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 Sanlúcar 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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REVIEW: Brimstone by Cherie Priest

Brimstone
by Cherie Priest

Publisher: ACE

Page Count:304

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Format: Trade Paperback

How got: local library

First attention getter: already liked the author and synopsis

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomas Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomas dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake....

Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife s spirit.

But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomas and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself....
My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Cherie Priest always finds a way to please my palate. Her unique gift of combining gripping storytelling, supernatural elements, and the darker side of life makes her stand out in the crowd. With this new addition to her body of work, she still continues to please overall. I anticipated this novel highly when I heard that it dealt with WWI and supernatural fire starting, two elements that at least I can say I've never seen combined. So I knew I was in for a different kind of story. Despite one little element I had a hard time with, this book still ranks as a great tale.

The author chose a turbulent time to set her story. Set post WWI, the story explores the themes of healing from tragedy and fighting against prejudice. I enjoyed her usage of historical details like the ever popular world of mysticism that arose after the war as people try to contact their lost ones. She uses that heavily as a strong vehicle to bring together her two protagonists as they prepare to face off true evil. Her ability to bring everyday life from this timeframe also stood out. The fashions, Prohibition, and lingering pain from the war and recent Spanish flu epidemic all play interesting parts in the tale.

As always, Priest excels at combining her supernatural elements with the overall story. Demonic spirits, fire starting, psychic sessions, and guiding lights make this story distinctive when held up against other historical fantasy titles. I really like how they also played such an important part as the bedrock for the overall story and struggle. The author created a fight against evil and prejudice with psychic elements and ghosts on both sides of the story. She draws on the lingering distrust of “witchcraft”, making the need for a creation of a community like this one and using that as both a scene for the narrative and objective as well.

It's one of the two leads where this book falls down a bit. I liked Thomas. He's a tragic figure whose life has hit hard with multiple painful events and an obsession with connecting to his past. After losing his wife and emotional health post war, the universe decided to kick him in the nuts even harder by connecting what seems like an evil entity to his soul. That serves as the basic plot line for the story, and what a story it is! Through it all, Thomas fights with a deep well of courage that the reader can't help but admire. Even if Thomas doesn't think he's being brave, we all know different.

So with all that good, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about when I mention that this area is where the book fell out. It's Alice that's the problem. She's not flat out horrible by any means. I still felt like I could identify with her and connect with her as she put herself in this community of peers. However, at times she came off extremely immature. I felt I was reading the inner thoughts of a young teen rather than a young woman. She read too innocent to my mind. I think I would have connected to her better if her inner thought processes had been that of an older woman.

A unique set of supernatural elements set this post WWI ghost busting tale apart. The author uses great historical details and a great main character to keep her readers moving forward rapidly. While the other main character can be immature at times, I still couldn't help but want her to pull through and help fight the evil hunting Thomas. While not the best work Priest has done, I would still feel comfortable recommending the story. It's a unique anecdote that will please many a reader.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

REVIEW: The DarkAngel series by Meredith Ann Pierce



Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Co
Page Count: 936 all together
Release Date: 1982-1990 originally
Format: Mass Paperbacks, most recent publications

How got: personal buy from B & N

First attention getter: already fan of series

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

DarkAngel:

Aeriel is kidnapped by the darkangel, a black-winged vampyre of astounding beauty and youth. In his castle keep, she serves his 13 wives, wraiths whose souls he stole. She must kill him before his next marriage and comes into full power, but is captivated by his magnificent beauty and inner spark of goodness. Will she choose to save humanity or his soul?

Gathering:

Aeriel's love has broken the curse on the darkangel Irrylath, making him human again and freeing him from the control of his mother, the dreaded White Witch. But the Witch is far from defeated. Her wicked plans require all seven of her vampyre sons, and she will not give one up so easily. There is but a single hope for the Witch's defeat--solving an ancient, mysterious riddle. So Aeriel sets off to solve the riddle, sailing across a sea of dust and straight into the worst of the Witch's terrors. But if Aeriel is to save Irrylath and her world, she will have to overcome his bloodthirsty darkangel brothers--and ultimately confront his terrifying mother face-to-face.

Pearl:

All the world’s wisdom and magic resides within the iridescent depths of a small white pearl. “All my sorcery,” the Ancient Ravenna had said of the pearl. “It is left to you to save the world.” But is the pearl powerful enough to enable Aeriel to defeat the White Witch? Aeriel’s people have assembled an army--led by the redeemed darkangel Irrylath--and are soon to attack the Witch and her darkangel sons. But their cause is hopeless unless Aeriel can unlock the mysteries of the pearl . . . and of her own destiny.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I've been hit by a wave of nostalgia lately which has triggered re-watches and re-reads all around. I initially read the series when I was in high school, late 90’s. I remember being so completely enthralled by Aerial and her struggles to save her loved ones and face down evil. I admired her courage and occasional bursts of vulnerability. Now, 20 years later, I can see where this trilogy has some flaws but my initial love still stands strong.

The plotline/setting still holds as unique now as back then. While holding some elements of your typical fantasy series (young person saving the world, unique creatures, some aspects of magic, etc.), the world and its history stand out. Set in some distant vision of the future, post colonization of the Moon, this vision of a dying world who’s creators have abandoned makes for a bleak and awe-inspiring setting for Aerial’s struggles.

The overarcing story also stands out. Elements like saving the world and fighting an evil witch may seem like they’re common place. Yet, it’s the small details that set this series apart. For most of the story, Aerial has allies, but they’re never with her for the full way. Most of the strength needed for this journey comes from her. Very unique creatures, minions of our villain, and atmosphere of the world give the trilogy a gothic, dark tone not often seen in young adult fantasy, either. This small detail makes Aerial’s struggle all the harsher as at times, she's facing her foes alone, unaided.

I loved Aerial as a character. Her courage knows no bounds, and her strength of will leaves me breathless. Ultimately, she doesn't let anything the White Witch throws at her stop her from saving her friends and world. Yet, she's also refreshingly vulnerable and lacks faith in herself at times. With so much responsibility placed on her shoulders, at times she feels lost and alone. This mix of strength and vulnerability make her a relevant character anyone can relate to.

I feel what really sets the series apart from the rest, though, is the ending. Without giving too much away (don't want to spoil anything for anyone), I will say that it's completely unexpected and so different than the usual, run-of-the-mill young adult fantasy trilogy. In a trilogy series written nowadays, it might not stand out as so different. However, the series was written between 1982 and 1990. For a trilogy from back then, it's a real departure.

While doing this re-read, though, I did notice myself having a hard time with time telling. The author uses an odd format of “fortnights” and “daymonths”. Nowhere in the book trilogy does it give any pointers on how these relate to normal methods of time telling. The reader’s left trying to suss things out for themselves given context.

As a young reader just flowing with the fantasy, this feature probably doesn't weigh that heavy against the book. Yet, as a mature reader, 20 years down the road, I found myself getting hung up on this. I kept trying to get a picture in my head of how the story was flowing and kept getting thrown out by the bizarre way of telling time. This may not be a problem with other readers, though, since it is such a small part of the book. Take that into account while we whether to read this trilogy or not.

Personally, I found this a pleasant revisitation of my early reading history. Aerial still stands as a wonderful character with hidden depths. The plot flows seamlessly in all its unique and vibrant glory. All my sweet and nostalgic youthful memories of this trilogy stand strong; even despite the issue with the time telling aspect, I would still recommend the series to readers today. People of all ages would find enjoyment out of Aerial’s tale of ultimate hope and arrival.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Land of Hidden Fires by Kirk Kjeldsen

Land of Hidden Fires
by Kirk Kjeldsen

Publisher: Grenzland Press
Page Count: 212
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: setting/synopsis

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Occupied Norway, 1943. After seeing an allied plane go down over the mountains, headstrong fifteen year-old Kari Dahlstrøm sets out to locate the wreck. She soon finds the cocky American pilot Lance Mahurin and offers to take him to Sweden, pretending she's a member of the resistance. While her widower father Erling and the disillusioned Nazi Oberleutnant Conrad Moltke hunt them down, Kari begins to fall for Lance, dreaming of a life with him in America. Over the course of the harrowing journey, though, Kari learns hard truths about those around her as well as discovering unforeseen depths within herself.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

A riveting tale of suspense, survival, and danger, this title has some strong points in its favor for a small publishing house\self-published book. The reader can't help but be pulled chapter to chapter, being held on the edge of their seat to see what happens. While not perfect, I'd still highly recommend this book.

Strongest point is the suspenseful story and how well the author does in keeping the audience engaged. Reading as a spy thriller mixed with a coming of age, the narrative has no problem flowing from scene to scene. The author has a talent in keeping the tension ratcheted up as Kari and Lance make for the Swedish border in frigid temperatures and with enemies hot on their tails. The alternating POV's do detract a bit from this aspect; however, the author still keeps things ramped up enough to make the climax a suspenseful showdown and a growing experience for Kari.

I'm not sure if the author is a native of Norway; his name might suggest so. His bio says he lives in Germany and got his degree in California. Yet, even so, his depth of knowledge and way of conveying the landscape and aura of Norway are incredible. I could literally feel the frigid mountain majesty of the northern peaks and feel the bite of the snow on my cheek. Very specific mountain, river, and town place names puts the reader right into the country. A country held under the Nazi thumb also came through vividly. The struggle to survive both the climate and the oppressors added a depth to the story.

When it comes to characterizations, this book also stands out. Each POV and secondary character has their own distinct personality and motivations. There was also a significant change and growth as the story progresses. This was especially evident in Lance and Kari as they struggle through the frigid arctic conditions, the dire circumstances that arose revealing their true natures. Yet in all parties explored, the author has a deft hand when it comes to revealing the inner depths of his character’s psyches. We really got to know everyone, which isn't always the case in a book this short.

There's one aspect that is this books shortcoming, though, and it sort of falls in this area. For a book that clocks in at 212 pages according to Goodreads, I felt like this book had too many POV's. The count standing at four, I felt like I was ripped from one tale to another, just as I was getting into the action of a certain storyline. Some of the suspense got lost and at times, the POV's would get muddled. While engaging, Sturre’s POV in particular, felt completely superfluous. The bits he added to the story could have been better done with Kari, Erling, or Moltke.

At the end of the day, though, this dynamic tale of survival, escape, and resistance keeps the reader engaged. Great characters, a vibrant setting, and action filled narrative keep the story hopping to a fantastic climax. Despite that one fallback, I still feel comfortable recommending this tale to lovers of historical fiction, especially for World War II fans and those who love spy thrillers. Not many tales explore World War II occupied Norway, so this is a real treat.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking
by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 338
Release Date: January 10, 2017
Format: ARC Trade Paperback

How got: ARC gotten via bookmooch.com

First attention getter: already loved book one

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

London, 1887 . . 

Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

A fantastic addition to the Speedwell series, this volume adds to the original and builds on our lead’s pasts to create stronger characters. Along with a character chemistry that is second to none and for the most part solid mystery component, Raybourn’s new series has a future that never looked brighter.

Favorite part hands down our Veronica, Stoker, and their relationship. I've never read a pair who have so much chemistry on the page and such intriguing interactions. Alternating between hilarious exchanges and heated UST scenes, these two banter their way across London as they encounter artists, royals, and an abandoned sex club. The intensity and hilarity never lightens up.

The mystery aspect wasn't as original as book one but still enjoyable. Reading more like a mystery than the previous book, this one delves into an enigmatic secret behind a murder in an artist circle's mansion. I wasn't as surprised at the eventual who done it as I might have been. Yet, the journey through the various clues and discussions was pleasurable nonetheless.

What I did enjoy about the mystery part was how much it added to our leads pasts again. While touching lightly on Veronica and her familial connections, the best part we got was more exploration on Stoker’s past. We get to see the family circumstances that develop his character and personality, getting to see how the bitterness developed when it comes to his family. Since most of book one was devoted to developing Veronica, these peeks into Stoker’s past helps develop him more fully.

And that's what makes this series so unique and special. Every aspect of the story, even the mystery itself, always builds and supports our leads personalities and pasts. It's not totally about the mystery itself; it's about the people involved: investigators, allies, suspects, and victim. I think that's what makes Veronica, Stoker, and their relationship so extraordinary. The author concentrate so much on building them up, then centering the mystery around them rather than the other way around.

Even though the mystery itself wasn't as enthralling as the first one, this book is still a solid five for me. The leads, how they play off each other, and the overall story carry the day. I can't help but find myself drawn into Veronica's and Stoker’s chases across London, reveling in their hysterical sniping banter and heated UST scenes. The mystery flows smoothly, if a bit predictably, yet it also enhances our leads and their backgrounds. If you're a fan of book one, definitely look this one up. If you haven't read book one and now this one, where have you been hiding?!?! Go read the series now! I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REVIEW: Shattered by Jennie Marsland

Shattered
by Jennie Marsland

Publisher: self
Page Count: 270
Release Date: September 24, 2011
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: incorporation of 1917 Halifax explosion

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Liam Cochrane no longer belongs. He lost his youth and his brother on the battlefields of Europe. Now he’s home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, trying to dull his pain with liquor and the occasional willing woman. He’s become a stranger in the North End neighbourhood where he grew up.

Alice O’Neill has never belonged. Able to read notes, but not words, she dreams of teaching music – and of Liam, who has held her heart for years and never known. But Liam has shadowy ties in England that he’s revealed to no one, and in that fall of 1917, Halifax is on a collision course with fate. On December 6, a horrific accident of war will devastate the city’s North End. What will be left for Liam and Alice when their world is shattered?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4.5

What drew me to the book was a personal disappointment, but this was made up for by a fantastic portrayal on other aspects I wasn't expecting. The Halifax explosion of 1917 is one of those forgotten events in history, outside the community where it happened. Hardly anyone nowadays seems to know about it which is a tragedy since it had such an impact, was so large, and killed so many. When I read it was incorporated into this title, I was eager to start. After finishing, I was pleased ultimately by a fantastic tale, great characters, and vibrant relationships.

Disappointment was aroused by how little the explosion actually played a part in the story. This is a personal quibble, as that's what drew my attention to the book in the first place. Yet, this massive event was smooshed onto the end, feeling like it was a tacked on afterthought rather than an integral part of the story. What we got was devastating and illustrated how this event wiped out an entire community and brought untold destruction and tragedy. I guess I was just looking for more exploration on how this event impacted the community and people who live there overall. Still, stacked against everything else, this is a small and personal quibble.

That being said, the rest of this book was fantastic. The characters shine as strong individuals, especially Alice. I loved her special blend of vulnerability and steely core. While she comes off as a bit of a doormat in the beginning, as the story gets rolling she matures into a strong woman who doesn't take gruff from anyone. She overcomes a dysfunctional, borderline abusive home situation and disability to make her own path in life, with her own goals and choices.

I also love Liam and his strength of character to overcome some truly tragic mental health issues. With a severe case of PTSD from the trenches of World War I Europe, he found the inner strength to overcome dark thoughts and build a life for himself. His family and Alice help him along the way, creating a truly inspiring tale of self-healing and overcoming obstacles.

Liam and Alice together make the story. Their depth of emotion for each other and strength in supporting each other create a vibrant relationship. Liam creates the strong bulwark Alice needs against her family’s violence and emotional damage. Alice is a well of love and acceptance for Liam as he faces the demons of war and heals. Together they are an example of historical romance done right.

But it's in the area of the World War I vets that this book really shines, unexpected for me. The author surprises in her in-depth portrayal of men caught in the horrors of war and bloodshed, then coming home to peacetime and family life. Not everyone is able to cope and some get lost along the way. The author shows the varying degrees of success, or not, that the different men have in dealing with the horrors. From Alice's brother to Liam to Liam's friend, the reader is taken on an emotional journey that reflects strongly on the plight of veterans and servicemen today.

This book was a pleasant surprise overall. The author takes us on an emotional journey of self-healing and strength in the face of adversity. Both Liam and Alice grow throughout the book, creating intriguing character arcs that can't be resisted. The only downer is the lack of details on the explosion itself and its importance on the story. It's tacked on nature at the end seemed rushed and an afterthought to me. Yet, that's a personal disappointment and may not stand out as strongly to another. I’d still highly recommend this book for its strong characters and emotional depth. This novel stands as an example of self-publication at its best.