News and Reviews

Friday Fic Pick: The Glass Ocean

y648The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

Historical Fiction – 1915 and 2013

From the Authors: From the New York Times bestselling authors of The Forgotten Room comes a captivating historical mystery, infused with romance, that links the lives of three women across a century—two deep in the past, one in the present—to the doomed passenger liner, RMS Lusitania.

May 2013
Her finances are in dire straits and bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history. Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced Member of Parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe. . . .

April 1915
Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, pre-occupied with business . . . and something else that she can’t quite put a finger on. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect—but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander, and take charge of her own life. . . .

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the United States and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems. . . .

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives . . . and history itself.

My Take: A few reasons I was immediately drawn to this book:

  1. Lovely cover!  Which leads me to reason #2 …
  2. Steamships. I’ve had a love affair with them for over twenty years now. Then I read Dead Wake by Erik Larson last year which is a non-fiction account of Lusitania and World War I. His discussion of the topic was fantastic and inspired me to incorporate WWI into my writing.
  3. I’ve read two other books by Beatriz Williams (Overseas and Along the Infinite Sea) and loved both of them. Highly recommend! I haven’t read anything by Lauren Willig and Karen White yet, but I certainly will.
  4. Three authors wrote this together. As an author myself, I had to see how they did.

So let’s discuss #4. Three authors wrote this book. Three people with three writing styles who are looking at the story from three different viewpoints … and you could not tell. Each author wrote one of the three main characters, but they fit so flawlessly together that I had no idea who wrote which part. Both primary and secondary characters maintained the same feel throughout the book, and I only found one continuity error. One! Either these women have linked up their brains or have one heck of an editor. As an author, I can’t imagine trying to meld two thought processes into coherence, let alone three, and make it all sound wonderful.

From the description of the ship and historical events of the era to the conspiracy plot lines and entangled romance, I felt so much for these characters and stayed up far too late to find out who survived after that fated torpedo strike. I’m glad to say that the end was satisfying, although not exactly what I was expecting. Tragic yet hopeful. I’m really looking forward to reading these authors’ other collaboration, The Forgotten Room, and seeing what else they might pull together.

More information about the authors can be found here: Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White

Text copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl

Friday Fic Pick: Kid Picks

Although my children and I read our fair share of books together, I typically I don’t write reviews for them. But I recently finished two that I really thought stood out from the crowd.

81DWJQRwH+L.jpgMaxi’s Secrets (or, what you can learn from a dog) by Lynn Plourde

Middle Grade Missouri Mark Twain Award Winner

From the Author: Timminy is moving to a new town and going to a new school for grades 5-8, where he’s the shortest kid at the school and where his dad is the new assistant principal. No wonder his parents get him a dog as a “bribe!” But Timminy and his parents get more than they bargain for. Their new Great Pyrenees puppy Maxi (short for Maxine) is large, lively, and lovable, but also DEAF. While Timminy is busy feeling sorry for himself after getting teased at school and shoved into lockers, Maxi and their next door neighbor Abby who’s blind show Timminy that you don’t have to be just like everyone else to ‘fit in.” But will Timminy learn that lesson along with all the other secrets to life Maxi tries to teach him?

My take: You could say that this was another typical “boy and his dog” book and, I suppose, you would be correct. But it’s another one worth reading. The story has all the feels of A Dog’s Purpose and Marley and Me with a good deal of humor to lighten the mood. Through Timminy’s love for his dog, Maxi, he learns what it means to be a true friend, that love comes in all shapes and sizes (and disabilities too), and often we have to look beyond the surface to find someone’s true self. It’s one of those books that inspires conversations with our kids about the tough topics like being the new kid, being different, bullied, or losing a loved one — conversations which might be difficult to initiate otherwise. I would highly recommend reading this as a family, but it’s also truly worth the read even for those without children.

More information can be found here: https://www.lynnplourde.com/

 

TheThree-1539206963The Three Royal Children and the Batty Aunt by Angela Castillo

Children’s Fantasy Chapter Book

From the Author: Princess Celeste is bored to tears, and her brothers, Prince Jude and Prince Torrin, aren’t doing much better. In a palace where all they have to look forward to are endless games of croquet and barley-water soup for supper, they don’t have much by way of excitement. Until the one night Torrin sees a light in a forgotten tower of the palace, and they meet a wonderful and mysterious aunt who unlocks a brand-new world of adventure they will never forget.

My take: I was a beta reader for this one, which means that I had a chance to read the story before it had its final touches; however, honestly very few things needed fixing. I found this fantasy enchanting, the three children endearing, and the batty aunt quite entertaining. Angela Castillo creates a fun fantasy world that parents and children alike can quickly get caught up in with a plot that teaches how violence isn’t always the answer and sometimes two opposing forces must find common ground for the good of all. It’s a great start to what promises to be a wonderful series!

Angela also writes clean adult contemporary romance and historical fiction. More information can be found here: http://angelacastillowrites.weebly.com/

Text copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl

Friday Fic Pick: Blackmail Boyfriend

25927107.jpgBlackmail Boyfriend by Chris Cannon

Young Adult Contemporary Romance

From the Author: Haley Patterson has had a crush on golden boy Bryce Colton for ages. But when she hears a rumor that he hooked up with her she gives him a choice: be her boyfriend for a month to show other guys that she’s dateable—despite her overprotective and very intimidating brothers—or deal with the angry, cage-fighting boyfriend of the girl he actually did hook up with.

Bryce didn’t know the other Haley even had a boyfriend. He was just trying to get his ex off his back. And now, not only is he being blackmailed, he’s being blackmailed by an honor student. His new “girlfriend” has two three-legged dogs, her father mows grass at the country club, and she’s…well, difficult. And different. Can something so fake turn into something real?

My take: It’s wonderful when, as an adult, you can find a young adult romance that you really enjoy. I picked up Blackmail Boyfriend at PennedCon the same week that a lot of things were going down in my personal life. I needed a fun light read with a happy ending, something that didn’t make me think too much, and would certainly make me laugh. I found all of that in Blackmail Boyfriend.

While the story’s concept was a bit quirky and the plot often predictable, Haley and Bryce were really cute together. I enjoyed seeing Haley break out of her shell and Bryce overcome some of his boorish tendencies. She moved him to care about someone other than just himself, and he taught her that wealthy people are more than just the sum of their money. Their two best friends made the perfect sidekicks, constantly pushing the leads together and calling them out on their nonsense while making a pretty fun couple all on their own. I finished reading this book in two days, and there’s no doubt that I will be back for more of Chris Cannon’s romantic reads. (As a bonus, if you prefer YA fantasy, she writes a series for that too!)

More information can be found here: https://www.chriscannonauthor.com

Text copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl

Friday Fic Pick: For Love of Liberty

51mUVs3zlMLFor Love of Liberty by Julie Lessman

Historical Fiction – 1868 Nevada

From the Author: A Match Made in Heaven? Or Someplace a Whole Lot Warmer?
She’s stubborn, educated, and looking to give women the vote. He’s bullheaded, successful, and looking to give her a piece of his mind. But when things heat up, they just may give each other a piece of their hearts.

My take: Ah, Julie Lessman, you’ve done it again. I positively adore this author’s books. Probably every review of hers I write, I will say, “Quick, go buy her entire collection.” (See my review of the O’Connor Family Saga here.)

For Love of Liberty is the prequel novella to Julie’s new Silver Linings Ranch series. It’s sweet, sassy, and steamy yet clean in the way only Julie has a talent for. She packs a lot of punch into a mere 184 pages, introducing us to a hotheaded couple who are each others’ throats as much as as they secretly want to be on each others’ lips. It’s a wonderful setup for the next book, Love’s Silver Lining, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she’ll take the series from here.

JulieLessman_ADreamFullfilled_800

Julie also has a new short novel available, A Dream Fulfilled, which follows my favorite O’Connor couple, Katie and Luke. I have a few other reading projects to finish before moving on to that one, but I can definitely say I’m excited! More information can be found here: https://www.julielessman.com

 

Text copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl

Friday Fic Pick: Stealing Mr. Smith

41lhM90xNcLStealing Mr. Smith by Tanya E. Williams

Historical Fiction – 1942 South Dakota

From the Author: “I’ve always deserved better. Nobody ever told me so. It is simply a fact I’ve always known to be true.”

After surviving the loss of both her parents one to illness and the other to abandonment Bernice Rosin finds herself at a South Dakota orphanage that will never feel like home. Longing for a life free of poverty and misfortune, she takes matters into her own hands, determined to secure her own happily ever after no matter the cost.

In 1948, a relocation west promises a life rich with upper class pleasantries until a naive mistake shatters both Bernice’s pride and her heart. Convinced she can still rise above her allotted station, she returns to South Dakota to calculate her options.

Desperate for a hero all her own, she singles out John Smith, a simple man with a kind heart and a gentle smile. John appears to be the perfect escape from a life fraught with disappointment. The fact that he comes with the baggage of two children and a past he seldom speaks of, has little bearing on her new obsession. Caught unprepared for such cleverness and deception, John falls right into the path of Bernice’s affection as she has set her sights on changing her last name to Smith, even if she has to steal it.

My take:  Well, let me just say that Tanya E. Williams knocked this one out of the park. I had been waiting for Stealing Mr. Smith since the final page of the first book in the series, Becoming Mrs. Smith, and I was not disappointed. Tanya takes her writing to an entirely different level by making her new leading lady the polar opposite of her Book 1 heroine and doing so beautifully. Bernice is selfish and despicable, yet determined and often charismatic, pulling everyone in with her charms and stopping at nothing to get what she wants. She’s the rough and tumble gal you’ll hate to love, love to hate, and will absolutely have you clinging to the edge of your seat right until the end. Her actions made it impossible to stop turning the pages and left me bouncing on my heels in anticipation for Book 3.

My review of Becoming Mrs. Smith can be found here. While each book can be read on its own, it is recommended to read them in order.

More information on Tanya E. Williams’s books can be found here: https://tanyaewilliams.com/

 

Text copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl

 

This past month was busy, readers! I finished the first draft of Twisted River, book 2 in the Hope or High Water series, which meant less time for reading. But the two novels I did finish were excellent, both historical romances set during two separate wars.

The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck

Inspirational Historical Fiction – American Revolution and Contemporary America

From the publisher: With the colonies at war and his country divided, Hamilton Lightfoot must choose sides: Fight for the British Crown or for the Independence of America. But after witnessing the death of his family at the hands of redcoats, he fears he’ll fight for revenge instead of honor. On the verge of a great battle, he pens a letter to Esther, the woman he loves. Esther Longfellow is in love with Hamilton, but her father is a loyalist, living in upcountry South Carolina and working for a wealthy British lord. When the Revolutionary War comes to her doorstep she is forced to choose between devotion to her father and her love for Hamilton.

Chloe Daschle is the daughter of Hollywood royalty—a great director and an Oscar-winning actress. Yet her career has taken an unexpected turn: She’s the queen of death scenes. Trying to break out, she accepts a supporting role in a revolutionary war film. But she longs for the perfect role and the perfect real-life romance. Does happily ever after only exist in the movies?After a life-changing tragedy, MIT graduate Jesse Gates decides to leave his life behind and move to LA to try his hand at acting and screenwriting. When he finds a page from one of his ancestor’s letters, he becomes consumed with the love he finds there. Determined to help his grandfather find happiness at the end of his life, Jesse writes and sells a screenplay based on the events surrounding the lost love of previous generations.

When Jesse meets the woman he has cast to play Esther Longfellow—his grandfather’s one true love—the stories of all four collide across time and space. The love letter from the past might have more power to affect the future than any of them could have imagined.

My take: I had been looking forward to Rachel Hauck’s new release since reading her novel, The Wedding Dress, in April of this year. My review of that book can be found here.

Taking place during the years of America’s Revolutionary War, this was the perfect novel to finish reading on July 4th, Independence Day. Similar to The Wedding Dress, it follows duel timelines (Modern day Chloe/Jesse and 18th century Hamilton/Esther) and manages to work the two together wonderfully. As someone who has researched my own family tree – and has several of my grandparents’ own love letters – I loved the idea of a secret letter binding two times together. While it was interesting to learn about a lesser-known Revolutionary war battle in CowPens, SC (yes, that is actually the name of the town), I quickly fell head over heels for the characters. All four characters brought some deep emotional baggage to the table, but through each other – and their steadfast or newfound faith in God – they found the power to conquer their pasts and hope for the future. Chloe and Jesse’s romance in particular made me smile, cheer, and consistently yell at their nonsensical overly dramatic behavior (I was a theatrical design major, so I know what I’m talking about). But it was dramatic in all the best ways.

Last but not least, just because this seems like a straightforward romance, don’t be assured that everything is as predictable as it may seem. Trust me, in the case of Rachel Hauck, a few twists are always a good thing.

For more information, visit: https://rachelhauck.com

 

The Deepest Sigh by Naomi Musch

Historical Fiction – World War I

From the publisher: Seventeen year old Marilla Eckert is in love with Langdon “Lang” Prescott, her family’s hired farm hand, unaware of his passionate feelings toward her older sister Delia. When Delia weds a longtime beau, Lang settles for Marilla instead, despite his continued longing and intent to someday win Delia away from her husband. Marilla soon realizes where Lang’s devotion truly lies, yet she presses on, giving everything she has to offer, convinced she can still gain his love.

Then America steps into the Great War. The men are sent a world away to fight, and Marilla’s cares, coupled with the lack of her husband’s favor, finally wear her thin. When heartache and disaster strikes on every front, and Marilla’s hour of need leads her elsewhere for comfort, will each of them wind up too broken to ever find their hearts’ true homes?

My take: Naomi Musch is a new author to me, one that I discovered on Twitter. It’s difficult for me to review The Deepest Sigh because I didn’t read it like a normal human being should, and yet I truly loved reading it. So let’s start at the beginning…

The Deepest Sigh starts strong. I was enticed from the beginning scene. I would call it more of an unconventional romance in that the girl gets the boy she wants, but the boy doesn’t want her. He wants her sister, who doesn’t want him because she’s married too. But the boy decides he can bide his time until he finds an opportunity as the home wrecker he longs to be. The perfect storyline for a dramatic movie. I was hooked.

Then around page 100, I started getting frustrated. I found myself not caring as much about the characters. Langdon was the world’s biggest jerk and I constantly yelled at Marilla for not seeing it enough. I didn’t see any happy endings on the horizon. So I skipped ahead another hundred pages and read everything involving World War I. Immediately, I was drawn back into the story, and the characters’ actions made sense! I finished the next hundred pages by reading some, then skipping back and reading a part I missed, then skipping forward and so on. And by reading in this nonsensical way, I completely adored this unconventional romance.

So read this novel. But maybe try reading it in order. Or don’t. Either way, give it a chance. I think it will surprise you.

For more information visit: https://naomimusch.com

 

Text Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Gietl. except for excerpts from external publishers.

I know, I missed May’s Fic Picks, and for that I should hang my head in shame. But I won’t because it means that I am also 90% finished with the draft of Twisted River! I am kicking it into high gear to finish writing by the end of June and switch into editing mode come July. I did manage to get through three books I truly enjoyed over the past two months – a classic romantic adventure, a humorous biography, and a historical non-fiction focusing on President Garfield.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Historical Fiction – French Revolution

From the Publisher: Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.

My Take: I watched the stage musical version of The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1999 and immediately ranked it in my list of favorites. The show carried suspense, betrayal, romance, guillotines, fantastic costumes, and a soundtrack worthy of listening to over and over again. So, when I finally picked up the novel version, I was glad to find a tale as worthy as my musical memories. Although written in 1905, the writing style fits in nicely with the historical fiction of today. Baroness Orczy’s characters are believable, amusing, and well rounded – definitely folks I could empathize with and want more of. Even the villain had an understandable side, although I certainly didn’t agree with his often distasteful methods. As far as classic novels go, this one is my third favorite. (Pride and Prejudice and The Time Machine are #1 and #2 if you’re interested.)

 

Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything In Between by Lauren Graham

Humorous Biography

From the Publisher: In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again. Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.  

My Take: Even if you’ve never watched Gilmore Girls or Parenthood, Lauren Graham’s two claims to fame, this book is well worth listening to. At right around four hours run time, this is a quick read, but one that will definitely brighten your day. Lauren Graham adds her usual spunk and witty repertoire to the narration, and so much would be lost simply by reading this on the page. She discusses her childhood on a houseboat with her father, goes into her time living in New York as a mostly failing actress, how she came to write a book and then another one, and of course all sorts of exciting tidbits about her time on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. The wonderful thing about her story is that it isn’t just for us artistic types – although she gives plenty of advice for that – but she offers life lessons for everyone.

 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

Historical Non-Fiction

From the Publisher: James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back. But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin’s half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.

My Take: If you’re like me, you know little about James A. Garfield other than he was a U.S. President. While he was certainly not without his faults, this book brought to light a man that otherwise history has seemed to forget. The author incorporated an amazing amount of historical research into her writing, combining Garfield’s story with those of other prominent historical figures such as Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Lister, and Robert Todd Lincoln. By also adding the assassin’s side of the story (don’t worry, you won’t root for him), she created an intriguing tale I found myself flying through. Audio book readers will not be disappointed as the narrator is one of the best I’ve heard yet, and book readers will find the flow easy to follow. I personally recommend both as switching between formats offered an interesting perspective.

For more information, visit http://www.candicemillard.com/

Text Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Gietl.