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

Book Review: A Single Spark by Judith Miller

If you are a fan of historical inspirational fiction or Judith Miller in general, you’ll love this new release from Bethany House! A Single Spark, coming out on June 2nd, captures a pivotal era in American history and I actually learned more about the war efforts from the perspective of women left behind during the Civil War and the danger they faced while lending support to an epic cause.

Wanting to do her part in the war effort, Clara McBride goes to work in the cartridge room at the Washington Arsenal, the city’s main site for production and storing of munitions. She’s given the opportunity to train new employees and forms a friendship with two of them. All seems to be going well, especially when one of the supervisors shows interest in her.

Lieutenant Joseph Brady is an injured army officer who, no longer able to lead troops into battle, has been assigned to a supervisory position at the Washington Arsenal. While Clara has caught his eye, he also makes it his mission to fight for increased measures to prevent explosions in the factory.

But when suspicions rise after multiple shipments of Washington Arsenal cartridges fail to fire and everyone is suspect for sabotage, can the spark of love between Joseph and Clara survive?

Judith Miller sparks interest through her lively and easy-to-read historical offerings. This title in particular, has characters you’ll love, characters you’ll despise, emotion, and mystery! The gentle romance weaving its magic between the pages will endear you. Overall, it’s a 4-star read for anyone who enjoys clean, simple historical fiction with a dash of love and strong elements of faith.

I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley with thanks. Opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Brideship Wife by Leslie Howard

Those who know my reading tastes know I grew up on historical fiction – Laura Ingalls Wilder was a close companion in my formative years, alongside Anne of Green Gables, and others as the year went by. Even now as I’ve matured (ha!) my reading tastes have expanded to some degree, but a well-written work of historical fiction will always have a special place on my shelf, and of even more prominence if it has ties to Canadian history.

Simon & Schuster Canada approved my NetGalley request for the soon-to-be-released title, The Brideship Wife, by author Leslie Howard. Inspired by the history of the British “brideships,” this captivating historical debut tells the story of one woman’s coming of age and search for independence—for readers of Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale and Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl.

Amid mad bursts of baking and a well-overdue tidy & sort project, I have spent the last few days curled up in the company of Charlotte and a supporting cast of characters as they travel from the upper echelons of British society with it’s restrictive double-standards and scandals to the lawless lands of early British Columbia with promises of independence and opportunity. This novel was illuminating, heartfelt, infuriating, heartbreaking, and overall just so delightful to read.

The author touches on so many aspects of history that it’s easy to forget about in the romanticism of days gone by. She brings to light little-known aspects of the settling of British Columbia and history of Canada – not all of it as wonderful as we would like. Her characters are well-developed, the story is well-paced, and every page is a wonder of descriptive narratives that will move you back in time. This is a highly recommended read and I truly hope to see it on a number of bestsellers lists across Canada, perhaps keeping company with The Forgotten Home Child – another beautiful work of historical fiction from a Canadian perspective. Regardless of whether you’re from our Great White North or any far reaches across the globe, you’ll enjoy this peek into a women’s quest for independence and the experiences that shape her.

Leslie Howard grew up in Penticton, British Columbia, where she developed a passion for the province’s history. A graduate of Ottawa’s Carleton University in economics and political science, she now divides her time between Vancouver and Penticton, where she and her husband grow cider apples. The Brideship Wife is her debut novel. Connect with her on Twitter @AuthorLeslieH or on her website LeslieHoward.ca.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the opportunity to read and review this title. Watch for it to hit shelves on May 5th!

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman

While we enjoyed a few days of mild weather at the end of February – well before our days of self-isolation – I itched to get my hands dirty (an urge that generally passes by July.) I had to console myself with the slow-paced delights of The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman (which, by the way, I discovered is a nom de pleume the same time I finished the book.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In this heartwarming and feel-good novel filled with echoes of Dorothea Benton Frank, Debbie Macomber and Elizabeth Berg, two women separated by a generation but equally scarred by war find hope, meaning – and each other – through a garden of heirloom flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to loneliness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind a towering fence surrounding her home and gardens, the former botanist has built a new family…of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to an heirloom garden filled with starts – and memories – of her own mother, grandmother, husband and daughter.

When Abby Peterson moves to Grand Haven, Michigan, with her family – a husband traumatized during his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability – they find themselves next door to Iris, and are slowly drawn into her reclusive neighbour’s life where, united by loss and a love of flowers, Iris and Abby slowly unearth their secrets to each other. Eventually, the two teach one another that the earth grounds us all, gardens are a grand healer, and as flowers bloom so do our hopes and dreams.

MY THOUGHTS:

While I am, self-admittedly, an emotional reader, this sweet and poignant story pulled each of my heartstrings. Shipman paints a vivid picture of glorious garden splendor, damaged souls, and the healing power of friendship. Scars of war effect a family and a neighbor as they come to grips with new normals and build foundations for a happier future.

Picturesque descriptions of flora, strong female leads, and a fantastic setting (hello, Great Lakes Michigan resort town!) will have you craving cottages, sand dunes, and friends with old souls. The Heirloom Garden flips between eras and character perspective, providing a beautiful depiction of strength and hope through inter-generational storytelling with an emphasis on treasuring memories and heirlooms through love and loss. A remarkably emotion-evoking read that will inspire you to plan a family vacation to Grand Haven.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary Advanced Readers Copy through NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own. This post was created as part of the Harlequin 2020 Spring Reads Blog Tour.

Published by HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada), Graydon House Imprint.

Publication Date: April 28, 2020

You’ll be able to purchase direct from the publisher, from your favourite local bookseller, or any major retailer where books are sold.

SOCIAL LINKS:
Author Website: https://www.violashipman.com/
TWITTER: @viola_shipman
FB: @authorviolashipman
Insta: @viola_shipman
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14056193.Viola_Shipman

Blog Tour & Book Review: The House at Silvermoor by Tracy Rees

The publishers of Tracy Rees’ latest novel, The House at Silvermoor, invited me to take part in their blog tour today. I, of course, accepted the invitation enthusiastically. To read and review in the company of fellow great readers is a joy! Check out some of the other bloggers to see their thoughts on this title.

From The Publisher:

England, 1899. A new century is dawning, and two young friends are about to enter into a world of money, privilege and family secrets…

Josie has never questioned her life in a South Yorkshire mining village. But everything changes when she meets Tommy from the neighbouring village. Tommy has been destined for a life underground since the moment he was born. But he has far bigger dreams for his future.

United by their desire for something better and by their fascination with the local gentry, Josie and Tommy become fast friends. Wealthy and glamorous, the Sedgewicks of Silvermoor inhabit a world that is utterly forbidden to Tommy and Josie. Yet as the new century arrives, the pair become entangled with the grand family, and discover a long hidden secret. Will everything change as they all step forward into the new dawn…?

My Thoughts:

Tracy Rees is a new-to-me author and it took some time to adjust to her cadence. This book is undeniably interesting. It paints an imaginative look at the hopes and dreams of a young couple in Victorian England while simultaneously highlighting the despair of decrepit working conditions, especially in mining. It showcases the difference between the haves and have nots.

It is not a quick moving narrative by any means, but it was intriguing. You truly get to know the characters and they feel like friends. Their history and development will have you cheering for the underdog more than once. Your heart may even be broken as your emotions are moved by the blights our friends encounter.

Overall, I would recommend this title as a slow read to indulge in over a few days. It was gritty, sweet, and passionate, but avoided pretty decoys in the sense that it remained raw in its appeal without adding unnecessary bows and ribbons. It’s touching and honest with a hint of scandal and mystery.

My thanks to Quercus Books for the opportunity to read and review this title via the NetGalley platform.

Book Review: Storing Up Trouble by Jen Turano

This will be a pretty quick review – no small talk before I jump right in. This is mostly because I finished this title last night and want to share my thoughts “fresh.”

Bethany House approved my NetGalley request for Jen Turano’s upcoming novel, Storing Up Trouble. It’s the third installment in the American Heiresses series, but can very easily be read as a standalone. (I know this because I’ve not read the previous titles but most definitely will be adding them to my to-be-read list!)

A Delightful Whirlwind of Enjoyment

Turano is known for her humour and inspirational stories and this title does not disappoint on that front. If it were a person, I’d describe it as that loud, sweet, somewhat chaotic friend that brings liveliness and occasional puzzlement in every encounter. It’s a delightful whirlwind of enjoyment!

With a blend of adventure, snicker-inducing scenarios and dialogue, danger, oddball characters, and sweet romance this book is a fast-paced get-ready-for-a-ride work of art. It also manages to romp through the very pivotal history of suffrage and worker’s rights in North America in a delicate balance of important facts and quirky situations.

As it is inspirational fiction, faith and purpose play a foundational role in the overall story. It is a clean, sassy, sweet work of historical romance. Overall, I can do nothing but recommend this title. My only complaint is that I binged my way through it and now I feel a little lonely.

Published by Bethany House. Publication Date: May 5, 2020

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

Book Review: Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green

When I read this title last week, the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t really hit our shores yet. I mean, we were all aware of what was going on remotely, and were being told to be cautious, but we weren’t in a state of panic. That all seemingly changed all the night – and blame media, blame government, blame who you will – the very real fact is that humanity didn’t respond as they might, but I’m seeing bright lights in all the darkness. Ironically (or not, I never quite know if something is truly ironic…), when the schools were shut down and the locals went mad over toilet paper, bananas, and shelf stable pantry basics, I was reading a fictional account of a historical event (one of my favourite genres!) and I was struck by the panic and helplessness that imbued so many of pages. It made a far off distant event relatable because of the unease that we too seem to be experiencing.

Here is a description of Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green, straight from the publisher:

Meg and Sylvie Townsend manage the family bookshop and care for their father, Stephen, a veteran still suffering in mind and spirit from his time as a POW during the Civil War. But when the Great Fire sweeps through Chicago’s business district, they lose much more than just their store.

The sisters become separated from their father and make a harrowing escape from the flames with the help of Chicago Tribune reporter Nate Pierce. Once the smoke clears away, they reunite with Stephen, only to learn soon after that their family friend was murdered on the night of the fire. Even more shocking, Stephen is charged with the crime and committed to the Cook County Insane Asylum.

Though homeless and suddenly unemployed, Meg must not only gather the pieces of her shattered life, but prove her father’s innocence before the asylum truly drives him mad.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not dealing with PTSD, I didn’t lose my home, no one in my family has been committed to an asylum, nor have I been dealt a blow like the Chicago Fire and it’s wake of destruction. Somehow, though, I felt like I could relate to all the emotions and challenges the sisters were feeling and I attribute this to the gifted writings of the author.

There was a lot going on in this book – like crazy amounts of pressure and so many issues to resolve – but it worked. The mystery surrounding the crime wasn’t unexpected, but the journey to the final resolution kept you with a niggling little grain of doubt – maybe you knew, maybe you didn’t, and even a conviction that you were right, but you didn’t quite get the how. All figured out and tied up in a neat bow by the final chapter.

Overall, I’d recommend this title as it’s set in a wonderful accounting of a great historical event (and I even learned something reading the author’s notes at the end….) It deals with so much more than just “the fire” while creating not-always-likable-but-very-real characters in some devastating circumstances. Great descriptions, good flow, and elements of surprise lead to a well-rounded, but intense, piece of fiction with some hope, some heartbreak, some history.

My thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary download of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Bethany House
Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Book Review: The Forgotten Home Childby Genevieve Graham

There are so many things I love about The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham. If I had a Must-Read in 2020 list, this would be the second title on it. (The first place holder hasn’t been reviewed yet because it doesn’t publish until late summer, but it is worthy of first place.) Maybe I need a Must-Read Fiction in 2020 list and this could go straight to the very top. It was that good by my recommendation.

Emotionally Moving

First thing I love about this one? The genre. Historical fiction will always hold a special place in my reader’s heart. Always. This novel is based on factual history, but the plot and characters are make-believe. It’s the type of historical fiction that made me do some very light research because I had no idea this had happened (and it left me feeling bereft and heartbroken on behalf of the children who left their homes, and even more so for those who were mistreated in what should have been a better life.)

Two, I love this title because it showcases an important piece of Canadian history, is set in Canada (and the UK), with recognizable destinations and landscapes and was written by a Canadian author. Score for familiarity.

Three, I loved the voice of this writer so much. It was so easy to read, engaging and emotional. I read some early feedback from others that felt certain aspects were sugarcoated – there are some mature, graphic situations (not graphic in actual content, graphic in theme). The author chooses to gloss over them (i.e. rape was not called rape) but I took the liberty of assuming this had more to do with keeping with the era than the author choosing to belittle such horrible events. She paints a highly illustrative struggle of the children in their new situations and also casts a fair light on the flaws in what should have been an excellent program. On the flip side, there is a balance in acknowledging that not all the children ended up in abusive positions and their lives were better for it.

This novel addresses chasms between classes, the heartbreak of stigma, the darkness of an era not far behind us. It’s presented in the retelling by a nonagenerian who has kept her history a secret until a fateful occurence sparks some questions from her family.

Overall, I found The Forgotten Home Child to be one of my all-time favourite reads. It was emotionally moving and enlightening. I am in awe of the resilience of the characters and saddened by this aspect of our history. It hits shelves on March 3rd so make a preorder or on publication day pick up a copy for yourself and let me know if you agree or disagree with my take.

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this title courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Simon & Schuster Canada

Book Review: The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

Read with Caution – Gripping and Evocative

I feel compelled to admit that I’m not sure I will find the proper words for this particular review. The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear was a riveting, emotional work of fiction that took a very close look at the Harpe brothers and their crimes from the perspective of an acquaintance of one of their wives/victims. It is part of the True Colors series by Barbour about historical, American crime. Most of the titles I’ve read to date have characters expressing a strong faith-based element or struggling to find their faith as they live through a connection to these true crimes.

Going into this one, I had no idea who the Harpe brothers even were. Let me tell you… they were pure evil, serial killers, sadists, degenerate criminals. They were evil incarnate. If you’re like me, having no previous knowledge of their crimes or terror inflicted on families and travellers in late 1700s Tennessee and surrounding areas, this book was a disturbing introduction to these less-than-upstanding characters of American history. The author does address the difficulty in walking the fine line between the gruesome telling of their crimes and doing justice to the historic, factual events and honoring the victims while still presenting a “wholesome” piece of Christian fiction. Not an easy task…

This novel is graphic and grisly and dark. On the other hand, it has moments of hopefulness, healing, and romance. McNear balances it well so the darkness doesn’t overwhelm the tale – and yet darkness is the body of the unfortunate events depicted – it leaves a stain or heaviness behind.

It’s quite difficult to explain my reaction to this one. It was intense. The novel is very well-written and you may cry more than once – at least I did. It was gripping and evocative. I highly recommend it, but I recommend it with a bright strobing word of caution. You may feel a little banged up upon completion, especially if you’re a sensitive soul. The “true crime” aspect makes it difficult to process and will have you questioning how humanity can be so broken.

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

Published by: Barbour Books (Barbour Publishing Inc.)

Publication Date: March 1, 2020