#BookReview: The Berlin Sisters by Soraya M. Lane

Soraya Lane Goes *There*. Particularly in the current era of American politics, with “both” sides (rightfully, in certain aspects) comparing each other to the Third Reich, I don’t think you’re going to find an American author with the balls to take a high ranking Nazi official’s family – in Joseph Goebbel’s inner circle, no less! – and make them a sympathetic and even heroic unit.

Enter New Zealander Soraya M. Lane.

Lane, whose last WWII historical novel – The Secret Midwife – tackled the horrors of Auschwitz directly, now takes an entirely different tack and places us in the political intrigue of 1944 Berlin, when the only Jews left in the city were in hiding and SS officials – along with their Fuhrer – were becoming ever more suspicious of everyone. When the White Rose was openly defying the Reich and Sophie Scholl and others paid the ultimate price for this defiance – an event that is discussed among our characters here. When other resisters inside Germany were actively looking for – and ultimately attempting an ill-fated attempt at – a way to assassinate the very Fuhrer in question and attempt to restore some degree of sanity to their government. An event that plays directly into the story here.

The story here, with the real world knowledge of what was going on and what was to come, is so tense you would need a space laser to cut through it – and Lane manages to ratchet the tension up so high that you’re going to be afraid of giving yourself a heart attack reading this tale.

Yet ultimately this *is* a tale of hope and survival. That even in the darkest, most desperate times, when survival for anyone is in doubt and the smallest misstep could get you and everyone you know or who knows of you at all killed, there are still those willing to take those risks to do what is right. That no matter how evil a group may be, this does not mean that every single member of that group is equally evil. That no matter how vile you think someone is because of some aspect you’ve been taught to believe about what you think they believe, there are still those within that out group that are truly *noble* and truly trying to do the right thing, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Indeed, with all of the fighting in America today noted at the top of this review, this may be one of the more interesting and essential fictional tales for Americans to read leading into the 2024 Presidential election that will be in a period of less activity when this book releases in mid May.

Truly one of Lane’s strongest works to date, and very much recommended.

This review of The Berlin Sisters by Soraya M. Lane was originally written on March 9, 2024.

#BlogTour: The Sapphire Daughter by Soraya Lane

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an interesting and intriguing series continuation with great foreshadowing for a future story in the series. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Sapphire Daughter by Soraya Lane.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Solid And Interesting Series Continuation. This is one of the more interesting entries in this loosely coupled series (that can mostly be read as standalone, but characters from prior books are showing up with more frequency in each book along with at least some spoilers about their own stories) in that unlike so many romance novels out there – even within this series – our lead female here truly doesn’t actually need *anything* from the man who is about to rock her world. There is zero discussion of kids in this particular romance (yay for the child free! :D), so even that motivation for “needing a man” isn’t actually in the text at hand. Her job in particular is rare enough to be intriguing, even as someone who has some knowledge of that field.

Instead, this tale yet again combines both of Lane’s contemporary romance and historical fiction worlds (and yes, as such has a dual timeline), though the emphasis in this particular tale does lean more towards the contemporary romance rather than the historical one.

One of the more intriguing bits here is the continued foreshadowing of the tale that started the entire series – will Lane wait to *end* the series with that particular tale as well, or will we get it at some point in between? For now, only Lane knows. For the rest of us, it will be interesting seeing just where Lane takes this series next.

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Sapphire Daughter by Soraya Lane”

#BlogTour: The Last Day In Paris by Suzanne Kelman

For this blog tour, we’re looking at one of those WWII Paris tales that is familiar in that it has been done so often before, yet also very tense and very real because this particular entry into that space is done so well. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Last Day In Paris by Suzanne Kelman.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Tense Yet All Too Real. “Book 0” of this series, The Paris Orphans, does a much better job of setting up the overall series than this particular book does – and yet this particular book actually does a far better job of showing what we’re in for with the rest of the series. Here, we get an all too real world in both WWII era Paris and 2010s era England. Yes, this is a dual timeline, and yes there are the usual linkages there. There are also multiple character perspectives, but both timelines and perspectives are switched well. The tension throughout both timelines, though wildly divergent (and appropriate for the given timeline) is done quite well, with brief moments of reprieve sprinkled throughout the story before the tension is ratcheted up even higher. The setup for Book 2 is sprinkled in later in the text here, but the Epilogue is essentially a stinger to make you want to pre-order Book 2 immediately. (Which I don’t even think is possible as I write this review on release day.)

Overall a solid tale of its type, with an intriguing twist of the idea of having s linked series of sisters and their tales during the war (along with, presumably, a post-war dual timeline of some form). Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Last Day In Paris by Suzanne Kelman”

#BookReview: The Paris Orphans by Suzanne Kelman

Short Story Effectively Sets Up Larger Series. This is one of those series introduction novella/ short story kind of tales where there is a touch of a semblance of a plot, but the larger target is introducing the world and the major players of the overall series. The ending is a bit abrupt and clearly designed to be picked back up at some later point in the series, but the larger emphasis is truly on establishing that there are several different sisters each with distinct interests and each hoping to be able to use those interests in particular ways in this particular setting.

Having now also read Book 1, The Last Day In Paris, it becomes clear that this particular tale isn’t *as* critical, yet that one *does* have aspects that are revealed in this tale that would be missed if this tale is missed.

Overall a quick introduction to an intriguing series, and a fairly quick read to boot. Very much recommended.

This review of The Paris Orphans by Suzanne Kelman was originally written on March 1, 2024.

#BlogTour: The Uncharted Flight Of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman

For this blog tour, we’re looking at . For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Solid Dual Timeline Tale Featuring Unique And Unexplored Moment In History. This particular tale was inspired by and set within a real world event in the early days of human flight, back in the years before intercontinental air travel had become trivial and long before the era of GPS. A time when doing something as routine – in 2024 – as flying from SFO (San Francisco, California) to HNL (Honolulu, Hawaii) was so fraught with danger that not everyone made it, for a variety of reasons. A time when women had only recently won the right to vote in the United States and were still searching for any modicum of equality in the work force. A time when Hawaii itself was still a US territory governed by the US military more as a forward operating base than as an actual place to live. Within this world, we find a female who will do whatever it takes to become a pilot, and not just any pilot – the *best* pilot anywhere near her, in the capacities she can fly in at all. Here we get much of the excitement and wonder of the book.

Decades later, in the other timeline, her exploits have long been forgotten – indeed, her own contributions were never actually known, thus forming the core mystery of the book. Stumbling into the mystery we get another much more modern woman, currently quite down on her luck. Taking a last ditch *now routine* flight from California to Hawaii, she discovers a land she had forgotten and a particular piece of it she had never known – and within that piece, the mystery begins. Will this modern woman find her peace? Did the earlier woman ever find hers? What has happened to the earlier woman? What will happen to the newer woman?

All this and so much more… in this pulse pounding emotional rollercoaster of a tale.

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Uncharted Flight Of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman”

#BookReview: When We Were Enemies by Emily Bleeker

Strong Growth All Around. While this book is no WRECKAGE – Bleeker’s debut that was also her most gut-wrenching to date – as someone recently said on social media, authors have an entire lifetime to craft a debut novel – and then the lucky ones are expected to crank out a new one every year thereafter (or even more often).

Here, Bleeker actually shows remarkable growth in her writing even from her previous, also dual-timeline, tale. While yes, her direct family still plays a role in even this tale (which I suspected while reading certain parts of this tale, and Bleeker confirms in the author’s note), here it is a bit more oblique, with lots of extra research thrown in. And speaking of the research – Bleeker manages to bring forth both the era of the book remarkably well *and* the particulars of a particular section of WWII that most outside of the town Bleeker set this tale in are likely unaware of. Specifically, the treatment of Italian POWs in prison camps within the US prior to Italy’s defeat and switching sides late in WWII. In both her treatment of these characters and in her detailed view of the world they live in, Bleeker shows here that she can do full historical fiction with the best in that space – and combined with her sense of drama, arguably better than many within it.

But Bleeker’s growth as a storyteller isn’t the only story here – indeed, it is more of an “long timer” view that even really allows one to see that particular story. No, the actual story here shows remarkable growth within two key characters the book uses as its endpoints – grandmother Vivian in 1943 (when my own eldest uncle was born, adding a touch of the truly “real” for this particular reader) and granddaughter Elsie in more present-day times. Both live fully in their worlds with all of their relevant struggles, but both show how those struggles can be overcome – and how essential friends are, no matter the period you find yourself living in.

Overall truly a remarkable work, and a truly easy Amazon First Reads selection, for those so inclined to participate in that program. Very much recommended.

This review of When We Were Enemies by Emily Bleeker was originally written on November 1, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Royal Daughter by Soraya Lane

For this blog tour, we’re looking at . For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Riyal Daughter by Soraya Lane.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Goodreads, Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype):

Strong Dual Timeline Emotional Rollercoaster. This is a book about finding yourself and doing your own thing – even when everything and everyone is against you. It is about finding family you never knew you had. It is about unravelling decades old family secrets… that you didn’t even know were secrets. It is about falling in love, a few times over – at least once in each timeline, + falling in love with a new land.

As Lane has done throughout this series, she yet again shows remarkable skill in bringing together the two halves of her former writing – the romance + the historical fiction – in a genuinely compelling, but only very loosely coupled, series. Indeed, while other *groups* of authors have, over the last several years in particular, come together with similar loosely coupled “series” where each can be read as standalone, all tied together by some theme or some macguffin… with this series, Lane manages to create a much more cohesive single author version of the gimmick that still maintains the “can be read as standalone” allure of this gimmick. In doing so, in many ways she changes it from a marketing gimmick to her own (so far unique, at least in my own reading) almost genre, really. Because this tale, and this series, isn’t *just* romance, though it fills every (mostly “clean” / “sweet” / “behind closed doors”) requirement for the romance genre that I’m aware of, even by its more strict interpretations. This book isn’t *just* historical fiction, though again, it fills every requirement I’m aware of for the genre (which are much looser generally than romance). And while Lane truly excels in both spaces – and I think I’ve said this next bit before in other reviews of this series – she truly comes to her full ultimate power in combining them so effectively and beautifully.

And speaking of effective and beautiful… be forewarned here: there are sections near the end where the room gets extremely dusty all of a sudden. To the point that some readers may cry out for an Audible version of the tale, as it may genuinely become impossible to read the words on the page with your eyeballs due to the amount of dust in the room. (To be clear… men don’t cry. But sometimes, sometimes rooms get extremely dusty – and it may *look* like we’re crying or even bawling as we try to keep the dust out of our eyes. 😉 )

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Royal Daughter by Soraya Lane”

#BookReview: The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

More Noir Than Thriller. This is a *great* detective story set in pre-D-Day 1944 San Francisco that truly reads as more of a noir than an actual thriller. There is quite a bit of mystery and intrigue, but very few murders or even action sequences and really a rather lot of mind games and misdirection. So while it has bone-chilling moments, I really wouldn’t market this thing as a “thriller”. Beyond that, though, truly a superb book that combines history that many likely didn’t know (I know *I* didn’t, and American History is one of my stronger non-degree-oriented knowledge sets) with a *just* real enough story that you could believe it could have actually happened, if you were not 100% aware as you’re reading it that it is, in fact, historical fiction. Thus, it actually ranks as one of the *stronger* historical fiction tales around – and particularly noteworthy for a debut (in fiction anyway) author. While there is an element of “white guy bad” here, there is also a crucial *good* white guy, which brings enough of a balance to avoid any allegations of *blatant* racism, even as both the story itself and the author’s note at the back reveal that there is quite a bit of anti-white animus animating the story. But as this is primarily a story of non-white characters and their struggles during the Japanese Internment Camp era of US History, along with a dose of international intrigue with the addition of several more non-white characters from another prominent region outside of the US but significant during the era (and since), it isn’t so truly blatant or pervasive as to really mar the story at all. Indeed, it is only after finishing the book, and particularly while reading the author’s note, that the anti-white sentiment is *really* noticeable. So yet again, kudos for hiding in plain site with that one. Overall, this is truly a rather strong (fiction) debut, and it will be interesting to see what the author can do in this space with any sophomore effort. Very much recommended.

This review of The Golden Gate by Amy Chua was originally written on October 5, 2023.

#BookReview: The Secret Midwife by Soraya M. Lane

Soraya Lane Takes On Auschwitz. How can you be a historical fiction writer who mostly focuses on the European theater of WWII… and *not*, at some point, do a story about Auschwitz? Well, the answer here is… you can’t, and this is Lane’s take on it.

Now, how can you be an amateur historian, with large amounts of knowledge about large amounts of things – and familial ties to the liberation of concentration camps during WWII to boot – and *want* to read a story about Auschwitz, knowing all too well the very real horrors there, among the worst humanity has ever inflicted upon humanity? (Arguably worse than the Imperial Japanese military’s Unit 731 in overall scale, though it seems that Unit 731 may have been even more horrific – if such a thing is possible.) My answer is… I didn’t and don’t, but I’ve read many of Lane’s books and trust *her*.

As it turns out, my trust is well placed. Lane manages to craft an Auschwitz tale that never shirks from discussing the horrors of that facility – while never showing them in brutal, sadistic detail the way an author with a more horror-genre nature might. Instead, Lane takes a page from Titanic (and a school assignment I once had that I’m fairly certain predates that movie, and which I’m coming to realize ever more that I had really done the way I want to now as an adult when it was possible as a child) in creating a dual timeline (shocker, I know, for long time fans of Lane) tale of hope and survival against the most brutal and desolate backdrop possible in Europe during that particular period. Taking inspiration from a variety of real life people who really did a lot of the things Lane has her characters doing to help people survive, Lane manages to show the goodness of some people and the willingness to risk their own lives in order to do the right thing, even in the very heart of the place doing so many very wrong things. Indeed, even the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele is a recurring character throughout the tale – though to be clear, while always being clear about the horrors he was responsible for while never directly showing them “on screen”.

Longtime fans of Lane will note her usual stylings are completely in play here, as is her usual historical accuracy to a relatively high degree, while still taking the occasional artistic liberty where necessary to tell the story she is telling in the manner in which she wanted to tell it. Even here, the liberties are more subtle than jarring, almost to the point of being indetectable.

The horrors of Auschwitz in particular are some of the most well known brutalities of the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, at least in the West. (I’m told they still aren’t as well known in certain Eastern circles? But I have no real way of knowing, having never lived outside the southern US.) At on that level, perhaps some might argue that an author like Lane should instead pursue her “normal” focus and tell the *other*, far lesser known, stories. To that, I point out that among the first books I read from her was about perhaps *the* most famous event of WWII in the American zeitgeist at minimum (*arguably* more famous than even the events of D-Day nearly three years later), the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In between these two well known events, Lane *has* been writing about lesser known events, indeed some that even this amateur historian had never heard of and had to learn about in more detail after reading one of Lane’s books. (Which I absolutely encourage all of her readers to do.) I also point out that just because a particular thing is well known, doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t continue to be explored – even as I readily encourage exploration of the lesser known topics as well, which again = Lane also does.

Overall, this is an appropriately sober and stark tale about one of the darkest stories in all of WWII, while still shining a light on the very real lives women lived in the period and events in question and still showing the goodness of humanity and the light of hope even in the darkest of situations, as Lane tries to do in all of her tales. Very much recommended.

This review of The Secret Midwife by Soraya M. Lane was originally written on July 27, 2023.

#BlogTour: Women Of The Post by Joshunda Sanders

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a great work that shows the complex yet all too real lives of some WWII veterans you’ve likely never heard of. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Women Of The Post by Joshunda Sanders.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Well Told Story Based On Real Unit/ People. This is a story probably unlike most any other you’ve encountered in historical fiction of WWII. Even if you’ve read about mail carrriers (there are a few such books out that I’m aware of, and likely more that I’m not), you likely haven’t read about *these* mail clerks. Even if you’ve read about African American servicemembers during the war, you likely haven’t read about *these* African American servicemembers during the war. Even if you’ve read about LGBT people during the war… you get the idea.

One thing that became interesting to me as I read this was thinking of the grandmother I don’t often think of much, my mom’s mom. But this was the grandmother that was married during WWII, and who bore her first child – my oldest uncle – just months before D-Day. Her husband at the time, my grandfather, I’ve spoken of a fair amount in reviews of WWII books, including his Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. But here, the connection is with his wife, back home in Georgia alone (presumably with family around) with their infant son. You see, even when I knew her almost 40 years later, during the dawn of the Personal Computer era and as the Net was coming online (she would die a few years after the Dot Com Bust of the mid 2000s, having outlived both of her husbands and sharing this earth for over 23 years with me)… that woman always *loved* writing and receiving letters. Actual, handwritten, long form, letters. As with my grandfathers and their experiences in WWII, I can’t *know* what she went through living through that era – I never once asked her about it. But seeing how letters and morale were stressed so dearly in this tale here, and knowing her own situation at the time, I can maybe make some assumptions about how *I* would feel in similar situations, and it brings another level of depth to both this tale and my memories of her life.

Even if you don’t have a personal connection, however tenuous, to the subject here though, this really is an interesting and clearly at least somewhat well researched tale showing a “based on” level tale of real people who really lived and did and likely experienced these very things during that period, up to and including the Klan burning crosses in their front yards and the active discrimination that was so rampant even after the war, even well after supposed “integration”.

About the only suspect detail here is the idea that lesbians could live more comfortably in post-war Ohio than in South Carolina, but that is perhaps explained away as being able to get to an area where neither person is known by anyone, and thus be able to craft your own identity and reputation away from those who have ever known anything but what you tell and present to them. Which, one could argue (and build a genuinely solid case for) is simply no longer possible in today’s hyper-connected world.

Overall truly a great work that shows the complex yet all too real lives of some WWII veterans you’ve likely never heard of. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Women Of The Post by Joshunda Sanders”