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Apr 20, 2015

Into The Storm by Lisa Bingham

Monday, April 20, 2015

Character driven WWII romance

Into The Storm by Lisa Bingham
Diversion Books, March 31, 2015
Historical Romance/WWII
Review copy provided in exchange for review in Library Journal Xpress
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

RueAnn Boggs meets Charles Tolliver, a handsome Brit with a secret job, and in the course of twenty-four hours, RueAnn is swept off her feet—seduced, wed, and then left by dashing Charlie, who hastily departs for an assignment in England. When weeks go by and she hears nothing from her new husband, RueAnn becomes determined to find out if she’s a wife in name only, and she travels to London for answers. But what she finds there is not at all what she expects…

Susan Blunt has spent her life staying put, retreating into her books while her vivacious twin sister, Sara, lives life to the fullest. The start of the war hasn’t stopped vibrant Sara from collecting a throng of beaus in uniform, including Paul Overdone, an RAF pilot heading for the front. When Sara pressures Susan into switching places and going to a dance with Paul, Susan reluctantly agrees. Little does Susan know that a single night is more than enough time to fall deeply in love with Paul—who returns her ardor, even though he thinks she is someone else…

When the Blitz begins and bombs start raining down on London, both RueAnn and Susan must find the strength and courage they never knew they had in order to survive. They form a friendship out of the city’s ashes, one that helps them weather the storm as they wait for news from the front—from the men they love, have lost, and hope desperately to find once more.

Set against the backdrop of a remarkable era, INTO THE STORM brilliantly explores relationships in wartime, when the passion shared in just one day could sustain love for a lifetime and the love borne of one night’s deception could become the truth that saves a life.

Into The Storm stays true to its title as there is never a dull moment for the characters of this World War II-set novel. Although very character-driven, the plot focuses on the Blunt family and their neighbors, thrust together during London air raids. American RueAnn Tolliver chases after her new husband and finds her reluctantly welcomed by her mother-in-law and the Blunt family. Twins Susan and Sara Blunt struggle to keep their family together during very harsh times of rations and the harsh realities of their country suffering through bombing raids. With a bit of espionage interlaced with Charles Tolliver's storyline, the romance and the historical details make for an intriguing and very promising story.

Into The Storm reads swiftly and easily, with smooth writing that draws the reader in. There were quite a few characters whose stories eventually intermingled but one could sense the rushing of the story to get to the end, where it would have better suited to add a few more pages to the novel to flesh it out. While the story reveals grief and sorrow as the characters develop, the romance brought a happy-ever-after feel with perhaps a touch of incredulity. Still, Into The Storm is a very enjoyable World War II novel with a stronger character development theme than the romance factor, as the heat rating was very low key.

Apr 14, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
An intriguing blend of history, mystery and romance 

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley 
Sourcebooks Landmark, April 7 2015
Review copy provided in exchange for this review

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.
As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.

Susanna Kearsley is one of those writers that will always intrigue me, if not fascinate me. She writes her books with the same tone which could tend to drag, but if you  immerse yourself in the slower pace you are rewarded with a good story with some special characters. I was a little sad that the last review I wrote for Kearsley's Season of Storms couldn't be all gushy, so reading A Desperate Fortune I went in with a little trepidation. In doing so, I think I prepared myself for her slow, smooth, suck you in style because I was able to read this without feeling like I was going down a rabbit hole (to use a phrase from the book).

The novel features two storylines that went back and forth between the modern day and the year 1732. The year 1732 is when our young diarist Mary Dundas has an adventure with a Scottish rogue and takes part in the Jacobites' mission to protect their own in honor of the exiled king. Mary leaves behind her diary of the intriguing adventures she has while aiding a fugitive, but it is in cipher. This is where our modern day character Sara comes in, who is a genius at codes and has asperger syndrome, making her vulnerable in social situations but makes her more in tune to numbers, meticulousness, and routine.

As Sara travels to Paris to work on decoding the diary, she meets several people who show her kindness and compassion, including a certain Luc Sabran who captured her heart with his "symmetrical smile" and his "perfect blue eyes" -and his adorable son sweetened the package. Luc lives up to the hero status and their romance is a tenderhearted and sweet one, much like the counterpart of Mary and her handsome Scottish protector, though theirs is more of a respectful admiration of each other.

The two narratives of Sara and Mary pleasantly played well off the other, and the ending -particularly for Mary's - was very endearing and just perfect for Mary. I really enjoyed the plotlines and the historical context of the mystery that surrounded the Jacobite Mr. Thomson that Mary was escorting throughout France and eventually leads to Rome where Mary hopes to find her father, and there is an author's note that describes much more in detail about the era.

This was a winner for Kearsley, much to my delight! While it may not be in the  haunting, gothic/suspense feel that I got from some of the author's earlier works, this was enjoyable historical romance and I will remember Hugh Macpherson. And if you've read some of the author's other titles, see if you can find some cameo appearances from those in A Desperate Fortune!

I think my favorite novel is The Shadowy Horses, but I have yet to read The Winter Sea or Mariana. Do you have a favorite?

Apr 6, 2015

The Abduction of Smith and Smith by Rashad Harrison

Monday, April 06, 2015
A wonderfully crafted surprise of a novel

The Abduction of Smith and Smith by Rashad Harrison
Atria Books, January 2015
352 pages Hardcover 978-1451625783
Review copy provided by HNS in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 stars

In this harrowing and thrilling work of historical fiction, two enemies become the unlikeliest of allies as they fight to save their own lives aboard a hell ship headed into the dangerous unknown.The Civil War is over, though for Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, many battles still lie ahead. He returns to the plantation he worked on before the war in search of his woman, but rather finds his old master gone mad, haunting the ruins like a ghost. Out of pity for the now mentally ill Colonel, Jupiter strangles him and heads west to seek a new life in San Francisco.
When the Colonel’s son, Confederate soldier Archer Smith, arrives at home and finds his father murdered, he vows revenge upon Jupiter for all he has lost—following his former slave to the far reaches of the continent.
But things take a new turn as Archer’s desire for retribution is overwhelmed by his dependency on opium, and he ends up the target of a gang of “crimpers”…the very gang that Jupiter works for in San Francisco. When Jupiter fails in an attempt to save Archer, they both end up shanghaied aboard a ship headed on a dangerous mission and ruled by a merciless captain. Will the two Smiths work together to stay alive and return home, or will they become victims of the sea, the crew, and their mad captain?

 For a novel that started out with a uneasy beginning, the author was able to hold my attention as I read the entire book in one day. The setting of the American Civil War's aftermath is a popular one for readers, yet this story brings us to a harsh reality of how the war's effect caused ripples for years to come. Wholly intriguing characters in a unique setting set this novel apart as the author writes with no holds barred. Though it comes off as crude when we are dealing with sailors and ruffians who kidnap innocents to force them to work on ships, and run ins with the mobster like villains who hold the cards of the day, the entire package presented by author Rashad Harrison is a well thought out suspenseful masterpiece of a story. There are many moving parts, from the fractured relationships of slaves and masters, brothers in arms and women who seek restoration after so many hardships which will captivate the reader as things slowly begin to connect to each other.

These many twists and turns intermix to create a powerful story as Jupiter Smith, a freed slave, seeks his wife after seven long years. During his search he encounters people from his past and battles the harsh reality of his life after freedom has been granted through the war. Through one of those twists of fate Jupiter finds himself kidnapped along with his former master's son Archer Smith and they are both forced to rely on each other begrudgingly for mere survival's sake during the dangerous voyage. Several characters are featured in the novel which the author creates short chapters around each scene, and there are even a few sketches interspersed throughout. The short chapters make it a quick read but the story itself is a vivid tale that is unforgettable and creative as it brings us to the underbelly of San Francisco to Shanghai and all the way to Liberia. A wonderfully crafted surprise that I would not hesitate to recommend.