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War / Military

REVIEW:  Simple Faith by Anna Schmidt

REVIEW: Simple Faith by Anna Schmidt

Simple-Faith

After losing her beloved husband and daughter and surviving Hitler’s Sobibor death camp, Quaker widow Anja Steinberg dedicates her life to helping others and keeping her son safe. As a member of the resistance, she helps displaced Allied airmen get back to their units in England. The journey is rigorous and filled with danger and there is no time for romance. Then American Peter Trent parachutes into her life. She must face facts—her heart did not die with her late husband and true love could be hers again. But will a romance hurt Peter’s chance of escape from the Nazis—and endanger her life as well?

Dear Ms. Schmidt,

I keep an eye out for your books ever since I discovered you through your Harlequin Historical Love Inspired novels. Quite by chance I happened to have watched a documentary a few months ago that detailed the story of a former American fighter pilot who was shot down during WWII and who by chance and luck was kept from capture for several months while he was sent along the Comet line in Belgium – one of the escape routes used to send Allied airmen through Belgium, France and Spain to return to Britain. When I saw the blurb, I knew I had to read this book.

The action gets going immediately as Peter Trent bails out of his crippled plane then watches as it slams into the ground and explodes. He’s concerned about which other crewmen might have got out in time but also with the fact that he’s been shot in the leg and the fireball of the crash will lead the Germans straight to the site. Desperately trying to remember his escape and evasion tactics while waiting to pull the ripcord of his chute, he calculates his odds and they don’t look good.

Luck is with him and the farm family first hides then takes him in. Anja arrives while the Germans are still searching the grounds of her grandparents farm and joins in the deception that must be flawless for them all to avoid imprisonment, interrogation and death as the network tries to help Peter heal, keeps him concealed and then transports him south.

Anja’s instructions to Peter as she teaches him the ways the Germans will try and trip up people they suspect, the pass offs, couriers, safe houses and, at times, brazen methods the people of the Comet line use all tally with what I’ve seen and read about resistance groups. The constant fear under which they all live is palpable. The danger is everywhere and anyone but as they tell Peter when he asks, it is what they can do to try and win the war.

I was surprised but enthusiastic that the book went far beyond what I was expecting. The group starts in Brussels, escapes detection with an elaborate ruse in Paris, splits up to Bordeaux, winds up near Limoges where fate stretches the escape to the breaking point. And then, the mountains! And details of how the route worked beyond the Pyrenees that I didn’t know the specifics about wind up the third section of the book. It was informative, it was immediate and again capture and death lurked at every turn.

The plot unfolded in a way that makes sense that Anja and her son needed to travel along with and at some times parallel with Peter towards Spain. There is time for these two to get to know each other before the “I love you’s” and the marriage proposal was timely and actually necessary to the final escape. I also like the ending which hints at the work needed after the war and fits in with Anja’s Quaker determination to help with that.

The religious aspects of the book are shown to be central to Anja’s life and part and parcel of the work she does. She shows her beliefs to Peter by her actions and the way she lives rather than any preaching at him and by extension, at me. Another nice thing is that even some of the Germans are shown as people too with their own dreams, fears and hopes. No group of people is ever just black or white. American Peter also comes to realize how arrogant he initially appears and learns some lessons about following instead of always trying to lead.

Anja is a strong heroine as well as an intelligent one. Peter gets to see and appreciate the bravery of those who would risk their lives to save total strangers. He and Anja help others escape and find love as they form a new family and a spotlight is shown on the role of the Belgians during the war. It’s a win for me. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The First Boy I Loved by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: The First Boy I Loved by Cheryl Reavis

first-boy

Vietnam took her first love away from her. Now it may take her next love, too.

After her husband dies, Gillian Warner realizes how many sorrows she carries inside her, including unresolved grief over her first love, who died in Vietnam decades earlier. Haunted by his death in combat and a tangled web of guilty secrets, she books a guided trip to the battle site. The tours are led by cynical Vietnam War vet A.J. Donegan, who makes his living taking naïve Americans on what he calls Guilt Trips, Inc. If they’re looking for peace of mind, they can forget it. A prickly attraction sparks between Gillian and Donegan, with neither able to let go of the past without the other’s provocative challenge. In a test of willpower and desire, they’ll have to share much more than a journey to a place and a memory; they’ll have to travel deep inside the walls they’ve built around their hearts.

Dear Ms. Reavis,

I periodically read your website to check what books you’ve got coming out and remember reading about this one years ago. Then came lots of waiting. Many other books were released but not this one. So I waited some more and had almost given up on ever getting my hands on it when I saw it listed at netgalley. Yes, finally! – cue excited squees.

I have a soft spot for older couples finding love, especially if they’ve loved and lost before. Donegan and Gilly both qualify for that description. However since they also both came of age during the Vietnam War (or the American War as the Vietnamese know it) both also have war wounds and must hang on to each other as they veer and stagger towards healing and peace.

I laughed at the way these two interact. They are honest past superficial, time wasting manners with each other. Neither pussy foots around with bullshitting but cuts to the chase. Gilly reminds me of many no-nonsense nurses I know – they have heart, care deeply and are dedicated to their patients but they see right through any subterfuge and will call you on it in an instant. Donegan is like many veterans I have met – blunt and direct. They compliment each other despite their different professions.

While I’m not quite of this age I am close enough to remember a lot of it. The nightly news with Walter Cronkite giving the days totals of dead and wounded, the protests, the songs. The war – by whatever name – still haunts and scars people from both nations and will for their lifetimes. The vets have their stories they won’t tell and the sisterhood of grieving women still mourn, as women have always done when men go to war. The scene of the Vietnamese village women and Gillian letting the dam burst on their emotions was moving and powerful.

I enjoyed seeing Saigon and Vietnam as they are and were with the centuries side by side and overlapping. Donegan shows Gilly the real Saigon and the real Vietnam in all its beauty and ugliness. The proof of the ugliness is in what haunts him the most and the secret he finally reveals to Gilly. The beauty – it’s all around them and in the people they meet and share memories, grief and time with.

The book is filled with wonderful characters – some of whom are mere pencil sketches but what lifelike drawings they are. Madame An who made her French lover learn Vietnamese and now runs a 5 star restaurant and caters Donegan’s coffee. Dr. Nguyen who cares for orphans but still dislikes Americans because the American War killed her father, Mrs. Tran who survived the war and found and new husband and a new life on her boat, the women of Binh Duong who live their pain and the results of Agent Orange.

It’s painful. It’s funny. It’s a trip back in time and a time for healing or at least a start at it. There are things in their pasts which might not ever be resolved but part of life is accepting what can’t be changed and dealing with the grief and pain. The ending is more than HFN but not quite a HEA. Donegan and Gilly have both gone through some catharsis and are ready to commit to working out their relationship but I’m glad you didn’t force a rainbows and happy bunnies ending.

One thing I love about your books is that I feel what the characters are feeling and not because I’m told those are their emotions. Instead their actions and manner of speaking shows me and gets me to believe in their stories in a visceral way. I connect with them just as I did with Gilly and Donegan. B

~Jayne

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