The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo

“‘You say this is a man’s world, sir, and I am not so naïve as to disagree with you. But’ – here Kay leaned forward, staring the man straight in the eye- ‘if the world of men ever tears itself apart again, it will take an army of nurses to put it back together.’”  

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo shares the stories of two American nurses during World War II – one stationed in France and the other imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp.

Jo McMahon is trapped in a field hospital with 6 critically wounded patients under her care and the Germans are approaching. Very much on her own, Jo goes to extremes to save these men. It turns out that one of them may be more than just a patient to her.

Across the world, Kay Elliott was stationed in Hawaii and until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, everything in her life seemed perfect. She had met the love of her life and her heart was filled with hope for the future. Soon, Kay was imprisoned in a terrible Japanese POW that sucked her dry of any hope.

I appreciate that The Fire by Night shares the perspectives of nurses during the war – it was unique from other books I’ve read that are based during this time. Nurses not only experience their own horrors, they also experience the tragedies of their patients and carry those burdens. Both Joe and Kay are lively, strong characters who are pushed far past the brink.

While The Fire by Night is well written and compelling (and I do recommend it!) I didn’t think it was better than other World War II historical fiction novels out there like The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

In an interview with Harper Audio Presents (the podcast) Jessica Shattuck said that she hopes for readers to describe her book, The Women in the Castle, as compelling. I can confirm that it most definitely is. This story is told from the perspectives of three German women before, during, and after World War II. I’ve read a lot of books set during this time period and I was fascinated by the controversial points of view presented here.

“She was the last man standing, the decoy left holding the key.”

After the war ends, Marianne (who can be described as a “camp director” type) fulfills her promise to protect the wives and children of the men who participated in the Hitler assassination attempt. She finds two of these wives and their children and brings them to the abandoned castle that belonged to her husband’s family. The three women are very different and yet they compliment one another. They are left to recover after a brutal war and it turns out that all are not necessarily who they seem to be.

It was inspiring to see such determination during a terrible time. I really recommend The Women in the Castle, even to those who have already read many World War II based novels!

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

to-capture-what-we-cannot-keep-by-beatrice-colinThe year is 1886 and Caitriona Wallace, a young Scottish widow, has come to Paris as the chaperone of the young and naïve Alice and Jamie. While on a hot air balloon ride, Cait meets Émile Nouguier, one of the engineers working on the Eiffel Tower, and an instant connection sparks between them. To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin is a patient love story crossing social classes and countries.

In contrast to Cait’s calm and composed demeanor, Alice and Jamie are both slightly obnoxious and unaware, although they aren’t malicious about it. During 1886, women don’t have many rights and acting as a chaperone is the best option Cait can find to secure an income.

An ongoing focus of the story is the construction of the Eiffel Tower and how controversial it was at the time. I had no idea how negatively people felt towards the tower, especially because it’s become a world-famous landmark. This was one of my favorite aspects of the book.

to-capture-what-we-cannot-keepReading To Capture What We Cannot Keep felt like a trip through time to the beautiful streets of Paris. I definitely recommend this one!

Here are a few quotes that I marked:

“Possession in the beat of the blood, but not in the heart.”

“…The city had been constructed for one class at the expense of another.” 

“And he wanted to capture what he couldn’t keep, the fleeting, the transient.”

“And the memory of her spun through him like a wheel on an axle, around and around without any sign of slowing.”

“She looked at him directly when he spoke, as if seeking him out, as if trying to read everything he had ever been and ever would be.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA beautiful piece of literature, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a book that deserves to be savored line by line. Towle’s first book, Rules of Civility, is a favorite historical fiction of mine so I’d been anticipating his next book for years and it arrived in the form of A Gentleman in Moscow.

In 1922, The Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, Russia by the Bolshevik tribunal. He lives in a small cramped room in the attic and is forbidden from stepping foot outside the hotel. Although the story is told from within the walls of the hotel (for the most part) it’s not a small story. A Gentleman in Moscow spans over 4 decades of Russian history.

I couldn’t help but be charmed by this novel and the Count. Witty and extremely perceptive, he is the ultimate surveyor of the details in life. Throughout the story, we’re introduced to the various personalities of the people who live and/or work within the hotel. This includes Sofia, the child who ends up on the Count’s doorstep (or in this case, the hotel lobby). The interactions between these characters are fantastic dialogue. I was intrigued by the charming and the quirky characters alike, and was excited to see where the various personalities met.

For me, this wasn’t a quick read. I took my time and enjoyed the smaller details that eventually build up to the final scenes of the story when the Count’s life changes forever.

A Gentleman in MoscowI absolutely recommend A Gentleman in Moscow and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did! Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book so that you can get a taste of the story for yourself:

“’A king fortifies himself with a castle,’ observed the Count, ‘a gentleman with a desk.’”

“But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure way to madness.” 

“But time and tide wait for no man.”

“That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only heartbreak that refutes all that is ephemeral in love.”

“…the thousand-layered complications of their hearts.”

“For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

Author Interview: Beatriz Williams

Beatriz WilliamsThroughout this blogging experience, there have been some very special moments that stand out. This is definitely one of those moments. I have been lucky enough to interview my favorite author, Beatriz Williams, and I am thrilled to share our Q&A with you all!

1. Your latest novel, A Certain Age, releases later this month. Can you tell readers a bit about the story?
A Certain Age is a retelling of Richard Strauss’s enchanting opera Der Rosenkavalier, set in Jazz Age New York, in which a Manhattan society goddess sends her younger lover to investigate the family of her brother’s fiancée, only to have him fall in love with the young lady himself. It’s all about class and money and the bittersweet passing of time, and especially about the transformation in Western culture in the years following the First World War. Of course, it’s about love and scandal too, as well as being a really personal, moving depiction of three people in love, and I had a wonderful time turning these musical characters into fully-fledged people on the pages of a book!

  1. One of the reasons why so many readers have loved your books (including myself) is because of the enchanting characters and their relationships. Where do you find the inspiration for your characters?
    I’m inspired by just about everything, really, although I rarely start with actual people. In the case of A Certain Age, I began with Strauss’s fascinating characters—a beautiful woman conscious that her prime is nearly over, a dashing younger man, a charming ingénue—but they took on their own form once I set them into this story. Octavian in particular veered away from the young aristocratic gentleman of the opera; I kept his age around twenty, but I made him a First World War aviator bearing all kind of scars from his time in France, because that was one of the ideas I wanted to convey: how so much of the Twenties was really a reaction to the horrors of this apocalyptic war.
  1. How do you do research for novels that are set anywhere from the 1910’s to 1960’s all across the United States and Europe?

Well, I always start with something I know—a family story, a news item, a historical event—and I read a few books on the subject and the period, if I haven’t already. But the point of any novel should be the story that’s being told, and I try to invest not in million tedious details but in a few precious ones that convey a certain world to the reader. It’s in the dialogue, it’s in the thoughts rattling around in their brains, it’s in the way they interact with each other. So I find the most useful research is reading books written at the time and films made at the time. Historical facts are really the easy part. Anyone can Google the price of a subway ride in 1922!

  1. A Certain Age 2Although you have continued on with the Schuyler family, Julie Schuyler plays a role in A Certain Age, you haven’t published a traditional sequel. How do you let go of these captivating characters?
    My books tend to be made of several lines of narrative that weave together at the resolution, and the next book usually picks up some thread that didn’t get woven in. So I really feel that each book is complete as written, and if I’m going to tell another story, it’s got to start from scratch. The exception is coming up soon, however! My next book, The Wicked City,arrives in January, and it begins a series set in Prohibition New York, in which a straight-arrow enforcement agent teams up with a not-so-straight-laced flapper to break up a bootlegging ring. I was so fascinated by the story of Prohibition in America, but I knew it would take more than one story to convey all the many fronts and facets of this chapter in our history. So the Wicked City books will be released in winter, and in summer I’ll have my stand-alone novels. But they’ll all stay in the Schuyler world, with the addition of the Marshall family introduced in A Certain Age.
  1. You’ve written under the pen name, Juliana Gray. Why did you choose to publish under a pseudonym and then later decide to reveal this fact to readers?
    I was actually pretty up front about Juliana—we had a little teaser when the first one was published, which was only a couple of months after Overseas, but once both books were out we revealed the pseudonym. Since the first six Juliana Gray books were historical romance, however, we didn’t emphasize the connection—they are two different genres, and reader expectations are different, and we were conscious that some Juliana readers would hate the Beatriz books and vice versa! But the next Juliana Gray book, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, kicks off a historical mystery series set in 1906, and while it’s more history-and-mystery focused than my Beatriz Williams books, it’s something I think both sets of readers will really enjoy. I loved bringing these new characters to life, and my publisher bravely allowed me to give my imagination completely free rein, so I couldn’t be more excited about this new series!
  1. I’m crossing my fingers here, but can we expect to see anything new published from you soon?
    See above! 🙂
  1. What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

I took home a wonderful collection of books from an event in Rhode Island with three other authors, so I can’t wait to get started on Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers, and Jen Lancaster’s By the Numbers, courtesy of Reading With Robin! And my dear friend Karen White’s new book Flight Patterns is fantastic.

 

 

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

A Certain AgeDazzling. Captivating. Smart. These are just a few of the words that come to mind when describing Beatriz Williams’ new book, A Certain Age.

Whenever I start a new book, I make predictions. Sometimes my predictions are right, but oftentimes they aren’t. In the case of A Certain Age, the guesses I made at the beginning of the book definitely shifted as Williams wove a story of intricate relationships and surprising twists.

The book revolves around two female characters during the roaring 1920’s in New York City. The story begins with Theresa, a mature high society woman, and she’s got a fun habit of talking to the reader directly as she shares her journey. She’s sophisticated, charming, guarded, and at times, a bit wicked. On the other hand, Sophie is on the brink of adulthood and she is passionate, innocent, and unguarded, the opposite of Theresa in many ways.

Sophie’s father is the inventor of a successful engineering solution that quickly propels their family into New York high society. With this new wealth comes the interest of many for Sophie’s hand in marriage, including Theresa’s brother Jay. Sophie soon realizes that the type of love she had always dreamt of (with a man that looks like Jay) might not be what she actually wants.

Each chapter begins with a quote from Helen Rowland, the journalist who wrote the column “Reflections of a Bachelor Girl” a century ago for the New York World. This was a perfect touch and I loved the sharp wit of this woman. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

  • “Never trust a husband too far, nor a bachelor too near.”
  • “In love, somehow, a man’s heart is either exceeding the speed limit, or getting parked in the wrong place.”
  • “The woman who appeals to a man’s vanity may stimulate him, the woman who appeals to his heart may attract him, but it is the woman who appeals to his imagination who gets him.”
  • “And verily, a woman need know but one man well, in order to understand all men; whereas a man may know all woman and not understand one of them.”
  • “When a girl marries, she exchanges the attentions of many men for the inattention of one.”
  • “Marriage is like twirling a baton, turn handsprings, or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.”

Delicious, consuming writing! I cannot recommend A Certain Age (or any of William’s books) enough.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall KellyLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly has been sitting on my TBR pile for a while now and I’m happy to have finally picked it up!

Lilac Girls is set during World War II and tells the stories of three women around the world. The first, Caroline, is an American working in the French consulate in New York City. The next, Kaisa, is a Polish teenager working for the underground resistance who is arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. The last, Herta, is a German doctor who becomes involved with the camps.

I’ve read many books set during World War II and am both fascinated and horrified by the stories, but this is one of the only books I’ve come across that extends so far after the war. By continuing the story more than a decade after the war ended, we were able to see the effects of the war on world.

It was really interesting to read these different perspectives of the war, especially as their stories began to intertwine. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. On the other hand, because there were three separate points of view, the writing felt a bit choppy in the beginning.

Caroline, the character from New York City, really frustrated me at times as well. She was incredibly stubborn when it came to her love interest and pushed him away after all they had been through, causing them to both be unhappy. The person who this character is based on, Caroline Ferriday, played a huge role in helping survivors of the concentration camps and I wish the book and given more emphasis on the impact she had.

A few quotes that I marked while reading:

“I was free of spending my life pleasing them, free to go it alone.”

“’Everyone steals from everyone now. Goods belong to those who can hold onto them.’”

Lilac Girls“…the war was officially over, I did not rejoice. The war continued for us, just under a different dictator, Stalin.”


“How nice is its, when one’s own reputation is damaged, to hear of others’ misfortunes.”

Lilac Girls is a great book and I definitely recommend it, especially for historical fiction fans!