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Posts Tagged ‘stephanie baumgartner’

Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

lost among the living

Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

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Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

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The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

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I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

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The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

lucky 13

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

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Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

tea-time

I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who had me hooked from the very first page. The use of slang from the era, her vivid descriptions, the steamy scenes, and the murder mystery are handled so perfectly that I could picture the entire book in my head, as though I were actually watching a black-and-white hard-boiled crime drama on the screen. She moved Austen’s characters into 1952 New York City in a way that felt true to them. I loved that she gave Darcy a painful back story and that Elizabeth and Jane weren’t the best of friends. Gardiner’s portrayal of Georgiana as a modern and independent though innocent and sheltered young woman is handled beautifully, as is Lydia’s downfall at the hands of Slick Wick.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

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undeceived

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Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★★

Why did I have to wait until marriage–until I was a mother–to be able to say I’d contributed to society in a meaningful way? I couldn’t fight on the front lines like my brother; I couldn’t work overnight like my mother since I was in school; I knew nothing about the construction of airplanes. I felt the sudden urge to ask my mother what she thought I could do before hearing her voice in my head say, “Make my life easier. That’s what you could do.”

(from Love Song (Liebeslied))

Quick summary: In 1944 Virginia, Cassie Wyndham is 16 years old and wants to matter to someone. The only one who seems to appreciate her is Lucy, her 2-year-old sister. Her father is always away from home running the family business, and her mother is constantly berating her. Her brother, Amos, the apple of her mother’s eye, was the only one who could redirect her mother’s bullying, but he’s gone off to fight, leaving Cassie to fend for herself. Between taking care of her sister and avoiding her mother, Cassie volunteers for a ministry program at a nearby POW camp, where she meets Friedrich Naumann. Despite their obvious differences in both beliefs and circumstances, the two are drawn to one another. Tensions run high amidst the losses of war and a fractured family, and Cassie and Friedrich must keep their relationship secret. But secrets in the wrong hands tend to be revealed, with dramatic consequences.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been a fan of Baumgartner’s writing since I started reading her Sophia’s War series. Her obvious love of World War II history and detailed research shine through in her novels.

What I liked: I loved how Baumgartner told the story in the first person through Cassie’s eyes. I really got to know Cassie, and I hadn’t read far before I’d grown to love her. She felt real to me, from the tumultuous emotions of adolescence to her desire to find a purpose. And given that she’s my daughter’s age, I had a hard time with how her mother treated her, and I just wanted to give her a hug. Baumgartner did a great job developing Cassie and Freidrich’s relationship, making it believable, and even though I didn’t like Cassie’s parents very much, Baumgartner skillfully crafted them into complicated and even sympathetic characters. I haven’t read much about the POW camps in the United States, so I found it fascinating that programs were established to talk to the German POWs about Christianity. (For more about Baumgartner’s research on this and the inspiration for Love Song (Liebeslied), check out her guest post here.) Cassie’s faith is important to her and the plot, but Baumgartner doesn’t make the Bible study meetings sound too preachy. In fact, the questions that Cassie and Friedrich are expected to discuss reveal a lot about their characters and further their friendship.

What I disliked: Although Love Song (Liebeslied) is the first book in the Captive Hearts Trilogy, the ending is satisfying. However, I wish I could immediately dive into the next installment!

Final thoughts: Love Song (Liebeslied)is a story about a young girl’s efforts to break free from the oppression of her family, to find herself and her purpose in life, and the love that helps her accomplish this. The impossible relationship at the core of the novel is one that readers can’t help but root for. Baumgartner has created a novel with many layers and complexities, and it is so much more than a romance. Love Song (Liebeslied) is Baumgartner’s best novel yet (and I’ve really enjoyed all of her novels so far), and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Disclosure: I received Love Song (Liebeslied) from the author for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I’m thrilled to welcome Stephanie Baumgartner to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate her latest novel, Love Song (Liebeslied) — the first book in the Captive Heart Trilogy — which I will be reviewing this summer. I’ve been a fan of Stephanie’s since she contacted me to review her Sophia’s War series (stay tuned for my reviews of the last few installments, coming soon!), and I’ve enjoyed chatting with her via email and Facebook as we share a fascination with all things World War II.

BOOK BLURB

Liebeslied-Final-KindleVirginia, 1944: The world is at war and America braces itself for the imminent Allied invasion that will liberate Europe from its Nazi captors. Ignored by her father, bullied by her mother, overshadowed by her brother, sixteen-year-old Cassie Wyndham yearns to do her part for the war effort. But after years of feeling forgotten and neglected, Cassie doubts she has anything of value to offer, especially when her pastor requests volunteers for a new ministry program at the local POW camp. Risking the ire of her mother, Cassie signs up, despite her fear of the infamous Germans. There, she meets Friedrich Naumann. Funny and kind, she is drawn to him right away. As their friendship blossoms into something more, Cassie and Friedrich struggle to keep their feelings from the rest of the world. But time is running out, and it won’t be long before the war ends and they have to say goodbye… If their secret relationship isn’t discovered first. An inspiring, emotionally-charged historical romance, Love Song (Liebeslied) is a novel about love that has the power to change and overcome, and the sacrifices it sometimes requires.

Please welcome Stephanie as she shares her inspiration for Love Song (Liebeslied) and graciously offers a giveaway to my readers.

The idea for Love Song came to me while I was researching POW camps in America during World War II for my Sophia’s War series. I began reading Nazi POWs of War in America by Arnold Kramer to get a general idea of what the POW camps here in America were like. Kramer is so detailed, however — down to what the prisoners ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner — that I found a story unfolding inside my head.

Like most things I research about the war, I found myself asking, “How do more people not know about this?!” German POWs were offered educational courses that were counted as college credits once the war was over and they returned home to Germany. The prisoners far outnumbered the American guards 3 to 1, but they were generally so compliant that only one guard was required to monitor an entire group of prisoners while they worked on local farms or performed other public, manual labor jobs. In some cases, the lone American guard would allow a German prisoner to dismantle and reassemble his own rifle to clean it for him. (That thought alone was just incredible to me). There were many factors that contributed to such a harmonious rapport between the German POWs and their American captors. Firstly, the majority of captured Germans were just ready for the war to be over; some of them had been fighting for five years already by this point. Secondly, the distance one would have to travel and the number of obstacles to be sidestepped made a covert escape back home almost impossible.

Many top secret programs were developed at this time to reintroduce these prisoners to democracy. The American government didn’t want word getting back to Germany that attempts were being made to sway German POWs’ ideologies, risking the indoctrination of American POWs with Nazism overseas in retaliation.

One such classified program commissioned volunteers from local churches to talk to the prisoners about Christianity. As a Christian, I found this quite interesting because I had never heard about this. There wasn’t much I could find on these groups specifically. (This is probably because it was such a small, rare group that it was just one of those details that sort of got lost over time.) What also appealed to me, as an author, is that there are already few novels that give us an inside look of a German POW’s experiences in an American POW camp. So, I chose this as my setting; what about my characters?

Usually, I wait for my character names to come to me, but I chose these names outright. I’ve always LOVED the name “Cassie” because of a character on a soap opera I used to watch with my granny after school (Guiding Light, anyone?) and was determined to use it. At the time I was coming up with this idea, I was going to dental assisting school in Tampa and passed a Wyndham hotel everyday. Without knowing what it meant, it was one of those names that just felt right. (Come to find out, it’s an English name meaning, “home of Winda.”) So my protagonist’s name became Cassandra “Cassie” Wyndham.

Friedrich’s name came just as easily to me. My obsession with World War II began early, with The Sound of Music being my favorite movie for years while growing up. As such, in any of my novels with a prominent German character, I try to use a name from The Sound of Music. (I’m an INFJ personality type, which means I’m obsessed with finding and/or creating patterns and connections in life and art). It’s sort of my way of paying tribute to a story that has always meant so much to me. In my Sophia’s War series, I had a character named “Liesel” and another named “Rolf,” so in this trilogy, I decided to name the hero, “Friedrich.” For his last name, I chose “Naumann.” Literally translated, it means, “new man,” which is exactly what Friedrich becomes after meeting Cassie.

Now that that was settled, I had to explore what I wanted the point of this romance to be — what I wanted this novel to accomplish and what I wanted readers to walk away with. Just prior to the idea coming to me, I’d finished reading Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge. I was still stewing in all the concepts of this book. It changed my life, and I’d discovered so much about myself and the heart of women in general while reading it. There are so many core hurts and wounds that every single woman since the dawn of time has endured; lies about our bodies, our hearts, our minds. It’s a trap we fall into, perpetuated by our mothers, by ourselves, infecting our own daughters. It’s a vicious cycle of self-doubt, of distrusting the men in our lives, of comparing ourselves to the perfect images other women project of themselves. We push onward with untended wounds, believing it’s normal to be unseen, unknown, or unappreciated.

Well, it’s not normal. And that is not at all the role God intended for us.

I wanted Cassie to be the embodiment of a young girl’s (and later in the trilogy, a woman’s) struggles through life, and to allow her to be an example to young girls. This novel could be the only thing in someone’s life that tells them they are not alone in what they are feeling; that they are strong enough to rise above what’s happened to them. They’re strong enough to overcome their pain and those who seek to demean them. If there is anything I hope readers walk away with after reading Love Song (Liebeslied), I hope it’s that.

Equally, I read Wild at Heart by John Eldredge (the men’s equivalent to Captivating) to help develop Friedrich’s character. Believe it or not, there are certain damaging words and events that occur in every young man’s life that can wreck his self-esteem, his outlook on life, and/or how he treats women. For whatever reason, we don’t bring as much attention to the brokenness of men as we do women. Friedrich was additionally conflicted because he has grown up under the influence of a fascist government and is reckoning with that and how to become the person he wants to be.

I hope you find Love Song as informing and inspiring as I did while writing it. Most importantly, I hope you finish this book with the knowledge that you aren’t alone; that your experiences in this life matter, that your thoughts and ideas are important; that sometimes, the way people treat you is a reflection of the state of their own hearts, not yours.

Lastly, I hope it makes you believe in love; the empowering kind of love that allows you to love and be loved just as you are.

Happy reading, Friends.

Love Song (Liebeslied) is available in paperback or as an ebook.

GIVEAWAY

Stephanie is kindly offering 2 ebooks versions of Love Song (Liebeslied) to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and let me know why you really want to read the book. The giveaway will close on Sunday, June 5. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post.

AUTHOR BIO

newpic2Stephanie Baumgartner has been a writer and has had an intense fascination with World War II since childhood. She has completed two novel series based on a World War II setting and one contemporary novel. She has a profound passion for storytelling and a sincere desire to encourage others to pursue their dreams. She lives in the beautiful rolling hills of Tennessee with her loving husband, her beautiful daughter, and one silly yet adorable dog. She hates snakes and loves peanut butter, which have absolutely nothing to do with being an author. To learn more about Stephanie, please visit: stephaniebaumgartner.com and facebook.com/smbaumgartner.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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hidden halos

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

Sophia had always heard her grandmother express confusion over how so many people could fall prey to something so radical as Nazism. Indeed, from an outsider’s point of view, it did seem unthinkable. Being in the midst of such indoctrination, however, Sophia had begun to understand how some had come to believe it, how some wanted to believe it. Even being a foreigner who did not agree with Nazism in the slightest, Sophia could not deny the chill of patriotism in the broadcasts.

(from Sophia’s War: Hidden Halos)

[Please note that this book is the fourth in a series set during World War II.  It is not a standalone book, and while my review will not contain spoilers for the fourth book, there could be spoilers from the earlier books.  Check out my reviews of book one, Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence, book two, Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies, and book three, Sophia’s War: Stalemate]

Quick summary:  Sophia’s War: Hidden Halos opens in November 1940. Sophia is still living in her deceased great aunt’s home in Germany, having assumed Marelda’s identity so she can continue running the library Marelda worked so hard to build. Sophia’s relationship with her cousin, Diedrich, is still strained, and he continues to spend weeks working in Berlin while she remains at home alone. She has cut ties with Adrian — the Wehrmacht war photographer whose friendship was increasingly becoming more — because of Diedrich, and when she finds it too painful to be so close to Adrian without being able to really be with him, she thinks it might be time for her to finally go back home to Virginia. The fact that the villagers have too much on their minds in the midst of the war to visit the library gives her an excuse to leave — never mind the fact that Diedrich wants her gone. And if being an American living in Nazi Germany under an assumed identity wasn’t dangerous enough, Sophia’s new reason for staying could be deadly.

Why I wanted to read it: I enjoyed the previous books in the series, so I can’t stop now!

What I liked: It’s obvious that Stephanie Baumgartner has done extensive research about life in Nazi Germany, and it has enabled her to show how life in a small German village changed (in big ways and in so many small ones as well) during the course of the war. With Sophia being an outsider, she has a different perspective on Nazism, which enables her to see things that the Germans may not and keeps her at arm’s length from the Nazi ideology. I like that Sophia is a bit innocent and impulsive, but she is also strong and firm in her Christian beliefs, which means she cannot just sit around and watch when the Nazis’ talk finally becomes action. I still can’t figure out Diedrich, with his moments of tenderness before he turns cold again, and that adds a layer of mystery to the novels.

What I disliked: I think Sophie’s War: Hidden Halos is a solid addition to the series, but it is a bit quieter than the other volumes. However, I think that’s important as this installment is more of a turning point for Sophia, where she needs to take stock of her options and ultimately take some kind of action. There isn’t a lot of back story in these novels, so it’s a good thing that readers now have the opportunity to read them all at once.

Final thoughts: The decision Sophia makes in Sophia’s War: Hidden Halos is an important one, and it seems like the next books will really take things up a notch. I have all but the last book in the series on my side table waiting to be read, and while I can’t wait to see what happens next, it’s a series that I want to savor. I’m enjoying watching Sophia’s character evolve as life in Nazi Germany takes a more sinister turn, and I like that I have no idea how Sophia is going to fare as the war begins to take a bigger toll on Germany. Baumgartner does a great job effecting a satisfying ending while making readers want to immediately crack open the next book.

Disclosure: I received Sophia’s War: Hidden Halos from the author for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Stalemate

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

Perhaps it was denial, perhaps it had been an honest optimism, but this was a continuation in a lesson she was beginning to learn in Hitler’s Germany; that denial was an enabler, and the hope of good people was dwindling to a candlestick’s flame.

(from Sophia’s War: Stalemate)

[Please note that this book is the third in a series.  It is not a standalone book, and while my review will not contain spoilers for the third book, there could be spoilers from the earlier books.  Check out my reviews of book one, Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence, and book two, Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies]

Sophia’s War: Stalemate is the third book in Stephanie Baumgartner’s series about a young American woman’s experiences in Germany during World War II.  This installment opens in December 1939, a little more than two months into the war.  Sophia has assumed her great aunt’s identity in a deal with her cousin, Diedrich, in order to stay in Germany and run Marelda’s library.

A darkness has descended upon Germany, and Sophia fears Diedrich has embraced Nazism and Hitler’s lies, which run counter to her strong Christian beliefs.  Diedrich has changed since the death of his family, becoming cold, mean, and threatening toward Sophia.  She finds herself torn between showing him love and standing her ground, especially when it comes to her friend, Adrian.  Diedrich wants Sophia to sever ties with him, but the more time she spends with Adrian, the more she likes him.

Not only is Sophia torn between the two men in her life, but she also must contend with a nosy neighbor, a peeping Tom, and an encounter with the Gestapo that makes her finally understand the danger of the lie she has been living.  Sophia has to think long and hard about what she believes and whether she is willing to stand up for those beliefs in a country where freedoms are being taken away.  As an American, even one posing as a German, Sophia is an outsider, not quite understanding how and why Hitler came to power and how everyday life has changed as a result.

Sophia’s War: Stalemate was my favorite book in the series so far, mainly because the action picked up and Sophia finally started to see the truth about the country that is her new home.  Although the series is progressing somewhat slowly, Baumgartner is thorough when it comes to character development.  Readers really get to know Sophia, whose sheltered upbringing means her life in Germany (during a war, no less) and her feelings for Adrian are opening her eyes.  Sophia is firm in her beliefs, but I’m curious to see what kind of soul-searching is in store for her as things go from bad to worse.  Baumgartner has created strong, believable characters, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

war challenge with a twist

Book 6 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 7 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sophia’s War: Stalemate from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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lies and allies

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

She had been naive before, not to see what was happening in Germany.  All things that were considered noble — mercy, Christian verities, altruism — had been distorted into forms of weaknesses.  Power was not found in love, but in might, in hostility…

In Nazism.

(from Sophia’s War:  Lies and Allies, page 182)

[Please note that this book is the second in a series.  It is not a standalone book, and while my review will not contain spoilers for the second book, there could be spoilers from the first book.]

Sophia’s War:  Lies and Allies is the second book in Stephanie Baumgartner’s series about a young American woman living in Germany during World War II, and it picks up right where the first book, Sophia’s War:  The End of Innocence leaves off.  Sophia left her home in Virginia to help her great aunt build a library in her home in a small German village, and now that Marelda is gone, Sophia feels it is her duty to make sure the library is successful.

However, without any money of her own, Sophia is beholden to her cousin, Diedrich, who used to be like a brother to her but in the midst of his grief has become cold, unreachable, and even sinister.  In order to remain in Germany, Sophia must pose as Marelda, albeit a younger version, speak only in German, and break off her friendship with soldier and war photographer, Adrian.  Sophia is willing to comply with the whole Marelda charade, but Adrian was the first person to befriend her in Germany.  And as the attraction between them grows, she is unwilling to end their relationship — even when Diedrich’s threats rise to a new level.

Sophia must contend with feelings of isolation, with Diedrich often leaving for long stretches of time without notice; her meddling neighbor, Wilhelmina, who reports a mysterious man peeping in Sophia’s windows; and anger, uncertainty, and fear, as she learns more about Nazism and begins to see it as a real danger.  She also struggles for a way to get through to Diedrich, to show that she loves him, even when he is being unreasonable.

Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies is an exciting second book in a series that I hope will continue to be enthralling as the war begins to have more of an impact on Sophia and her new home.  I like that Sophia is such a well-drawn character; she’s naive and overly optimistic, but she’s also strong and intuitive.  I did want to shake some sense in her when it came to the bargain she made with Diedrich; even when she seemed torn about lying about her identity, she still didn’t seem to understand how dangerous doing such a thing would be in Nazi Germany.  I also was surprised that, being an American, no one questioned her accent.

I am really enjoying this series so far.  Baumgartner does a great job letting readers into Sophia’s head so they can understand her feelings and motivations.  Not only does she explore more deeply the characters that intrigued me the first time around, but she also introduces an assortment of new and interesting characters — from a little boy with cerebral palsy forced to leave his parents to Rolf, Adrian’s soldier friend who seems taken with Sophia and makes me worried for her.  Baumgartner leaves enough unanswered questions that I can’t wait to pick up the latest book in the series, Sophia’s War: Stalemate, yet I feel satisfied with how the story progressed in this installment.

Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies is just what the title implies:  a tale of the alliances and lies that are forged in the midst of war.  But these books are more than just Sophia’s experiences during war.  There is a war being fought between her beliefs and those of her cousin and a war within her soul as she struggles with her expectations for romance and the reality of her relationship with Adrian.  Baumgartner has only scratched the surface of Sophia’s wartime trials, and the longer she stays in Germany, the more entangled she will become.  Sophia is torn between familial and romantic love, and I can’t wait to see where Baumgartner takes her next.

war challenge with a twist

Book 5 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 6 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 2 for the European Reading Challenge (Germany)

Disclosure: I received Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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sophia's war

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

His appearance in the book did not look any less formidable than it had in the papers.  In fact, his image made her feel uneasy.  His eyes seemed cold and distant.  His expression was harsh and there wasn’t even the slightest hint of any feeling or kindness on his face.  Sophia closed the book, allowing a finger to trace over the letters in the title.

(from Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence, page 93)

Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence is the first novel in a series by Stephanie Baumgartner that follows a young American girl living in Germany during World War II.  While all of her classmates are getting married and having children, 20-year-old Sophia leaves her parents behind in Virginia and embarks on a solo trip to a small German village in 1939 to help her elderly great aunt build a library in her home for the townspeople.  Marelda is a sweet, generous old woman who is lonely with her family so far away in Berlin and too busy to visit.  The two keep each other company while unpacking the books that will grace the shelves, and when Sophia’s cousin Diedrich arrives, she hopes to rekindle their close relationship.  But the boy she’d once considered a brother has changed.  Diedrich is cold and even mean, can’t hold a job, and takes a strange interest in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

When Marelda and Diedrich leave Sophia alone to work on the library while they visit family, she strikes up a friendship with Adrian, a Wehrmacht war photographer who loves books as much as she does.  She’s not sure what to make of Adrian’s interest in her, given that she’s spent her life praying for God to lead her to the man she will marry and has no use for casual dates, despite her mother and best friend both urging her to test the waters.  However, when Sophia is forced by Diedrich to make a decision that goes against her firm Christian beliefs, she is cut off from Adrian and puts herself in danger — all out of a sense of duty and devotion.

Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence is a short novel with a strong heroine.  Baumgartner takes the time to develop Sophia so that readers really know and understand her, from her strong Christian faith (though I didn’t find the book preachy at all) to her stubbornness and independence, from her love for Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë to her unwavering devotion to her family.  Sophia’s character evolves in ways I hope are more fully explored in the next installment, particularly her willingness to live a lie.  The novel ends with many unanswered questions, particularly about Diedrich, but I was satisfied with Baumgartner’s scene setting and character development.

Baumgartner portrays a Germany in the early days of war through the eyes of an outsider.  Sophia sees many changes in the country since her last visit, from the increased military presence to the increasingly observant and suspicious villagers, and Baumgartner hints at the darkness to come when Sophia befriends a young Jewish girl whose family fled the city after Kristallnacht.  Changes happen more slowly in a small village, but the Nazis have already dug in their heels.  Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence is a solid first novel in a series, and I can’t wait to see how Sophia and the village change over the course of the war.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 32 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence from the author for review.

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