Welcome to my blog post and review of Gabrielle Meyer’s debut novel with Bethany House Publishers: When the Day Comes. It’s a historical romance which has elements of a split time novel with the same heroine crossing time to be in both timelines — a completely unique concept I found fascinating.
How will she choose, knowing all she must sacrifice?
Libby has been given a powerful gift: to live one life in 1774 Colonial Williamsburg and the other in 1914 Gilded Age New York City. When she falls asleep in one life, she wakes up in the other. While she’s the same person at her core in both times, she’s leading two vastly different lives.
In Colonial Williamsburg, Libby is a public printer for the House of Burgesses and the Royal Governor, trying to provide for her family and support the Patriot cause. The man she loves, Henry Montgomery, has his own secrets. As the revolution draws near, both their lives–and any hope of love–are put in jeopardy.
Libby’s life in 1914 New York is filled with wealth, drawing room conversations, and bachelors. But the only work she cares about–women’s suffrage–is discouraged, and her mother is intent on marrying her off to an English marquess. The growing talk of war in Europe only complicates matters.
But Libby knows she’s not destined to live two lives forever. On her twenty-first birthday, she must choose one path and forfeit the other–but how can she choose when she has so much to lose in each life?
When the Day Comes has a fantastic concept that plays out in a story of trust, sacrifice, and romance with some great twists and surprises! This novel’s unique setup allows the reader who has always dreamed of living in a different time period to see what it might be like for one person to experience two at once, and to consider the repercussions of choice and the importance of trust in (God’s) bigger plan for all time.
As the heroine also prefers, the 1774 timeline with the impending Revolution, spies, and a sweet (sometimes sad) romance was often my favorite point of view. Libby, thanks to her dual times and her mother’s input, has foreknowledge of the basics of what’s to come, which makes her choices and her part even more interesting as the contrasts between her 1774 and 1914 life continue. Her path in 1914 is more tumultuous but just as riveting, as the different setting (England, mostly) on the cusp of war has its own surprises.
It is a minor part of the story, but Libby’s role in each era explores the traditional role of females in each time — both of which contrast with today’s culture, which I think is neat.
There were a a few things I did suspect about the story’s direction and how Libby’s life would play out, but several, especially near the last quarter of the story, were a bittersweet and pleasant surprise. I’m looking forward to more novels in the “Timeless” series by Gabrielle Meyer — I’m especially excited to learn if future characters will be connected across time with Libby and her family.
Welcome! I’m sharing about Sarah Adams’ romcom The Enemy, the second book in her “It Happened in Charleston” duology. It recently released in audiobook!
It’s been twelve years since I’ve seen him, twelve years since he won our war of wits by outsmarting me with a tactic I didn’t even know was allowed. But tonight…I’m going to resurrect the battle.
Ryan Henderson is back in town for our best friends’ wedding, and I plan on showing him exactly how much I don’t care about him—or the almost kiss he ruthlessly dangled over me after graduation. But things have changed since then. I’m a successful bakery owner now, and I plan to rub every delicious detail of my life in his ugly face. There’s just one problem: his face is gorgeous. He wasn’t supposed to look like this or pursue me like a sexy guided missile. I have to stay strong until the wedding is over and Ryan scurries back into whatever alternate universe he escaped from. His interest in me is nothing but a continuation of the games we played in high school…right?
But the longer he stays, the more I wonder if I’m wrong and his tender smile and heated attentions are genuine. Maybe it’s not a game. Ha! Who am I kidding? This is Ryan we’re talking about. Of course it’s a game—a game called war—and this time I will win.
The Enemy is a fun frenemies-to-lovers romcom with a foodie element, southern charm, and ANTICS. In true Sarah Adams fashion, this story follows an extremely relatable heroine, June, as she maid of honor duties for her BFF while encountering her high school nemesis (whom she’s secretly crushed on forever), Ryan, as the best man. Hilarity ensues as Ryan, also pining for “June Bug” forever, engages in a war-like effort to win her over as a friend and convince her they have a real connection that could result in major romantic sparks. And does it ever!
I love how Sarah Adams is able to portray truly laugh out loud situations that feel believable then turn around and have you feeling deep emotions as you get to know the heartaches and past of the characters.
A quick note about the audiobook: it has one of the BEST male narrators I’ve heard in contemporary! Both narrators do a good job, but he knocks it out of the park and just *sounds* like I imagine Ryan to be, with all his personality.
Thank you to Netgalley for the audiobook review copy. This is my honest review.
I’m sharing an early review today of a historical mystery that releases June 21st: The Key to Deceit by Ashley Weaver. If you enjoy WWII era espionage and adventurous, strong heroines, I recommend starting with book 1, A Peculiar Combination, and meeting Ms. McDonnell and her unlikely cause.
The second in the Electra McDonnell series from Edgar-nominated author Ashley Weaver, The Key to Deceit, is a delightful World War II mystery filled with spies, murder, romance, and wit.
London, 1940. After years of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor—well, to themselves, anyway—Ellie McDonnell and her family have turned over a new leaf as they help the government’s war effort. It’s true that the straight-laced Major Ramsey didn’t give them much choice, but still, Ellie must admit she doesn’t miss breaking and entering as much as she might have thought. What she does miss is the challenge of unlocking an impossible code and the adrenaline rush that comes from being somewhere she shouldn’t.
So when Major Ramsey turns up unannounced with another job, she can’t say no. A woman’s body has been found floating in the Thames, with a bracelet locked onto her wrist, and a cameo locket attached to it. It’s clear this woman was involved in espionage, but whose side was she on? Who was she reporting to? And who wanted her dead?
The Key to Deceit is a female-centric WWII heist adventure told through the eyes of the heroine, Electra McDonnel (Ellie). It is a proper balance of wit and an honest portrayal of the seriousness of war on the home front. As Londoners begin to deal with the reality of war and the imminent threat of German air raids, Ellie works to be part of a ragtag group of criminals-turned-patriots to help the allied cause with her locksmith skills and femininity.
The banter and depth of the characters are favorite parts of the story. A bit of a romance develops between Ellie and her childhood friend, Felix, though the spark and tension between Ellie and the Major are ever present, too. I ship Ellie and Major Ramsey SO MUCH, though Felix is a decent and steady friend, if a little mysterious at times.
While book 1 was slightly more a spy story, this one is a little more heist and mystery focused as a suspicious death points to espionage activities. Ellie’s ongoing family-related mystery is further developed, with the past and the fate of her mother active parts of the story, too, as she works to uncover family secrets. This leaves the reader with a few questions, of course, and eager for a continuation of her story!
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review:
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Natalie Jenner’s recent historical novel, Bloomsbury Girls! I’m reviewing the audiobook today. Read on for more about the story and an audio excerpt.
Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.
Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare bookstore that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:
Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiancé was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances–most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.
Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.
Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.
As they interact with various literary figures of the time–Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others–these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.
Audiobook details: Narrated by esteemed stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, enjoy the full unabridged edition of Bloomsbury Girls. “Stevenson delivers the satisfying triumph at the end with perfect polish.” —AudioFile Magazine
Bloomsbury Girls is a bookish story of 3 women searching for, and working for, their dreams. Avid fans of literature and stories about the changing post-WWII culture will find something to love in this story that nods to the bravery of the female sex and the binding strength of friendship. The story is wonderfully presented in audiobook form with narration by Juliet Stevenson, who applies the perfect theatrical interpretation of the characters with voice and accents.
Natalie Jenner’s omniscient narrative style shines in this story! With all-knowing nods and tidbits, phrases foreshadow events in the story and color character interactions with wit. Each of the characters plays a key role in the story, from the three main women to the tiniest side character. They are united by the most unlikely heroine, Evie Stone, whose determination and fortitude underpin the plot in fabulous ways.
The establishment of the Bloomsbury shop rules, as penned by the inimitable manager Herbert Dutton, is a clever part of the novel. Each chapter is preceded by one of the rules, which relates in some way to the action of the story. The rules are defied by most of the characters, and upheld by some, which allows for quirky and funny situations.
While this book is considered to be historical women’s fiction, it does have a few different threads of romance, too. All contrast neatly, with one a comical friends-to-lovers situation; another a longstanding friendship with the possibility of more; and still another first love with seemingly opposite, romance-isn’t-for-me (until now) with a darlingly clueless couple. These interactions and the strong friendship forged between Evie, Grace, and Vivien serve to highlight the overarching theme of being known and accepted.
Content note: for my inspy reader friends, please note this is a general market title. It has a couple closed door romance scenes that are candidly referenced in conversation, and a depiction of homosexuality with some minor characters.
Thank you to the publisher and Austenprose tours for the audiobook review copy. This is my honest review.
Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.
I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.
Today I’m a part of a blog tour for Becky Wade’s Turn to Me, the fantastic conclusion to her Misty River Romance series. While these books feature different couples and can all be read as standalones, I highly recommend reading them in order for the bigger friendship arc.
His promise will cost him far more than he imagined.
Guilt has defined Luke Dempsey’s life, but it was self-destructiveness that landed him in prison. When his friend and fellow inmate lay dying shortly before Luke’s release, the older man revealed he left a string of clues for his daughter, Finley, that will lead her to the treasure he’s hidden. Worried that she won’t be the only one pursuing the treasure, he gains Luke’s promise to protect her until the end of her search.
Spunky and idealistic, Finley Sutherland is the owner of an animal rescue center and a defender of lost causes. She accepts Luke’s help on the treasure hunt while secretly planning to help him in return–by coaxing him to embrace the forgiveness he’s long denied himself.
As they draw closer to the final clue, their reasons for resisting each other begin to crumble, and Luke realizes his promise will push him to the limit in more ways than one. He’ll do his best to shield Finley from unseen threats, but who’s going to shield him from losing his heart?
Turn to Me by Becky Wade concludes the Misty River Romance series and gives readers the long-awaited story of the enigmatic Luke Dempsey as he keeps an inconvenient promise to Finley’s father – working for her animal shelter while providing protection and assistance in an adventurous final birthday treasure hunt. This story features a deep perspective of grace, a swoony romance, endearing and realistic characters, and a gorgeously fleshed out setting in the mountains of northern Georgia. Readers of the previous book in the series, Let It Be Me, will delight with occasional sections from Ben Coleman’s perspective as he moves on from heartbreak and develops a tentative new friendship with a sweet woman named Akira.
Finley and Luke are seeming opposites in many ways, but their common sense of honor unite them from their first interactions. Their conversations and banter highlight their chemistry, with Luke’s snarky sense of humor shining through at the BEST times! While Finley’s plans to “restore” Luke to society and wholeness through her friendship and encouragement are successful, I love that he challenges her to think and choose to hope in a future she had given up on.
I personally find an intangible something very relatable in the dynamics and relationships of Becky Wade’s stories. It is that key style element which elevates her stories in the genre. For Finley and Luke, it is their struggles to risk their hearts for love and to work through hard things in their lives. I especially find the parts of the story where Luke is processing the grief and loss of a sibling, and talking through his self-labeled responsibility, to be touching.
While the friendship-and-romance is the heart of the story, themes of forgiveness and an organic sense of the characters’ faith are all important parts that make up this impressive whole. I love the daring of the treasure hunt with personal clues leading Finley on a journey of discovery. The various pets and DOGS (tiny, fierce Agatha in particular!), the collection of cacti, Luke’s automobile knowledge and restoration, CeCe’s wisdom, Trish’s Christmas songs, Ben and Akira’s encouraging friendship, and Luke’s family are more small things I enjoyed.
I am a little sad to say goodbye to these “Miracle Five” characters with this last book in the series. The concluding chapters, with heart-wrenching moments and a certainty of HOPE, are perfectly written.
Thank you to the publisher, Bethany House, for the review copy. This is my honest review.
It has been a while since I’ve posted mini reviews! These books are ones I read for “me”, not with any review or critique in mind, but are some I greatly enjoyed and wanted to share a bit about in this corner of the blogosphere.
Please visit the Goodreads links in each title to learn more about each book!
These two books are, of course, FANTASTIC mysteries in this series! I love so many things about these characters and the development of their stories. Huber wields setting skillfully to influence the tone of the story and make each of these mysteries unique. A Stroke of Malice, in particular, was fascinating to see unfold as the identity of the victim remains in doubt for a large part of the story.
Of course, I am happily satisfied with the way Gage and Kiera’s relationship continues to be a factor, with their romance and dynamic broadening to include a larger cast of familiar characters. And Anderley and Bree have some interesting things happen (maybe between them?) in these two books, so I am excited to see that develop. I really enjoyed the return to Edinburgh for the setting of A Wicked Conceit.
I LOVE this book and series! What an engaging historical romance. I was riveted by both the historical setting and bits of suspense AND the unfolding friendship-to-romance between Ara and Cam. He’s the brooding, wounded type with a soft heart who knows immediately what a gem Arabelle is — and he does everything in his power to support her.
Provenance by Carla Laureano | “Jasper Lake” and Denver, CO; Pasadena, CA, Contemporary Romance
Carla Laureano writes raw and realistic characters, and Kendall and Gabe are my newest favorites! Their journey to romance begins with a tentative and unlikely friendship, and I love seeing them recognize and bring out the best qualities in each other. This storyline doesn’t shy away from tough questions and themes, everything from identity, heritage, faith, abandonment, and even a Christian perspective of sexuality are examined. The small town mountain lake setting is idyllic and charming (and is a good contrast to the largely urban feel of Laureano’s recent series set in Denver), and the fascinating topics of architecture and small town politics are thoroughly explored.
Falling in Somerset by Jenny B. Jones | Sugar Creek, Arkansas and Bath & London, England, RomCom
Falling in Somerset is a cute and sweet romance. I loved getting to know the bookish heroine and the sports-loving, totally-a-catch hero, Duke. This little novella combines a friends-to-lovers situation with a little bit of a fake-dating scenario AND a trip to Bath, England, with all kinds of nods to Jane Austen through a “cultural” experience that turns hilarious. I especially liked how Duke is head-over-heels from the very beginning and how Tillie learns a little more about her best friend and a lot about her own strengths over the course of the story.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Janyre Tromp’s debut historical novel, Shadows in the Mind’s Eye. I am especially excited because it is set in my state, Arkansas! Read on for more about the book, my review, and be sure to enter the tour giveaway linked at the end of the post.
“Tromp weaves a complex historical tale incorporating love, suspense, hurt, and healing—all the elements that keep the pages turning.”
~ Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials
Charlotte Anne Mattas longs to turn back the clock. Before her husband, Sam, went to serve his country in the war, he was the man everyone could rely on—responsible, intelligent, and loving. But the person who’s come back to their family farm is very different from the protector Annie remembers. Sam’s experience in the Pacific theater has left him broken in ways no one can understand—but that everyone is learning to fear.
Tongues start wagging after Sam nearly kills his own brother. Now when he claims to have seen men on the mountain when no one else has seen them, Annie isn’t the only one questioning his sanity and her safety. If there were criminals haunting the hills, there should be evidence beyond his claims. Is he really seeing what he says, or is his war-tortured mind conjuring ghosts?
Annie desperately wants to believe her husband. But between his irrational choices and his nightmares leaking into the daytime, she’s terrified he’s going mad. Can she trust God to heal Sam’s mental wounds—or will sticking by him mean keeping her marriage at the cost of her own life?
Debut novelist Janyre Tromp delivers a deliciously eerie, Hitchcockian story filled with love and suspense. Readers of psychological thrillers and historical fiction by Jaime Jo Wright and Sarah Sundin will add Tromp to their favorite authors list.
To read an excerpt of Shadows in the Mind’s Eye, click here.
Shadows in the Mind’s Eye is a riveting historical mystery with plenty of twists and psychological suspense. Set just after WWII, it follows Sam’s homecoming and early days adjusting to civilian life on his Arkansas mountain farm, where events and his imagination collide causing Sam and his family to question reality and his sanity.
Annie is a strong, relatable character, whose heartbreaking past colors her perception and reactions to the new reality of Sam’s return, bringing her own set of doubts concerning who to trust and believe. Sam, very much the hero of the story, exhibits a relatable vulnerability and the strains a trauma such as war can cause. A great cast of additional characters, from friends to villains to beloved family members, round out the story. Dovie May, in particular, sheds light and wisdom on a few different situations, bringing a strong theme of HOPE in the shadows and chaos to the forefront.
I think it is clever that both Annie and Sam’s points of view alternate to ground the reader in their perspectives. As events unfold, Annie and Sam question the stability of their dynamic and the confidence they have in adjusting to a new normal postwar. Their points of view also serve to show the reader the sacrifice and strength of character required on both sides of war — active service and the homefront.
It is always fascinating to learn real-life history through novels, and Tromp accomplishes this with an atmospheric flair as real historical figures and the subterfuge of illegal activities provide a backdrop to the story. As an Arkansan myself, I have visited the Hot Springs area and the Ouachita Mountains where Sam and Annie make their home, and I can confidently say Janyre Tromp has perfectly captured the setting of this novel!
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.
Janyre Tromp (pronounced Jan-ear) is a historical suspense novelist who loves spinning tales that, at their core, hunt for beauty, even when it isn’t pretty. She’s the author of Shadows in the Mind’s Eye and coauthor of It’s a Wonderful Christmas.
A firm believer in the power of an entertaining story, Tromp is also a book editor and published children’s book author. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband, two kids, two crazy cats, and a slightly eccentric Shetland Sheepdog.
Thanks for stopping by to read my thoughts on Jocelyn Green’s latest historical novel, Drawn by the Current. It is the final book in her “Windy City Saga” series that follows different generations of the same family through significant historical events of Chicago. This third novel takes place in 1915 and encompasses the Eastland disaster.
A birthday excursion turns deadly when the SS Eastland capsizes with Olive Pierce and her best friend Claire on board. Hundreds perish during the accident, and it’s only when Olive herself barely escapes that she discovers her friend is among the victims.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Olive returns to her work at an insurance agency and is soon caught up in the countless investigations related to the accident. But with so many missing, there are few open-and-shut cases, and she tries to balance her grief with the hard work of finding the truth. Is she just overwhelmed, or is someone trying to impede her investigations? When clues surface that impact those closest to her, how deep will she dig?
Newspaper photographer Erik Magnussen begins helping Olive with her cases, and they develop a fast friendship. Just when Olive begins to unravel the secrets, more setbacks arise. It will take everything she’s got to find the truth and stay ahead of those who want to sabotage her progress.
Drawn by the Current is a great conclusion to this generational family saga! It reads as a standalone story, of course, and brings the characters into the 20th century era. Readers of the previous two books will enjoy glimpses of the Townsend siblings later in life and the familiarity of their book store as a setting.
I enjoyed learning quite a bit about the history surrounding the Chicago Eastland disaster through the story. (I love when I learn real history in fiction!) The tragedy of the disaster impacts Olive in numerous ways, and like Green often does with her stories, the emotional fallout Olive experiences is drawn out as a major part of the story. It connects to her grief for her father and in her striving for a place in life, both in her career and personal life, and ultimately serves as a catalyst for Olive to have some profound revelations about her own worth.
I liked getting to know Olive and seeing her journey through friendship, tough choices, and her romance play out. She is one tough and intelligent heroine! I was cheering for her new friendship with Erik to grow — theirs is a subtle romance that plays out with a steadiness and some surprises. The romance, of course, is secondary to the main themes of the book which deal with deep issues such as honesty, loyalty, and the strength it takes to survive life’s challenges — and ultimately recognizing the source of that strength is from God.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.
Thanks for stopping by my blog on this spring Monday! I’m sharing a review of a recent read today: Shaped by the Waves by Christina Suzann Nelson.
Growing up along the Oregon coast, Cassie George has always been fascinated by the ocean. She’s used her studies in marine biology as a convenient excuse for staying away from her small hometown and avoiding the shame over her unplanned pregnancy. But when she receives a call that her aunt has suffered a stroke and has been hiding a Parkinson’s diagnosis, she knows she must return.
Cassie finds a mostly warm welcome from the quirky community–including her high school nemesis, Nora Milford. But Cassie is confused by the mysterious package that greets her as well, containing typed pages telling a story of an anonymous woman who seems to have ties to Cassie’s own life. As she begins to read more and investigate its implications, she’ll discover who she thought she was and who she wants to become are both about to change.
Shaped by the Waves by Christina Suzann Nelson is a poignant contemporary fiction novel with strong threads of community, identity, a tiny bit of romance, and considerations on how the past can define or influence the present. This is my very first book by Christina!
The format of this novel is interesting and nearly has an epistolary element. A letter packet Cassie receives plays a significant role in disrupting Cassie’s “normal” and informing the reader, at the same time, of a mysterious history. This letter tells a story interspersed with Cassie’s POV and the occasional perspective of a secondary character, Nora, which keeps the story pacing forward and developing a bit of a puzzle for the reader to connect.
I absolutely felt the emotions through the skilled portrayal of Cassie as she journeys through unforeseen challenges, impending grief, and questions of her own past. She struggles, too, with some self-doubt and questions of worth in her personal relationships, especially when it comes to her role as a parent. I never thought her insecurities were overly emphasized — she seems a very natural character — and I love the way her growth and the strengthening of her identity eventually do come to pass. Her journey serves as a clear example of how humanity is destined to make mistakes but our missteps can be redeemed by a loving God.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.
Welcome to my blog! I’m sharing a review today of a new historical romance from a beloved author: The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan. She has graciously answered a few questions for my today AND provided an exclusive “deleted scene” from the novel, too! (If you’ve already read The Mozart Code and want to scroll down to the deleted scene, I won’t blame you a bit!)
The Mozart Code is a companion novel of sorts to The London Restoration. While it happens second in a timeline sequence, the books are standalones that feature two different couples, though you will see some overlap of familiar characters if you’ve read The London Restoration.
No matter how you might try to hide in a war to escape your past, it is always close at hand.
Lady Sophia Huntington Villiers is no stranger to intrigue, as her work with Alan Turing’s Bombe Machines at Bletchley Park during the war attests. Now, as part of Simon Barre’s covert team in post-war Vienna, she uses her inimitable charm and code name Starling to infiltrate the world of relics: uncovering vital information that could tilt the stakes of the mounting Cold War. When several influential men charge her with finding the death mask of Mozart, Sophie wonders if there is more than the composer’s legacy at stake and finds herself drawn to potential answers in Prague.
Simon Barrington, the illegitimate heir of one of Sussex’s oldest estates, used the previous war to hide his insecurities about his past. Now, he uses his high breeding to gain access to all four allied quarters of the ruined city in an attempt to slow the fall of the Iron Curtain. He has been in love with Sophie Villiers since the moment he met her, and a marriage of convenience to save Simon’s estate has always kept her close. Until now, when Sophie’s mysterious client in Prague forces him to wonder if her allegiance to him—and their cause—is in question. Torn between his loyalty to his cause and his heart, Simon seeks answers about Sophie only to learn that everything he thought he knew about his involvement in both wars is based on a lie.
The Mozart Code is a thoughtful and engaging romance that intertwines secrets, loyalty, and intrigue in early cold war eastern Europe. While the relationship develops as a marriage of convenience with a strong foundation of friendship between Sophie and Simon, the true nuances of romance shine through in tiny moments between them when the reader realizes their insightful knowledge of each other — how in tune each is to the other’s emotions behind carefully constructed facades of bravery and class, and sometimes in the intimacy of a shared cigarette 😊.
Rachel McMillan’s authorial voice glistens with her unique way of painting the setting as an active character. In this case, the cities of Vienna and Prague in their post-WWII turmoil and beauty. Her lyrical style lends itself to the slow-burn romance unfolding between Simon and Sophie, as does the timeline of the novel with carefully placed, pointed flashbacks enlightening their backstories and heightening the tension of the present.
Major themes of love, sacrifice, and bravery play out in the lives of the characters. Loyalty, especially, is a strong element present in the recovery of Vienna and Prague, in the friendships of the leads with the Somervilles, in the ever-present threat of betrayal, and in the way loyalty looks a lot like love — even when Sophie tries to maintain her careful heart’s barricade. The use of names is also a clever part of Simon and Sophie’s progression, with the power of identity and names explored through assertion, class, endearment, heritage, and belonging.
The ROMANCE of the story is my favorite part, of course! Simon is a carefully guarded beta hero whose history with Sophie is bittersweet and endearing. As he grows through the events of the novel, he comes into his own in many ways, seeing beyond processing the world through a chess scenario. Sophie is tough and independent, and her growth comes through her opportunity to keep her word and her loyalty sacred to Simon alone. A slight switch in gender norms of emotional vulnerability plays out in their relationship, yet Simon remains the protective hero and Sophie the intelligent complement to his soul. I love the way Sophie loves Mozart and music! The title “Mozart Code” has special meaning between them and ties up all the ways they are intertwined and committed.
Thank you to the author/publisher for the early review copy. This is my honest review.
Thank you, Rachel, for taking to time to answer some behind-the-scenes questions about The Mozart Code and to share an exclusive deleted scene!
Can you tell us a little more about your hero and heroine’s personalities? Quirks or endearing qualities?
They’re both playing at being something they’re not in some fashion— at least to the world at large. When it comes to themselves they know each other so intimately that they can finish each other’s sentences but also have this amazing homing device that allows them to sense when the other is near. I just love that about them. They’re both daft little bunnies desperate to keep their independence and so fearful of being hurt and yet the undercurrent of their relationship is just pure love. Strong, earth-defying love. Sophie and Simon are each other’s worlds. Simon I love because he’s this big nerd wrapped up in a Savile Row suit and gold-rimmed glasses and presenting the world a confident, dashing portrait whereas really, inside, he’s still a little boy forever trying to win love and approval. I love how he sees the world as a chess board. From the very first chapter he is setting up his board and assembling all of the major players that will factor into his story. He’s very kind at heart he just has a terrible way of showing vulnerability. For Sophie, I love that she is forever convincing herself and us that she is this strong and capable woman who doesn’t need love and doesn’t want Simon ( and she is—both strong and capable—)but she is absolutely mad for him and she just doesn’t realize it yet. I love how Sophie always rushes to Simon’s defense and believes in him as far more than the illegitimate heir who is such a burden to his family. The anger and frustration she shows on his behalf, to me, is one of the most amazing parts about her. When she gives her loyalty to him that is far more powerful than most women declaring love.
Setting is often another important “character” in your stories. What can you say about the settings included in The Mozart Code?
I really love Vienna, obviously and it is such an interesting counterpart to Prague. Because in the Kalter Krieg (Cold War) both were very close to falling behind the Iron Curtain — but only Prague did. I also found they had other fascinating parallels that made me choose them as the two starring cities: one they both had close ties to Mozart because he lived and composed in both. Yet, Prague celebrated him in his lifetime and Vienna saw his early demise met with a Pauper’s grave. Another interesting reason to pair them was the work of Anton Pilgram: one of the architects whose churches and designs are housed in both cities ( if you read The London Restoration, you know I am a nut about church architecture, lol). I am also quite in love with the themes of restitution and restoration and finding beauty in the rubble by being able to see (as my heroine Diana Somerville does), the prospect of what the city will be after it is made new. Hitler forbade his pilots from bombing Prague whereas Vienna suffered a lot of bombing (especially near the very end of the war): so while Vienna is scarred, Prague was still intact— at least surfacely: we soon learn that there are a lot of Communist undercurrents and the Czech Republic would be under Communist rule after the events of The Mozart Code for almost half a century.
But I am a lot like Diana in that I believe “each city had chosen human portals through which to whisper their secrets.” I am personally passionate about and fascinated by Vienna and Prague so I really wanted to convey their romance and hardships to the reader.
Are there any interesting historical tidbits you came across in your research you were not able to include in the story?
Anything to do with the churches! I really, really, really wanted to include so many more churches in both Vienna and Prague but I had to remind myself ( as did my editor), this is Sophie’s story not Diana’s. Heck, Diana needed another book just for the churches here lol. I also had to cut more about Mozart and the Mozart family. Readers may not realize I do five times as much research as funnels into the novel so that I can hopefully confidently relay that my characters are experts in these things.
I also had to cut a lot of the Bletchley Park flashbacks: especially as Sophie worked with the Bombe machines and I did a TON of research on those machines so it was a shame to have them gone.
What are you currently reading, OR what is the best book you’ve read lately?
I loved The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn. I also read and loved an early copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews because it is SUCH a Beauty and the Beast meets The Blue Castle type book and has some of my favourite tropes. I reread The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn to review for Austenprose ( it’s the book the most recent season of Bridgerton is based on). I love a tortured hero who just wants love and a marriage of convenience so it was a fun re-read! I also am MADLY in love with the new Elizabeth Camden book Written on The Wind which I think is her best to date and her editor calls me “the patron saint” of that book and I think I am … I LOVE IT
As readers enjoy this new release and are already eager for another novel from you (I’m talking about myself here, HAHA!), can you tell us what’s next for you?
True story: if I press ALT and TAB on my macbook there is always a Three Quarter Time novel in progress. I really love writing those but alas the paying contracts have to come first. But I do hope to get (finally) Memory in Three Quarter Time finished someday! I have a collaborative novel coming out in March 2023 with two authors—J’Nell Ciesielski and Aimie K. Runyan—for Harper Muse called The Castle Keepers. In this book, it is a Yorkshire castle set across three wars with three different romances. Aimie is doing The Boer War, J’Nell WWI and my romance is set just after WWII when the castle is commandeered as a retreat for soldiers suffering from shell shock. There’s a cat named Sigmund Freud ☺
Next September I have a novel coming out that is as of yet untitled but that I call Pimpernel –and with good cause— it is a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel story set in Nazi Occupied Rouen and Paris and it features a daring adventure and a classic love story. I think you will all love Phineas and Marlena!
Is there anything readers need to know to set up this “DELETED SCENE” from The Mozart Code?
One of the things I had to balance in writing The Mozart Code was making it a standalone story while still nodding to the established events of The London Restoration. And the careful reader will remember that Simon got pneumonia and Sophie is clearly worried about him and Diana tries to coax her friend into admitting what she’s feeling but Sophie shrugs it off. We, of course, move on and Simon gets better because we see their world through Di’s eyes but I always knew what was going on beyond the surface there as I knew Simon and Sophie’s true relationship while writing that book.We just are seeing the same time period in Simon and Sophie’s viewpoint instead of Diana’s and so I had to cut this moment in flashback where Sophie sneaks out of her Bletchley boarding flat and goes to visit him. I confess, it is not perfect or edited but I hope it gives you a glance of what I wanted to do with their relationship ☺
If Simon couldn’t be healthy, she would be strong for both of them, she determined. Later, as an air raid siren shrilled and a formation of planes took low over the fields and downs, she suspected that while others wires and radars were attuned to their spouses, their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters in times of constant peril, her frequency was leveled with Simon’s. As it had been when she defended him in front of his father and brother. As it had been when she was briefly installed in the SOE. As it would be while he was ill in hospital and she failed at keeping her emotions in a straight, rigid line.
But frequencies, like wires, could stretch and bend and snap leaving each recipient at the end of their wave vulnerable to the consequences of a terminated signal. Sophie didn’t fancy being so disconnected from Simon.
So, later that night after she had listened to Diana yip on about the chess game she lost against Fisher Carne at the pub, Sophie took action.
She tiptoed out of the house and locked the door quietly behind her. It was past curfew and getting into the Park would take a not inconsiderable amount of care. Fisher had left a note that Simon had been moved home from hospital to spend the last part of his convalescence. He also told her that when he had been at Simon’s billet flat, he had been able to enter through a side door near the garden.
Sophie knocked softly. She hated making him get out of bed when he was ill but she’d rather that than fall through the window and scare him half to death.
A moment later, the light flickered on to dispel the shadow of the narrow, stone path and the door creaked open.
Simon was pale, thinner than usual and subsequently his blue eyes seemed wider as they bore out at her in the darkness. He tied his robe.
“Let me in so you don’t catch your death…again.” She whispered.
He stepped back and she joined him. He turned on a few lights and was winded with the movement.
“Sit down.” She grabbed his arm and led him to the sofa. Once he was seated, she grabbed a quilt draped over a neighbouring chair and tucked it up over his shoulders. “Oh Simon, what a mess.”
“Villiers…” his voice was a little raspy. “What are you doing here?”
Sophie smoothed his unkempt hair from his forehead. “Who is taking care of you?”
“I’m feeling much better.” He shivered and winnowed down in the blanket.
“I can see that. You look dismal, Simon. I’ll make tea.”
He waved his hand in the direction of the kettle and cooktop and Sophie started to work, aware that Simon’s gaze was on her slightest movement.
“I can wrangle a Tetley’s bag into a pot.”
“I didn’t say anything.” Simon whispered.
“You were thinking it.”
Several moments later she ensured Simon’s hand was wrapped around the steaming mug. She took her own mug to the arm chair, stirring the liquid– not out of preference –but occupation for her fingers.
“You must be bored out of your tree.” She observed after a long moment.
Simon blew on the tea and slowly raised the mug to his cracked lips. “I’ve a lot on my mind.”
“I thought I was going to die.”
“Pshaw. People don’t die from pneumonia.” “Yes they do.” He wheezed. “All the time.”
“Well, you are not people.”
“If my landlady finds you here.”
“It’ll besmirch my reputation.” Sophie waved a hand. She watched Simon take a slow sip. Then she looked around the tidy but compact flat, her eyes settling on a decanter on the side table near the wireless. “Ah!” She rose and strolled toward it. She opened the lid and smelled. “Here…” she turned to Simon. “Give me your mug.” She poured a liberal splash of brandy into each of their tea mugs.
“Are you sure…?” Simon began.
“Medicinal.” Sophie said.
Simon’s eyelashes fluttered over his cheekbones.
“If I don’t…”
“Oh Lord. I didn’t risk my spotless reputation to hear you profess anything.” Sophie sipped her brandy-laced tea. “So don’t profess anything.” She studied Simon’s modest but comfortable surroundings: mahogany wood, lace curtains, neatly lined books and a few gold-garnished picture frames. He was going to say something. Something that might hold the word she told him never to say and she steadied herself to prepare for it.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happens after this war.”
“This war. Tut tut. I’ve had enough war.”
He coughed through his smile. “It’s like we’re a vaudeville routine.” Simon sipped tea. Stretched. “If I survive…”
“Do not bore me, Simon Barrington. You know very well you are going to survive or else they wouldn’t have sent you home.”
“Home?” he lifted the quilt demonstratively. “Is that where I am? Anyhow, Villiers,
if I don’t survive…”
“You’re fine.” It rolled easily off of her tongue. She had used it in a long line of syllables to convince herself time and again since he was in hospital.
“Then I need you to know…”
Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t tell me. Don’t loop those letters together. Don’t make me frightened of you when you are at your weakest.