August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.
Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.
It seems like every World War II novel I read is sad, but this one proved to be an exception. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely sad and horrifying moments, but the overall message of this novel is hope and helping others. I thought it was a wonderful touch that initially Grace isn’t even a reader, so we get to experience her falling in love with books as she grows to love the bookshop and its patrons. This is a lovely read!
Madeline Martin is a bestselling author. The Last Bookshop in London is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)
Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.
1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.
1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.
I enjoyed all three timelines in this novel. I’m not sure I’ve read anything by this author before, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout in the future. Emma’s timeline, the present-day, was probably my favorite, as she experiences a lot of character growth and she seemed like she’d be a fun person to hang out with. Venetia was dealing with so much living on the edge of high society—those people were awful—and this didn’t end like I thought it was going to. Beth’s timeline featured things I’d never heard of, keeping me interested and invested in the characters. This is definitely a solid read!
Julia Kelly is a bestselling author. The Last Garden in England is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)
The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.
Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.
I don’t think I’ve read anything about World War II in the Channel Islands, so this was something new for me, as was the German officer who wasn’t a Nazi (most of the historical fiction set during this time that I’ve read just portrays all German soldiers as monsters).
This time period is so hard to read about. The atrocities Hedy went through and witnessed are terrible, but she comes through with her hope and her spirits intact. I found this to be an excellent read.
Jenny Lecoat was born in the Channel Islands. The Girl from the Channel Islands is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)
In the aftermath of World War II, Goh Junja is a girl just coming into her own. She is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. Confident she is a woman now, Junja urges her mother to allow her to make the Goh family’s annual trip to Mt. Halla, where they trade abalone and other sea delicacies for pork. Junja, a sea village girl, has never been to the mountains, where it smells like mushrooms and earth, and it is there she falls in love with a mountain boy Yang Suwol, who rescues her after a particularly harrowing journey. But when Junja returns one day later, it is just in time to see her mother take her last breath, beaten by the waves during a dive she was taking in Junja’s place.
Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father, Suwol is gone, the ghost of her mother haunts their home–from the meticulously tended herb garden that has now begun to sprout weeds, to the field where their bed sheets are beaten. She has only her grandmother and herself. But the world moves on without Junja.
The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan’s forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops, and her grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea’s occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. When Suwol is arrested for working with and harboring communists, and the perils of post-WWII overtake her homelands, Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she’s ever known.
This is a gorgeous cover, isn’t it? I probably would have picked this book up for that reason alone, but the blurb intrigued me as well. And I’m glad I read this—although it’s not a happy, fluffy bunny book, by any means. This book is about sorrow and danger and unimaginable courage.
This isn’t a fast-paced book, although there’s a lot going on. The reader is firmly in Junja’s life and what happens to her, getting a feel for the culture and experiences she lives through in Jeju. If you’re looking for a deeply moving story, this is definitely the read for you.
Sumi Hahn was born in Korea. The Mermaid from Jeju is her first novel.
(Galley courtesy of Alcove Press in exchange for an honest review.)
Moving between wartime Paris crushed under the boot of the Nazi Occupation and 1950s Manhattan giddy with postwar abundance and optimism, Paris Never Leaves You is the story of one woman’s struggle to save her infant daughter and herself.
Running a bookshop in occupied Paris, a city darkened by blackouts, curfews, and constant fear; gripped by hunger, cold, and sudden roundups and deportations, Charlotte Foret walks a fine line between protecting her daughter and staying true to herself and her country; between her hatred for the enemy and her unwanted sympathy for a Wehrmacht physician tortured by his own lethal secret.
Charlotte endures and her daughter ultimately thrives, but the compromises she has made shadow her new life in postwar New York, where she works in a publishing house presided over with wry irreverence by a man haunted by his own war history. Their fates and that of the Wehrmacht physician who has fled to South America prove that though the war is over, the past is never past.
I have to admit, this book traumatized me a bit…and I’m not completely sure why. Yes, the basic setting and time period in history was awful, so that was part of it. And, Charlotte’s worry over her daughter and her struggle to keep her well and safe was terrible to imagine, but that wasn’t all of it either. Just the horrifying experiences of Charlotte and the doctor and everyone…
Honestly, I didn’t connect too well with Charlotte. The guilt she inflicted on herself was a lot, and I found it hard to relate to her. Her actions in the present weren’t that likable, either, but even the secondary characters weren’t terribly likable (Except the doctor. I liked him.). I just found this book more emotional than I was comfortable with at the time I was reading.
Ellen Hampton lives in New York. Paris Never Leaves You is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
Celebrated singer Genevieve Dumont is both a star and a smokescreen. An unwilling darling of the Nazis, the chanteuse’s position of privilege allows her to go undetected as an ally to the resistance.
When her estranged mother, Lillian de Rocheford, is captured by Nazis, Genevieve knows it won’t be long before the Gestapo succeeds in torturing information out of Lillian that will derail the upcoming allied invasion. The resistance movement is tasked with silencing her by any means necessary—including assassination. But Genevieve refuses to let her mother become yet one more victim of the war. Reuniting with her long-lost sister, she must find a way to navigate the perilous cross-currents of Occupied France undetected—and in time to save Lillian’s life.
I recently read a novel about Coco Chanel’s time during the Nazi occupation—and Chanel is mentioned in passing at once point during this novel—but I found this story far more engrossing than that one. I liked Genevieve from the beginning, and she only grew more intriguing as more of her story was revealed.
I enjoyed the parts of the story about her singing and performances, her costumes, and her glitzy life, but the mysteries and intrigues she gets into were even more fascinating. I highly recommend reading this!
Karen Robards is a bestselling author. The Black Swan of Paris is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)
Coco Chanel doesn’t care about the war. She cares about keeping her secrets and the rights to her legendary perfume. But the Nazis have other ideas, and when they occupy Paris during the war, Coco finds she has much more at stake than she ever imagined. And even more secrets to hide.
I love a good historical fiction read, although the subject of this was a little bit outside my wheelhouse. An interesting look at how Coco grew up—and how she became the icon she became. The writing was vivid and well-done, but the character herself was a bit off-putting to me, being mainly focused on herself and her concerns, with no self-awareness or interest in anything outside her own little bubble.
Pamela Binnings Ewen lives outside New Orleans. The Queen of Paris is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)
In 1942 Singapore, the world is at war, but it becomes personal when soldiers ransack a village and murder everyone, leaving only two survivors. In a nearby village, girls are taken captive and forced to become “comfort women”—prostitutes—earning them the shame and disdain of their families—if they are fortunate enough to survive and escape. Wang Di was one of these women, and after sixty years of silence, she is finally ready to talk about the horrors she experienced.
In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is going blind, so he records everything he hears. Including the dying confession of his beloved grandmother…who isn’t really his grandmother at all. Kevin knows this secret is bigger than he is, but he’s determined to find out the truth—and share it.
How We Disappeared isn’t an easy book to read. It’s full of the sometimes-horrific experiences of these characters, but there are glimpses of hope as well. The settings are realistic—good and bad—and, though the book gets off to a slow start, it is well-worth reading.
Jing-Jing Lee is an author and a poet. How We Disappeared is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Alice never expected to be a stay-at-home mom, but 7-year-old Eddie is on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, and needs all the care Alice can give him, while 10-year-old Callie is smart enough to cause herself problems. So, Alice’s world revolves around her kids and her husband, until her beloved grandmother falls ill, and asks Alice to find those she left behind in Poland during WWII. Her only clues are a faded photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe, and a letter.
In 1940s Poland, Alina is young and in love, and gets engaged to Tomasz just before he goes away to college. She can’t wait to start their future together. Then the Nazis arrive, and her whole world changes to hunger, fear, and a desperate longing for Tomasz. She knows he’ll keep his promise to return to her, but so many obstacles stand in the way, and the darkness around them may sweep them under if anyone finds out their secrets.
This book. This book. Fantastically well-written, I found myself drawn into both timelines effortlessly, caring about both Alice and Alina and their happiness. The horrors of war are captured in small bits, enough to paint the picture, but not so much that the reader can’t move past it. I cried at the end, but this story is filled with so much hope and love. A wonderful read!
Kelly Rimmer is a USA Today bestselling author. The Things We Cannot Say is her newest book.
(Galley courtesy of Graydon House via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
In 1948, World War II has impacted every corner of the globe and brought change. For Rosie Stanton, it brought an opportunity to live and work away from home for the first time, growing her independent nature even stronger. But now she’s back home on her family’s sugarcane farm, which is foundering thanks to her father’s old-fashioned ideas, sabotage from the inside, and her parents’ grief over the loss of her two brothers. Even worse is her father’s dislike of Italians, especially the Conti family that lives next door.
Thomas Conti left the war behind him when he came to Australia but finds prejudice and hatred here as well. Thomas still struggles with his experiences in the war and wants to keep to himself because he just knows he’ll hurt anyone who cares about him. Rosie wants to get to know Thomas, but when a ghost from his past shows up to ruin his future and a bombshell from Rosie’s past destroys who she thinks she is, they’ll have to turn to each other if they’re to survive.
I’d never read anything from this particular setting, so it was an interesting—and sad—read. So much conflict and hatred towards others…kind of like today. Rosie is an interesting character: caught on the brink of a changing world and society but having to fight for every single step she takes forward. I enjoyed this read quite a bit.
Alli Sinclair is an award-winning author. Burning Fields is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Kensington Books/Lyrical Press in exchange for an honest review.)