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.

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: http://www.rachelhauck.com/

 

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: http://www.karenwitemeyer.com/

 

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: http://authorcathygohlke.com/

 

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: http://lisatawnbergren.com/

 

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: https://www.distilledhistory.com/