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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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
If you know me, you probably know that one of my guilty pleasures is historical romance. I want to blame my mother in law, passing along books she has read, but I’m quite certain she just cultivated roots that were already there. I passed many an hour in my teen years silently observing as early settlers fell in love on wagon trains, in the wilderness, or in small western towns thanks to the likes of Janette Oke.
As I’ve matured, my reading list has expanded to other authors and other settings and I like a good Regency romp or Victorian escape – fluff pieces, often, but easy to read and distracting from the laundry baskets piling up around me or the never ending emails flooding my inbox. When I saw An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley I was intrigued. I jumped in thinking it would, once again, just be a bit of mindless drivel – enjoyable but not impactful. Oh, but how I was mistaken. I should have paid more attention to the publisher’s notes.
Acclaimed author Vanessa Riley infuses the ballroom settings of Regency England with hints of Demerara Island and Jamaican flair in Rogues and Remarkable Women, her series revolving around The Widow’s Grace, a secret society of widows battling society to regain their money and a chance at love everlasting. In this sweeping, swoon-worthy second installment, a shipwrecked woman searches for her memories and becomes entangled with a conflicted nobleman who holds more answers than he realizes…
An OMag.com & Bibliolifestyle Most Anticipated Romance of 2021 A PopSugar Best Romance of April A Publishers Weekly Top 10 Romance of Spring 2021
A witty and moving story from the acclaimed author of A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, about the lengths to which a woman will go for the love of her child…and the love of a man who knows her worth. Breaking with traditional Regency rules and customs, Vanessa Riley pens an unforgettable story perfect for fans of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Eloisa James looking for something fresh and stirring!
One comment I think important to note is that I don’t think the comparison to Bridgerton is fair. Ms. Riley has created a well-crafted world in her own right, worthy of it’s own success. While both series are remarkable, they are not the same, although I can see how fans of the Bridgertons will enjoy the Rogues & Remarkable Women Series – with less, um, heaving bosoms. Both authors are talented and acclaimed.
In reviewing this novel itself, I say there was a depth of emotion and feeling that I didn’t expect. It was full of high stakes drama and flawed but likeable characters. And a ferocity – oh the ferocity and strength – were balanced with heart break, humour, and romance. Motherhood, strong women, unfair societal constraints, prejudice, loss – this title had it all along with danger and daring. What I particularly noted was a lack of ‘skip scenes’ – all the steam was closed door – so no objectionable content for anyone trying to avoid blatant intimacy. (I will note that this is actually one of the complaints I’m seeing from other reviewers – not everyone wants a “clean read” but this novel didn’t need intimate scenes. There was heat and chemistry between the characters but it’s not in-your-face.)
Best of all, in a world where representation matters, Riley delivers a beautiful story with diversity and multi-culturalism as an #OwnVoices author. I enjoyed this title so much that I then went and bought the previous title in the series (but know this title can be read as a standalone) and have flagged Riley as must-read author as I work my way through her backlist. What an enjoyable adventure that will be!
My thanks to Kensington Books for the Advanced Readers Copy via NetGalley. This title will be published April 27th and if you’re a fan of Regency romance, you should probably check it out! While I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Does anyone else compile novels in their head as they fall asleep? Just me? The first lines are what get me. I often come up with a spectacular first chapter draft that I’m sure I’ll remember the next morning and much like an incredible dream, the details tend to be pretty fuzzy upon awakening. If I’m not compiling fiction in my head, I’m compiling blog posts. The unpublished, unedited, mostly forgotten versions of posts that fill the archive of my mind are overflowing the file drawers and spilling onto the floor.
Earlier this year, much like the fashion of our day to day routines changing by the week, I thought it would be fun to try something new – audiobooks. I’ve downloaded two – one a Christmas gift, and one a NetGalley selection. To say I’m a bit, umm, unfocused is greatly underselling how much this format is not suited to my disciplines. However, I will say I think I could come up with a way to make it work. I’m not ready to give up on audiobooks yet.
If you’re a follower of best selling fiction and news from the fiction world, I’m sure you’ve heard of The Rose Code by best-selling author, Kate Quinn. The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over. It was published March 9th and has spent some time on recommended reading lists and best seller lists alike. You can’t go onto a bookstore’s website or browse their featured selections without seeing it because it’s just that good. This work of magnificent fiction is the audiobook I requested through NetGalley.
The audiobook is narrated by a delightfully accented woman by the name of Saskia Maarleveld. She reads bewitchingly, bringing emotion and colour to the listener. Unfortunately for me, she is also mesmerizing and as I listened, I fell into a mindless complacency, easily allowing the narration to become just background noise to the tasks around me. When I did intentionally focus, I found I was straining to stay abreast of the details of the story while I interpreted the British accent. This is not a criticism of Maarleveld or the novel. Both were enjoyable (more on that…) but rather, a sad commentary on my own failings as an active listener. (My husband and coworkers would most likely agree that I have many shortcomings in this regard.)
So I did what any sensible person would do when they haven’t listened to their advanced copy before publication date… I ordered the paperback version with deckle edge. This book is, well, weighty. My arms would get tired while reading in bed. It smacked my face more than once with quite a bit of heft. I turned into this weird hybrid reader, listening at times while doing dishes or driving, and than skimming to catch up in my print copy before tucking away a few chapters in the print version. The paperback, however, wasn’t portable enough for me, so I also purchased an e-book to read on my phone or my Kindle. It is quite possible I lost my place more than once having so many versions in my hands.
But I needed access to this novel, because the story was so well done, so intriguing, so consuming that I couldn’t put it down. It was by no means a quick read, but it was epic and heartfelt. It is a remarkable work of historical fiction and will be one of my top picks for 2021, if not of all time. I am traditionally a fan of heroic WWII sagas, but I enjoyed that this didn’t put us on the frontlines or in the shoes of those living through an invasion, but brought us behind the scenes, so to speak, and into the heart of valiant warriors in their own right. I found it to be an absolutely fascinating masterpiece that brought me to laughter, tears, and frustration. It will be worth a re-read one day, and in all honestly, I’m having a difficult time leaving Bletchley Park behind.
My thanks to HarperAudio for the advanced listener copy via NetGalley. It was truly appreciated.
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.
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
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
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
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