Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This WWII spy thriller was published in 1941, and it's tremendously realistic. I was biting my nails the whole way through, afraid Hearne would be recognized as an imposter--and then that he wouldn't be. It's twisty, well-written, and vividly immersed me in the uncertainty and fears of the war in a way that later authors seldom can do so effectively.
I class it as a retro read, but it felt contemporary because it lacks the die-away heroine that too often infects a book of this vintage. Most of the female characters were driven, courageous, and compelling.
Fans of Mary Stewart's novels will enjoy this one. It's darker, but, as in Stewart's novels, the suspense is excruciating!
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I've let at least one of you down, and I want to apologize. I'm hoping this blog post will reach you, and any other readers who might feel the same way. It takes guts to tell me how you feel, and I don't want you to think your concerns are unnoticed. So, whoever you are, thank you for bringing this up in your amazon review. You said:
One of the things I love about your writing is that it doesn't create an artificially perfect heroine or hero with a few flaws, but rather you create a whole character with many complex facets who might not make the choices that you or I would - you even stated as much in your blog post. I realized this is one of the reasons why you write such good characters because you allow them their freedom to be who they are the good and bad. So I understand your reasoning for having Kasper Stark and Joseph make the immoral choice they did - their backgrounds alone made it understandable. However, I find myself disappointed because of that part in the book. I was hoping that when all odds and maybe other characters were making wrong choices that the main characters I grew to love would change and/or make the moral choice. I was rooting for the change in Joseph and the better choice from Kasper.
First, may I say that I'm thrilled and flattered that you care about Klara and Josef enough to be bothered by their choices? If they are real enough to root for, I feel like I'm succeeding as a writer.
Now, about moral choices. We all make them. We all have a standard of things we will and won't do. If I was writing a story about myself, I would write a book about a girl who's a committed Christian, who makes mistakes, but who tries to make the world around her better because it is the right thing to do, and her duty to a loving God. This girl has an unfortunate habit of profanity, and she isn't always as patient as she should be to her family or herself. This girl married young, because both she and her husband wanted to honor God by not having sex outside marriage.
There could be a story about this girl, but if I've attempted to write it at all, it lives in the shadows of Laura and Jasper in Courting Scandal, and very attenuated shadows they are!
This girl is not Klara Stark.
When I began imagining The Dark Before Dawn, the setting was always Babylon. Not everyone will see the Congress of Vienna that way, but that is how it appears to me--glittering, gaudy, rotten with self-interest and deceit. None of the people that live in this place that I dream of measure the world like I do. Their experiences are different. And thank goodness! I never want to blackmail someone in a crypt and get stabbed.
I am not as emotionally vulnerable as Klara or as bitter as Josef. I think, like you, they are capable of being better than what they are. But they are living in Babylon, and I don't think they even know it yet.
Will they? Well, I don't want to drop any spoilers. This is a three book series, so whatever happens will take some time. Their world is full of choices, some I'd make and some I wouldn't. Not everyone believes in Babylon or wants to leave it behind. Elijah is fascinating to me, but so is Jezebel. I'd love to hear her side of the story.
That said, you expect things from me. I'm glad you do, because it means I did other things you liked. If you haven't fallen under the spell of this story like I have, please wait. This series has, and may continue to disappoint you, but Babylon isn't the only place I dream about. I have another book in the works, Scalpel's Edge, with a heroine whose yardstick looks more like my own.
For me, there are days to read Fifth Business and days to read A Man For All Seasons, but some will prefer one or the other. And if all the religious imagery underpinning my stories is a surprise, (as I'm sure to some readers it is) I will confess here that I can't help it. I've been steeped it in all my life, and whatever you believe, the King James Bible is beautiful writing. I think it's where I fell in love with words.
As ever, wishing you lots of happy reading,
Forgetting Ophelia: A Novel by Julie C. Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lia thinks her life is perfect. It’s planned, fulfilling, safe—until everything dissolves. Believing herself broken, she nevertheless gathers her courage and finds a way forward, negotiating new terms with the people who’ve let her down along the way, finding strength within herself, and in the world around her. Full of honesty, poignancy, and humor, this book will stop your heart, then set it racing with anxiety for an irresistible heroine.
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I'm especially happy to introduce this book to the world, and express my gratitude to the many people to whom I owe thanks. I began my first idea and research notebook for The Dark Before Dawn back in 2013, during a stay in the B.C. mountains (that’s British Columbia, for the non-Canadians out there!). Because of my commitment to the Fairchild series and some other group projects, I wasn’t able to seriously tackle the book until 2017, when my husband Jeff told me I should buckle down and write it—and that I should go to Vienna. Of course the trip was amazing. I’m so grateful to my friend Cindy for keeping me company, getting me on the right trains, and helping me find the right locations for the scenes I’d sketched out in my battered blue notebook. Many thanks to Jeff and to Cindy’s husband, Chris, for waving us off and keeping the homefires burning while the two of us had a wonderful time.
I can honestly say that the reading I did for this book was every bit as entertaining as my trip to Vienna. The Vienna Congress is a fascinating juncture in history. For readers interested in exploring the period, I recommend Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, David King’s Vienna 1814: How the Conquerers of Napoleon Made Love, War and Peace at the Congress of Vienna, and in the realm of fiction, Tracy Grant’s excellent mystery, Vienna Waltz. For readers wanting to experience Vienna after the conference, Eva Ibbotson’s Magic Flutes and The Star of Kazan give wonderful pictures of the city.
I’m indebted to the friends, family, and other writers who generously shared their time and opinions to make this a better book. Regina, Cameron and Jennie rescued me from plot snarls time and time again, and Jennifer Stevens was patient and exacting with her editing.
I also want to thank my readers. I hope you enjoy this book—and that you will consider leaving an online review! It needn’t be long. In the age of online retailers and ebooks, your reviews are the endorsements that help my books get read.
And there’s more to come! Join my reader group for a sneak preview of It Killed The Cat, the sequel to this story.
When you see this list, you might think I haven't been writing. I have. It's just that winter blew in over Halloween and I haven't acclimated just yet. But tonight I'm biting the bullet. No more hiding indoors! However, if you want to hide with a book, you might enjoy these:
Lily By Any Other Name
by Julie Gardner
17-year-old Lily Anderson is ready to wrap herself in a big red bow and give Zach Hewitt the greatest gift in the history of Christmas: Her. But when she pulls a pair of booties from her stocking and learns her forty-year-old mother is pregnant, Lily finds herself adrift, unsure of Zach’s commitment.
Lily hopes Zach will anchor her with promises of love. Unfortunately, his chaotic home-life makes him afraid of those three little words; and Maddie Franklin-in her Amazing Technicolor Dream Thong–makes sure Zach can have her whenever he wants.
With the help of her best friend Sarah, Lily plots to secure her place in Zach’s heart. But after a series of awkward rejections, Lily loses faith in her dream boyfriend, in herself, even in Sarah.
That’s when Lily turns to Adam Connolly, a transfer student whose lash-y eyes and comfortable silences make her question who it is she wants and what she needs. But Adam’s support can’t help her the day Lily discovers her parents’ game-changing secret.
Faced with the truth, Lily must decide how to deal with her family’s past, take hold of her own future, and accept that there are many names for love.
by Karen Robards
She's known as the Guardian. Running a multinational firm with her father, she makes a living swindling con men out of money they stole—and she's damn good at it. She does things on her own terms. But her latest gig had a little hiccup—if you count two hundred million dollars and top secret government documents going missing as little. Her father also died on the mission. The thing is, the US government doesn't believe he's really dead. They'll stop at nothing to capture Richard St. Ives, a high-value target and someone who has been on most-wanted lists all over the world for over two decades, and they mean to use Bianca as bait. With only a fellow criminal for backup and her life on the line, it's up to Bianca to uncover the terrifying truth behind what really happened...and set it right, before it's too late.
The Blind Side
by Michael Lewis
The young man at the center of this extraordinary and moving story will one day be among the most highly paid athletes in the National Football League. When we first meet him, he is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or any of the things a child might learn in school such as, say, how to read or write. Nor has he ever touched a football.
What changes? He takes up football, and school, after a rich, Evangelical, Republican family plucks him from the mean streets. Their love is the first great force that alters the world's perception of the boy, whom they adopt. The second force is the evolution of professional football itself into a game where the quarterback must be protected at any cost. Our protagonist turns out to be the priceless combination of size, speed, and agility necessary to guard the quarterback's greatest vulnerability: his blind side.
The Girl With the Make Believe Husband
by Julia Quinn
While you were sleeping...
With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He's unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier's life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie...
I told everyone I was your wife
When Edward comes to, he's more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out three months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is—even if he does not recall her face—and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he'd always assumed he'd marry his neighbor back in England.
If only it were true...
Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself—completely—to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.
Pistols For Two
by Georgette Heyer
In eleven charming short stories, the Queen of Regency romance presents an exquisite romp through affairs of honor and affairs of the heart. Featuring rakes and rascals, orphans and heirs, beauties and their beaus, the legendary Georgette Heyer's signature wit and inimitable style bring the Regency world dazzlingly alive.
by Karen Robards
From the New York Times bestselling author of Superstition and Bait comes the story of Kate White, a single mom and successful prosecutor in the Philadelphia DA’s office. She’s used to challenges, but none as terrifying as Mario Castellanos, the violent career criminal she’s been hired to convict. But Kate and Mario have already met—during one of the darkest periods of Kate’s past. And Mario knows her secret.
Now Kate has only one option: Play Mario’s game. But when murder becomes part of it, homicide detective Tom Braga is called in to investigate. And as another threat, even more menacing, emerges from the shadows of Kate’s past, she realizes the only person she can turn to for help is Tom—the one man she can never trust with the truth.
Lately it seems that a lot of the books I'm loving are written by authors who are dead. Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Dorothy Dunnett, and the romance-tinged mysteries I recently plowed through by M. M. Kaye... Makes me wonder if I was born too late or something.
Then I reread Damselfly Inn by Cameron Garriepy. I loved it just as much the second time around - and Cameron is ALIVE. Which is great for her and for the rest of us, because that means she is STILL WRITING, so the sequel to Damselfly Inn is coming out in two weeks and I managed to beg an advance copy. Thank you Cameron!
What sets these books apart for me is the robustness of the secondary characters. I didn't just fall in love with Nan and Joss (book 1) and Kate and Ewan (book 2), I got wrapped up in the town, with their friends Jack and Anneliese and Seth, Joss's parents, and even snarky, perfect Elisha. And since Cameron (as previously mentioned) is alive and well (having recently parted ways with her appendix!) I'll get to follow these characters for a long time to come. I'm looking forward to it.
These days everybody is writing romance anthology series (including me). Too often I feel like the books could and should be separate--that the inclusion of the best friend/brother/cousin is a marketing ploy, a cardboard placeholder to build the next story around, not a real person who's story extends from this one. But a character who pulls me along, who makes me excited to read the next book so I can discover their secrets, follow their struggles, and peek in on their friends who (hopefully) are enjoying a happily ever after, hooks me every time. I was so excited to discover Cameron's novellas which develop backgrounds of some of her characters: Elisha in Gilded Promise, Anneliese in Foolish Things (I totally guessed wrong about her, but I love that!) and Seth in Past and Pending (my favorite).
Links to all the books are on Cameron's website.
Sensuality is the topic where I get the most wildly divergent reader feedback. Last month I got an email from a reader that said:
I admired your avoidance of anachronisms and your dignified handling and acknowledgment of physical, carnal desires and drives. Truthful yet clean. Very good writing.
On the other hand, a reviewer on amazon said of the same book:
Sadly lacking in sexual tension & heat. The H & H never evn have sex. We're not even treated to a wedding night scene. No sure I would buy another of this author's books. I was waiting & waiting & then NOTHING!
But another reviewer's opinion (still the same book) was:
What's a girl to do?
Yes, there are content rating sites and many readers are advocates for those. Occasionally I will promote my books on content rated sites. However, as a reader, I've discovered that the books I find this way aren't the ones I end up loving. Sometimes I'm left feeling bitter and cheated, because I disagreed with the posted content rating. Other times the story felt insipid, as if the characters, constrained by the rating scale, were unable to be themselves. And, in all honesty, I don't love to read about perfect people. Mr. Darcy excepted. Except even he is allowed his one flaw.
When I think about it, if I didn't let my characters do things I wouldn't (like commit adultery, kidnap children or lie) my books wouldn't be that interesting. And if I start down the path of 'how much is too much? I don't want to offend!' I end up fraught and exhausted by hairsplitting. For instance:
Should damn, bastard and Good Lord! be considered profanity? If I write Good Lord! That damn bastard! those four words have earned a moderate rating on some sites, and frankly, I don't tally those up as I write. I've always felt they are period expressions, like "Gadzooks!" but less affected.
As a reader, I've enjoyed (so called) sweet and smutty romances, and I like both when the story is good, the characters compelling, and the dialogue fun. Honestly, the latter qualities are more important to me, but I love when a writer can melt me into a puddle without play-by-play action.
Like Winston Graham does with Ross Poldark and Demelza and those infernal dress hooks running up her back.
'I lied,' she whispered, crying again. 'I liked about the hooks'...
Generally, my books reflect my own preference for 'fade to black' lovemaking. I'm okay with that, largely because my daughter and her friends read my books. Maybe that's not a very artistic reason, but it's what I'm comfortable with.
So, readers. If I've written stuff you aren't comfortable with, or that's disappointing, I'm sorry. If content ratings are important to you, please use sites like My Book Cave or Fussy Librarian (but don't blame me if you get stung!). And I'll just keep writing love stories. Really, is there any other kind?
yAn overwhelming majority or readers chose the title The Fine Art of Kissing in the Park! Thank you all for your responses. Titles are important, but of course the crucial thing is a great story and I think you'll love this one. I had a message this week from a beta reader who is reading it over again just for fun (too late for changes now!). She said she fell into the story effortlessly, enjoyed it even more the second time, and was laughing out loud at the exchanges between the characters.
The anthology is available for pre-order now, and releases May 9th. I'm excited to tell you more about it, and the other contributing authors.
Julie Daines writes young adult and historical fiction. She's lived in London, actually been to Bath, and pulled a snake tooth out of her finger on her honeymoon. Details about the snake tooth incident and her books are on her website, and her contribution to this anthology is called Trial of the Heart.
Trial of the Heart
Marianne Wood has been summoned to Bath to testify against the man who killed her family. She dreads coming face to face with the monster of her nightmares, but finds surprising comfort under the care of a charming barrister, Harby Northam. Despite his kindly attentions, Mr. Northam is a shrewd and discerning man of law with an awful secret. Marianne is put to the test as she deals with the evil of her past and her growing affection for the mysterious Mr. Northam.
Caroline Warfield has been many things: an army brat, nun, Internet and Web services manager, writer, and always a romantic. Her books might be set in England or far-flung corners of the British Empire, but always venture into the riskiest territory of all--the heart. A complete list of books is on her website, and her story is called Lord Edmund's Dilemma.
Lord Edmund's Dilemma
Lucy Ashcroft doesn’t share her stepmother’s belief that she might find a husband during her sojourn in Bath, but she does enjoy a respite from a household full of half-siblings and a younger sister preparing for her London Season, something Lucy can’t even dream about.
As the younger son of a wealthy marquess, Lord Edmund Parker has been taught to do his duty. His parents intend him for the clergy, but his wish is to be a physician. When Lucy and Edmund meet while helping the ladies in their lives take the waters, their mutual interests lead quickly to love. With Lucy at his side, Edmund knows what he must do, but how can he set up a practice and care for a family if he must forfeit his family’s support? How can he pay his addresses to Lucy if he has no income or prospects?
Last, there is of course my story, which so many of you have kindly helped name. Laura's brother, Jack, from Courting Scandal reappears here. I hope you'll enjoy returning to England with the Fairchild family.
The Fine Art of Kissing in the Park
Caroline Trenholme is not pleased with Bath, the fussy, antiquated resort of the shabby-genteel. She ought to be in London, finding a man—not here, coddling her irrational grandmother.
In the park, she crosses paths (literally—this is Bath, after all) with a nameless, mannerless rogue, intent on stealing a kiss. As if his proposition weren’t insult enough, even her dog seems to like the man better. It's impossible!
Especially once she suspects she might like him too...
This anthology will be available in print and ebook on May 9th, and also on audiobook! (though I don't have a release date for that yet. Stay tuned!)
I'm counting down to the release of Jack's story in the novella anthology A Holiday In Bath. Last week I reviewed copy edits and the manuscript is now with the proofreaders, but I don't have a title yet! I whittled down choices (with the help of my sister) but now I'm stuck. Which do you like better: Fit for a Lady or The Fine Art of Kissing in the Park?