Blog Tour: The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross – An Excerpt

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

Prologue

Aberdeen, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE BOOK:

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

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

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

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

MY THOUGHTS:

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

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

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

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

Content warning for infidelity, war, and some profanity.

Book Review: Hostile Intent by Lynette Eason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


EXCERPT:

Sadie

Kraków, PolandMarch 1942

Everything changed the day they came for the children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman

I first requested The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman directly through NetGalley when I first saw it because of my appreciation of Shipman’s novel that I reviewed previously, The Heirloom Garden. I had already read my digital ARC (advanced readers copy) via NetGalley when the publisher invited me to join the Summer 2021 Beach Reads Blog Tour and it was one of the titles available. Because I have a tendency to ramble, the short version is that this was a delightful book and if you’re a fan of heartwarming women’s fiction, you’ll want to pick up a copy for yourself.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman’s novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surley teens, and losing their sense of self.

Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society’s disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.

MY THOUGHTS:

This novel had some small elements of humour, but mostly it was packed full of heart. Themes of friendship and the resiliency of women in the midst of the demands and unreasonable expectations upon them run deep throughout. If you have ever felt yourself questioning where you’re at in life and wondering how you got there, you’ll probably be able to related on some level to any one of the Clover Girls. Some bittersweet scenes will get the tear ducts working and by the last chapter you’ll feel like you’ve just made some new BFFs and won’t want to leave them behind. Told in dual timeline from multiple narrators, you’ll feel like your at summer camp and (re)experience some childhood angst on one hand, but get caught up in the chippy battered relationships of women who have seemingly outgrown their youthful naivety and find they still need each other. It is truly a pleasure to get caught up in a read as emotional and rewarding as this one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for PeopleCoastal LivingGood Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title. Opinions are my own.

THE CLOVER GIRLS
Author: Viola Shipman 
ISBN: 9781525896002
Publication Date:  May 18, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House

Blog Tour & Book Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica sounded intriguing enough when I first heard about it, but I’ll give a warning that as far as psychological thrillers go, this was a bit darker than I’d usually read. It was most definitely *not* a fuzzy, comedic whodunnit. I have been seeing it pop up on social media and in reader emails as we approach publication date with advance praise for the hook factor, but also many comments about it being “dark.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

People don’t just disappear without a trace…
Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

MY THOUGHTS:

I almost closed the book within the first chapter. I didn’t like where I thought it was heading but was assured by someone else who read it to keep going. It starts dark, but didn’t stay there in as much as a psychological thriller can. If you read the summary, it involves a missing child and that always makes it iffy for me. This story is, however, twisty. It’s not slow, per se, but not hurried – a lot of detail, but entrancing. As the story unwinds, the mystery doesn’t and I’ll admit that until one key pivotal moment, I sat there going “but what does this have to do with what happened?” It’ll keep you on your toes! There are a ton of content warnings I could give and I don’t think it’s going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay – it will definitely work for some and be a bit too much for others. (You can head to Goodreads or StoryGraph for some of the highlights on the content warnings.) It’s got a lot going on – this neighbourhood has secrets – and there are some graphic, skin crawling scenes – ick. If that’s not your jam, give it a pass for sure. If you like an intense chilling thriller, pick it up – once I got past my own reservations, I needed to see it through to the end because it really sucked me in!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six novels, including THE GOOD GIRL, PRETTY BABY, DON’T YOU CRY, EVERY LAST LIE, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, and THE OTHER MRS. A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. Her last novel THE OTHER MRS. was an instant New York Times bestseller; is coming soon to Netflix; was a LibraryReads pick for February 2020; praised by the New York Times; and highly recommended by Entertainment Weekly, People, The Week,Marie Claire, Bustle, HelloGiggles, Goodreads, PopSugar, BookRiot, HuffingtonPost, First for Women, Woman’s World, and more. Mary’s novels have been translated into over thirty languages and have sold over two million copies worldwide. She’s been described as “a helluva storyteller,” (Kirkus Reviews) and “a writer of vice-like control,” (Chicago Tribune), and her novels have been praised as “hypnotic” (People) and “thrilling and illuminating” (Los Angeles Times).  LOCAL WOMAN MISSING is her seventh novel.

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

Local Woman Missing
Mary Kubica
On Sale Date: May 18, 2021
ISBN 9780778389446, 0778389448
Hardcover
$27.99 USD, $34.99 CAD
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological
352 pages

Blog Tour & Book Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates

Once upon a time, I tried to use my sister-in-laws sewing machine to make Halloween costumes for myself and my then boyfriend (now husband.) To put it lightly, it was a disastrous experience. Then in the future, I purchased a basic sewing machine so I could teach myself and well, let’s just say I broke the sewing machine. Hand-sewing is not an improvement – I can sew on a button and darn a small hole, but the thought of creating a quilt seems so ambitiously talented and I envy those who can do fine needlework, despite the fact that once upon a time I could complete a pretty decent cross stitch. My creative talents lie elsewhere, but one day I will pick up a needle and thread again to make something pretty.

Now that we’ve cleared up that I’m absolute rubbish when it comes to sewing, I’d like to say that the Ashwood women are much more talented than I am. I received a complimentary e-book version of Maisey Yates’ new release, Confessions from the Quilting Circle, which releases May 4th. It sounded like exactly my kind of book and I happily read it in anticipation of being a part of the publisher’s blog tour. Crafts, secrets, romance? I want to be part of this world!

Book Summary:

The Ashwood women don’t have much in common…except their ability to keep secrets.

When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?

Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away…

Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.

This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time…


My Thoughts:
This contemporary novel was easy to read with flawed characters, second chances, and a lot of secrets. The parallels between each sister and the journal entries they read were a nice touch in uniting the past with the present. The romantic elements are sweet (and there is some passion!) but they’re almost secondary to the story of the Ashwood family coming to terms with their distant relationships with each other. There’s a lot for each woman to overcome to get to a place of happiness and fulfillment, despite their individual successes (or illusion thereof.)

It was interesting to peel back the layers to see where the fabric of their lives had frayed or torn, leaving them a little unfinished or incomplete. I loved the concept of a united project and the truths and beauty that came out of time spent together creating a work of art in their grandmother’s (mother’s) memory. I quite enjoyed getting to know the characters and unravelling the threads of who they are and where they came from, flaws and all. This title hits bookshelves today – pick up a copy from your favorite independent bookstore or all major book retailers.

My thanks to Harlequin/HarperCollins for the advanced readers copy. All opinions are my own.

Author Bio:
New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit. 

Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @maiseyyates
Facebook:@MaiseyYates.Author 
Instagram: @maiseyyates
Goodreads

CONFESSIONS FROM THE QUILTING CIRCLE
Author: Maisey Yates
ISBN: 9781335775856
Publication Date: 5/4/2021
Publisher: HQN Books




Blog Tour & Book Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

I have run into some hit and miss situations with women’s fiction lately and it’s tilted me towards a bit of a mystery/suspense streak. If one genre isn’t working, why not try another? Now, I don’t want to lead anyone to the incorrect assumption that I’ve given up on women’s fiction or romance, I just needed to cleanse the palate a little, leaving me ready for RaeAnne Thayne’s latest title, The Path to Sunshine Cove. After reading it, my love for the genre is firmly intact once again.

One thing I’m not sure I’ve ever explained is regarding how the book review blog tours work. The publicity team at the publishers reach out months in advance asking if you’ll agree to read and review a certain title (or three) well in advance of publication date. You agree and then download the book or wait for the download to become available. Then you wait for the related assets (photos, bios, etc.) and then you post on a pre-selected date. I didn’t just wake up last week and decide it was time to dive into this one… I selected my title and blog date back in November and in typical Lindsey fashion, waited to read the book last week. I don’t recommend this method, but my review is at least fresh in my mind.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
She knows what’s best for everyone but herself…

With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She’s made a career out of helping others downsize—because she’s learned the hard way that the less “stuff,” the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home…and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven’t made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.

While Jess couldn’t wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world—and her sister—to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child’s disability, Rachel’s marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she’s learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn’t do family, and she shouldn’t count on her now.

Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached—to her sister and her family, even to her client’s interfering son, Nate—and it’s time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

MY THOUGHTS:
As I was first getting into this title, I assumed that it was a light and easy beach read, a little bit of family drama, a whole lot of romance, sandy shores, and sunshine. I was right… but I was also wrong. It reads like a warm and easy feel-good novel, but that shouldn’t deceive the reader. The author doesn’t go deep with a lot of issues, but she has created characters with weighty backstories who are definitely shaped by their pasts. There are experiences of neglect, abuse, and suicide, and a more prominent thread of grief and loss that have created the flawed, bruised characters of the present. Lest you think, wow, that’s dark, know that the characters are living, growing, changing, experiencing life, despite or in spite of those experiences – building business, families, relationships and finding themselves day by day.

The setting is absolutely gorgeous. For those of you not living on the west coast with sunshine and palm trees, after being cooped up for the last year it will definitely stir the travel bug. The entire cast of characters is delightful – Nate’s mom is just the best. There’s a balance in the developing romance and the strengthening of the sister’s relationship – defining this as women’s fiction vs. romance would be a struggle for me. I don’t think either outcome takes center stage and both carry an equal importance in the telling of the story of the whole. We’d be lost without one or the other. Overall, it hit all the right notes for me – it’s a feel-good, delightful, easy-to-read, happily ever after – just don’t be fooled that it’s all fluff and nonsense.

The Path to Sunset Cove hits booksellers shelves today! Pick up a copy for yourself and let’s compare notes. Happy publication day, Ms. Thayne!

Note: This is the second title in a series but is absolutely able to be read as a standalone.

My thanks to the publisher for including me in this one.

THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE 
Author: RaeAnne Thayne 
ISBN: 9781335665430
Publication Date: March 30, 2020
Publisher: HQN Books

Book Review: Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter

Sophie Lawson should be enjoying her sister’s wedding day. But nothing could have prepared her to see the best man again.

After her mother became bedridden and her father bailed on the family, Sophie found herself serving as a second mother to her twin brother, Seth, and younger sister, Jenna. Sophie supported her siblings through their college years, putting aside her own dream of opening a bookshop in Piper’s Cove—the quaint North Carolina beach town they frequented as children.

Now it’s finally time for Sophie to follow her own pursuits. Seth has a new job, and Jenna is set to marry her college beau in Piper’s Cove. But the destination wedding reunites Sophie with best man Aiden Maddox, her high school sweetheart who left her without a backward glance.

When an advancing hurricane strands Aiden in Piper’s Cove after the wedding, he finds the hotels booked to capacity and has to ask Sophie to put him up until the storm passes. As the two ride out the weather, old feelings rise to the surface. The delay also leaves Sophie with mere days to get her bookshop up and running. Can she trust Aiden to stick around? And will he find the courage to risk his heart?

Denise Hunter has delivered another charming contemporary romance with Bookshop by the Sea. In this hopeful easy-to-read novel, our female protagonist is a bit of a mess personally even though she seems to have it all together when it comes to managing everyone around her. Sophie finds herself at a juncture in life when she can finally pursue her own interests. Throw in some speedbumps in the form of old love, natural disasters, and emotional setbacks – can Sophie bring her dreams to life?

I am a big fan of Hunter’s writing style, balancing inspirational fiction with real, messy life. Her characters are flawed and therefore a bit more realistic as they face their doubts, insecurities, and questions of faith. The relationship development in this novel is heartfelt and sweet. The setting is as charming as the tale itself, a cozy bookshop in a small coastal town where neighbours look out for each other. There’s everything to love about this feel-good contemporary read and you’ll be cheering on Sophie and Aidan.

Bookshop by the Sea is set to hit booksellers on April 13th. Be sure to pre-order now! My thanks to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the complimentary digital copy via NetGalley.