A blog tour for The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader

Women’s fiction readers, here is one to read. Many thanks to HTP Books, Justine Sha and Sophie James for this opportunity.

About the book:

THE SUNSHINE GIRLS

Author: Molly Fader

ISBN: 9781335453488

Publication Date: December 6, 2022

Publisher: Graydon House

Buy Links:

BookShop: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-sunshine-girls-original-molly-fader/18408170?ean=9781335453488 

Harlequin: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335453488_the-sunshine-girls.html 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-sunshine-girls-molly-fader/1140810565?ean=9781335453488 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sunshine-Girls-Novel-Molly-Fader/dp/1335453482/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=sunshine+girls+molly+fader&qid=1668111685&sprefix=sunshine+girls+molly%2Caps%2C109&sr=8-1 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Sunshine-Girls/Molly-Fader/9781335453488?id=8292090795540 

Author Website: https://mollyfader.com/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/molly.fader

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mokeefeauthor/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MollyOKwrites?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Eembeddedtimeline%7Ctwterm%5Escreen-name%3AMollyOKwrites%7Ctwcon%5Es2 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18435981.Molly_Fader?from_search=true&from_srp=true 

Author Bio:

MOLLY FADER is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season, and more than 40 romance novels under the pennames Molly O’Keefe and M. O’Keefe. She grew up outside of Chicago and now lives in Toronto.

Book Summary:

A cross between Firefly Lane and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, a dual-narrative about two sisters who realize their mother isn’t who they’d always thought when a legendary movie star shows up at her funeral, unraveling the sweeping story of a friendship that begins at a nursing school in Iowa in 1967 and onward as it survives decades of change, war, fame—and the secrets they kept from each other and for each other.

A moment of great change sparks the friendship of a lifetime…

1967, Iowa: Nursing school roommates BettyKay and Kitty don’t have much in common. A farmer’s daughter, BettyKay has risked her family’s disapproval to make her dreams come true away from her rural small town. Cosmopolitan Kitty has always relied on her beauty and smarts to get by, and to hide a devastating secret from the past that she can’t seem to outrun. Yet the two share a determination to prove themselves in a changing world, forging an unlikely bond on a campus unkind to women.

Before their first year is up, tragedy strikes, and the women’s paths are forced apart. But against all odds, a decades-long friendship forms, persevering through love, marriage, failure, and death, from the jungles of Vietnam to the glamorous circles of Hollywood. Until one snowy night leads their relationship to the ultimate crossroads.

Fifty years later, two estranged sisters are shocked when a famous movie star shows up at their mother’s funeral. Over one rollercoaster weekend, the women must reckon with a dazzling truth about their family that will alter their lives forever…

Try it:

Clara

Greensboro, Iowa

2019

There were too many lilies. Clara wasn’t an authority on flowers or funerals. But, it was like a flower shop—that only sold lilies—had exploded in the blue room of Horner’s Fu­neral Home.

This was what happened when everyone adored you. They buried you under a mountain of your favorite flower—in this case, stargazers with their erotic pink hearts and sinus-piercing pollen—before they actually buried you.

And it was just a cosmic kick in the pants that Clara Beecher was allergic to her mother’s favorite flowers.

“Clara!” Mrs. Place, her eighth-grade language arts teacher, clasped Clara’s hands in her bony grip. Mrs. Place had not changed at all. She was the kind of woman who seemed mid­dle-aged at seventeen and just waited for time to catch up. “Your mother was so proud of you. You and your sister, you were her pride and joy.”

“That’s nice of you to say,” Clara said, keenly aware of her sister, Abbie, across the room doing the sorts of things that would make a mother proud.

“At book club, she’d go on and on about you and the im­portant work you were doing in the city and, well, most of it went right over my head,” Mrs. Place said. There was nothing complicated about Clara’s work; Mom just lied about it so, as a former hippie, she didn’t have to say the words my daughter is a corporate shill. “But you could tell she was just so proud.”

Clara pulled her hand free in time to grab a tissue from one of the many boxes scattered around the room and held it to her allergy-induced, dripping nose. “Thank you,” she said through the tissue.

“Everyone is going to miss Betts,” Mrs. Place said. “So much. There’s not a part of this town that she wasn’t involved in. Church, the library. Park board. Community gardens.”

Like an invasive species. Invite her to something and she’d soon be running the show.

Grief is making you sharp. That was something her mother would say. If she wasn’t dead.

The Blue Room of Horner Funeral Home was hot and wall-to-lily packed with people coming to pay their respects to one of Greensboro’s favorite citizens.

BettyKay Beecher had lived her whole adult life in this tiny town, and the town had shown up bearing casseroles and no-bake cheesecakes for the reception after the burial, wearing their Sunday best, armed with their favorite BettyKay stories.

She sat with my dad when he was dying.

She helped us figure out the insurance paperwork when our son was in his accident.

They were all mourning. The whole room and the hallway outside and the people still sitting in their cars in the park­ing lot. People were crying real tears, huddling, sobbing—actually sobbing—in corners. And all Clara could think was:

Did they know?

Had Mom, in true fashion, told the entire town the secret she’d kept from her own daughters for nearly forty years? The bombshell, life-rearranging, ugly secret she’d blurted, exasper­ated and furious with Clara in their last phone call?

Would they be mourning so hard if they knew?

Clara sneezed.

“Oh, bless you, honey,” Mrs. Place said.

“It’s just allergies.” Clara folded up the tissues before put­ting them in the pocket of her new black Marco Zanini suit with the sash tie and the sky blue silk lining. She’d thought the lining might be a bit much for a funeral, but that was be­fore she knew about the lilies.

And don’t get her started on all the men wearing camou­flage. To a funeral. Were they all going hunting after this?

“She’s with your father now. I hope you find comfort in that.”

“I do, thank you.” It was, as it always had been in Greens­boro, Iowa, easier to lie.

Another person came up with another story about Bet­tyKay Beecher. “Is that your sister?” She pointed across the room after sharing an anecdote about their time together in the Army Nurse Corps. “Abbie?”

Abbie was surrounded by her friends from childhood—who used to be Clara’s friends from childhood, not that it mattered—who kept bringing her mugs that were not filled with coffee. Abbie’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright and she was half-drunk, crying and hugging and not at all bothered by the lilies.

“Yep. That’s my sister,” Clara said, ushering the woman toward Abbie and not even feeling bad about it. “She’d love to hear your story.”

Three years ago, they’d stood in this exact same room, mourning their father, Willis Beecher. It was hard to be home and not see him in the corners of rooms. She couldn’t drink rum or Constant Comment tea and not miss him. The smell of patchouli could bring her to tears. A sob rose up in her throat like a fist, and her knees were suddenly loose. She put a hand against the table so she didn’t crumple onto the floor.

I’m an orphan. Me and Abbie—orphans.

She was a full-grown adult. A corporate lawyer (about to make junior partner, fingers crossed) who billed at $700 an hour. She had a condo on Lakeshore and a good woman who loved her. Abbie had two kids of her own, a husband of twenty-five years and kept slices of homemade lemon loaf in the freezer that she could pop in a toaster in case someone stopped by for coffee. They were far from orphans.

But she couldn’t shake the thought.

Clara found the side door and stepped out.

The wind was icy, blowing across the farmland to the west, picking up the smell of fries and burgers from The Starlite Room, only to press her flat against the yellow brick. She felt the cotton-silk blend of her suit snag on the brick.

The first few days of March were cold, too cold to be out here without a jacket, but the freshness woke her up. Spring hadn’t committed to Iowa yet and the cornfields were still brown, lying in wait, like everything else in Greensboro, for the last blizzard to come hammering down from the Dakotas.

Her phone buzzed. She left it in her pocket.

Horner’s Funeral Home was on the other side of town from the Greensboro University, and St. Luke’s School of Nursing’s white clock tower was just visible over the trees. The univer­sity had all the flags lowered to half-mast for the week. It was a nice touch. Mom had been a student there and then a teacher and for the last twenty years, an administrator.

She closed her eyes, letting the wind do its work.

“Hey.”

Clara felt her sister lean back against the wall next to her, smelling of vanilla and Pinot Grigio.

“Hey,” she said, eyes still closed.

“The lilies—”

“Yeah.”

“You okay?”

Clara hummed in her throat, a sound that wasn’t yes or no. That was, in fact, the exact sound of the exhausted limbo the last few days had put her in.

“Me neither,” Abbie said. “It just… I feel like I’m missing something, you know? Like I’m walking around all wrong.”

Clara felt the same. Being BettyKay Beecher’s daughter was a part of her identity she didn’t always carry comfortably, but it was there.

“Where’s Vickie?” Abbie asked, and Clara caught herself from flinching at the sound of her girlfriend’s name.

“She wishes she could be here but she has a case in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.”

She felt Abbie’s doubt, the way she wanted to probe and pick.

“Did you have to blow up that picture so damn big?” Clara asked, before Abbie could get to her follow-up questions.

All around the funeral home were pictures of the Beecher family. And—God knows why—Abbie had decided to blow up to an obscene size, the picture of their mother that was on the back of her book: Pray for Me: The Diary of an Army Nurse in Vietnam. In it BettyKay was a fresh-faced twenty-two-year- old, with a helmet-shaped brunette bob wearing an olive green United States Army Nurse Corps uniform.

“Darn.”

“What?”

“Fiona’s turning into a little parrot, so we don’t swear any­more. We say ‘effing’ and ‘darn’ and ‘poop.’”

“That’s effing nonsense.”

“Probably.” Clara could hear the smile in her sister’s voice. “And yes, I did. I love that picture of Mom. She looks so brave.”

Clara thought she looked terrified.

“Max and Fiona don’t understand what’s happening,” Abbie said. “They keep asking why Gran is lying down.”

Clara’s laugh was wet with the lingering allergic reaction to the flowers. “That’s awful.”

“Denise from the hospital keeps trying to get the kids to touch Mom’s hand. So they can feel how cold she is and then they’ll understand.”

“What will it make them understand?”

“That she’s dead.”

“That’s morbid even for Denise.” They were both laugh­ing, which felt alien but sweet.

“She says it will give them closure.”

Abbie reached out and grabbed her hand. Clara started to pull away, but Abbie didn’t let go.

I should tell her. Part of her even wanted to. To share the burden of information like they were kids again. And Abbie, who liked the view from the perch her reputation as a Beecher in this town gave her, would tell Clara it wasn’t true. Couldn’t possibly be. That Mom had been wrong. Angry. Something.

Some excuse to keep everything the way it was.

That was why Clara couldn’t tell her. Because Abbie had to live in this town side by side with the memory of Mom. Bringing Abbie into it would make her sister’s life harder.

“Abbie, don’t get upset but I am going to leave after the re­ception at the church.” There. Done. Band-Aid-style.

“And go where?” Abbie asked.

“Back home.”

And here comes the look. “Chicago? You’re kidding.”

“We have a new client—”

“You’re leaving?” Accidentally Clara caught Abbie’s furious gaze and wished she hadn’t. She could see her sister’s rage and her grief and it felt worse than her own.

“I’ll be back,” Clara lied.

“Bullshit.” So much for not swearing.

“Abbie—”

“You know. I should have expected this. You show up last-minute in your car and your ugly suit—”

“Hey!”

“With your nose in the air—”

“I’ll pay to have the house boxed up.”

Abbie sucked in so much air Clara went light-headed from the lack of oxygen around her.

“Can we please not make this a big deal?” she asked.

“What did I ever do to you, Clara? To make it so easy for you to leave me behind?”

The wind caught the side door as it opened, banging against the brick with a sound that made Clara and Abbie jump like they’d been caught smoking.

Ben, Abbie’s husband, stuck his head out and Abbie stepped forward. Ben was a good-looking guy in a gentle giant kind of way. Constantly rumpled, but usually smiling. He reminded Clara of a very good Labrador retriever.

She wanted to pat his head and give him a treat. And then yell at him for tracking mud across the rug.

“There you are,” he said.

“I was just getting some air,” Abbie said, with surprising defensiveness. “Is everything okay?”

“There’s…” Ben glanced over his shoulder and made a face, bewildered and somehow joyful in a way that made Clara and Abbie push off the wall. It was his mother-in-law’s funeral after all. Joy was a strange sentiment.

“What?” Clara asked.

“Well, I think you should come in and see for yourself.”

Ben held the door while Abbie and Clara walked back into the packed room. Everyone was silent now, pressed to the walls and corners in little clumps, whispering in that painfully fa­miliar way out of the corners of their mouths and behind their hands. There was a path down the center of the room right to Mom’s casket, where she lay with her arms crossed, wearing her favorite green dress and way too much blush.

Standing at the casket, was a woman. A stranger.

Everything about her screamed not from around here. She wore an elegant long black skirt and a pair of boots with low heels of rich black leather. A gray sweater (Ralph Lauren Col­lection cashmere or Clara would eat her own boots) with a black belt around her trim waist. Her hair was long and sil­very blond, the kind that appeared natural but Clara would put money on the fact that it cost a lot and took a lot of time to keep that way.

She kind of…glittered.

“Who is that?”

“You don’t recognize her?” Ben whispered between Abbie and Clara’s shoulders, his breath smelling of coffee and cough drops.

Something about the woman did seem familiar, polished.

“Is she from the publishing company?” she asked Abbie.

“I don’t think so. They sent a cheesecake.”

“That morning show Mom did sometimes, in Des Moines? Ramona?”

“Ramona Rodriguez died, like, ten years ago.”

Clara should know this woman. But her mother’s funeral was throwing her off.

“Are you kidding me? You really don’t recognize her?” Ben asked. “It’s Kitty Devereaux.”

Excerpted from The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader. Copyright © 2022 by Molly Fader. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Learn more:

How do come up with your themes?

That’s a really interesting question! I don’t sit down to write a book with themes in mind. They kind of arrive as i’m writing. The premise of the book is usually the start. In the case of The Sunshine Girls, the first scene –  of the two sisters at their mother’s funeral when a iconic actress walks in and tells the sister’s they don’t know the truth about their mother – came to me fully formed. After that it was a matter of trying to figure out how two radically different women would meet and become friends. 

The themes of women’s rights and reproductive rights flowed out of their friendship and the time period (the 1960’s). Once the theme becomes obvious to me it’s a matter of trying to make it subtle to the reader so they don’t feel completely overwhelmed. 

What is the attraction to writing/reading about women’s friendships?

Because they’re the best! They’re fascinating. They’re blood thirsty and supportive and compassionate and judgemental. I love friendship stories that are real – with all that  resentment and love that I’ve experienced in my friendships. I think there’s so much chemistry in friendships, not unlike falling in love. You know when you meet a person and you click and it feels like you’ve known them forever. I love it. 

Which comes first: characters or plot?

They kind of feed each other for me. I usually get the opening scene in my head and then I have to figure out who the characters are and then they inform the plot and then the characters have to change and grow and that informs the plot some more. So, it’s a chicken and egg type situation for my books. 

Have you ever been writing a novel and realized the theme is very much like something you’ve experienced? 

There’s always a lot of my life in my books – in big and small ways. I see myself in every character in this book except maybe Kitty.  For The Sunshine Girls I really used details and events from my mother’s life. She was at nursing school in Iowa in the 1960’s – and she and her best friend traded buttons as a practical joke for years.  Having that kind of authenticity made the story come to life for me as I was writing it. 

A blog tour: Angels of Resistance by Noelle Salazar

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for this historical fiction title. Many thanks to HTP and Justine Sha and Sophie James for this opportunity. This looks like a very interesting book.

ANGELS OF THE RESISTANCE: A WWII NOVEL

Author: Noelle Salazar

ISBN: 9780778386797

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Publisher: MIRA

Buy Links:

BookShop: https://bookshop.org/p/books/angels-of-the-resistance-a-wwii-novel-noelle-salazar/17845985?ean=9780778386797 

Harlequin: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9780778386797_angels-of-the-resistance.html 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/angels-of-the-resistance-noelle-salazar/1141412268?ean=9780778386797 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Angels-Resistance-Novel-Noelle-Salazar/dp/0778386791/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=angels+of+the+resistance+noelle+salazar&qid=1668110740&sprefix=angels+of+the+%2Caps%2C216&sr=8-1 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Angels-Resistance/Noelle-Salazar/9780778386797?id=8292090795540  

Author Website: https://www.noellesalazar.com/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/noellesalazar

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/noelle__salazar/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noelle_salazar 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18424925.Noelle_Salazar 

Author Bio:

Noelle Salazar was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s been a Navy recruit, a medical assistant, an NFL cheerleader, and always a storyteller. When she’s not writing, she can be found dodging raindrops and daydreaming of her next book. Her first novel, The Flight Girls, was an instant bestseller, a Forbes, Woman’s World & Hypable book of the month and a BookBub Top Recommended book from readers. Angels of Haarlem is her second novel. Noelle lives in Bothell, Washington, with her husband and two children.

Book Summary:

The second WWII novel by Noelle Salazar, bestselling author of the THE FLIGHT GIRLS, follows two teenage sisters in the Netherlands who are recruited as part of the Dutch Resistance effort against the Nazis. Inspired by true events, this moving story about ordinary young women who become extraordinary heroes will appeal to fans of Pam Jenoff and Kate Quinn.

Netherlands, 1940. In the small town of Haarlem, fourteen-year-old Lien lives a simple life with her mother and sister in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. Elsewhere in Europe bombs are falling, but the pall on their house is more from the recent loss of their baby sister as a result of an accident Lien believes she could have prevented than from the oncoming war. Until the Nazis invade the Netherlands and their lives are overturned once more.

Recruited by their late father’s friend, Lien’s older sister Elif reluctantly joins the Dutch resistance movement. Spurred by the injustice of the Nazis’ treatment of Dutch citizens as well as a terrifying bombing of their small town, and forever seeking atonement for her baby sister’s death, Lien begs to join as well. The sisters’ youthful, innocent looks and ability to disappear into a crowd make them the perfect resistance soldiers. Together with a handful of like-minded youth, including the gallant Charlie with whom Lien forms an instant connection, the sisters are trained and begin to carry out missions, from distributing and collecting information to moving Jewish families from hiding places to luring and killing influential Nazis. The toll of the war and their work is evident in their collective psyches, and Lien starts to make mistakes that could cost her and her newfound friends their lives. Until one very personal mission shows her that the atonement she desperately seeks for her sister’s death cannot be found at the end of the barrel of a pistol, but must be found from within her heart.

Try it:

Haarlem, Netherlands

April 1940

Sunlight dappled through the green leaves, scattering golden light across the blanket where I sat, my back against the trunk of a tall birch tree, while I kept watch over the Aberman children.

The rain that had kept me up the night before, pummeling the roof above the third floor bedroom I shared with my older sister, scented the air with the smell of damp grass, stone, and bark. I breathed in, soothed by its familiarity, and yawned, my eyes blurring with exhaustion as I tried to stay present. Too many late nights and early mornings were beginning to take their toll, and the clatter of dice being shaken and rolled by tiny hands before me, accompanied by laughter, shouts of outrage, and harrumphs of frustration, were almost soothing, lulling me into a false sense of security.

I glanced down at the book in my hand and the paragraph I’d read at least a dozen times without retaining one word. Unfortunately, sometimes running from my own thoughts by feeding my brain new information didn’t work. Guilt and fear, it turned out, loved a quiet moment, whispering in my ears at night as I tried to sleep, and nudging at me while I sat at my desk in class, trying to focus on what the teacher said. Which was why I’d decided two months ago that I needed noise. Noise would distract me and help me escape the thoughts running through my mind.

Going, doing, and helping was what led me to taking the Saturday afternoon childcare job. It was why I’d suddenly began offering to run errands or clean for my mother, rather than complaining when she asked. It was why I’d begun staying after school, poring over books I knew I’d be assigned to read the following year in an attempt to get a head start. I’d been determined to become a barrister like my father had been since I was a little girl, and the extra studying filled my head with new and complicated words, lofty ideas, and imaginings of grandeur—which were a much-needed diversion from my otherwise too quiet world. And Haarlem, our sweet little city by the sea, was more than just quiet. It was practically silent, as if all sound emitted was whisked from our homes and carried by the near-constant wind out across the water where it dissipated into the gray clouds above.

“You cheated!”

“I did not!”

I blinked, startled out of my thoughts, and turned my attention to Isaak and Lara, whose earlier mirth had become something less friendly. At six and eight years old, I knew their moments of getting along would become less and less frequent as their interests changed and their peers’ desires began pressuring them in other directions. But for now, they still got along for the most part. Until someone inevitably cheated at a game.

“Lien,” Lara, the younger of the two whined, her wide brown eyes staring up at me, “Isaak cheated.”

“I didn’t!” the older boy protested, his mop of brown curls vibrating with his insistence.

I crossed my arms over my chest, becoming a miniature version of my father when he’d been alive as he’d solved similar skirmishes between me and my elder sister, Elif.

“Well,” I said. “I wasn’t watching to say either way so what shall we do? Quit? It would be a shame. You were both having such a good time. Perhaps have the roll in question rolled again? What would be fair to the two of you?”

Like my father had always done, I gave both participants a choice, rather than accusing or taking sides. If they were having fun, the one at fault would usually feel bad and acquiesce, so as not to ruin the day.

Isaak huffed. “I’ll roll again,” he said.

I hid my smile. Isaak nearly always cheated; Lara was just finally catching on. Keeping my expression thoughtful, I nodded.

“Sounds like a sensible plan,” I said, and then shot to my feet as a sudden shriek split the air in two.

I leaped over their game and stood at the edge of the blanket, a human barrier between whatever trouble was brewing and the children I was responsible for.

“What was that?” Lara asked beside me.

Without looking, I corralled her behind me, my eyes scanning the park around us.

Haarlemmerhout Park covered sixty hectares of land in the southern part of the city. Beech, horse chestnut, linden, and silver maple trees towered above lush green blankets of grass and mossy winding paths where lovers were often caught stealing a kiss by young families out for leisurely bicycle rides. In a park so big, on any given day, one could find a spot to spend several hours in and not be bothered by others. It was strange enough to hear sounds besides ours, but sounds of distress were especially surprising.

Movement on the other side of some nearby shrubbery caught my eye, and I glanced over my shoulder.

“Isaak,” I said. “Watch your sister for a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Heart thudding in my chest, I marched across the soft, damp grass, intent to stop whatever danger was in motion. But as I rounded the tangle of budding green plants, all I saw were two boys in the middle of the walking path bent and staring at a small lump on the ground between them.

One of the boys prodded the lump with a stick and the lump shifted and lifted its small head, hollering again at his aggressor. I sucked in a breath, pinpricks of anger and sorrow mixing behind my eyes, making them burn.

“Stop that!” I yelled, trying to make all 162 centimeters of me look taller than they did. “Get away from that bird!”

Two pairs of wide eyes met mine, and then the stick was dropped as the two boys ran off and out of sight.

I hurried to the bird, tears clouding my eyes.

“Hello, little love,” I whispered, looking for an obvious injury. “Did those mean boys hurt you?”

He eyed me from where he lay, and I chewed my lip as I looked him over best I could without touching him. The wing I could see seemed intact, his spindly legs curled into little enraged fists.

“Is he okay?”

I wiped my eyes and glanced up at Lara, who was standing with her brother beside me, their small faces pinched with worry, dark eyes full of concern.

“I’m not sure,” I said, and pointed. “This wing looks okay, but I can’t see the other one without moving him.”

“Should we take it somewhere?” Isaak asked.

I sniffled and leaned back, getting hold of myself before my emotions erupted from the place I kept them shoved inside. It was only a bird after all. Not worth the tremors of despair threatening to burst.

“No,” I said. “But maybe we could move him out of the way.” I pointed to the shrubbery beside us. “Why don’t the two of you build him a little nest over there?”

As they ran off to gather leaves and small branches, I stared down at the creature.

“I’m sorry you’re hurt,” I whispered, my eyes once more filling with tears.

There was something so awful about seeing a creature, fragile and vulnerable, unable to help itself, left to the devices—or torture—of others. To feel and be so powerless…

“We’re done,” Isaak said, kneeling beside me, his cheeks pink from the effort. “Are you crying?”

I shrugged.

“It’s just a bird, Lien.”

I pursed my lips. “It’s a living creature, Isaak,” I said, my voice soft. “We should always do everything we can to help others. Even if they’re just birds.”

I pulled the scarf from my neck and stared down at the gull. “You ready?” I asked him, and then swooped the fabric over it and wrapped my hands gently around its body.

“Do you think it will live?” Isaak asked as I set the bird in the nest.

A glimmer of sadness pressed at my heart. I knew that sometimes even when the best efforts were made and all the prayers were whispered, they were still not enough.

“I hope so,” I said, setting the grumbling fowl on the nest the kids had made. “The two of you did a great job. It’s a handsome nest. He should be very grateful.”

“He doesn’t sound it,” Lara said, and I managed a laugh.

We watched the gull for a while longer as he warily eyed us back and shifted his small body on the pile of foliage and sticks, and then I shepherded the children back to the blanket and their games.

“Play with us,” Isaak said, holding up a well-loved deck of cards.

I nodded and took a seat, happy for the distraction.

As the afternoon passed, the children, easily bored, moved on from card games to running through the grass, twirling until they were dizzy, and a game of tag until, tired out, they lay side by side, Isaak reading and Lara drawing, while I opened my math book and studied for an exam the following Monday.

A breeze kicked up and I shivered, noticing the light around us had changed from golden hued to dismal. I glanced at the sky to find the sun, tired from her brief exertion, had pulled up her blanket of clouds and disappeared beneath a dark gray cover, giving the cold wind permission to sweep in and scatter the papers Lara was busy drawing on.

“Hurry,” I said, and the three of us took off in different directions, chasing down pictures of dogs, horses, and trees, all the while laughing as papers somersaulted and cartwheeled across the vast lawn.

As I pulled a gangly giraffe drawing from the branches of a budding shrub, and a rotund elephant from a springy bed of moss, I heard the telltale buzz of a plane in the distance. I searched around me for more drawings and then lifted my eyes to the clouds again, listening as the sound amplified, the airplane coming into view, heading in our direction.

“Kids,” I said, my voice a warning. I gestured for them to come closer and then took hold of their arms and pulled them beneath the cover of a tall birch tree.

“It’s just a plane,” Lara said.

But no plane was just a plane when a war was going on.

Lara pulled on my arm and I gave her what I hoped was a smile as a light rain began to fall, tapping on the leaves above us before sliding off and peppering us with drops.

The planes had come more and more often in the past several weeks, but I’d never given them much thought before today. Had never felt even a glimmer of fear, assuming they were headed to France or England where the war was actively happening. But for some reason today, the sight and sound of this one put me on edge and the closer it got, the harder my heart beat.

The drops of rain grew in size with every second I stood with my eyes glued to the plane, watching and waiting, but for what I didn’t know. And then I saw a door open.

“Isaak,” I said. “Lara.” I pushed them behind me, causing Isaak to trip over a large root. He recovered and grasped my hand, his eyes wide with fear as I placed my body in front of theirs, the rumble of the engine above like thunder, shaking the air around us.

But no guns discharged as it flew by. No bombs were dropped. No damage was done at all, save for the fraying of my nerves and a cascade of fluttering white.

“What is it?” Lara asked.

We watched as the wind caught and scattered the overturning debris, sending it floating through the air across what looked like the whole of the city.

“I don’t know,” I said, letting go of their hands and taking a step forward, watching as one of the items landed softly on top of a shrub near where our blanket was laid out.

Isaak reached it first, snatching it from where it lay and turning it over, a frown on his handsome face.

“What’s it mean?” he asked, handing the paper over to me.

I took it and frowned. Vibrant blues, reds, and whites glared back at me as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. A white bird on a flag. A drawing of a young, blond man in uniform with a large drum strapped over his shoulder, and words. Dutch words with a German message that sent a shiver down my spine.

I swallowed, my fingers trembling as I held the paper. Because they weren’t just a German message. They were a Nazi message.

A Nazi invitation.

“For the good of your conscience,” it read. “The Waffen SS is calling you.”

My fingers tightened, crumpling the paper. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen one of these garish signs. I’d spotted them a couple of times over the past several months, adhered to light posts and once, shockingly, in the window of a small shop. Was this where they had come from? Or was this a new tactic? Were we to be inundated regularly with this raining down of terrible requests for our men to join the German forces?

Of course, I knew all about the war Germany had started. It was all anyone talked about since the news the year before that Hitler had invaded Poland had come not so much as a shock as it had with a sigh of acceptance. And when England and France quickly declared war on Germany in retaliation, no one was surprised. Scores of Jews had been entering the Netherlands for the past two years in hopes that our neutrality during the Great War would extend to whatever this war turned out to be. But the poster in my hands made me worry that perhaps they were wrong. Perhaps this time we wouldn’t be so lucky.

Because if we were to stay neutral, what was that plane doing here?

“What’s it say?” Lara repeated her brother’s question, reaching for the poster.

“Nothing.” I folded it and shoved it in my coat pocket. “It’s trash.” I checked my watch, noticing a thread had come loose on the worn, too-big brown band, making it sag on my wrist. I tucked it inside the cuff of my sweater. “We should get you two home. Your parents will worry if we’re late.”

The three of us packed away the items we’d brought in a cloth bag, and then I stood by trying to quell my impatience as I watched the two of them take the corners of the blanket and try to fold it into a neat square.

“Here,” Isaak said, handing me the lumpy heap with a proud smile.

I grinned as I tucked it under my arm and took a last look around for stray toys, papers, and drawing implements.

“Ready?” I asked, and the two nodded. “Shall we check on our bird friend before we go?”

“Yes,” they said in delighted unison.

The gull was just as we’d left it, and in fact looked to have made himself more at home, burrowing deeper into his new nest of leaves and twigs, his narrow beak nestled down into his puffed white chest.

“See?” I whispered, glancing at the children crouched beside me. “I told you you made him a handsome home. Look how happy he is.”

Convinced the bird would live, we walked across the grass to the sidewalk. I glanced at the sky and then moved in closer, making sure I was at most an arm’s length away from both kids should I need to protect either of them from an oncoming bicyclist or any other dangers that might befall them.

I knew how fast the unthinkable could transpire. I’d seen it happen before.

“That was a bad one,” Lara said as we walked.

“What was a bad one?” I asked, looking around to see what she was talking about.

“The plane,” she said. “It was a bad one. I saw the spiders.”

Spiders. It was what she called the Nazi insignia.

I nodded. They were the bad ones indeed. I’d never felt that more than I did now, a seed of doom planting itself in the pit of my stomach as I wondered if that plane, its engine noise still reverberating through my body, was just the beginning of something more. The warning crack of thunder before a storm.

Excerpted from Angels of the Resistance by Noelle Salazar. Copyright © 2022 by Noelle Salazar. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Book Review: “We All Want Impossible Things,” by Catherine Newman – The New York Times

In her novel “We All Want Impossible Things,” Catherine Newman achieves the near-impossible: a story about death, with humor.
— Read on www.nytimes.com/2022/11/04/books/review/we-all-want-impossible-things-catherine-newman.html

Book Review: ‘The Women of Rothschild,’ by Natalie Livingstone – The New York Times

A new biography by Natalie Livingstone focuses on several generations of the banking family’s wives and daughters, documenting their passions for politics, science and music, all abetted by wealth and social connections.
— Read on www.nytimes.com/2022/10/23/books/review/the-women-of-rothschild-natalie-livingstone.html

Now out:

Great Short Books

A Year of Reading—Briefly

by Kenneth C. Davis

This book is a wonderful resource. It will have readers adding new titles to their wish lists or perhaps having a moment’s nostalgia for a book previously read. There are over fifty books featured. Just a few of those mentioned are Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Charlotte’s Web by E B White, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. As can be seen, there are classics, popular fiction and even some children’s books.

For each title, there are sections. These include First Lines, Plot Summary, About the Author, Why You Should Read It, and What to Read Next. Each of these included much that is detailed and informative.

This is a book that bibliophiles and those who want good reading suggestions are sure to enjoy. Highly recommended.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for this title. All opinions are my own.

Review

“An exciting guide to all that the world of fiction has to offer in 58 short novels — from The Great Gatsby and Lord of the Flies to the contemporary fiction of Colson Whitehead and Leïla Slimani — that, ‘like a first date,’ offer pleasure and excitement without commitment.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Anyone who’s eternally time-strapped will treasure Kenneth C. Davis’ Great Short Books. This nifty volume highlights 58 works of fiction chosen by Davis for their size (small) and impact (enormous). Davis delivers readerly insights and plenty of literary trivia in this handy guide. Outside of extra time, it’s the perfect gift for busy bibliophiles.”
—BookPage

Think before you climb on board: Murder On The Christmas Express

All aboard for the puzzling Christmas mystery of the year

by Alexandra Benedict

#MurderOnTheChristmasExpress #NetGalley

This mystery will remind readers of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. It uses the well known mystery trope of putting people together somewhere from which they can not escape and with a serious killer in the mix.

In this book, there is a disparate group traveling on the overnight train to Fort William. What a group they are! There is a (constantly on her media) instagrammar and her rather awful boyfriend; a group hoping to make it in a trivia contest; a recently retired police officer; a member of the CPS: an elderly mother and son who have a cat named Moustache; a young woman named Ember; train crew and more.

It takes a while for the first murder to occur although it is acknowledged on the very first page of the book. More trouble and chaos will ensue before the train is again in motion following its derailment.

The book’s protagonist has a bit of a complex backstory. Readers will hope that she is able to make it to her daughter and new granddaughter soon and unscathed.

As a bonus, this book is peppered with puzzles. I think that these extras are trademarks for this author.

I enjoyed this title. Readers of locked room mysteries will enjoy trying to solve the case.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster UK for this title. All opinions are my own.

Pub date: 01 February 2023