#BookReview: The Lost Book Of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock

Interesting Twist On Dual Timeline Historical Fiction. Over the course of 800+ books in the last three years alone, I’ve read quite a few dual timeline historical fiction books. Generally, one of the timelines is “current”, or at least mostly current – end of the 20th century at its oldest. Here, the “current” timeline is actually much older – the last months of WWII – and the “older” timeline is *much* older – 16th century. The poetic prose here highlights the idealized South of the pre-air conditioning era… and yet also doesn’t shy away from discussing some of its lower points, including both slavery and extrajudicial murders. (I intentionally don’t use a particular “l” word there, as it generally has connotations that do not apply in the particular situation in the book.) All of this is wrapped around the mysterious Dare stones and how so many of them could be judged to be fake… except the first one, Eleanor Dare’s stone and the tale therein inscribed isn’t necessarily so easily dismissed. The care Brock takes to show an atypical yet also completely realistic and plausible tale of what happened and why to Ms. Dare is quite remarkable, and indeed this shines through in the variety of other situations portrayed in this book as well. It quickly becomes readily apparent that Ms. Brock is a Southern storyteller of the best form – one that doesn’t excuse the atrocities of our past, yet one that also respects the real and vibrant cultures of the era, showing that even while misguided on particular points, the overall people were not the monsters many non-Southern (or even Southern of particular political persuasions) writers portray them as. Truly a remarkable work in so many ways, and very much recommended.

This review of The Lost Book Of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock was originally written on April 23, 2022.

#BlogTour: The Girl With The Scarlet Ribbon by Suzanne Goldring

For this blog tour we’re looking at a moving portrait of a loving daughter trying to understand her tortured artist father… and a protective sister trying to prevent her artist brother from becoming too haunted by the war they are living through. For this blog tour we’re looking at The Girl With The Scarlet Ribbon by Suzanne Goldring.

Moving Portrait Of Tortured Artist And Loving Daughter. This is an interesting dual timeline historical, one in which a man is at the center of both timelines… and yet his own perspective is never once actually included in the narrative. And yet despite this, the book does *not* come across as misandristic at all, as the two perspectives we *do* get – the man’s older sister in WWII Florence and his daughter in 2019 – are both seeking to understand him in their own ways. Thus, this book actually becomes an interesting look at how the experience of war ultimately shapes lives in so many divergent ways. While little of the horrors are shown “on screen”, some are, including a few murders, torture with a cigarette, general abuse, and a rape attempt (that may or may not be successful). Also discussed is how the Jews of the area are rounded up, gang rapes (alluded to but not directly shown), and how a citizenry can live with themselves not stopping either. So truly a lot of horrific stuff – and even after the Allies “liberate” the city, at least a few pages are devoted to the continued deprivations. Truly a well rounded look at a difficult and trying period – and the modern story of a daughter trying to understand the messages her tortured father left behind are solid as well, without having quite the horrific impact of the WWII scenes. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details”, including book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Girl With The Scarlet Ribbon by Suzanne Goldring”

Featured New Release Of The Week: Until We Meet by Camille Di Maio

This week we’re looking at a story that I could very easily have seen my own grandparents living elements of in their actual lives during WWII – it truly feels that real and that authentic. This week, we’re looking at Until We Meet by Camille Di Maio.

All Too Real. Di Maio has made a name for herself taking various historical events and wrapping a fictional story around them that stays true to the real world yet tells her own story – and this book is exactly that. Here, she tackles life in New York and specifically around the Brooklyn Navy Yard as it builds the last of the great battleships – the Missouri – and the newest generation of naval ships – the aircraft carrier. At the same time and across the Atlantic, she also tackles life as a new kind of infantry soldier – the Airborne – as they train in England after the US enters the war, attack Normandy on D-Day, survive Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge and finally the end of the war. In both places, Di Maio does a stunning job of being true and accurate (mostly) to the era, and it is very easy for many Americans to see their own parents / grandparents / (and now great grandparents) largely living exactly these types of situations. Di Maio doesn’t hold back from the various tragedies of the era, but she also doesn’t hold back in showing people who were even then “outside the norm” though revealing exactly which norms of the era were broken would delve into spoiler territory – read the book for yourself to see them. ๐Ÿ™‚ And yet, through all of this, this is still ultimately a women’s fiction tale that could alternatively be classified (technically) as a historical romance, and indeed it really works in either genre. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Under A Sky Of Memories by Soraya M Lane

This week we’re looking at a visceral and harrowing fictionalized version of a real-world WWII event that even with my intense fascination with that period, I’d never heard of before reading this book. This week we’re looking at Under A Sky Of Memories by Soraya M. Lane.

Visceral, Harrowing, And Heartbreaking. Yet again Lane manages to take an event out of WWII, fictionalize a story into it, and show just how real and relatable it must have been to have been the real people involved here. The motivations for our three primary women here are distinct but relatable, and their journeys through the tale are seemingly all too real – so many times, you’re going to find yourself dreading that the worst is about to happen. In the end, you will likely shed tears of both happiness and heartbreak – and particularly when joined with the resources in the Author’s Note, you’ll likely learn a few things too. As in, despite both mine and my father’s life long “obsession” with WWII (in his case due to how it shaped his father and in mine due to how it shaped *both* of my grandfathers in dramatically different ways), even I had never heard of this particular event that Lane bases the story around here. Once again a very fine piece of researched fiction from Lane, and very much recommended.

#BlogTour: The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross

For this blog tour we’re looking at a strong book filled with strongly developed characters. For this blog tour we’re looking at The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross.

Solid Women’s Fiction With Historical Elements. This is one of those books where the description perfectly sets up what you’re actually getting here – a tale of siblings finding each other after their father passes away and sets in motion a plan for the three of them to meet. Along the way, they discover their still-living grandmother and get to hear the stories of her activities in WWII – including meeting and falling in love with their grandfather. On these elements, this is a solidly written women’s fiction tale with historical fiction *elements* – but I personally would not market this as a “historical fiction” title. So if you’re a reader that *only* reads historical fiction… I’d still say this one is worthy of your time, just know that you aren’t getting a true tale of that genre here. Indeed, along the story of one of the sisters in particular (and to a lesser extent another of them), this *could* be marketed as a romance – though the women’s fiction side is still the dominant side of the tale. The titular Inheritance? Well, that’s actually the best part of the tale… when you realize what Ross intends it as. Overall a strong book filled with strongly developed characters among is main and primary supporting cast, and a very well told story. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt followed by the usual publisher details – book description, author bio, social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross”

#BookReview: The Keeper Of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis

Blend Of Historical And Women’s Fiction That Leaves The Room Dusty Through Its Final Quarter. This was an excellent blend of historical fiction on one end and a “current” (mid-80s) timeline women’s fiction tale on the other. Not quite an either/ or thing, but both play well with each other (and most of the historical stuff is done by the 2/3 point or so). Just be prepared for a VERY dusty read through the back quarter of the book, where Davis does an excellent job of revealing things but then letting them play out in a more natural setting and timeframe than other authors may have done. The book starts off with a lot of The Giver type vibes before becoming something so much more than that work ever intended to be – but the fact that it even feels similar to that award winning book speaks to just how well Davis crafts her story here. Very much recommended.

This review of The Keeper Of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis was originally written on August 27, 2021.

#BookReview: The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy

One Book. Two Stories. Both Compelling. This is a story with a LOT going on and a LOT of intricacies that it seems most (at least those on Goodreads so far, about 5 weeks before publication) miss out on touching on. This is effectively *both* a historical fiction (which I think it will ultimately be marketed as) of a young Jewish girl in WWII who leaves a diary behind (where does that ring a bell? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) *and* a modern day psychological drama. Valpy does a remarkable job of bringing a sensuous and visceral understanding of both periods of Casablanca and Morocco, and both periods and their relevant issues – WWII / Nazis / Resistance / Operation Torch and modern shipping conglomerates / expats / refugees / immigrants – are shown in a degree of realism not often seen. Truly, either story could have been expanded a bit more – perhaps by extending out the later chapters of both – and stood equally well as standalone books. Which is high praise, as few dual timeline historical fiction books can pull this off, in my own reading experience at least. Truly a remarkable book, and very much recommended.

This review of The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy was originally written on August 16, 2021.

#BlogTour: Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman

For this blog tour we’re looking at a beautiful tale of life on Hawaii between December 7, 1941 (the day we open the book) through the Battle of Midway months later. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman.

Here’s what I had to say on GoodReads:

Beautiful Story Of Life On Hawaii Between Pearl Harbor and Midway. This is one of those books where you almost audibly hear Faith Hill singing through parts, particularly the obligatory romance subplot – and particularly its later stages. Fortunately the romance subplot is well done yet mostly muted in favor of showing the women’s bonds and work, which was an area of WWII I’d never heard of. Specifically, while college football player men were being rounded up to bolster island security forces, these ladies – both natives and those there because their husbands were already military – were being recruited (almost drafted, really) to man the very radar stations that had failed to realize what the Japanese were on that fateful morning in December 1941. It is actually on that morning that our story opens, with main character Daisy “borrowing” a horse and going skin diving for subsistence… when she witnesses an air battle directly above her. The story then spends most of its time in the next few months, culminating in the Battle of Midway from the perspective of these “Radar Girls”. (And following with the obligatory post-war epilogue.) Beautifully written and full of heart, this is one that fans of historical fiction / WWII fiction will definitely love, and readers of all types should read even if it isn’t normally your thing. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from Chapter 2 of the book followed by the publisher details, including buy links!
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman”

#BookReview: Haven Point by Virginia Hume

Excellent Debut. First off, I have to thank a very particular PR person at St Martin’s – they know who they are, I’m not going to publicly name them in this review. I had requested this book on NetGalley around the time I first saw it there, and after several weeks languishing in my “Pending Requests” queue there, I finally contacted a contact at SMP I’ve worked with on various other ARCs and Blog Tours in the past, and that person was able to approve my request for this book, and viola. I’m reading it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So while I normally don’t even mention this level of activity in reviews, this effort was unusual and therefore it deserves this unusual step of thanking the person involved directly in the review.

Having told (vaguely) the story of how I obtained this ARC, let me now note what I actually thought about the book, shall I? ๐Ÿ˜€

As I said in the title, this really was an excellent debut. There are a lot of various plot threads weaving themselves in and out of focus over the course of 60 or so years, and anyone of a few particular generations, particularly those from small towns, will be able to identify readily with many of these threads. In 2008, we get a grandmother waiting to reveal some secrets to her twentysomething/ thirtysomething grand daughter – this actually opens the book. Then we get both the grandmother’s life story – up to a particular pivotal summer – interspersed with the granddaughter’s life story – mostly focused on two summers in particular, but with some updates in between. The jumps in time are sequential, but not always evenly spaced, so for example we start the grandmother’s tale during WWII when she is serving as a nurse and is courted – in the rushed manner of the era – by a charming doctor. When we come back to her tale after spending some time in the granddaughter’s life, we may be days later or we may be years later, depending on how deep in the story we are at this point. Similarly, when we leave the granddaughter in 1994, we may come back to later that summer or we may come back to 1999. (Or even, more commonly for the granddaughter’s tale, back to 2008.) 2008 serves as “now”, and the histories of the two women remain sequential throughout the tale. The editing, at the beginning of the chapter, always makes clear where we are in the timeline, and yet this style of storytelling *can* be jarring for some. So just be aware of this going in.

But as a tale of generational ideas, aspirations, and difficulties… this tale completely works on so very many levels. Perhaps because I find myself of a similar age as the granddaughter, and thus much of what she lives, I’ve also lived – particularly as it relates to a small town home town and its divisions.

And, for me, Hume actually has a line near the end of the tale (beyond the 90% mark) that truly struck a chord: “Haven Point has its flaws, of course it does. But while it might not be the magic that some pretend, there was never really the rot she claimed either.” Perhaps the same could be said of my own “small town” (it now has a population north of 100K) home town.

Ultimately, this was a phenomenal work that many will identify with but some may struggle with. I will dare compare it to The Great Gatsby in that regard and in this one: keep with the struggle. It is worth it. Very much recommended.

This review of Haven Point by Virginia Hume was originally written on June 5, 2021.

#BookReview: The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein

Remarkable Biography Of One Of The Most Influential Men Of The 20th Century. In this, the first biography of John Moses Browning ever written by anyone other than a descendant (and only the second ever written, period), Gorenstein does a truly remarkable job of showing the life, times, and inventions of a man who could arguably be said to be more actually influential on the 20th century than even Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Yes, Edison revolutionized how we are able to see and gave us the truly 24/7 world, and Ford revolutionized both transportation and manufacturing more generally, but Browning revolutionized how we *kill things* – animal or human – and that alone has driven many of the most important issues of the 20th century. It was Browning’s early rifles that may not have won the West – but certainly made it even easier to live there. It was Browning’s (then-Colt) 1911 that is *to this day* one of the most popular types of pistol in the world, over a century after Browning won the competition for the US Army’s new service pistol (a contract it would keep for over 70 years and through both World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War). Indeed, that very model – the Colt 1911 – played a legendary part of the lore of one Lieutenant George S Patton and the first motorized military raid in the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition. In WWII, many infantry units – very likely including both of my grandfathers’ own units – carried up to four different Browning guns into battle, between his 1911, his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and his “Ma Deuce” Browing M2 .50 caliber machine gun.

And Gorenstein does a phenomenal job of showing the development and importance of each, including Browning designing the gas-piston system of modern automatic and semi-automatic rifles *in a single day*. Gorenstein shows how Browning, of truly humble beginnings, designed his first gun from scraps laying around his dad’s engineering and repair shop – just to hunt small game to help feed the family. Gorenstein shows how these humble beginnings played such a role in Browning not even really beginning to invent until at or beyond the age when others in more academic professions say genius decays – and how this “lost decade” played such a role in Browning’s later drive and inventiveness.

It doesn’t matter what you think of how Browning’s designs and their derivatives over the last 100+ years have been used. You know about Edison, or can. You know about Ford, or can. You deserve to educate yourself about this genius as well, if only to learn the lessons of his genius. And this book is the very first time you really can. Very much recommended.

And here are (most of) the guns in question, just to show how truly prolific this amazing man was.

This review of The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein was originally written on March 27, 2021.