Tour. This is a great sunny day on the deck or lounging in a hammock read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND BUY LINKS:
Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than fifty novels and one novella. She is the winner of six Silver Pen awards and numerous other awards.

Author Website: http://karenrobards.com/
Twitter: @TheKarenRobards
Facebook: @AuthorKarenRobards

THE BLACK SWAN OF PARIS
Author: Karen Robards
ISBN: 9780778309338
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Publisher: MIRA

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Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020