Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cover Crush: Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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My ARC actually has a different cover, but I love this edition of Jenny Ashcroft's Beneath a Burning Sky. The contrasting colors draw the eye and I like how the designer played with the size of each of the elements in the design. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 20, 2017

As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead. In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war. As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate. 

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If you’re one of those who can’t stand negative reviews, quit while you’re ahead and stop reading now. I don’t mean to be rude, but I didn’t enjoy the time I spent with Kim Izzo’s Seven Days in May and I’ve no intention of mincing my words to appease everyone who thinks negative commentary a waste of both time and energy.

The sinking of the Lusitania boasts an overwhelming degree of intrigue, but Izzo’s illustration of the ship’s final voyage lacks both dimension and depth. Izzo relies on a series of information dumps to relay facts about the voyage, but fails to recreate the spirit of its passengers or the ambiance of its accommodations. The research was obviously done, but atmospherically I found the novel lifeless and flat. I don’t mean to imply that Izzo didn’t care about the historic elements of the story, she did a fair amount of research, but in terms of storytelling she exhibits a distinct preference for character drama over period detail.

Unfortunately, I found this emphasis misplaced as the entirety of the cast struck me as both cliched and predictable. I hate to be that reviewer, but stock characterizations don’t do it for me and Izzo failed to bring anything new to the table. A suffragette whose only flaw is getting into trouble for standing up for women’s rights? A self-righteous, marriage minded socialite? An inexplicably talented codebreaker with no experience who just happens to land a government job? An impoverished yet charming member of the aristocracy who is willing to trade his title for wealth? Give me a freaking break.

Finally, and I know this is petty, but I genuinely feel the story overburdened with competing plots. Sydney, Brooke, and Edward are united in that they are all passengers on the ship, but Isabel exists on the periphery of the disaster. Her position provides an avenue for Izzo to explore the military aspects of the story, but there’s virtually no cohesion between her story and that of the other leads.

Long story short, Seven Days in May didn’t work for me and I’d have a difficult time recommending it to other readers.

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The men laughed but Isabel didn’t find it amusing. Sinking an unarmed schooner with a small civilian crew was so unnecessary. The Germans would have wanted to prevent the English getting the food supplies and she supposed on that level it was an enemy victory. 
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Cover Cliché: Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

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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Sparkling cocktails, poisonous secrets ...

1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.

But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.

By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.




Old friends assemble at a country house party for New Year 1919. At Hannesford Court, it's almost as if nothing has changed.

But beneath the surface, nothing is quite the same as the last time they met there. A few faces are missing, and for Tom Allen, only just out of uniform, the desirable daughter of the house suddenly seems within his reach.

Then there is the story of the young woman who was found drowned in the swirling waters of the River Hann while Tom was away. Can one unexplained death be significant when so many millions have died in the trenches?





Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm is the riveting sequel to the author’s critically acclaimed Heart of Lies. Based in part on her family’s actual history, Heart of Deception tells the intensely exciting story of a desperate Hungarian national who becomes an international spy in order to protect his loved ones during World War Two and beyond. A tale of espionage and intrigue, duty and destiny, it is an extraordinary saga that offers a richly evocative portrayal of a remarkable twentieth century epoch while delivering the page-turning historical suspense of James Clavell, Susan Howatch, and Ken Follett.





Perfect for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Robert Harris, and Susan Elia MacNeal, here is the next thrilling historical novel featuring Clara Vine, the British actress and special agent who glides through the upper echelons of Nazi society, covertly gathering key intelligence—and placing herself in mortal peril.

In the spring of 1939, the drums of war beat throughout Europe, but nowhere more ferociously than in Berlin. The film studio where Clara Vine works is churning out movies, but each day that she stays in Germany is more dangerous than the last. Spying on the private life of the Third Reich, passing secrets to contacts in British intelligence, falling into a passionate affair—any of these risky moves could get Clara shot. So she is wholly shaken when someone close to her is murdered instead. The victim is Lottie Franke, an aspiring costume designer and student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty finishing school that trains young women to become the wives of the Nazi elite. While the press considers Lottie’s death in the Grunewald forest the act of a lone madman, Clara uncovers deeper threads, tangled lines that seem to reach into the darkest depths of the Reich—and to a precious discovery that Hitler and his ruthless cohorts would kill for.


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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. 


Wish List: April 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. 

This month's wishlist was inspired by authors Ruth Downie and S.J.A. Turney. I recently read their collaborative work, The Bear and the Wolf, and was so drawn to the material that I decided to track down other stories set in Roman Britain. Five titles later, a wishlist was born. Enjoy!

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The sweeping new novel from the bestselling author of LADY OF HAY switches between Roman Britain and the present day where history dramatically impacts on the lives of three women. Two thousand years ago, as the Romans invade Britannia, the princess who will become the powerful queen of the great tribe of the Brigantes, watches the enemies of her people come ever closer. Cartimandua's world is, from the start, a maelstrom of love and conflict; revenge and retribution. In the present day, Edinburgh-based historian, Viv Lloyd Rees, has immersed herself in the legends surrounding the Celtic queen. She has written a book and is working on a dramatisation of the young queen's life with the help of actress, Pat Hebden. Cartimandua's life takes one unexpected turn after another as tragedy changes the course of her future. But the young queen has formidable enemies - among them Venutios, her childhood sparring partner, and Medb, a woman whose jealousy threatens not only her happiness but her life. Viv's Head of Department, Hugh Graham, hounds her as she struggles to hide her visions of Cartimandua and her conviction that they are real. Her obsession grows ever more persistent and threatening as she takes possession of an ancient brooch that carries a curse. Both Pat and Hugh are drawn into this dual existence of bitter rivalry and overwhelming love as past envelopes present and the trio find themselves facing the greatest danger of their lives. 




Anarchy rules in Britannia as the Roman Empire collapses,
and two men fight to build stable lives among the chaos.

After more than four hundred years of Roman rule, the island its conquerors called Britannia was abandoned—left to its own devices as the Roman empire contracted in a futile effort to defend itself from the barbarian hordes encroaching upon its heart. As Britannia falls into anarchy and the city of Viroconium is left undefended, two cousins who remained behind when the imperial forces withdrew pursue very different courses in the ensuing struggle to unite the disparate tribes and factions throughout the land.

Passionate, adventurous Dinas recruits followers and dreams of kingship. Thoughtful Cadogan saves a group of citizens when Saxons invade and burn Viroconium, then becomes the reluctant founder and leader of a new community that rises in the wilderness. The two cousins could not be more different, but their parallel stories encapsulate the era of a new civilization struggling to be born.






Phaedrus is a Roman gladiator who has won his freedom. By chance, he is also the exact double of Midir, the Horse Lord, lost King of the Dalriad tribe. To rid the Dalriads of the usurping Queen Liadhan, Phaedrus agrees to a daring pretence -- he will impersonate Midir and become the Horse Lord. Knight's Fee is an exciting story of Norman England, which tells how Ranald the servant boy strives to achieve his ambition and become a knight.






Spanning three centuries, the series recreates Celtic Britain at the time of the Roman invasion: a land of visions and dreams, bloodshed and brutal death.

It is AD 79 and Agricola, the ruthless governor of Roman Britain, is turning his attentions to the last unconquered territory in Britain - Alba, Scotland. Rhiann is a courageous and beautiful Scottish princess and priestess scarred by her violent past. Of noble blood, she faces what for her is the ultimate sacrifice - a forced marriage - to protect the freedom of her people.

Eremon is an enigmatic Irish prince in exile, who must seek an alliance elsewhere to regain his throne. Will he prove himself to be the man who can unite the squabbling Celtic tribes against the more ominous threat of Rome?

With war and chaos looming for her people, Rhiann finds herself drawn into an unexpected journey of the spirit and heart, which will reveal the true purpose of her life.




A brooding and atmospheric Scottish tale from a RITA and RT Reviewers Choice Award-winning and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. The invincible ninth Roman Legion marches from York to fight the Northern tribes, and then vanishes from the pages of history. When Verity Grey goes looking for them, she may find more than she bargained for.

Archaeologist Verity Grey has been drawn to the dark legends of the Scottish Borderlands in search of the truth buried in a rocky field by the sea.

Her eccentric boss has spent his whole life searching for the resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and is convinced he's finally found it-not because of any scientific evidence, but because a local boy has "seen" a Roman soldier walking in the fields, a ghostly sentinel who guards the bodies of his long-dead comrades.

Here on the windswept shores, Verity may find the answer to one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or she may uncover secrets someone buried for a reason.
A modern gothic historical fiction with elements of mystery, ghosts, and romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cover Cliché: Long Kiss Goodbye

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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A novel of love, loss, and honour amidst the horrors of war and its aftermath.

It’s 1916, and the last thing Nova Scotian soldier Danny Baker expects to find in war-torn France is the love of his life. Audrey Poulin is alone in the world, and struggling to survive the war in the French countryside. When Audrey and Danny meet and fall in love, it seems like the best version of fate.

But love is only the beginning, as Danny loses a leg in the Battle of the Somme, and returns home to Halifax with Audrey, only to discover that he’s unable to leave the war behind. Danny and Audrey struggle with their new life together, and must face not only their own internal demons, but a catastrophe that will soon rip apart everything they think they know about themselves and each other.

Genevieve Graham, author of Under the Same Sky and Sound of the Heart, brings her passion for weaving history and fiction together in a seamless tale that will capture and enthrall the reader.




From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—author of Moonlight Over Paris and Somewhere in France—comes a lush historical novel that tells the fascinating story of Ruby Sutton, an ambitious American journalist who moves to London in 1940 to report on the Second World War, and to start a new life an ocean away from her past.

In the summer of 1940, ambitious young American journalist Ruby Sutton gets her big break: the chance to report on the European war as a staff writer for Picture Weekly newsmagazine in London. She jumps at the chance, for it's an opportunity not only to prove herself, but also to start fresh in a city and country that know nothing of her humble origins. But life in besieged Britain tests Ruby in ways she never imagined.

Although most of Ruby's new colleagues welcome her, a few resent her presence, not only as an American but also as a woman. She is just beginning to find her feet, to feel at home in a country that is so familiar yet so foreign, when the bombs begin to fall.

As the nightly horror of the Blitz stretches unbroken into weeks and months, Ruby must set aside her determination to remain an objective observer. When she loses everything but her life, and must depend upon the kindness of strangers, she learns for the first time the depth and measure of true friendship—and what it is to love a man who is burdened by secrets that aren’t his to share.

Goodnight from London, inspired in part by the wartime experiences of the author’s own grandmother, is a captivating, heartfelt, and historically immersive story that readers are sure to embrace.




In January 1917, five wounded French soldiers, their hands bound behind them, are brought to the front at Picardy by their own troops, forced into the no-man's land between the French and German armies, and left to die in the cross fire. Their brutal punishment has been hushed up for more than two years when Mathilde Donnay, unable to walk since childhood, begins a relentless quest to find out whether her fiancé, officially "killed in the line of duty," might still be alive. Tipped off by a letter from a dying soldier, the shrewd, sardonic, and wonderfully imaginative Mathilde scours the country for information about the men. As she carries her search to its end, an elaborate web of deception and coincidence emerges, and Mathilde comes to an understanding of the horrors, and the acts of kindness, brought about by war.

A runaway bestseller in France and the winner of the 1991 Prix Interallié, this astonishing novel is many things at once: an absorbing mystery, a playful study of the different ways one story can be told, a moving and incisive portrait of life in France during and after the First World War, and a love story of transforming power and beauty.




January, 1920. Young Englishwoman Margaret Dalton is full of excitement as she arrives in Sydney to begin a new life in the warm, golden land of Australia. She leaves behind the horrors of WWI and can't wait to see her husband, Frank, after two years of separation.

But when Margaret's ship docks, Frank isn't there to greet her and Margaret is informed that he already has a wife . . .

Devastated, Margaret must make a new life for herself in this strange city, but she soon falls in love with its vibrant harbour, sweeping ocean and clean sea breezes. A growing friendship with army sergeant Tom McBride gives her a steady person to rely on. But just as Margaret and Tom begin to grow closer, news arrives that Frank may not have abandoned her. Will Margaret's life be thrown upside down once again? And where should her loyalties lie: with the old life or with the new?


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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, April 17, 2017

Murder on Location by Cathy Pegau

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 26, 2017

In the Alaska Territory, suffragette Charlotte Brody is a newspaper reporter in the frontier town of Cordova. She’s a woman ahead of her time living on the rugged edge of civilization—but right now the most dangerous element she faces may come from sunny California... An expedition has arrived in the frigid wilderness to shoot North to Fortune—an epic motion picture featuring authentic footage of majestic peaks, vast glaciers, homesteaders, and Alaska Natives. But the film’s fortunes begin to go south as a local Native group grows angry at how they’re portrayed in the movie, fights break out, and cast and crew are beset by accidents and assaults. Finally, production is halted when the inebriated director falls into a crevasse—and dies of exposure. Soon Michael Brody—the town coroner and Charlotte’s brother—starts to suspect that Mother Nature was not responsible for Stanley Welsh’s death. Charlotte, who’s been writing about all the Hollywood glamor, is suddenly covering a cold-blooded crime story—and as springtime storms keep the suspects snowed in, she has to make sure the truth doesn’t get buried...

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I gushed over Cathy Pegau’s Murder on the Last Frontier in 2015. The fresh plot, unique setting, and strong characters came together in the best possible way and left me eager for the second installment. Book two, Borrowing Death, came out in 2016 and while I enjoyed the mystery well-enough, I had difficulty appreciating what Pegau was trying to do with the series as a whole. I was hesitant about book three, but nostalgia for the original story won out which is how I found myself with ARC of Murder on Location.

Unfortunately, my experience with book three is very likely my last with the Charlotte Brody mysteries. I mean no offense to Pegau or the readers who enjoyed the book, but the magic I felt with book one is well and truly gone. The glitz and glamour of the latest installment failed to enchant my imagination or enchant my interest. The whole thing actually struck me as rather hokey and I was disappointed that I was able to correctly peg the perpetrator before Stanley Welsh breathed his last. The romance between Charlotte and James has grown stale in my eyes and while I liked learning more about Charlotte’s background, I can’t say the details made my effort to read the novel worthwhile.

I seem to be the exception as most readers found the narrative charming, but when push comes to shove I consider Murder on Location a light read and that’s just not where I am as a reader. I need something with more meat and depth to it and at this point feel I’d do better to satisfy those desires elsewhere.

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There was no absolute proof of foul play, and to insinuate as much would do two things she knew James would want to avoid: upsetting folks further and letting the possible murderer know he was on to him or her. She especially didn’t want to cause Cicely any more anguish. Having her father die was bad enough, but suggesting his death was intentional would be a whole new horror.
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Alan Lloyd: The Lost Generation by Isobel Charman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: April 6, 2017

As a boy, Alan Lloyd could never have imagined the harsh realities of the war he would one day fight in. In this retelling of his story, using extracts from diaries and correspondence, including Alan’s letters to his wife from the front line, Isobel Charman has woven together the tale of a journey from privileged young man to officer fighting for his life and country in World War One. Descended from the Lloyds banking family, Alan grew up wanting for nothing. He studied at Cambridge, where his life revolved around rowing, cricket and planning his future. After university, he fell in love with Dorothy and set about forging a career in farming, but then, just as the couple were ready to settle down, war broke out. Against the wishes of his devout Quaker family, Alan joined the army. In July 1915 he left for France, where his life became one of guns, trenches, death and survival in the Great War. 

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I owe my interest in Isobel Charman's Alan Lloyd: The Lost Generation to Matthew McNulty, the actor who played Alan in ITV’s The Great War: The People's Story. The World War I docudrama covers the lives of several ordinary individuals as seen through their own diaries and letters, but something about the way McNulty played Alan stuck in my head and ultimately led to my discovery and purchase of Charman's biography.

Beginning with Alan's family background, the book chronicles the whole of Alan's life, but the heart of the story is his relationship with Dorothy and how it grew, changed, and was eventually defined by World War I. Lloyd's letters offer unique insight to the lifestyle of the well-to-do and his personalty draws the reader into both the emotional and physical experience of fighting in the trenches and while I'd have loved to see more of Dorothy's own letters to Alan, I couldn't help falling for the story of this young couple caught up in the turmoil of war.

At only one hundred twenty-nine pages, the narrative is not a long or drawn out affair and historically, I can't recommend Alan Lloyd: The Lost Generation as a particularly noteworthy, but there's something to be said for firsthand accounts and Alan's view of the world makes an engaging read beginning to end.

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We’re an old veteran crew, and we got a bad start and Leander got a bad start, but in the end they won and we’ll win and that’s all there is to it.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cover Cliché: Unspoken Attraction

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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From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster.

There is only one problem - Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past. Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.




A family's entire heritage is threatened by one woman's lies...

Pious and convent-bred, Lily Bruisson takes Twenties Paris by storm. Courted by two suitors, a Russian prince in exile, and a handsome American reporter, Lily chooses the prince. When disaster strikes Prince Mikhail Brasilov in the Thirties, he abandons his pretty wife and children for America.

As the threat from Germany grows, Lily’s world narrows to a fight for her life. A life that changes dramatically after her mother confesses a secret so deadly, it could ruin them all. Lily vows to hide the truth of her mother's past.

But secrets aren't meant to be kept, especially in a world of betrayal, when surviving the Occupation, and freedom from the Nazi Regime is as essential as the air they breathe.

Lily turns to America reporter Mark MacDonald to save herself and her family when everything points to their eminent demise... all due to her mother's past.







Set in 1931, Edith Horton is a former VAD who finds herself not only struggling with her inner demons, but with the presence of evil in her village in the Yorkshire Dales. Her brother is suspected of murdering an elderly wealthy widow, and sins of the past have echoes in her life and the lives of those close to her.







Gerda Nielsen is on her way from Brooklyn to Liverpool aboard the ill-fated Lusitania in 1915.

Jack Walsh is returning to England, ready to take up a post developing new types of portable field telephones to help the war effort. Unmarried, he’s keen to settle and as he and Gerda spend more and more time onboard together they realise that each has found someone very special.

But it’s the afternoon before they dock in Liverpool, and tragedy strikes. As the torpedoed ship lists to one side Jack and Gerda must make frightening decisions that become a matter of life or death …

A beautiful, romantic and moving tale based on a true story.


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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, April 10, 2017

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 2, 2016

From the slums of London to the riches of an Edwardian country house; from the hot, dark seams of a Yorkshire coalmine to the exposed terrors of the trenches, Adam Raine’s journey from boy to man is set against the backdrop of a society violently entering the modern world. Adam Raine is a boy cursed by misfortune. His impoverished childhood in the slums of Islington is brought to an end by a tragedy that sends him north to Scarsdale, a hard-living coalmining town where his father finds work as a union organizer. But it isn’t long before the escalating tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, explode with terrible consequences. In the aftermath, Adam meets Miriam, the Rector’s beautiful daughter, and moves into Scarsdale Hall, an opulent paradise compared with the life he has been used to before. But he makes an enemy of Sir John’s son, Brice, who subjects him to endless petty cruelties for daring to step above his station. When love and an Oxford education beckon, Adam feels that his life is finally starting to come together – until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart.

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“Inspired by the real-life experiences of his grandfather, J.R.R. Tolkien, during World War I, Simon Tolkien delivers a perfectly rendered novel rife with class tension, period detail, and stirring action, ranging from the sharply divided society of northern England to the trenches of the Somme.”

I must have read that line three times before glancing at the rest of the description on Simon Tolkien’s No Man’s Land. I’m a World War junkie anyway, but Tolkien’s life is a brilliant story and I couldn’t resist the idea of seeing it brought to life by the iconic author’s own grandson. I’ll grant I was a little wary of the fact that Simon’s protagonist required a name change, but I was otherwise optimistic so I tracked down a copy and jumped in.

Unfortunately, the reality of what I discovered didn’t rise to the level of my admittedly inflated expectations. I mean no offense to either the author or the many readers who’ve praised his work, but No Man’s Land simply didn’t work for me. I’m in the minority here so feel free to throw my opinions to the wind, but I found both the pacing and prose insufferably dull and struggled with the harsh perspective afforded through inadvertent comparison to Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants.

I read the books only months apart and despite obvious differences in size and scope, there is a noticeable degree of overlapping plot between the two. I tried to disassociate and judge on individual merit, but when push comes to shove I have to admit that Follett is the stronger writer and that Tolkien’s approach to the same material left me wanting.

Is it fair to judge a book this way? Probably not. Will my admission ruffle feathers? There’s a chance. Do I care? Not a whit. I’ve great respect for the author’s ideas and intention, but I can’t see myself recommending No Man’s Land to fellow enthusiasts of either Tolkien’s subject or genre.

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“You can't win because of the guns," said Adam with a sigh. "Machine guns, mortars, field guns, howitzers: it doesn't matter how much courage soldiers have, how much will; flesh and blood can't pass through bullets and shells, or at least not in sufficient numbers to have any effect. The guns win in the end and they always will. Not us, not the Germans - the guns.” 
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Friday, March 24, 2017

The Opium-Eater by David Morrell

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

Thomas De Quincey--the central character of Morrell's acclaimed Victorian mysteries, Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead--was one of the most notorious and brilliant literary personalities of the 1800s. His infamous Confessions of an English Opium-Eater made history as the first book about drug dependency. He invented the word "subconscious" and anticipated Freud's psychoanalytic theories by more than a half century. His blood-soaked essays and stories influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. But at the core of his literary success lies a terrible tragedy. In this special-edition novella, based on real-life events, Morrell shares De Quincey's story of a horrific snowstorm in which a mother and father died and their six children were trapped in the mountains of England's Lake District. Even more gripping is what happened after. This is the true tale of how Thomas De Quincey became the Opium-Eater, brought to life by award-winning storyteller David Morrell.

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David Morrell's Thomas De Quincey series is one of my favorites. Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead blew me away, but I didn't realize the series included a novella until I went looking for book three, Ruler of the Night. I'm not sure how I missed the publication of The Opium-Eater, but I couldn't resist snagging a copy for my personal library.

At only sixty-seven pages, the piece is hardly intimidating, but the content itself is nothing short of brilliant. Those new to the series get a taste of the style and tone of the larger volumes, while established fans get to satisfy their curiosity by learning what makes Thomas De Quincey tick. 

Dark and emotional, The Opium-Eater packs a powerful punch and fleshes out Morrell's enigmatic antihero. Complete with photos, the volume also gives singular insight to the world De Quincey knew and memories he couldn't escape. 

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“There’s no such thing as forgetting, but perhaps I can force wretched memories into submission if I confront them.”
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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Boy of My Heart by Marie Leighton

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Open Library
Read: August 10, 2016

A mother's remembrances of the son she lost in WWI. Published anonymously, Boy of My Heart was penned by prolific romance novelist Marie Connor Leighton after the death of her son Roland Leighton, the British poet and soldier portrayed in Vera Brittan's best seller Testament of Youth.

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Roland Leighton
My taste in movies mirrors my taste in literature so it should come as no surprise that when I manage to catch a film, it's inevitably a period piece. In this case, the film was Testament of Youth and since I couldn't get my hands on a copy of Vera Brittain's memoir, I settled for Boy of My Heart by Marie Leighton.

Written after the death of Leighton's beloved son, the book is an intensely sentimental tribute that can only be described as over-the-top. The style and tone are in keeping with the trends of the day, but to modern eyes the verbiage is excessively flowery and overdone. I understand the emotion behind it, but I personally had trouble staying engaged in the text.

I wouldn't say the book much genuine detail about Roland, but it does offer interesting insight to his mother and the grief experienced by a generation of parents who watched the war take their children before their time.

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"But is he wholly mine? Is there there somebody else who wants him even though he is hardly more than a boy? There floats before my eyes the vision of a girl: a small, delicate-faced creature with amethystine eyes, who is dreaming dreams that have got him for their centre. What a forcing power for sex this war has been, and is!"
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Cover Crush: Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Heather Webb & Hazel Gaynor

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I'm a sucker for jackets with a vintage feel which is awesome because I'm a die hard World War fiction fan. The red accents pack a punch against the sepia tones of the backdrop and the end result is nothing short of eyecatching. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired


Wishlist: March 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. 

This month's theme was inspired by the movie Parkland which I decided to rent after reading Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye. The movie is based on Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi which I'm trying to track down as we speak, but the events of November 22, 1963 are on my mind and I figured it make a interesting if intense topic for this month's wishlist. 

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During the reading of her mother’s will, Sheila Baker discovers that she has inherited everything her parents ever possessed, including their secrets. A mysterious safe deposit box key leads her to the answers to one of history’s greatest conspiracies: who killed John F. Kennedy? Not only does she have the missing film, revealing her mother as the infamous babushka lady, but she has proof that there was more than one shooter.

On the run from people who would stop at nothing to keep secrets buried, Shelia turns to billionaire sleuth Jason Hammond for help. Having lost his own family in a tragic plane crash, Jason knows a thing or two about running from the past. With a target on their backs, can Jason uncover the truth in time, or will this shooter finally make their mark?






O! Jackie explores the private life of Jackie Kennedy, her heartbreaking struggles, difficult relationships, and deep desire to end JFK's wandering ways. As a faithful wife devoted to an unfaithful husband, Jackie knew humiliation well. Living in the public eye intensified her disgrace. Through the years, Jack Kennedy's lustful escapades grew in carelessness and frquency. When his trysts with Marilyn Monroe threaten to become public, Jackie must decide how far she'll go to save the presidency and her marriage.






In "one of the most deliciously high-concept thrillers imaginable" (The New Yorker) a young JFK travels to Europe on a secret mission for President Roosevelt

It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.

It’s a surprising selection. At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Roosevelt’s ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary). But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy. The president’s goal: to stop the flow of German money that has been flooding the United States to buy the 1940 election—an election that Adolf Hitler intends Roosevelt lose.

In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage tale that explores what might have happened when a young Jack Kennedy is let loose in Europe as the world careens toward war. A potent combination of history and storytelling, Jack 1939 is a sexy, entertaining read.




On November 22, 1963, the First Lady accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit that was his favorite. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits. 

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady's perfection. When the pink suit became emblematic, Kate's already fragile world--divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood--threatened to rip apart.

Moving from the back rooms of Chez Ninon to the steps of Air Force One, The Pink Suit is an enchanting, unforgettable novel about hope and heartbreak, and what became of the American Dream.




Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Two Cent Musings: Where the BLEEP has Erin Been?

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Okay, I’m not actually crazy enough to believe people are worried that a book blogger took an extended leave of absence, but I have been gone awhile so I think it appropriate to offer some sort of explanation.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” I’m not a huge fan of altered Austen, but Helen Fielding’s effort haunts me, largely because it’s so applicable to my own existence. I’m not going to go into the details, but I am fairly certain that there is a daytime soap opera writer who follows me around and plagiarizes my life experiences to amuse the masses. I think it’d be a much better arrangement if I were paid for providing such great material, but my stalker is likely quite happy as is.

Anyone who knows me understands that I read the way most people breathe. That’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Books are my escape, but when things get really bad, I suffer the kind of anxiety that makes it difficult to focus on page after page of text. In short, I stop reading and feel a little lost, and then I have to sort out all my emotions without my favorite coping mechanism which is all kinds of fun. Long story short, I actually didn’t pick up a book for several weeks. I fell behind in my reading challenge and my reviewing and for a while there, I actually didn’t care. Then of course the world stopped spinning, I started feeling a little guilty, and I fell right back into reading because as we all know, books are absolute magic and who doesn’t need a double dose of that in their life?

So what have I been reading? Lots of this and that actually and I’ve loved every minute of it. Flashlight Commentary is now dedicated solely to historic fiction and nonfiction and while a few of these titles meet the criteria, most don’t so I wont be offering a full review on any of them. That said the books are actually pretty interesting so I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on each before getting back to our usually scheduled programming.



When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

It’s specialized reading to be sure, but I found it fun. I’m WWII junkie anyway, but seriously, it’s a book about the power of books! How freaking awesome is that? There are also some great facts about the publishing industry and how reader response influenced the powers that be to change the way books were made, marketed, and written.

“Authors whose books were selected as ASEs were rewarded with a loyal readership of millions of men. Word spread quickly about the titles that were perennial favorites, even reaching the home front. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was written in 1925, was considered a failure during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. But when this book was printed as an ASE in October 1945, it won the hearts of an army of men. Their praise reverberated back home, and The Great Gatsby was rescued from obscurity and has since become an American literary classic.”



Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner with David Fisher

This one was okay. I don’t think it measures up to Nimoy’s I Am Spock which I highly recommend to everyone whether or not they like Star Trek, but that’s just me. Leonard was a nice effort, but something about it didn’t feel entirely genuine and I often felt there was an undertone of comparison rather than camaraderie.

“What made the show work, in addition to the relationships between the members of the crew, were the stories we told each week. Star Trek was a tribute to the great tradition of science fiction, in which future civilizations were used to tell contemporary morality tales, tales about subjects that couldn’t be addressed for various reasons at the time.”



As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

I was denied a review copy of this one and in retrospect that is all kinds of awesome as I ultimately downloaded the audio from my local library. For those who aren’t aware, the book is narrated by the author and if that isn’t fun enough, several of the cast and crew also contribute their voices to the narrative. Love the film? You’ll love the book, but trust me on this, you’ll love the audio more.

“So when you see Westley fall to the ground and pass out, that’s not acting. That’s an overzealous actor actually losing consciousness.”



American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice

This was a spur of the moment impulse selection. I hadn’t seen the movie, but I was interested enough in the military aspects to try my luck and actually enjoyed a lot of the material. It was insightful, but down to earth and I liked the lack of pretention in the author’s tone.

“The joke was that President Bush only declared war when Starbucks was hit. You can mess with the U.N. all you want, but when you start interfering with the right to get caffeinated, someone has to pay.”



American Wife: Love, War, Faith, and Renewal by Taya Kyle with Jim DeFelice

American Sniper ends before Kyle’s death, so finishing the story with his wife’s memoir felt appropriate. Reading the books back to back was interesting as there is such contrast in the way they remembered various events, but when push comes to shove, I think American Sniper stronger and would have difficulty promoting American Wife with the same enthusiasm.

“When life brings you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.”



American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle with William Doyle

I mentioned that I liked Kyle’s tone in American Sniper so I took note when the book referenced a second publication and set about tracking down a copy. American Gun includes a lot of mechanical jargon about firearms, but I found the context original and liked how the book related gun technology to memorable moments in United States history.

“There will always be good. There will always be evil. There comes a time when honest debate, serious diplomatic efforts, and logical arguments have been exhausted and only men and women willing to take up arms against evil will suffice to save the freedom of a nation or a continent.”



Flags of Our Fathers by James D. Bradley with Ron Powers

I’m actually amazed it took me so long to read this one, but the timing actually put the subject matter into interesting perspective. The book follows the lives of the flag raisers at Iwo Jima and the cultural legacy created by the famed photo, but as it turns out, the man who inspired the book. I didn’t actually know that until after I finished the book, but I found it appropriate considering John Bradley’s aversion to his own inadvertent fame.

“Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others. Their actions involve courage. Often, those heroes have been indifferent to the public's attention. But at least, the hero could understand the focus of the emotion.”



Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

I don’t think this one needs explanation, but much like As You Wish, I recommend getting the audio of this one. Fisher’s writing is hilarious in and of itself, but her verbal expressions are absolutely hysterical. I was literally biting my tongue to avoid cracking up while listening to this one.

“Now I think that this would make a fantastic obit- so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”



The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

This one was actually inspired by a recent trip to the Nixon Presidential Library and is partially responsible for my desire to make a return trip. Woodward’s writing is fascinating and I love his phrasing, but the insights afforded by the book put interesting perspective on both Watergate and the trial that followed. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as casual reading, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it.

“’When you’re in the White House,’ Butterfield said, ‘everyone lies. You can sort of get feeling immune.’”



Being Nixon: The Fears and Hopes of an American President by Evan Thomas

Remember what I said about The Last of the President’s Men being partially responsible for my wanting to revisit the Nixon Library? Being Nixon represents the other half of that equation. Thomas’ illustration is even handed, but his interpretations made me think more about key moments in Nixon’s presidency, his legacy, and why history paints him the way it does.

“Nixon’s inclination toward the dark side has long been a cliché. Less understood (possibly even by Nixon himself) is his heroic, if ill-fated, struggle to be a robust, decent, good-hearted, person.”



Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

I don’t think I should have to explain my interest in this one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book with an insane looking racoon on the cover? Lawson’s writing is all kinds of random, but in the best possible way and is well-worth looking into.

“Like my grandmother always said, ‘Your opinions are valid and important. Unless it’s some stupid bullshit you’re being shitty about, in which case you can just go fuck yourself.’”



The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

This one was actually inspired by the realization that I will actually be listening to Neil Gaiman from the cheap seats in a few weeks. I thought it apropos so I jumped into the collection of essays and fell in love with every single one of them. I also remembered why it was that I love blogging about books, so if you feel the need to attribute my return to anyone, send that gratitude to Gaiman.

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story.”


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