The Ration Card by Eric K. Augspurger

Every so often, I’m privileged to review a book written by someone I know. Sometimes it’s someone I’ve just become friends with recently; sometimes it’s someone I’ve known a long time. On this occasion, I get to present a WWII novel written by someone I’ve known over 20 years (wow, now I feel old. Thanks, Eric).

The Ration Card Front Cover (Tin Whiskers Books)

The Ration Card Front Cover (Tin Whiskers Publisher)

THE PLOT: Josephine Troyer is like many other young war brides. She and her husband, Al, quickly married between high school graduation and his enlistment in the marines. Jo grew up in an orphanage and has been living with Al’s parents while he’s fighting in the Pacific, but she starts to feel the need to contribute something to the war effort. One day, Jo shocks her in-laws by announcing her intention to apply for a job at the local factory as so many other women are doing.

Even though the work is strenuous and dirty, Jo finds satisfaction in being useful. She makes new friends at the plant, including Roz, a woman of Japanese descent, and Pete, a man who isn’t fighting because of a prior injury. As Jo becomes more independent, she begins to wonder if she’ll be the same person Al married when he comes home.

MY TWO CENTS: If you read this blog, you know that historical fiction is my favorite genre, although WWII isn’t my usual pick. But this is a perfect example of why historical fiction appeals to me so much: you can learn details about the time period while connecting with characters that make you care about their story.

This story is very much about Jo’s journey from a teenage girl to a young woman reaching her potential. She begins by feeling helpless while her husband is fighting the war and wanting to do anything to contribute to his safety. After she begins the job, though, and becomes good at it, she starts to become proud of her work. She’s excited to earn her own money and even buy a car, which adds to her independence.

The plot’s tension comes from her evolving relationships with others, especially Pete. While Jo gets along well with her in-laws, they don’t entirely approve of her new-found independence, and her mother-in-law especially begins to become suspicious of her friendship with Pete. In the meantime, Jo naturally matures through events such as supervising her crew, dressing up (including fake stockings) and going out with the girls, enjoying baseball games with Roz and Pete, and dealing with rationing. Jo also faces her share of heartache. The novel brings up something often glossed over in American history: the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

While there is definitely romance in this book, it is not primarily a romance. All the romance is very clean. While the romance plays a part in Jo’s growth, Pete’s character also grows and changes through his relationship with Jo. Even Jo’s mother-in-law, Pearl, changes over time. Although this is primarily Jo’s story, the growth of other characters add to the richness of the realism already experienced through the setting details.

BOTTOM LINE: A lovely coming-of-age story with fabulous period details of the WWII home front. I enjoyed it a great deal and am very much looking forward to the book about Roz, But for the Blood I Bear.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The Ration Card is available now in hardcover and eformats. (Please note that the hardcover version includes samples of the Blooming Grove newspaper, which give even more details about events of the time. These do not appear in the eformats.) Eformats can only be purchased through www.tinwhiskersbooks.com; hardcovers can be purchased there or through Amazon.

FIRST CHAPTER SAMPLE: You can read the first chapter and view a sample of the Blooming Grove Review in PDF format here.

Note: Review is based on a copy gifted to the reviewer by the author.

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The Virgin’s Spy (Tudor Legacy #5) by Laura Andersen

The “Tudor Legacy” series continues in this second book of the second trilogy. I sound like a broken record on this blog, but if you like Tudor historical fiction and haven’t given these a try, you should. The ripple effect of the alternate reality is captivating.

****SPOILER WARNING:**** This review will include spoilers for the first trilogy books, The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here); and also the first book of this trilogy, The Virgin’s Daughter (reviewed here).

The Virgin's Spy Front Cover (X)

The Virgin’s Spy Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

THE PLOT: While The Virgin’s Daughter primarily focused on Lucette, the daughter Minuette and William (also known as King Henry IX), this volume focuses mostly on Stephen, the oldest son of Minuette and Dominick Courtenay.

Stephen is the reliable, dutiful older son, the one who will one day be Duke of Exeter. He heads off for military duty in Ireland, where he learns some hard truths about combat, loss, and betrayal. His extended recovery brings him back to England, but guilt and a need for revenge shape his future. He volunteers to go undercover as a spy for Walsingham, but he may not realize the full cost until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, younger son Kit is trying to put some much-needed space between him and Anabel, the Princess of Wales. He knows full well that Anabel has to marry royalty, despite whatever affection lies between them. He heads with his family to Spain to visit Anabel’s father, King Philip, and his new wife…Mary, Queen of Scots. Kit’s twin sister, Pippa, carries some secrets of her own.

Anabel is left to be courted by the Duke of Anjou and King James of Scotland, but Anabel’s mother, canny Queen Elizabeth, throws a shocking curve into the proceedings.

MY TWO CENTS: One of the reasons these books succeed is because they follow a true path of how history might have progressed if one certain event had changed (Anne Boleyn giving birth to a surviving son). This means that the story is often gritty and unpleasant even when the reader wants everyone to get a happy ending. For example, poor Stephen really goes through the wringer in this book, and he also makes some terrible decisions. You understand why, even while you’re thinking, “No, Stephen, DON’T!” I was definitely engaged in Stephen’s story.

I also wish there could be a happy outcome for Kit and Anabel, but I just don’t see it happening. There can’t be a situation where Kit becomes king consort to Anabel’s queen.

I’m really interested to see what happens to Their Most Catholic Majesties, Philip and Mary. It would seem that war is on for the last book in the trilogy, but Philip may be reluctant to harm his own daughter.

 BOTTOM LINE: Critical development took place in this volume, and I wish The Virgin’s War would be here sooner than July 2016. I also hope Laura Andersen is planning to continue the story, or maybe tackle another period of history with an alternate twist.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups

ON SALE DATE: The Virgin’s Spy is available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

While I was annoyed that Teri Brown was writing something other than a new book in the “Born Of” series (book 2, Born of Deception, was reviewed here), I was totally up for reading something new by her, too. I have found that Teri Brown is always a good read. Her historical heroines are exactly my cup of tea (pun intended).

Velvet Undercover Front Cover (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

Velvet Undercover Front Cover (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Samantha Donaldson is an exceptionally intelligent 17-year-old English girl who impresses the heck out of certain judges at the Girl Guides competition. After all, German is only one of the five languages she speaks and reads. While she plans to study mathematics at the university when WWI ends, she spends her free time as a messenger for the government in London.

Then Sam is recruited for female spy organization La Dame Blanche. While Sam is understandably hesitant to jump in, she’s offered incentive: if she joins, military intelligence will investigate her father’s disappearance during a diplomatic mission. Her trainer/mentor, Miss Tickford, prepares her for her new role, but also seems to have secrets of her own.

Sam’s mission: impersonate Sophia Therese von Schonburg, a person with family connection to the Kaiser’s family. Living with the royal family in the heart of Berlin will enable her to find and extract a missing spy code named Velvet. Velvet’s handler has disappeared, and she’s so far undercover that no one is left who knows her true identity. She could be one of a few different people. Sam will have to tread carefully in her part, even while developing a tentative relationship with German Corporal Maxwell Mayer.

MY TWO CENTS: The success of this book hinges on the likability and believability of its main character, and Teri Brown has created a winner. Sam is, thankfully, no Mary Sue character. She may be exceptionally intelligent and willing to do anything for her father, but she’s also young, scared, naïve, and fully aware that she’s out of her depth. All of these things play well into the story as Sam gradually learns what her mission really is.

There’s mystery as Sam investigates the various people who might be Velvet. I don’t think it was glaringly obvious. I thought I knew, and then I thought I was wrong, so it’s certainly not like I knew the whole time.

There’s also development in the relationships between Sam and various people…her mentor, Miss Tickford; her maybe-possible love interest, Maxwell; and the young ladies who might be Velvet.

I also like the inside look we get at Berlin in 1915. I’m definitely not as up on WWI history as I am with other historical periods, so that information was interesting to me AND made me want to learn more. That’s exactly what historical fiction should do.

 BOTTOM LINE: Very enjoyable Young Adult historical/mystery with an engaging heroine and interesting insight into WWI Germany. I don’t know if there will be a sequel or series, but if there is, I’d definitely pick it up.

TEACUP RATING: This book gets four out of five teacups from me.

ON SALE DATE: Velvet Undercover is available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Irresistible Rogue (Playful Brides #4) by Valerie Bowman

If you’ve followed Valerie Bowman’s “Playful Brides” series, you know each book is based on a famous play (that more than likely has also been made into a movie). This entry, The Irresistible Rogue, is based on The Philadelphia Story. Most of the previous books have been more inspired by the play than based on it entirely. How does this one measure up?

NOTE: This review contains spoilers for previous books in the series, especially The Accidental Countess and The Unlikely Lady.

Irresistable Rogue Front Cover (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

The Irresistible Rogue Front Cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

THE PLOT: If you read the previous book in the series, The Unlikely Lady (reviewed here), you may remember Daphne Swift’s announcement at the very end…that she was, in fact, married to Captain Rafe Cavendish. As it turns out, Daphne, who speaks Russian, was asked/allowed by her brother Donald to go on a spy mission with Rafe so she could eavesdrop on some Russian-speaking French agents. The only catch: Donald demanded that Rafe marry Daphne (in name only) before they left in case they were discovered, so Daphne’s reputation would be secure. So Daphne, disguised as cabin boy Grey, sails off with Rafe on the True Love. She fell head over heels for her husband, but he told her he thought of her as a sister.

Now, Daphne plans to get an annulment so she can marry an appropriate man. At the engagement party, Rafe shows up asking for Daphne’s help on a mission to find Donald’s killer. If she goes with him, he’ll give her the annulment. Daphne’s other brother, Julian, allows her to go to help get justice for their brother. This time, though, Rafe’s not sure he wants to give up his wife to someone else.

MY TWO CENTS: Let me clear one thing up right away: if you read lots of regency-era romance and think this setup is convoluted and preposterous…it totally is. As the author says in her afterword, she’s an entertainer, not a historian. So if you think no nobleman in his right mind would let his high-born little sister dress as a boy to go on missions with spies, you’re absolutely right. But just put that out of your mind and enjoy the story for what it is.

And the first half of the book is almost all of The Philadelphia Story. There are differences, of course. Instead of little sister Dinah, there’s younger cousin Delilah, but just as charming and manipulative. (Oh, I hope, hope, HOPE that Delilah gets her own book eventually. Her future husband won’t know what hit him.) Rafe calls Daphne “Grey,” which of course echos C.K. Dexter’s “Red” for Tracy. Instead of Uncle Willie, there’s Aunt Willie, who is also rooting for Rafe over the social-climbing potential fiance. Rafe sends Daphne an engagement present…a miniature of the True Love. And when Daphne gets too tired of being called perfect…well, either you know the story or you need to. Hee hee!

Of course, if you’re thinking movie version, I’ll admit that Daphne is no Hepburn (but who is?) and Rafe is not Cary Grant. It could just be the timing—I was watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” around the time I was reading—but I imagined Rafe as Armie Hammer: tall and blond and spy-ish. (Spy-like? Spy-y?) The second half of the book is all adventure and romance. This time, Daphne will make Rafe let her go or admit he loves her as much as she loves him.

A quick note about the series: Yes, this can be read as a standalone book, but you’ll probably get more out of it if you’ve at least read Julian and Cass’s story in The Accidental Countess. And if you’re going to do that, you HAVE to read The Unlikely Lady. And if you’re going to do that, then you might as well start at the beginning with The Unexpected Duchess. 

BOTTOM LINE: A fun read even if you don’t know The Philadelphia Story. Sit back, suspend disbelief, and enjoy the ride.

TEACUP RATING: I give The Irresistible Rogue four teacups out of five.

ON SALE DATE: The Irresistible Rogue will release in paperback and eformats on November 3, 2015.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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