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REVIEW: Gift from the Sea by Anna Schmidt

Dear Ms. Schmidt,

gift-from-the-seaEarly 20th century American historicals aren’t exactly falling off trees like the oak pollen covering my car right now. So when I see one, I get excited. When it turns out to be such a nice experience to read it, I want to tell people. So here goes.

Maggie Hunter is an angry and slightly bitter young woman. She over works herself as a nurse at the small hospital on her native Nantucket Island to deal with the grief of losing her best friend and fiance to the war raging in Europe. So when her innkeeper father and a local fisherman discover a half frozen young man on the beach during a January storm and that man turns out to be a German – the enemy – she’s hot for him to be turned over to the authorities. There is no good reason for him to be here and every bad reason to imagine.

Or so Maggie thinks. Stefan Witte is a man who is risking everything for what he believes in. But, seriously injured by frostbite, he might lose the short window of opportunity to do what he’s come to America for – help stop the war that is ruining his beloved Germany. If he can’t convince the Hunter family of his true mission, he’ll end up incarcerated or worse. Can he get this already skeptical woman to help him? Or will these two miss a chance to save lives and find their own HEA?

So we’ve got a hero and heroine who have every reason to be wary of each other and for whom a love relationship is the last thing on their minds. Maggie’s calling as a nurse just barely overcomes her disgust at the thought of having to nurse the enemy. And if her parents hadn’t put their collective foot down, she probably still wouldn’t have helped beyond the initial night. Christian charity can go hang as far as she’s concerned.

Stefan is a man alone among the enemy and too debilitated to even get out of bed much less make a run for it or try to meet his contact on the island. His reticence to trust too much to these people he doesn’t know makes perfect sense. He feels the need to keep some informational aces up his sleeve in case things turn ugly and isn’t above deliberately targeting those he feels he could use in his mission.

As opposed to Stefan as Maggie initially is, and her “way beyond personal” reasons make it entirely reasonable, the change for her to believe in him had to be carefully done. And it is. The scene where he goes for broke and explains to Maggie the reasons behind his willingness to hand over information to the enemy is powerful and immediately made me think of the French movie Joyeux Noël. The way you make the telling slightly understated just adds to the emotional power and helps Maggie to begin to see Stefan, and the German people, as human beings and not just The Enemy.

Emotions for all the characters seesaw back and forth but given the situation mine would too. People who had initially been willing to help this young man in need get reminded of the losses they’ve suffered from the war. When events conspire to raise suspicions again, it didn’t feel to me like improvised conflict but something that would naturally occur. And even in the end, not everyone is completely convinced overnight.

Like Maggie, I have some niggles about Stefan’s contacts and how the underground movement would be able to engineer things across the ocean. In the end, I had to just accept that they could happen as does Maggie. I also had to mentally readjust myself to an age before rapid communication when it might take weeks before decisions are made and events move forward.

The period details add to the story but don’t swamp it. The descriptions of clothes, transport and the isolation of the island during the storms of winter are all part of the plot. The care and treatment of frostbite are sobering as is the danger of pneumonia in this era before modern antibiotics. You even include the need to isolate possible Spanish flu patients as an integral element of the book.

Maggie’s crisis of faith is a necessity given the fact that this is a Steeple Hill line book. Did I feel preached at – which is sometimes a deal breaker for me with these books? No, I didn’t. Was this an important part of her character or did it merely feel tacked onto the story? Question one: yes. And question two: no. I thought Stefan’s arguments about faith went beyond merely trying to get Maggie onto his side and delved deeper into what ultimately brings these two together.

I enjoyed the fact that humor is sprinkled throughout the story. Maggie’s efforts to learn Morse code and her father’s advice to Stefan, “keep it simple as she’s just learning it,” were delightful. And I wonder if Stefan ever gets that nurses hat away from her?

So thank you for a wonderful story utilizing an under served era of American and world history. And danke for making sure that Maggie and Stefan enter their relationship with open eyes and full knowledge of what they might be up against as far as public opinion goes. B+

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Harlequin or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

25 Comments

  1. Estara
    May 08, 2009 @ 15:58:22

    Wow, a book with a German as a hero, and set at the time of the Great War… I thought we only could be heroes in Japanese manga… I really have to get this.

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  2. K. Z. Snow
    May 08, 2009 @ 16:39:32

    Isn’t this a classic Anne Morrow Lindbergh title (not book, just title)?

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  3. Nifty
    May 08, 2009 @ 17:07:22

    This is tangential, I’m sorry, but the plot summary reminded me of a movie to recommend. The title is Sweet Land, starring Elizabeth Reaser (Esme from the Twilight movie and Rebecca from Gray’s Anatomy) and in a smaller role, Alan Cumming. The tagline of the movie is “A Love Story” and that’s exactly what it is. Reaser plays a German mail order bride who arrives in post WWI Minnesota to wed a Norwegian farmer — not Cumming! — but she arrives without the proper citizenship papers and the local minister is unwilling to marry the young couple. The land is still gripped in anti-German sentiment, so the community isn’t very welcoming of Inge. The movie shows her relationship with her to-be husband, as she helps him on his farm, working hard at his side and slowly winning over the neighbors and community with her charm and steadfastness. It’s a sweet movie. Very good in a non-showy, completely character-driven and subtle way. Well worth the rental fee and a couple hours of your day.

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  4. Jayne
    May 08, 2009 @ 17:10:07

    Estara, another book you might want to look for is Michaela August’s “Sweeter Than Wine.”

    It’s also got a German hero in America but this time just after the end of WWI.

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  5. Jayne
    May 08, 2009 @ 17:13:41

    Oh Nifty, I love that movie. Though I had to laugh at what was said about the young German woman’s language skills.

    Elizabeth Reasers' Norwegian pronunciation was so bad that after Dagbladet (one of Norway’s biggest news-papers) stumbled upon this film, they posted a clip from it with the title “What is she trying to say?”

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  6. Nifty
    May 08, 2009 @ 17:17:18

    Yeah, I read that, too! Thankfully I don’t speak German or Norwegian, so my ignorance was bliss and I could just enjoy the story.

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  7. Anthea Lawson
    May 08, 2009 @ 17:39:13

    Yes, Gift From the Sea is also the title of a classic non-fiction book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (wife of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh). It has been in print for around 50 years (though perhaps not continually) and it’s often used (or was) in women’s studies classes, which is where I first read and loved it. It’s a fairly short, sweet, deep book about finding balance in one’s life — as an artist, as a mother, as a wife, as a person.

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  8. Mary Winter
    May 08, 2009 @ 18:33:04

    I happened to get this book for my grandma for mother’s day since she reads the Steeple Hill books and I loved the unique historical setting. She’s really been enjoying it too.

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  9. Deb Kinnard
    May 08, 2009 @ 18:52:12

    Good points, all. And why isn’t there more early 20th century fiction? Because in our market (Christian fic) we’ve been told there aren’t readers for it, and that goes for a whole wheelbarrow-load of other historical eras as well. I’m glad someone has broken through that viewpoint. Hopefully this story and your review will help change people’s minds.

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  10. MD
    May 09, 2009 @ 00:24:27

    What a lovely cover. The story sounds good, too.

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  11. Jayne
    May 09, 2009 @ 03:38:21

    Good points, all. And why isn't there more early 20th century fiction? Because in our market (Christian fic) we've been told there aren't readers for it, and that goes for a whole wheelbarrow-load of other historical eras as well. I'm glad someone has broken through that viewpoint. Hopefully this story and your review will help change people's minds.

    I don’t think it’s just Christian fic authors who are told not to write in early 20th Century eras but everyone. About two years ago, Elizabeth Lane wrote a book for Harlequin Historicals about early flying before WWI (On the Wings of Love). Since then, she’s written one that takes place shortly after the Spanish American War (The Borrowed Bride) and a sequel to it that appears like it will be set during the San Francisco earthquake.

    As I wrote in one of those reviews, when I see a book in this era, I try to at least check out the blurb to see if the book might interest me. It baffles me that more books don’t utilize it since authors wouldn’t have to go overboard in researching obscure facts and then labor to work those unknown-to-modern-readers details into the story. I would think that most readers would have more exposure to at least a smattering of these details than they would to medieval era ones.

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  12. Jayne
    May 09, 2009 @ 03:40:14

    It is a lovely cover, isn’t it? Though it would have to be from a later point in the book and not close to the raging winter storm that opens the novel!

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  13. Estara
    May 09, 2009 @ 07:12:52

    @Jayne: Thanks for the recommendation, that book also reads extremely interesting in the description.

    @Nifty: Ooh, something else for me to check out.

    I may be a teacher of English and have lived in the UK for 1 1/2 years, but I’ve so gotten used to the German Nazi stereotype there and the online usage, that when English-speaking countries have any positive portrayals of us, it makes me very curious.

    The first time I came across a Germanic hero in a Japanese manga, I was flabbergasted until I remembered that the Japanese had been on our side of the war and had quite liked German culture even before then.

    As a teacher of German history I am quite aware that Germany earned the prejudice, but then again I was born in 1967 as the daughter of a former teenaged refugee from the Russians in East Prussia (my grandfather was a state ranger in the huge woodlands there) and a Syrian architect.

    We own our collective guilt these days (although I think we did better at admitting that before East-Germany returned), and we reflect more, but that also means that realistically I know that I personally do not bear responsibility for World War II, because I did not exist at the time.

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  14. Jayne
    May 09, 2009 @ 09:35:31

    Here’s a link to the lovely review for “Sweeter Than Wine” at AAR that got me to search for it in the days before ebooks.

    I’ve often said I’d love to read more historical books with German, Italian, French or other European heroes so when I find ones I like, I try and jump up and down about them.

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  15. Eve Boston
    May 09, 2009 @ 17:29:46

    Ever since I read Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (decades ago, but I still remember it), I’ve searched for another historical with the same premise, during the same period, or earlier. I can’t wait to buy this one and read it. Your review is just splendid!

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  16. Kelly C.
    May 09, 2009 @ 19:52:44

    I read this book a week and a half ago and I highly enjoyed it. I have been reading more and more of the various LOVE INSPIRED books (not the suspense ones yet, but it’s only a matter of time) and I am liking them far more than I ever thought possible. I don’t mind the mention of God and/or religion when, IMO, it is done ever so subtlely. I don’t feel like I am ever being hit over the head with either.

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  17. (Jān)
    May 09, 2009 @ 20:26:29

    Thanks Jayne! You always bring different books to my attention that I enjoy reading.

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  18. Jayne
    May 10, 2009 @ 05:24:44

    Thanks Eve. And the ending is happier too (from what I understand about SoMGS). I still remember when that made for TV movie came out in the late 70s.

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  19. Jayne
    May 10, 2009 @ 05:28:03

    Me too Kelly. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for hawt sex and that’s when the “Love Inspired” books fit the bill. Give the suspense ones a try. They haven’t all worked for me but a lot of them have been B range grades.

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  20. Jayne
    May 10, 2009 @ 05:31:38

    I’m there for ya, Jan.

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  21. Caty
    May 11, 2009 @ 05:58:42

    This one sounds good. I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read from this line, and generally not felt preached at.

    Potters off to find a copy.

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  22. Karin Welss
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 17:50:24

    Jayne, thank you so much for recommending Sweeter Than Wine!

    Writing that book was a labor of love, mingling family history and local Sonoma Valley history as it did, but it was a very difficult process finding a publisher for an early 20th-century-set historical novel. Most of the New York publishers rejected it with the notation that romance readers only want to read historical romances set in a few very specific time periods: eighteenth-century Scotland, Regency England, the post-Civil War American West, and medieval England.

    As a German-American, I’ve also noticed what Estara pointed out earlier…if there’s a German character in American TV or movies, they’re generally The Villain. ::cue ominous music::

    As noted, Japanese anime and manga have a much more positive portrayal of German culture and history, and you frequently find medieval German settings used when something colorful and exotic is needed…I’m thinking of the popular Kyo Kara Maou series, among others.

    best regards,
    Karin
    (writing with Marian Gibbons as Michaela August)

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  23. Jayne
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 17:58:07

    Karin, I enjoyed that book so much that I’m always happy to talk it up. One of the wonders of ebooks is that “Sweeter Than Wine” can now be read so much more easily than when it was first published.

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  24. Karin Welss
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 12:36:12

    ::blushes:: Thank you, Jayne!

    Yes, I love ebooks (and audiobooks, too, since I frequently have to make long drives). I recently purchased a large external disk drive to hold the contents of my ebook and audiobook library, because I was running out of space on my laptop. I’m a fast reader, and when I’m traveling, it’s nice to know that I can bring along enough ebooks to keep me in reading material for a trip lasting a couple of weeks. I still bring along a magazine or paperback for the ascent/descent portions of a plane trip, but most of my reading is electronic these days.

    When Sweeter Than Wine‘s first publisher went out of business, another small press, Awe-Struck, eventually picked up the publication rights, and re-issued the book in a variety of formats, including trade paperback and Kindle. We also received new cover art for the reissue, which both Marian and I really liked.

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  25. REVIEW: An Unexpected Suitor by Anna Schmidt | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 10:42:29

    [...] this book doesn’t match my fondness for “Gift from the Sea,” it’s still one for which I think there is an audience. The setting and time period are ones I [...]

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