Book Review: The Winter Rose by Melanie Dobson

Affiliate link used. I receive a small compensation if you purchase through this link.

Release: January 11, 2022

Hardcover | 978-1-4964-4421-9 | $25.99

Softcover | 978-1-4964-4422-6 | $15.99

400 pages | Tyndale.com

A stunning cover to go with a stunning story. I love learning history I wasn’t familiar with before. I love time slips when a lesson is learned from the past. I love it when an author dares to write something a bit different from typical wartime fiction. Just when I thought I’d read all the WWII fiction I cared to, this book comes along, not about Nazis, not about soldiers, not about the Holocaust, although all those things are mentioned because all those things affect the characters greatly. This is a story about how the people who were affected, the innocents, dealt with what they experienced for the rest of their lives.

Grace Tonquin is an American Quaker working to rescue Jewish children in France during the war. Decades later Addie Hoult is looking for the Tonquin family because her mentor is dying from a genetic disease. But these women from the different storylines and time periods also need rescuing in ways they don’t truly grasp until the end of the story. All the characters are deeply wounded from both what they did and what was done to them. Restoration doesn’t come easily, but there is hope.

I think it’s fair to say no one does time slip novels better than Melanie Dobson. Many times I prefer the historical timeline to the contemporary one but this one had me totally engaged with both. I highly recommend you read this one!

*I was given a copy by the publisher for the purpose of review without compensation or expectation. I have given my honest opinion.


Reviewed by Cindy Thomson

www.cindyswriting.com

Book Review: Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Published October 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks

34150794. sy475
Affiliate link used. If you purchase through the link, I will receive a small kickback but it won’t cost you any more.

This story, told mostly as an epistolary novel, was so well done and so touching that I was completely engrossed by the characters of Evie and Thomas as they corresponded throughout the war. The letters are filled with humor and fun banter between childhood friends and as the war progresses they turn more serious at times and deep with soul-searching thoughts and ideas and finally with desperation. Sprinkled throughout we see the elderly Thomas in 1968, obviously without Evie but it isn’t until the end we understand why he’s come back to Paris to read all the letters they had exchanged plus a new one he doesn’t open until he finishes the wartime letters. The description of the agonies the characters endured plus their hopes and dreams feels so real as I imagine they were, although not usually spoken, for those who lived through those times.

I can imagine these two authors, quite successful as solo novelists, took on particular characters as the voices are as distinct as they would be with real people, and that is the strength of this novel, in my opinion. It’s a love story, but not just a love story. It’s filled with history, as we who love to read historical fiction look forward to when we open a book.

Highly recommended!

—Reviewed by Cindy Thomson

Book Review: The Wish Book Christmas by Lynn Austin

Tyndale House, Sept. 2021

Best friends Audrey Barrett and Eve Dawson are looking forward to celebrating Christmas in postwar America, thrilled at the prospect of starting new traditions with their five-year-old sons. But when the 1951 Sears Christmas Wish Book arrives and the boys start obsessing over every toy in it, Audrey and Eve realize they must first teach them the true significance of the holiday. They begin by helping Bobby and Harry plan gifts of encouragement and service for those in their community, starting by walking an elderly neighbor’s yellow Lab—since a dog topped the boys’ wish list for Santa. In the charming tale that follows, Audrey and Eve are surprised to find their own hearts healing from the tragedies of war and opening to the possibility of forgiveness and new love.

If you’ve read Lynn Austin’s If I Were You (reviewed here) you’ll recognize the characters Audrey and Eve. You might even have wondered what happened to them. While this novella helps to answer that question, it’s also a wonderful nostalgic story. Who doesn’t remember looking at toy catalogs at Christmas time and circling the things you most wanted? Parents often struggle with how to balance their children’s wishes with what is most important about the season, and Audrey and Eve are no different. Having struggled through WWII in England, these characters now have children who have no experience to compare, and little understanding of what it’s like to go without. The lessons learned in this story, however, are not just for the kids. Audrey and Eve learn something as well.

Grab some hot cocoa and a Christmas cookie and snuggle down for this delightful read!


About the Author:

Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full- time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan. Visit her online at lynnaustin.org.

Book Review: Chasing Shadows by Lynn Austin

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (June 8, 2021)

You can always count on Lynn Austin to provide interesting and intriguing historical details in her stories. Chasing Shadows is about the Dutch people’s resistance when occupied by the Nazis in WWII. Three basic storylines are presented: Lena, a farm mother who learns to trust God with the lives of her family; Ans, her young adult daughter who leaves home to find her way and ends up entering the dangerous world of the resistance fighters; and Miriam, a young Jewish girl escaping the worst and getting separated from her baby and husband. These are hard things to read about but Austin paints her stories with hope and bravery in the face of very real terror and despair.

While most of us cannot begin to understand how these people survived and rebuilt their lives and their country, novel like this one help take us there and make us appreciate their actions. We may never face what they did but we can learn about strength and faith and how those things can carry us through what we deal with in our lives.

And that cover? Gorgeous!

There is quite a lot of Christianity in this book: characters including “sharing faith” and remembering Bible verses. Knowing that some readers look for that and others avoid it, it should be mentioned. It’s written by a strong Christian believer and published by a Christian evangelical publisher, so that should come as no surprise. Even so, in real life these people did depend on their faith to see them through. As my late father used to say, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I for one cannot imagine emerging from such oppression, brutality, and starvation without depending on God.

I enjoyed this book. It took me a little longer to read, perhaps because of its intensity, which is not a bad thing. But because I put it down so much I had a little trouble remembering which character was which. A chapter title would have helped. But that’s a small complaint. Historical novel lovers will like this one!

Read the character interview here.

Book Review: Miss Wetherham’s Wedding: The Brides of Mayfair, Book Three by Linore Rose Burkard

Lettie Wetherham lost her husband Steven to searching for more diamonds in a previously productive mine. Her resulting reduced circumstances and the promises she made to him hang like a pall over her future. She resorts to becoming a “hobby” matchmaker, relying on the generosity of those families for whom she has helped find mates for their loved ones. But her services are never advertised as that would be beneath her station in life and those whom she hopes to influence. 

Nick Dellacourt, a spoiled gentleman who is used to having his own way, can’t stand the thought of the subject of his recent affections so easily becoming engaged to an earl without any thought to his sentiments. He’s sure that she doesn’t love the other man and it galls him to have her out of reach. Nick may have the reputation of being a rogue and he may not intend to marry the young lady but being out of control of the situation is unthinkable!

When he observes the attractive young widow, Miss Wetherham, as they call her, at a gathering at Almack’s, he hatches a scheme. Soon he approaches her with his devious plan. Would she be willing to help him lure his former love interest away from her current intended and perhaps ensnare a loveless, but very rich match for herself—for hire?

Lettie is aware of Dellacourt’s reputation but finds herself and close relatives in a pickle because of the loss of funds in the diamond mine. If she’s willing to do the unthinkable and work for him it may bring the security she lacks. Yet, it goes against her Christian ethics, and her promise to Steven that if she marries again, it would be to a good man she loves. If only Dellacourt wasn’t so persuasive and… handsome! 

Linore Rose Burkard again weaves a wonderful Regency romance with historic detail and believable characters which draw you into their world. While it may seem to start a little slow, it sets up the characters’ conflicts, plot, and pace nicely. The author also takes on a little-used point of view: omniscient. This takes you outside of the heads of the characters to that of a narrator or observer. Omniscient POV seems very appropriate for a Regency novel and is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s writing and that of other 18th century authors. 

Lettie is a bit of a different heroine, though she is young and beautiful, she is also a widow, still bound by her love for her dead husband. Ms. Burkard delivers depth of character and Lettie is someone the reader will want to see have the best outcome. With Nick Dellacourt’s character, the author hints beyond the hero’s seeming impenetrable surface to the depth of his pride and surprising care for others which becomes evident as the story moves along.

As always, the detail of her Regency world is impeccable. It there’s an unfamiliar word or a term cannot be deciphered via context, there is a helpful glossary at the end of the book.

Miss Wetherham’s Wedding delivers the expected conundrums of marrying for love or money, misunderstood intentions, and evasive social interactions that fans of Regency romance have come to expect. There is a hint of a faith basis which fits with the time. It is a fun, sweet, and clean read I truly enjoyed. Brava, Ms. Burkard! 

Book Review: A Dance in Donegal by Jennifer Deibel

A Dance in Donegal by Jennifer Deibel

Feb. 2, 2021, Revell, Paperback, 352 pages.

First of all, can we just agree that this is a gorgeous cover! This historical romance takes place in 1921 when Moira Doherty moves from Boston to her deceased mother’s hometown in County Donegal to take the job of village teacher. There is a secret about her mother that Moira doesn’t figure out until the end. The story explores the theme of trusting God in the face of adversity even when you’d rather run the other way. A strong concept worth exploring.

I liked this book. What I loved most was the depiction of Ireland. The author lived there for several years and described the dialect, the people, the landscape so much more accurately and vividly than many other books set in Ireland I’ve read.

I thought the romance between Moira and Sean was sweet and genuine and the ending satisfying. Midway through the story slowed down a bit for me and there were some plot aspects that either didn’t make sense to me or seemed somewhat forced. That being said, read A Dance in Donegal if you’re eager for a pleasant trip to Ireland, a sweet romance, and an inspiring and satisfying ending.

A note if you don’t normally read Christian fiction: This story has a lot of scripture, characters reading the Bible, and inter dialogue about trusting God. I’m fine with that, but if you’re sensitive to it you should understand that it’s meant for readers of Christian fiction.

Novel PASTimes received an Advanced Copy from the publisher for the purpose of an honest, unbiased review with no obligation.

Book Review: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Hardcover | $26.00
Published by Berkley
Feb 02, 2021 | 384 Pages | 6 x 9 | ISBN 9780451492180

Set in 1906 during the great San Fransisco earthquake, this new novel by Susan Meissner follows Irish immigrant Sophie Whalen who chose to leave poverty in New York City to become a mail order bride for widower Martin Hocking and his young daughter. But make no mistake. This is not your traditional mail order bride story. This is a mystery to be solved with characters to sort out. Nothing is as it first seems.

Before the earthquake Sophie learns about Martin’s secrets and is forced to make a decision to save the daughter Kat she’s become so fond of. The daughter doesn’t belong to her, however, and the events that unfold deliver twists and turns that made this book extremely hard to put down. The ending wasn’t predictable but like Meissner’s other stories, was satisfying and redemptive. Perhaps more so than in her previous stories, this main character pushes the fringes of good moral behavior, but her motivations gradually become clear, making Sophie a real, raw, character readers will root for.

The historical details are so vivid and detailed that readers will be swept into the story much like watching a film unfold on a big screen. When I read the ending all I could say was, “Wow!” Highly recommended.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. The opinions in this review are mine alone.

Cindy Thomson, http://www.cindyswriting.com

Book Review: Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee

Come back tomorrow for the character interview of Rena and Frankie!

Tyndale House Publishers, September 8, 2020, Pages:400, ISBN:978-1-4964-4607-7

The story begins with the stock market crash of 1929 when Rena Leland is about to celebrate her sixteen birthday. Because her father is a banker who mismanaged his assets, their lifestyle takes a dramatic turn for the worse.

For me, this beginning was slow. The real story gets going when we leap forward seven years as Rena, out of work at a newspaper office, takes a job with the WPA interviewing former slaves. (If you find the beginning slow, stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.) I knew about these slave narratives and have read a few of them. With all the stories and movies out there on slavery and the Civil War, readers might be tempted to think it’s all been done before. However, the author drew me in as Rena is engrossed in hearing the story of Frankie Washington, a woman who said God told her she couldn’t die until she told Rena her story. I was engrossed too. It kept me turning pages as the book is partly told in Frankie’s point of view from the past.

Uncomfortable at times (how can it not be?), readers are taken back to the horrors, the heartbreak, and the incredible endurance of those who lived through it. Frankie’s story takes place in Nashville before and during the Civil War. Frankie and other slaves are held in a contraband camp when the Union Army takes control of the city. She is allowed to work and be paid for washing officer’s clothing. During a battle she cares for injured soldiers. And then she is asked to do the same for the Confederate soldiers, something she struggles against, blaming them for all the pain and suffering she endured as a slave. How she deals with this and what she learns will also teach Rena some incredible lessons.

Rena feels regret for her family having owned slaves in the past, but she thinks all that is in the past. Then she realizes that between her mother objecting to the neighborhood she must visit for the interviews and her own anxious feelings when she travels there without a companion and is stared at, there is still a vast difference in the white/black culture and much mistrust on both sides. With the supporting characters of her grandmother and a handsome co-WPA worker, Rena learns things about the past that she never learned in school. More importantly, she learns about the life-long spiritual journey of the former slave, and this changes Rena’s outlook on her own life and on her family she previously had trouble tolerating, and also on the man who has been transporting her to Hell’s Half Acre to conduct the interviews. This transformation flows perfectly. It’s not rushed for the sake of the story or preachy at all. The ending held a surprising twist that will cause this story to stay in readers’ minds for a long time.

I really enjoyed this book, and having recently read Lisa Wingate’s The Book of Lost Friends, I found Under the Tulip Tree a fitting companion. Highly recommended.

Cindy Thomson, Novel PASTimes

I received a free advanced reader copy from the publisher with no obligation to review.

Book Review: An American Duchess by Karen Harper

I regret taking so long to read a book by Karen Harper. I have no excuse, but I suppose I was hesitant because I thought they were mostly romance and that’s not my usual reading choice. I’m not a huge fan of reading fiction about historical figures either, but there have been exceptions, so why not? I’m not sure why I hadn’t tried, like I said.

I met Karen Harper numerous times at Ohioana Book Festivals and events put on by the Historical Novel Society. We both lived in suburbs surrounding Columbus, Ohio. I had many conversations with her. She recommended one of her older titles to me, and even though I have yet to read that one, I plan to.

When I saw An American Duchess was available on audio at my library, I downloaded it. I remember sitting next to Karen at a panel on historical fiction at Ohioana in 2019. She talked about An American Duchess and lovingly patted the cover as she spoke. I know that feeling. The books you spent so much time on are your babies.

At first I was afraid I was right about the romance focus but I kept reading and as I did I realized a master storyteller was at work. Yes, Consuelo had a head full of romantic dreams and was even a bit shallow. At the start. Things changed for her and she grew stronger and wiser. We get to meet the young Winston Churchill and learn about how aristocracy changed in England before, during, and after WWI and WWII. (Yes, I was on the Downton Abbey bandwagon, so I liked this.)

The suspense as Consuelo and her second husband (no spoiler here as she is a historical public figure) are racing to leave Europe and flee the Nazis added another element to this novel that I didn’t expect.

I am glad I read it. There are many Karen Harper fans out there, but if you were like me and reluctant to try her books, wait no longer. There is a new novel out as well. Sadly, Karen passed away earlier this year. She was battling cancer, but I heard that it was this nasty 2020 virus that cost her her life. She’s left a great body of work written over many years. If you’re a Karen Harper fan, which book is your favorite?

Book Review: The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

  • 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 7, 2020)

I listened to the audiobook and I thought the voices were amazingly good. It reminded me of The Help.

I’ve become a fan of Lisa Wingate’s books, and this one did not disappoint. Moving between time periods to tell the stories of Hannie seeking to reunite with family in 1875 during Reconstruction in the South, and a young woman called Benny in 1987 who takes a teaching job in a poor rural area and struggles to make local history matter to her students. The story was inspired by ads that were placed with the help of a church by former slaves seeking “lost friends.”

The story is expertly woven and engrossing. At times I promise myself I’m not going to read any more stories about slavery and its aftermath, but then I find really good books and I’m always glad I read them. The Book of Lost Friends features compelling characters that I rooted for throughout the story. While there was a plot twist at the end that helped to explain the teacher’s motivations but seemed a bit convenient, it didn’t take anything away from the story that will touch your heart and help drive home the point that we absolutely must learn from history. Highly recommended.

Cindy Thomson, Novel PASTimes