Review | The Whispers of War, Julia Kelly

WhispersOfWarThe Whispers of War tells the story of three friends in Britain in 1939 dealing with the potential outbreak of war. Nora’s a socialite who works at the Home Office and is just an overall badass. Hazel is a matchmaker who is herself in an unhappy marriage. And Marie is a German expat afraid of being placed in an internment camp. The three friends band together to keep her safe.

Despite the subject matter, this is a fairly light read. The characters talk about internment camps and air raids, but apart from a couple of scenes, we don’t really get a sense of the danger they face. Rather, the focus is on the friendship between the women, and how having such a strong support system can help you survive even something as horrible as war.

I loved reading about the women’s lives and their friendship. Hazel is probably my favourite, mostly because she’s the quietest of the three, but she turns out to be the most badass in terms of what she does to protect refugees fleeing the Nazis. I also loved her love story, which is sad but also felt real. She’s a matchmaker who’s ironically in an unhappy marriage of her own, but the breakdown between her and her husband is more a drifting apart than an actual break. And I love how her actions to support the war efforts makes she and her husband begin to see each other in different ways.

Nora’s character arc wasn’t quite as developed for me. For a lot of the book, she seemed like the rich and powerful friend who had the clout to keep her friends safe in a tumultuous time. But I love the romance that develops between her and a co-worker. I found it sweet, and wish we’d seen more of it.

Marie was the main character of the three, and her situation drove a lot of the action in the second half. I had no idea there were internment camps for Germans during the war, and I guess I never really gave much thought to the discrimination they must have experienced at the time, regardless of their actual ideological distance from the Nazis. So I like that the author highlighted this totally new-to-me facet of World War II, which I don’t remember ever seeing before in other novels.

That being said, I admit I didn’t really get much of a feel of the danger Marie was supposedly in. We’re told that some Germans could be sent to internment camps, but we aren’t given enough information about these camps to make them feel real. In contrast, of course, we’re very much aware of the horrific realities Jews went through during the same time period, and are therefore very aware of their absence in this novel. I get that it’s because the author wanted to focus on Marie’s situation as a German expat, but I couldn’t help thinking about how Jews had it much worse. There was a scene where Marie is hiding during an air raid, and is comforted by a Jewish German couple, and I couldn’t help thinking that their situation is a lot more dire than hers is.

As well, there’s a scene where Marie remains silent on a bus so other riders don’t hear her German accent — I love this detail, because it shows the fearful experience of trying to pass. But I also couldn’t help thinking of racialized communities who wouldn’t be able to pass as easily as Marie did.

I don’t mean to minimize the experiences of Germans like Marie who faced the threat of internment; I just wish it had been made more concrete. Or at least that the book didn’t so completely gloss over the horrific stuff the Nazis did, and the still somewhat privileged place Marie and her friends occupied in the world.

There was also a frame narrative, set in the present day and featuring Marie’s grandchild Samantha traveling to deliver a package to Nora after Marie’s death. It’s Samantha’s visit that prompts Nora to share the story of how she and Hazel worked to keep Marie safe during the war, but the frame narrative felt completely unnecessary. The historical story was much more compelling. I loved the relationships between the three women and also the romances they had.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Born to be a Cowboy (Montana Strong 3), RC Ryan

BornToBeACowboyBorn to be a Cowboy is a sweet, feel-good romance between lawyer Finn Monroe (who also works at his family’s ranch) and accountant Jessica Blair. Jessie’s aunt has disappeared after marrying a mysterious cowboy, and while the aunt is supposedly just enjoying an extended honeymoon, the lack of communication makes Jessie suspicious. Unable to get local law enforcement to take her seriously, Jessie investigates her aunt’s new husband on her own, which then leads her to Finn’s office.

The mystery itself is a bit cheesy. When the villain is revealed and the action ratchets up, one can almost picture him in a TV show like Dallas, twirling a gargantuan moustache while grinning evilly at the camera. The events that lead to the climactic confrontation are due to Jessie making a really stupid decision. She does redeem herself somewhat in that she wasn’t fully a damsel in distress, but she shouldn’t have placed herself in that situation in the first place.

Still, I love the dynamic between Finn and Jessie, and I love how well they worked together. Finn was protective without being annoying about it, and apart from that one stupid decision, Jessie was overall a very smart and capable heroine. I love that she’s an accountant, and that her finance skills turn out to be useful at the ranch.

I also love the family element. I haven’t read the earlier books in this series, but I love the way Finn, his brothers and their adoptive parents are so affectionate and loyal with each other. They’re the type to show up when someone in the family needs help, and I love how they all banded together to help Finn and Jessie. I also like how warm and welcoming they were to Jessie when she arrived — even though she was supposedly just a client to Finn, they immediately treated her as a daughter / sister and made her feel at home. Finally, I love the fierce bond between Jessie and her aunt. Part of Jessie’s reluctance to fall in love herself is that she’s worried that her aunt would be lonely without her, and I found that really sweet.

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Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Lethal Redemption (Steele Ops 2), April Hunt

LethalRedemptionLethal Redemption is a fast-paced and thrilling second-chance romance between FBI profiler Grace Steele and security firm operative Cade Wright. I absolutely loved the chemistry between the leads — their initial breakup was pretty messy, and truly broke Grace’s heart, and so it was great seeing how they navigated having to deal with each other again. There was tension in terms of Grace being super cautious about opening her heart up to Cade again, but there was also an undeniable continuing attraction between them, and also mutual respect born from a friendship that started from childhood.

More than the romance between the leads, however, I really loved the relationships between the family members, and between Cade and the Steele family. Grace was adopted into the Steele family after escaping a cult as a young child, and so it was heartwarming to see how much she found love and belonging with her brothers. The banter between the brothers and with Cade felt natural, and I could believe they’d known each other for most of their lives.

I also loved the mystery aspect of the novel, which isn’t often the case as romantic suspense for me is often touch and go. I usually find myself being more interested in one of the plot threads, and wishing there was more of it, but this was a book where I love how the mystery/thriller and the romance really meshed with each other. I also find stories about cults fascinating, particularly how a leader — no matter how charismatic — manages to bring so many people under their spell, and how someone can manage to break that hold on a large scale.

The cult in this novel is personal to the main characters, since it’s the same one Grace escaped from when she was little, and her birth mother is still in love with and second in command to the cult leader. So that personal connection brings even more drama into the mix, and raises the stakes for Grace and Cade. I loved how the author explored Grace’s psychological fallout from her experience with the cult, and how complicated it was for her to have to confront her birth mother again in such a charged situation.

Overall, this was a fun and emotionally gripping read. From the excerpt of the next book at the end, I’m definitely hooked on Roman and Isabel’s upcoming story as well. I also fell in love with the character of Liam (the nerdy Steele brother) in this book, so I’m really excited for him to have a romance of his own as well.

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Thanks to Forever Romance for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.