Book Review: The Sky Above Us

The Sky Above Us
Sunrise at Normandy #2
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

As D-Day approaches, fighter pilot Adler Paxton is determined to “make ace” (which means shooting down 5 enemy planes), but first has to learn how to be a wingman. While struggling with this lesson and memories of a tragic last day at home, he meets American Red Cross worker Violet Lindstrom. All Violet wants to do is be a missionary overseas, but England isn’t what she had in mind. She’d rather go somewhere that she can make a difference, not serve the Air Force men who aren’t in need. Both Violet and Adler have a lot to learn about themselves and each other, as long as they can survive the war.

This is the second book in a series of three, following three brothers who were separated by a very unfortunate series of events that led to three years of estrangement. I’ve read books #1 (The Sea Before Us) & #3 (The Land Beneath Us), so this was the last of the series for me. I really enjoyed this book, both as its own story and as part of the greater story. I am continually amazed by the level of detail that Sundin has put into these historical books, making me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. And the characters in this book felt very real to me. Adler’s path from the darkness he feels regarding his role in the tragedy that pushed him away from home is one of my favorite things about this book.

Violet’s process through this book is a lot more subtle, but no less important. She learns something about herself and how she views others that might not seem like a big deal to many people, but I think a lot of us actually could see the same concerns in ourselves if we looked very hard. (And on a side note, the woman on the cover is not how I pictured Violet at all. That woman looks way too petite.)

I liked this one a little more than book #1, and not quite as much as #3 , but it’s still a 5-star read for me. After I finished this book, I had to go back and read parts of the third book to get the full resolution of the Paxton brothers’ story. Though the majority of each of these three books is a standalone story, I would highly recommend reading them in order. I know for sure that I will go back through this series in the future and read them the way they were meant to be read. It’s a great series full of pain and sin, grace and forgiveness. I recommend this book and series to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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Book Review: The Sea Before Us

The Sea Before Us
Sunrise at Normandy #1
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sea Before

Wyatt Paxton is a lieutenant in the US Navy. Dorothy Fairfax is a first officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Both of these divisions of the US and UK military are working closely together to plan the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, which is when Wyatt and Dorothy meet. Dorothy’s job is to piece together thousands of holiday pictures of the beaches of France so that Wyatt can make informed decisions for the invasion. Though Wyatt is drawn to Dorothy, she has her eyes set on another man…who has his eyes set on several other women. Both have to find a way to keep romantic entanglements, as well as other family drama, from distracting them from the ultimate goal–winning the war.

What I liked about this book is that it was not just about the romance. Wyatt and Dorothy both had a lot of other things going on in their lives, and that’s besides the looming invasion. In fact, the romance plot line is what detracted the most, or at least a particular aspect of it, as I’ll explain a bit further below. Overall, though, the book was engaging, enjoyable to read, and clearly well-researched.

The book begins by showing an incident in Wyatt’s past that haunts him throughout the book. It was especially interesting to me, because I’ve already read book #3 in this series and knew of the event, and now got to see it happen. Wyatt himself was a great character–great guy with a lot of depth, and I had an easy time imagining his Texas drawl, because his dialog was well-written. Feeling guilty about his part in the incident that happened before he joined the Navy, Wyatt sees himself as a prodigal son, leaning on God to get him through this tough time, and sharing his faith with Dorothy.

Dorothy had a lot more going on in her story, but I liked her less. She was a good daughter, and not necessarily mean to Wyatt (for the most part). But frankly, it took her way too long to see Eaton, her crush, for what he really was. There were times I was sure she was on the turning point, but she just kept pushing Wyatt aside in her mind and crushing on Eaton. And why was she so set on this? Because of what I felt was the weakest part of the book–her mother once told her that she regretted marrying her father, because he was boring, and she needed excitement. Her mother said that Dorothy was just like her, and warned her to marry someone exciting like Eaton. Why she wrote Wyatt off as “boring” so very quickly, I’m not sure, but she stuck by that assessment for far too long.

Other than a further contrivance later in the book, the rest of it was great. The book follows Wyatt into the invasion, from his position on a naval ship, and though a lot of the terminology was lost on me, I was caught up in it. There were several scenes in the last quarter of the book that made me so happy. In the end, I definitely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Finished Reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

GLPPPS

In the aftermath of WWII, a writer in London named Juliet receives a letter from a stranger living on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. This begins a correspondence that expands to other members of the islander’s literary society, as Juliet wants to hear more about their society. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was formed during the German occupation of the island, and became so much more.

The book started out a little slow, but when it took off, it really took off. It’s written entirely in epistolary style, with letters and telegrams between various characters telling the story. The characters are endearing, and as the trials they went through during the war are revealed, the lasting effects are shown alongside them. The emotions are real, and I found myself swept up in them.

Early in the book, I was mostly annoyed with Juliet and her tendency to complain. It was establishing her background and life, I know, but maybe specifically because of the book’s format, since we saw everything directly from her perspective, she just seemed whiny. Around the time she got the first letter from Dawsey on the island, her character deepened enough that I didn’t dislike her so much. And then her sincere interest in the literary society and what the people on the island went through endeared her to me a lot more.

The format of the book is done well–each letter has a header stating who it was written to and from, so before you even start reading the letter, you are fully aware of that. It helps a lot, as eventually there are quite a few characters to keep straight. Some become more familiar, and others fall away, but overall, I only had a little struggle sorting through them.

Unsurprisingly, the characters are what make this book so great. I loved the way that the heart of the literary society was never even physically present in the book, once characters came together in the physical space, yet she was still a big part of the story. On the other hand, Juliet has this suitor that is pretty terrible. I don’t get why she doesn’t see how incredibly misogynistic he is, even in that somewhat different time.

This book is split into 2 parts, and by the time I got to part 2, I was completely hooked. It’s a fairly short book, and I think the epistolary format makes it particularly easy to read, because there’s not a lot of description. I read the bulk of it in a day. This is one book I am definitely going to re-read in the future. I recommend it for all fans of historical fiction, but even others, especially those who like character-driven stories.

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Book Review: This Light Between Us

Finished Reading: This Light Between Us
by Andrew Fukuda

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

This Light

As a Japanese American during WWII, teenage Alex Maki’s life begins to deteriorate until his family is sent to a detainment camp. Up to and during this time, he is pen pals with a Jewish girl in France, who is seeing the growing persecution of Jews around her. This friendship is his one bright spot in an otherwise scary, unpleasant time. They share their hopes, dreams, fears, and ideas about acceptance vs. revolt through their many letters back and forth. As the war rages on, both of their lives change in ways they can’t imagine, and their strong friendship might not be enough to keep hope alive.

This book was incredible in some ways, and problematic in others. I really liked the history that was presented in this book, as well as the relationships. However, I had a difficult time with the style of writing and with the pacing.

I’ll start with what I liked, which is plenty. I loved the juxtaposition of the two teenage pen pals, who most readers will understand going in are being set up for intensely difficult times ahead. While I have seen and read many books about the Jewish side of this, the Japanese American side was a fresh topic for me. It’s easy to see the Nazis as evil because of what they did, but it’s also easy to forget that America put their own citizens into camps (though not heinous as the Nazi camps, as is clearly recognized in this book).

There was a pivotal scene not far from the end that I was curious enough about to look up and found that it was historically accurate, which was really neat to me. And the author’s notes at the end said it was one of 2 sources of inspiration for this book! Overall, I appreciated the history in this book.

I think my favorite parts of the book were the letters between Alex and his pen pal Charley. I would have been okay if more of the story had been told through those letters. I also liked the way a few other relationships developed throughout the story, particularly those between Alex and his brother Frank, and Alex and Mutt. Thinking of these, though, make me realize how light the book is on deep characters. Overall, those 4 are the only characters with any real depth, and none of them are particularly deep, besides maybe Alex and his brother.

This might be largely related to one of my biggest dislikes with the book. The story, which is presented as a personal narrative, has some strange inconsistencies in writing style. It fluctuates often between 3rd person limited and 3rd person omniscient (especially in the last third), which can at times make me feel like I have mental whiplash. Some of these sections easily could have been shown from the limited POV of Alex, rather than the broad POV of everyone involved. The story is also written in present tense, which, to me, is a strange choice for the omniscient POV. This caused the book to not flow as well as it could have.

Similarly, during the omniscient sections, there’s a lot of telling, instead of showing. I’m really not a big stickler for the “show, don’t tell” adage, but even I have my limits. I also would have preferred some translation for the French in some parts. This is a small gripe, because it didn’t come up often, and most of the time I could guess what was being said from context. But during a pivotal scene near the end, I had to use Google to translate some phrases to make sure I knew what was being said, and I’d rather not have to leave the book in a moment like that. (There was also something said in German that the reader is led to believe was some kind of German curse, and it’s not translated or even hinted at otherwise. I know enough German to know it was not a German curse, and was really quite emotional.)

So, overall, I did enjoy the book. It wasn’t a favorite, but I also think that most of what bothered me was more personal preference than normal. I think most people will not be bothered by the writing style, especially. It is listed as YA, but I’m not sure how much it works for that crowd. Though I will say that the dialog at times is pretty immature, so that might work out well (it’s also a little too modern, in my opinion, but I’m no expert). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially related to WWII, you will probably like it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Teen for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Land Beneath Us

Finished Reading: The Land Beneath Us
Sunrise at Normandy #3
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Land Beneath

Clay Paxton is training to be a U.S. Army Ranger in advance of the Allied invasion of France in WWII. Leah Jones is a librarian on the military base where he’s training. He has no future, due to a recurring dream that he sees as a premonition of his death during the invasion. She has no past, orphaned at the age of 4 and torn away from her baby sisters, with no familial connections. A marriage as friends gives them both something they need, and shortly thereafter, Clay ships off for further training, expecting never to return. Neither can anticipate what will happen in the months leading up to D-Day.

This book is just so beautiful in so many ways. The main characters are both so kind and compassionate, so often willing to put others before themselves, and yet both have flaws to try to overcome. The events throughout the book meld together so well, and yet, not everything turns out perfectly. And the writing itself is clear, with a style that I found I particularly enjoyed.

I am not a history buff at all, so understand I have very little basis to say this, but I felt that the book was very well researched. With real events, real locations, and even some real people from history who were participants in this part of the invasion, it all felt very real for me.

As far as the romance goes, I know everyone has their preferences–what they like and don’t like in romance. This one hit all of the right buttons for me. I requested the ARC specifically because of 3 words in the synopsis: “marriage of convenience”. I have always loved stories where a romance develops between two people who married because they felt they had to. And it absolutely did not disappoint. There was something in the last quarter of the book that started to bug me a bit (being vague to avoid spoilers), but it paid off in the best scene ever!

I also love the fact that the romance isn’t right there in your face the whole time. It’s not the main plot, while a few other things happen as a vehicle for it. The rest of the story is full in its own right, and the romance is interweaved into that so wonderfully. I also love how both characters are so incredibly faith-driven and turn to God for help and strength constantly. Both of these characters are paralleled with Biblical characters–Leah with her namesake who was unloved by her husband. And Clay even more strongly with Joseph, who was cast into a pit by his brothers, which is how Clay feels about his own situation.

When I first requested this ARC to read & review, I saw that it was #3 in a series, but it looked to me (with a quick glance) that the novels were stand-alones. While reading, I quickly realized that they aren’t really. The three books in this series are about 3 brothers, and the other two appear in this book in some form too. This book ties up a storyline that I’m sure must thread through the first two books in some way. I’m a little sad that I read the last one first, but I loved this one so much, I’m going to have to read the others very soon! And then I’ll probably go on to try a different series by this author. This book will be the standard by which I measure all Christian romances in the future, and I don’t see it getting much better than this.

In case it’s not clear from my review, I absolutely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance, Christian historical novels, and/or books with a strong focus on forgiveness and finding a place to belong.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review!

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