Review: “Far Side of the Sea” by Kate Breslin

I LOVE when I learn something from fiction. And, when that’s combined with a riveting story, I’m a happy reader. Kate Breslin NEVER disappoints in this respect. Her latest novel, Far Side of the Sea, takes the reader on a European quest during WWI, complete with spies, tricks, pigeons, and a sweet friendship-to-romance story.

About the Book

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life–a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Far Side of the Sea is an absolutely riveting tale of history, adventure, and romance. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Colin’s story begins as a tentative journey for honor and grows more complex and layered as intrigue and danger heighten. When he meets the “other” Reyer sister, Johanna, his life is turned on end and their quest becomes an urgent and noble one — one that takes them across Europe!

Kate Breslin pens the most vivid character personalities (even side characters we meet)! Colin’s intelligence and seriousness are perfectly matched with Johanna’s wits and fortitude, making them a couple to cheer for – and one whose friendship holds more than a few surprises.

I also loved learning more about history and the use of carrier pigeons in WWI. It was such a daring and interesting tactic! I was delighted by Breslin’s extensive author’s note that shed more light on the historical facts of the story. I love to learn through fiction 🙂

Along with the action of this novel, the characters themselves grow and change through their experiences. I was rooting for Colin to heal and realize his value, something Johanna helps him to see. Likewise, Johanna experiences the beginnings of faith and the peace in knowing she is never truly alone as a child of God.

This novel is definitely on my list of favorite WWI stories! I was delighted with the glimpses of familiar characters from Breslin’s novel Not by Sight. I am eager for whatever era or story Kate writes about next (and I’m hoping we see Marcus again? 😉 ).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the review copy. This is my honest review.

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Mini Review: “Not By Sight” by Kate Breslin

I really like it when authors connect stories or characters in more than one standalone book. This allows for more depth of story and sometimes revisiting beloved characters even though books might not be a series. With the recent release of Kate Breslin’s Far Side of the Sea, I knew I wanted to read Not By Sight first because it introduces the Mabry family. Now you know what I’m reading next 🙂

Not By Sight

About the book: With Britain caught up in WWI, Jack Benningham, heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke, has declared himself a conscientious objector. Instead, he secretly works for the Crown by tracking down German spies on British soil, his wild reputation and society status serving as a foolproof cover.

Blinded by patriotism and concern for her brother on the front lines, wealthy suffragette Grace Mabry will do whatever it takes to assist her country’s cause. When she sneaks into a posh London masquerade ball to hand out white feathers of cowardice, she never imagines the chain of events she’ll set off when she hands a feather to Jack. 

And neither of them could anticipate the extent of the danger and betrayal that follows them–or the faith they’ll need to maintain hope.

Goodreads | Amazon

My thoughts: Not By Sight is a layered, enchanting WWI tale of intrigue and patriotism all wrapped up in a love story that touches on the importance of faith and the strength of the truth. I LOVED the Beauty & The Beast elements, which made the story somewhat of a retelling. Jack’s prickly nature and Grace’s fortitude make their growing (unlikely) friendship one that underscores the overarching sacrificial themes of the story. I also liked the role of the secondary characters in showing the importance of encouragement and friendship.

Review: “A Song Unheard” by Roseanna M. White

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Last year, one of my very favorite historical romances was A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White. I loved it SO MUCH! It’s still at the top of the list, but the second book in the series, A Song Unheard, impressed me as well. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges because each one is unique and wonderful in its own way. Book 2 features another sister in the “family”, with a trip to Wales, violin music, and a mysterious mission…

About the Book

Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which make her the perfect choice for a crucial task at the outset of World War I—to steal a cypher from a famous violinist currently in Wales. A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White

Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won—until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father’s work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only light he finds is in meeting the intriguing Willa Forsythe.

But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t—that she must betray him and find that cypher, or her own family will pay the price as surely as his has.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

A Song Unheard is a novel for anyone who loves history or music. Set during the early days of WWI, it portrays a unique era, a slice of history, and the trials ordinary people endured. I liked that it showed multiple intertwining viewpoints– that of a spunky thief-turned-government aid practically working as a spy (Willa), a refugee estranged from his family and struggling to maintain his normal lifestyle (Lukas), and that of an intelligent young lady hiding her true identity in German-occupied Belgium (Margot).

In their own ways, they each learn important lessons of faith. What stands out to me the most is Willa’s realization that the loving FAMILY she has is wonderful, but that the love of a Heavenly Father can be all-encompassing and accepting far beyond any human connection she might seek.

These twisting perspectives all tell a seamless story with action, intrigue, and true acts of heroism. Interspersed with it all is a romance that grows naturally even while the characters themselves are often (comically) unaware of their deep connection.

And OH, the music!!! The music lover in me swooned a time or two while reading Lukas and Willa’s musical scenes. I have never read a story that incorporates the emotions and visceral feelings music can evoke in mere words and paragraphs. It was so vivid, I could almost hear Willa’s song in her heart. The journey of the characters could be likened to a song that has mournful minor strains and moments of pure joy. All of it works together to present a piece of art: in this case, a musical story that incorporates both historical suspense, romance, and faith.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers and Netgalley for the opportunity to review a complimentary copy of this book. This is my honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: True History in Fiction

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s topic is a “Back to School” Freebie! I’m taking a suggested idea of Books to Complement a History Lesson and turning it into a list of true history in fiction. I enjoy historical fiction — especially when I’m learning something new through story. I am allowing myself to go a *little* over 10 books (I’m listing 18 books in total). I hope you find a new era or event you’re interested in learning more about!

Wait, that’s a true story? True History in Fiction

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

1520s The early Protestant Reformation and the true-life romance between the prominent protestant reformation starter Martin Luther and former Catholic nun Katharina von Bora.

The Sound of Diamonds

The “Steadfast Love” series by Rachelle Rea Cobb

The Sound of Diamonds | The Sound of Silver | The Sound of Emeralds

1566 A Catholic girl’s changing perspective in Protestant Reformation-Era England.

the-mark-of-the-king-by-jocelyn-green

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green

1719-22 Early French settlement of New Orleans and the Louisiana area.

Woods Edge

The “Pathfinders” duology by Lori Benton

The Wood’s Edge | A Flight of Arrows

1757-1777 New York settlement and Native American involvement in Revolutionary War.

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A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz

1777 Kentucky wilderness during the early American frontier– plus a little of Daniel Boone’s personal influence on its settlement.

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton

1787 The “State of Franklin” dispute in the Appalachians and western North Carolina.

With You Always by Jody Hedlund

With You Always by Jody Hedlund

1857 The “orphan train” era, including working conditions and an inside look at poverty in immigrant communities of NYC.

Sentinels-of-Andersonville

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

1864 Andersonville prison in Georgia and its conditions toward the end of the Civil War.

The Thorn Bearer

The “Penned in Time” series by Pepper D. Basham

The Thorn Bearer | The Thorn Keeper | The Thorn Healer

1910s WWI England and post-war America, including the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, events on the England homefront, and a German internment camp in the Appalachians.

High as the Heavens

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

1917 WWI Belgium, with secret spy networks and methods (the heroine was inspired by 3 different real women).

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Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

1940 England and Dunkirk, France during the WWII evacuation event.

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

1940s WWII Auschwitz and the role of Jewish musicians/artists in concentration camps.

With Love, Wherever You Are

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

1941-45 America and Europe, late WWII conditions from a nurse and doctor’s perspectives. Fun fact: The couple in this story is based on the real-life parents of the author and includes much of their real-life correspondence during the war.

As always, thank you for reading!

What did you pick for this back-to-school week? Have you read any of the books on my list? What is your favorite era/setting for historical fiction? Do share in the comments!

Review: “A Name Unknown” by Roseanna M. White

A Name UnknownOh my goodness! You know that moment when you finish a special book and want to immediately read it again, cover-to-cover? A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White is one of those! It’s that good. It’s a beautiful story of discovery and the importance of truth with twists and a subtle and poignant romance. I’m happily reviewing it today, so read on for the bookish talk!

About the Book

Edwardian Romance and History Gains a Twist of Suspense

A Name UnknownRosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family’s history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family’s German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a historian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered. 

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors’ scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he’s more than his name?

Review

This is truly a book for book lovers (and history lovers!). The added bonus is that the most bookish character is the hero (ahem, books=the way to my heart). The stacks and volumes and discussions of fiction are just one of the many things to love about this story! I have so many quotes highlighted.

It’s not all books, though. It’s the Cornish culture, the impending WWI European uproar, a thief-with-a-secret-mission, hidden identities and family secrets, absolutely delightful supporting characters, witty conversations, a spunky and fiercely independent heroine, and the steadfast, quiet hero that encourages her faith and shatters her assumptions.

As Rosemary says, Peter is just “so blasted nice”! He is an exemplary man of integrity, though he knows his goodness is not innate but is a result of Christ shining through him. He lives out these truths and shows this lifestyle to Rosemary, a person whose bitterness and skepticism is understandably deeply rooted and in need of his kind encouragement. Her journey is one of discovering the power and importance of truth — and the freely offered gift of God’s love. She’s a hoot!

Back to Peter, now. He is a very determined person. He doesn’t react to pressure or various trying situations like he could, and that’s why he’s such a likable hero. Especially when he could react to a major revelation of Rosemary’s with anger or by retreating, instead his fierce determination reveals his integrity and commitment to live out his faith.

The love story between Rosemary and Peter is wonderfully slow, subtle, and thoughtful, a realistic pace they both need. I was a little bit impatient, of course, but when their emotions and actions *finally* grew into a romance, I found it WELL WORTH THE WAIT. It’s simply beautiful.

Words play an important role in this story, both in defining identity and truth. I really loved how it illustrates the way a name can hold weight or influence, yet is ultimately a result of choices and actions. Important choices of honesty, patriotism, and extending grace are all a part of this wonderful story. I am so, SO glad this book is the start of a series (the “Shadows Over England” series)….. that means MORE of Rosemary’s ragtag “family” (plus more Peter, I hope) and more of this fascinating era in Europe.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

If you’re interested in learning more about the author or series, check out this awesome interview with Roseanna over at Just Commonly.

 

 

 

Review: High As the Heavens by Kate Breslin

High as the Heavens is an absolutely beautiful and riveting story of perseverance, hope, and mercy against the backdrop of WWI Belgium. Author Kate Breslin is now a new favorite and I must read her other novels soon!About the Book

High as the HeavensIn 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle’s café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She’s a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service. 

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

Review

This novel has all the appeal of –and promise to be– a classic in its genre: a vivid sense of place; plot elements inspired by real life events and people; relatable and complex characters; a romance that surprises and leaves you breathless with its strength; and, secrets, danger, and espionage (oh my!).

Drawing on the logistical complexities and melting pot of nationalities involved in The Great War, the suspenseful storyline keeps a steady pace with twists and makes the reader question just who to trust or believe. I have a new respect for Red Cross personnel who worked behind enemy lines, and citizens who risked so much while participating in underground communcations networks like La Dame Blanche. The espionage storyline alone had me nervous for Eve, Simon, and several other people who worked with them!

Side note: a few flashbacks take place closer to the beginning of the story and serve as the perfect tool to establish Eve and Simon’s personalities with a sense of normalcy (before the war changed so much). And, they also shed light on the relationship dynamic between the two of them. 🙂

Ok, now to talk about my favorite part of High as the Heavens: the romantic tension!!!! To say all I want to would give away an early surprise or two, so I’ll just have to tell you that Eve and Simon have a history. A close one. His literal crash back into her life is way more complicated than the synopsis hints. Because of this, they are both challenged with trust and the secrets they each harbor. This further complicates the way they must prioritize loyalties to family and country, but especially to each other. In their frustrating circumstance, the strength of the romance between the two of them is delightfully uncovered and shines a light on an overarching theme of hope. And oh, how their soul-deep connection is beautifully penned by Kate! I especially appreciated how Simon’s role embodied the characteristics of love — its patience, mercy, and edurance.

If you are a fan of history, WWI, romance, or even suspense, I say you should read this novel ASAP! Even if historical fiction is not your normal genre. If you want a second opinion, check out my author friend Rachel McMillan’s gushing review that convinced me to pick it up in the first place ;).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

“The Thorn Healer” by Pepper D. Basham ~ Tour, Review & Author’s Top 10 Favorites

The Thorn Healer by Pepper Basham Tour Header Graphic.png

tth_1Series: Penned in Time book 3
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Romance, Christian
Publisher: Vinspire Publishing
Publication date: December 6, 2016
Number of pages: 327

Fiction, Historical, Romance, Christian

Jessica Ross’ scars run much deeper than the wounds of war. Determined to escape the ghosts of her past and the German influence on her nightmares, she returns home to the sleepy Appalachian town of Hot Springs, NC, only to find the renowned Mountain Park Hotel has been converted into a ‘prison’ for displaced Germans. To Jessica’s dismay, her grandparents have befriended one of the treacherous internees.

August Reinhold has not only found kinship with Jessica’s grandparents, but as they share their granddaughter’s letters from the Front, he discovers a surprising bond drawing him toward the independent and beautiful woman. Displaced by a war and a painful history, he finds Hot Springs and the intriguing Jessica Ross a tempting place to start over. Determined to scale the heights of her bitterness and show her the power of love, August faces more than just Jessica’s resistance but a more devious design to harm the civilian sailors housed in Hot Springs.

Will August’s tender pursuit bring Jessica the healing and hope she needs, or will bitterness force her into the hands of a “true” enemy waiting to destroy much more than her heart?

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Pepper D. BashamPepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the mom of 5 great kids, speech-pathologist to about fifty more, lover of chocolate, jazz, and Jesus. Her debut historical novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in May 2015 and has garnered awards such as Reader’s Favorites Award, finalist in the Grace Awards, shortlisted for the Inspy Awards, and a finalist in ACFW’s Carol Awards. Her second historical novel, The Thorn Keeper, released in Feb 2016 and her first contemporary romance, A Twist of Faith, released in April 2016 with a 4 star review from Romantic Times. You can get to know Pepper on her website, Facebook, Instagram, or over at her group blog, The Writer’s Alley.

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     Warning: only read this story if you are prepared to engage every emotion known to man because you become so invested in these characters’ hearts. Examples include tension, fear, joy, uncertainty, and brokenness that turns to healing, ALL of which are bound in exquisite hope. The hope found in acceptance, family, love, and most of all, the hope found in Christ.
     Jessica Ross has been an important, though secondary, part of 2 previous books in this series. With The Thorn Healer, her story is told fabulously. (note: this book can be read as a standalone!). She is instantly likable with her fun, feisty attitude and numerous scars just below the surface. She journeys through so much reminding her how much uncertainty one can face in life, AND how a sense of wholeness only comes through surrender to God. On top of that, she faces her own prejudices and understandable challenges when encountering August and his German countrymen in her hometown just after the catastrophes of WWI. And boy does she put up a fight facing down those issues! Talk about witty dialogue :).
     While we’re discussing August, let me just mention how he’s the perfect opposites-attract –and most unexpected — complimentary hero for Jessica. He catches her off guard with his honesty and strength of faith. As Jessica notes at one point, an apt description for him is a “quiet fighter” (ch 8). And the romance that eventually transpires between these two is “signature Pepper” with its spark, sweetness, and poignancy. As Pepper has said before, August’s character demonstrates wonderfully the unconditional love of Christ for His bride.
    14962639_10211125492113875_3513658439859111629_n This is a beautiful drama that explores much more than a romance or the aftermath of WWI. Instead, it delves deep into a story of faith, of the reminder that scars have little power over forgiveness, that God is the source of steadfast hope, and that fulfilling love is sometimes unexpected in its wholeness and form.
     There are so many facets I could further discuss about this story. Like the supporting characters and their humor, or the historically accurate (and fascinating!) setting and events that take place in small town Appalachia, or the glimpse of favorite characters from a previous story, or the beauty of the LETTERS exchanged between certain parties. Or even the hold-your-breath ending. But I will leave you with this plea: read this series from Pepper. You will be blessed by its stories of faith and love.
     My reviews of the previous books in this series: The Thorn Bearer and The Thorn Keeper.
Thank you to Vinspire Publishing and SLB for the complimentary review copy of this book. This is my honest review.

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1. Holiday – Christmas
2. Cookie – Preacher Cookies (aka chocolate/oatmeal no bakes) (Courtney’s note: I’ve not heard them called preacher cookies! I know them as wackies or sometimes boiled cookies)
3. Date option – Nice dinner and then the local bookstore…maybe ending with a stroll through the park or drive through the mountains
4. Tea – sweet, warm or cool
5. Vacation location – UK….EVERY time!
6. Animal – wolf, followed quickly by labs
7. Scripture – (One of my favorites) Ephesians 3:14-19
8. Chocolate – ALL, but I guess my favorite is dark
9. Restaurant – I really like Carrabas, but I’m open for a new favorite
10. Book genre – romance…all kinds