Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Merchant's Pearl by Amie O'Brien

The Merchant's Pearl
by Amie O'Brien

Publisher: self
Page Count: 466 (according to Amazon)
Release Date: July 24, 2016
Format: Kindle E-Book

How got: free from author

First attention getter: setting

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

As a missionary’s daughter, Sarai was taught that love and faith conquer all. But when her parents are murdered, she quickly learns that the world doesn’t stop for love.

As a teen, Sarai—now called Leila—is enslaved, a palace concubine-in-waiting for the Ottoman Sultan Aziz. Though she does her best to elude him, she’s forced out of her shell when his son, Prince Emre, claims her for his own. Tossed into competition with the other girls in his harem, Leila must face the lavish attention of her young master and the resulting retaliation from his prior favorite, Aster. But it’s an unexpected gift and a glimpse inside his family’s struggles that collide headfirst with Leila’s upbringing. Soon, despite her better judgment, she finds her heart has a mind of its own.

Can she subject her faith and independent spirit to such a future—a future in which the best she can hope for is to be his favorite? How will she stand sharing him with the other girls in the harem? As the sultan’s fragile kingdom unravels around them, will it even matter?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

For a self-published work, this novel has a lot going for it. The author put in the effort to research her timeframe and society setting, not an effort many put in with a harem setting. I also loved the slow build for our main relationship for most of the book. Yet, there are some issues that keep this from true stardom.

1870s Ottoman Empire is a world in flux, the modern world and European powers encroaching on a traditional Muslim world. Told through the eyes of a captive Ottoman prince and his harem favorite love, the reader gets an in-depth and intimate look at a powerful family in freefall from power. Just a short 40 years after this book’s events, the Sultanate and the empire they rule fall. I was as intrigued by the political conversations and maneuverings as I was our main relationship.

I appreciated the time and care the author took in building our relationship into something believable and real. Most historical romances don't take this route, instead of going straight for the sexy times. This is especially true of a harem setting. Emre and Leila reached a pinnacle of mutual respect and friendship before they even start to think of a physical consummation of their relationship. Starting out as friends first is always the best way to build a relationship, I feel, so I was very pleased to see that here.

I also enjoyed our lead’s personalities overall. Emre was the perfect blend of a gentleman and friend. He respected Leila as an individual, enjoying her mind and personality just as much as her physical form. Being trapped in the insular society that was Ottoman palace and harem politics made his personality stand out all the more as he had to please other parties besides himself, so acting in a way that was hard for him and his dealings with different hair him and family members.

My like for her starting out strong way, Leila proved herself to be a strong, iron-willed gal who didn't take gruff from her fellow harem members while also possessing an equally strong diplomatic streak. Ever since the death of her parents, Leila’s life has been one tragedy or struggle after another. So her finally finding a meaningful relationship with Emre and other harem members gladdened the heart.

Yet, as the story progresses, she started to wear on the nerves. She'd blow hot and cold on Emre, alternately wanting to be with him then punishing him for small, sometimes even imagined, slights with silence and the cold shoulder treatment. The latter half of the book contained these instances more and more, as we went along. By the time we got to the end, at times, I felt like Emre could have done better.

I also felt that this book was far too long. Clocking in at over 400 pages, this book felt like it had extra padding. The relationship journey between Emre and Leila could have been told in half their scenes together. Repeated themes and the conversation topics bogged down their time together in the latter half. Maybe that's why Leila started to grind on me a bit; she was rehashing emotions and thought patterns that I felt should have been resolved or at least evolved by that point.

Still, at the end of the day, this read stands out far above other historical romance titles in the harem sub-genre. It takes the time to explore the world of the Ottoman Empire and the many political maneuvering's that were a part of daily life, both within the harem and without. The main relationship is also build up with a firm foundation and respect and friendship, with romance coming after that. Our leads are relatable for the most part and enjoyable, with occasional bursts of irksome behavior from our heroine. While the heft of this volume is daunting and unnecessary in many places, I'd still look into this title if you're looking for a well-written historical romance.

Note: Book received for free from author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 4, 2017

REVIEW: Girl in Disguise by Greer MacAllister

Girl in Disguise
by Greer MacAllister

Page Count: 308
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: March 31, 2017
Format: EBook ARC

How got: ARC via NetGalley

First attention getter: book about Kate Warne

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:
For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab.

Inspired by the real story of Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's greatest times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

It took me a while to get into this work; my beginning it timed up with a stretch where I didn't read that much due to the other aspects of life that intervened. So how long it took me to read this novel shouldn't reflect on how I ultimately felt about it. I enjoyed this look at an obscure female historical figure whose life reads like a James Bond novel. Near death getaways, the trials of detective work, and war make this book hard to put down. Once you're in there, you can’t get away.

I bet most people will hear the name Kate Warne and not know the significance of it. Yet, this woman blazed so many trails for women in law-enforcement, showing that just because she wore skirts didn't mean she couldn't think or shoot with the best of the men. The author does a great job in getting into Kate’s head, letting us see the woman behind the detective. While she's highly intelligent and earns the respect of her peers and Pinkerton himself, there's also a vulnerable side, a woman who wants a connection to family, friendship, or romance. The author does a fantastic job and balancing both aspects of this complex woman.

I loved getting into the nitty-gritty of Kate’s 19th century detective world as well. With no forensic evidence or fingerprints, the work of bringing justice and ferreting out information is much harder. Exploring the different, clever ways in which Kate and her colleagues went about their work was amazing. Their intelligence and acting skills were showcased to perfection. Then there were the difficulties Kate faced as a woman in this dark world. Having to work extra hard to gain the respect of her clients and fellow detectives, the world at large still feeling it abnormal, unnatural for a woman of her time. My heart went out to her every time she was faced with a slur or accusation; a woman truly ahead of her time.

As another reviewer pointed out, this novel contains a ton of life events that Kate experienced and that shaped her. There's enough material in here for a full series, I felt. Yet, the author chose to just provide really snapshots of Kate’s life. I felt like I wasn't getting as deep as I could have if this tale had been spread over multiple books. Maybe the book might have been better served focusing on a part of Kate’s timeline rather than her whole life? But then that has its own problems too. It probably speaks to the writing skills of the author overall that even though I only got my appetite whetted by a few of Kate’s life events, I still felt deeply connected to her.

Even though I personally felt like we could have gotten deeper to Kate’s life, I still found myself enthralled by this look at Kate Warne. She's an incredible woman, born before her time, whose intelligence, courage, and strength of will make her a figure for admiration. That's all balanced out with a very human vulnerable side that makes her very relatable. This book is a fantastic first look at this obscure historical figure. While I was left hungry for more, this book still stands out as a solid work. Definitely recommended reading.

Note: Book received for free via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

REVIEW: Goodnight From London by Jennifer Robson

Goodnight From London
by Jennifer Robson

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 400
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got: LibraryThing giveaway

First attention getter: already liked the author

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—author of Moonlight Over Paris and Somewhere in France—comes a lush historical novel that tells the fascinating story of Ruby Sutton, an ambitious American journalist who moves to London in 1940 to report on the Second World War, and to start a new life an ocean away from her past.

In the summer of 1940, ambitious young American journalist Ruby Sutton gets her big break: the chance to report on the European war as a staff writer for Picture Weekly newsmagazine in London. She jumps at the chance, for it's an opportunity not only to prove herself, but also to start fresh in a city and country that know nothing of her humble origins. But life in besieged Britain tests Ruby in ways she never imagined.

Although most of Ruby's new colleagues welcome her, a few resent her presence, not only as an American but also as a woman. She is just beginning to find her feet, to feel at home in a country that is so familiar yet so foreign, when the bombs begin to fall.

As the nightly horror of the Blitz stretches unbroken into weeks and months, Ruby must set aside her determination to remain an objective observer. When she loses everything but her life, and must depend upon the kindness of strangers, she learns for the first time the depth and measure of true friendship—and what it is to love a man who is burdened by secrets that aren’t his to share.

Goodnight from London, inspired in part by the wartime experiences of the author’s own grandmother, is a captivating, heartfelt, and historically immersive story that readers are sure to embrace.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Out of this entire author’s works I've read, this book stands out as a favorite so far. She tells a story of maturing, fighting against adversity, and making one’s way in the world even though the odds may be stacked against you. Her world building skills are also nothing to sneeze at. I found myself rooting for Ruby more and more as the story progressed.

I've read works before that detail Blitz-era London, and I've read great takes on it. Robson’s take ranks up there with the best. The immediacy she works into her words grabs the reader by the throat and doesn't let go. We experience the horrors of war right along with Ruby: bombed-out shells of homes, those left homeless and hopeless on the streets of London, the tragic loss of friends and colleagues, and the anxiety caused by never knowing when or where the next one will drop. Robson has it all.

Yet for all that, there's also a certain sense of hope, victory, and courage about her characters and atmosphere as well. Despite it all, everyone goes along with their lives: working, loving, and living. They don't let the anxiety of imminent death keep them from loving their families nor working towards their dreams. Ruby expresses her admiration for the courage of the British during this horrible event, and the reader can’t help but agree with her opinion.

The heart of our story, though, is Ruby. She's the kind of female lead I love in historical fiction. She isn't an Amazonian warrior feminist crusader (though there's nothing wrong with that) nor is she a docile, gentle lamb of her era (also nothing wrong with that). She's just a regular woman with big dreams, the courage to strive for them, and the iron will to withstand the prejudice and hardships she faces. Her quiet strength and determination to better herself both professionally and mentally gained my admiration; I couldn't help but root for her on every page and during each scenario.

The romance aspect wasn't as large as previous works. I found it to be far secondary to Ruby's journey as a woman and professional writer surviving in World War II London. Maybe this was the author’s intention, maybe not. Either way, I enjoyed it that way. Bennett is still very much present in the story as a man working behind the lines to bring his country to victory. His scenes with Ruby are emotionally packed and tug at the heartstrings. There’s still enough romance to please the palate either way.

To me, this is Robson's best work so far. Her fantastic lead character makes you love her from page one. Ruby isn’t going to win the war single-handedly nor she going to sit meekly at home, knitting socks. She's a woman like any nowadays who has a dream and the will to chase it. I love her for that. Robson’s world building make the reader experience World War II rather than just reading the words on a page. And her romance is still present enough to make any romantic happy while being more muted than previous works, not taking over the story completely. I highly recommend this work; in fact, it's probably the best work to start with if experiencing Jennifer Robson for the first time.

Note: Book received for free via LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

REVIEW: Little Bighorn by John Hough Jr

Little Bighorn
by John Hough Jr.

Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Page Count: 320
Release Date: June 14, 2014
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: subject matter

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Little Bighorn is the beautifully written, uniquely American story of the coming-of-age of eighteen-year-old Allen Winslow during the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the fraught weeks immediately preceding it. The novel abounds with memorable characters, including Allen himself, his beautiful sixteen-year-old traveling companion, Addie, and the brave but monomaniacal Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Hough brings to life the American West and heartbreaking history, brilliantly portraying the flawed and tormented Custer.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I had the opportunity recently to re-visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield after twenty years. I first visited as a child and of course at that age you’re not really paying attention nor can grasp the true significance of the events discussed. Now, I was able to absorb so much more and immerse myself into the history presented. So of course my interest was perked to read more on the battle. I’ve had this title on my Kindle for quite a while, two years in fact. It’s been on my to-read list for three. So now was a great time to dig in.

Given what I've recently learned after my historical immersion, the author seemed to have stuck pretty closely with the history that’s known, without an excessive use of creative license. As Allen goes west and is sucked into the Custer family’s orbit of influence, the reader travels along with him into the historical record.

From small period details like travel by train, dress, and daily army fort life to analyzing aspects of the battle itself and interpersonal politics between the officers, Hough shows he’s taken the time to get the historical details right and relay them to his audience perfectly. The author even discusses how he went to the battlefield itself so he’s seen the landscape and immersed himself as well. That’s dedication…

Hough also does a fairly well done job in characterization. He gets into the mind and personal feelings of George Armstrong Custer, giving us a possible insight into why Custer did what he did and how he felt. This mystical American West figure feels more human in Hough’s hands. Allen and Addie are the perfect foils to tell the main story through. Their initial innocence and emerging maturity make the journey very relatable. The reader can’t help but be drawn into their struggle and lives as they deal with the momentous events that was Little Bighorn.

The one hitch I found for this work was the writing style. Descriptive passages were done well, giving a great sense of the vastness that was Montana and the Dakotas at that time (and really still is) and also the workings of the various historical settings. Yet, when it came to conversations/dialogue, the narrative tended to turn choppy and abrupt. Rather than being incorporated into other paragraphs, people talking mostly got their own paragraphs, even if conversation exchanges only involved 3-4 words.

Despite that discrepancy, Hough tells a rousing tale of bravery, maturing through epic events, and humanization of history. He has relatable characters and conveys the history of his story descriptively. I was swept along for the adventure and the tragedy, living each moment with Allen, Addie, and Custer. I’d recommend this work to any lover of history, especially the American West. It takes a seminal event in that historical timeline and brings it to vivid life.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

REVIEW: The Conqueror's Queen by Joanna Courtney

The Conqueror's Queen
by Joanna Courtney

Publisher: MacMillian (out of the UK)
Page Count: 448
Release Date: May 18, 2017
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal buy via Amazon UK

First attention getter: already loved the author

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A crown can be won, blood cannot be changed.

Mathilda of Flanders is furious at her father's choice of husband for her. William of Normandy has a reputation as a rough warrior but after a violent start to their courtship Mathilda discovers him to be a man of unexpected sensitivity, driven by two goals: to win her heart and to win her a throne.

Astoundingly the throne seems to come first, for King Edward of England invites the newlyweds to Westminster and declares William his heir. But with the passing of time, this secretive promise is soon forgotten . . . though not by William. Or Mathilda.

As events either side of the Narrow Sea reach crisis point, Mathilda has to decide what she wants: heart or throne? How deep does her ambition run and what is she prepared to sacrifice to succeed?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

As a final chapter in Courtney’s 1066 queen trilogy, this finale rounds out the perspectives on this series of events nicely. Giving us a human look at figures commonly translated as the villains in the story, I was amazed again at how well the author is able to bring her historical figures to life so vividly. So little is known about William and Matilda that isn’t shadowed by legend; it was a real treat to see them as real people in a series of events so important to English history.

Commonly, William the Conqueror is showcased as the bad guy of history. I’ve read him in several fictional renditions, each time he’s portrayed as conniving and ruthless. And yes, Courtney doesn’t shy away from that aspect of him. Her William is very politically savvy, coming off as conniving at times. He’s also extremely ruthless, which given his personal history and the times he lived is understandable. If you’re an individual or town that betrayed his hard-earned trust, god help you.

Yet, Courtney rounds him out also as a man who loves deeply and strongly, loyal to the death. He might expect rock solid loyalty, but he also gives it. I also appreciated how intelligent she made him, both politically and in reading humanity. He has a special talent for reading a person, inspiring their loyalty if allies and reading through them if enemies. He’s uniquely devoted to Matilda as well. Given his history as a bastard and the grief his beloved mother faced due to her circumstances, he vowed to hold unto Matilda and no other, focusing all his energy and emotions on her. This makes for an incredible relationship, given the norms for such in the early medieval period.

Matilda also stands out in the characterization department. At first, I had some reservations. We started out with her so young, and she had the character traits of that age. Flighty and self-centered, I was cringing at first, hoping against hope that this wasn’t going to be a continuing trend as I can’t get behind a heroine like that. I should have had faith in Courtney. Matilda quickly shows her intelligence, practicality, and down to earth nature pretty quickly. I loved how she approached life, dealing with situations and relationships as they came up with common sense, thinking things through. She doesn’t get carried away with flights of drama; she examines a situation and deals with it. I found her to be the PERFECT match for William.

I go on and on about how well the characterizations are done by Courtney, but that in no way means she lacks in other areas. The main relationship between William and Matilda stand out as one firmly grounded in intelligence, mutual respect, loyalty, and hard-earned trust. I think it’d be hard to find two people more suited for each other. They have their abrasive moments, especially when it comes to William’s prickly sense of trust and loyalty. Yet, they always find ways of working through them and coming through the fires all the stronger.

Courtney also draws her readers into a time period rife with conflict and shifting loyalties. The events leading up to the Battle of Hastings are examined in depth, mostly from the POV of William/Matilda since this is their story and other POVs have been explored in previous novels. Yet we also get a few glimpse from William’s cousin and Matilda’s sister, Judith, wife of Tostig Godwinson, to see another side of the story. We get a visual for a territory in turmoil, not completely controlled by William and loyal to him. Yet, when the prospect of conquest is on the horizon, Normandy comes behind him full stop. I found myself as sucked into the developing invasion as I was to William and Matilda’s relationship.

This is another stellar example of Courtney’s writing. She has everything: outstanding characters, a solid prime relationship, and a bubbling cauldron of treachery, war, loyalty, and coming invasion that was early medieval Normandy and its court. I’m not sure if more will be coming from this series as I think I remember it being mentioned it was a trilogy, not an ongoing series. However, if Courtney ever decides to write anything else, I’ll be first in line to take a gander. She stands as one of my favorite writers now. Keep ‘em coming, Joanna!!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Samurai of Seville by John Healey

The Samurai of Seville
by John Healey

Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Page Count: 256
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Format: EBook ARC

How got: ARC from NetGalley

First attention getter: the sheer idea!!

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A sumptuous novel inspired by one of history’s most intriguing forgotten chapters—the arrival of Japanese Samurai on the shores of Europe.

In 1614, forty Samurai warriors and a group of tradesmen from Japan sailed to Spain, where they initiated one of the most intriguing cultural exchanges in history. They were received with pomp and circumstance, first by King Philip III and later by Pope Paul V. They were the first Japanese to visit Europe and they caused a sensation. They remained for two years and then most of the party returned to Japan; however, six of the Samurai stayed behind, settling in a small fishing village close to SanlĂșcar de Barrameda, where their descendants live to this day.

Healey imbues this tale of the meeting of East and West with uncommon emotional and intellectual intensity and a rich sense of place. He explores the dueling mentalities of two cultures through a singular romance; the sophisticated, restrained warrior culture of Japan and the baroque sensibilities of Renaissance Spain, dark and obsessed with ethnic cleansing. What one culture lives with absolute normality is experienced as exotic from the outsider’s eye. Everyone is seen as strange at first and then—with growing familiarity—is revealed as being more similar than originally perceived, but with the added value of enduring idiosyncrasies.

The story told in this novel is an essential and timeless one about the discoveries and conflicts that arise from the forging of relationships across borders, both geographical and cultural.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

The sheer idea behind this book is what drew me. I knew of diplomatic and trade missions from Europe to Japan, but Japan to Europe?? Nope. And to find out that these events truly happened, there really was a diplomatic mission from Japan that travel through New Spain in the New World to Spain proper and onto Rome to meet the Pope just blew my mind. It's little nuggets of obscure history like this that make me love the historical fiction genre so much.

For the most part, the author pulls things off well. He obviously knows his subject matter and locations well; the book shines in these areas. Yet, there are times where the author falls behind in his characters and book pacing.

I'm not sure if the author has physically been to the Iberian Peninsula, Japan, or Central America, but his writings surely read like he has. His depth of knowledge when it comes to cultures from those areas and physical landscapes defies expectations. He conveys these images in his readers’ heads in such a way that we experience the setting rather than just reading it. He has a gift for description and cultural understanding that stands out above your standard fictional writer.

The real meat of the story was examination of cultural interactions between two such a divergent societies, through the eyes of a Japanese samurai new to Spanish shores and various Spanish individuals. The author’s cultural knowledge, understanding, and respect come through excellently as he tells the story. As Shiro grows on his journey, the reader can't help but be drawn into his story, going from staunch samurai warrior who decried interaction with outsiders to a confidante of Spanish nobles and royalty and a prized member of that society.

Our main lead of Shrio is a great example of a vibrant, intriguing lead. Yet at times, there are too many characters being explored, some having no bearing on the story at all beyond being a famous name to throw in there for extra punch. This is especially evident in the beginning of the story where we have Cervantes introduced as a character for one scene in a bar just to give exposition; then we don't see him again until the very end where he dies. I mean, did we really need him to add anything to the story besides his name??

In the beginning, we also have way too many people introduced in a very short timeframe. I'd say for about the first three or four chapters, I was lost in a deluge of names and places. That's why I had such a hard time starting this work and getting into it. Thankfully, once things got flowing as the Japanese expedition had finally left their stores, I got into the flow enough to tell characters apart and could follow the action. Yet, even throughout the rest of the work, there would be times I’d lose track of people as the story progressed.

There were also some issues with the pacing of our story. Like I mentioned with the characters in the beginning, the novel starts with a bang and rush as we hit the ground running. Exploring the beginning of the Japanese delegation and Spanish shores readying to receive them, the reader is sucked into a maelstrom of movement and political maneuvering. Then we come to a slow section exploring either characters or just slow sequences, like sailing on the ship or exploring Spain. While having different paces in the story is a good thing, and in this particular one they were nicely done as well. It's the transitions from one pace to the other that jarred me, personally.

This work seems to be lesser-known given the small amount of reviews and comments I've noticed across the Internet. For all that, I felt it was an admirable attempt. The sheer idea is enough to give the author props. I enjoyed exploring this obscure corner of the historical record, through the eyes of a character that is both vibrant and well rounded. While there are hiccups along the way, this novel still comes over as enjoyable. Not the best out there, it certainly isn't the worst. I'd still recommend it, even if only for the extremely unique story it holds and how well the author handles the various cultures.

Note: Book received for free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 528
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got: ARC giveaway on LibraryThing

First attention getter: already loved the author and spy stuff in WWI

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

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 Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Kate Quinn stands as a personal favorite of mine; I know that anything she writes will be visceral in its setting/story and her characters will be as real as I. When I learned she was departing the worlds I knew her from, ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy, to explore the dramatic setting of World War I and II, I was all on board from day one. She doesn't fail to deliver, either.

World War II spy thrillers are almost a dime a dozen nowadays. Everywhere you look, someone has their own take or spin on the familiar tales, especially when you talk about spy thrillers in Nazi France. Yet, WWI is a whole new world when it comes to espionage stories. Then Quinn explores one of the most successful spy rings from that era, ran by women no less, and you've got a suspenseful narrative to hold you on your seat’s edge.

Quinn applies her skill at world building to this era just as well as her previous historical escapades. The harsh reality of German occupied north east France during the First World War comes to stark life as she portrays a population who will do anything to survive, snakes who profit from such an environment, and a German occupation force who revel in their control. The odds these women faced, fighting for their country in their own way, were truly staggering. On top of the already inherent dangers, these women also faced draconian prejudice and views on their role in war and their reputations. The bravery shown by these gals in the face of all that truly inspires. Sad to say, not every member of this ring had a happy ending, either, so the odds got some folks.

On top of utilizing some excellent historical details and scene settings skills, Quinn continues to create excellent, realistic characters through which to tell her story. Every single one stands out as a real individual, even the secondary background folks. It's our leads, though, that really shine. Each is damaged by war in their own way, all experiencing grief and some elements of PTSD. From the severe case of Evelyn who faced the true horrors of war and mankind's evilest behavior to Charlie's obsessive grief over her cousin's disappearance, each tale takes the audience on an emotional journey unlike any other. Not many authors can achieve as much success with their characterizations as they do with their world building, but Quinn is one of them. Truly a master!

Then on top of everything, Quinn weaves an intricate plot line that ties everything together in a truly suspenseful climax. Hidden connections as both world wars unfold surprised me left and right. I loved how the author tied in her character’s emotional journey with the story as well. Healing from past trauma and facing your demons played a huge part in the story overall. As our characters traverse over France looking for their missing pasts, the reader can't help but be transported in this journey of growth and overcoming the odds.

One can never fail when reading a Kate Quinn book. She has it all: great characters, a spellbinding story, and a setting and world you can sink into. Not once was I bored and looking for the motivation to continue on this epic story. I can't recommend this book highly enough; safe to say that if Kate Quinn wrote it, it's got to be good!!

Note: Book received for free via LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.