Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Rather Blasé Title for What Is Actually an Exciting World War II Story – The Socialite

It’s another historical novel for review in this post, which is a little unusual since I don’t typically read a lot of historical fiction. But this isn’t your average historical…it reads a lot like suspense. Set within occupied France in the early stages of World War II, how could it not?



The blurb for The Socialite ~

Glamour, treachery, and espionage collide when an English socialite rushes to save her sister from the Nazis.

As the daughter of Sir Alfred Whitford, Kat has a certain set of responsibilities. But chasing her wayward sister, Ellie, to Nazi-occupied Paris was never supposed to be one of them. Now accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle that her Nazi boyfriend provides, Ellie has no intention of going back to the shackled life their parents dictate for them—but Kat will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Arrested for simply trying to defend himself against a drunken bully, Barrett Anderson is given the option of going to jail or serving out his sentence by training Resistance fighters in Paris. A bar owner serves as the perfect disguise to entertain Nazis at night while training fighters right below their jackboots during the day. Being assigned to watch over two English debutantes is the last thing he needs, but a payout from their father is too tempting to resist. Can Barrett and Kat trust each other long enough to survive, or will their hearts prove more traitorous than the dangers waiting around the corner?

World War II is a fascinating time to study, and in this story, it creates the conflict between the hero and heroine. If not for the heroine’s sister running away to France, I doubt the heroine and hero would have even met. The war was a tragic time in our world history that layers veils of tragedy and worry and unimaginable sadness to the characters.

A lot of what we learn about the heroine is through her thoughts of her sister. Her younger sister is flighty and impulsive and obsessed with herself and having fun. Because of this, she has put herself into an unimaginably horrible situation…an affair with a Nazi officer. The heroine is responsible and dutiful, and yet there is a hint of rebellion in her as well, at least toward a father who is perceived as controlling and heavy-handed.

Even as I was getting to know the sisters, I already felt like praying for the younger sister to get her life together. I couldn’t see how a relationship with a Nazi officer could ever come out right. The introduction to the hero was equally intriguing as he describes himself as a “desperate fool who craved the hefty paycheck that came with accepting the side deal.”

In the first half of the book, the reader learns interesting tidbits about life in occupied France before all-out war began and the German procedures as they took over a country and began their process of making everyone and everything there German. British and French music was cleverly arranged to sound German, although the British and French citizens there would have known the tune to be their own. Fashion was also a challenge since everything was either rationed or unavailable. “Plucking an outdated Parisian magazine from her travel bag, Kat flipped open to the feature article. ‘Oh, look. Ten new patterns for transforming your faded dress into updated pieces using tablecloths and window dressings. Look, Ellie. Isn’t that darling? You can cut up a floral drape and make stripes on a white skirt. Voila! A new skirt.’” How about scraping every little bit of lipstick from the tube because of rationing? Or the Nazis edging into open water in the 1930s to test the United States?
Eventually, the hero and heroine must pretend to be romantically involved to gain the trust of the Nazi officer. A war effort, although I'm not sure of their mission. It's been done before, many times, but it's a favorite. This author does it well.

And then there’s spying!

At times, the romance is a little too physical for my preferences — “desire burned in his eyes” several times — to the point where I wondered if they had even gotten to know each other enough to fall in love. The heroine’s control of the romance at the end also would not have been my preferred happily-ever-after.

But this story is not just a romance. This is drama of the highest degree. War definitely changes everything, and when a twist I had not anticipated clunked me on the head, I was ready to pray for the sisters. Yes, choices have consequences, but they aren't usually that life-changing or destroying.

My favorite lines ~
“If there was an award for Best Actress Pretending Not to Hate Her Sister’s Nazi Suitor, the prize was hers for the taking.”

“‘And you always follow the rules, don’t you? No matter who gives them or for what reason. My guess is you don’t ask the reason. You simply obey.’ He shoved his hands into his pockets and peered at her as if he could read the inner workings of her mind. ‘What if these people you’re trying so hard to please are wrong?’”

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*I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.








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Friday, January 17, 2020

A Rare Find…a Christian Romance Set at Valentine’s Day

I’m not a huge fan of romance since I enjoy reading all sorts of genres, but it seems more naturally appealing as we approach Valentine’s Day.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many inspirational novels that are written specifically around Valentine’s Day.

That’s why I was thrilled last year to stumble on a Valentine’s Day romance written by one of my favorite authors, Melody Carlson. When the romance seems doomed from the very beginning and it happens around Valentine’s Day, it makes the happily-ever-after so much more sweet.



Once Upon a Winter's Heart

From the back cover: Emma Burcelli has suffered over a decade of dating disasters. But she concludes that love is officially dead when her grandfather Poppi suddenly passes, leaving her grandmother Nona devastated. To help out, Emma works in the family bookstore, which Nona insists must be decked out in sweetheart décor as Poppi would have done for Valentine's Day. Although she feels like a V-Day Scrooge, Emma quickly learns to enjoy the task with the help of a handsome family friend, Lane Forester, who shows her that hanging hearts is much more fun when done to the tune of Dean Martin. As Emma and Lane share time and memories of Poppi, she reconsiders the notion that romance is alive.

Just as Emma's heart begins to lift, however, she learns her sister has already staked a claim on Lane. Emma's mother and sister insist Lane only sees her as a future sister-in-law, but she can't help wondering if it could be something more.

Emma has a lot going on — she’s given up on dating, she’s left her job to be with her grandmother, and she thinks romance died with her grandfather. Also, her mother has left her father and moved in with Emma and her grandmother, claiming he’s been so focused on his career that he hasn’t made time for a relationship, refusing to see that she’s been busy with her career as well. Then Emma sees Lane at, of all places, her grandfather’s funeral.

Melody Carlson writes some amazingly relatable characters. It seemed as if I stepped inside the book with them as I read. I also appreciated the old-fashioned feel of the setting. The story isn’t loaded with texting and cell phones and technology. It’s characters talking to each other — face to face.

My one issue, and this applies to Christian fiction in general, is that I’m not a fan of characters drinking wine in inspirational stories. But it’s crept in to the point where it’s in almost every romance. Maybe it’s because wine is seen as more elegant or romantic, but I don’t think Christian readers would want books with characters who are sipping a beer or doing shots. Wine is alcohol as well. Okay, that said, I did greatly enjoy the story, and this is, in fact, my second time reading it.

My favorite lines:
“Oh, cara mia. I think you worry too much.”
Emma smiled. “I think you’re right.”
“You know what Poppi would say, don’t you?”
“Follow your heart?”
Nona patted her hand. “Yes. And not to worry so much! It is much better to pray than to worry, dolce.”

A cozy bookstore and leather-bound Jane Austen. Boxes of chocolates. Sibling rivalry. It’s the perfect blend. And at only 150 pages long, it’s perfect for an afternoon with a mug of coffee or tea.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen ~ A fantastic new Regency romance...or is it a mystery...or is it a legal suspense?

A new Regency romance/mystery/suspense from Julie Klassen!



Klassen begins the reader in London at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England. There, lawyer Benjamin Booker suffers a humiliating defeat because he trusted a beautiful woman. That evening, after some encouragement and counsel from his employer and mentor (a senior partner), he and the senior partner find a former partner of the firm murdered in his townhome. The victim was the trustee for Isabelle Wilder, mistress of her family home on Belle Island north of London in the Thames River. The senior partner isn’t satisfied with the police investigation, though. At his employer and mentor’s request and to avoid the malicious jesting as a result of losing a news-worthy case, Benjamin Booker travels to Belle Island to investigate the murder of the founding partner of the law firm where he is employed. There, he meets Miss Wilder, the primary suspect in the murder investigation. As he begins to fall for her, he questions his own wisdom. Is he letting a beautiful woman get the best of him again?

The Old Bailey ~


By Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin - Ackermann, Rudolph; Pyne, William Henry; Combe, William (1904) [1808] "Old Bailey" in The Microcosm of London: or, London in Miniature, Volume 2, London: Methuen and Company Retrieved on 9 January 2009., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=566832


On the island, Isabelle believes she is safe and protected while still trying to lead a productive life. But she hasn’t left the island in ten years (TEN YEARS!) due to crippling fear and anxiety and is shocked to be considered a suspect when Mr. Booker arrives with news of her trustee’s death. Before long, a second person dies, and the evidence again points to Isabelle as the killer. She is also growing more attracted to the handsome Mr. Booker, but he considers her a valid suspect. As the story unfolds, more suspects and more secrets are revealed even as danger encroaches onto Isabelle’s supposedly-safe island.

This new story from Julie Klassen has it all — a lawyer with a wonderful alliterative name (Benjamin Booker), intrigue, and Regency England. What more could a reader want in a novel?

Some of you may know that I am an attorney by education. So when the novel opened with a courtroom scene, my lawyer heart began to pitter-pat. The mystery soon commenced, as well as the romance. Of course, there’s a coroner, and his coroner’s report is Regency-style, a fascinating tidbit for a mystery reader. There’s even a twist at the end of the first chapter.

I soon realized Bridge to Belle Island has a delightfully complicated and delicious split personality.

Like most mysteries, there is a bumbling and not-too-bright local officer who misses details because he's not observant enough. He's fun, though, and I always enjoy when some characters clearly know more than others.

Like most legal suspense stories, there is a fair amount of good legal counsel that becomes directly relevant outside of a legal practice. For example, “State what you suspect as fact with confidence, and nine times out of ten people will believe you in possession of the evidence and respond accordingly.” That’s a good snippet of legal advice. Or this line from the heroine that reveals she wanted to do away with a trustee for the estate: “…Perhaps because I hinted that my father had written something that dissolved the trust, which I would produce as evidence, effectively eliminating his position.” In the brief time I did practice law (before children), wills were a special interest of mine. It's always interesting to think and wonder how people might decide who gets their things. For me, this added another layer of intrigue. And, like a lot of lawyers, Benjamin Booker struggles with self-doubt and worries that his job is in jeopardy if he can't question witnesses or handle cases.

Like most Regency romances, there is a slow romance ... my favorite kind because it's more realistic and believable. Through weeds and thorns and rocky soil, love still sprouts and blossoms with all the delightful historical details of England in the early-1800s. The language and description are reminiscent of the classics (I was an English Lit major before law school) …of the sort to savor and let roll around on your tongue before moving onto the next morsel. “Through the filmy grey fog, he made out a tall stone manor house shrouded in climbing vines and mist. Nearer shore, trees overhung the river—prickly junipers and chestnuts, weeping willows and elms, their hoary heads bowed in grief, their arms reaching out, pushing him back. Warning him away. Benjamin frowned. What a foolish notion. The journey had clearly addled his brains.” My favorite passage!

Little details make the story even more charming. For example, “Benjamin had been gifted with a keen sense of smell. A blessing or a curse, depending on his surroundings.” I love this line because it is so true of me and lots of other people, and yet so few people understand or acknowledge that scents can be overwhelming. Thank you, Julie Klassen!

Eventually, it is revealed that Isabelle and the surrounding community believe the Wilder family is under a curse. More intrigue! Her worry about the curse is why she has imposed her own imprisonment. If anyone wants to see her, they must come to the island. I understand the fear, but ten years? I knew that she would have some growing and learning to do in this story.

“For a moment Isabelle stilled, silently echoing the words. ‘Fearful anxieties, get out of my heart!’ Would she ever experience joy without worry?”

I also saw a bit of myself reflected in Isabelle Wilder. I have not imprisoned myself on an island for ten years out of crippling worry, but in how many other ways do I hold myself back because of my anxieties? I thought Isabelle was a little overdone at the beginning of the book, but with this line, she won my complete sympathy.

And then this ~ “Did she believe God was loving? Perhaps. Trustworthy? No, she did not trust Him with the lives of those she loved. Was that blasphemous to admit? She wanted to trust, but fear and worry all too often won out.”

This truly is what it comes down to. Isabelle doesn't trust God to know and to do what is best for her. She stays on the island to delude herself that she is in control. Can she trust him? Will she trust him? What needs to happen so that she chooses to surrender to Him? These questions tickled the back of my mind as I continued to read through twist after twist and secret after secret is revealed. Is anyone who they seem to be?

I thoroughly enjoyed Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen, and I give it five stars!

And see what I found? I only wish I could have sipped my coffee from this mug while reading. J

Funny Whimsical Ceramic Book Lovers Mug for Women or Men - I'd Rather Be Reading Regency Romance


Fun Whimsical Book Lovers T-Shirt for Women - I'd Rather be Reading a Regency Romance









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