#Review: Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction

I seem to be reading more WWII fiction than normal these days, and I always try to read a variety of experiences and perspectives. So you can imagine my joy when when I came across Within These Lines which features the internment of Japanese Americans in the San Fransisco area. It’s brutal without shedding a drop of blood, cruel without employing force to gain complaisance, and utterly heartbreaking despite the prevalence of endearing love. Get ready for a gut punch, Morrill will leave you absolutely devastated.


lines.jpgTitle: Within These Lines

Author: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Romance, Japanese Internment in America


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family in 1941 is everything it “should be” until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.

Degrading treatment make life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world are treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out on behalf of all Japanese Americans, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.

With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their values and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.


My Review

Being a Canadian, especially one who lives rather proximal to the Canadian internment camps in the prairies and the rockies, I’ve always had an interest in the internment of Canadian (and American) citizens, emigres, and foreign nationals during WWII. In large part, this interest is born out of the fact that our capital ‘H’ History tries so hard to erase these deplorable actions from the record. I live just 45 minutes from where the Kananaskis internment camp once stood, and I can tell you first hand that the history of this place is overshadowed by a nearby national park, the ’88 Olympics, and a booming tourist industry. The history from 1942 – 1949 is marked with nothing more than a few lines on a hard to find plaque, a fading memory of injustice, and the power of shame and willful ignorance.

And so, when Within These Lines – the riveting love story of Evelina and Taichi  set in 1941 San Fransisco and later the Manzanar Relocation Centre – became available on NetGalley I simply couldn’t resist. It’s equal parts hopeful and horrifying, which made it impossible not to feel deeply as our two narrators undertook their journeys through the societal landscape of California following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Told in split narrative, we’re able to catch glimpses of two sides of the dividing lines. This hard hitting topic was carried tactfully by a sweet and passionate love story of two teens caught in the thick of it all. It helped that Evalina came from an Italian family, and that she was not completely free from the stigma and prejudice that was rampant at the time, as this helped to bridge the chasm between her and Taichi. And the fact that Evalina stayed committed to Taichi even when she had other options or when it would have been easier to walk away makes this story just that much better.

It was painful to see the quiet acquiescence with which many families went to the Manzanar camp simply because they were asked to, the cruelness with which the Japanese were treated even when they were clearly causing no harm, and the ways in which the citizens who were willing to speak out against these injustices were treated in turn. It made perfect sense that Evalina connected with the church group, that she decided to take up a male-dominated field of study at university, and that her advocacy efforts continued on campus.

Taichi showed a different kind of strength and offered the perfect balance to Evalina’s stubborn and headstrong ways. He is quiet and contemplative, worried about disappointing his family, and always careful not to make waves. And though it broke my heart to read, I appreciated how he tried to protect Evalina from the reality of what he and his family were enduring. Also, I was completely undone by lengths he went through to protect and support his sister, provide for his mother, and eventually the steps that he took to keep the peace within the camp when tensions began to rise.

While there is a small amount of action, Within These Lines is driven by string characters, flawless research, and an exquisite attention to detail which brings all of the pieces together. Not only are Taichi and Evelina sweet and relatable, they are supported by a cast of excellent secondary characters. It’s beautifully written, highly emotive, and absolutely breathtaking.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!

But be warned, this one will require a box of tissues close at hand.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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#Review: Conspiracy of Lies by Kathryn Gauci #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction

Today I’m over the moon to share my 5 star review for Conspiracy of Lies by Katheryn Gauci. Part saucy romance part gripping WWII fiction, I simply couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages – it was absolutely amazing!


conspiracyTitle: Conspiracy of Lies

Author: Kathryn Gauci

Publisher: Kathryn Gauci

Expected Publication Date: July 12, 2017

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Themes: WWII, SOE, Romance, the French Resistance

Features: Book Club reading guide and questions.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the author of The Embroiderer comes a powerful account of one woman’s struggle to balance her duty to her country and a love she knows will ultimately end in tragedy.

1940. With the Germans about to enter Paris, Claire Bouchard flees France for England. Two years later she is recruited by the Special Operations Executive and sent back into occupied France to work alongside the Resistance.

Working undercover as a teacher in Brittany, Claire accidentally befriends the wife of the German Commandant of Rennes and the blossoming friendship is about to become a dangerous mission.

Knowing that thousands of lives depended on her actions, Claire begins a double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress in order to retrieve vital information for the Allied invasion of France, but ghosts from her past make the deception more painful than she could have imagined.

Part historical, part romance and part thriller, Conspiracy of Lies takes us on a journey through occupied France, from the picturesque villages of rural Brittany to the glittering dinner parties of the Nazi elite, in a story of courage, heartbreak and secrecy.


My Review

I’ve given up on thinking that I don’t like romance, because clearly I have been loving it lately – and Conspiracy of Lies was no exception. It starts of with a whirlwind romance in Paris (um hello, beautiful daydream much?) and is followed dramatically by a complete immersion in the SOE and a deployment to occupied France. I mean, oooft! Does it get any better?

I loved the tenacity of Claire Bouchard, and especially the retrospective introduction to the story. We see Claire at the end of her journey sharing moments with her daughter, so we know that she survives. Yet despite this, the events that Claire endures in 1943 had me on the edge of my seat wondering how she makes it through. I seriously doubted that Claire was going to survive her landing in Brittany, ad certainly not her unexpected infiltration of the Nazi elite as she fell into the bed of a Gestapo Commandant.

I enjoyed too, how Claire’s past and present were interspersed throughout the book. Her return to Brittany and reconnection with her daughter cut the tension of Claire’s mission at the best possible moment. Not only did they provided glimpses of insight into Claire’s character, but they also dolled out key clues into the history of the geography in which the story takes place. I found that it really helped to root the narrative in reality, and to make it feel like the past isn’t so far away.

And the scenario with the Gestapo Commandant was an absolute trip as well. It really brought to light the degree of subterfuge and infiltration undertaken by members of the SOE and the complicated situations that had to be navigated in the aftermath of the war. And keeping in mind the secrecy to which SOE agents were sworn, I can only imagine how shocking discovering the truth of a parent or grandparent’s real past might have been.

Yet, the magnitude of this drama was subtly balanced by the opulence of the Nazi elite. The dresses, the hotels, the parties and the food in the face of such drastic austerity was almost overwhelming. And once Claire was embedded in this world, I couldn’t shake the feeling of Stockholm Syndrome despite Claire’s obvious commitment to the SOE. The depth of detail provided a sense a grounding and realism that made every scenario believable, and solid foundation on which some extreme events can take place. And the best part was that despite having some knowledge of the French Resistance and the events leading up to the liberation of France, I never once felt that I could guess what was coming around the corner or that I knew an outcome before it came to pass.

This baby is truly the best of both worlds with enough pulling at the heartstrings to give you a flutter, and a riveting game of SOE cat-and-mouse espionage to keep those pages turing. It’s detailed, dramatic, and incredibly well written.

Read it book lovers, you won’t be disappointed!


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction @PamJenoff

I first fell in love with Pam Jenoff’s writing almost two years ago, when I read and reviewed The Orphan’s Tale. So today I am absolutely over the moon to be offering a 5* review for The Lost Girls of Paris. An intricate braid of three riveting stories, Jenoff transports you back to WWII in Paris, London, and New York and to a time of immeasurable sacrifice, incalculable strength, and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. This book is an absolute beauty and a must read for lovers of historical and WWII fiction.


lost girlsTitle: The Lost Girls of Paris

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: Park Row

Expected Publication Date: January 29, 2019

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Themes: WWII, SOE, Romance, the French Resistance

Features: Book Club reading guide and questions.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Talecomes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.


My Review

I’m biased, I know, but I love Jenoff’s writing. So I simply couldn’t resist when The Lost Girls of Paris are out, bought a copy on publication day, and then made myself wait until we went on holidays to read it. I’m seriously mad that I didn’t cave and let myself read it sooner, but it was absolutely worth the wait, and one of the best rides I’ve ever been on!

Let’s start with my favourite thing apparent in Jenoff’s writing – the obvious presence of research! It’s clear that no detail is haphazard or half-assed, and that no stone has been left unturned. Everything from the locales to the clothing breathes authenticity and and make the characters and their lives feel ever-so real. But what I appreciated more than the reliance on fact to craft the tales of Marie, Eleanor, and Grace was that all of the characters and events were entirely fictional. As a lover of WWII fiction I have read enough fictional versions of Himmler to last a lifetime, so having new and exciting characters in this setting was a breath of fresh air. It gave the freedom for an immersive read without inspiring an irrational need to fact check, and for that I am eternally grateful.

The split storylines of our ladies were beautiful complements to one another. I think in some cases that if the book had been about just one or the others of the women, that the sadness of their stories would have been overwhelming. However, the balance of Grace rebuilding her life after the loss of her husband served as the perfect complement to the hopelessness of Marie & Eleanor’s positions.

Of all the girls, I found Eleanor’s lot the most precarious and nerve wracking to read. Sure, she was our of the action and running things from the SOE, as it was clear early on that her superiors were setting her up to take the fall if her F Section agents failed and the credit if they succeeded. And because the women of F Section were never given official ranks or any sort of recognition, they too became easy to sweep under the rug when things got difficult. I can only imagine how painfully aware of this situation Eleanor was, which is why she was so invested in the recruiting, training deployment, and monitoring of her agents.

Garce was hard to read too, but in the best possible way. She bucked against the expectations of both her family and society in order to find herself doling her husband’s death, and in that had to grapple with an almost overwhelming amount of grief and guilt. Finding Eleanor’s suitcase was the perfect act of deflection to find closure for both the victim on the car crash and herself. I found her romance with Mark both sweet and timely, and adored how Mark pursued Grace through kindness and assistance rather than machismo and pressure. It was nice to see his empathy and understanding of Grace’s grief and other needs, as well as his respect and appreciation for her choice in having a career.

Marie was an absolute breath of fresh air. As much as I pitied her back story with such a users husband who ran off her fortune after their daughter was born I liked her grit, tenacity, and determination to maintain her home, even with Tess living safely in the country. I loved how she stuck it out against the odds when everyone expected her to fail in her training, and even when she expected failure from herself. I found her easy to relate to and exciting to read – especially after she was dropped for her mission in France.

The interplay between the three plots was perfectly balanced and made for an absolutely outstanding read. The push and pull between hope and grief, loss and love, war and recovery made for a dynamic and enjoyable experience. Like I said, I know I’m biased, being a Jenoff groupie and all, but I would recommend this baby to anyone. It’s the perfect blend of history and fiction, and it hits you in the heartstrings over and over again. It’s absolute perfection.


I purchased and reviewed this title independently, all opinions are my own.

#ARC #Review: Keep Her Close by M. J. Ford #CrimeFiction #Thriller

Today I’m delighted to be sharing a 5* review for Keep Her Close by M. J. Ford. The second instalment in the DI Jo Masters series, this novel perfectly pairs the overly dramatic train wreck of a personal life managed by Josephine Masters, a dismissive and condescending DCI, and some seriously twisted cases surrounding missing and murdered girls – and you have hit the trifecta!


keep her closeTitle: Keep Her Close

Author: M. J. Ford

Publisher: Avon

Expected Publication Date: March  17, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Crime, Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Murder Mystery

Themes: Family, Crime, Serial Killers, Work/ Life Balance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

The second edge-of-your-seat thriller from M.J. Ford

It’s six months since DS Josie Masters saved her nephew from the clutches of the killer clown, but she’s still haunted by that terrible night. The Thames Valley police force, however, regard Jo as a hero – much to the jealousy of some of her colleagues.

When a young girl goes missing from Jesus College, Jo is assigned to the case, along with new recruit, the handsome DS Pryce. The city of Oxford goes into turmoil when two more girls disappear from Oriel and Somerville, and Josie soon realises that the killer is spelling out her own initials in a deadly game of cat and mouse. This time, the case is personal – but who is the perpetrator?

In a race against time, Jo hunts for the killer – but soon realises he could be a lot closer to home than she’d realised…


My Review

I think I hesitated for all of a split second when it came to requesting this book on NetGalley as I haven’t read the first in the series, but the description was so dang juicy I simply couldn’t help myself. And the best part was that I never once felt like an interloper in an already established story.

Within the first few pages I fell comfortably into the world of Jo Masters, Ryan Pryce, Lucas and Heidi. I appreciated the slow-feed of background information spread throughout the book, as it really added depth and ah-ha moments, as well as the uniqueness of all the supporting characters. It was great that Stratton was the kind of boss that we can all love to hate, that Dimi comes across as a bit of a turd, that Crannick is the sweet but dependable co-worker always running interference and that Heidi always ended up playing den-mother for the dysfunctional crew.

I felt Jo’s frustration so deeply when it became clear that she was being handled with kid gloves, and that her investigative conclusions were being dismissed despite her significant knowledge and expertise. There’s nothing more frustrating that seeing connections and patterns that no one else does, or that your superiors would rather not be true, and having to fight for every inch gained when you should be moving miles instead. I mean,  with girls being abducted in broad daylight and at an alarming rate, don’t you think that the brass would want to explore every possible avenue, not just those that are comfortable and palatable.

And with the cast of suspects presented, I was guessing in circles as to who it could possibly be. I love a good thriller that I can’t figure out, and this one certainly hit the mark. For me, our big bad was entirely unexpected, I was just as shocked as the team and simply couldn’t imagine the media aftermath that the department would be fielding for the weeks and years to come.

And speaking of a media melt-down, Jo’s couldn’t have come at a worse time. While we’ve all had those moments where we go down the rabbit hole of distrust, the thing that I found most disturbing about Jo going off the deep end, was that she used her status as a police office to carry out some seriously misguided personal business. I mean, don’t get me wrong, who hasn’t done a deep dive on a potential romantic partner (there are way too many weirdos out there!), but this… wow. Jo’s behaviour made me question every decision she made throughout the course of the investigation and beyond. Although, it does serve as a healthy reminder that the internet is forever and that basically everyone has a smartphone, so don’t go busting down doors and turning all psycho-girlfriend in broad daylight because it might just go viral. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed too!

Thank goodness Jo has such a supportive family and group of friends, even if they happen to be retired ex-cops drinking themselves to the bottom of the bar. I was surprised at how well Jo’s brother handled the aftermath of both their previous ordeal, as well as the drama of Jo’s current case when it starts to strike too close to home. No word of a lie though, I’d be selling of my house too if someone had been murdered in my kitchen and a child had been abducted from their bedroom. In all honesty, I don’t know how Jo stood through the realtor’s showing without crawling out of her skin. Ugh ugh ugh!

All together this was an incredible read – thrilling, action packed, and full of drama. I was eating up every word and was left wanting more. I can’t want to see what comes next for Jo Masters and the team, or for Jo and Lucas! Read it crime lovers, Keep Her Safe will not disappoint.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#Review: The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans #HistoricalFiction #Romance @bookouture

Happy Holidays book lovers! Today I’m delighted to share my final review of 2018, The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans. Firmly in the realm of chic lit and romance, I have most definitely strayed from my regular selections. But the cover and description were both too pretty to resist – and it turned out to be a damned good decision because The Secret Vow turned out to be an amazing read chalk full of history, fashion, and family drama to boot.


vowTitle: The Secret Vow

Author: Natalie Meg Evans

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: December 11, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

Themes: Family, Survival, Coming of Age, First Love

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Katya – young, beautiful and impoverished – arrives in Paris, hoping to begin a new life. She leaves behind a terrible secret, and her survival in this strange and beautiful new city depends on nobody ever discovering who – and what – she is.

Immediately, Katya is swept up in the city’s glamour – particularly the boutiques on the main boulevard, where glittering gowns are hand-sewn for an exclusive clientele. Dare Katya dream that she may someday wear – or even design – one of these dazzling creations? It feels like an impossible wish, until she meets businessman Harry Morten.

Tall, handsome and well-connected, Harry could give Katya everything she wants and more… but at what price? And should she break the vow she’s made and trust him with her secret when her very survival could be at stake?


My Review

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for a few weeks now, mostly because I didn’t want my deeply ingrained resistance to romance to bias my words. But, as much as I hate a healthy dose of mush, the dynamic between Katya and Harry was so reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. A poor and striving young lady in want of an income, a rich and haughty young heir with a good heart, and both too proud and petulant to allow for their emotions to win out sooner. Now throw in a distant but overbearing mother, a brash and disrespectful younger sister, and a minor miscommunication regarding a betrothal and you know you’ve got a winning recipe.

Of course, that’s about as far as the Austen parallels go. The Secret Vow is set at the close of WWI and during the height of the Russian Revolution which adds a dash of fear, desperation and rationing that really heightens the drama. Add to that the immeasurable loss that the Vytenis family suffered as they fled, the impossible choices that haunt Katya as she strives to make a new life for her family in Paris, and the fact that the Vytenis’s have former friends looking to bring them down further at every turn.

While I appreciated the difficulties Katya encountered with her mother, the dynamic between Tatya and her older sister was perhaps the most fraught – with the elder taking on the weight of the family and the younger thinking of no one but herself. I went through the entire book wanting to smack Tatya for her impertinence, but I suppose that’s the mark of a well written character, as they get so far under your skin as to actually aggravate you! And really, what’s a good family drama without a character that you love to hate?

Katy too had moments where I wanted to bring her back down to reality, but I suppose when you’re a former princess adapting to relative poverty there’s sure to be some growing pains. And while I found her arrogant and insufferable at times, I appreciated the conviction with which she worked to protect and provide for her family. I appreciated how no job was too small for her to take, and how even when her upbringing predicated that she looked down on certain types of work, that Katya always saw needs and reason and quickly came to grips with reality.

What I loved the most though, was the shifting landscape of Paris fashion between the wars. I enjoyed the stark contrast between the highly structured Russian aristocratic culture, and the influence of Coco Chanel with looser shapes and the shedding of the corset. The descriptions of cuts, colours, and fabrics were truly sumptuous and honestly made me want to pull out my Gran’s photo albums. The fashion aspect worked too, with the romantic arc in the story, as Harry’s embedded status in the textiles world provided organic avenues through which his and Katya’s paths could frequently cross.

I adored the descriptions of atelier life, the process and the shows, and especially the life of a mannequin before these women were replaced with plastic objects. The behind the scenes glimpses into the cut-throat world of fashion houses bring a tread of reliability as both girls and fashion have proven in their steadfastness to remain nasty. Perhaps my only complaint about this setting is that the good Harry Morten is always there to save day, which means that Katya’s success is not truly self made, but rather indebted to his generosity. I can’t really complain though, as it is Harry’s role as the reluctant hero that makes the romantic elements of this story so appealing.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was, without question, one of my favourite reads of 2018. Full of fashion, hardship, and a coming of age The Secret Vow is a step back into worlds long forgotten and a truly enjoyable read.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.