book review · crime · NetGalley · suspense · tense

Book Review – The Midnight Man

From number one bestselling author Caroline Mitchell, comes the first chilling Slayton thriller for fans of C. J. Tudor and Stephen King.

If you open your door to the Midnight Man,

hide with a candle wherever you can.

Try not to scream as he draws near,

because one of you won’t be leaving here…

On Halloween night in Slayton, five girls go to Blackhall Manor to play the Midnight Game. They write their names on a piece of paper and prick their fingers to soak it in blood. At exactly midnight they knock on the door twenty-two times – they have invited the Midnight Man in.

It was supposed to be a game, but only four girls come home.

Detective Sarah Noble has just returned to the force, and no one knows more about Blackhall Manor than her. It’s a case that will take Sarah back to everything she’s been running from, and shake her to the core.

Will she be ready to meet the Midnight Man?

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My Review

This book was – and still is – all over Twitter, and rave reviews led to my FOMO sending me to Netgalley to request a copy. I even hassled the publishers, praying I hadn’t been declined. Fortunately, my impatience was soon rewarded, and I settled in for what I hoped would be a thrilling read.

Jeez, did I luck out! It was everything I hoped for: tense, twisty and atmospheric. The poem in the blurb sets the scene perfectly for those five girls who prepare to play The Midnight Game. It’s legendary in Slayton, and something of a rite of passage for teens to seek out an abandoned building and dare to knock 22 times and let the Midnight Man in.

Blackhall Manor is something of legend itself, home to a series of deaths 25 years ago when the father of the household killed his family – parents, wife and children – before turning the gun on himself. Ever since, the house has been considered cursed, making it the perfect setting for The Midnight Man.

Unfortunately for the five girls invited to Blackhall Manor that Halloween, this is a game with deadly consequences. It begins as spooky fun, superstitious nonsense … until one girl goes missing. Now, you might expect the four remaining girls to ‘fess up and tell their parents where they’ve been, but no. The power of the message on their invitation – if you tell, you’ll go to hell – is so strong that they’re too scared of what might happen if they admit where they’ve been.

Detective Sarah Noble has just gone back to work after extended leave. Her backstory is complicated and multi-faceted, both elements that inject her personally into the case of the missing girl, and not merely in her role as a police officer. It affects how she is treated by her peers, and also how she feels about Blackhall Manor.

Her friend’s son, 7-year-old Elliot, is a kindred spirit. He’s been having visions of the hooded man in his nightmares. These visions extend to the missing girl, and later to others caught up in the game. He finds Sarah to be a safe haven, someone to whom he can reveal what he’s seen and who, as a police officer, can actually help. Elliot is the sweetest boy but he’s not easily fobbed off. He is per-cep-tive in every sense (as his teacher has told him) and he not only sees the Midnight Man, but he also sees through adults trying to use his abilities for their own end.

As evidence comes in, the police think they’ve found their man … but have they? Sarah has her doubts, but doesn’t feel able to share them at work. If she is going to prove herself capable as a detective, she’s going to have to revisit her past. Dun, dun, duuuuunnn …

I’ve not read anything by this author before, and I was super excited to get my hands on this one (Thank you Embla, Netgalley & Caroline). I’ll admit to being wary, as horror (the gory stuff) is so not my thing, but I’ll categorise this as creepy horror blended with twisty suspense and aspects of a police procedural. I’ll definitely be back for more.

As always,

book review · NetGalley · romantic comedy

Book Review – Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions

‘A big-hearted treat of a read’ – Catherine Walsh, author of One Night Only

Love may be blind, but to find it she’ll have to open her eyes…

In January, Rachel Ryan’s New Year’s Resolutions are fairly predictable. Exercise more, put money into savings before spaffing it all on clothes, remember ridiculous rule that potatoes don’t count towards your 5-a-day…

Before long, though, the year ahead of her is very much not going to plan. When the creative agency Rachel works for is taken over, one of the new suits in the office is very familiar. And very handsome. Surely it can’t be… Jack Harper. The man she has spent years trying to forget. Not only is Rachel now working with him, she has regular sightings of the gorgeous woman Jack cheated on her with – who happens to be plastered to the side of every London bus.

Thank goodness for Tom, who is always there to listen (and pour wine). But when work stirs up her most painful memories, her best friend makes a major announcement and Jack dials up the charm, Rachel starts to question everything.

As life throws her a world of crazy, will Rachel have to make some very different resolutions?

Perfect for fans of Beth O’Leary and Ruth Jones.

What Readers are saying about Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions:
‘Funny, sweet and heartwarming. It was the perfect romcom’ Mrsandmother

‘This has been my favourite romantic comedy of the year!’ – Karla_Bookishlife

‘A fun adventure, with great characters and some deeper issues’ – Netgalley Reviewer

‘This book is SO good. It’s officially made my favourites list’ – Goodreads Reviewer

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My Review

Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions is one of those stories that simply resonates with its readers. How many of us have made similar resolutions, only to abandon them within a few days (or even hours)? Rachel tries – not always very hard, especially when it comes to exercising (and who can blame her?) – to stick to them, and as the story progresses the list expands slightly to take into account the difficulties she has in sticking to some of them.

But it is when Jack Harper comes back into her life that her struggles really begin. He broke her heart at university, and it seems she hasn’t really got over it. Trouble is, he knows it, and goes out of his way to inject himself back into her life, under a thinly veiled disguise of “I’ve changed”. (He hasn’t!)

Rachel, however, has a few weapons up her sleeve (ones that she doesn’t quite appreciate nor even realise are there yet, but she will) in the form of her best friend and flatmate, Anna, and her very good friend of four years, Tom.

At times, I was screaming in my head at Rachel: Listen to Anna! Don’t go there! Only for my warnings to go unheeded. By which time, damage limitation was needed. But, as most of us know, sometimes we have to make our own mistakes to learn from them. But, I’ll be honest, it did look as though Rachel and her blinkers were not ready to be parted!

Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions is a rom-com with a difference; as expected, it’s funny (laugh-out-loud chortling funny) and there’s romance (you just have to wait for it), but it’s also quite poignant in the way Rachel’s barriers are broken down so that she really can see what we, as readers, have known all along. No spoilers, but it’s quite refreshing to see how those layers are stripped away. I’ll admit, it brought a tear to my eye since I can empathise with the reasoning behind those barriers.

Structurally, I was a little distracted when the story switched without warning to another character’s POV, a character who I hadn’t really expected to mean so much, but who eventually became pivotal to the story. That aside, I loved the “realness” of the banter, the humour between friends, the office rivalries and jealousies, and the sheer awfulness of some of Rachel’s clients (Humphrey knows who he is 😉 )

A thoroughly enjoyable read. I’ll be sure to look out for more from this author. This is hilarious fun in word format, but so very visual and all-consuming.

My thanks to the author, Embla books (publisher) and Netgalley for my copy.

As always,

Reviewed on Amazon UK as Meandthemutts

book review · family · NetGalley · psychological suspense

Book Review – The Happy Family

My family has just been reunited. So who is trying to tear it apart?

A mother who disappeared…
When Beth was 10 years old, her beautiful, wild mother Alice walked out and never came back. Beth’s life since hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but now she is happy and settled, with a successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home.

An unexpected visitor…
Then one day there’s a knock at the door. Alice has returned. Overjoyed to have the chance to rebuild their relationship, Beth invites her mother to move in.

A life that comes crashing down…
At first, everything seems wonderful. But then Beth’s friends begin to drift away, strange things start to happen at home, and rumours begin to circle about her past. As the mysterious events around Beth become darker and more dangerous, she is forced to question everything. Is somebody in her life trying to destroy her happiness? And how far will they go? 

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My Review

Clever! What a cool storyline … and that twist!

Practice manager, Beth has a happy life, two children she adores, a great job she loves and good friends (although all her best friends are much older than she is, around the same age as her mother – 😉 read into that what you will). And, talking of mothers, Beth’s mum walked out on her and her father some thirty years ago when Beth was ten.

After divorcing her husband, Beth not only has a good relationship with him but also with his new wife. Her dad is in a fabulous care home and enjoys being there, and Beth visits him often. She works hard, but has help from Robin to do the school run and keep the house clean. Everything is peachy.

And then, a knock at her door turns her life around, upside down and inside out. The woman who says her name is Alice is none other than her mother, complete with the three hearts tattoo on her neck. Beth is stunned, delighted, loss for words one minute and gibbering like an idiot the next. Her mother has returned.

After inviting her mother to stay a few days (at first), Beth can’t wait to tell her friends and family – even her dad – that Alice is back in her life. Everyone is thrilled for her, and totally accepting of Alice.

Weirdly, almost instantly strange things start to happen. Beth loses her keys a lot, the heating system goes bezerk, “accidents” happen and tempers start to fray as Beth seems to be losing her grip on everything, alienating loved ones … and drinking too much. When everything seems to be going wrong, Beth is glad to have her mum around for support.

There are lots of twists in this story, and just when you think things can’t get any worse for Beth, they do. A long-held secret – something which, since their move to Cheltenham after the childhood incident, only Beth and her father are aware of – suddenly has reared its very ugly head. Beth looks in danger of losing everything and everyone close to her until someone totally unexpected comes to her rescue – yet another fabulous twist. Who is Beth’s saviour? Well, while the twist is hugely surprising, it’s not too difficult to join the dots and find her guardian angel, though Beth does make a meal out of that task!

Overall, a compelling and addictive read that I raced through. Admittedly, it sagged a little in the middle as Beth’s paranoia spiralled out of control repeatedly, but the ending more than makes up for that. As does the witty dialogue and hilarious “menopause” chats she and her friends have at the beginning. As the title says, Beth really did have the happy family.

If you enjoy psychological or domestic suspense, then this book is for you. Give it a shot. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to the author, One More Chapter & Netgalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As always,

Amazon Reviewer Name
Reviewed on Amazon UK as Meandthemutts

book review · NetGalley · psychological suspense

Book Review – Unfaithful

by Natalie Barelli

“Thank you,” I say sweetly when she tells me I’m lucky to have such a beautiful family. But I want to tell her it’s not just luck. A family is like a fortress you have to defend all the time. You can’t relax because there’s always someone looking for a breach, always someone trying to get in. Someone just like her…

When I arrive unannounced at my husband’s studio in need of a shoulder to cry on after hearing that my best student, Alex, has died, I see a pair of wineglasses drying by the sink and my deepest fear is confirmed: my husband is having an affair.

Most women would fall to their knees in tears and throw him out of the house—but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Instead, I go home and cook a healthy dinner for our children, walk the dog and unload the dishwasher without complaint. I will make him see that I’m still the woman he married; attractive, successful, the glue that holds our perfect family together. I need this marriage to work to protect a terrible secret of my own, something that would destroy everything I’ve already sacrificed so much for.

But when the police arrive at my door asking questions about Alex’s death that I can’t answer, and threatening text messages start appearing on my phone, I know that someone close has been watching me very carefully.

The truth is, there are three people in my marriage, but only one of them is deadly…

My Review

I’d seen such a lot being said about this book, and all of it good. There was no doubt in my mind that I had to read it. And, everything they were saying about it was true!

It was a slow start, but far from dull as the reader is introduced to Anna and her family, and then her colleagues. She’s a maths professor, a numbers geek, working at the university mentoring students – it’s all pretty normal. Her husband, Luis, is an artist in the throes of an exhibition that could be awesome for his career. With two wonderful kids and a dog, life really is perfect.

It all starts to go wrong when Anna is passed over for a tenured position. Then one of her students, with whom she has solved a high-profile maths theory declares he’s going to publish alone, leaving her name off the paper. When he falls to his death, she wonders if she was responsible in some way. Will the police come for her? They do, but only to question her, but Anna is extremely paranoid and has moments of introspection that last forever.

She’s faced with the dilemma of whether to publish now as the sole author. But on top of that, she senses her husband is having an affair. Then her boss, Geoff, is a slimeball who can’t take no for an answer. Anna feels like her life is out of control, and she’s not about to sit back and be walked all over again. Trouble is, it seems anything Anna touches simply creates more problems for her, and by getting drunk she does actually lose control … and then cannot recall what she might have or might not have done (which is kind of important when there are more fatal accidents and she has no alibi)

Told in first person, with Anna as the most unreliable narrator, you might feel the plot is more than a little unrealistic at times. But, oh is it fun. Is Anna going mad with everything that’s going on? You have to wonder, and in doing so, you’ll be hooked till the very end which will blow you away with an almighty bonkers turn of events. The clues are there, but will you see them? I didn’t.

If you enjoy a fun, crazy ride with a hefty dose of paranoia and oodles of suspense, then check it out.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher – Bookouture -and have reviewed this voluntarily.

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As always,

book review · historical fiction · NetGalley · WWII

Book Review – Irena’s War

Based on the gripping true story of an unlikely Polish resistance fighter who helped save thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, bestselling author James D. Shipman’s Irena’s War is a heart-pounding novel of courage in action, helmed by an extraordinary and unforgettable protagonist.

September 1939: The conquering Nazis swarm through Warsaw as social worker Irena Sendler watches in dread from her apartment window. Already, the city’s poor go hungry. Irena wonders how she will continue to deliver food and supplies to those who need it most, including the forbidden Jews. The answer comes unexpectedly.

Dragged from her home in the night, Irena is brought before a Gestapo agent, Klaus Rein, who offers her a position running the city’s soup kitchens, all to maintain the illusion of order. Though loath to be working under the Germans, Irena learns there are ways to defy her new employer–including forging documents so that Jewish families receive food intended for Aryans. As Irena grows bolder, her interactions with Klaus become more fraught and perilous.

Klaus is unable to prove his suspicions against Irena–yet. But once Warsaw’s half-million Jews are confined to the ghetto, awaiting slow starvation or the death camps, Irena realizes that providing food is no longer enough. Recruited by the underground Polish resistance organization Zegota, she carries out an audacious scheme to rescue Jewish children. One by one, they are smuggled out in baskets and garbage carts, or led through dank sewers to safety–every success raising Klaus’s ire. Determined to quell the uprising, he draws Irena into a cat-and-mouse game that will test her in every way–and where the slightest misstep could mean not just her own death, but the slaughter of those innocents she is so desperate to save.

My Review

The fact that this is based on a true story only makes it more gripping and jaw-droppingly addictive.

Irena is a strong and determined woman, but she is not without her flaws. Her determination is often misconstrued (by her mother) as stubbornness and defiance, but always her intentions are the best. Her goal at the outset is to maintain the supply of food to her fellow Poles once the Germans invade. And she refuses to accept that Polish Jews are any less worthy, but she is fighting an uphill battle.

Her path regularly crosses with Klaus, an SS Officer, who is put in charge of the region, and for whom she is the eternal thorn in the side. Once the ghetto is built and her Jewish friends and fellow citizens are installed behind a solid wall, she pushes her boss, Jan, to get her a pass into the ghetto. The only way in is as a medical observer, to check on the infection rates within. Of course, Irena wins him over, using fair means and foul, but either way she now has access to the ghetto. It is there she finds her friends working in the hospital and orphanage. Seeing the conditions faced by the children, she has to get them out.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed by the local resistance who bring her in to discuss future plans to save as many as they can. As the situation deteriorates and residents of the ghetto are rounded up and relocated to Treblinka, the need to save the children becomes ever more critical.

By now, Irena is under pressure from all sides. Some consider her work in food distribution as being work for the Germans, even her Jewish friends come to that conclusion. The Germans – Klaus – see her as a potential pawn, to make it look as though they are treating the Poles well …until he realises she is working against him. Proving it, though, is a different matter and Irena comes close to arrest many times. None of that stops her though; she may fear for her life but she fears for the lives of others more. Remarkable!

Tense times lie ahead, and the story only gets stronger as Irena ploughs on through the machine that is the Nazi regime. She faces losses and wins but doesn’t stop – her resolve is breath-taking.

This is not an easy book to read at times, since the reality of war is not hidden away or glossed over. Being based on true events, it hits home with great impact. As a work of historical fiction, it feels very real and incredibly scary. We should be praising women like Irena more; she saved many more people than Schindler yet has gone unnoticed. Until now. This is a powerful story that bridges fact and fiction beautifully. I would highly recommend it to readers of WWII historical fiction.

My sincere thanks go to Kensington Books and NetGalley for this e-ARC. My review is given voluntarily and with absolute pleasure.

As always,

book review · NetGalley · WWII

Book Review – The Berlin Girl

From the bestselling author of The German Midwife comes the heart-wrenching story of a country on the brink of war, a woman who puts herself in the line of fire, and a world about to be forever changed.

Berlin, 1938: It’s the height of summer, and Germany is on the brink of war. When fledgling reporter Georgie Young is posted to Berlin, alongside fellow Londoner Max Spender, she knows they are entering the eye of the storm.

Arriving to a city swathed in red flags and crawling with Nazis, Georgie feels helpless, witnessing innocent people being torn from their homes. As tensions rise, she realises she and Max have to act – even if it means putting their lives on the line.

But when she digs deeper, Georgie begins to uncover the unspeakable truth about Hitler’s Germany – and the pair are pulled into a world darker than she could ever have imagined…

My Review

5 stars

Yes, I know … another WWII book. What can I say? I’m a fan. Besides, The Berlin Girl by Mandy Robotham is a gem of a story: super original, equally terrifying and exciting, and definitely one to play with your emotions.

The story begins in 1938 as Georgie Young, an up-and-coming reporter is assigned to work in Berlin. Having covered the Olympic Games of 1936, she’s excited to return to Berlin. Joined on the journey by another young reporter, Max Spender, she is quick to react at his assumption that “George Young” would be a man, and she assures him she has both the journalistic and language skills to do the job. Her ability to speak German soon puts Max in his place. Way to go, Georgie!

This original start to the story drew me in, and despite its relatively slow pace, it acted as the perfect precursor to a thrilling and exhilarating journey through the pre-war days and the subsequent declaration of war with Germany.

Georgie is determined to do things her way, even hiring a driver she knows from her prior visit at a time when Jews like Ruben are being met with one restriction after another. It is her involvement with him and his family that ultimately saves their lives, bringing food to the table early on and later by their escape. She is not alone in helping out families like Ruben’s; many of the reporters from other countries are just as active, though some of the more vocal are soon deported from Germany.

When it becomes apparent that a German officer shows an interest in Georgie because of her Englishness, she is quick to spot the opportunity to use him for information to help her friends. At this point, it’s not only Ruben who is in danger, but Georgie too. It’s a tense moment when they go to Sachsenhausen concentration camp to retrieve letters from those imprisoned there. The pages flew by as I hoped for a good result.

Kudos to the author for including the character of Elias, Ruben’s brother-in-law – not just a Jew, but a disabled one, a person for whom the Nazi regime and all its abominations was doubly prejudiced.

Of course, knowing of the atrocities carried out, not every plan has a happy outcome, and when Georgie is called back to England, she feels her Berlin years are over. But, luckily they aren’t, and she returns in a more senior role, ready and raring to go as tensions accelerate in the city. Daily briefings with senior Nazi officials only intensify her need to help those being arrested and sent away to certain death. Only now, she has Max on her side too. And their activities grow ever more daring until they have no option but to flee themselves.

This book has a wonderful mix of drama and tension, of hope and a need to defeat the oppressors. Georgie is a strong woman in a city that changes beyond her imagination; the act of reporting becomes harder as restrictions come into play and the journalists have to find innovative ways of passing on the news. While newspapers abroad are cautious about reporting all of the news in its gory and horrific details, Georgie cleverly sends in her “Postcards” from a Berlin correspondent with an anonymous, yet birds-eye view of what is really happening.

The post-war articles at the end of the story, chronicling Georgie’s career and personal life are a lovely touch and only makes me admire her more.

I really enjoyed The Berlin Girl and highly recommend it to fans of WWII historical novels. It will be available to order as an e-book October 29th, 2020.

Many thanks to #NetGalley and the publisher Avon Books UK for allowing me to read an advance copy of the book #TheBerlinGirl by #MandyRobotham. The views expressed in this review are mine and mine alone.

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As always,

book review · crime · NetGalley · police procedural

Book Review – Dead Perfect

Summary

A murdered woman…

When the body of a young woman is found in a local park, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she’s dealing with no ordinary killer. The murder victim has been disfigured; her outfit changed to resemble someone else. Someone Maggie knows all too well…her close friend Dr Kate Moloney.

A determined detective…

Maggie is determined to keep her friend safe, but with Kate already struggling with a threatening stalker, Maggie now fears Kate’s life is in real danger. Who else would want to harm Kate and why else would the killer be turning his victims into exact replicas – his living dolls?

Can Maggie find the depraved killer? Or will Kate become his next living doll?

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My Review

I’d been meaning to read Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten for such a long time, but other books kept creeping into my diary! The struggles of book blogging are real 😉 Finally, I said, “no more!” and I jumped straight in. And now I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. 

This was a fabulous, fast-paced read. Admittedly, I haven’t read the others in the series, but I’ll be putting that right very soon. 

When the body of a woman is found in a local park, Staffordshire police are naturally called in. But, unfortunately for DC Maggie Jamieson, the victim bears an uncanny resemblance to someone she is rather fond of – a colleague and good friend, Dr Kate Moloney. Maggie is attracted to Kate, a fact which often blurs her actions and leads to her overreacting or missing key leads. 

But why would Kate be the next victim? It’s a coincidence, surely?

Maybe not. Because Kate has been on the receiving end of some odd gifts and letters. It would appear she has a stalker. 

And this is not the only victim – another woman is found soon after bearing the same resemblance. Yet, after further investigation, the two dead women are nothing like Kate – who has a penchant for black, Goth-style clothing and makeup. Rather, it seems the killer has changed their appearances to look like Kate. Eek! 

On top of that, he has also performed a rudimentary lobotomy on both victims too. 

Concerns are rife that Kate is his likely next victim, and Maggie invites her friend to stay with her until security measures can be taken at Kate’s own home. 

From here on, Maggie tries not to leave Kate on her own – anywhere. This becomes untenable for Kate, and causes a rift between the two of them. 

The story is a cat and mouse chase to find the killer, but he has hidden his tracks well. Clues come and go, leads vanish into nothing and it seems they will never find him. The pace in the last few chapters picks up even more as the killer seeks his prey, and the police seek the killer.

It’s an exciting read and a real page-turner overall. There are a few inconsistencies towards the end but nothing that prevented me from wanting to know the outcome. 

Thank you NetGalley and One More Chapter for my copy of Dead Perfect. 

As always, 

 

art · book review · historical fiction · NetGalley · Renaissance Italy · WWII

Book Review – The Night Portrait

Summary

“This is a truly original novel that has earned its place among my favorite works of historical fiction.”–Jennifer Robson, USA Today bestselling author of The Gown

An exciting, dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II.

Milan, 1492: When a 16-year old beauty becomes the mistress of the Duke of Milan, she must fight for her place in the palace—and against those who want her out. Soon, she finds herself sitting before Leonardo da Vinci, who wants to ensure his own place in the ducal palace by painting his most ambitious portrait to date.

Munich, World War II: After a modest conservator unwittingly places a priceless Italian Renaissance portrait into the hands of a high-ranking Nazi leader, she risks her life to recover it, working with an American soldier, part of the famed Monuments Men team, to get it back. 

Two women, separated by 500 years, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies.
 

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My Review

Combining two of my favourite topics – WWII and art – I needed no persuasion to read this book. 

It centres on Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, from the moment he is called upon to paint it in the 15th Century until its many journeys during WWII between Poland and Germany when the portrait was “saved” by the Nazis – read “stolen” – destined for Hitler’s project to have the best art collection in the world. 

Told through four viewpoints, the story spans the centuries connecting the past with the present.  Leonardo and Cecilia (the subject of the portrait and mistress of the Duke of Milan) are the 15th Century perspectives, while the modern day characters are Edith (the art conservator whose role it is – against her will – to list the art on behalf of the Nazi government) and Dominic (one of The Monuments Men tasked with tracking down the stolen art as the war comes to an end).

Their stories weave effortlessly across the timelines, and I particularly enjoyed how she ended a chapter with a certain line, only for the next chapter to start with that line. Though the characters were centuries apart, they shared a vocabulary and a mindset. 

The scenes in Renaissance Italy between Leonardo and Cecilia showed two people, both wanting to make their mark. Leonardo yearned for his ideas on flying and weapon-building to be taken up by the Duke, and agreed to paint the portrait to keep in the Duke’s favour. Cecilia wanted to be more than a nun, after her brothers ruined her chance of marriage in her home village. Once she met the Duke, she had high hopes of being his wife. Needless to say, both Leonardo and Cecilia had unfulfilled dreams, yet their lives were nothing if not extraordinary even after their first encounter. 

Edith objected to being sent to Poland, away from her ailing father who suffered dementia. She objected to the work she was forced to do. It was a moment of clarity that made her realise she had a duty to preserve the art she found, and some day return it to its rightful owners. Dominic, a talented artist himself, wanted at first to have a more proactive role in the war. He felt he had a cushy number, until he too had that moment of clarity and understood that saving the artwork was an important role not just to return it to its owners, but to secure it for future generations.

This is quite a different take on a WWII novel; refreshingly so. It doesn’t gloss over the atrocities at all, but nor are these events at the core of the story. Clearly a lot of research went into this book; its detail is sublime. Fans of historical fiction will be sure to enjoy this book. Highly recommended. 

My thanks go to the publishers – One More Chapter – and Netgalley for the e-copy I received. To the author, Laura Morelli, my congratulations on a great idea, beautifully told. 

As always, 

book review · historical fiction · NetGalley · WWII

Book Review – The Wartime Nanny

The Wartime Nanny

by Lizzie Page

 

The Nazis are everywhere now. We must leave Vienna. It might be that soon our letters won’t get out anymore. Can you help, dear sister? Please, ask for us. Send news, and quickly. Please.

 

London, 1938. Sixteen-year-old Natalie Leeman takes the heart-breaking decision to leave her family behind in Vienna and travel to England to join her cousin Leah in service. Natalie is placed with a wealthy suburban family, the Caplins, as a nanny to their energetic six-year-old.

At first, Natalie is delighted by the huge house and beautiful gardens, but things aren’t as perfect as they seem. While Natalie dotes on their child, she is increasingly wary of Mr Caplin, whose gruff manor and fascist politics scare her. And then there are those still waiting at home – Mama and her two sisters, as well as a blossoming romance with her English tutor that had only just begun.

But when Vienna falls under Nazi rule, Natalie begins to fear for her family, especially her vivacious, tomboy little sister Libby. Then rumours of a possible escape route from mainland Europe called the kindertransport begin to swirl – can Natalie help her family escape the Nazis before it’s too late?

My Review

3.5/5 stars

Yes, I know, another wartime book. What can I say? I love this genre.

The story begins in 1936 when 16 year-old Natalie Leeman gets a job as a nanny in England with the Caplin family. She leaves her mother and sisters behind in Austria and travels by train alone where she is met by the wonderful Mrs Sanderson who has arranged the position for her. Natalie’s cousin, Leah, left Austria some time earlier and is working for Mrs Sanderson. Leah is actually a driving force behind getting Natalie – and later, her family – out of Austria to safety. 

Natalie enjoys her job, particularly looking after young Hugo, but she is also, naively, somewhat enamoured with Mrs Caplin, who she sees as elegant, beautiful, and – to her detriment – a friend. 

As life for Natalie’s family worsens, she finally comes round to agreeing with Leah that they need to leave. (For a while she was unwilling to accept the dangers her Jewish family faced, and they too were reluctant to admit they were vulnerable.) When letters from home change into appeals for help, Natalie arranges for her mother and younger sister to join her (with the help of Mrs Sanderson). Unfortunately, plans go awry when her newly-married  elder sister falls pregnant and her mother changes her mind about leaving Austria.

Later, that mistake will cost the family dearly as their situation deteriorates further. By now, Natalie is not alone in seeking an escape for her family. The immigration and visa office is swamped by requests and the possibility of meeting the requirements decreases by the day. It is at the immigration that she first meets Erich who is also trying to secure visas for his much larger family. 

As the story develops, the atrocities become more widely known and fears escalate. But Natalie keeps going; she even turns to Mrs Caplin for help, convinced her beloved benefactor will do all she can to help. Sadly, she is disappointed to find that not only is Mrs Caplin a vapid mother to Hugo, but she is also in love with a man who seems to support Hitler and whom she daren’t cross, not even for Natalie. As a result, by the time war actually breaks out, Natalie is no longer a nanny for Hugo, but instead working with Leah in a local cafe. 

The story moves forward to present day and we learn what happened to Natalie and her family, as well as Leah and Hugo. Admittedly, it’s a slow-burner to start but picks up pace in the last third before skipping ahead to modern times.

There are a couple of points that niggled me: How does she meet up with Erich again after their first one-off encounter? Coincidence? There is no mention of a planned meeting? Also, isn’t the title somewhat misleading as she isn’t even a nanny during the war years? Then again, maybe I’m too pedantic when it comes to history (It’s true, I am 😉 frequently!) It also bugs me when a book is described as “unputdownable” – I know it”s a marketing ploy, but it’s hyperbole at best. Okay, rant over! 

I liked Natalie as a character and she grew up a lot during those early years in England. Her childish nature sees her relate wonderfully with Hugo, almost as if she were the mother he deserved rather than the awful Mrs Caplin. Her fears for her family and friends in Austria are heart-wrenching at times, as are the events that befall them. The author has a great talent for really giving her characters personality, her descriptions are so vivid, often humorous, and always memorable. Natalie, Leah & Mrs Sanderson were my stand-out characters, diamonds in the rough all of them, beautifully drawn and with hidden depths. 

An enjoyable read, (not unputdownable though) but nonetheless a good story with memorable characters, plenty of heartfelt emotions, and proof of the goodness of most people during troubled times. 

I would like to thank #NetGalley, #Bookouture and the author #LizziePage for my ARC in exchange for an honest review. I’ll be sure to look out for more by this author. 

As always, 

book review · historical fiction · NetGalley · spies · women's fiction · WWII

Book Review – Her Patriotic Duty

In a world of secrets, can Esme find the courage to be her true self?

Happily in love, Esme Colborne is about to marry Richard Trevannion, descendant of one of the oldest families in England. But when Esme learns she is adopted – from a working class family – she cannot allow Richard to marry so far beneath his station.

Fleeing the life she knew, a chance encounter leads Esme to work as a ‘decoy woman’, testing British undercover operatives who may otherwise reveal secrets in a moment of weakness. As dangerous as it is thrilling, she is soon captivated by this world of subterfuge – one wrong move, however, and Esme could lose everything.

With her feelings for Richard as strong as ever, should she go back to him and reveal the truth of her birth? Is she brave enough to risk having her heart broken again?

An enthralling Second World War saga for fans of Rosie Archer and Annie Murray.

My Review

4/5 stars

I’m a huge fan of books set in this era, so it was hardly surprising that the theme of Decoy Women would grab my attention. 

When Esme Colborne learns her true identity only days before she’s due to marry Richard Trevannion, she suffers a huge crisis of conscience. Convinced that her real background makes her no longer “suited” to Richard (his family is one of the oldest and wealthiest in England) she packs up her things and leaves home with no plans or destination in mind.

She finds a place to live but has no idea what to do to earn a living since her own savings won’t last forever. When, by chance, she spots a distraught woman with her son speaking in French at the station, Esme asks if she can help, assuming the woman is lost and needs directions. Having been to finishing school herself, Esme is fluent in French but soon realises the woman’s husband is coming to meet them. 

That conversation, no matter how brief, is the catalyst of her story from thereon. Someone overheard her speaking French and suggests she call the number on a business card where the opportunity to serve her country awaits.

And so she is recruited as a decoy woman. Her job is to test men who have recently completed their training as Special OperationS Executives before they are sent to France. Esme is set up at the Hotel Aurelian where she is to meet these men and see if they hold up to scrutiny, albeit done in the most subtle and seductive way. If they fall foul of her methods and blow their cover stories, then her report will deem them as unsuitable. If, however, they pass her test, then they are sent onwards to fight the good fight in France as spies.

Esme excels at her job, but she also gets too close to some of those she is supposed to be testing, in particular to Marcus. As the bombs are dropped more frequently, Esme suffers the loss of her closest friends, and it makes her reevaluate her life. What will become of her once the war ends – she’ll have no job, and has lost the only true friends she  has made since leaving home. Can she pick up the threads with her family, and maybe even with Richard, or should she hope for a new life with Marcus?

This is an interesting and enjoyable read with an original plotline centring around the decoy women. My thanks go to Netgalley and Canelo for the advanced reader copy. 

As always,