R E V I E W :: That Summer in Berlin by Lecia Cornwall

That Summer in Berlin
Lecia Cornwall
Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Viviane Alden is much more interested in taking pictures than marrying, but a career in photography is verboten for a woman of her station. Still, she secretly sells her impressive images to newspapers. When her mother presses her to find a suitable match, Viviane agrees instead to chaperone her sister Julia as she visits Germany for the summer, culminating in a trip to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the games in which Jesse Owens won four gold medals.

Although Winston Churchill was already predicting a second major war, and some suspected Hitler was putting together an army and mass producing arms, most had no stomach for another conflict in the region and were placated by the new ruler’s reassurances. Tom, a journalist and acquaintance of Viviane, is pressed into service by the English government trying to learn as much as possible about Germany’s secrets while covering the games. Familiar with Viviane’s skills, Tom asks her to partner with him to expose the truth. She agrees: as an upper class English woman on holiday, she would be above suspicion.

Guests of Count Georg von Schroeder, Viviane and Julia are given VIP treatment. Not only is von Schroeder respected, his wife aspires to position her sons, Otto, an SS officer, and Felix, a scientist, to succeed in the new regime. In contrast, Georg hopes the English debutantes will temper his sons’ extreme views.

Viviane knows of Hitler’s hateful sentiments and has heard of rumors of work and killing camps, but with an influx of foreign visitors, all antisemitic messaging has been removed. Still, she is determined to collect valuable photographs. She’s confident her nationality will keep her safe, but getting intelligence requires risk. At the same time, her principles are tested when she is asked to provide assistance that could put her life in danger.

That Summer in Berlin highlighted the seductive appeal of Hitler’s pageantry and propaganda to both Germans and English while showing how Germans were surveilled and punished if they did not conform (and though despite that some resisted). It illustrates the nurturing and complicity with totalitarianism, an issue increasingly important.

Determined, headstrong, and principled, Viviane is as fetching a character as Julia is frustrating. The final scenes before the epilogue have a Bourne-Identity-level action and intensity.

Thanks so much to @netgalley and @berkleypub for an advanced reading copy of the book and to @berittalksbooks for organizing the #berkleywritesstrongwomen #berkleybuddyreads!

B O O K R E V I E W : Business Not As Usual

Thank you to Berkley Romance and NetGalley for the eARC of Business Not As Usual by Sharon C. Cooper, publishing Tuesday, Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Dreamy Daniels, assistant to a brilliant software engineer who unfortunately is also a micromanager treating his his employees poorly, can’t wait to start her own non-profit helping female entrepreneurs. She just needs to finish her degree (only one more semester)—and win the lottery!

Dreamy and her grandfather have been playing the same numbers for years, and she’s sure their lucky day is on the horizon. Meanwhile, her charm, vibrant personality, and eclectic style win over those she meets, including Karter Redford, a potential investor in her boss’s company. Although her boss flubbed the meeting, Dreamy salvaged the opportunity.

Karter, son of a famous actor and Hollywood socialite, and successful businessperson himself, knows better than to mix business and pleasure, but he can’t stop thinking of Dreamy. And although Dreamy swore off men after her last boyfriend, she can’t deny the attraction between them. Yet, the two come from radically different worlds.

A light-hearted romance, Business Not As Usual has great representation, a fabulous female lead, and a wonderful cast of secondary characters, including Dreamy’s cousin and grandfather and Karter’s sister, driver, and assistant.

It was difficult to see the impact of class differences on Dreamy’s self-esteem, though Cooper contextualizes it with information from Dreamy’s past. I also had a hard time with Dreamy’s belief in and reliance on the lottery and almost wish that hadn’t been part of the story.

This would be a good option for those looking for a quick, feel-good age-gap romance.

B O O K R E V I E W : The Bait

The second novella in the To Catch a Leopard triology, The Bait finds the lovers Ania and Jerome in Venice, Italy during the Venetian Carnival a year after the events in The Steal. Determined to trap the Leopard, they plan a daring heist to steal the famed Lemon Twist necklace from Julie Kimbell during her own ball.

Events, however, do not go as planned, and Jerome becomes the focus of the investigation. He realizes Ania may not have been completely honest and that revenge may be more important than her feelings towards him.

This is a quick-paced, classic heist story with a touch of romance. I loved the Venice setting and all the 1950s glamour! The writing style evokes the era, and I think it’s unevenly successful. There’s a scene at a glass factory on Murano island that I really enjoyed: when I was in graduate school, I worked at a bead store and I still sometimes make jewelry so I enjoyed the descriptions of the necklaces and other accessories.

A good choice for readers looking for a quick, fun, romantic heist.

Thanks to @mjroseauthor, @getredprbooks, and @letstalkbookspromo for including me on the tour and for an advanced reading copy of the book!

B O O K R E V I E W : Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Amma and Brittany can think of no better way to end their trip around the world than with a visit to an isolated, uninhabited, yet very Instagrammable island in the Pacific. In Hawaii, they find Nico, who is willing to captain a boat for the journey—especially for the fee they are willing to pay—as long as his girlfriend, Lux, agrees to come along.

After a multi-day sail, Nico’s boat arrives at Meroe Island—a rumored site of shipwrecks and cannibalism—only to find another party already anchored. Disappointment quickly turns to camaraderie, though, as Eliza and Jake welcome the newcomers with a bounty of food and alcohol.

As the sunny days pass, the six twenty-somethings enjoy leisurely days lounging on the beach or exploring the interior of the island, dense with vegetation, home to an abandoned WWII refueling station with epic parties in the evening. However, the idyllic paradise hides simmering tensions, tragic pasts, and deeply held secrets, and the vacationers realize they don’t know each other as well as they think.

The arrival of a third boat, with Robbie, a crew of one, disrupts the fragile equilibrium as his subtly threatening demeanor puts everyone on edge. When one is found dead and one missing, it’s unclear if any will leave the island alive.

The story is told in dual timelines, Now and Before, from multiple points of view which works well with this book as it contributes to the uncertainty about which characters are trustworthy. It took some time to establish the setting and story; I would have preferred this to have been condensed. However, once Robbie arrived on the island, the action picked up, and there were many unexpected bombshells, although I also noticed a few confusing plot points.

If you liked the movie A Perfect Getaway or the true crime book And the Sea Will Tell, this is a book for you! Look for it at your favorite bookstore on Tuesday, January 4, 2022!

Thanks to @stmartinspress and @netgalley for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

B O O K R E V I E W : A Murder Yule Regret by Winnie Archer

Ivy Culpepper, photographer and part-time employee of famed bread shop Yeast of Eden in beautiful Santa Sofia, receives an opportunity of a lifetime when she is asked to document Eliza Fox’s holiday party. As fitting a Hollywood starlet, Eliza’s asked guests to come dressed costumed as characters from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Shortly after Eliza makes her grand entrance, a scream brought guests outside to find one of the caterers gesturing over the cliffs: a man had fallen—or been pushed—to his death.

The man, paparazzi Ed Yentin, had no shortage of enemies. He had already published one scathing article about Eliza’s husband and was rumored to be writing a second more shocking piece. Eliza’s wasn’t the only career or marriage he devastated. Actress Cordelia Knight, who also had secrets exposed by Yentin, was rumored to be in attendance.

Ivy, no stranger to investigations, becomes embroiled in the case when her photographs from the party become important evidence. Though Ivy wants to prove Eliza innocent, she may have the strongest motive of all.

All year, I read cozy mysteries but they seem particularly fitting during the holiday season! This is the seventh book in the Bread Shop Mystery Series, and though I had no problem starting here, I might have missed some background on the recurring characters: Emmaline, the no-nonsense sheriff and Ivy’s best friend, Olaya, the talented owner of Yeast of Eden and Ivy’s mentor, Mrs. Branford, Ivy’s older neighbor and partner-in-crime, and her boyfriend, Miguel.

The mystery—Hollywood intrigue exported to a small costal town—was fun with many possible suspects. I was surprised by how things wrapped up.

All the descriptions of baked goods were so tempting, but the book includes several recipes (including one for a fun cocktail that I am definitely trying soon). Best of all, the animal sidekick is a pug!

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review!