A Fire Sparkling tells sweeping tale of love and family secrets

Well-researched and descriptive details bring to life a love story in A Fire Sparkling by Julianne MacLean.

Actually, the story showcases more than one love story, but that’s part of the magic of the plot. MacLean weaves together historical fiction, romance and mystery in A Fire Sparkling, and it’s successful.

I picked up MacLean’s book only because it was a book club pick. As I began reading, I noticed most of her other titles were romance novels, and I was instantly skeptical. I didn’t expect to like A Fire Sparkling as much as I did, but MacLean is so successful in writing about a small piece of World War II that it felt a bit like reading memoir, my favorite genre.

The story opens with modern-day Gillian Gibbons fleeing to her family home after a lover’s betrayal. There, she and her father find an incriminating photo of her grandmother, and the multigenerational story shifts to Grandma’s devastating, harrowing and exciting experiences in England before and during World War II.

The title comes from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Love is a smoke rais’d with the fume of sighs; being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes …,” and after reading descriptions of the Blitz by Germany in the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941, you understand the references to smoke and fire.

My only quibble with the story is that Grandma appears more than once to be a damsel in distress, rescued by a handsome, courageous man with whom she falls in love. This is a romance novel trope, in my opinion, but other members of the book club pointed out the situations were an accurate reflection of the times.

The story is satisfying, easy to read and a page-turner. If you appreciate books about that era, you might enjoy this one. There’s death, of course, and mayhem, and Adolf Hitler lurks on the edges, as in all World War II novels, but MacLean focuses on the characters and emotions wrought by war in a palatable way.

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