Indie Book Review: The Songbird and the Spy by J’nell Ciesiekski

If there is one era that is overrepresented in historical fiction, it has to be World War II. I get it, it’s an important period in the world’s history, where more soldiers (and civilians) died than in any other war. But after you read a hundred or so books that are so similar, it becomes rather an uninteresting era to read.

I’m currently at that point when it comes to fiction books set during WWII. However, against my better judgement, I spotted this indie book free on Amazon and I decided to read it. And I’m actually happy to say it felt fresh and original.

Release: January, 2019                               

Synopsis: Claire Baudin is a talented musician and singer, traveling to France in 1940 to visit her aunt and uncle. Michael Reiner is an undercover spy for the British army, disguised as a Nazi captain in a small town in occupied France. When the two happen to meet, their lives will radically change as the world fights its bloodiest war.

Review

I am not a huge fan of romance, though I do love learning about WWII. And I found this book to be a happy mixture of the two. It does not sacrifice an interesting plot for too much romance. I absolutely loved the first half of the book and though the second half was a bit predictable and underdeveloped for my tastes, the entire novel was enjoyable to read.

Michael Reiner was by far my favorite character. He has a strong sense of justice, but he is also intelligent, compassionate, and knows how to make sacrifices for the good of his nation and those he cares about. Claire was interesting in the beginning as well, though I thought her character growth stunted around the halfway mark. She is a girl who has a sheltered life, and yet shows immense courage in situations she has no experience with. She is not fool, but she is also not incredibly wise, at times putting herself and others in danger. I didn’t hate her, but I found her rather naïve, which is more a criticism of herself and not the actual development of her character.

Most of the story feels almost like a cozy thriller (or cozy mystery minus the murder). It is not an extremely serious book, only glossing over serious topics. In that way, it is different than many of the WWII books I have read. It is not meant to be horrifying and shocking and instead sweet and happy. Some readers might prefer a more serious book, but as this is a cozy mystery/romance, I didn’t mind it.

I also like the fact that Ciesielski (what a cool name, by the way) took the Nazi captain and French peasant trope and turned it on its head. In the beginning, Claire believes Michael to be a real Nazi, only later learning he is a spy. Similarly, Michael believes Claire to be French at first, only later learning (mostly through her accent) that she is American. It’s an interesting twist on the Nazi/prisoner trope that I’m not so fond of.

I also really enjoyed the dialogue filled with slang terms and phrases of the 40s, making it feel as if these characters are really a product of their time. One of the biggest issue I have with many historical indie books I read is that the characters feel like modern people thrown back in another time. And yet I sincerely appreciated the attention to detail when it came to understanding how people thought and acted during the 1940s.

The romance also felt…pure? That’s the best word I can think to describe it. There’s no sex scenes, and I’m not fond of erotic romance of any kind, so I appreciated this. Both Michael and Claire always have the best of intentions when it comes their feelings, even if they are still fallible humans who make mistakes. Though, after they fell in love, I felt as if their relationship just became stagnant and I would have liked for them to grow pass that initial “we’re in love” stage. But not every romance can be as good as Gaudy Night’s!

My main and only criticism is that the ending was extremely predictable. But, to by honest, I have never read a romance without a predictable ending, simply because the genre indicates that the ending must be happy and the two main leads must end up together. The only way to add a twist is to have someone die or they end up separated, both of which doesn’t fit into this genre.

Besides that, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It was light (especially for a wartime romance) and mixed perfectly with action and romance. If there had been more romance, I would have been bored with the plot and if there was less this would no longer feel like a romance. I will definitely have to put this author on my TBR and read some of her other books!

Have you heard of this book? What is your favorite book set in WWII? What is your opinion of wartime romance novels? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

11 thoughts on “Indie Book Review: The Songbird and the Spy by J’nell Ciesiekski

  1. You kinda make me want to write a romance story where they break up at the end. 😀 Or maybe where the turning point is a break-up, and then they spend the rest of the story patching that relationship up, to become friends at the end. Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm, I don’t know! If “they stay together ever after” is a condition of the romance, then no… but I kinda wanna think that romances wouldn’t be so, um, I don’t know… constrained? I mean, if we get that sweet romantic feeling and our hearts are warmed, isn’t that the most important thing – even if they do end up separating? Not sure though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard this criticism about World War II plenty of times and, being someone who is actually trying to publish a novel series set in the period, I can understand why people balk at them. When writing my stories, I’ve tried to set them on certain fronts and settings of World War II most don’t know about relative to others, such as the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. I don’t think people are necessarily tired of hearing about World War II; instead, they are just tired of the same locales. No one wants to read another book about the race from Normandy to Berlin, if that makes sense.

    Wartime romance is my preferred genre, though you probably knew that already. Hah. There’s something about relationships being tested in war that just fascinates me. It’s a good genre to explore themes like endurance and the limits of human bonds, as well as the more expected things like the horror of war and its effects on people. However, sometimes I think wartime romances focus less on war than they do on romance, which is something I at least try to balance.

    I have too many favorite books on WWII to count! Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day” is a personal favorite, and it was also the first WWII movie I remember seeing. It would not be an exaggeration to say it got me into WWII in the first place. What are some of your favorites?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. There are still ways to tell a WWII story without picking the exact same place and time. And great characters never get boring. Wartime romances can be very interesting, especially since stakes are already very high with the war (just look at your Peter and Tanya series). I haven’t read The Longest Day, but I saw the movie years ago (my dad was a great fan of John Wayne). I didn’t know it was based on a book; I’ll have to look it up. There are so many amazing books about WWII, though I read more books about the war from the other side of the world (mostly the war with Japan, not in Europe). Like The Rape if Nanking, Killing the Rising Sun, etc. Though I have read a lot of fiction books about the war in Europe. I’m currently trying to get through Crusade in Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower (it’s such a hefty book to read, though!).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You hit the nail on the head. WWII doesn’t have to be boring because there are so many different stories to tell and so many different facets of it that aren’t just war. This isn’t just a problem with books, but video games as well. I can remember how most gamers were burnt out by WWII shooters and strategy games, but it wasn’t so much that the genre had gotten tireseome; it was just that same run of storming the beaches of Normandy, skulking in the streets of Stalingrad, and assaulting the Reichstag in Berlin. I have yet to see a game take on the Pacific Theater or even some lesser known theaters like Italy, Yugoslavia, Burma, China, and others. It all comes down to keeping the subject matter fresh, and most books, movies and games don’t realize how much untapped potential there is in WWII.

        It really warms my heart to know you still view my “American Now Departed” series so highly after all this time. Maybe one day we can expect a review of those? haha.

        John Wayne was great in that film, no question. If you have seen The Longest Day, I would also recommend “A Bridge Too Far,” as that’s also based on a book by Cornelius Ryan. If you’re interested in the Pacific Theater, James Jones wrote an amazing trilogy of books about it: “From Here to Eternity,” “The Thin Red Line,” (both are great movies, too) and “Whistle.” Much of his work is based on his own experiences in the war, too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow, that’s a lot of recommendations. I’ll have to look up those movies and books. Thank you! And yes, similar to books, video games can also be really repetitive. It is rare that a WWII game stands out to me anymore. CoD WWII was good. So was Medal of Honor Pacific Assault (even if I absolutely sucked at that game…I should probably play it now to see if I like it as much). There are definitely great ways to tell any story, no matter how many books have been written about similar topics in the past.

          Liked by 1 person

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