Friday, March 23, 2018

#BookReview: The Lost Love of a Soldier by Jane Lark

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The stunning prequel to Kindle bestseller The Illicit Love of a Courtesan!
Life is for grasping and living...

Naïve and innocent, Lady Ellen Pembroke falls for a dashing young army officer. Captain Paul Harding has such an easy, enchanting smile and his blue eyes glow; vibrancy and warmth emanating from him. She is in love.

In turn, the Captain finds his attention captured by the beautiful young daughter of the Duke of Pembroke at a house party in the summer. Finding Ellen is like finding treasure on the battle field. His sanity clings to her - something beautiful to remind him that not all in the world is ugly.

Ellen is someone to fight for and someone to survive for when he is inevitably called to arms in the battle of Waterloo...
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★   |   Obtained from: Netgalley   |   Read: March 14, 2018
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My comments on Jane Lark’s The Lost Love of a Soldier are closely linked to a conversation that runs through my reviews of Capturing the Earl’s Love and The Desperate Love of a Lord so if you’re joining me mid-thought, it might be a good idea to click over and start from the beginning.

My ARC of The Lost Love of a Soldier has been on my kindle since 2014 which is why I’d like to start my review with an apology to both Jane Lark and Harper Impulse. For those keeping track, this makes me both a penny pincher and a procrastinator, both of which are descriptors I chose to own. Add single-mom who is gainfully employed full-time while going to school and you probably understand my reasons, but that’s neither here nor there.

I read the description of The Illicit Love of a Courtesan before realizing Amazon ordered the books by the date of publication. This meant that chronologically the series began with The Lost Love of a Soldier which was great as it was the only novel I had access to. That said, having understood the premise of what was effectively book two, destroyed any and all hope for an HEA in book one. I may be starting at the beginning, but this story was going to get dark.

Other readers might have been upset by this, but I was actually intrigued. I’d adored Lark’s disregard for genre tropes in both Capturing the Earl’s Love and The Desperate Love of a Lord. If anything, my inadvertent discovery proved my enthusiasm was well-placed so I jumped in with every expectation that Lark would deliver something extraordinary.

I came up for air two-hundred and sixty-three pages later, emotionally crippled, but thoroughly satisfied by the story. The plot is at moments predictable and I will cop to vividly flashing on the performances of Reese Witherspoon, Romola Garai, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers during my reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed this narrative and how Lark used the Battle of Waterloo to bring context and drama to the experiences of her cast.

I think it goes without saying that I’ll be seeking out the rest of the Marlow Intrigues as soon as possible. Highly recommended. 

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"Finding Ellen had been like finding treasure on the battle torn fields in his head. His sanity clung to her, something beautiful to remind him that everything was not ugly. She was someone to fight for. Someone to survive for..."
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#BookReview: The Desperate Love of a Lord by Jane Lark

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From Kindle bestselling Historical romance author, Jane Lark, comes a brand new FREE novella to accompany her breathtakingly beautiful Regency series.

Fiercely independent, Lady Violet Rimes, the merry widow, has played the town, dangling men from leashes like a pack of adoring hounds, always the one in control. She has never let a man toy with her.

An idle, attractive rake, Lord Geoffrey Sparks has had little to do other than enjoy life. He has let Violet play her games for months without complaint, because he likes her company—and admittedly her bed. But in recent months he's found himself gravitating towards her more and more. Things have changed between them. He likes her for who she is and not simply the notorious widow. He thought his feelings were returned, but . . . Why then has she suddenly vanished from town without a word?

A couple of months ago, she'd complained about his friend being a heartbreaker, but now Violet is breaking his heart...
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆   |   Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library   |   Read: March 12, 2018
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My comments on Jane Lark’s The Desperate Love of a Lord are closing linked to a conversation I began in my review of Capturing the Earl’s Love so if you’re joining me mid-thought, it might be a good idea to click over and start from the beginning.

Having my mind blown by an author isn’t something I’m used to so when it happens, I take notice. This fact likely explains the two second gap between my first and second experiences with Jane Lark’s work. I knew nothing about the Marlow Intrigues series and I don’t consider myself and fan of the genre, but I’d liked what I’d seen and wasn’t getting caught up on the details.

Like Capturing the Earl’s Love, The Desperate Love of a Lord is short. It clocks in at a hundred and eight pages, so character development is a little thin. That said, the novella proved Lark isn’t a one trick pony. Both hero and heroine are atypical in their make-up, but I also adored the role-reversal on which the story was built. Lark was keeping me on my toes and I was more than happy to enjoy the ride.

That ride, however, was short-lived. At least that’s what I thought when I looked at Amazon and realized none of Lark’s other titles were available for free and having already exhausted my monthly book allowance on print editions of Elizabeth Chadwick’s Templar Silks and Joan Renner’s The First with the Latest!, I figured I’d be waiting till April to again indulge in Lark’s delightful brand of storytelling. That is until I ran a search on my kindle and discovered a forgotten ARC of The Lost Love of a Soldier

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"He’d probably had too much to drink, but it was the brandy which had given him the courage to come and make a spectacle of himself. He felt like such a bloody fool, falling for her so heavily if she had just been playing games."
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#BookReview: Capturing the Earl's Love by Jane Lark

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From Kindle bestselling Historical romance author, Jane Lark, comes a brand new FREE novella to accompany her breathtaking Marlow Intrigues series.

This novella tells the story of secondary characters from The Illicit Love of a Courtesan...

Rupert Stanforth, Earl of Morton, is exasperated by his sister's choice of friend. Meredith Divine clings, using Rowena's plain appearance as a foil for her auburn curls and fuller figure. He would break the friendship, but the more he complains, the more time the girls spend together. Ceasing his disagreement, he hopes the friendship will die, believing Meredith will take a wrong step soon...

Meredith clings to her only friend, Lady Rowena Stanforth, despite the disgusted looks thrown by Rowena's proud, judgmental brother. Lord Morton cannot abide Meredith because of her low standing, but Meredith's heart favours him . . . then in his single act of kindness, Meredith grasps an opportunity she cannot resist... 
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆   |   Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library   |   Read: March 12, 2018
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Not one, but two authors have recently come out to discuss the financial side of publishing and while I agree the creative geniuses who fuel the machine are underpaid, I have to admit that I am also poor and refuse to be shamed over buying books when they are on sale or browsing Amazon’s freebie listings. I do want I can, but I have a budget because I too have bills and need to stretch my funds as far as possible.

My propensity for pinching pennies may sound irrelevant, but I promise, I have a point. You see, I picked up Jane Lark’s Capturing the Earl’s Love and The Desperate Love of a Lord for absolutely nothing. I’d no experience with the author, but literature that is freely distributed from a legitimate vendor isn’t something to be ignored, especially for readers with modest checking accounts.

Now assuming you’re not disgusted by the awful truth behind my acquisition of Capturing the Earl’s Love, you might be wondering how I fared. Free literature can’t be all that good, can it? On the contrary my friends, it can be very, very good indeed.

At only sixty-nine pages, Capturing the Earl’s Love takes no time at all to read, but what it contains blew me clean off my feet. A male narrator? An age-gap? Tangible heat? Emotional culpability for one’s impulsive actions? Lark’s writing packed an undeniably imaginative punch that left me eager for more, which was convenient as I happened to have The Desperate Love of a Lord immediately available...

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"When Rupert took a wife, which would not be for a few years yet, he wished for someone who would bring him contentment. A woman he would not argue with, someone quiet, who would be willing to make his home, and perhaps his bed, comfortable, and manage all else without needing to refer to him."
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Thursday, March 22, 2018

#CoverCrush: Freedom is Space for the Spirit by Glen Hirshberg

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 publishing 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. This appreciation for cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those images that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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"Freedom is Space for the Spirit" by Glen Hirshberg is a fantasy about a middle-aged German, drawn back to Russia by a mysterious invitation from a friend he knew during the wild, exuberant period in the midst of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Upon his arrival in St. Petersburg, he begins to see bears, wandering and seemingly lost.

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Admit it. You did a double-take when you saw the cover of Freedom is Space for the Spirit by Glen Hirshberg. At only 54 pages, the novella is not what you'd call intimidating, but the jacket? Oh my gosh, the jacket is absolutely stunning. I haven't read a lot of paranormal or urban fiction of late, but this design has me hook, line, and sinker.

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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!


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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#BookReview: Maggie's War by Terrie Todd

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In 1942, telegrams always bring life-altering and tragic news in a war-hardened world—and the one Maggie Marshall receives is no different. But running a restaurant with the help of only pregnant, unwed girls has taught her to be tough. Maggie’s no weeping widow, but Charlotte Penfield thinks she’s the most unfeeling woman on earth. Seventeen, exiled by her wealthy parents, and working in the restaurant, fanciful Charlotte runs away with romantic notions of a reunion with her baby’s father at his military camp.

It has been years since Maggie darkened the church door of her pastor and childhood friend, Reverend Reuben Fennel, and his heart breaks for the hardened woman Maggie’s become. When she seeks his help to find Charlotte, he’s happy to aid her in the chase—though it may cost him his job and reputation.

Over the miles from Winnipeg to Fort William, Reuben and Maggie’s journey rekindles their affection—and their dreams of what they still could be. But Maggie stubbornly clings to her independent ways until she’s dealt another devastating loss, one that forces her to recognize that heroes can be discovered in unlikely places and love may be far sweeter than she ever dared imagine. 
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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆   |   Obtained from: Kindle Unlimited   |   Read: March 11, 2018
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NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

Many readers have adored the time they spent with Maggie’s War by Terrie Todd and while I respect the opinions of those readers who’ve taken the time to share their thoughts, I have to say the book didn’t work for me.

Maggie’s War challenged me for a number of reasons, first among them being the excess of plot. Maggie’s marriage, her history with Ruben, her association with unwed mothers, the reasons behind that association, Charlotte and her obsession with Reginald, the shady goings of other parties, a runaway, a restaurant, and an altered will tally a few too many twists and turns for my liking. I don’t mean to be horrid, but there was a lot going on here and I often felt the various components and subplots too loosely tied. I also felt the issues at the restaurant distracting, but that’s just me.

Like The Silver Suitcase, I found Maggie’s War historically thin and struggled to embrace the novel as war era fiction. I was also frustrated by the lack of cohesive characterization among the cast. Maggie reads as a firm individual who is content to be left alone by the world at large (think Marilla Cuthbert), but there is a moment in which she bemoans the fact that her brother-in-law strips the feistiness from her nature. Excuse me for pointing it out, but feisty is not a quality this character excludes in any capacity and I was not inclined to accept such remarks when Todd failed to substantiate the validity of those descriptions within the narrative.

Charlotte suffers the same characterization issues, but as her story is so closely linked, I’d like to take a minute and talk about Reginald. Reginald is a playboy. Not a great characteristic, but when one of his women steps up and says “Be a man and take responsibility for the child you fathered,” what does he do? Pull a Charles Bryant and leave her hanging? No. He marries Vera and gives both mother and child legitimacy. Is he aware of Charlotte and her situation? No. Does he have other children out there? We can speculate, but we can’t say for certain. Is he still a philandering scumbag? Again, we can’t say, but assessing his character by what we know to be true, we can’t rule out the possibility of his having acknowledged the error of his ways. Call me crazy, but this unseen, unheard, unknown “villain” of Charlotte’s past isn’t much of an antagonist and the void that left in the narrative left me bored beyond belief.

Though the following does not factor in my rating, I’d like to note that Todd lays her themes down thick. Faith-based messages are a given in Christian literature, but those who prefer more subtlety might want to look elsewhere. I’m also not entirely sure why Charlotte’s legal rights were ignored by the narrative. Manitoba enacted the Illegitimate Children’s Act in 1912. Under provincial law, unwed mothers could lay charges against the fathers of their children for financial support. These provisions were extended under Manitoba’s Child Welfare Act in 1922 which levied jail time on fathers who refused to pay. I understand Charlotte’s theoretical desire to avoid disruption of Reginald’s life, but as a single mother, I was disappointed that the novel ignored the social and economic realities of raising a child without assistance, especially when one considers the social and economic inequality of woman in 1942.

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"Of the dozen girls she had seen come and go over the passt three years since Douglasd left, only one had ever sent a thank-you note. Probably the only one who'd ever seen past Maggie's tough extereior, and the only one Maggie had allowed herself to care about. And what had that brought her? Only more loss. She wouldn't make that misake again."
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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

#Wishlist: March 2018

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. 

Ever wonder how a supporting character experienced a story? If so, this list is for you. Inspired by classics, these five authors have reimagined the perspective and experienced of those who didn't headline when introduced by their original creators. Enjoy!

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The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina - unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina's father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together - all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow's legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows's Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend - and rumored witch - Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane's disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional - often magical - means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo's The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won't erase. 
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Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables. 
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March by Geraldine Brooks

Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction. From the author of the acclaimed YEAR OF WONDERS, an historical novel and love story set during a time of catastrophe, on the front lines of the American Civil War. Acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks gives us the story of the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women - and conjures a world of brutality, stubborn courage and transcendent love. An idealistic abolitionist, March has gone as chaplain to serve the Union cause. But the war tests his faith not only in the Union - which is also capable of barbarism and racism - but in himself. As he recovers from a near-fatal illness, March must reassemble and reconnect with his family, who have no idea of what he has endured. A love story set in a time of catastrophe, March explores the passions between a man and a woman, the tenderness of parent and child, and the life-changing power of an ardently held belief.
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The Fall by Bethany Griffin

Madeline Usher is doomed.

She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? The Fall is a literary psychological thriller, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher.
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A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

Inspired by Victor Hugo's classic, Les Miserables, A Little in Love beautifully conveys the heartbreaking story of street girl Eponine.

Paris, 1832

A girl lies alone in the darkness, clutching a letter to her heart.

Eponine remembers being a child: her swing and the peach tree, and the baby brother she loved. But mostly she remembers being miserable. Taught to lie and cheat, and to hate the one girl, Cosette, who might have been her friend.

Now, at sixteen, the two girls meet again, and Eponine has one more chance. But what is the price of friendship--the love of a boy?

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

#CoverCliche: Dark Elegance

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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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is a dazzling novel of mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.

Gabriela's mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there's more to her mother than painted nails and lips.

Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family's previous generations—from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.

Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swingin' '70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change. With great humor and heart, Sarit Yishai-Levi has given us a powerful story of love and forgiveness—and the unexpected and enchanting places we find each.

Based on the author's discoveries about her great-grandfather, this stunning debut novel takes place over three days when World War II comes to the doorstep of an ordinary German family living in an idyllic, rural village near the Swiss border.

When World War II breaks out, Edith and Oskar Eberhardt move their family--their daughter, Marina; son-in-law, Franz; and their granddaughters--out of Berlin and into a small house in the quiet town of Blumental, near Switzerland. A member of Hitler's cabinet, Oskar is gone most of the time, and Franz begins fighting in the war, so the women of the house are left to their quiet lives in the picturesque village.

But life in Blumental isn't as idyllic as it appears. An egotistical Nazi captain terrorizes the citizens he's assigned to protect. Neighbors spy on each other. Some mysteriously disappear. Marina has a lover who also has close ties to her family and the government. Thinking none of them share her hatred of the Reich, she joins a Protestant priest smuggling Jewish refugees over the nearby Swiss border. The latest "package" is two Polish girls who've lost the rest of their family, and against her better judgment, Marina finds she must hide them in the Eberhardt's cellar. Everything is set to go smoothly until Oskar comes home with the news that the Fuhrer will be visiting the area for a concert, and he will be making a house call on the Eberhardts.

Based on the author's discoveries about her great-grandfather, this extraordinary debut, full of love, tragedy, and suspense, is a sensitive portrait of a family torn between doing their duty for their country and doing what's right for their country, and especially for those they love.

English Title: The Good at Heart

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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.