Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cover Cliché: Parallel Ribbons

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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1915. Two brothers. One woman. A nation at war.

A compelling story of war, brotherly love, passion and betrayal.

Vast in scope and intimate in the portrayal of three lives swept along by circumstances, This Time Tomorrow moves from the drawing rooms of Edwardian London to the trenches of the Western Front and to the uncertainty of post-war Britain.

When Guy Searight volunteers to fight with the British army in the early days of the Great War, he leaves behind his girlfriend, Mary. While away fighting, Guy’s younger brother, Jack, seizes an opportunity to woo Mary for himself.

Forthright and self assured, Guy has always looked out for his confident but frail brother and blithely promises his fretting mother that he’ll look out for him when Jack’s turn comes to join up. But embittered by Jack’s betrayal, Guy vows that when Jack has to face the horrors of war for himself, he won’t be there to look after him.

When the brothers are reunited in the trenches of the Western Front, their thoughts are both with Mary. As Jack buckles under the strain of war, can Guy sustain his anger and allow his brother to suffer alone?

A shocking event, catastrophic in its intensity and barbaric in its conclusion, forces Guy to re-evaluate his relationship with his brother, with Mary and ultimately himself.

This Time Tomorrow is a tale of love, loss and longing.




Sir George, Baronet of Bancroft Hall, has run his family and their fortunes into the ground. All seems hopeless, until they are visited by their cousin, Gregory Rogers. He promises to return the family to their former glory, but is he all he seems?

Driven by jealousy, greed and desire, nothing will stop Gregory Rogers from taking that which he believes is his. He'll do anything to gain money, Bancroft Hall and the power that comes with the title of Baronet.

Even murder.

Until his eyes fall upon the beautiful Jane. Clever, intelligent, and beautiful, she finds herself the unknowing victim of a vicious plan to dispose of her parents and brothers. With no one standing in the way of Gregory’s plans, can she rescue him from himself?

Will she be the one thing that he cannot ruin, in order to have?




Anything but a typical aristocrat, young Baroness Marie-Louise is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work, especially when it comes to saving her ancestral estate. Determined to shake loose the shackles of propriety and gain the warm family life her upbringing denied her, she has vowed to marry a man of lower rank. Blue-bloods need not apply.

But when she is forced to turn to a childhood friend for assistance, the handsome, debonair count may prove a temptation impossible to resist. Marie-Louise soon finds herself caught between the comfort of a middle-class doctor and the passion of a nobleman, with the future of her childhood home at stake.


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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. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cover Cliché: Emerald Evening Wear

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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Picking up after the shattering end of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary, this beguiling novel imagines an answer to the question Whatever happened to Emma Bovary’s orphaned daughter?

One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.

Brilliantly integrating one of classic literature’s fictional creations with real historical figures, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is an uncommon coming-of-age tale, a splendid excursion through the rags and the riches of French fashion, and a sweeping novel of poverty and wealth, passion and revenge.





Read happily ever after with this magical repackage that includes three enchanting, retold fairy tales.

In this value-priced bind-up of three beloved retellings, readers will journey to faraway fairy tale lands. Before Midnight revisits Cinderella's story in France, Golden puts a new spin on Rapunzel's romance, and Wild Orchid reimagines the Chinese tale of Mulan. With so much real-life drama in today's busy world, Once allows readers to escape into whimsical realms where every story has a happily ever after.



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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. 


Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trap by Dan Billany

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2017

Lieutenant Michael Carr’s peaceful life in a Cornish village is shattered with the outbreak of the Second World War. German planes are heard droning across darkening skies. Towns are set ablaze by incendiary bombs. And Cornwall, though seemingly safe and secluded, is not exempt from the devastation. While Michael trains for the army in the Cornish countryside, he dreams of a future with this sweetheart, Elizabeth Pascoe. But they are trapped by the war, which rages on, consuming and destroying ordinary life. And it is not long before Michael is summoned far from England to the deserts around Tobruk. Under an unrelenting sun, harried by German tanks, Michael’s life with Elizabeth, suddenly seems unbearably out of reach... Can Michael survive the war and make it home to Elizabeth? And even if he does, will things ever be the same again?

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Men of the Leicestershire Regiment man a Bren gun near Tobruk, 1941.
The premise of Dan Billany’s The Trap was too intriguing to ignore. The phrase “unsurpassed realism” jumped out at me, but I was also fascinated by the jacket description. Stories set in North Africa during the war aren’t as common as those set in continental Europe and I was curious to how the material would be treat by someone who’d actually experienced it. I didn’t register the bits about 1930s Britain, probably because the subject matter didn’t interest me all that much, but there is the rub as the chapters dedicated to the protagonist’s quiet life in Cornwall proved overwhelmingly dull and all but killed my interest in the novel.

The first half of the book is dedicated in large part to chronicling the life of Michael’s wife, Elizabeth. The prose is that of a more mature and expressive age, but the content is dry beyond measure. I simply didn’t care about Michael’s better half and more than once caught myself neglecting the details of the plot. I flirted with the idea of abandoning the novel several times, but ultimately opted to skim through much of the first half of the narrative. Michael’s training proved more interesting, but I’d already begun to lose interest by the time he was sent to North Africa and struggled to get into the story despite the authenticity of Billany’s descriptions.

When push comes to shove, I appreciate The Trap for the insights it affords, but I’d have difficulty recommending to as entertaining fiction. There is an abundance of scholarly merit in this piece, but I don’t think well-suited for casual readers.

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We lay quiet, listening to the distant roar and clank and clatter of the approaching tanks. The two boys were watching my face. Their fixed eyes were drilling down under my expression, searching for some confident certainty in my heart. They had no straw of their own to cling to, but if I had any real certainty of salvation, they would cling to that. In my heart I had nothing to offer them. I was not much afraid, but I was absolutely ignorant of what was likely to happen, and I was not now (in one sense) interested. Too much of me had detached itself and become a spectator.
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Saturday, January 21, 2017

That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2017

Romney Marsh, July 1940. When invasion threatens, you have to grow up quickly. Sixteen-year-old Peggy has been putting on a brave face since the fall of France, but now the enemy is overhead, and the rules are changing all the time. Staying on the right side of the law proves harder than she expects when a plane crash-lands in the Marsh: it's Peggy who finds its pathetic, broken pilot; a young Polish man, Henryk, who stays hidden in a remote church, secretly cared for by Peggy. As something more blossoms between the two, Peggy's brother Ernest's curiosity peaks and other secrets come to light, forcing Peggy and Henryk to question all the loyalties and beliefs they thought they held dear.

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Photograph of No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron taken in 1942 at
RAF Cammeringham Lincolnshire
It’s fair to say that Salt to the Sea and Code Name Verity have ruined me for most young adult fiction. I used to make allowances for less intricate story lines and less emotive characters, but Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein proved that fiction marketed to adolescents can be just as compelling and addictive as that written for the adult market. The efforts of both authors have raised my expectations of the genre which likely explains my lack of enthusiasm for Lydia Syson’s That Burning Summer.

To be fair, I think the novel has a lot going for historically and feel it a creative means of teaching readers about the Battle of Britain and the war time experiences of those on homefront during WWII. I particularly enjoyed those passages that touched on the peace protests and conscious objector movement and felt Syson’s incorporation of these concepts brought a nice degree of context to the larger conflict. I also appreciated Henryk, not as an individual character, but as a representation of Polish pilots and their contribution to the war effort.

That said, I felt the novel lacked momentum and I often found myself bored with the style and tone of the telling. I’m not a writer and can’t put my finger on the exact issue, but something in the mechanics of the narrative didn’t mesh the way I needed it to. Much as I liked Syson’s ideas, I couldn’t get into her writing and ultimately didn’t care a whit for the characters or how their stories played out.

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“I’ve decided,” he said. “I can’t. I can’t go back. Not now. I’ve thought and thought about it and there’s no point. There’s nothing there for me.” He sounded almost matter-of-fact, accepting, which increased Peggy’s bitterness on his behalf. He had told her in the end of his sisters’ fate. A day didn’t go by without her thinking about them. “But there’s work for good airmen all over the world—Holland . . . Argentina . . . Pakistan . . . They are all asking for us.”
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Wishlist Reads: January 2017

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. 

It's 2017! Can you believe it? Time is flying and like so many others I am starting fresh. Out with the old and in with the new. In keeping with the spirit of the season I've dedicated my January 2017 Wishlist to new release fiction. All of the below are books I'm eyeing this year. They different eras, different topics, and different locations, but I eager to read and every one before Dec 31st!

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From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn't know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie's life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.




A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.

Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.




I closed my eyes as I tried to pick apart every flavour, because nothing had ever tasted so good before. It was like tasting for the first time. Like discovering colour . . .

It is 1919 and the war is over, but for Emeline Vane the cold Norfolk fens only are haunted by memories of those she has lost. In a moment of grief, she recklessly boards a train and runs from it all.

Her journey leads her far away, to a tiny seaside village in the South of France. Taken in by cafe owner Maman and her twenty-year-old son, Emeline discovers a world completely new to her: of oranges, olives and wild herbs, the raw, rich tastes of the land.

But when a love affair develops, as passionate as the flavours of the village, secrets from home begin blowing in on the sea wides. Fifty years later, a young solictor on his first case finds Emeline's diary, and begins to trace a story of betrayal, love and bittersweet secrets that will send him on a journey to discover the truth...




For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and Orphan Train, the author of the “thought-provoking” (Library Journal, starred review) and “must-read” (PopSugar) novel The Gilded Years crafts a moving historical tale following three young people trying to survive the atrocities of World War II in Texas, Japan, and China, and—miraculously—find love.

During the turbulent months following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, twenty-one-year-old Emi Kato, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, is locked behind barbed wire in a Texas interment camp, the victim of misfortune and America’s new policies of fear. Plagued by fence sickness, her world changes when she meets Christian Lange, whose German-born parents were wrongfully arrested for un-American activities. Together, they live as prisoners with thousands of other German and Japanese families, but discover that young love can triumph over even the most unjust circumstances.

When Emi and her mother are abruptly sent bank to Japan, Christian enlists in the US Army, with his sights set on the Pacific front—and reuniting with Emi. Sent away for her safety, Emi lives out the war in a Japanese resort town where many in the foreign community have fled, including both Jaws and Nazis. When she overhears a German officer boasting of the men he has murdered in Asia, fate brings Emi back to Leo Hartmann, the son of prominent Austrian Jews, now a refugee in Shanghai—her oldest friend and her first love. Fearing for his life, Emi sets her sights on finding Leo. But will Christian’s devotion be strong enough to stop her?

Hurtled together by war, passion, and extraordinary acts of selflessness, the paths of these three remarkable young people collide as the fighting on the Pacific front crescendos. With her “elegant and extremely gratifying” (USA TODAY) storytelling, Tanabe paints a stunning portrait of a turning point in history.




Anna Buttterfield moves from her Suffolk country home to her uncle's house in London, to be introduced to society. A chance encounter with a local silk weaver, French immigrant Henri, throws her from her privileged upbringing to the darker, dangerous world of London's silk trade. Henri is working on his 'master piece' to make his name as a master silk weaver; Anna meanwhile is struggling against the constraints of her family and longing to become an artist. Henri realizes that Anna's designs could lift his work above the ordinary, and give them both an opportunity for freedom . . .

This is a charming story of illicit romance, set against the world of the burgeoning silk trade in 18th century Spitalfields - a time of religious persecution, mass migration, racial tension and wage riots, and ideas of what was considered 'proper' for women.


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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)


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss 
Read: January 10, 2017

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker returns with a riveting work of historical fiction following the notorious John Wilkes Booth and the four women who kept his perilous confidence. John Wilkes Booth, the mercurial son of an acclaimed British stage actor and a Covent Garden flower girl, committed one of the most notorious acts in American history—the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The subject of more than a century of scholarship, speculation, and even obsession, Booth is often portrayed as a shadowy figure, a violent loner whose single murderous act made him the most hated man in America. Lost to history until now is the story of the four women whom he loved and who loved him in return: Mary Ann, the steadfast matriarch of the Booth family; Asia, his loyal sister and confidante; Lucy Lambert Hale, the senator’s daughter who adored Booth yet tragically misunderstood the intensity of his wrath; and Mary Surratt, the Confederate widow entrusted with the secrets of his vengeful plot. Fates and Traitors brings to life pivotal actors—some willing, others unwitting—who made an indelible mark on the history of our nation. Chiaverini portrays not just a soul in turmoil but a country at the precipice of immense change.

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Clockwise: Mary Ann Holmes, Asia Booth,
Lucy Lambert Hale and Mary Surratt
I’ve grown rather wary of dedicating my time and energy to novels by Jennifer Chiaverini. I mean no offense to either the author or her fan base, but I found both The Spymistress and Mrs. Lincoln Rival one-sided and unintuitive. I believe that looking at history from a number of angles has value regardless of who was right and who was wrong and my experience with Chiaverini’s style and tone left me in doubt of her ability to scrutinize the Union and Confederate causes in equal measure. I respect that there are readers out there who appreciate Chiaverini’s brand of storytelling and I am genuinely thrilled that they enjoy her work, but as a matter of personal taste, I resolved to steer clear. That is, until I stumbled over a copy of Fates and Traitors.

I’ve studied John Wilkes Booth in the past and there is no shortage of fiction dedicated to his heinous crime, but this volume was different. From the description, I knew the novel was actually about Mary Ann Holmes, Asia Booth, Lucy Lambert Hale, and Mary Surratt, but Booth was the obvious center of the novel and I couldn’t help wondering if this was the volume that would change my opinion of Chiaverini. I’m not above admitting that authors have surprised me in the past and I actually love seeing writers grow and develop so after some serious consideration, I determined to break my rule and set out to discover if needed to order myself a heaping helping of humble pie.

At two stars, there should be no question as to how I ultimately felt about the narrative, but I think it important to note that despite my general disappointment, there were elements of the story that I actually liked. The prologue was written from John’s perspective and I actually felt it the strongest chapter of the entire novel. Chiaverini’s exploration of Booth and his emotions in his final hours left me in absolute awe. I was blown away and honestly wish she’d dropped the woman entirely and spent the whole of the narrative following Booth’s relationships from Booth’s point of view. I also grew a certain appreciation for Lucy. Her relationship with John was the most authentic and relevant of the novel and I enjoyed the ideas and themes that Chiaverini presented in her chapters of the narrative.

That said, I was intensely disappointed with Chiaverini’s representation of both Mary Ann and Asia. Neither are shown to have had a particularly deep relationship with John and I couldn’t help feeling their stories superfluous. Most of their interactions with Booth take place at a distance and I honestly wish Chiaverini had left well enough alone and cut them entirely. Mary Surratt served as another weak point in the narrative thanks to her stereotypic and superficial characterization, but my feelings about both Asia and Mary were compounded by how Dutton Publishing marketed their inclusion in the narrative. Contrary to what the cover purports, Chiaverini’s subjects are not lost to history. I’ll grant that Booth’s Sister by Jane Singer was a disappointment and is virtually unknown, but Susan Higgenbotham’s Hanging Mary was well-publicized at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver in 2015 and released to the wider market a full six months ahead of Fates and Traitors. Robert Redford also directed a film about Mary in 2010 that starred Robin Wright and James McAvoy, but I suppose those names don’t ring any bells for whoever penned the lie memorialized in this jacket description.

When all is said and done, I felt Fates and Traitors unbalanced. The fact that that women were not equal influences in John’s life made it difficult for me to appreciate their inclusion in the narrative and I maintain the book would have been much stronger if it was written from Booth’s point of view. Despite my appreciation for Lucy, I thought the strongest conflict of the novel was the rivalry that existed between Edwin and John and unfortunately, that relationship was not one that could explored with any degree of depth by the women who existed in its shadow. The women themselves live largely independent lives and without Booth have no real connection or historic importance which left me questioning what the author was trying to get at when drafting this manuscript.

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Let history decide what to make of the misguided, vengeful man who had killed a great and noble president. That was not the man she had known and loved. She had already said all she ever intended to say about the assassin John Wilkes Booth.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cover Cliché: Medicine Woman

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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In 1907 New York, a psychiatrist must prove her patient's innocence...or risk being implicated in a shocking murder

As one of the first women practicing in an advanced new field of psychology, Dr. Genevieve Summerford is used to forging her own path. But when one of her patients is arrested for murder-a murder Genevieve fears she may have unwittingly provoked-she is forced to seek help from an old acquaintance.

Desperate to clear her patient's name and relieve her own guilty conscience, Genevieve finds herself breaking all the rules she's tried so hard to live by. In her search for answers, Genevieve uncovers an astonishing secret that, should she reveal it, could spell disaster for those she cares about most. But if she lets her discovery remain hidden, she will almost certainly condemn her patient to the electric chair




Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine's false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.


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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. 


Monday, January 16, 2017

Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 13, 2017

A gorgeous, deft literary retelling of Charlotte Bronte's beloved Jane Eyre--through the eyes of the dashing, mysterious Mr. Rochester himself.

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Illustration of Edward and Jane by F. H. Townsend
I’ve nothing against Charlotte Bronte, but Jane Eyre is not my favorite classic. Jane’s marital struggles hit too close to home and I find that I am more inclined to reference the novel in jest than I am to recommend its contents. All things considered, I probably should have avoided Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester, but the novel’s premise proved too intriguing to ignore. I was curious and there was simply no end to the questions that taunted my imagination. How would a woman write Jane’s iconic lover? How exactly did he fall prey to his father and elder brother? How would a woman validate his deceit toward Jane?  

Unfortunately, many of the questions that drew me to the novel remain unanswered even after finishing the narrative. I enjoyed the masculine perspective and historical depth of the story, but can’t deny that the reality of the novel left me wanting. Mr. Rochester is an ambitious project and much like Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Rhett Butler’s People, there will be fans who adore it and others who find it flawed. I can’t and don’t pretend to speak for everyone, but I fall into the latter demographic in this instance as I felt the narrative failed to capitalize on the spirit Bronte hinted her hero was meant to possess.

In Jane Eyre, Rochester states, “When I was as old as you, I was a feeling fellow enough, partial to the unfledged, unfostered, and unlucky; but Fortune has knocked me about since: she has even kneaded me with her knuckles, and now I flatter myself I am hard and tough as an India-rubber ball; pervious, though, through a chink or two still, and with one sentient point in the middle of the lump. Yes: does that leave hope for me?... Of my final re-transformation from India-rubber back to flesh?" This essence of character is referenced once again in the final chapter when Jane relays that “When his first-born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as they once were — large, brilliant, and black. On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.” I may be alone in my assessment, but I feel these lines imply that Jane restored to Edward the generous, optimistic, and grateful nature that was stolen by the betrayal of those closest to him. This understanding manifested itself in an expectation that any story based on Rochester should naturally feature the growth of that personality and the circumstances that crushed it, but that view was not it seems, shared by Shoemaker. Her version of Rochester’s life is stark, muted, and often mimics the experiences of his beloved Jane. In her eyes, Edward is a lonely and neglected child who turns into a lost and rather insecure young man. I respect that interpretations differ, but I personally felt Shoemaker’s approach weakened Rochester’s overall character and that it lessened import and influence that Jane’s affections are shown to afford in the original novel.

Jane herself doesn’t appear until the final third of narrative and their love affair is expanded very little by that which Shoemaker illustrates in the closing chapters. I will say that I appreciated Shoemaker’s treatment of Mrs. Fairfax, but like Bronte, I feel Shoemaker shortchanged Grace Poole and while I liked what she attempted to do with Richard, I felt both illustrations could have been more intuitive and enlightening. I felt Edward’s relationship with his father and elder brother equally disappointing and was frustrated that the tension between them was so often muted by physical distance. The additional supporting cast left virtually no impression on me, but I will note a particular frustration with Gerald. Short of feeling superfluous to the narrative, I felt his scenes forced and unnatural. His existence was enough to serve Shoemaker’s purpose and I couldn’t help feeling his adult presence upstaged that of Richard in the latter chapters of the narrative.

When all is said and done, I don’t feel Mr. Rochester allows any new understanding of Edward as it does not elaborate on his life, personality, or emotions beyond that of his original incarnation. The same can be said of the supporting cast and while I feel there is merit in the historical scope of the novel, I’m not sure that I could recommend it on other grounds. 

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In her goodness, Jane did not yet understand that good intentions and moral truth might inflict as dangerous, as painful—indeed as fatal—a wound as malicious intent.
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Interview with Suzy Henderson, author of The Beauty Shop

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Suzy Henderson to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her debut release, The Beauty Shop.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Suzy. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about the premise of The Beauty Shop.
Hello. It’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for inviting me along today to talk about my new book, The Beauty Shop. Based on a true story, via three interlocking experiences of WW2, the novel explores the nature of good looks, social acceptance and the true meaning of skin deep. 

Where did you find this story?
I was lost in the archives, researching Bomber and Fighter Command when I came across the story of Fighter pilot Geoffrey Page who was shot down during the Battle of Britain. He suffered severe burns and later became one of the founder members of the Guinea Pig Club. Straight away I was hooked, and after discovering the work of plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, I knew I had to tell the story.

Your characterization of Dr. Archibald McIndoe is easily my favorite. Can you tell us a bit about his background and his work? 
Archie, as he was often called, was born and raised in New Zealand. He was a high achiever even as a boy, and a very determined, intelligent spirit. After training to become a doctor, he gained a scholarship at the Mayo Clinic in America and trained to become a gastric surgeon, operating on one of the brothers of the gangster, Al Capone on one occasion. He didn’t know that at the time, of course. A chance encounter coupled with Archie’s restless spirit would bring him to London in 1931 with his wife and small daughter. He soon joined his cousin, Harold Gillies, a plastic surgeon who had operated on many WW1 veterans, rebuilding their shattered faces. Gillies taught Archie the tools of the trade, and it soon became apparent that Archie had a natural talent for plastic surgery. Archie’s life experiences informed his practice at the beginning of the war when the first casualties began to arrive. He was determined that the young airmen before him were not ‘finished’ as they so often thought. He was determined to do whatever it took for them to live full lives, and to be accepted back into society. It was his brilliance, his humanity that captured my mind right from the start.

Ward III is a unique place. What do you hope readers take from your descriptions of McIndoe’s patients, their wounds, and their treatment?
Disfigurement and disablement as a result of burns injuries still occurs today. I hope that readers will see that people with such injuries are still the same inside – ‘beauty is more than skin-deep.’ I hope readers will gain an appreciation of what the WW2 veterans endured for us – not many know the story of the Guinea Pig Club, and so I wished to shine the light on this small and yet significant piece of history. With regards to the treatment, it was often experimental, which to me, illustrates the brilliance of McIndoe, and his indomitable pioneering spirit and work which formed the foundations of modern-day plastic surgery.

I found your dogfight scenes are flawlessly written. How did you even begin to write such vivid aerial warfare? 
I’m so pleased you asked me about the action scenes. First of all, I read many books, fiction and non-fiction, which was heaven because I’m so obsessed with military aviation. I wrote the bombing mission scenes as an outline at first, rather like a sketch before studying USAAF and the Luftwaffe. Next came the films. I love Memphis Belle and just being able to see those aircraft flying in formation gave me a lot of inspiration. I also spent many hours watching old archived films of various bomber squadrons from the war. Possibly the best film I watched was Twelve O’Clock High (1949). Later releases such as Red Tails and the new official trailer for the long-awaited Mighty Eighth was also fantastic – seriously, this is going to be amazing to watch. I find I’m a very visual learner and so I feel I gained more from watching as opposed to reading and I think this is reflected in the scenes which are action-packed and have a lot of imagery to carry them through.   

Alex is a supporting character, but he suffers war injuries that even McIndoe can’t treat. Why did you feel it important to illustrate battle fatigue, PTSD, and depression?
Anyone who suffers a trauma is at risk from PTSD. Back in WW1 servicemen were often labelled as showing “lack of moral fibre” and called cowards. By WW2, it wasn’t much better, but it was at least recognised by psychiatrists as a real illness. That said, there was a distinct lack of expertise in how to treat it, and it was not something that was universally accepted by the military. Many of the burned airmen suffered depression and struggled to cope with their disfigurements, and in some cases, their loss of identity. A small number committed suicide. Can you imagine being handsome one day and having your entire face burned away the next? You’ll never look the same again, and even your family may not recognise you. Not only might you suffer from the battles you’ve endured and from the action that caused your injuries, but now you’re facing a different fight altogether. It’s a highly emotive topic, and while I did not go into specific detail, I felt it important to acknowledge the condition, and for people to be aware of this. It is as relevant today as it was back then.

As a historic novelist, your stories obviously take place in eras that are very different from today. Was it easy for you to sort of step back in time to write about the war era?
Another fantastic question. As I’m so obsessed with the WW2 period and read a lot of associated fiction and non-fiction, I did find it relatively easy in a sense. It’s weird to say this, but it was a little like coming home. Of course, I still had to rely on the research to ensure the historical facts were accurate. The most difficult issue I had was trying to depict the real character, Archibald McIndoe – he took a lot of time to develop. 

What sort of research went into The Beauty Shop and what resources did find most valuable?
The research was all-consuming. Firstly, it was the usual factual research that is relevant to any historical period – dress, food, transport, etc. Secondly, I had to study the medical treatment available during WW2, more specifically, the treatment for burns. There was also a lot of research to do to flesh out Archibald McIndoe. My resources included biographies, historical accounts, old newsreels, radio broadcasts, films, newspapers and veteran’s personal accounts. I was also very fortunate in being able to speak with a few people who worked with and knew McIndoe, and also one of the guinea pigs, a veteran from WW2.

Do you have a favorite scene in The Beauty Shop? 
Deciding on a favourite scene is tough as I have several. I love Mac’s final bombing mission, but I think I’ll go with chapter three, the dance at Bassingbourn where Mac finally gets to meet Stella. It’s so romantic.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author and why was it difficult to write?
It was chapter two, the first bombing mission. From a creative perspective, it was very difficult to get the detail precise, historically accurate and to bring everything together in that scene. Once I’d completed it, that made later bombing scenes more straightforward to write. Considering I’ve not had an opportunity to get inside a B-17, I managed to get a feel for the aircraft and an appreciation of what the men endured during those dark times by other means – thank you, internet!

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time writing about?
I’d have liked to have spent more time writing about the Guinea Pig Club, but as a writer, you have to balance everything in the story, and so it was that several scenes were cut. This would also have enabled me to focus more upon PTSD and on McIndoe.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust for the sake of the story. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Beauty Shop and if so, what did you alter? 
Dare I say I took small liberties. My male protagonist, Mac, is treated by Archie in the story, but in reality, I doubt this would have happened. USAAF took care of their own casualties. However, the Guinea Pig Club did have American fighter pilots – men who joined the RAF to fight the war before the US became involved. So, in a sense, I justified using Mac because he represented the American ‘guinea pigs.’ The reason he’s there is simple – he came through perfectly formed, a full character with a back story and more importantly, a face and a persona, whereas the first candidate, a British Bomber Command pilot, did not – blame it on the author’s whacky imagination. What can I say – sometimes the muse guides you in a different direction.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you invite out and why?
It would have to be Archie, but I’m very tempted by Richard Hillary and Mac (sighs). No, it would be Archie, absolutely. He was an amazing man, and after everything I discovered about him, I’m still on a quest to uncover more. 

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Beauty Shop, who would you hire?
That’s a tough question, but after a lot of thought, I decided that Colin Firth would be great as Archie, although I have Tom Hanks in reserve – I wonder what everyone else thinks? After several auditions, I offered Saorise Ronan the role of Stella and Henry Cavill the role of Mac. Alex proved difficult, but I thought perhaps James McAvoy would do the role justice. I’d love to know the readers’ thoughts on this one. I have a feeling I’d be a useless casting director!

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
My next book is almost written and then it’s back to the edits and re-writes, but I’m hoping to be able to release it by July 2017. It’s set during WW2 and focusses on a real woman who joined SOE (Special Operations Executive). In the words of Churchill, “Set Europe ablaze.” SOE has been written about over and over, but I have someone in the book with a determined voice, and this is her story, and it’s quite remarkable and tragic. This is her perspective, her war, and I’m merely the guide.

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PRAISE FOR THE BEAUTY SHOP

"I felt the author's illustration of the charismatic surgeon and his innovate approach to treating both the body and the mind fascinating and feel the narrative as a whole gives unique insight to war era medicine and the personnel at the forefront of its development." - Erin Davies, Flashlight Commentary

"Sometimes ordinary people do the most extraordinary things. Based on a true story, The Beauty Shop is an evocative tale full of bravery, suffering and hope." - Mary Yarde, Goodreads Review

"Suzy Henderson’s debut novel blends fact and fiction as it crosses the boundaries between historical fiction and romance — bringing the best of both." - Jennifer Young, Goodreads Review

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Suzy Henderson lives with her husband and two sons in Cumbria, England, on the edge of the beautiful Lake District. She never set out to be a writer, although she has always had an insatiable appetite for books.

Some years ago after leaving an established career in healthcare, Suzy began to research family history, soon becoming fascinated with both World War periods. After completing a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, she took a walk along a new path, writing from the heart. She writes historical fiction and has an obsession with military and aviation history.

Other interests include music, old movies, and photography – especially if WW2 aircraft are on the radar. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society. Her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, is to be released 28th November 2016.

Website ❧  Goodreads ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter


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The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 27, 2016

On a summer morning in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, a teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip fired not just the opening shots of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history, when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yet the events Princip triggered were so monumental that his own story has been largely overlooked, his role garbled and motivations misrepresented. The Trigger puts this right, filling out as never before a figure who changed our world and whose legacy still has an impact on all of us today. Born a penniless backwoodsman, Princip’s life changed when he trekked through Bosnia and Serbia to attend school. As he ventured across fault lines of faith, nationalism and empire, so tightly clustered in the Balkans, radicalisation slowly transformed him from a frail farm boy into history’s most influential assassin. By retracing Princip’s journey from his highland birthplace, through the mythical valleys of Bosnia to the fortress city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding both of Princip and the places that shaped him. Tim uncovers details about Princip that have eluded historians for a century and draws on his own experience, as a war reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s, to face down ghosts of conflicts past and present. The Trigger is a rich and timely work that brings to life both the moment the world first went to war and an extraordinary region with a potent hold over history.

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Archduke Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife
Sophie on June 28 1914 in Sarajevo.
My addiction to the final chapters of Hapsburg rule in Austria is well-known and thoroughly documented so it should come as no surprise that I jumped when my father gifted me a copy of The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand is easily the most recognizable moment of the era I study, but until now my understanding of that story has been entirely one-sided and I relished to opportunity to look at the events of June 28, 1914 from a new and largely enigmatic angle.

Historically speaking, the nature of Princip’s crime and its effect on European politics has long overshadowed his personal history and due to the turbulent politics of the region, there are now remarkably few resources available to those who wish to understand both his person and the movement he represented. Recognizing the gaps in the historic record, journalist Tim Butcher set out to discover what he could by following Princip’s footsteps from the remote village of Obljaj to his prison at Terezin. The Trigger is the end result of that journey and stands as chronicle of the author’s experiences and the insight they afforded.

The heart of the text is of course Princip and the details of his life, but Butcher’s reflections on the contemporary politics and culture of the Balkans brings a rare degree of relevancy to the history he documents. Most authors simply relay facts, but Butcher’s approach brings context to the assassination and challenges his audience to reconsider their understanding of it while drawing unmistakable parallels between past and present. Butcher's work shatters stereotypes about the early twentieth century, but it also illustrates how a single event can ripple across decades and resonate on various levels according to time, place, and perception.

To make a long story short, I greatly enjoyed the time I spent reading The Trigger. It's an illuminating volume in and of itself, but I want to note that it also makes a fascinating companion to The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans. The books are not affiliated in any way, but when paired the two titles humanize both sides of a key moment in twentieth century history and in many ways redefine the spark that lit the Powder keg of Europe. 

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The statesmen leaving the Berlin Congress smugly convinced themselves that the people of Bosnia would benefit from the diplomatic finesse of having the Western Austro-Hungarians replace the Eastern Ottomans. What they had actually done, however, was quite the opposite, sowing seeds of resentment that would eventually destroy the status quo of the entire Western world.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cover Cliché: Symmetrical Seams

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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'Times change, and sometimes for the better...'

As the twentieth century draws to a close, Esme Reddaway knows that she must uncover the truth. A truth that began during the First World War when Devlin Reddaway fell passionately in love with Esme's elder sister, Camilla, and promised to rebuild his ancestral home, Rosindell, for her.

But the war changes everything and Devlin returns to England to find that Camilla is engaged to someone else. Angry and vengeful, he marries Esme, who has been secretly in love with him for years. Esme tries to win Devlin's heart by reviving the annual summer dance. But as the years pass she fears that Rosindell has a malign influence on those who live there, and the revelation of a shocking secret on the night of the dance at Rosindell tears her life apart. Decades later, it is she who must lay the ghosts of Rosindell to rest.

Spanning the last century, Esme's story of sibling rivalry, heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness is sure to appeal to fans of Kate Morton, Rachel Hore and Downton Abbey.




Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?




In 1916, the people are settling down to the business of war. As conscription reaches into every household, Britain turns out men and shells in industrial numbers from army camps and munitions factories up and down the land. Bobby Hunter gains his wings and joins his brother in France. Ethel, the under housemaid, embarks on a quest and Laura sets out on her biggest adventure yet. Diana finds a second chance at happiness in the last place she'd think of looking, and Beattie's past comes back to haunt her. But as the Battle of the Somme grinds into action, the shadow of death falls over every part of the country, and the Hunter household cannot remain untouched.

This is the third book in the War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, author of the much-loved Morland Dynasty novels. Set against the real events of 1916, this is a richly researched and a wonderfully authentic family drama featuring the Hunter family and their servants.


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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. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Austrian: A War Criminal's Story by Ellie Midwood

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 23, 2016

What is going through the mind of a war criminal, tried by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg? Regret for his atrocious actions? Frantic desire to defend himself to the end? Desperate longing to be forgiven by his former enemies or craving of human kindness, even though he knows that he doesn’t deserve any... And the strongest of all, the fear to never again see the one, who he risked everything for, the only woman that he still continues to live for. All this is only the tip of the iceberg in the myriad of emotions for Ernst, former leader of the Austrian SS incarcerated in Nuremberg prison, who already knows what fate awaits him. Day after day he recollects his life, trying to understand where he made that wrong turn that changed his whole life and brought him into service of his new masters, who soon dragged his whole country into the most blood-shedding war in history. With agonizing sincerity he analyzes his past, which made him, a former promising lawyer, into a weapon of mass murder in the hands of his new leaders. Self-loathing and torturous doubts are plaguing Ernst’s mind, which together with unwanted hopes for salvation, terrifying visions of the nearing end, and ghosts from the past turn his incarceration into a never-ending nightmare. And yet, at the very edge of the abyss, he’s still clinging to life, because a woman is waiting for him, a woman, whose secret he’s still carefully guarding, and the one who he still hopes to see...

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View of the defendants in the dock at the International Military
Tribunal trial of war criminals in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany.
Ellie Midwood's The Austrian is an atypical narrative that exists despite the author's complete disregard for the traditional rules and regulation preached by agents and editors across the country. According to the powers that be, controversial subject matter and lone male protagonists should be avoided at all costs, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The market professionals, with all their fancy credentials and inflated sense of superiority, are dead wrong. Stories like this have an audience and they do sell. I know because, quite frankly, I bought the book and greatly enjoyed some of the very aspects that make it too risky for mainstream publishing houses to invest in.

In looking at the content of the novel, I want to start by saying that I found Midwood's exploration of the rise of the Nazi party and the indoctrination of its members absolutely fascinating. I don't mean to gush, but I've never seen these concepts described with such detail outside of nonfiction. Midwood is on point with regard to the politics of the story and her mastery of the subject matter manifests itself in the depth and scope of the narrative. She doesn't excuse the actions of the Nazi party, but she does define the movement through Ernst and in so doing allows her readers to truly understand the bureaucratic climate of the day. Speaking of Ernst, I was also thoroughly impressed by the author's decision to write this book from a male perspective. The novel makes more sense as Ernst is naturally positioned to be involved with the Nazi party, but the gender of Midwood's protagonist allowed her to explore more than just the hows and whys. Midwood balances these concepts against Ernst's relationship with his father, his introduction to sex, and his marriage and I for one enjoyed the intimacy of these moments and how they shed light on the kind masculine emotion that is typically overlooked in the current market.

Having said that I want to make it perfectly clear that while I admire much about this piece, I do not feel it without flaw. First and foremost, it should be understood that The Austrian is not a complete novel. Please don't misunderstand my words as I am not arguing against a cliffhanger here, but the description led me to be believe Ernst was holding on for a woman and I am rather ticked that the story ends just as the lady in question enters his life. Two hundred plus pages and I can't claim to understand even the smallest part of the primary plot. Other readers feel differently, but I found this reality intensely disappointing and I wont deny feeling cheated as well. Forgive me for saying so, but inducing sales this way struck me as cheap and denotes a lack of respect for one's readership. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm known for calling it as I see it and when push comes to shove, I felt misled in my purchase.

Though loosely inspired by women like Edith Hahn and Ilse Stein, I also found Ernst's primary love interest, Annalise, wholly anachronistic. The flawless beauty from a wealthy Jewish family is a talented ballerina who happens to be married to Standartenführer Heinrich Friedmann. Officially her husband is part of the Reich Secret Service, but both moonlight as agents for US Counterintelligence. She's not intimated by Kaltenbrunner and ultimately falls in love with the senior SS officer which subsequently leads to an affair and the birth of an illegitimate child. All this information can be found in the descriptions of Midwood's The Girl from Berlin series, so please refrain from crucifying me over would-be spoilers and understand that I'm only sharing this information because it is impossible to explain my distaste without it. I personally found Annalise's 'Wonder Woman' persona unpalatable and mockingly inappropriate. I felt her that her talent, wealth, privilege, courage, and conviction mocked the position and circumstances of the very women on which she was based and that her exploits minimized the risks her real life counterparts took in marrying Nazi personnel to survive Hitler's brutal regime.

When all is said and done, my feelings are mixed, I loved parts of The Austrian, but feel equal annoyance with others and have to admit that while I'd certainly recommend it other readers, I'd do so with a degree of caution.

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It was so easy to decide their fate, when they were nothing more than numbers on the sheets, presented to us for a signature by our adjutants. Now they were real people, with broken lives, torn families, and memories which would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
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Friday, January 6, 2017

The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: December 21, 2016

England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more. Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again. John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience. Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun. Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.

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Archibald McIndoe operating at the Queen Victoria Center for Plastic
and Jaw Surgery by Anna Katrina Zinkesen
My friends and acquaintances are well-used to my tastes and rarely question my affinity for war era fiction, but I'd be lying if I said that Suzy Henderson's The Beauty Shop didn't raise a few eyebrows. The first person to notice accused me of getting soft as I was obviously reading a story that takes place in a hair salon. The second sarcastically asked me to explain the role guinea pigs played in the greatest conflict of the twentieth century. Both individuals were surprised when I set the record straight, but the two incidents emphasized how easy it is misinterpret the nature and scope of this surprising debut.

For those feeling a little lost, the novel's title is actually a reference to Ward III at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. Headed by Dr. Archibald McIndoe, the ward was tasked with the treatment of airmen who suffered disfiguring burns and/or crash related injuries in the line of duty. The work was challenging on its own, but it was complicated by the emotional instability of the patients and the staff was forced to turn to both the experimental and unorthodox in their effort to the restore the independence, self-image, and well-being of the men they served. Recognizing the humor of their situation, the airman likened themselves to guinea pigs and formed a mutual support network that would total more than six hundred by the end of the war. Their willingness to go under the knife led to revolutionary gains in the field of plastic surgery and gave rise to a legacy that is both extraordinary and humbling.

The Beauty Shop pays tribute to this lesser known chapter of the war by chronicling the fictional experiences of a young American pilot, his girl, and his surgeon. I personally found Mac and Stella interesting in their own ways, but it was Henderson's characterization of McIndoe and her recreation of his ward that set the book the apart in my eyes. I felt the author's illustration of the charismatic surgeon and his innovate approach to treating both the body and the mind fascinating and feel the narrative as a whole gives unique insight to war era medicine and the personnel at the forefront of its development.

Parts of the narrative, namely Stella's love life, felt needlessly complex and I think that Henderson could have done more with the supporting cast, but in looking back on the time I spent with the novel I think it safe to say that its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. Henderson has room to grow as a storyteller, but her debut release speaks to both the creativity and compassion of her pen and I for one can't wait to see how she'll channel those talents into her next project. Highly recommended to fans of light romance and world war historicals. 

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"He was trying to show these boys that they still had lives worth living. How could he do that if silly girls were going to look horrified whenever they saw a disfigured face? His staff needed to treat them all normally otherwise his methods would fail, and he was not about to let that happen. No, he would have to recruit some fresh faces. The boys could do without these young, well-meaning types who had no idea how to control their emotions or disguise their feelings."
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