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 Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson

Last week, The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson was released in North America. I was fortunate enough to be given a complimentary e-book with thanks to Harper Collins. Additionally, I get to be a part of a blog tour touting all the wonders of this amazing book!

I’ve read a few titles lately that have earned a place on my “top reads of 2021” and this is definitely one of them. It has heart and humour and an eclectic cast of characters. I can be an emotional reader, but It isn’t easy to make me laugh out loud and silently sob all in the same chapter, but Norman did. As he deals with grief and chronic illness, Norman, accompanied by his mom and surrogate grandfather, embarks on a whirlwind quest of epic proportions: performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The challenge, besides Norman’s age? He’s not the world’s funniest kid and he’s missing the other half of his comedy duo.

I wanted to envelop Norman in the world’s biggest, most careful hug and I absolutely adored Jax. (We’ve had some encounters with the Jax of this world and I think they’re misjudged and mislabeled.) This novel is irreverent and funny and pulls the heartstrings right to the very end. One of the “perks” for me was the relatability to Sadie as a mother – her internal dialogue, while not entirely relevant to me personally, was familiar enough that I wanted to pull her aside and tell her she’s an excellent mother. She wasn’t perfect, but she loves Norman wholeheartedly.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but can say without a qualm of hesitance that I absolutely recommend it. Julietta’s writing has a unique rhythm that pulled me in as a reader. Throughout the story, there’s a lot to explore, but if it doesn’t tickle your funny bone or touch your heart, than you might just be made of stone.

About the Book:

Little Miss Sunshine meets Wonder in this delightfully charming, uplifting book club debut about a twelve-year-old would-be comedian who travels across the country to honor his dead best friend’s dream of performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—the only problem being that his friend was the funny one of their duo.

Twelve-year-old would-be comedian Norman has got a lot going on, including a chronic case of psoriasis, a distinct lack of comic timing and a dead best friend. All his life it’s just been him, his single mum Sadie, and Jax, the ‘funny one’ of their comedy duo. So when Jax dies not only is Norman devastated, it’s also the end of the boys’ Five Year Plan to take their comedy act to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when they turned fifteen.

But Norman decides to honor Jax by performing at the Fringe, on his own. And not when he’s fifteen—but rather in four weeks’ time. But there’s another, far more colossal objective on Norman’s plan that Sadie wasn’t quite ready for: Norman wants to find his father. Eager to do anything that might put a smile on her boy’s face, Sadie resolves to face up to her own messy past and track down the father who doesn’t even know Norman exists, and whose identity Sadie herself isn’t quite sure of.

Thus begins a road trip from Cornwall to Scotland, featuring a mother and son who will live in the reader’s heart for a long time to come.

About the Author:
Julietta Henderson is a full-time writer and comedy fan who splits her time between her home country of Australia and the UK. The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman is Julietta’s first novel.

Social Links:
Website: https://juliettahenderson.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/juliettajulia1 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/juliettahendersonauthor/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19633416.Julietta_Henderson

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
Julietta Henderson
On Sale Date: April 13, 2021
ISBN 9780778331957, 0778331954
Fiction / Humorous / Coming of Age

Book Review: A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron

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

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

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

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

From the Publisher:

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

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

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

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

Early Praise:

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

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

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

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

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

Our Hectic Mundane… and A Book Recommendation

It’s a quiet Friday morning in September – it was 3 degrees (Celsius) when I woke up and I can feel in my frozen toes that winter is coming.The boys have headed back to school, but like most people around here, that has meant nothing in terms of routine. As of today, we are officially on our specific schedules which still seems to involve a lot of juggling with varied timetables even though we opted (optimistically) for in person learning. My contract was reestablished and I headed back into the office on a scaled-back schedule.

While I have a few hours to myself (the oldest is only out of the house for 3 hours, every other day) on this dedicated “day off”, I sat down with a Tetley gingerbread tea latte (featuring a combo almond/coconut milk and oat milk froth because I’m eliminating reducing dairy) and realized I have a to-do list, yes, but nowhere and nothing that NEED to be done. If I want to sit in my pajamas all day and read, well, I could do that – guilt-free. (I won’t though, because I don’t think that’s what my body needs today. Yesterday, yes – I worked, I napped, I ate (ugh) cup-o-soup for dinner instead of the veggie stir fry I prepared because I wasn’t feeling up to anything. Not all days are a success on this journey.)

I have been scaling back on my NetGalley reads – the to-be read list is still ridiculously long, but so is my pile of books I’ve actually invested in. I most recently picked up The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri from the fabulous Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. (It’s one of my favourite independent bookstores – probably my favourite locally!) I’ve been tip-toeing my way through this title because I’m feeling book burnout. It’s an unfortunate state of being. So instead of reading what I “need” to – as I felt I was sometimes missing the pleasure of the read and therefore, perhaps unconsciously skewing my reviews – I opted to read something that grabbed me in the moment.

The Wikipedia summary of this title blandly states: The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a 2019 novel by Christy Lefteri. It deals with the flight of refugees from Aleppo in Syria to Europe during the Syrian Civil War. While a work of fiction, it is based on the author’s experience over two summers volunteering in Athens at a refugee center.

What Wikipedia fails to mention is the passion, heartache, and beauty that has gone into this work. I don’t have a full review for you – I’m only half-way through, but I would, based on reading to date, recommend this title to anyone and everyone. It’s captivating and moving and almost too much for me to read in a binge session. It’s heavy-weighted and I need air in between passages at times, but it’s beautiful. Perhaps my view is a little slanted because as I read, I can’t help but relate the carefully crafted words to the experiences those of my own limited acquaintance have encountered as they lived the plight of the refugee.

So today, I leave you with that recommendation and quick glimpse into our current life. Myself? Well while the dishwasher runs, my toes warm under a blanket on the couch, and the kittens (yes, we adopted two kittens this summer) run amok through the house, I will take a few breaths, enjoy my few hours of freedom, find joy in the sunshine, and peace in our special hectic mundane (which may or may not involve unclogging a shower drain – oh the glamour!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

Every once in a while you’ll find yourself lucky enough to pick up a book that speaks to your very soul in heartrending yet remarkable ways. Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese was such a book for me. I started to read it before bed a few nights ago without re-reading the summary and had totally forgotten what it was about. I selected it because the cover led me to mistakenly think it would be an easy, breezy read. I was so far mistaken that I read well into the early hours of the morning, caught half a night’s sleep, and then dove right in again as soon as my other responsibilities were taken care of because it tied a string around my heart and roped me in until the very last page. It was a fend for yourself, kids, type of day.

As for the easy, breezy I was only half right. It was such an easy book to read, but it gripped me too – I cried more than once at the tenuous tightrope of desires that Lauren, the lead, found herself trying to balance on while trying to honour a commitment to her future child while trying to suss out the right choices in life. There was nothing breezy in the subject matter despite the at first glance, lighthearted appeal of the potential romantic interest, Joshua, and the author’s picturesque humourous situations.

Deese did a wonderful job of painting a not-always-rosy picture of the process of adoption and even issues post-adoption, but she also did a wonderful job of infusing the story with a beautiful yearning and deep heart felt love. She broached family dysfunction and forgiveness, loss, grief, acceptance, faith, trust, hope, healing, complications, connection, commitments, and so much more in this touching, emotional read. This inspirational title was poignant and complex and absolutely splendid all the same.

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

Published By: Bethany House
Publication Date: March 31, 2020

Book Review: A Simple Wedding

For those who haven’t looked at a North American calendar in sometime, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. A day of romance and wooing and overpriced flowers and gifts to say “I love you!”

My husband and I no longer “really” celebrate Valentine’s Day. Sometimes we’ll order in (but that’s not an unusual occurrence around here) or I’ll try to make a special dinner for my guys (it usually fails.) I prefer my dashes of romance between the pages of a book and leaving the real life “I love yous” to a shout while dashing out the door or with help folding the laundry. I’m not a relationship expert, but it works for us and we’ve been married 15 years so why mess with it. I’ll appreciate that love even more if I’m given some alone time to jump into that romance novel.

A few days ago I picked up “A Simple Wedding” by Leigh Duncan. It’s published by Hallmark which means you probably don’t even need to keep reading my thoughts. (Please do.)

It’s set in “Heart’s Landing” – an east coast wedding destination. (This should also tell you plenty.) It’s dripping with sappiness. (My phone just tried to autocorrect sappiness to happiness and I mean, it’s not wrong.)

And yet… all sappiness aside, I loved it. Fluffy and sweet, easy to read, likeable characters, charming setting, and just enough of a twist on the typical Hallmark romance to make it interesting – interesting enough that I’ll be looking for other titles in the Hearts Landing series.

A little unbelievable at times, but it’s fiction… and contemporary, enchanting romance at that. The whole premise is that a successful personal assistant is planning a wedding for her famous cousin while not divulging she’s not the actual bride. Through the absolute ridiculous requests and the truth coming to light, I feel that even though our heroine is sweet as pie, everyone was entitled to a meltdown and they all just rolled with it.

Is this a 5-star literary masterpiece? Not even a little bit close. Is it a feel good impractical reminder that romance isn’t dead? Absolutely. Will it leave you craving decadent cupcakes and small town friends? Yes. It’s a quick and easy read that will warm your heart and tempt your tastebuds. Watch for this title to hit shelves on March 10th!

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

Book Review & Blog Tour: The Third to Die by Allison Brennan

While historical fiction and women’s fiction seem to be my regular go-to’s when it comes to genres I enjoy, every once in awhile I enjoy pulling out a heart-pounding, fast-paced thriller or suspense. I’m excited to say that Harlequin hooked me up and I’ve recently had the chance to read The Third to Die, the highly anticipated first book in Allison Brennan’s new series. This title hits shelves on February 4th. All the Buy Links and author information will be posted way down below if you’re interested in pre-ordering a copy for yourself – and if you’re a fan of this genre, you’ll want to pick up a copy.

From the Publisher:

New York Times bestselling author and gifted storyteller Allison Brennan’s new standalone thriller features a troubled female police detective and an ambitious FBI special agent who wind up at the center of a ticking-clock investigation into a diabolical serial killer.

Brennan’s novel will launch a book-a-year series featuring a fabulous cast of recurring characters. It’s the story of a troubled female police detective and an ambitious FBI special agent who wind up at the center of a ticking-clock investigation into a diabolical serial killer; and the bond they forge in this crucible sets the stage for the future books in the series.

Detective Kara Quinn is visiting her hometown of Liberty Lake, Washington, after being placed
on administrative leave by the LAPD, when she comes upon the mutilated body of a young
nurse during an early morning jog. The manner of death is clearly ritualistic; she calls it in.
Meanwhile back in DC, special agent in charge Mattias Costa is meticulously staffing his
newly-minted Mobile Response Team. One of his first recruits is the brilliant FBI forensic
psychologist Catherine Jones. When word reaches Matt that the Washington state murder
appears to be the work of the Triple Killer–it will be the first case for the MRT. Jones has done
the only profile on this serial killer, but she is reluctant to join the unit, still shaken by the death
of her sister a year ago under circumstances for which she holds herself responsible. But only
she holds the key to understanding the killer’s obsessive pattern–three murder victims, three
deep slashes a piece, each three days apart, each series beginning on a March 3rd–3/3, then a
three-year hiatus before he strikes again.

This time they have a chance to stop him before he claims another victim strikes, but only if they
can figure out who he is and where is is hiding.

About the Author:

Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of three dozen thrillers and numerous short stories. She was nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers, has had multiple nominations and two Daphne
du Maurier Awards, and is a five-time RITA finalist for Best Romantic Suspense. Allison believes life is too short to be bored, so she had five kids. Allison and her family live in Arizona. Visit her at allisonbrennan.com

Social links for the author include:
Facebook: @AllisonBrennan
Twitter: @Allison_Brennan
Instagram: @abwrites
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/52527.Allison_Brennan

My Thoughts:

Ms. Brennan is an award winning author for a reason – simply put, she knows what she’s doing. This book was fast-paced and had my heart-pounding. Twists and turns will keep you on your toes in anticipation. She gets inside the mind of a psychopath so well, but also paints a picturesque view of the surrounding landscapes. Her heroes are brilliant, damaged, and likeable and the whole package will keep you engrossed until the very last page. The Third to Die is the very ideal of a page-turning, nail-biting, read-it-all-in-one-sitting-don’t-talk-to-me type of novel – suspenseful, intense, and entertaining!

For my more discriminating friends, I’ll leave you with this caution: reader discretion is advised for violence, mature situations, and strong language. This is not a tip-toe through the tulips, neat and tidy, no rough edges fiction. It’s dark and gritty as the plot is all about stopping the lowest dregs of humanity.

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0778309444/httpwwwalli0f-20
Amazon (Canada): https://www.amazon.ca/Third-Die-Allison-Brennan-ebook/dp/B07S4BCQMJ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+third+to+die&qid=1580228085&sr=8-1
Barnes & Noble:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-third-to-die-allison-brennan/1131669020;jsessionid=C1
F1BD4B1DE6C665460E505FA5022816.prodny_store02-atgap03?ean=9780778309444

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778309444
Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/product/9780778309444
AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-third-to-die/id1464894471
Google Play:
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Allison_Brennan_The_Third_to_Die?id=0sWZDwAA
QBAJ


Book Review: The Forgotten Home Childby Genevieve Graham

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

Emotionally Moving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by: Simon & Schuster Canada