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L’Agent Double by Kit Sergeant

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L'Agent Double*

Breathtaking Book of Real WWI Female Spies

Oh, my gosh! What an utterly fantastic book, a genuinely gripping read! I had read the previous book in the series about the Civil War female spies, but I believe that this book even surpasses that one. This book tells the tales of three female spies during World War I, one who may be perhaps the most notorious female spy ever, Mata Hari. The book follows the chronological order of the conflict, so we experience the war as it unfolds through time through these women’s eyes and experiences. While, of course, the conversations and some scenes are wholly fictionalized, the author has done a tremendous depth and breadth of research into these real female spies of WWI. She made these women come alive on the page; their experiences are no less real. I found it easy to empathize with the two women who were on the right side of history. I particularly resonated with Marthe, as I could completely relate to her struggles through the war as I am a nurse myself. In modern times, the nursing ethical code is drummed into us from the first days of nursing school. Back in the day, women who were drawn to nursing might not have been taught ethics directly, but they would have had a moral code that included a depth of compassion and genuine care for humanity to do such a job as it was back then. I could completely understand her struggle with the different parts of herself, the nurse and the spy. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to feel that pull, wanting to do the best for your country and allies but feeling the pain caused by the horrors you had to necessarily inflict on others. Doing what is right is sometimes a choice between the lesser of evils, and that certainly doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

The author pulls you right into the story, starting with a prologue that describes Mata Hari’s death by firing squad. Each of these women is richly drawn, with some similarities between them but also some striking differences (as you might imagine). Interestingly, their paths crossed at times during the war. The descriptions of all that went on during this massive, war-to-end-all wars conflict (if only!) are completely captivating, keeping your interest (even if you know how it ends!). I absolutely adore that this author has chosen to honor the unsung female heroes (and a few bad girls) who helped shape history. It is fantastic that their stories are being shared in such a way. I find myself wondering what war and heroines this author will pick next. World War II, I imagine?

Christmas Bliss by A. S. Fenischel

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Christmas Bliss*

A Christmas Delight

What a delightful surprise this book was! It seems like lately I have read so many books that have broken what I call to cardinal rules of storytelling that it is a great pleasure to read an author who not only doesn’t flout sensible rules but actually knows how to spin a good yarn and create wonderful, believable characters.

The book is from the dual perspectives of the hero and heroine. I particularly enjoyed those parts of the story told from the hero’s perspective. He is definitely an unreliable narrator, but we learn so much about him as we read his musings and view the world through his eyes. He is very well drawn. The author doesn’t just tell us about his social awkwardness, as we would call it; she shows us vividly where he is stumped and his frustration with himself. He beats himself up about it quite a bit. This is done in a clever and endearing way. You can’t help but love this poor hero who is clearly a decent man—and a powerful one in the House of Lords—but is clearly socially inept with others he doesn’t know, particularly women.

There is definitely an instant love going on here, but he is so adorable that it seems plausible—and you want it to be true for his sake. Novellas in particular seem to fall victim to several cardinal sins, namely data dumps and trying to squeeze in too big a story into the short format. Luckily, this book suffered from neither. We are dropped right into the action of the story, the meet-cute of the hero and heroine, and the backstory of both characters weaves naturally through the opening part of the book. The scope of the book was precisely right for a novella. It also had well-drawn secondary characters as well. I love the Dowager Countess (both her personality and her relationship with the hero) and the heroine’s younger brother whom she is trying so desperately to protect; he is the perfect little gentleman, well trained by his adoring sister. I heartily recommend this quick Christmas read.

Finding Our Way Back by Marianne Rice

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Finding Our Way Back*

A Beautiful Story with Incredible Characters

This has been a day for reading books that really tug at the heartstrings. The author has created a slow burn, sweet, and sad second chance at romance that definitely delivers on all the feels. The hero and heroine had been married before when they were in their early twenties, and their marriage couldn’t survive a personal tragedy. They are changed people when they happen to meet again seven years later. He has never stopped loving her, despite another intervening failed marriage, and she is not sure she is willing to forgive the part that he played in their tragedy. The characters in this book are fantastic, and not just the hero and heroine. I loved the heroine’s circle of friends; each woman was unique and able to provide the support the heroine needed. I also absolutely adored the heroine’s relationship with the elderly man that she was taking care of. Their relationship showed her kind nature and generous heart. I thought that the author did a particularly good job with dialogue. It seems realistic in terms of the word themselves and how they reflected the relationships of the people involved in the conversations. Exceptionally well done; a beautiful story with incredible characters.

The Exile of the Glen by Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple

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The Exile of the Glen*

Grace and Redemption

I am a big fan of this author’s work, having read her previous book in this series, “The Lady of the Glen.” I enjoyed that book a lot, as I absolutely adored the heroine’s character (and the hero wasn’t bad either!). Knowing that story, I was curious to see what this author would do with Alastair because he is actually the villain of that book (The Lady of the Glen). What the author has achieved, though, is laudable and better than I had imagined. From the very first scene, where Alastair is in the boat heading to his exile on a remote Scottish island hoping to find succor with distant family, she sets up the story as one of redemption. The first scene is so well done. We can truly get a sense of both the setting, which is so harsh, as well as Alastair’s despair over what his life has become and will be. He doesn’t fully own all that he’s done at this point, but he is starting to see the error of his ways; in doing so, the author sets up what could be a potentially good character arc.

Much of this book is watching Alastair sink lower and lower in a variety of ways, making the book more focused on an individual’s story than usually happens in a romance (more typically about both in the couple even at the start). In fact, the romance aspect doesn’t pick up until well into the book, but it makes sense within the context of the story. Grace is only offered him by a woman who is in her own way an outcast from her society. These two wounded souls find comfort and understanding in each other that they don’t find anywhere else. I found the relationship between Alastair and Elle (short for a Scottish name that’s hard to pronounce or write) to be sweet and tender as it evolved, giving them both what they needed. They both become better people through their relationship with each other–better versions of themselves–and I love that in a romance; I think love does that to people in real life, so it is a delight to see that mirrored in fiction. While this book could be read as a standalone, you would have a much better context for it if you read “The Lady of the Glen” first. Another good book by an excellent author.

A Tempting Wager by Karen Sommers and Emilee Harris

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A Tempting Wager*

Charming, Well-Written Regency

What a charmingly well-written Regency! Sometimes, it feels like it is so rare to find an author who knows how to create well-drawn, emotionally resonant, and sympathetic characters who are dealing with personal conflicts that makes sense for them and the times as well as evoke the scenes in such beautiful word pictures that a reader can immediately feel immersed in the world of the story. The couple’s meet-cute was perfect for Regency. Her carriage is mired in the mud, and even though he doesn’t want to, the hero’s gentlemanly conscience does not allow him to pass up a damsel in distress. The attraction was instant and mutual (though they both charmingly felt that they’d acted the buffoon and made a terrible impression), but the author made it feel realistic; it didn’t seem like the insta love that seems to happen too often in romances these days. The language of the text was how I like it to be in a good historical, elevated but accessible. I loved the hero’s interactions with his father; he was appropriately quite biting at times. If you like Regency, this is one you should add to your reading list.

The Sunshine Girl by Grace M. Jolliffe

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The Sunshine Girl*

Transported to 1970s Liverpool

What a fantastic read! The author has done an exceptional job of recreating the time and space of Liverpool in the 1970s as well as fashioning a delightful heroine to follow. After reading far too many books that have a big information dump to start, I actually quite enjoyed the slice-of-life first chapter that introduced us to the heroine. She comes across as such a typical teenage girl; having been one myself many moons ago, I could completely relate to her. Her head was a very interesting one to be in. There is definitely a lot of humor, especially of the family variety. The author has shown very clearly what it is like to be a teenager in a complex world, where you feel so adult, but you’re still underneath your parents’ thumbs. There’s a little bit of romance and intrigue thrown in here as well. All in all, a well-written, true-to-life story that pulls you right into its world, making it so that you don’t want to put it down.

Bittersweet by K. S. Thomas

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Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, 24 Symbols, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, and Indigo (Chapters)

Bittersweet*

An Amazing Tale of True Love

Oh, my gosh! What a story! I don’t want to give anything away because this story has some shocking twists and turns to it that must be experienced firsthand. This is a beautiful love story that goes so much deeper than the typical romantic novel. The love portrayed in this book is one that transcends fear, self, time, and space, the way that true love ought to be. It starts off so happy on the couple’s wedding day, but tragedy soon strikes. At critical dramatic moments, the author shifts away from the heroine current-day perspective into the hero’s flashbacks of their relationship. Not usually for long, but enough to give insight into the couple as they were before they married (and giving a moment to hold the dramatic tension). The novel is certainly an emotional one, as the heroine embarks on a perilous personal journey to bring forth her first child even though her damaged heart may not survive the process. This book is beautifully written and a real stunner. If you like heartfelt, emotional reads that focus on the strength and power of true love, this book may be for you.

Care of the Duke by Eliza Heaton

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Care of the Duke*

Romantic Novella with Good Characterization

What a sweet and lovely story! Anna is the sickly daughter of an earl. Her mother and maid coddle her to the extent that she is not even allowed out of her bedroom most of the time. However, when the book starts, the entire family is off to enjoy a hunting party in the north. Anna makes the acquaintance of the owner of the house, the Duke of Richmond, while not knowing who he is. In this moment, the duke is able to just enjoy the company of a lovely young woman without her viewing him as one of the most eligible bachelors in England. They fall into easy conversation, and during the house party, they get to know each other better.

I really enjoyed this relatively short read. Even though it is a novella, the author actually has done a good job of characterization for both Anna and the duke. In the opening scene, Anna reveals some of her inner struggles as she relates what the landscape she is traveling through looks like; this was rather cleverly done exposition that creates empathy for Anna. We meet the Duke when he is in a brooding mood as well, so we learn a bit of his backstory and the emotion behind it. These are two wounded souls who come to find comfort, compassion, and genuine caring in each other. It doesn’t seem unnatural or forced, as it often does in a novella. Their relationship was lovely to watch unfold. While the duke was understanding of her delicate nature and frailty from years of ill health, he did not coddle her like the others in her life. They both knew that she wanted more than to be treated as an invalid, and he was good at making that happen for her. I thought the end was a little strange, as what the author called an epilogue really seems more like a continuation of the story (even if it was a few months later). I would have liked to have seen a proper epilogue. I would like to think that under the excellent care of the duke’s physician, as well as being in a loving relationship, Duchess Anna would continue to regain her health. A delightful historical romance with that setup that is different from most.

Fall from the Moon by C. S. Hale

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Fall From the Moon*

Compelling Mix of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Romance

What a delightful and engaging read! This book takes the theme of time travel romance that is so popular today because of Outlander and spins the premise on its head. This is science fiction, fantasy, and time travel romance all rolled into one very well-done story. The futuristic heroine is as modern as we are and is traveling through space when she becomes marooned on a planet that is actually a Do Not Contact planet for the agency she works for. The people and culture on this planet mirror what we would call medieval on Earth. So this future woman with modern sensibilities—and with cool nanobots running around in her blood repairing her crash injuries and a communication device that can learn a new language in a few hours—is stuck on a planet with a much cruder society than she is familiar with.

The author was able to pull me right into the story with a dramatic scene of what was happening on her ship before she crash-landed. Compared to the world that she came from, this new one is so different, and she has choices that she must make right away to maintain her survival. She can be very cool and analytical at times, and she needs to be to survive both initially on the ship and on the new world. I absolutely loved both her and the hero. To add a further fantasy/mystical element, the hero believes that she is a prophesied savior, which is why he insists on marrying her when she arrives. This book was just so well done, with characters that you could relate to and root for. The heroine’s thoughts and commentary were just priceless. I really enjoyed this book.

The Other Blue Sky by Shari J. Ryan

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The Other Blue Sky*

An Enthusiastic 5+ Star Read

Having recently read Last Words, I was very interested in Annie’s story. I’ll admit that I started the book in an already emotional state because I just knew that her story, as told by this author, was going to blow me away. I was not wrong. The author has managed to craft yet another tale that is heartbreakingly beautiful and poignant, that will resonate with you for long after you’ve finished it. The story weaves between the modern-day where Annie is talking with her mother and Charlie, filling in the gaps of what she knows of her history, and the past starting when Annie realized that she wasn’t her parents’ biological child and going through the years as she developed as a young woman, wife, and mother. This book touches on so many themes I hardly know where to start. It is about identity, family, your place in the world, grief, forgiveness, love of several sorts, and grace. And I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I don’t know how this author can create such heartfelt and beautiful words that perfectly express such a wide range of human emotions and experience. This book, like Last Words, is simply stunning. As it does deal with the aftermath of the Holocaust, parts of it are not an easy read, but the author doesn’t dwell on this. Rather, this book—like the other one—is about the triumph of the human spirit. That sounds a little high falutin’ and cerebral, but the author makes it real with believable characters that we can immediately identify with and root for as they face the challenges in the book. I can recommend this fantastic book wholeheartedly.

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