Book Reviews

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

Text Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Gietl.

Forgive me readers for the delay in this month’s Fic Picks. Between my family’s crazy schedule and new self-imposed deadlines for the sequel to Across Oceans there hasn’t been as much time for reading. As a result one of this month’s picks is my first ever recommended audio book along with a dual-timeline historical fiction and a sweet and sassy romance. Enjoy!

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

Historical/Contemporary Fiction – 1912 and Modern Day Birmingham, Alabama

In a Nutshell: One century, one dress, four stories. Charlotte owns a fancy bridal boutique. When it comes to finding brides their perfect made-for-them gown everyone agrees that she’s the best there is. Except when it comes to her own perfect dress – or her perfect fiance. There she has nothing but doubts. In a strange twist she ends up at a local estate sale and accidentally buys a $1000 trunk, whoops. What’s odd is the trunk is welded shut. More mysteriously is what’s inside when she does open it – a wedding dress from 1912 with secrets that seem to beckon from within. Determined to discover the answers behind the dress, Charlotte sets out on a journey of discovery. Little does she know that her path will be linked to three women who wore the dress or that they would help her find exactly what she was searching for all along.

My take: This was my absolute favorite read this month. After reading over 100 pages in three different books and setting each aside, The Wedding Dress sucked me in. Everything about it was beautiful from the bit of magical realism to the rich detail in the lovely backdrop of Birmingham. I loved the idea of one mysterious dress that fits each of four women as if it was made for each of them, but with a beauty as though they were each the only woman to ever wear it. The two main women, Charlotte in 2015 and Emily in 1912, were independent characters in their own rights, but the situations they found themselves in played together wonderfully. I especially enjoyed seeing Charlotte’s fiancé, Tim, develop throughout the novel. In the beginning I wasn’t sure that he seemed the best match for her, then about fifty pages in they broke up, and well, after that he – and the story – began to surprise me. Secrets were revealed, families altered, forgiveness given, lives – and loves – restored. In the end everything was wrapped up in a nice little package and I loved how it happened. Five stars for story, five stars for romance, five stars for likelihood of future reads from Ms. Hauck. Her new book, The Love Letter, comes out June 2018. For more information visit:


Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

Historical Fiction – 1851 Texas

In a nutshell: Two years ago Darius Thorton nearly died in a steamship disaster after a boiler exploded. Failing to save a little girl in the sinking, he dedicates his life to making steamships safer. Unfortunately most of his work involves blowing up boilers without many results. Enter Nicole Renard. Returning home to Texas from her Boston boarding school, she finds her father deathly ill. To fulfill her familial duty, she needs to find a suitable husband to take over the shipping company and protect their greatest asset – the Lafitte Dagger. In an unexpected change of plans, Nicole finds herself in need of a job and Darius the only employer willing to hire. Being scientifically minded herself, Nicole proves to be the perfect partner and Darius finds his research growing along with his heart. As their professional relationship evolves into something a bit more personal, will Nicole be able to push her feelings aside in the name of family loyalty?

My take: This was a sweet romance with a hearty helping of sass. Nicole and Darius’s personalities played well off each other with both of them a bit too independent for their own good, but eventually slowly one tiny speck at a time were able to let the other break through that. Their scientific banter was great and I completely imagined them meeting in a STEM class then going out afterwards to run experiments and blow things up in the parking lot. You know, standard dating stuff. If you need a light read and a fairly predictable romance (which is not a bad thing in my opinion!) then this is the book to read. For more information visit:


Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Contemporary Short Stories

In a Nutshell: If you didn’t know and you probably didn’t, actor/director/producer Tom Hanks collects typewriters of all sorts. (Check out more details on the story here.) So it’s no surprise that he decided to write a collection of seventeen short stories inspired by the sound of those lovely little keys. Uncommon Type takes the reader on a ride through the hodgepodge of life. There’s sometimes rhyme and reason to the tales and sometimes not at all. Sometimes there are characters that show up time and again, yet mostly not. But always there’s the inspiration of the typewriter to tie it all together.

My take: This is the only audio book I’ve ever actually enjoyed. One hour is usually my limit and then the cadence is too slow or the narrator too dull and the entire story ends up as background noise to whatever else I happen to be doing. But I figured if anyone could make an audio book entertaining it would be Tom Hanks. Thankfully I was not mistaken. He brought this book to life. In truth, some of the stories would have been frightfully dull if I had read them on paper, but in Tom Hanks’s voice they were like pure hilarious gold. So go listen to this, enjoy, and then marathon You’ve Got Mail, Castaway, and Forest Gump.

This month’s picks include a stand alone novel in World War II Germany, the first of a trilogy in 18th century Nevis, and some St. Louis non-fiction flair. Also, for those of you who enjoy a pint on St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a blog recommendation you might enjoy.


Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

Historical Fiction – 1939 – 1940 Germany

In a Nutshell: As the polished daughter of one of America’s leading genetic researchers, Rachel Kramer has always had the best of everything. But when the beliefs of her father’s German colleagues leave her uneasy, she wonders how much of his own thinking falls into the grey areas of morality. Still struggling to believe the best of her father, she receives a friend’s plea to save her deaf daughter, Amelie, from the eugenics of the Nazi regime. Unwilling to place herself at risk without more information, Rachel embarks on a quest to uncover the truth within her father’s research. With the help of American journalist, Jason Young, she quickly learns a secret more terrifying than she ever could have imagined, one that sends her on a race for her life, Amelie’s life, and questioning every other “truth” she’s ever known.

My Take: I love when I pick up a library book at random and it ends up being a wonderful read. I’m sure I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it a million more times, but I always have to force myself to read novels on World War II. There’s something so real about them, so emotional, that I tend to get a little gun-shy, but very rarely has one left me disappointed. I can’t say too much without spoiling the book’s secrets, but Cathy Gohlke weaves a tale of suspense led by characters who both warm and break your heart and feel so real as to jump off the page at you. Through Rachel, Jason, and Amelie’s plight, the author truly shows the courage it takes to remain strong when one’s own country has turned against you, and how family doesn’t always come in the neat package one might expect.

For more information visit:


Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

Historical Fiction – 1772 England and Nevis, West Indies

In a nutshell: Recently learning of their father’s death, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters set out to claim their father’s island sugar plantation and re-establish their family fortune. Upon arrival in Nevis, however, they learn that the plantation is in shambles and the island is no place for a woman. Especially a woman such as Keturah, still struggling to recover from her late husband’s abusive hands. To succeed in business, she must do the one thing she never wanted to do again – form an alliance with a man. With the help of her childhood friend, Gray Covington, she sets out on a journey to save her family, find healing, and maybe even restore her belief in love.

My take: This was my most anticipated read for February. Lisa Bergren is a fantastic writer and, as someone who does a happy dance over any story involving sailing ships, romance, and pretty dresses, the cover reveal for Keturah left me doing a jig. However, lest you think that this novel is all ballrooms and champagne, let me set the record straight. While Lisa Bergren weaves an enjoyable tale of romance with island life, she also tastefully tackles sensitive topics such as slavery and spousal abuse. It’s a story that may be difficult to some who have experienced abuse, however I felt it was an expression of the belief in hope and healing through the heartache.

Keturah is the first book in The Sugar Baron’s Daughters trilogy. If you enjoy it, I would recommend also reading Lisa Bergren’s Northern Lights series. It’s about 19th century Norwegian sailors and is one of my trilogy rereads.

For more information visit:


Lost Treasures of St. Louis by Cameron Collins

Non-fiction – Local History

In a Nutshell: Large (some full page) glossy photos highlight the many places the city of St. Louis, Missouri has lost from the 1800’s to present day. From restaurants to dance halls to sports and schools, there’s a place to remember for every St. Louis native, and an interesting story for those who are not.

My take: Cameron Collins writes one of my favorite St. Louis history blogs, Distilled History: A Drinking Blog with a History Problem. Even if you’re not a drinker – and I’m not – and even if you don’t live in St. Louis – which originally Cameron Collins did not – you can still enjoy the extensive amount of history he includes in every post. The same is true for Lost Treasures of St. Louis. As a lifelong resident of St. Louis, I enjoyed getting to know many of my city’s features that are no longer around, including several that I remember fondly from my childhood. I bought my guinea pig from Beldt’s Aquarium, remember gathering around the TV when the Arena was imploded (we still have the VHS recording), and who can forget the Noah’s Ark restaurant? If you’re not from around here, this book still offers fascinating stories and fun ties to St. Louis’s influence around the United States. As a plus, it offered some additional writing research, including a couple locations that you’ll see in my next novel!

For more information visit:

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, my February Fic Picks feature a nine book inspirational romance series plus a stand alone historical fiction novel and the first in a fantasy retelling trilogy.

The Daughters of Boston and Winds of Change series by Julie Lessman

Inspirational Fiction – 1913-1935 Boston, Massachusetts Julie Lessman

In a nutshell: While listed as two separate series, these books actually contain one complete storyline following Marcy and Patrick O’Connor from Boston Massachusetts and their six grown children as they deal with life and love from World War I through the Great Depression. Each book centers can stand on its own, however readers will be pleased to reencounter past characters within the subsequent books. Therefore it is recommended that the series be read in the order of publication:

  • Daughters of Boston series (Books 1-3) – Focus on sisters Faith, Charity, and Lizzie from 1913-1922
  • Winds of Change Series (Books 1-3) – Focus on Katie and her brothers Sean and Stephen from the 1920’s through 1933
  • A Whisper of Hope and The Best Gift of All (Christmas Novellas) – Focus on Charity and Lizzie in 1935
  • A Light in the Window (Prequel) – Focus on Mary and Patrick before they married

My take: The cover for the third book in this series, A Passion Denied, reads “This isn’t your mother’s inspirational fiction.” And they weren’t kidding. It only took one book for me to fall in love with Julie Lessman’s writing style and the O’Connor family, then I blazed through the next six books and two novellas despite each novel being nearly 500 pages. Even if you’re not typically an inspirational fiction reader, these novels will change your mind. Truthfully, I didn’t realize it was inspirational fiction when I picked it up at random from the library shelf. I was simply in the mood for a good historical romance set in the same time period as my own work in progress. However these books contained everything I could want from my ideal inspirational fiction novel:

  • Religious references that make me think about my own spiritual life rather than simply preaching at me. Disclaimer: Book One does have some large blocks of religious speak, but they taper off with each subsequent novel.
  • Steamy romance crafted around swoon worthy couples while maintaining clean content. Note: The parents, Marcy and Patrick, completely stole the show for me, so finishing the series with their beginning was the perfect ending.
  • Imperfect characters who deal with real world issues. No one is perfect and inspirational characters shouldn’t be either. This series dealt with some heavy issues, and every one was completely relatable.
  • Dialogue heavy scenes, continuing characters between novels, and plotlines that keep me turning pages late into the night. Check to all three.

My individual reviews for these books can be found on Goodreads.

I also discovered this interesting post detailing the process for creating the covers for this series:

For more information on Julie Lessman’s books, visit:


Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Historical Fiction – 1939 Memphis, Tennessee and Present Day Aiken, South Carolina

In a nutshell: What if as a child you were stolen from your home, moved far away, and told that another couple were now your parents and your name was no longer your own? That’s what happens to twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four siblings in 1939. One night they’re kidnapped from their family’s Mississippi river boat and taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society Orphanage, a place that is more a prison than a refuge. In a desperate attempt to return to her family, she quickly learns that being taken was only the smallest of their worries. Years later, wealthy lawyer Avery Stafford comes into contact with an elderly woman whose unusual words send her on a chase to uncover her own family’s history, leading to a truth she never could have imagined.

My take: First, after reading this novel, I was surprised that I had never heard of Lisa Wingate before. She has 25 novels under her belt by this point, and Before We Were Yours was named a Goodreads Choice 2017 Winner.

While this was a quick read and a wonderful read, it was often at times not an easy read. Lisa Wingate includes a wonderful author’s note at the end of the novel that describes what was true, and it was startling to learn how much actually happened. As a mother, I can imagine the utter terror of having my children taken from me, never knowing what happened to them. But the interesting idea that the novel addresses is: what about the other side? Which has more potential – the life we should have had or the one we end up living? What about the future that would have never been if we’d gone down a different path? This book asks the reader to think about the bigger picture and consider that sometimes it isn’t so black and white. While at times deeply sad, overall the story is one of family, love, and ultimately hope.

For more information visit:


Rise of the Sea Witch by Stacey Rourke

Fantasy Retelling

In a Nutshell: Have you ever wondered how Ursula in The Little Mermaid became so evil? She claims she lived in Triton’s palace at some point, but gives no other details in the movie. What exactly happened to cause her fall from Triton’s good graces? Is she really as bad as we all think or is she just given a bad rap? What’s her deal? Well, Rise of the Sea Witch answers all our pre-Little Mermaid questions in splendid fashion. Things may not be so black and white anymore.

My Take: This is the fourth of Stacey Rourke’s novels I have read, after The Legends Saga and Adapted for Film, and I’m happy to say that Rise of the Sea Witch had everything I’ve come to love about Rourke’s writing. If you enjoy a healthy dose of sarcastic humor and amazing one liners bundled together with plenty of action, a bit of romance, and an origin story of a well-known villain then read this immediately. After viewing four different productions of The Little Mermaid stage musical last year, I was beyond excited to read an explanation of why Ursula is the way she is, and this book did not disappoint.

The second book in the series, Entombed in Glass, releases March 29, 2018. For more information visit:

Now it’s your turn!

Read a good book lately? Think others would enjoy it too? Submit your suggestions on the comment page and I just may highlight them in a future post. And don’t forget – when you like a book, post a review on your favorite site!

Text Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Gietl.

This month I’m featuring three novels with strong female protagonists and lovely covers. Happy reading!

Becoming Mrs. Smith by Tanya Williams (Available October 10, 2017)

Historical Fiction – World War II South Dakota

In a nutshell: The first in a three part series (two novellas and a full length novel), Becoming Mrs. Smith follows the story of Violet and John from their first meeting as children throughout their relationship during the horrors of World War II. Left with a weak heart after suffering from scarlet fever as a child, Violet is devastated when John enlists in World War II and wonders if the world will ever be right again. Through the series of letters they send to one another, Violet must face her fears and learn how to have hope even in the midst of an uncertain future.

My take: I very rarely read novellas unless I have prior experience with the author’s work. Well, I had the chance to advance read this novella for Tanya Williams, and I am so glad that I did, because it was wonderful! I was a cheerleader for Violet and John from the very beginning, and their relationship both warmed and completely broke my heart. It was one of those stories where you find yourself feeling right along with the characters, and loving them even when their actions are not always so loveable. To express so much in only 110 pages is a grand feat unto itself, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next part.

For more information visit:


Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

Alternate Historical Fiction/Steampunk – 1888 New York

In a nutshell: What would America be like if the revolution never happened and instead the wealthy and powerful lorded over us all with magic? Magic, really? Yes, stay with me. The wealthy and powerful might have all the magic, but that doesn’t stop some of the people – the Rebel Mechanics – from putting on their work goggles and building machines that do everything magic can do and more. With their steam powered contraptions, freedom is just on the horizon! In walks Verity Newton, hired as a magister governess and also unexpectedly recruited as a spy to the mechanics. As she becomes more entrenched in the cause, she realizes a bigger battle is coming, but who can she trust when no one is exactly as they seem?

My take: My first note is that this is a good example of how traditional publishing and indie publishing can work hand in hand. Book 1 in this trilogy is traditionally published, while books two and three are indie. We all love books, why should we fight about how they’re published?

Now onto the book!

I haven’t read many alternate histories and I haven’t read much steampunk, but this series was both and I really enjoyed it. I thought the premise of what would happen if the American Revolution never occurred was an interesting one, although I’m not sure that I needed to have magic incorporated as the answer. But the author brought up some good points within the magical sphere about social responsibility and how even small differences can separate people. One change I would have made is to have these written from multiple viewpoints, instead of only from Verity’s POV. There were so many playful and strong characters in the rebel movement that we only saw pieces of, and it would have been interesting to expand their stories. Maybe give a few of them their own spin off novellas? Hmm, just a thought.

For more information, visit:


The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

Magical Realism – Modern Day Scotland

In a nutshell: Looking for a way to escape their current depressing lives, Amy Lennox and her mother leave for the tiny island of Stormsay, Scotland. Population: about 20 on a good day. It’s revealed pretty quickly that the Lennox family is one of two families on the island with the power to jump into books, and interact with the characters, but only so much as to ensure the plot remains intact. Seems like a simple task, right? Of course not. There’s a mysterious force on the loose determined to sneak into the major classics and steal all their central ideas, destroying the integrity of the books forever. Working with Amy’s fellow book jumper, Will, and their book character friend, Werther, they race to save their favorite stories before they’re lost forever.

My take: Originally written in German and translated into English, this book is an ode to every avid reader who ever wished we could become a part of our favorite stories. My little book-loving self read right through to the conclusion, enjoying every jump along the way. And the twist at the end was satisfying enough that, for most of the book, I honestly didn’t suspect it. The only thing I wish I’d received more of at the end was details! The author wrapped the story up between the two main characters and the goals they were trying to achieve, but the secondary characters were left in a bit of a limbo. I could have used maybe one of two pages more just to tell me everyone else’s reactions to the story’s conclusion.

One item I should note is that all of the books the characters jump into are classics. Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream … just to name a few. Classic works are the basis of the plot, and modern works are not mentioned at all. I noticed this as a criticism on a few reviews, and before everyone else starts to gripe that a certain boy wizard is not mentioned, I’d like to set down the rationale for this decision in two words: copyright infringement. In general, works published before 1923 are considered public domain and, in most instances, can be referred to and quoted within other works without seeking permission from the copyright holder. This is the reason Mechthild Glaser only uses classics, and the same reason I was able to quote classics in Across Oceans. No one wants to be sued, so fellow authors, please be careful.

For more information visit:

I’m sorry that her site is in German, but it’s her native tongue after all. I really wish I was fluent enough that I could read everything there!


Now it’s your turn!

Read a good book lately? Think others would enjoy it too? Submit your suggestions on the comment page and I just may highlight them in a future post. And don’t forget to leave a review on your favorite book’s site!

Text Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Gietl.