Win THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah

February 3, 2015

Click to purchase

I loved this book so much that I want one lucky reader to get a free copy! Read on for my review and how you can enter to win.

This was quite a departure for Hannah, who typically writes really good stories about contemporary women’s lives. This time she starts out that way, but quickly goes back in time to 1939 France as the war is getting underway.

Sisters Isabelle and Viann have lost their mother, and their father, damaged from World War I, can’t deal with his loss and his daughters so he sends them away. Isabelle is rebellious and gets kicked out of one boarding school after another, until she’s sent to live with her older sister Viann and her husband. Things don’t work out there and the sisters part ways. But when Viann’s husband goes off to war, eighteen year old Isabelle is sent back to stay with her sister again.

Isabelle wants to be involved in the war effort, but not in a typical-of-the-time way of rolling bandages. When she meets Gäetan, a partisan rebel, she falls in love and wants to go off with him to fight, but he sneaks away, leaving her angry, frustrated and heartbroken. As the Nazis move in to France, the country is divided in two, the Nazi occupied territory, and the Free Zone under Vichy government. The sisters’ small town is taken over by Nazis, and one is billeted in their home.

Isabelle joins the Resistance movement at great personal risk. Her exploits become legendary as eventually she leads downed British and American airmen out of France, walking them across the mountains into Spain and freedom. She becomes known as the Nightingale.

Meanwhile, back at home, Viann’s best friend Rachel is Jewish, and we all know what happens there. She begs Viann to take her baby boy, and as dangerous as it is, Viann acquiesces. Then another Jewish friend is being taken away, and leaves her son as well. Viann knows she can’t keep another Jewish child, so she approaches the Mother Superior at the local convent orphanage, and they take the child. They decide there will be more Jewish children to be saved, and eventually Viann saves several more.

The story moves occasionally back to contemporary times, when one of the sisters is being moved to a nursing home by her son, a doctor, who knows nothing of his mother and her sister’s past – and, in a brilliant stroke on Hannah’s part, we don’t know which sister she is.

This was a completely mesmerizing story, a female side of the war that isn’t often explored. I was totally immersed in their world, and often brought to tears. It is a difficult subject, and the brutality and violence is not whitewashed at all, but is necessary to the story. I have read a lot of Holocaust fiction and this was one of the more interesting, unusual and compelling books on the subject. This strong, well written feminist historical fiction is simply not to be missed. It is sure to make my favorite list for 2015.

To win your own copy, please send an email to contest@gmail.com with “WIN NIGHTINGALE” as the subject.

You must include your snail mail address in your email.

All entries must be received by February 20, 2015. One (1) name will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States only. Your book will be sent by the publisher, St. Martins Press.

One entry per email address. Subscribers to the monthly newsletter earn an extra entry into every contest. Follow this blog to earn another entry into every contest. Winners may win only one time per year (365 days) for contests with prizes of more than one book. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone.

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press (February 3, 2015). ISBN 978-0312577223. 448p.


THE APPLE ORCHARD by Susan Wiggs

August 22, 2014

Click to purchase

Bella Vista Chronicles, Book 1

This series is set at the Bella Vista apple orchard in Sonoma County, California, in the small town of Archangel. I read these out of order, starting with book 2, The Beekeeper’s Ball, which I liked so much that I immediately ran out and got this book. They don’t have to be read in order, but probably is better to do so.

This story centers around Tess Delaney, an antiques appraiser working for a prestigious California auction house like Sotheby’s. She grew up in Dublin with a single mom who travelled a great deal, so really her grandmother raised her.  The grandmother had an antiques store and Tess loved being there with her, and learned a great deal that helped her in her career. Her mother told her that her father was a one night stand and she didn’t even know his name.

Tess is on the verge of a big promotion and move to New York when Dominic Rossi enters her life. She originally believes he’s come to her for an appraisal, but is shocked to discover that he’s there to deliver some bad news. Her grandfather, Magnus,  has taken a tumble and is in a coma. The news would be devastating to anyone, but the real shocker is that Tess never knew she even had a grandfather. Then she comes to find out that she also has a half-sister.

Dominic is divorced with two kids and dogs and is the executor of Magnus’s estate, and tells Tess that the two granddaughters are equal heirs. Stunned to learn she stands to inherit an estate, Tess decides she had better go meet her half sister, Isabel, and find out more. Along the way she falls in love with the area, and with Dominic, but the estate is on the verge of bankruptcy. Dominic works for the bank that holds the mortgages, but try as he might, the conglomerate that owns the bank won’t budge – until Tess ferrets out a rare antique that is worth millions.

The backstory here is a complicated family one, with some really interesting flashbacks to World War II in Copenhagen, and the Danish resistance. A very fast read with characters that come alive on the pages, and I truly hope there are more books to follow.

8/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs. Harlequin MIRA; Reprint edition (April 29, 2014). ISBN 978-0778314967. 448p.


THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs

August 20, 2014

Click to purchase

Bella Vista Chronicles

This was the first book I’ve read by Susan Wiggs, and as soon as I realized it was the second book of a series, I went and got the first – this is the sequel to The Apple Orchard . Hopefully, there will be more to come.

This story is set at Bella Vista farm in Sonoma County, California, in the small town of Archangel. Isabel Johanson is a culinary school dropout but a gifted chef, and she is converting the large hacienda where she grew up into a farm-to-table cooking school. She is also busy helping her half sister Tess plan her wedding, which will be held at the recently converted barn on the property.

Bella Vista is home to a small apiary, and Isabel is determined to expand it. She leaves a message for a local beekeeper and is waiting for some help, but her bees have minds of their own and start swarming, looking for a new home. As she tries to capture the swarm, a young man stops, who she assumes to be Jamie, the beekeeper. But he knows even less than she does about bees, and gets stung, triggering a life threatening allergic reaction.

Turns out he is Cormac O’Neill, a famous journalist who is on his way to Bella Vista to work on a book about Isabel’s grandfather, Magnus, who worked with the Danish resistance during World War II. This is a family with a lot of secrets, and having the writer there helps them all come out.

There is obvious chemistry between Cormac and Isabel, but she is hesitant about getting involved. She had a bad experience in culinary school and hasn’t really come to terms with everything that happened, but she is forced to when her ex shows up in town to open a restaurant.

There are a lot of threads to this story, and Wiggs masterly weaves them all together seamlessly, creating an engaging page turner with historical significance – I learned a lot about about Denmark’s role during the Holocaust. Her characters are skillfully brought to life, and the setting becomes another character here. There are a few honey based recipes included as well, and I’m dying to try the Bee Sting Cake, a sort of breakfast sweet bread.

If you liked The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, try The Beekeeper’s Ball – I liked it even more.

8/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs. Harlequin MIRA; First Edition edition (June 24, 2014). ISBN 978-0778314486. 368p.