Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
During the Christmas truce of 1914, German solider Jochen Weber strikes up a conversation with British solider Aiden Foster. The two men form a connection during their few hours together, and give each other buttons from their uniforms as a reminder of their time together, but then they part ways. Aiden serves for two more years before a horrific injury to his leg has him discharged. Jochen is luckier, as he isn’t injured, but he fights until the Armistice is signed. Both men go through a great deal, lose a lot of friends, and suffer for their countries.
Six years after their first met, Jochen has business to attend to in London and, despite not knowing if Aiden even survived the war, takes the chance on looking him up at the theater where he used to sing. Jochen is met with resistance, as no one is very interested in helping him once they hear his German accent. But Jochen is persistent, and he learns that Aiden is alive and is able to get a note to him. When the two men meet up again, they find that easy conversation they had that day years before, but six years and the war have changed them both.
Aiden’s voice is no more than a hoarse whisper, and he suffers from flashbacks of all that he has seen. He starts to help Jochen sort out his business, but runs when he thinks he might want more than friendship. It takes Aiden no more than a day to realize that if friendship is all he can have with Jochen, than that’s what he wants, and he tracks Jochen down. The two men spend time together over the coming weeks, and their friendship grows even deeper. Both men want more, but they can’t admit it. And when Jochen makes a move to try to help Aiden, he may push too far and lose Aiden forever.
This week of Reading Challenge Month encourages us to step outside of our comfort genres and broaden our horizons by trying something new. The truth is there are very few, if any, sub-genres that I don’t read. So instead I turned to my least read genre, historical, and went searching for something I’d never pick up on my own. I can be picky about my historicals, and when I do read them, I’ll be honest and say I usually stick to Regency romances. So this book, set just after the turn of the century when World War I has impacted millions, was one that I would have, sadly, not even looked at. But thanks to this challenge, I was able to read a stunning gem of a story that pulled at my heartstrings and left me feeling happy and filled with hope.
This book hits absolutely all the right notes. We first meet the MCs at their first introduction. I loved the way Barwell portrayed their thoughts and feelings, as it felt utterly real and believable. They were supposed to hate each other, be enemies, but a few moments conversation, and it was clear that they were just men, mostly good and fighting only because it was their duty. I liked that we followed each character over the intervening years, seeing as their lives moved forward individually, but that it didn’t take up a huge portion of the story. There was exactly enough to give us true insight into their characters and personalities, to help us understand who they were as men and who they have become. And then they meet up again, and the story moves even deeper.
In 1920, PTSD was not even discussed let alone considered. I think the author did a fantastic job with the way this was handled. Aiden was suffering, but he was still doing his best to cope. He couldn’t talk about his past, what he had seen in the war, and that manifested literally in him not being able to speak. He could no longer sing, and his music had been such a huge part of his life. He was adrift, though doing his best, and it took Jochen give him a bit of an anchor, to help him see he could be normal again.
Jochen had suffered through his own terrors in the war, but he came out a little bit more solid. He still suffers with his own after effects, but he also deals with them better. I loved his determination to find Aiden, and then once he had the man in his life again, to be a friend and to help him. And yes, he fell in love with Aiden as time went on, though the memory of Aiden had Jochen halfway there to begin with. This was another aspect that felt real and organic of the time period. Both men were attracted to the other, wanted more than friendship, but neither spoke of it. They couldn’t, because it was illegal, and that was conveyed clearly, so it never felt like these guys just weren’t talking to each other. It always made perfect sense that neither man would admit their feelings, and I appreciated that so much. It also made the payoff of when they finally did so very worth it.
Ultimately, I loved this story from beginning to end. It hit all the right notes for the time period, pulled at my heartstrings in exactly the right way, and gave me two characters that wormed their way into my heart. This book is a wonderful piece of storytelling. Whether you’re a fan of historicals or not, I urge you to give this one a try.
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for Genre Challenge Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win this week’s fabulous prize of all 12 books released in September, plus an audiobook, from Less Than Three Press, as well as our amazing grand prize sponsored by Riptide Publishing. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Genre Challenge Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.
Wow, Kris! this book sound so good. Historical is one of my favourite genres, so cannot consider it out of my comfort zone, but I tend not to read books about wars, because they make me suffer a lot. Specially books dealing with WWI and WWII, because it feels too near. Anyway, the way you describe this book, and Aiden and Jochen and their relationship, makes it a really appealing story to read. So another addition to my never-ending TBR list!
Thank you for an excellent review!
I think that’s one of the reasons I would have normally given this one a pass, Susana. But really, it was artfully done and the pain never got too heavy. I’m glad you’re going to give this one a try!
You picked a great book for your challenge, i’ve read On Wings of Song and loved it. It is a beautiful story that i enjoyed very much. I think the author did a great job on bringing these characters to life. And if you go to the authors website/blog you can find a little free story called Wintertide this story is set a set a couple of months after On Wings of Song 🙂
Thanks for the tip, Angela! I’ll be sure to check that out! And you’re certainly right about the characters coming to life. One of the things I loved most about this story.
Thanks for the excellent review! On Wings of Song sounds like a book I would love. I read any type of historical and it is great to learn that this one is not only a good story, but felt authentic. I am going to go add it to my TBR list. And thanks, Angela, for the tip about the free story.
I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Jen!
It’s my pleasure Jen 🙂
I really enjoyed this novella and i hope you do too.
While I also enjoy historical romances with a regency setting, I’ve recently read a couple of m/f romances that were set in the world war one time period. On Wings of Song sounds like a book I’d enjoy, so thank you for stepping out of your normal reading zone and introducing me to this title.
Oh you’re welcome Kareni! I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve read several of Anne’s stories, but somehow missed this one so far…sounds like I need to fix that!
It’s not to be missed. Enjoy it Trix!
When I was pre-teen and teen I read tons of historicals and really loved them. Since then I’ve hopped around and sampled a little of everything, but there aren’t that many historical m/m’s. I don’t think I’ve ever ready anything by Anne Barwell but her name is familiar so maybe I have. This sounds soooo good. Y’all are going to put me in the poorhouse–I’ve added quite a few books to my TBR over the last couple of weeks. Thanks for the wonderful review. 🙂
I really is incredibly good. I can’t give it enough praise. Only a little bit sorry about your wallet thought 😛
I do not normally read historicals, but I have looked at this book from time to time. This review has strengthened my choice to go ahead and read it. Great review.
If it’s piqued your interest at all, then you’re going to enjoy it. It’s so well done.
Thank you for the lovely review, Kris. You’ve quite made my day 🙂
Well the book made MY day so we’re even! Thanks Anne!
Kris, I love historicals (of all time periods) and actually have this one (unread), so I was so happy to see the review of it. I’m glad to know that it’s a great read, which it sounded like when I bought it, and it seems like I have to get to it sooner rather than later! One of my favorite things when reading a review of an historical is when the reviewer says they don’t normally read them and how much they loved what they read. I want the love of historicals to be spread because I really do think people have the wrong idea about them, or some kind of mental block towards them. They’re probably my favorite, really.
I’ve been disappointed by a few historicals, and it’s made me a little gunshy. I want to feel the time period, and the story having plot elements that are true to the times, without sacrificing the HEA. It’s a fine line to walk, and this book did that perfectly. 🙂
While I’ll pretty much read any genre as well, I admit I typically don’t read historicals from the 20th century. I’ll say this is a solid maybe based on your review, thanks!
That was the element that gave me pause and made me skip this book previously. But I don’t regret reading this one, it was so well done, so definitely keep it in mind.
Great review. I’m more of a contemporary guy, but this historical sounds good. I’ll have to check it out.
If you’re ever ready to read something different than you normally do, this is one to do it with Rod!
I do like historical romances, but this just seems like it’d be so angsty. But I love how it sounds. Thanks so much for the review.
I found it to have the right amount of angst for the story, and not too much in general. Maybe medium angst? It was a fantastic balance for the story
Thanks for the great review! I love historical, but this isn’t a time period I read in very much at all either. I’m going to have to check this one out though.
Definitely do that Anotonia. It’s really so well done. 🙂
I’ve read a few Anne’s stories and have enjoyed them. This one’s been on my wishlist but I don’t read much m/m historical romance so that’s why I never got to it. Your review has piqued my interest and I do want to give it a read.
Enjoy it when you get to it HB. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one as well.
I’ve been eyeing this one, and even though historical isn’t a genre I usually read a lot of, this is the time period I really love. I think I’m adding this one to my wishlist!
Thank you for a lovely review! This is exactly the sort of historical romance I love, because it’s not a regency (but I read those to, just not my first choice;-) . This time period is so interesting and I really like the idea of two men from different sides of the war, and the emphasis that they are only humans.
Like you, I usually stick with the Regency period for historicals. But I might give this one a try. Thanks for the review.
Well I love to read books from all historical periods, I minored in history in college, so this is totally a book I will snap up! I am always excited to see books set out of the usual time frame, the World Wars are particularly fascinating to me! Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!