Tag: J’nell Ciesielski

The Songbird and the Spy by J'nell Ciesielski

Book Review | The Songbird and the Spy by J’nell Ciesielski

Claire Baudin is an American music student trapped in World War II France during the German occupation. Her family have disappeared, and she’s now working as a barmaid and pianist in a small town (very ‘Allo ‘Allo, for those of you who remember the 1980’s TV series). All she knows is she needs to hide the fact she’s American, and try and find her way to neutral territory so she can return to America.

Michael Reiner is a German/Irish RAF officer now working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), now serving undercover in occupied France, posing as the Nazi captain of a communications station. Michael knows there is something different about Claire, but doesn’t know what. And he has more important things to worry about, like Isla, the SS agent sent to inspect his station.

I read and enjoyed J’nel Ciesielski’s debut novel, Among the Poppies.

It was set in World War I England and France, and impressed me with the plot, the characters, the Christian themes, and the underlying research. The Songbird and the Spy has many of the same qualities.

However, there were also a couple of weaker areas.

I was never sure why Michael joined the Royal Air Force, given the Irish were neutral in World War II and he was born in Germany. My first thought was that he was from Northern Ireland, but we later find out he’s from Wicklow, in neutral Eire (and was there really an American Army Air Force Base there? That doesn’t sound right).

I also had questions Michael and Claire’s romantic relationship. I could understand why he fell for her, and he was an honourable man, an officer and a gentleman. But I didn’t see Claire developing feelings for Michael. It felt like she went from not liking him to loving him with no real journey. This is romance, and we read for the journey.

The result was a novel which never fully engaged me on an emotional level.

However, there were many strengths in the overall story, and the characters. The Songbird and the Spy is a solid World War II novel with some great research.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

About J’nell Ciesielski

Believing she was born in the wrong era, J’nell Ciesielski spends her days creating heart-stopping heroes, brave heroines, and adventurous exploits in times gone by. Winner of the Romance Through the Ages contest and Maggie Award, J’nell can often be found dreaming of a second home in Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. Born a Florida girl, she now calls Virginia home, along with her very understanding husband, young daughter, and one lazy beagle.

You can find J’nell Ciesielski online at:


About The Songbird and the Spy

As shells explode over Nazi-occupied France, American music student Claire Baudin is trapped behind enemy lines, struggling to protect her identity. Singing as a barmaid while she plans her escape, a handsome Third Reich captain threatens everything she knows to be true about the enemy.

Nazi Captain Michael Reiner isn’t who he claims to be. A British language expert turned spy, he discovers the truth about Claire, but he knows the importance of a secret. Struggling to resist his
attraction to the songbird, he’s determined to complete his assignment, no matter the cost. His cover is threatened when a ruthless female Gestapo officer arrives, hunting Resistance fighters. The raid forces Michael’s hand: complete the mission or save Claire.

As the war threatens to tear them apart, they must rely on each other for survival. Is there hope—and a future—for an American songbird and a British spy?

You can find The Songbird and the Spy online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Which lesser-known Christian authors do you wish more readers knew about?

Bookish Question #80 | Which lesser-known Christian authors do you wish more readers knew about?

It’s easy to find out about the big-name authors in Christian publishing.

Think Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury. It’s not hard to find out about some of the middle rank—the authors whose books you see reviewed, or you find on the shelf of your local Christian bookstore.

But, as a reader, it can be harder to find out about the lesser-known Christian authors.

It’s equally hard—or harder—for those authors to find readers.

I try and feature some lesser-known Christian authors on my blog, either through book reviews, author interviews, or First Line Friday posts. But I still have to find out about them somehow, and that’s often through them contacting me to request a review or interview.

Anyway, here’s my completely biased list of ten lesser-known Christian authors I suggest you watch out for:

What do you think? Which lesser-known Christian author do you wish more readers knew about?

Introducing J’nell Ciesielski

Author Interview | Introducing J’nell Ciesielski


It’s Writer Wednesday! Today I’d like to introduce you to author J’nell Ciesielski. J’nell has recently released her first book, Among the Poppies, set in England and France during World War One. I reviewed it on Monday, and definitely recommend it!

1. First, please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m originally from Florida which is known as The Sunshine State in America. I spent some years in Texas, then after college joined the Air Force where I was stationed in Germany for three years. Some of my fondest memories were made traveling Europe and meeting my husband. After our contracts were up, we decided to leave the military and come back to the States where we now call Virginia home.

2. It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favorite genre?

Oh, that’s easy 🙂 Historical fiction, particularly if it has a swoon-worthy romance. I love disappearing into bygone eras where honor was worth dying for, love worth living for, and culture worth preserving at all costs. The men seem larger than life, and the women were a force to be reckoned with despite their social constraints. Certainly we have a habit of viewing the past through rose-colored glasses, but history is unencumbered by the trappings of modern convenience where we’ve developed a habit of taking things for granted.

3. What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s a story of Scott F. Fitzgerald’s wife and how she met the brilliant young writer and all their tumultuous years together. It’s sad, thrilling, heartwarming, enraging, and utterly unforgettable. You hear so much about Scott, but never about Zelda which is a shame because she is absolutely fascinating.

This book gives such an insight of the cultural revolution that stormed the world after WWI when all the movers and shakers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, and Porter collided on the colorful streets of Paris to change history forever. Highly recommend!

4. Tell us about Among the Poppies. Who will enjoy it?

Among the Poppies is about a young woman eager to forge her own path as England surges into the Great War, but a duty bound army captain has her rethinking her objections to settling down. Anyone with a taste for adventure is in for quite a ride. Danger is around every corner while love blossoms in the most unlikely of places. Friendships are forged, loyalty tested, and duty to one’s heart is laid on the line. These elements are grounded in rich historical detail as the war to end all wars explodes all around.

5. Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

Like many people the world over, I got swept up in the whirlwind that was Downton Abbey. The elegance, the estates, the manners, and, of course, the clothes. Oh, to wear fancy hats again! Season two plunged the audience into WWI and there I saw it, Lady Sybil the nurse and her world-changing chauffeur love of a man, Branson.

I had to be a part of this world! Gwyn became a chauffeur’s daughter longing for adventure beyond the garage doors, and William is an army captain who, above all, desires order. But Gwyn is anything but orderly 🙂

I’d agree with that! Gwyn is a great character.

6. Who is your favorite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?

That’s a toughie. I love Gwyn’s spunk and wish I had more of it, but at the end of the day it’s Roland who makes me smile. He’s charming, witty, and has a zest for life that balances out William’s seriousness. Even in the mud-bogged trenches that man finds something to laugh about, but just when you think he’s gone too far, he pulls out a depth of resilient understanding that takes your breath away. I wouldn’t say I have much in common with Roland, except our love for the finer things in life 🙂 I would be grateful to find my very own Roland friend.

7. Where do you get your character names from? I’m intrigued with this one because I have two William Crawfords in my family tree, and one was the right age to fight in WWI.

How fantastic to find William Crawfords in your tree! You’ll have to let me know if you find out that he did fight in WWI.

Character names are one of the, if not THE, most fun part of the writing process. I have no hard and fast rules to choosing the all important moniker, but I aim for something regional and somewhat era appropriate. Gwynevere Ruthers was so named because her mother loved to read and settled on the queen of Camelot. But Gwyn, being who she is, decided that Gwynevere was too stuffy and prefers to be called Gwyn. For heroes, I like a good strong, classic name. What could be more classic and English than William Crawford? Remember back when I mentioned that little show Downton Abbey? Crawford is my nod to the Crawley clan 🙂

I’m sure the Crawfords are honoured!

Sometimes a name just presents itself in a Hello! This is me! kinda way. When that doesn’t happen I peruse a list I’ve been making through the years. Some have been waiting a long time for an owner, but I know their day is coming. They just need the right character.

IMDB is also a great place to scroll through movie credits because they have thousands of unique names that I never would have thought to use.

8. A lot of research has gone into Among the Poppies. What the hardest part about researching a different time and a different culture?

Research is my absolute favorite part of writing. I love love love diving into all those details, most of which never make it into the story. History is fascinating. It makes us who we are, defines where we come from, and gives us passion to strive even further than we ever imagined possible. But it’s always a challenge understanding an unfamiliar world. The manner of speaking, dressing, thinking, laws, and societal roles are sometimes a minefield to navigate with our modern sensibilities.

9. What research tips can you share?

Read everything you can about the time period. Fiction written during the era so you can understand the inner workings of what concerned people, and fiction set during the era so you can put those bygone inner workings into a modern voice.

Diaries and first-hand accounts like Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain and The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn MacDonald were invaluable to me to learn precisely what these people were facing, their hopes and fears, and how the war transformed them. Old movies and of the era music are another touchstone for me. In fact, when Mary Crawley sang ‘If You Were the Only Boy in the World’ I knew I had to have that in my own story.

There is nothing like reading words written by the people affected.

10. What’s the most interesting factoid you found that didn’t make it into the book?

I never let a good factoid escape from my pages. There were a few that found themselves beneath my editor’s red pen, but I fought to keep them because as irrelevant as they may seem, these little elements add that bit of sparkle that take a story from good to remarkable. Burned soldiers suffered such horrendous pain that only Pekinese dog hair was soft enough to be made into blankets for their raw skin. It wouldn’t be the same, nor the truth, if I’d simply left it at a regular ol’ blanket.

11. Do your novels have an overt faith element?

No, though there is a thread of faith. All of my novels are told from a Christian world point of view with plenty of moral obstacles the characters have to face and overcome. I want Christians and non-Christians to pick up my book to find complexities and truth without a sermon.

12. What made you choose to write for the Christian market?

I don’t write for a Christian market, per se, but my stories are presented from a Christian’s world point of view with set morals and beliefs. Do the characters ever twist these to the fallacies of the world? Absolutely! But at the center there is a core of unalterable truth that can only come from God Himself. That is a part of me and I can’t imagine not being able to express it.

I think you’ve struck a great balance. As a Christian, I read Among the Poppies and clearly saw the Christian themes. But someone without faith could read it and not find the faith aspect overwhelming. It’s a great story.

13. What do you see as the main differences between fiction written for the Christian market compared with the general market?

There is a hope we can cling to in Christian writing that isn’t found in secular writing. Too often secular stories rely on sex, crude language, and titillating situations to convey emotions which I don’t feel comfortable being a part of. I don’t believe morals are something we can play fast and loose with despite what the world may try to convince us of.

14. What kind of support does your publisher give you? What are you expected to do yourself?

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas is not a large publisher, but what they lack in size they more than make up in enthusiasm. LPC and my wonderful editor took a chance on a no-name newbie, offering invaluable advice to push me further in my writing abilities while not suffocating me. They’ve helped ease me into the industry instead of chunking me straight into the deep end.

Because they are a small publisher, much of the marketing falls to me. Setting up a launch team, creating Facebook parties, tweeting, blog posting, interviews, etc. I do though LPC does step in with promotional opportunities that I can’t manage on my own. Such as submitting Among the Poppies to Publisher’s Weekly and earning a review slot 🙂 Something I never could have done on my own.

Publisher’s Weekly? How cool!

15. What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited, and published?

Finish writing it! Ha. That’s so easy to say, but sitting down day after day can be downright tough. Especially when the words don’t come and all you want to do is bang your head against the keyboard because you’re most likely the worst writer to ever live and no one will ever read the drivel you’re attempting to write. It’s not a task for the weak of heart. It requires a stubbornness that will carry you all the way through the valleys and straight up to the mountaintops.

The most important thing is not to give into discouragement. Push through those hard moments because at the end is a shining jewel that took years to polish.

16. What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?

Never give up! If this is truly a passion and you can’t imagine doing anything else, read, read, read. Reading expands your use of language and imagination. Learn everything you can about the craft and industry, enter contests, join writer’s groups, but most importantly, write. Write every day because that is how you become a writer instead of someone wishing they could write.

Thanks for visiting, J’nell! It’s great to hear more about you, and about the story behind Among the Poppies!

About J’nell Ciesielski

Author Photo: J'nell CiesielskiBelieving she was born in the wrong era, J’nell Ciesielski spends her days writing heart-stopping heroes, brave heroines, and adventurous exploits in times gone by.

Winner of the Romance Through the Ages contest and Maggie Award, J’nell can often be found dreaming of a second home in Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies.

Born a Florida girl, she now calls Virginia home, along with her very understanding husband, young daughter, and one lazy beagle.

You can find J’nell Ciesielski online at:

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Twitter

About Among the Poppies

Gwyn Ruthers longs for adventure far beyond the stifled life society restricts her to as a chauffeur’s daughter. With the war to end all wars exploding across the Channel, Gwyn signs up to drive ambulances on the Front. Rambling over bomb blasted roads and living in mud bogged trenches is far from the exotic travels she had in mind. A simpler life doesn’t look quite as bad as she once thought. Especially when a handsome captain has her rethinking her objections to settling down.

You can find Among the Poppies online at:


And don’t forget to click here and read my review!

Quote from Among the Poppies: Your nose is stuck in a book half the time, and the other times it's covered in axle grease.

Book Review | Among the Poppies by J’nell Ciesielski

J’nell Ciesielski approached me to ask if I’d be interested in interviewing her, or reviewing Among the Poppies. Well, both! (My interview will post on Wednesday.)

The cover is amazing, but what really caught my eye was the setting … and the hero’s name.

My great-grandmother was a Crawford, and her father and brother were both William (although they weren’t nearly as posh as the Crawfords in Among the Poppies). In fact, I think my William Crawford spent time working as a chauffeur. Or that might have been his son-in-law …

My Crawford family, with both Williams.

Gwynevere Ruthers is the daughter of a chauffeur who loves to drive and aspires to be a pilot (which is something, given Among the Poppies starts in 1915, only a decade since the Wright Brothers first flew). Her fellow nurse, Cecelia Hale, is the daughter of her father’s employer, but the two are friends despite their difference in status.

But Gwyn’s desire to fly must wait, because there is a war on.

She’s trained in first aid and knows motor vehicles inside out. Surely someone will want those skills …

Captain William Crawford believes women have no place on the battlefield. Especially not women like the lovely Cecilia Hale, and her friend Gwyn. But he has a job to do, and there aren’t enough men so it’s inevitable there will soon be female nurses on the battlefield, including both Miss Hale and Miss Ruthers.

Yes, there is going to be trouble. I’m not usually a fan of love triangles, as they usually mean an innocent person is going to lose through no fault of their own. Among the Poppies doesn’t make this mistake, but … no spoilers! You’ll have to read this for yourself.

I’ve read other romance novels set in this era, but none set on or near the actual battlefields.

Those scenes in Among the Poppies were detailed, compelling, and often horrific. I’ve read books, watched TV shows and movies, and visited museums with World War I exhibits. But Among the Poppies brought it all home to me in a new way, which is a testament to the author’s depth of research, and strong writing.

At one point, William says:

“Haven’t you been in the field long enough to see that bravery isn’t always there? Most of the time it’s stupidity and blind orders.”

My great-grandfather was awarded the Military Cross for bravery during his time in France in World War I. I once asked my grandfather what his father had done to earn that honour. He basically said what William Crawford said: he got it for following orders sent by people with no idea.

Yes, I thought Among the Poppies was excellent.

No, it’s not an easy read. But it’s worth the effort. Recommended for fans of Downton Abbey, Carrie Turansky, and World War I romance.

Thanks to Smitten Historical Romance for providing a free ebook for review.

About J’nell Ciesielski

Believing she was born in the wrong era, J’nell Ciesielski spends her days creating heart-stopping heroes, brave heroines, and adventurous exploits in times gone by. Winner of the Romance Through the Ages contest and Maggie Award, J’nell can often be found dreaming of a second home in Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. Born a Florida girl, she now calls Virginia home, along with her very understanding husband, young daughter, and one lazy beagle.

You can find J’nell Ciesielski online at:

Website | Facebook

About Among the Poppies

Can their love survive? Or will it become another casualty of war?

The ideal lady wears lace, speaks quietly, and never—under any circumstances—fixes an automobile. But Gwyn Ruthers has never cared two snaps about being the ideal lady. With the war to end all wars exploding across the English Channel, she leaves behind her restrictive life as a chauffer’s daughter to serve in an all-female ambulance unit in France. She’s not about to let her social status or gender prevent her from serving her country. Not even a handsome captain can distract her from her mission. Most of the time.

Captain William Crawford wouldn’t wish the ravages of war on any man, much less the captivating woman who insists on driving into battle instead of staying safely at home. He can’t deny that the troops need more medical help, but not when it puts innocent women in danger. How can he lead his men against the Jerries while worrying about Gwyn’s safety?

Bound together by circumstances, Gwyn and William can’t stop the love growing between them. Can their relationship survive, or will it become another casualty of war?

Amazon | Goodreads