June Newsletter – Back From the Beach

“I need someone who wants to live. The good, the bad, and the really really horrible days. The ones so trying they feel like an ocean we can never cross. And in the midst of it all, she smiles because she believes I’m worth it.”

He raised his gaze back to hers. “You were worth it to me.”

~ From Across Oceans (Hope or High Water Book 1)

Welcome readers! I’m thrilled to introduce you to the first issue of my new monthly newsletter. This is where I’ll provide updates related to all things in my world from progress on my latest novel to my recommended reads and upcoming events. I want you to be as excited to receive this newsletter as I am to send it, so feel free to send your comments and suggestions my way!

Latest News

The past few months have been busy, busy, busy, and the next several are proving to keep me equally engaged. Summer in St. Louis is always a hot, humid, allergy filled place, but it also means family fun, camp for the kids, and vacation. Two weeks ago, we took a road trip down to Gulf Shores with my husband’s family for some time on Alabama’s beautiful beaches. We also saw history happen when the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time ever and watched the Blue Angels perform at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. If you’ve never had a chance to see these amazing pilots fly, you should make time to do so. It’s absolutely incredible.

The view from our bedroom window

I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to complete some in-person book research as the Naval Aviation museum contained an entire section dedicated to World War I. Ah the joy and curse of a writer—we’re always writing even when we’re not.

WW1 Field Hospital Vehicle

While I did take a break from actually putting pen to paper during vacation, I worked tirelessly during the months prior to get as much completed on Broken Lines as I could. I’m about halfway through the first draft of the third novel in my Hope or High Water series and determined to finish before the summer is through. Broken Lines gives two side characters from Across Oceans and Twisted River their own story set amidst the months of fear and indecision leading up to America’s entrance into World War I. It has certainly required a different mindset to bring life to this novel, but I’m enjoying every minute of the creativity and especially the research.

So without further ado, here is the back cover blurb for Broken Lines:

With the threat of the Great War looming at America’s doorstep, fear of immigrant disloyalty has become enough to divide the nation. So when German-born Amara Müller’s brother decides to join the fight, he leaves her behind in St. Louis with one final directive: Stay safe. There’s only one certain way to keep herself out of suspicion’s spotlight, but will she have the courage to see it through?

Accustomed to a strict diet of cigars and spirits, Emil Kisch has become the master of a worry-free good time. And as one of St. Louis’s best morality squad detectives, he’s able to skirt the drinking laws as easily as he arrests others for breaking them. To him, war is a problem for other men. Until one night he makes a mistake that even a glass of whiskey can’t wash away. Is it too late to reverse the course set in motion?

As their lives are intertwined with the fate of the war, Emil and Amara must fight to save what they both hold most dear. But which side of the line do you stand on when your allegiance belongs to both?

So, what do you think? Love the synopsis? Think it could be better? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Recommended Reads

While in Gulf Shores this month, I read Kate Breslin’s most recent novel, Far Side of the Sea, the third in her series of WW1 spy novels. I read the first two earlier this year (Not by Sight and High as the Heavens), but was waiting for the third to be released so I could review them all together.

First of all, the covers are simply lovely and give a good idea of what to expect from these novels. All three stories keep fairly light as they have a strong romantic lean (but are non-explicit), making them good summer reads, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have plenty of moments of intrigue. Kate does a great job with her research, providing so many little details as to make us feel like we’re really part of the war scene. She also includes many lesser known elements of The Great War such as the Women’s Forage Corps in Not by Sight, German-occupied Brussels in High as the Heavens, and the French/English government’s use of carrier pigeons in Far Side of the Sea.

High as the Heavens was probably my favorite of these three as I love seeing a story about a troubled/estranged marriage finding redemption. There are so many novels about how to fall in love, but so very few about how to stay that way, so I really enjoy it when I come across one done well. Not by Sight also had a unique viewpoint in that the main hero, Jack, is struck blind during a mission and as such, it results in a growing romance based entirely on personality rather than physical attraction.

These three novels do not need to be read in any particular order; however, characters from Not By Sight are mentioned in Far Side of the Sea, which leads to some spoilers if you haven’t read the first book.

For more information on Kate Breslin’s novels, visit: https://katebreslin.com/

Recent Events

In April, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Junior League of St. Louis. It was a chilly rainy day, but I still had a fantastic time discussing my books with such a fun group of women. Another huge thank you to them for inviting me!


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Read it? Loved it? Tell others by writing a review!

Need a copy of either book in the Hope or High Water series? Click the photo below.

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Text and Photographs Copyright © Kelsey Gietl 2019

Friday Fic Pick: The Alice Network

Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Historical Fiction – 1917 (World War I) and 1947 (Post-World War II) England and France

From the Author: In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

My Take: The Alice Network is in one word, phenomenal. At times it is also dark and gritty and emotionally draining. That is the nature of war. But above all it is about conquering the darkness both outside and inside of ourselves, about friendship and family, love and life—about what is worth fighting for. From the minute I picked this book up until the last of its nearly 500 pages, I was blown away.

Charlie and Eve are two quite different women; however, their differences become two sides of the same coin. Both are on similar quests to find answers to the lives they left behind. Except Charlie still believes that there is hope for the future while Eve does not. These two women’s stories flow in and out of one another, switching between 1917 and 1947 until they finally merge and continue to the story’s final climactic moment. Often in dual-timeline novels, one time period is more captivating than the other, but I didn’t feel that with The Alice Network. Both stories held my attention equally. Even the secondary characters drew me in.

As discussed in the author’s note, the amount of research put into accurate depiction of these women’s lives is astounding. I especially enjoyed how Kate Quinn brought together experiences from both world wars. Most novels that I have read fail to mention that WWI ended only twenty years before WWII began, which isn’t much time for personal or economic recovery. Kate Quinn does not shy away from this aspect, acknowledging in detail the ramifications of WWI on her characters’ decisions within and after WWII. She brings forth raw emotions and lays them bare for us to see, creating characters that are both strong and vulnerable and very much humans we can relate to. Simply put, this novel is a beautiful example of what all historical fiction should be. Kate Quinn’s writing is completely spectacular.

Kate Quinn also recently released The Huntress, about WWII Nazi Hunters. More information on her novels can be found here: http://www.katequinnauthor.com/

Content Advisory: Due to the thematic nature of this novel, the story did contain a higher level of mature content than I typically include in books reviewed on this site. Please be advised that there are scenes containing graphic elements related to war, scenes of sexuality (although not explicit enough for me to consider erotica) and some instances of strong profanity. That being said, I found these elements to be, for the most part, used appropriately within the context of the story, and often I felt the gritty nature actually added to its authenticity.


Friday Fic Picks: Best Historical Fiction of 2018

Welcome to a special new year’s edition of Friday Fic Picks! It seems like everyone is posting their favorites lists: favorite movies, music, television shows, celebrities,  hairstyles … you name it, there’s probably a list for it. Books are no exception. My writing communities have been posting their top ten, so I figured I should probably jump on the bandwagon before it drove off and left me.

So, here are my top 10 historical fiction reads from 2018, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name because I used to be a librarian, and I also don’t want to pick favorites out of my favorites. They’re all worth reading! Click on each title for my full review and please note that not all of these were published this past year.

After you’ve looked over my Top 10, let me know yours. Maybe I’ll add them to my reading challenge for this coming year.

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren


Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke


The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck


The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck


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

Technically this is 7 books and 2 novellas (with a third recently released), but I read them all at once so they’re being counted as one.

Julie Lessman

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard


The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy


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


Stealing Mr. Smith by Tanya E. Williams


Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate







Friday Non-Fic Pick: Dead Wake

91JMtxRBVTLLast week in my review of The Glass Ocean, I mentioned also reading Dead Wake, but then realized that I never shared a review outside the world of Goodreads. So without further ado, here is this Friday’s recommended non-fiction read.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Historical Non-Fiction (World War I)

From the Author: On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship – the fastest then in service – could outrun any threat. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small – hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. 

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

My Take: It is my opinion that few authors are able to write truly spectacular nonfiction. It is a challenging goal to lay down a set of (mostly) unbiased facts within an intriguing story. Harder still is the ability to form those facts as a fictional writer would in order to leave the reader feeling a personal attachment with the characters. It is difficult, but Erik Larson has accomplished it.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is much more than an account of one ship’s sinking in May of 1915. It encompasses the world before, during, and after the ship, creating an intricate tale of political plots, military tactics, and ordinary lives come to life on paper. A multitude of subplots are represented from every viewpoint including: Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger of Unterseeboot (U-boat) 20, Britain’s top secret Room 40, officials of the Cunard Line, American President Woodrow Wilson, and multitudes of the Lusitania’s passengers. The detail is absolutely astounding. Drawing from a number of sources including letters, diaries, news articles, transcripts, and autopsy reports, the author immerses the reader in an incredible retelling of the World War I era. Descriptions of nautical engineering, intimate romances and family relationships, political subplots and outrageous warfare. What they ate, what they wore, who was doing what when – who lived, who died, and how – it’s all included. This was, far and away, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Recommendations of the highest regard!

For more information visit: http://eriklarsonbooks.com/

Review text copyright 2017 Kelsey Gietl

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