Tag Archives: historical drama

A Death in Berlin (The Simon Sampson Mysteries Book Two) by David C. Dawson Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

In the 1930’s Berlin, a city that once stood for liberation is about to become the capital of one of the world’s largest waves of oppression, and one man must fight to save the lives of several gay men as the Nazi party rises in author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Berlin”, the second book in The Simon Sampson Mysteries series.

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The Synopsis

Berlin 1933: When the parties stop…the dying begins

The city that’s been a beacon of liberation during the 1920s is about to become a city of deadly oppression. BBC foreign correspondent Simon Sampson risks his life in a bid to save thousands of gay men from the growing Nazi threat.

This is the second in the Simon Sampson mystery series. The first, A Death in Bloomsbury, was hailed as ‘a good old-fashioned John Buchan-esque mystery reworked for the twenty-first century’.

Simon moves to Berlin where he meets British author Christopher Isherwood and his lover Heinz. He’s also reunited with his banter-partner Florence Miles, better known to her friends as Bill. She’s recruited him into the British intelligence services and he’s got the task of hunting down communist spies.

But when Simon is ordered to spy on an old college friend, his loyalties are brought into question. Who are his real enemies? And how much can he trust his masters?

The Review

This was such a well-developed and engaging historical fiction meets mystery thriller. The atmosphere and intrigue the author was able to infuse into the story really elevated the historical time period the narrative took place in, and the gripping story kept me on the edge of my seat as the author’s balance of fast-paced action and slow-build character growth kept the novel moving at an even pace. The LGBTQ aspect of the narrative and the character growth felt refreshingly natural and insightful, as it played into the history itself quite well.

The rich character dynamics and the unique setting are what really made this story stand out. The chaos and sadness that became such a part of everyday life at the beginning of the Nazi occupation were felt strongly in this novel. The harmonious way the author was able to weave these emotions and facts from our world’s history into the actions and experiences of this cast of characters made this novel so gripping. It allowed the mystery itself felt elevated as the narrative dipped into the espionage spy genre with ease.

The Verdict

Entertaining, thought-provoking, and uniquely pertinent to many of the recurring struggles so many around the world face today, author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Berlin” is a must-read historical fiction meets suspense thriller and a great addition to The Simon Sampson Mysteries series. With the adrenaline rush and mind-bending twists and turns, this narrative will resonate with readers who enjoy an almost pulpy noir-style storytelling with an LGBTQ-driven cast of characters and a heavy dose of historical research and accuracy. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Men in love, men in jeopardy.

David C. Dawson is an award-winning writer of page-turner thrillers with a gay theme and the occasional romance.

His latest novel A Death in Bloomsbury was published in November 2021.

His debut novel, The Necessary Deaths, won bronze for Best Mystery & Suspense in the FAPA chairman’s award. It became the first in the Dominic Delingpole series. The other two books are The Deadly Lies and A Foreign Affair.

His first mystery romance For the Love of Luke was published in October 2018 followed by Heroes in Love.

David lives in London with his boyfriend and ageing motorbike.

You can read his blog here: http://bit.ly/DavidCDawsonblog

In his spare time, David tours Europe on his ageing Triumph motorbike and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

https://www.davidcdawson.co.uk/

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Spring House (Westward Sagas Book One) by David Bowles Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Families of both Scottish and Irish descent settling into the colony of North Carolina find themselves fighting to not only survive but thrive in the new world in author David Bowles’s “Spring House”, the first book in the Westward Sagas series.

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The Synopsis

The Westward Sagas tell the stories of the lives of Scots-Irish families struggling to find happiness on the new frontier. Spring House, the first book of the series, begins in North Carolina in 1762 and paints a vivid picture of colonial life in the backwoods of the North State. Adam Mitchell fought to protect his family and save his farm, but his home was destroyed by British troops in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, and his corn fields were turned into fields of death.Finalist in the Historical Fiction category of the National Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards.

The Review

This was a powerful and moving historical fiction read. The intimate look into the lives of these ordinary families just trying to make a home for themselves and how the events of the Revolutionary War would impact them was so moving to read about. The atmosphere and tone the author struck in his writing allowed for some engaging moments between the reader and the narrative, giving a sense of urgency and the scenes themselves had some depth thanks to the great use of imagery in the writing. 

Yet it was the balance the author struck between history and character-driven narratives. The story of protagonist Adam and his pursuit of what would later be known as the “American Dream” was great to see, and whether intentional or not, showcased every immigrant’s dream of finding a place to call home, free to be themselves and without fear of persecution. The detail of historical events and figures made the story feel much more alive, and the captivating moments where these families were able to set aside their differences in everything from politics to faith and instead focus on surviving together against insurmountable odds showed the true heart of what this nation’s foundation was meant to be.

The Verdict

Thought-provoking, entertaining, and character-driven, author David Bowles’s “Spring House” is a brilliant historical fiction novel and the best introduction novel to the Westward Sagas series. The rich setting and historical facts layered into the personal character growth and emotional narrative allowed readers to feel connected to both the story and the period of time in a really unique way. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

David A. Bowles is a fifth generation Austinite. Both parents from early Travis County pioneers. His great grandmother Elnora Van Cleve, is recorded as the first birth in Austin, Texas during the days of the Republic. The author and his dog Becka travel in a class A motor-coach they call home, telling and writing the stories of the Westward Sagas. David grew up listening to stories of his ancestors told by his elders. Their stories so fascinated him that he became a professional story-teller, spinning tales through the Westward Sagas as well as the spoken word. He is a member of the National Story Telling Network and the Tejas Storyteller Association. David entertains groups frequently about his adventures on the open road and the books he has written. All four books in the Westward Sagas series have won awards. He is presently writing the sequel to Comanche Trace which won 1st Place at the North Texas Book Festival.

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The Lone Leopard by Sharifullah Dorani Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Politics, religion, and culture clash as one man must return to his home decades after civil war and a question of his cowardice threatened to upend his standing in society in author Sharifullah Dorani’s “The Lone Leopard”.

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The Synopsis

THE LONE LEOPARD is a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful story of family, friendship and love set against the nationalistic and religious conflicts of Afghanistan’s last four decades. 15-year-old Ahmad finds it hard to live by tradition among Russians and ‘Communist Afghans’ in the liberal Makroryan, known as the ‘Little Moscow of Kabul’. It becomes harder with the arrival in the neighbourhood of the 16-year-old Frishta. Naturally, their conflicting outlooks on tradition clash. Frishta calls Ahmad a shameful coward, and Ahmad accuses Frishta of being a ‘bad woman’ who has picked a war with half of the population and their way of life.

Does Ahmad really lack courage and loyalty? Is Frishta really dishonourable? It is 1990s Afghanistan, where a man is stripped of character if he is proved a coward, and where a woman is merely seen as valuable goods, and even a perception of unchastity will lose her all her worth. And, worse, is what Ahmad does to Frishta justifiable? By the time Ahmad and Frishta have answers to these questions, it is too late, and their lives will never be the same. The mujahedeen run over Kabul, and the civil war begins, compelling Ahmad to flee to Russia and then to England.

But Ahmad does not realize that one day he will be forced to return to the homeland where his past catches up with him and puts him in a situation in which he has to choose to either live like a coward, by killing a once-loyal friend, or die with courage.

The Review

The author did an incredible job of crafting a story that both brought to life and examined the history and culture of Afghanistan and infused complex character dynamics with rich storytelling. The contemporary drama explored the historical fiction genres and Middle Eastern history expertly, and the tragedy that often comes to those caught in the crossfire of war and conflict. The exploration of Afghanistan’s somewhat troubled past with women’s rights and the conflict that emerges when faith and belief systems come into play clashes well with the exploration of outside influences bringing innocent civilians and villages into the list of casualties of a war they had nothing to do with.

Yet it was the emphasis on relationships and their impact on the cast of characters that really captured my attention. At the root and heart of this grand narrative of culture and history stands the story of a young man who along with his friends and family witnesses heartbreak, violence, and tragedy and how it impacts his relationships moving forward. The relationship between the protagonist Ahmad and his mother Mourr held a special place in my heart, as it speaks to the strength and resilience that many mothers have as they sacrifice everything for their children. This also lends to the protagonist’s future relationships with others down the road, and the complex questions of morality and culture that play into his development as a character.

The Verdict

Thought-provoking, heartbreaking, and engaging, author Sharifullah Dorani’s “The Lone Leopard” is a must-read historical fiction Middle Eastern and contemporary romance drama novel. The author’s thoughtful and brilliant writing style compliments the volume of history and culture that he brings into the narrative, and the mesmerizing and emotional story that rests at the heart of this novel will have readers hanging onto the author’s every word. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

SHARIFULLAH DORANI was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum in the UK in 1999. He has undergraduate and master’s degrees in Law from The University of Northampton and UCL, respectively. He completed his PhD on the US War in Afghanistan at Durham University and authored the acclaimed America in Afghanistan. Sharifullah frequently returns to Afghanistan to carry out research. He is currently South Asia and the Middle Eastern Editor at The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN International) and has written nearly two dozen articles on Afghanistan (and the broader region), international relations and law. He lives with his family in Bedford, England.

Moral Fibre: A Bomber Pilot’s Story by Helena P. Schrader Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A fighter pilot during WW2 struggles to return to duty after the loss of his best friend, while also dealing with a mark on his record stating he lacks moral fibre after his failure to return to duty during a raid in Berlin and fledgling feelings for the woman his best friend had been engaged to in author Helena P. Schrader’s “Moral Fibre: A Bomber Pilot’s Story”. 

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The Synopsis

Riding the icy, moonlit sky—

They took the war to Hitler.

Their chances of survival were less than fifty percent.

Their average age was 21.

This is the story of just one bomber pilot, his crew, and the woman he loved.

It is intended as a tribute to them all.

Flying Officer Kit Moran has earned his pilot’s wings, but the greatest challenges still lie ahead: crewing up and returning to operations. Things aren’t made easier by the fact that while still a flight engineer, he was posted LMF (Lacking in Moral Fibre) for refusing to fly after a raid on Berlin that killed his best friend and skipper. Nor does it help that he is in love with his dead friend’s fiancé, but she is not yet ready to become romantically involved again.

The Review

This was such a powerful and thought-provoking WWII historical fiction read. The author perfectly captures the chaos and struggles of men and women during WW2 who fought against Hitler’s regime in the skies and on the ground. The attention to detail the author utilized in the narrative and the heavy emphasis on setting and tone really brought the history aspect of the novel to life perfectly.

Yet it was the character development and themes that really spoke to me in this read. The way the author wove these themes of racism, grief, PTSD, and “good versus evil” was fantastic to see, as they mirrored the historical context of the war so seamlessly. Kit’s development in particular was so moving, as the psychological and societal impact of his experiences during the war and his background overall played a role in the development of this rich and captivating read. 

The Verdict

Heartfelt, engaging, and thought-provoking, author Helena P. Schrader’s “Moral Fibre” is a must-read historical fiction novel! The complex themes the author explores, the rich character development, and the incredible historical detail of both the war and in particular the world of aviation during a time of war were so brilliantly portrayed here, and the emotional bond the reader makes with the protagonist and the cast of characters will have readers hanging off of the authors ever word. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Helena P. Schrader is an established aviation author and expert on the Second World War. She earned a PhD in History (cum Laude) from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking dissertation on a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler. Her non-fiction publications include Sisters in Arms: The Women who Flew in WWII, The Blockade Breakers: The Berlin Airlift, and Codename Valkyrie: General Friederich Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler. In addition, Helena has published eighteen historical novels and won numerous literary awards. Her novel on the Battle of Britain, Where Eagles Never Flew won the Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction and a Maincrest Media Award for Historical Fiction. RAF Battle of Britain ace Wing Commander Bob Doe called it “the best book” he had ever seen about the battle. Traitors for the Sake of Humanity is a finalist for the Foreword INDIES awards. Grounded Eagles and Moral Fibre have both garnered excellent reviews from acclaimed review sites such as Kirkus, Blue Ink, Foreword Clarion, Feathered Quill, and Chantileer Books.

You can follow her author website for updates and her aviation history blog.

Purchase a copy of Moral Fibre on Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Barnes and Noble. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

Blog Tour Calendar

August 15th @ The Muffin

Join us as we celebrate the launch of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader. Read more about this fascinating historical fiction novel and learn more about the author. You can also enter to win a copy of the book too!

https://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com

August 17th @ Deborah Adams’ Blog

Deborah Adams features Helena P. Schrader’s guest post about dissecting a novel.

http://www.deborah-adams.com/blog/

 August 19th @ Life According to Jamie

Join Jamie as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://lifeaccordingtojamie.com/

August 21st @ What Is That Book About?

Join Michelle as she features Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader. 

https://www.whatisthatbookabout.com/

August 22nd @ Mindy McGinnis’ Blog

Join Mindy as she features a guest post by Helena P. Schrader about how editors are not optional.

https://www.mindymcginnis.com/blog

August 23rd @ Lisa Haselton’s Book Reviews and Interviews

Don’t miss an interview with author Helena P. Schrader about her book Moral Fibre.

https://lisahaselton.com/blog/

August 24th @ A Writer of History

Read Helena P. Schrader’s guest post about the challenges of designing book covers for historical fiction.

August 25th @ Bring on Lemons

Join Crystal as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

August 26th @ Bookshelf Journeys

Read Terri’s review of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://bookshelfjourneys.com/

August 27th @ Mercedes Rochelle’s Blog

Read Helena P. Schrader’s guest post featuring her book Moral Fibre.

https://mercedesrochelle.com/wordpress/

August 30th @ World of My Imagination

Join Nicole as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://worldofmyimagination.com

September 1st @ The Faerie Review

Check out a spotlight of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://www.thefaeriereview.com/

September 2nd @ Author Anthony Avina

Anthony reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://authoranthonyavinablog.com/category/reviews/

September 5th @ Choices

Join Madeline as she features a guest post by Helena P. Schrader about the author and the seven drafts.

http://madelinesharples.com

September 10th @ A Storybook World

Join Deirdre as she features Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://www.astorybookworld.com/

September 12th @ Word Magic

Fiona shares a guest post by author Helena P. Schrader about the lack of moral fibre.

https://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com/

September 17th @ Jill Sheets’ Blog

Visit Jill’s blog today where she interviews author Helena P. Schrader.

http://jillsheets.blogspot.com/

September 18th @ Wildwood Reads

Join Megan as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

https://wildwoodreads.com/

The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The eldest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia seeks out escapes from the Victorian lifestyle her mother keeps her in by venturing into St Petersburg with her Aunt and later must contend with the outbreak of war and the threat of rebellion hanging over her family’s head in author Bryn Turnbull’s “The Last Grand Duchess”.

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The Synopsis

This sweeping new novel from the internationally bestselling author of The Woman Before Wallis takes readers behind palace walls to see the end of Imperial Russia through the eyes of Olga Romanov, the first daughter of the last Tsar.

Grand Duchess Olga Romanov comes of age amid a shifting tide for the great dynasties of Europe. But even as unrest simmers in the capital, Olga is content to live within the confines of the sheltered life her parents have built for and her three sisters: hiding from the world on account of their mother’s ill health, their brother Alexei’s secret affliction, and rising controversy over Father Grigori Rasputin, the priest on whom the Tsarina has come to rely. Olga’s only escape from the seclusion of Alexander Palace comes from her aunt, who takes pity on her and her sister Tatiana, inviting them to grand tea parties amid the shadow court of Saint Petersburg. Finally, she glimpses a world beyond her mother’s Victorian sensibilities—a world of opulent ballrooms, scandalous flirtation, and whispered conversation.


But as war approaches, the palaces of Russia are transformed. Olga and her sisters trade their gowns for nursing habits, assisting in surgeries and tending to the wounded bodies and minds of Russia’s military officers. As troubling rumors about her parents trickle in from the Front, Olga dares to hope that a budding romance might survive whatever the future may hold. But when tensions run high and supplies run low, the controversy over Rasputin grows into fiery protest, and calls for revolution threaten to end 300 years of Romanov rule.

The Review

As a major fan of history and learning about different time periods and cultures, I absolutely loved getting to learn more about the last of the Romanov Family. Olga was the perfect protagonist to feature in this story, as she would have been the most in the know about her parent’s dealings and lives. Reading about the influence that Gregori Rasputin had on the family born out of their fears and desperation to save their only son was both captivating and heartbreaking, but in truth getting a written perspective from Olga that showed this prominent and iconic family in history from a more personal angle was what really captivated me as a reader, showing their flaws and yet showing the strength of their bond as a family in the face of every adversity they faced.

The imagery and tone of the narrative were breathtaking, showcasing both the regal and powerful image that the royal family held and the parties that the wealthy in St. Petersburg held as well as the cold and harsh realities of war and the rage that the people held for the royal family and the elites during this time of revolution and power changes. The even pacing allowed the reader to fully understand this infamous yet not as understood point of history, and the emotional moments between Olga and her family, as well as her intimate moments with characters like Mitya, really held audiences and enthralled them with how personal the narrative felt.

The Verdict

Engaging, heartfelt, and historically driven, author Bryn Turnbull’s “The Last Grand Duchess” is a must-read novel of 2022 for all fans of historical fiction. The personal and emotional journey Olga goes on with her family and the attention to detail will have historical fiction fans on the edge of their seats with anticipation, and readers will not be able to put this book down until the final heartbreaking page. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Bryn Turnbull is the bestselling author of The Woman Before Wallis. Equipped with a master’s of letters in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews, a master’s of professional communication from Ryerson University and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from McGill University, Bryn focuses on finding stories of women lost within the cracks of the historical record. She lives in Toronto.

Buy Links: 

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Harlequin 

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Books-A-Million

Powell’s 

Social Links:

Author Website

Instagram: @brynturnbullwrites

Twitter: @brynturnbull

Facebook: @brynturnbullwrites  

Goodreads

Here is an Excerpt from Bryn Turnbull’s “The Last Grand Duchess”

1

March 1917 

Tsarskoe Selo

Shots rang out across the twilit grounds of Alexander Park. Sit-ting on the window ledge in her father’s study, Olga turned her head toward the sound. She’d heard gunfire in the days and weeks since the riots had broken out in Petrograd, though they’d never sounded so close, so final. Incongruously, she thought not of advancing troops, but of her brother Alexei and his cap-gun, firing at imagined enemies in the grounds where, at this very moment, true monsters stalked between the trees.

Across the room, shrouded in the darkness that had cloaked the palace since the electricity lines were cut days before, Olga’s mother pulled a shawl across her shoulders. Candlelight sent dark flames up the cavernous bookshelves that lined the walls, illuminating her weary face.

“Abdicated?” she whispered.

Panic gripped her by the throat, and Olga turned to face the window once more. In the deepening gloom, she fancied she could see the orange glow of bonfires. “I don’t understand. In favor of Alexei?” She glanced at Mamma: Alexei’s chronic poor health had always made him seem older than his age, but at twelve, he was still very much a child, and far too young to take on the heavy burden of ruling.

Standing in front of the tsarina, Major General Resin, the commander who’d taken charge of the garrison of troops that protected Olga’s family, cleared his throat. “No, Your Majesty. It’s more complicated than that. We’re still receiving information from the front, but it seems His Imperial Highness was most insistent on the matter. He offered the crown to his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, but the grand duke refused it. The Duma has formed a provisional government to determine what will happen next, but as I said, we will learn more once His Majesty returns.”

Olga turned her attention back to Mamma, shutting out the continued rattle of gunfire—no closer to the palace walls, but no further away, either. Having spent the last several weeks nursing her siblings through a fierce bout of German measles, Olga had not had the time nor the energy to keep abreast of political developments, but she’d heard enough to know that unrest had been boiling in the capital. Protests in the coal plants; riots in bread lines. Rolling blackouts, hitting tenements and palaces alike; rallies and calls for change, growing ever louder as the war against the Central Powers continued to leech provisions from households and businesses.

But abdication?

From within the white folds of the Red Cross veil she’d worn since the start of the war, Mamma’s face fell, her pale eyes darting around the room. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I simply don’t understand.”

She reached out a thin hand, waving her fingers insistently; recognizing the movement, Olga stepped forward and took it, searching for a logical route through her own confusion. She could hear a buzzing in her head: an insistent roar, the sound of surf crashing against the hull of a ship. With Papa’s abdication, the situation had become everything she’d feared, the sickening finality in the word itself enough to keep it from passing her lips: revolution.

She squeezed Mamma’s hand, watching as Resin’s fingers tightened on the flat brim of his cap. “Where is Papa?”

“He’s coming here, Grand Duchess,” replied Resin, “but in the opinion of the Provisional Government, the palace is not the safest place—not for His Imperial Majesty, and not for you, either. I’m afraid they can no longer guarantee your welfare.”

Mamma looked up sharply. “We have three hundred loyal Cossacks at the gate—the finest soldiers this country has ever produced,” she said, sounding for a moment like her old, fierce self. “They’re loyal to my husband. I fail to see the danger.”

Resin shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “With all due respect, Your Majesty, Minister Rodzianko disagrees. The barracks in Tsarskoe Selo have begun to riot; they’re singing the ‘Marseillaise’ as we speak.”

Mamma paled. Olga recalled visiting the garrison less than a year earlier, trotting on horseback past 40,000 troops all sworn to protect the tsar and his family. How could 40,000 minds be so easily turned?

“And what of my children?” Mamma persisted. “Tatiana can hardly walk. Maria and Anastasia are delirious, and the tsarevich is in a very delicate state—”

“With all due respect, Your Majesty.” Resin met Mamma’s gaze directly. “When the house is in flames, one carries out the children.”

The room fell silent. Despite her attempt at composure, Olga began to shake, a thin, uncontrollable trembling, which, given the darkness of the study, she hoped Resin couldn’t see.

Mamma gripped Olga’s fingers in a silent plea to keep calm. Though her poor health would make it appear otherwise, Mam-ma’s Victorian upbringing had given her a stiff upper lip which Olga and her sisters lacked. She’d been instrumental in running the government since Papa went to command the front, overseeing the distribution of relief aid to soldiers’ families, orchestrating shipments of food and provisions, reining in the government ministers whose political agendas risked the country’s success at the front. Despite what people said about her—despite her Ger-man roots—Mamma had led Russia through the worst of the war years, relying on her faith in God and in Papa to make the decisions others would not.

How had things gone so wrong?

Mamma stood. “We will stay,” she said finally, lifting her chin. “I won’t leave the palace without my husband.”


Excerpted from The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull, Copyright © 2022 by Bryn Turnbull. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Bookseller’s Secret: A Novel of Nancy Mitford and WWII by Michelle Gable Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A one-time author suffering from a personal loss and the horrors of WWII must decide if a story she’s been asked to tell is worth the price her life may pay as the hunt for her manuscript 80 years later takes on a whole new meaning in author Michelle Gable’s “The Bookseller’s Secret: A Novel of Nancy Mitford and WWII”. 

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The Synopsis

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…

The Review

This was a remarkable story. The way the author balances the history and knowledge of the infamous author’s life and the war itself with the more modern-day characters who begin discovering things about Nancy as they search for her long-lost manuscript was so fascinating to see unfold. The setting of both time periods and the descriptive way the author writes really does a great job of painting a picture of the events of this narrative so perfectly.

It was the character growth in this book that really sold me on this narrative. The modern-day protagonist, Katie, really drew the reader in and kept the mystery and wonder of discovering more about Nancy’s life alive, while Nancy herself was engaging and mesmerizing as she balanced her work in the bookstore, her standing in social circles in the midst of her loss and the war, and of course her passionate affair with the French General who became the love of her life. 

The Verdict

A beautiful, heartfelt, and creative approach to historical fiction narratives, author Michelle Gable’s “The Bookseller’s Secret” is a must-read novel of 2021. The perfect balance of dual-narratives with mystery and history blended in made this story shine brightly, and the setting really will engage history buffs while hitting the heartstrings in the process. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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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.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://michellegable.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MGableWriter 

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Q&A with Michelle Gable

Q: What’s the “story behind the story” for The Bookseller’s Secret?  Why did you decide to write this book?

A: I’ve been a longtime fan of Nancy Mitford’s work and became obsessed with the entire Mitford clan after reading The Sisters by Mary S. Lovell, about twenty years ago. In short, Nancy was one of six beautiful sisters with very distinct (and controversial!) personas: Nancy the novelist, Pamela the countrywoman, Diana the Fascist (and “most hated woman in England”), Unity the Hitler confidante, Jessica the Communist, and Deborah the Duchess. Writing something about this crew has been in the back of my mind since long before I was published and when tossing around ideas, my agent brought up Nancy’s time at the Heywood Hill bookshop during the Blitz. I love London, and any novel set in a bookstore, as well as new takes on the World War II genre, so I was game. 

As for the modern storyline, though Katie’s life is vastly different from mine, let’s just say we share some of the same writerly angst!

Q: What message do you hope readers take from the story?

A: I never write with a message in mind, I just hope something about the story sticks with readers, whether it’s a character, some piece of history learned, or a new way of looking at a situation. I’m shocked how few Americans know about Nancy Mitford (even fellow writers) so I do hope readers walk away with an appreciation for her brilliance (and humor!) 

Q: Do you have any specific writing rituals (favorite shirt, pen, drink, etc)?

A: I don’t! Sometimes I handwrite, sometimes I write on a computer. Sometimes I have coffee, or water, or Diet Coke. Usually I work in my home office but have been known to write during my daughters’ softball games. I started this book in February 2020 so most of it was written when EVERYONE was home on lockdown. One of my daughters took over my office so I spent a lot of time writing in my bedroom, with the dog curled up next to me. This is when I learned my husband uses binders for work (click-click-click). 

One “habit” that is consistent is that I always stop in the middle of something that is going well so it’s easier to pick up the next day. Few things are more daunting than staring at a blank page! 

Q: Which character do you relate to the most?

A: I relate to Katie’s writerly angst, but I really connected to Nancy Mitford’s writing style. I’d like to think we have similar senses of humor but that is giving myself a lot of credit!

Q: What can you tell us about your next project?

A: Though I vowed no more WWII novels, I couldn’t help myself! This one takes place in Rome, near the end of the war, and centers on women who created propaganda to feed to the Germans, the goal to lower morale. It’s an exploration of how misinformation not only affects those receiving it, but those creating it. 

Q: What do you think drives authors to continue to find stories to tell set around WWII?

A: I think because there are endless stories to tell! It involves most every country, even so called “neutral” countries, and people from literally every walk of life. Brave and scared. Rich and poor. Powerful and powerless. Obedient and rebellious. Every combination of the human experience! 

Q: How are you hoping readers will relate to this story?

A: I don’t have any specific hopes, just that they do! And, of course, I want everyone to gain a new appreciation for Nancy Mtiford. 

Q: What’s something that you connected with personally as you researched and wrote this story?

A: While she was working at Heywood Hill, Nancy was struggling with ideas for her fifth book just as I had been with my fifth book when my agent suggested writing about her! Also, her husband and mine look exactly alike which is a little creepy. You don’t see a lot of tall, blonde, adult men. And Nancy Mitford died exactly one year to the day before I was born, which also felt like it meant something.

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An Exclusive Excerpt From “The Bookseller’s Secret”

April 1946

Hotel de Bourgogne, Paris VII

There they are, held like flies in the amber of that moment—click goes the camera and on goes life; the minutes, the days, the years, the decades, taking them further and further from that happiness and promise of youth, from the hopes…and from the dreams they dreamed for themselves.

—Nancy Mitford,The Pursuit of Love

Alors, racontez!” the Colonel said, and spun her beneath his arm.

Nancy had to duck, of course. The man was frightfully short. 

“Racontez! Racontez!”

She laughed, thinking of all the times the Colonel made this demand. Racontez! Tell me!

Allô—allô,” he’d say across some crackling line. “Were you asleep?”

He might be in Paris, or Algiers, or another place he could not name. Weeks or months would pass and then a phone rang in London and set Nancy Mitford’s world straight again.

Alors, racontez! Tell me everything!

And she did.

The Colonel found Nancy’s stories comical, outrageous, unlike anything he’d ever known, his delight beginning first and foremost with the six Mitford girls, and their secret society. Nancy also had a brother, but he hardly counted at all.

C’est pas vrai!” the Colonel would cry, with each new tale. “That cannot be true!

“It all happened,” Nancy told him. “Every word. What do you expect with a Nazi, a Communist, and several Fascists, in one family tree?”

C’est incroyable!”

But the Hon Society was the past, and this gilded Parisian hotel room was now, likewise Nancy’s beloved Colonel, presently reaching into the bucket of champagne. How had she gotten to this place? It was the impossible dream.

“Promise we can stay here forever,” Nancy said.

“Here or somewhere like it,” he answered with a grin.

Nancy’s heart bounced. Heavens, he was ever-so-ugly with his pock-marked face and receding hairline, the precise opposite of her strapping husband, a man so wholesome he might’ve leapt from the pages of a seedsman catalogue. But Nancy loved her Colonel with every part of herself, in particular the female, which represented another chief difference between the two men.

“You know, my friends are desperate to take a French lover,” Nancy said, and she tossed her gloves onto the bed. “All thanks to a fictional character from a book. Everyone is positively in love with Fabrice!”

Bien sûr, as in real life,” the Colonel said as he popped the cork.

The champagne bubbled up the bottle’s neck, and dribbled onto his stubby hands.

“You’re such a wolf!” Nancy said. She heaved open the shutters and scanned the square below. “At last! A hotel with a view.”

Their room overlooked Le Palais Bourbon, home to l’Assemblée nationale, the two-hundred-year seat of the French government, minus the interlude during which it was occupied by the Luftwaffe. Mere months ago German propaganda hung from the building: DEUTSCHLAND SIEGT AN ALLEN FRONTEN. Germany is victorious on all fronts. But the banners were gone now, and France had been freed. Nancy was in Paris, just as she’d planned.

“This is heaven!” Nancy said. She peered over her shoulder and coquettishly kicked up a heel. “A luncheon party tomorrow? What do you think?”

“Okay, chéri, quoi que tu en dises,” the Colonel said, as she sauntered toward him.

“Whatever I want?” Nancy said. “I’ve been dying to hear those words! What about snails, chicken, and port salut? No more eating from tins for you. On that note, darling, you mustn’t worry about your job prospects. I know you’ll miss governing France but, goodness, we’ll have so much more free time!”

Nancy was proud of the work the Colonel had done as General de Gaulle’s chef du cabinet, but his resignation made life far more convenient. No longer would she have to wait around, or brook his maddeningly specific requests. I’ve got a heavy political day LET ME SEE—can you come at 2 minutes to 6?

“It’s really one of the best things that could’ve happened to us,” Nancy said. “Oh, darling, life will be pure bliss!” 

Nancy leaned forward and planted a kiss on the Colonel’s nose.

On trinque?” he said, and lifted a glass.

Nancy raised hers to meet it.

Santé!” he cheered.

Nancy rolled her eyes. “The French are so dull with their toasts. Who cares about my health? It’s wretched, most of the time. Cheers to novels, I’d say! Cheers to readers the world over!”

À la femme auteur, Nancy Mitford!” The Colonel clinked her glass. “Vive la littérature!”

Excerpted from The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable, Copyright © 2021 by Michelle Gable Bilski. Published by Graydon House Books.

Landscape of a Marriage by Gail Ward Olmsted Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Author Gail Ward Olmsted tells the riveting story of a widow who marries her brother-in-law, and fights to earn the affections of her new husband as she helps inspire him to become the father of American Landscape Architecture and find her own place in the world in the biographical and historical fiction novel, “Landscape of a Marriage”.

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The Synopsis

A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.

Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.

The Review

A truly original and yet historical read, the author has done a masterful job of bringing protagonist and real-life historical figure Mary Olmsted, wife of legendary landscape architect Frederick Olmsted. The unique perspective of Mary makes the history feel alive and within reach, highlighting the struggles and changes many women faced back in the day, from gender bias to finding balance within marriage and even bringing love and romance into a marriage, which flew in the face of so many’s belief that status and wealth were the keys to a successful marriage. 

The balance between history, professionalism, and family is felt early on in this narrative. The evolving relationship between Frederick and Mary is engaging, taking a tragedy and leading to a marriage-turned-romance situation. The bond between them and the growth of their relationship as the world around them changed was fascinating to see unfold. Yet it was Mary herself that made this narrative so inspired and heartfelt, exploring her commitment to her marriage, fighting against societal expectations for her marriage and family, and how she processed the emotional impacts in her life made this story feel not only investing but real. 

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The Verdict

Historically driven, entertaining, and heartfelt, author Gail Ward Olmsted’s “Landscape of a Marriage” was a must-read novel! Fantastic character development and a beautifully rich history to draw upon lead to a marvelously engaging narrative that readers won’t be able to put down. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, an ancestor of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com

https://www.instagram.com/gwolmsted/

https://www.bookbub.com/books/landscape-of-a-marriage-central-park-was-only-the-beginning-by-gail-ward-olmsted

Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A woman finds herself drawn back to the California Estate of her Uncle after inheriting the property, but as she fulfills his final request to have an artist record his album at the property, memories of her time spent at the property in the summer of 1979, and the shocking mystery of her cousin Willa’s disappearance, come back to haunt her in this thrilling historical fiction from author Amy Mason Doan, “Lady Sunshine”.

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The Synopsis

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.

The Review

A truly heartfelt and enthralling historical fiction and mystery read, author Amy Mason Doan is a master of weaving various genres together in a most natural way. The culture and setting of both the 70’s and 90’s California scene was felt wholeheartedly in this book, becoming a character all its own within the narrative. The pacing as the stories of both the past and the (nearer past) helped elevate not only the mystery and narrative of this book but the character’s interaction with one another. 

The characters and their relationships were the true heart of this novel. The way certain characters embodied the music scene of late 70’s era California was incredible to see unfold, and really informed the development of Jackie as a protagonist to the character’s present day. The addition of the mystery aspect of this family’s legacy and history really showcased the balance the author found within the historical fiction genre, making this a truly remarkable read.

The Verdict

A masterful, engaging, and thought-provoking mystery and historical-fiction novel, author Amy Mason Doan’s “Lady Sunshine” is a must-read story. A great blend of family dynamics, cultural evolution and family secrets and how they influence the development of our futures make this a stand-out narrative, and the perfect historical fiction read for the 2021 summer. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Headshots by Sash Photography http://sashphotography.com

AMY MASON DOAN is the author of The Summer List and Summer Hours. She earned a BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MA in journalism from Stanford University, and has written for The Oregonian, San Francisco Chronicle, and Forbes, among other publications. She grew up in Danville, California, and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.

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Here is an Excerpt From “LADY SUNSHINE”

1

A Girl, Her Cousin, and a Waterfall

1999

I rattle the padlock on the gate, strum my fingers along the cold chain-link fence.

I own this place.

Maybe if I repeat it often enough I’ll believe it.

All along the base of the fence are tributes: shells, notes, sketches, bunches of flowers. Some still fresh, some so old the petals are crisp as parchment. I follow the fence uphill, along the coast side, and stop at a wooden, waist-high sign marking the path up to the waterfall. It wasn’t here the summer I visited.

The sign is covered in words and drawings, so tattooed-over by fan messages that you can barely read the official one. I run my fingertips over the engravings: initials, peace symbols, Thank you’s, I Love You’s. Fragments of favorite lyrics. After coming so far to visit the legendary estate, people need to do something, leave their mark, if only with a rock on fog-softened wood.

Song titles from my uncle’s final album, Three, are carved everywhere. “Heart, Home, Hope.”

“Leaf, Shell, Raindrop.”

“Angel, Lion, Willow.” Someone has etched that last one in symbols instead of words. The angel refers to Angela, my aunt. The lion is my uncle Graham.

And the willow tree. Willa, my cousin.

I have a pointy metal travel nail file in my suitcase; I could add my message to the rest, my own tribute to this place, to the Kingstons. To try to explain what happened the summer I spent here. I could tell it like one of the campfire tales I used to spin for Willa.

This is the story of a girl, her cousin, and a waterfall…

But there’s no time for that, not with only seven days to clear the house for sale. Back at the gate, where Toby’s asleep in his cat carrier in the shade, I dig in my overnight bag for the keys. They came in a FedEx with a fat stack of documents I must’ve read on the plane from Boston a dozen times—thousands of words, all dressed up in legal jargon. When it’s so simple, really. Everything inside that fence is mine now, whether I want it or not.

I unlock the gate, lift the metal shackle, and walk uphill to the highest point, where the gravel widens into a parking lot, then fades away into grass. The field opens out below me just like I remember. We called it “the bowl,” because of the way the edges curve up all around it. A golden bowl scooped into the hills, rimmed on three sides by dark green woods. The house, a quarter mile ahead of me at the top of the far slope, is a pale smudge in the fir trees.

I stop to take it in, this piece of land I now own. The Sandcastle, everyone called it.

Without the neighbors’ goats and Graham’s guests to keep the grass down, the field has grown wild, many of the yellow weeds high as my belly button.

Willa stood here with me once and showed me how from this angle the estate resembled a sun. The kind a child would draw, with a happy face inside. Once I saw it, it was impossible to un-see:

The round, straw-colored field, trails squiggling off to the woods in every direction, like rays. The left eye—the campfire circle. The right eye—the blue aboveground pool. The nose was the vertical line of picnic benches in the middle of the circle that served as our communal outdoor dining table. The smile was the curving line of parked cars and motorcycles and campers.

All that’s gone now, save for the pool, which is squinting, collapsed, moldy green instead of its old bright blue.

I should go back for my bag and Toby but I can’t resist—I move on, down to the center of the field. Far to my right in the woods, the brown roofline of the biggest A-frame cabin, Kingfisher, pokes through the firs. But no other cabins are visible, the foliage is so thick now. Good. Each alteration from the place of my memories gives me confidence. I can handle this for a week. One peaceful, private week to box things up and send them away.

“Sure you don’t want me to come help?” Paul had asked when he dropped me at the airport this morning. “We could squeeze in a romantic weekend somewhere. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco.”

“You have summer school classes, remember? Anyway, it’ll be totally boring, believe me.”

I’d told him—earnest, sweet Paul, who all the sixth-graders at the elementary school where we work hope they get as their teacher and who wants to marry me—that the trip was no big deal. That I’d be away for a week because my aunt in California passed away. That I barely knew her and just had to help pack up her old place to get it ready for sale.

He believed me.

I didn’t tell him that the “old place” is a stunning, sprawling property perched over the Pacific, studded with cabins and outbuildings and a legendary basement recording studio. That the land bubbles with natural hot springs and creeks and waterfalls.

Or that I’ve inherited it. All of it. The fields, the woods, the house, the studio. And my uncle’s music catalog.

I didn’t tell him that I visited here once as a teenager, or that for a little while, a long time ago, I was sure I’d stay forever.

Excerpted from Lady Sunshine @ 2021 by Amy Mason Doan, used with permission by Graydon House.

The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Two young women in very different circumstances during the German occupation of WWII find themselves becoming quick friends, but soon that friendship is tested as the war grows far deadlier in author Pam Jenoff’s “The Woman with the Blue Star”.

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The Synopsis

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.

The Review

The author does a truly fantastic and haunting job of capturing the horrors of WWII and the conditions that so many were forced to live in. Right off the bat readers are shown the pain of loss that one of the protagonists goes through in the heart-pounding moments a family attempts to find an escape from the overwhelming German forces. The imagery and sense of setting really are powerful in this story, as readers are immediately brought to the very different and distinct lives that separated those being hunted by the German occupation and those living “normally” during the occupation. 

What really stands at the heart of this story however is the relationship between the two young women that become the protagonists of the story. Sadie and Ella’s stories are heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once, highlighting their individual struggles in this time of war while also showcasing how friendship, love, and relationships, in general, can give those in a time of need or struggle the hope they need to either endure or overcome those struggles. Readers will instantly be drawn into their friendship and the path their lives take during this tumultuous time. 

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, haunting, and emotional historical-fiction read, author Pam Jenoff’s “The Girl with the Blue Star” is a must-read novel and the perfect historical-fiction read for the upcoming summer season. For those who love history and stories that delve into personal relationships that help overcome struggles, this is a truly engaging and intriguing read that cannot be missed. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the NYT bestseller The Orphan’s Tale. She holds a degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her JD from UPenn. Her novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and 3 children near Philadelphia, where she teaches law.

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An Excerpt from THE GIRL WITH THE BLUE STAR

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.

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Q&A With Author Pam Jenoff

  • Why did you decide to write this story?

While looking for an idea for my next book, I discovered the incredible story of a group of Jewish people who had hidden from the Nazis by living for many months in the sewers of Lviv, Poland.  I was struck by the horrific circumstances which they endured, as well as their ingenuity and resilience in surviving there.  I was also moved by the selflessness of those who helped them, most notably a sewer worker, and by their search for human connection in such a dark and isolated place. 

After twenty-five years of working with World War II and the Holocaust, I find a story that makes me gasp, I know I am onto something that will make my readers feel the same way.  This was certainly the case with the true inspiration for The Woman With The Blue Star.

  • How much research went into your story?

Immersing myself in the world where my story is set, whether the circus in The Orphan’s Tale or the sewer in The Woman With The Blue Star, is always one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of beginning a book.  I had so many questions:  What did the sewer look and feel like?  How was it possible to eat and sleep and even see in the dark underground space?  Fortunately, there was an excellent non-fiction book, In The Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, that explained so much of it.  I learned that there were so many dangers beyond getting caught by the Germans, from drowning to floods.  Every day was a battle for survival.  

When I decided to move the story to Krakow, Poland (where I had lived for several years), I planned a research trip there.  Those plans were scuttled by the pandemic, but I am lucky enough to still have good friends there who put me in touch with experts on the sewer and the city to help me (hopefully) get it right.

  • What takeaway message do you hope readers get from your book?

Sadie and Ella, two women from completely different worlds, form a deep bond that has profound and lasting consequences.  I hope readers will see in them the ways in which we can transcend our differences and connect.  I also hope readers recognize the ways in which reaching out to someone, even in the smallest or most fleeting way, can have a tremendous impact on that person’s life as well as his or her own.

  • What can you tell me about your next project?

My new book is set in Belgium and inspired by the incredible true story of the only Nazi death train ever to be ambushed on its way to Auschwitz.

  • Do you have any specific writing rituals, such as a certain pen, drink, outfit, etc?

I find that my writing routine has evolved over the years.  For example, at one point I went in to my office to write, at another I went to a coffeeshop, now sometimes I am on the couch.  I have written in castles and mountain getaways, but I have also written in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car.  There are certain constants, though.  I love the early morning and I would write from five to seven every day if I had the chance.  I just love getting that first burst in before the day gets hectic.  I am a short burst writer, which means I have no stamina.  If you give me eight hours in a day, I don’t know what to do with that.  I would much rather have an hour seven days per week.  And as much caffeine as possible!

  • Which character is most like you and why?

In this book, I suppose I relate to Sadie because her sense of isolation in some ways reflects what we have all felt during this pandemic.  

  • Readers can’t get enough of WWII stories. Why the interest?

Personally, m love for the World War II era comes from the years I spent working in Krakow, Poland as a diplomat for the State Department.  During that time. I worked on Holocaust issues and became very close to the surviving Jewish community in a way that deeply moved and changed me.  More globally, I think World War II has great resonance for authors and readers.  There is a drive to capture and tell stories from survivors now while we still have a chance.  There is also a great deal of archival material that became available to authors as researchers after the Cold War ended that provides new ideas for books.  And as an author, my goal is to take my reader and put her or him in the shoes of my protagonist so she or he asks, “What would I have done?” World War II, with its dire circumstances and stark choices, is incredibly fertile ground for storytelling.

  • Your stories are always Jewish related. What is the universal idea that captures readers of all backgrounds?

I would not describe my stories as “always Jewish related” but rather predominantly set around World War II and the Holocaust.  This era is not only important in its own right but has many uniersal themes regarding human rights, prejudice and hate that are very relevant for our times.

  • Where do your stories come from? Do you do research?

I do research for new ideas and I am generally looking for two things.  First, I would like to take a true bit of history and illuminate it so that readers can learn.  Second, I am looking for an incredible, untold story.  I have worked with World War II and the Holocaust for twenty-five years and if I find an idea that makes me gasp with surprise, I’m hopeful readers will feel the same way. 

  • Do you work from an outline or do you write from the seat of your pants?

Well, I’m a “pantser” and that means I write by the seat of my pants and not from an outline, at least most of the time.  So I don’t have a neat idea of where the book will wind up.  I have an opening image and some general idea of where I will wind up and if I am lucky there are one or two high moments that I can see along the way, like lighthouses to guide me.  But I am sometimes surprised by the end and that was certainly the case with The Woman With The Blue Star.  That moment when you realize it is all going to come together is just one of the best feelings ever.

  • You are a bestselling author. How many books are expected from you per year? How many edit passes does your novel go through?

I used to write a book a year, but I’ve slowed down and now it is more like 18-24 months.  I really prefer that creatively.  My manuscripts go through many rounds of edits.  The first round of changes are usually big picture and then it goes back and forth with the feedback getting increasingly more granular with each round of revision until my editor, agent and I are all satisfied.

  • Is there anything about you or your work that you’d like to share with readers?

I consider my books that are set around World War II and the Holocaust to be love songs to the people who lived through that most horrific period.  I try to approach it with a great deal of respect and do them justice.  On a very different note, I’d like to share that I always love connecting with readers.  I invite each reader to find me online – through my website, Facebook author page, Twitter, Instagram or wherever they are hanging out.