Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Publisher
Read: November 16, 2016

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.

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Do you know what happens when one of your favorite authors leaves her usual stomping grounds and tackles your favorite period of world history? First, you geek out like the nerd you are. Then worry sets in and you start to psyche yourself out over whether or not the novel will live up to your inflated expectations. After that, you vacillate back and forth between the two. This continues until you actually get opportunity to read the book and are put out of your misery. I know because that’s exactly what happened when I discovered Kate Quinn was writing about World War II.

It was horrible. The highs and lows of my anticipation put Tim Curry to shame, but I was offered an unexpected reprieve in the form of a simple blue ARC. My copy lacked the author’s notes and the attractive jacket, but the story was there and that was all I needed. I inhaled the book in single sitting and then, just because I could, I read it again. I didn’t take notes on the first pass which is unusual for me. I intended to, but my infamous notebook was actually blank when I finished the final page and looking back, I’m glad I didn’t write my review then and there as my thoughts on my first read were remarkably different than those on my second.

Quinn’s signature humor was abundant, but the rhythms of The Alice Network are very different than those of her earlier works. I was confused by that on my first pass, but I grew a deep appreciation for it on my second. I loved the characters, Eve, Lili, and Finn had me rolling on floor more often than I care to admit, but the thematic ideas Quinn played with over the course of the novel felt larger and more comprehensive than anything I’d seen from her before.

I was tickled by the appearance of a Legonda LG6, but the car itself was a superficial detail that could have been dropped into any story. The fabric of the narrative, however, speaks to a much deeper understanding of the period than the car and/or cover description suggests. Half the narrative takes place during World War I while the other unfolds just after World War II. Anyone who has studied the politics will tell you the two conflicts are intrinsically related, but as a fan of war era fiction, I can attest that few authors attempt to illustrate the relationship in a single narrative. Though she avoids deep diving into the political side of things, Quinn treats the two wars as continuing chapters in the lives and experiences of her cast and while I’m not sure every reader will appreciate the subtle nuance, I was personally very impressed with the thematic parallel.

I freely admit that some portions of the narrative are slower than others. In terms of tension, Quinn’s work can’t be compared to spy novels like Code Name Verity, but the personal journeys and conflicts faced by each character offer a different sort of intrigue. There are moments, carefully scattered throughout the story, that leave one on edge of their seat, but it is the characters and how they are shaped by their experiences that captivates the imagination.

Would I recommend the book? Whole-heartedly and without hesitation. I expected this novel to be well-written and I expected an exhaustive level of research to be evidenced in the final product. Quinn delivered on both, but she also managed level of creativity, depth and authentic human emotion that caught me entirely off guard.

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"It is my job to find people with certain skills - the ability to speak French and German, for example. The ability to lie. Outward innocence. Inward courage. To find them and put them to work, ferreting out what the Boches have planned for us. I think you show potential, Miss Gardiner. So, let me ask: do you wish to stand for England?"
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cover Cliché: The Painted Parasol

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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On November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror across Germany that paves the way for Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army continues to rampage through China and tighten its stranglehold on Shanghai, a besieged and divided city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, an Austrian Jew and renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence washing over Vienna and flees to China with his daughter. There, at a Shanghai refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, until Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor attempts to rape her and murders her father.

The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jewish refugee community as the Japanese ally themselves militarily with Germany and attack Pearl Harbor. Soon, the Japanese overrun the European enclaves within Shanghai. Facing starvation, disease and the threat of internment—or worse—Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open while protecting his own family and fights to outwit the Nazis and save the city’s Jewish community from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese and Jewish Second World War history, where cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival.




In the bestselling tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha, a riveting saga of early twentieth-century China, where a mother and a daughter fight to realize their destinies in a world where women could still be bought and sold.

Lotus Feet. He would give his daughter the dainty feet of a courtesan. This would enhance her beauty and her price, making her future shine like a new coin. He smiled to himself, pouring fresh tea. And it would stop her from running away…

When the young concubine of an old farmer in rural China gives birth to a daughter called Li-Xia, or “Beautiful One,” the child seems destined to become a concubine herself. Li refuses to submit to her fate, outwitting her father’s orders to bind her feet and escaping the silk farm with an English sea captain. Li takes her first steps toward fulfilling her mother’s dreams of becoming a scholar — but her final triumph must be left to her daughter, Su Sing, “Little Star,” in a journey that will take her from remote mountain refuges to the perils of Hong Kong on the eve of World War II.




There’s an old Chinese proverb:
‘When the wind blows, the reeds must bend’

And so it is that Merry Hall, the family seat of the Beaumont family, has stood as a symbol of wealth and power for centuries, and dates back to William the Conqueror. Despite war and struggle it has always maintained a male heir; when the direct line disappeared a cousin from India had taken over. The Hall had gone into decline but the new male heir, Sir Thomas Beaumont, was determined to return the Hall to its former grandeur and to leave a good inheritance for his young sons.

The story begins in peacetime England in 1933, in the idyllic setting of a sumptuous family garden party. Pleasantries are exchanged but times are changing and the lure of the outside world is pulling the sons into different directions: the army, the Colonial Service and big business.

We are taken on a journey through Europe and the Far East, as the Second World War draws nearer and the world changes around the family.

Peter Rimmer paints a poignant picture in this epic tale which weaves a rich pattern of family life, interspersed with love, intrigue, hatred and desire.




In this mesmerizing new novel, Mingmei Yip draws readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.

When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying--Lung's son.

Yet while Camilla and Shadow were once enemies, now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless Big Brother Wang. Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda--she has heard a rumor that her son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals--including the vengeful Rainbow Chang--each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change.




Exotic Hong Kong takes center stage in this sumptuous novel, set in the 1940s and '50s. It's a city teeming with people, sights, sounds, and smells, and it's home to a group of foreign nationals who enjoy the good life among the local moneyed set, in a tight-knit social enclave distanced from the culture at large. Comfortable, clever, and even a bit dazzling, they revel in their fancy dinners and fun parties. But their sheltered lives take an abrupt turn after the Japanese occupation, and though their reactions are varied -- denial, resistance, submission -- the toll it takes on all is soon laid bare.

Enter Claire Pendleton from London. Months after her husband is transferred to Hong Kong in 1951, she accepts a position as a piano teacher to the daughter of a wealthy couple, the Chens. Claire begins to see the appeal of the sweltering city and is soon taken in by the Chen's driver, the curiously underutilized Will Truesdale. A handsome charmer with a mysterious limp, Will appears to be the perfect companion for Claire, who's often left to her own devices. But a further examination leaves her with more questions than answers.

An intricately woven tale of lives changed by historical events, Lee's debut brings this hothouse flower of a city alive with passion, and imagines characters both unforgettable and tragic.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


The Battle of Seattle by Douglas Bond

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 18, 2016

It’s 1855 in the Pacific Northwest, and hostility between white settlers and native tribes is rising quickly, leading to deaths on both sides. As tensions mount, young William Tidd joins Charles Eaton’s Rangers on a mission to hunt down Chief Leschi of the Nisqually. If they can stop him, they may be able to end the bloodshed before it gets worse . . . but not everyone wants peace with the enemy. Is all-out war inevitable? Through skirmishes, raids, close calls, and betrayal—William’s assumptions, beliefs, courage, and friendships will all be challenged in a few breakneck weeks.

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Battle of Seattle by Emily Inez Denny
Douglas Bond’s The Battle of Seattle jumped out at me because of its unusual subject matter. I wasn't overly familiar with the history on which it was based, but the story promised to take me into the unknown and I was more than ready to venture into an unfamiliar chapter of American history.

Looking back on the piece, I can honestly say that I appreciate Bond’s effort to chronicle the life and experiences of William Tidd, an express rider who carried dispatches in the Puget Sound Indian War. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that locals will find the text more illuminating than this Southern California reviewer, but I did enjoy the material and found myself intrigued by the politics of the conflict and the social elements that played into the fabric of the narrative.

That said, I found Bond’s presentation difficult to navigate and somewhat tedious. The author obviously put a lot of research into the novel, but I often felt I was being told more than I was shown. I found the characters interesting, but that recognize that fell into well-known and overused tropes. My greatest concern, however, was how distracting I found the religious undertones of the story. Please don’t misunderstand, I took no offense at the author’s message, but I didn’t feel theme and plot came together as they should. I recognize this is a matter of taste, but I really needed the two to be more integrated and intertwined.

When all is said and done, I’m happy to have sampled Bond’s work and will likely read him again, but I think The Battle for Seattle caters to a very specific audience and is best suited to those readers with a vested interest in the history of the Pacific Northwest and/or faith based fiction.

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He was in despair. It was all his fault. William know that his testimony, far from helping to clear Charlie, would be used instead to convict the Indian of a crime he did not commit. William was sure of it. But he was equally sure that in the aftermath of the Indian war, Charlie was guilty in the minds of those who sat in judgement on him.
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Monday, November 21, 2016

Wishlist Reads: November 2016

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

The holiday season is officially here! We don't have much of a winter here in Southern California, but temperatures are cooler and we're dreaming of snowy weather. Being short of both vacation funds and PTO, I can honestly say that snow is not in the cards this year, but that wont stop me from travelling vicariously via the titles in the my TBR. ;)

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This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak's complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.

Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak's alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.





Stationed in Bamberg, Germany, in the chaotic aftermath of WWII, pint-sized Charles "Chucky" Cronin O'Malley can't seem to keep himself out of harm's way. Whether it be with black marketeers, border patrols, or even his commanding officer, Chucky always seems to land in impossible scrapes, relying on a quick wit and blind luck (or is it Heavenly intervention?) to save his hide. And until the day he meets beautiful seventeen-year-old Trudi, a girl on the run from smugglers and the U.S. Army, he manages to keep himself in one piece. Trudi needs Chucky's help. If he isn't careful though, she may also make off with his heart.





It was one of history's most powerful,yet forgotten,Christmas stories. It took place in the improbable setting of the mud, cold rain and senseless killing of the trenches of World War I. It happened in spite of orders to the contrary by superiors; it happened in spite of language barriers. And it still stands as the only time in history that peace spontaneously arose from the lower ranks in a major conflict, bubbling up to the officers and temporarily turning sworn enemies into friends.

Silent Night, by renowned military historian Stanley Weintraub, magically restores the 1914 Christmas Truce to history. It had been lost in the tide of horror that filled the battlefields of Europe for months and years afterward. Yet in December 1914 the Great War was still young, and the men who suddenly threw down their arms and came together across the front lines to sing carols, exchange gifts and letters, eat and drink and even play friendly games of soccer naively hoped that the war would be short-lived, and that they were fraternizing with future friends.

It began when German soldiers lit candles on small Christmas trees, and British, French, Belgian and German troops serenaded each other on Christmas Eve. Soon they were gathering and burying the dead, in an age-old custom of truces. But as the power of Christmas grew among them, they broke bread, exchanged addresses and letters and expressed deep admiration for one another. When angry superiors ordered them to recommence the shooting, many men aimed harmlessly high overhead.

Sometimes the greatest beauty emerges from deep tragedy. Surely the forgotten Christmas Truce was one of history's most beautiful moments, made all the more beautiful in light of the carnage that followed it. Stanley Weintraub's moving re-creation demonstrates that peace can be more fragile than war, but also that ordinary men can bond with one another despite all efforts of politicians and generals to the contrary.




Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.




Russia, 1915: At the age of 16, Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of an assassin's bullet intended for the heart of a senior member of the Russian Imperial Family. He is instantly proclaimed a hero. Before the week is out, his life as the son of a peasant farmer is changed forever when he is escorted to St Petersburg to take up his new position - as bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the only son of Tsar Nicholas II.

Sixty five years later, visiting his wife Zoya as she lies dying in a London hospital, memories of the life they have lived together flood his mind. Their marriage, while tender, has been marked by tragedy, the loss of loved ones, and experiences of exile that neither can forget.

THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSEis a novel about a young man ripped from a loving home and thrust into the heart of a dying empire. Privy to the secrets of Nicholas and Alexandra, the machinations of Rasputin and the events which led to the final collapse of the autocracy, Georgy is a witness and participant in a drama which will echo down the century. His is also a story of a marriage in which a husband finds it impossible to live in the present and a wife unable to reconcile herself with the past.

Part love story, part historical epic, part tragedy, the novel moves from revolutionary St Petersburg to Paris after the First World War, and from London during the Blitz to the eastern coast of Finland during the 1980s, before returning to a quiet hospital bed where Georgy and Zoya's story must finally be resolved.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Colleen at A Literary Vacation (coming soon)
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired (coming soon)
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede (coming soon)
Heather at The Maiden's Court (coming soon)


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cover Cliché: Uncommon Valor

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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A Christian military romance set during World War II that will touch your heart

Matthew Finley and William Sawyer have become fast friends as they face the realities of being US soldiers in 1944 Germany. One dark, cloudy night, with everything to lose, they face an enemy-populated Hürtgen Forest. But Matthew has brought a weapon more powerful than any gun could ever be. He has brought his faith.

Matthew’s sister, Grace, is a combat nurse working in a fast-paced field hospital along the front lines. Her body is tired and bruised, and her mind is exhausted from the non-stop barrage of new patients, but her spirit has held steady. She finds herself constantly saying small prayers for the men in her care. She always feels that her prayers are heard, until one day when she gets two letters with life-changing news.

As William and Matthew plot out coordinates for a special mission, the two men are walking ever closer to a moment that can never be changed. Under the cover of trees, William’s life is about to change forever. But, as William will soon find out, one ending is only the spark to a new beginning.

Grace has lived to see the end of the war in Europe, but the war in her heart is still going on. Staying on to help the last soldiers get home, Grace finds a handsome soldier with his head wrapped in bandages sitting in her final hospital.
When William leaves Europe for US soil, he is certain he will never see the beautiful nurse again…




Frontline Angel takes its readers from 1940s Wisconsin to the Philippine Islands just prior to World War 2 and through the Japanese occupation and liberation. It tells the tale of Eliza-a small-town Midwestern girl with dreams of travel and adventure who enlists with the United States Army Nurse Corps despite her parents’ protests. Eliza will find the fun and adventure she desired as well as an unexpected romance with a handsome soldier. Yet all changes overnight as war destroys her tropical paradise. Our heroine must quickly adapt in order to survive the harsh, unforgiving jungle climate, and become a skilled combat nurse on the frontline. The story will take you from the fall of the islands through the terrible conditions suffered by those placed in internment camps and their struggle for liberation. Can Eliza find the strength and courage needed to survive such horror and still emerge with her spirit unbroken?






After losing her fiancé to a German blitz, British Air woman Yvonne Huxley volunteers for a post in Scotland and falls for Edward Morrison, a Canadian flight lieutenant, after he sneaks through a window and into the NAAFI dance that she’s attending with her friends. They are instantly attracted to each other and decide to marry a week later. However, when Edward is posted to Tempsford and Yvonne discovers that she’s pregnant, she finds herself on unfriendly Canadian soil with strange in-laws, struggling to find a sense of happiness.






With Into the Storm, Lisa Bingham wove a spellbinding romance set during the Blitz. Now, she turns her eye to the Pacific in this gorgeous WWII tale of courage, fear, and love on an island doomed to fall.

At the dawn of WWII, the Philippines is a haven for those intent on shedding their pasts and reinventing themselves. Lt. Riley Gilhouley―The Great Gilhouley―keeps the troops well stocked in contraband as he seeks the attention of Maj. Rosemary Dodd, a by-the-book officer who leads her nurses with expert care. Ex-priest John Macklin searches for absolution, but finds himself tangling with Glory Bee O’Halloran, a stripper hired to take off just enough clothing to throw the troops into a frenzy.

But when, mere hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack the Philippines, the island haven explodes into the chaos of battle.

Thrown from the passion of Gilhouley’s arms into the harsh realities of war, Rosemary begins to question everything she once held dear. As their stolen moments together blossom into something more, Gilhouley’s secret missions behind enemy lines threaten to end what has only begun. Trapped, Glory Bee has nowhere to run, putting herself and her secret, unborn child in danger. All too quickly, the only thing separating her from the advancing enemy is a fallen priest with a haunted past who promises to keep her safe. The two of them are drawn together in a desperate bid for survival, but John knows his growing love for Glory Bee is at odds with his need to strike back at an old enemy.

Set amid the heartbreak of a besieged country waiting in vain for help to arrive, this stunning novel blends a meticulous eye for history with limitless heart. Bingham, a master of the genre, has penned a novel that will stand the test of time.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Cover Crush: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The cover of Kiersten White's Illusions of Fate stopped me in my tracks. I can't help it. I love details and this image is full of them. The birds are intriguing, but just looking at the jacket makes me curious about the story. What's the significance of the miniature landscape? My track record with historic crossovers is hit and miss, but I can't deny that the image has tempted me to sample White's work. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Holly at 2 Kids are Tired
Stephanie at Layered Pages
Heather at The Maiden's Court

Stars Over Clear Lake by Loretta Ellsworth

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 9, 2016

For the first time in decades, Lorraine Kindred has returned to the ballroom where she was swept away by the big bands during the 1940s - and by a star-crossed romance. As she takes in the magnificent energy and brassy sounds of her youth, the past comes to life, along with the fateful decision all those years ago that forced her to choose between personal conviction and social expectations, between the two men who had captured her heart. It had been a time of great music and love, but also of war and sacrifice, and now, trying to make peace with her memories, Lorraine must find the courage to face buried secrets. In the process, she will rediscover herself, her passion, and her capacity for resilience. Set during the 1940s and the present and inspired by a real-life ballroom, Stars Over Clear Lake is a moving story of forbidden love, lost love, everlasting love - and self love.

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I requested a copy of Loretta Ellsworth’s Stars Over Clear Lake for two reasons: the soldier on the cover and the 1940s reference on the back. I didn’t register the ‘star-crossed’ romance and didn’t give too much thought to the big band references in the jacket description. It was war lit and that was enough for me. Make no mistake, I’m enough of an enthusiast that I’d have read the novel either way, but had I paid more attention I’d have approached the book with a very different expectation.

Lorraine’s story begins in 2007 shortly after the death of her beloved husband. The narrative itself hinges on the identity of her spouse, but if one is a careful reader, there no need to speculate as the author drops an enormous clue in the dialogue of chapter one. Lorraine’s suiters are introduced in chapters two and three, but if the reader is paying attention, there is no contest between them. The end all is crystal clear and that reality made it exceedingly difficult for me appreciate the ‘drama’ that played out in the forty-five chapters that followed.

According to Ellsworth, “Not many people are aware that approximately seven hundred POW camps were scattered across the U.S. during World War II, housing more than four hundred thousand German soldiers by the end of the war.” I’m not sure how true that statement is, I’m a poor judge, but Ellsworth didn’t introduce me to the material. That credit belongs to Bette Greene’s award-winning Summer of My German Soldier, but if young adult fiction isn’t your thing I recommend googling Georg Gärtner. His story made headlines in 1985 and incorporates a lot of the themes Ellsworth attempted to illustrate over the course of her narrative. I don’t mean to nitpick, but I don’t feel the author made the most of the subject matter and felt her descriptions of Germanophobia pale alongside works like Karen White’s The Harvest Season.

To be entirely honest, I wish the author had focused on the Surf Ballroom and omitted the POW camp altogether. The elements don’t mesh well and the references to Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson felt needlessly contrived within the context of the narrative. I liked the material, but I feel Ellsworth’s attempt to tackle both the historic ballroom and the camp at Algona fell flat. There was simply too much material for a single story and I don’t think the final product did justice to either subject.

Long story short, I’d have difficulty recommending this piece. Stars Over Clear Lake boasts a few good ideas, but I felt the combined story lines clashed. The supernatural and historic elements of the story didn't appeal to my tastes and I couldn’t buy into the love triangle Ellsworth created for Lorraine.

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I let my gaze wander to the window, where billowy clouds are passing by, reminding me of the clouds that move across the Surf’s ceiling. The ones at the Surf aren’t real clouds, of course; just an illusion, like the ghosts I saw. Except they didn’t look like ghosts. They looked as real as the people standing next to them, laughing and talking. But they weren’t real. They couldn’t be.
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