Ella’s Promise

This past week, as the anniversary of its conclusion rolled around again, you no doubt heard a great deal about the First World War. Most of the commentary and retrospectives focused on the decisive (or not so decisive) battles, and the soldiers who served. But there’s a fascinating other layer to the events of World War I, and one that we seldom hear much about: the medical personnel staffing the field hospitals, many of whom were young volunteers.

Ellen Gable’s excellent new historical romance novel, Ella’s Promise, takes us inside that world. It’s the third and final installment in her “Great War-Great Love” series (here is my review of the first novel in that series). It’s a wonderful story, and an engrossing read. I began reading it at the start of a four hour flight, and couldn’t put it down; I finished it shortly before landing. As soon as I was allowed to use my phone, I dashed off a note to the author telling her how much I enjoyed it.

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And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like romance novels! That’s in part due to this story being so much more than a romance. Yes, boy meets girl. Yes, boy loses girl. And, yes, boy gets girl back. But all of these plot points and developments are tied up with events unfolding in connection with the war, including Allied espionage operations. Ella’s love interest, Garrett, is a Canadian intelligence officer. He’s of German descent, and speaks German fluently, so is a natural for the role. We get to follow him as he infiltrates the enemy ranks, risks getting exposed, and finds himself in a position of great peril.

Ella herself is an American, and had significant medical training before the war. She spends much of the early part of the story frustrated that she isn’t allowed to put these skills to greater use. The way she ultimately “proves herself,” and manages to turn the tables on those who were trying to keep her locked in a lower level role, makes for some truly wonderful reading.

Like Garrett, Ella is also of German descent, and also fluent in the language. Interestingly, her family expressed some qualms about her going to France and working against their mother country. She insists she’s not there to support the war efforts of any particular country, or even of any particular side. She volunteers for one reason only: to help persons who need it, regardless of nationality. She’s determined to stay out of the Allies’ larger strategic operations, refusing even to use her language skills to listen in on (and report back about) the conversations of enemy soldiers in her care. Her challenge is to remain true to herself, while assuring others that she’s not an enemy sympathizer. As the story unfolds, and her relationship with Garrett grows deeper, she is forced to make more difficult decisions about her role, and what she is willing to do to support the Allied effort.

As an avid cyclist, I was fascinated by one smallish detail in the plot: the use of an innovative, folding bicycle captured from the Germans. (Being able to fold it up made it easier for transport on a vehicle.) I’d never heard of these bicycles before, so I enjoyed learning about how they operated and were put to use. I’m hoping I get to see one in a museum someday.

I should mention that Ella’s Promise is a clean and wholesome story. The courtship is chaste, with the characters observing the social conventions of the time about appropriate behavior.

One other thing I should note: although the book is part of a series, it stands on its own as a story. You don’t need to have read the other two novels to appreciate this one (and I haven’t even been able to read the second one yet). Each novel focuses on a different female volunteer, with the “non focus” volunteers playing supporting roles. For example, Ella appeared in Julia’s Gifts, as one of Julia’s friends, but there’s nothing critical about her from that story that you need to know for this one. Likewise, you’ll appreciate Julia’s appearance in the current story more if you’ve read the first novel, but there is nothing from that novel which is essential to the plot of this one.

The bottom line is that Ella’s Promise is a wonderful novel, and I enjoyed it very much. I can’t believe I missed the second book in the series. I’m going to have to go back and rectify that as soon as I can.

Play Ball!

What’s your favorite annual sporting event? Which one gives you the most joy every time it rolls around?

The Super Bowl? The Tour de France? March Madness and the Final Four? The Bowl game to which your alma mater garnered an invite?

While I look forward to all of the above, none is quite as much fun as what’s transpiring right now in the the little town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania: the Little League World Series. If you haven’t been watching, I strongly recommend you give it a try. The various ESPN networks are airing virtually every game, with the especially big Sunday games being shown on ABC. The action runs through next weekend, and there are games scheduled pretty much every day this week.

I first stumbled upon this event many years ago, while scrolling through the cable channels. Who would want to waste time watching a bunch of kids playing baseball? I wondered. They’re not as good as the pros. Why on earth is this even on television?

I changed the channel almost immediately.

Only with time did I realize how mistaken I’d been. A couple of years after first encountering the event, I stumbled upon it again. I’m still not sure why, but I decided to watch for a few innings.

That’s all it took. I was hooked. It’s now “appointment television” for me, and I start thinking about it early in the summer each year.

So, what’s the LLWS? And what’s worthwhile about watching “a bunch of kids playing baseball”?

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Got Nothing Against the Big Town: The Yeoman Farmer’s Urban Adventure

We’ve been living on rural properties for nearly sixteen years now (hard to believe it’s been that long), and at this point I’m not sure I could ever again live or work in a city – or even a suburb. Once you get used to having this much open space, this much quiet, so many wonderful country roads, such beautiful night skies, and such terrific home-produced food … it’s not an easy thing to give up. We’re especially fortunate in that we live just outside a small town. Our township is rural and unincorporated, but we’re still close enough to town for high speed DSL internet — and we’re still just minutes from a hardware store, a grocery store, and a freeway to even more resources.

As much as I love country life, I do look forward to — and thoroughly enjoy — visiting bigger cities. Business travel takes me mostly to Washington, DC; when I’m there, I try to carve out some time to see the Smithsonian or other historical sights — or rent a bike and explore even farther.

And there is no other city quite like New York. I could never live there, or even work there on a regular basis. It’s far too large and too crowded for me — and not to mention extremely expensive. But what an amazing place to visit! What I’m always most struck by when I go there: New York seems to have a little bit of everything, and it’s all mixed together, and it’s all happening all at once. Every street is a kaleidoscope of sounds, different ethnic groups, languages, shops, restaurants, and activity. There never seems to be enough time to see everything, or to take everything in.

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Great Book Reviews

My novel, Full Cycle, has gotten some very nice reviews this summer. In addition to what readers have posted at Amazon, Mark Livingood at The TandemGeek’s Blog recently put up a terrific review of the book. An excerpt:

Full Cycle struck me as being a very compelling, life’s lessons story of believable proportions.  In other words, all of the characters seemed very credible and real.  I suspect the latter may be because there’s apparently a lot of Christopher Blunt’s life experiences captured in the story and its characters.

For tandem enthusiasts, yes… a tandem bicycle is very central to the story and the account of the main characters introduction to and riding experiences on the tandem was something that will resonate with all tandem riders, large and small.  And, small is the key to this story: it’s ultimately about a father and 12-year old son pairing up and taking on the annual Seattle to Portland (STP) ride.  The story offers a great perspective on how a tandem can build on strong family relationships between parents and their children as well as how cycling can play an important role in the modern family.

Earlier this summer, the Cascade Courier, the newspaper of the Pacific Northwest’s largest bicycle club, ran this wonderful review:

Cascade Full Cycle Review

Full Cycle is available in print at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and in Kindle format at Amazon.