Mini Book Reviews, edition 3

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!

A Stroke of Malice and A Wicked Conceit by Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby Mysteries 8 and 9) | 1832 Scotland, Historical Mystery

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.

On Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M. White (The Codebreakers 2) | 1917 London, Historical Romance

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.

Review: “Written On the Wind” by Elizabeth Camden

I’m sharing a book review of Elizabeth Camden’s new historical release, Written on the Wind. It’s a fantastic piece of literature and romance, the second in her Blackstone Legacy series and a book that is going on my permanent favorites list.

About the Book

Natalia Blackstone is a rarity in Gilded Age America. As a trusted analyst for her father’s bank, she is helping finance the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. From her office in New York City, Natalia relies on a charming Russian aristocrat to oversee the construction of the railroad on the other side of the world.

But while overseeing the work, Count Dimitri Sokolov witnesses the deadly result of the Russian Monarchy’s will to see the railway built. To silence him, the state has stripped Dimitri of his title, his lands, and his freedom . . . but Dimitri has a key asset the czar knows nothing about: his deep and abiding friendship with Natalia Blackstone.

From the steppes of Russia to the corridors of power in Washington, Natalia and Dimitri will fight against all odds to save the railroad and share the truth of what happened, but how can their newfound love survive the ordeal? 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

There is nothing typical about Written on the Wind. Camden bravely explores a story and characters whose path and traits set a new level of precedence in the genre, especially with the forming of the hero. With fascinating historical detail, a riveting romance, and brilliantly depicted settings from Russia to NYC and Washington, DC, this novel of convictions and purpose is one that will resonate with readers and cater to history lovers.

Count Dimitri Sokolov is as complex and multifaceted as his vast homeland of Russia. He cannot be easily categorized or labeled, exhibiting strength and tenacity and being, at the same time, slightly vain and needy. His emotional intelligence is exemplary, as exhibited when he sets his mind on pursuing Natalia. I swoon over all the tiny things that make him so atypical, one small example being his enjoyment of manicures, yet he is completely a masculine gentleman. Another big trait of his I won’t point out for spoilers’ sake, but I’ll say it’s a breakthrough in the inspirational fiction genre and one I am proud of Camden for tackling with such alpomb. Yay for a historical romance beta hero!

Natalia Blackstone is accomplished and has great tenacity to achieve anything she sets her mind to, yet the strictures of the business world at the turn of the century inhibit her progress at times. She is a counterpart to Dimitri’s personality, with the right contrasts in perspective and harmonically aligned goals. The friendship between Natalia and Dimitri and all of their interactions are full of wit and crackling with an electric tension the reader can sense. This friendship is an appropriate foundation for their romance, one that is as dramatic, at times, as the Russian literature Dimitri loves. My favorite aspect of their relationship is that, with every stage of their journey from friendship to romance and beyond, the allure of their connection transcends proximity and instead pairs them on a level of intelligence and integrity.

My love for this book can be attributed 85% to Dimitri and 15% to the rest of the story, and with a structure and characters as fantastic as this, that is a great ratio :). When it could be predictable in a particular climactic moment of choice for Natalia, I LOVE that it isn’t. I hope readers embrace this book for what it is: a declaration and perspective of love and sacrifice.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Author Interview, Review, & Exclusive Deleted Scene: “The Mozart Code” by Rachel McMillan

Author Interview, Review, & Exclusive Deleted Scene: “The Mozart Code” by Rachel McMillan

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.

About the Book

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.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

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 ☺

Connect with author Rachel McMillan: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Goodreads

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.”

“Do you?”

“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.

“Villiers.”

“Yes, Simon.”

“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. 

“Villers…”

“Simon.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happens after this war.”

This war. Tut tut. I’ve had enough war.”

“Villiers…”

“Simon.”

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.

“You’re fine.”

Review & Blog Tour: “Her Country Gentleman” Georgian Anthology

Thanks for visiting my stop on the book tour for Her Country Gentleman! Read on for more about this romance anthology, my thoughts, and further info on the authors.


Her Country Gentleman is the first book in the Timeless Georgian Collection, a new anthology series from Mirror Press. The book features three novellas from bestselling historical romance authors whose stories reveal that not all love is found in London.

“Spring at Tribbley Hall,” by Sian Ann Bessey

When Charlotte’s grandmother invites her to accompany her to Norfolk, Charlotte jumps at the chance to visit the sea and escape the fuss surrounding her sister’s wedding preparations in London. Lord William Cheston, on the other hand, is most unhappy when his mother informs him that her old friend and a granddaughter are coming to stay. Not only is it lambing season, but he’s also dealing with the mysterious loss of several sheep. The last thing he needs is a child underfoot. When Charlotte and William first meet, he does not realize that the lovely young lady is the granddaughter in question, and she assumes that the man dressed in work clothes in the barn is a servant. Soon afterward, however, Charlotte stumbles upon a clue to William’s sheep’s disappearance, and when her life is placed in jeopardy, William is forced to choose between saving his unwanted houseguest and catching the thief.

“Love of My Heart,” by Sarah M. Eden

Cordelia Wakefield has never lived anywhere but London and is not overly happy when her family is forced to retrench to a small estate near Teviotbrae, Scotland. An ill-fated game of battledore and shuttlecock brings her face-to-racquet with Sebastian, who runs the home farm at nearby Teviot Castle. What begins as a clash of personalities, expectations, and preferences, soon leads to a friendship neither had expected. As the magic of Teviotbrae weaves its spell, the possibility of something more than friendship begins to blossom. But what future is there for a lowly farmer and a London lady?

“Miss Smith Goes to Wiltshire,” by Rebecca Connolly

Martha Smith wants to marry for love and will not be persuaded otherwise. She is highly sought after in Society for her beauty and status but refuses to consider any suitor whose only claim is that his prospects meet with her mother’s approval. Her widowed mother has had enough of Martha’s romantic sensibilities and is sending her to stay with unfortunate cousins in Wiltshire to show her that marrying for love is a risk that is too great. Benjamin Steele, Lord Hillier, is working on his new and dilapidated estate when he first catches sight of the striking Martha Smith. Becoming Lord Hillier has only brought him a house that needs significant repairs, tenant farms that had been abandoned, and only the money he’d already possessed. He wants meaning in his life, and he’s more than willing to work for it. Though worlds apart in all else, on this point they can agree: a life of meaning would change everything.

AMAZON | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

Review

Each of these romances features a lady from London traveling to the country and finding love, with gentle humor and some type of encounter with sheep. I like that these heroes display strength and a familiarity with hard work, a trait that sometimes escapes this genre when gentlemen keep to town or more academic pursuits.

Spring at Tribbley Hall is a sweet story of love on an unexpected trip to the charming coast. The heroine’s meddling family members, along with a bit of intrigue regarding missing livestock, add further layers of interest. The sweet affinity the leads have for each other is believable. And, the sometimes awkward heroine whose lesser concern for social norms makes her strength and personality shine is just endearing!

I enjoyed Love of My Heart, especially as it includes an art element as a force to move the story forward. While this heroine’s reason behind her move to the country is not as pleasant at first, I like seeing her find a contentment and interest in such a lifestyle, and in a friendship with the hero. His championing her art and the important themes of belonging are my favorite parts.

The last story in the collection, Miss Smith Goes to Wiltshire, is charming. Through the heroine’s experiences, she gains more than a suitor in the hero — she also discovers the joys of honest relationships with her family and with a new friend. The commoner-turned-gentry hero has his work cut out for him in restoring an estate and reestablishing farm and fields, but the friendship he tentatively begins with Miss Smith refreshes his perspective and lets both lead characters find love. I like the wit and intelligence of this heroine, especially, and the near self-deprecating humor that marks this story.

Thank you to Austenprose and the publisher for the review ecopy. This is my honest review.

Born in Cambridge, England, but grew up on the island of Anglesey off the coast of North Wales, Sian Ann Bessey left her homeland to attend university in the U.S. and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in English. She began her writing career as a student, publishing several magazine articles while still in college. Since then, she has published historical romance and romantic suspense novels, along with a variety of children’s books. She is a USA Today bestselling author, a Foreward Reviews Book of the Year finalist, and a Whitney Award finalist.

She loves to travel and experience other cultures, but when she’s home, her favorite activities are spending time with her family, cooking, and reading.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

Sarah M. Eden is a USA Today bestselling author of multiple historical romances, including AML’s “2013 Novel of the Year” and Foreword Review’s 2013 “IndieFab Book of the Year” gold medal winner for Best Romance, Longing for Home, and the Whitney Award’s “2014 Novel of the Year,” Longing for Home: Hope Springs.

Combining her obsession with history and affinity for tender love stories, Sarah loves crafting witty characters and heartfelt romances set against rich historical backdrops. She holds a bachelor’s degree in research and happily spends hours perusing the reference shelves of her local library. Sarah lives with her husband, kids, and mischievous dog in the shadow of a snow-capped mountain she has never attempted to
ski.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

Rebecca Connolly is the author of more than two dozen novels. She calls herself a Midwest girl, having lived in Ohio and Indiana. She’s always been a bookworm, and her grandma would send her books almost every month so she would never run out. Book Fairs were her carnival, and libraries are her happy place.

She has been creating stories since childhood, and there are home videos to prove it! She received a master’s degree from West Virginia University, spends every spare moment away from her day job absorbed in her writing, and is a hot cocoa addict.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

Review: “Until Leaves Fall in Paris” by Sarah Sundin

Header Image Revell Reads

Thanks for stopping by to read my review of Sarah Sundin’s latest standalone novel, Until Leaves Fall in Paris. With a unique perspective that sets it apart from many titles in the WWII genre, this story will appeal to historical fiction and romance lovers alike.

About the Book

When the Nazis march toward Paris, American ballerina Lucie Girard buys her favorite English-language bookstore to allow the Jewish owners to escape. The Germans make it difficult for her to keep Green Leaf Books afloat. And she must keep the store open if she is to continue aiding the resistance by passing secret messages between the pages of her books.

Widower Paul Aubrey wants nothing more than to return to the States with his little girl, but the US Army convinces him to keep his factory running and obtain military information from his German customers. As the war rages on, Paul offers his own resistance by sabotaging his product and hiding British airmen in his factory. But in order to carry out his mission, he must appear to support the occupation—which does not win him any sympathy when he meets Lucie in the bookstore.

In a world turned upside down, will love or duty prevail?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Until Leaves Fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin embodies a poignant look at the determination and endurance of Americans who chose to stay in occupied Paris during WWII. This is shown through the eyes of its hero and heroine Paul and Lucie, as they make sacrifices and seek to find small joys — and even an unlikely romance — during the months leading up to America’s official involvement in the war. In my opinion, this would make a fantastic movie! Not every book is suited to such an adaptation, but I think the setting, romance, and high-risk elements would translate well to the screen.

One of the things I love about historical fiction, and stories centered around one of the World Wars, in particular, is the abundance of perspectives and the triumph of humanity during that time. This story explores an aspect I have not encountered in my reading: that of Americans abroad dealing with the German oppression of Paris and the dangers of resistance. Through Paul’s business activities and Lucie’s book store, they become increasingly involved in efforts to aid the Allies, though dangerous and in secret. This adds another layer to their growing friendship, as their activities are kept from each other yet their lives are becoming increasingly intertwined.

I appreciate Lucie and Paul’s convictions and how their initial distance is ultimately surmounted because of their integrity and beliefs. Their romance develops with a realistic steadiness and sweetness. Paul’s daughter, Josie, is a shining character who brings a ray of light to their lives.

In true “Sundin” style, all story elements combine to make this a memorable standout novel in a sea of WWII stories. The Parisian setting comes to life as action and intrigue unfold with ballet, books, friendship, and one spirited storytelling child enduring the tumultuous time. A slight connection to Sundin’s novel When Twilight Breaks will delight readers of that story as they will recognize Paul as a side character from it.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “The Number of Love” by Roseanna M. White

I’m sharing a review today of a book that’s LONG been on my TBR (to be read) list: The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White. In fact, I have already read book 3 in this series! Each of these can read as a standalone and complete story, though, so that’s good for me 🙂

About the Book

Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network–field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren’t enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by an enemy who just won’t give up. He’s smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart?

Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves from the very secrets that brought them together.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

A perfect blend of history and romance, The Number of Love has intrigue and secrets aplenty. Much of the story backdrop is the intelligence agency of Room 40 during WWI, which lends a fascinating behind the scenes perspective and several real-life facts (have I mentioned how much I love author’s notes?).

Margot is brilliant and I love seeing how she processes the world through numbers and equations. My brain doesn’t work like that, so her character allows for empathy and understanding in a different way. Drake recognizes her intelligence from the start, which is one of the reasons they are well suited. His bravery and steadiness anchor the story and propel the plot as his role in espionage sets off events that introduce a villain and draw together some endearing side characters (like Red, Dot, and Camden!).

And the romance between Drake and Margot… it shines! It is SMART and one the reader wants to root for. Their chemistry is apparent from the start, which intrigues Drake and sets Margot off-balance. While they experience some heartrending situations, I appreciate how their friendship develops — especially the compassionate way Drake treats Margot, and the way he works to relate to her heart on *her* terms.

I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook, too. Next up, book 2!

Thank you to the publisher for the ebook review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Shadows of Swanford Abbey” by Julie Klassen

Thank you for stopping by today for my review of Julie Klassen’s latest Regency novel, Shadows of Swanford Abbey. This one combines historical mystery and a second chance romance.

About the Book

Agatha Christie meets Jane Austen in this atmospheric Regency tale brimming with mystery, intrigue, and romance.

book cover

When Miss Rebecca Lane returns to her home village after a few years away, her brother begs for a favor: go to nearby Swanford Abbey and deliver his manuscript to an author staying there who could help him get published. Feeling responsible for her brother’s desperate state, she reluctantly agrees.

The medieval monastery turned grand hotel is rumored to be haunted. Once there, Rebecca begins noticing strange things, including a figure in a hooded black gown gliding silently through the abbey’s cloisters. For all its renovations and veneer of luxury, the ancient foundations seem to echo with whispers of the past–including her own. For there she encounters Sir Frederick–magistrate, widower, and former neighbor–who long ago broke her heart.

When the famous author is found murdered in the abbey, Sir Frederick begins questioning staff and guests and quickly discovers that several people held grudges against the man, including Miss Lane and her brother. Haunted by a painful betrayal in his past, Sir Frederick searches for answers but is torn between his growing feelings for Rebecca and his pursuit of the truth. For Miss Lane is clearly hiding something…

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Equal parts gothic mystery and romantic tale, Shadows of Swanford Abbey smartly entwines characters in a crime with a large cast of subjects acting as friends and foes. I was pleasantly caught up in trying to piece together tiny clues of the mystery along the way, and though my observations did pick up on a few things, I was surprised by the culprit and how it all unfolded.

Nods to classics and a deeply developed friendship between the romantic couple heighten the story to a level of excellence among its Regency counterparts. A unique abbey-turned-hotel setting and the added element of the hero’s role as magistrate make for interesting scenes, as well as a thoughtful analysis of the crime. The setting also allows interactions between characters across classes, an element that makes the possibilities of the mystery more complex.

While I have read and enjoyed several of Julie Klassen’s novels, I believe this is my new favorite!

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Movie Thoughts: Redeeming Love

Most of my corner of the bookish community is aware of the book and adaptation out now of the 1990s bestselling novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It has been the recipient of polarized reviews depending on whose opinion readers seek, so I was interested in seeing for myself how it preserves the integrity of the original in a film format.

It has been about 10 years since I read the novel, so I dusted it off and reread a few key parts to refresh my memory of the framework and details of the story before watching the movie. I remember liking the novel upon my initial read, and I understand the appeal of it to an unlikely audience with its strong redemption message. But, it’s not one of my very favorite historical romances. I am still thrilled to see an adaptation of a Christian fiction novel — I hope its success and visibility draws interest in more adaptations and in the genre as a whole.

I think the movie is an admirable and very close adaptation of the story. It does change some of the details for the timeline’s sake, but the message of redemption and the selfless love of Michael (a metaphorical Christ figure, when viewed through a faith lens) is present and impactful. The faith of Michael, and subsequently Angel’s trust and another key character’s redemption plot, are all clearly conveyed.

The cinematography, costuming, and acting delivery are all excellent.

I had forgotten how serious and brutal some of the storyline is, and I think the movie captured it well without getting super violent or explicit on screen. However, its themes are definitely mature and not for a young or apprehensive audience (especially a caution for viewers with a connection to abuse). I would consider it a caution for teens, too, and I would encourage any parents of teens to view with them and discuss after. It could be a great starting point for a discussion of healthy (and unhealthy) relationships and choices.

I also want to address the consensual scenes. This is perhaps the most polarized thing I’ve seen discussed in online reviews. While I feel these love scenes could have been shortened a little for my sensibilities, they are necessary to convey the Godly intent of a sexual relationship in marriage in contrast to the abuse and history of Angel’s character, and her understanding of selfless love. This is an important and tastefully done part of the novel, and I felt like it was handled fairly well on screen. It does push the bounds of the PG13 rating though, in my opinion, when the sensuality of these scenes is considered with the other (violence, both implied and not; and abuse) content.

For further reading, I would recommend the perspective of Tricia Goyer on her blog, an experienced author and personal friend to Francine Rivers.

Review: “A Heart Adrift” by Laura Frantz

I’m reviewing a recent standalone historical romance today: A Heart Adrift by Laura Frantz. She is one of my very favorite authors, and I always look forward to savoring her annual book releases. My musings about this story could go on for a while, so I will attempt to be coherent in sharing my thoughts here :).

About the Book
A Heart Adrift cover with heroine, flowers, and a ship in the distance

It is 1755, and the threat of war with France looms over colonial York, Virginia. Chocolatier Esmée Shaw is fighting her own battle of the heart. Having reached her twenty-eighth birthday, she is reconciled to life alone after a decade-old failed love affair from which she’s never quite recovered. But she longs to find something worthwhile to do with her life.

Captain Henri Lennox has returned to port after a lengthy absence, intent on completing the lighthouse in the dangerous Chesapeake Bay, a dream he once shared with Esmée. But when the colonial government asks him to lead a secret naval expedition against the French, his future is plunged into uncertainty.

Will a war and a cache of regrets keep them apart, or can their shared vision and dedication to the colonial cause heal the wounds of the past? Bestselling and award-winning author Laura Frantz whisks you away to a time fraught with peril–on the sea and in the heart–in this redemptive, romantic story.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

With A Heart Adrift, Laura Frantz delivers another epic historical romance in the colonial days of America — this time with rich themes and a second chance romance.

The romantic relationship is paced perfectly, with the reader getting to know the hearts and the history of Esmée and Henri along the way. From a bittersweet reuniting to a tentative restored friendship, they find their way back to each other amongst social gatherings and providential meetings. I enjoyed the way memories of their young romance were scattered through their story, showing how the vibrancy of their youth was seasoned with maturity — in both behavior and choices.

Quote from the book: "There stood Captain Henri Lennox...

Henri’s confidence in Esmée is admirable and one of the (many) reasons to love him, as is his calm demeanor. He is deserving of the moniker hero in many ways, as his actions prove in the story. Esmée is a relatable heroine and her care for everyone around her, extending to her family, friends, and the recipients of her benevolence, makes her a worthy match for Henri and of steadfast character herself. Theirs is a love that has surpassed weathering and trials, both during their years apart and through the events of this novel. Faith is subtly woven as a natural part of their lives, as Frantz has proven with past stories, and this abiding hope in the Creator is a credit to their character and an integral part of their identity.

The coastal Virginia setting and maritime interests are very much active characters in the story. Frantz’s signature prose-like style paints an immersive setting and showcases fascinating aspects of history and tradition, with the addition of nautical imagery and verbiage that fascinated me (I learned some new words!). I was also intrigued with Esmée’s chocolatier role and the societal consumption of hot cocoa. In short, I recommend reading this book with a cup of cocoa or a nice chocolate dessert nearby.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Carved in Stone” by Elizabeth Camden

This review is one of those “I’m just going to write a short comment or two” plans that turned into a full review all about my love for Elizabeth Camden’s stories. Read on for my thoughts on her recent novel Carved in Stone, book one in the new Blackstone Legacy series. (Book 2 coming this spring!)

About the Book

After years of tragedy, Gwen Kellerman now lives a quiet life as a botanist at an idyllic New York college. She largely ignores her status as heiress to the infamous Blackstone dynasty and hopes to keep her family’s heartbreak and scandal behind her.

Patrick O’Neill survived a hardscrabble youth to become a lawyer for the downtrodden Irish immigrants in his community. He’s proud of his work, even though he struggles to afford his ramshackle law office. All that changes when he accepts a case that is sure to emphasize the Blackstones’ legacy of greed and corruption by resurrecting a thirty-year-old mystery.

Little does Patrick suspect that the Blackstones will launch their most sympathetic family member to derail him. Gwen is tasked with getting Patrick to drop the case, but the old mystery takes a shocking twist neither of them saw coming. Now, as they navigate a burgeoning attraction and growing danger, Patrick and Gwen will be forced to decide if the risk to the life they’ve always held dear is worth the reward.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Carved in Stone is another smart and enthralling historical romance from Elizabeth Camden. Leave it to Camden to take an event I suspected would happen within the story and place it at the 20% mark, then let events unravel in a different way entirely. There’s always something wonderfully unconventional about her books. This time, the romantic pairing has the protagonists from two different classes and worlds (with a bit of a “forbidden” element to it), seemingly opposite, yet united in kind hearts and matched in intelligence.

This story has the fortunate backdrop of New York City near the end of the Gilded Age, with a distinct difference in the opulent and well-off higher classes and the middle-to-lower tenements and conditions. The writing style makes the reading an immersive experience, as the flow of the story meanders through elements of suspense, danger, and fantastic verbal sparring some social-climbing family members.

While I enjoyed many aspects of this story, my favorite part is how Camden often explores subtle gender roles within the era. Her heroines typically must assert equality in some way throughout the story. In this case, Gwen has an arc that sees her mature in subtle ways, making an effort to see beyond her class (and stubbornness) and determining what she really wants out of life. Patrick has the most dynamic growth arc, as he overcomes pride and gains an appreciation for Gwen’s tenacity. This results in an intellectually mature romance and even makes way for an endearing grand gesture or two. 🙂