2017 Book 129: THE BAKER’S SECRET by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan 
ISBN: 9780062369581 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062369604 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062674432 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B01L6R2YAO (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow  
Publication Date: May 2, 2017


From the critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day

On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country. 

Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.

But in the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers. 

But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them. 



If you’re like me, you’ve read plenty of fictional stories about World War II. Some are about the resistance fighters, some are about the Allied forces, and some are about the lives of those struggling to survive the war. Mr. Kiernan has crafted a World War II story that focuses on one village, one villager, and one day – D-Day with The Baker’s Secret.

Emmanuelle, or Emma, was apprenticed at an early age to the village baker, Uncle Ezra. This was astounding for several reasons, the first being Uncle Ezra had never taken a female apprentice before and, second, although he berated her skills, he obviously saw something in her that he began to nurture. As Emma’s baking skills grow, she also develops a romantic relationship with her fellow villager, Philippe. All is right in the world until France is invaded. The village of Vergers silently witnesses the initial targeting of all of its Jewish citizenry, forcing them all to wear bright yellow stars denoting their difference. The village and Emma then witness the removal of all of their Jewish friends and neighbors. Then all of the able-bodied village men are conscripted to work in factories. A few remaining men and women work silently in the resistance movement, but as the years go by it seems as if Vergers is all but forgotten. The only thing that keeps Emma going strong is the fact that she must bake bread every day for the German officers, she has to protect her grandmother, and somehow she has become a lifeline for her fellow villagers. How is it possible that one young woman can keep an entire village alive?

I devoured The Baker’s Secret in just a few hours (sorry, not sorry for the bad pun). Mr. Kiernan has this amazing ability to craft stories that pull this reader in from the first few pages and keep me in their thrall to the very last page. I became invested in Emma’s life and plight and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I enjoyed meeting and learning about all of the other villages including Didier aka the Goat, Charles aka Monkey Boy, Meme (Emma’s grandmother), the veterinarian Guillaume along with his wife and daughter, Yves the fisherman, Odette the cafe owner/operator, and more. The Baker’s Secret is more than a book about survival during the war, it’s a story about a group of villagers functioning as a somewhat disjointed and dysfunctional family and Emma is the “eldest” child assuming responsibility for everyone else. I have had the pleasure of reading Mr. Kiernan’s previous books, The Curiosity and The Hummingbird, and can only say to those of you that have read either of those books, run and get a copy of The Baker’s Secret to read. If you haven’t read The Curiosity or The Hummingbird, you’ll need to add those titles to your TBR list and grab a copy of The Baker’s Secret to read ASAP. Just in case you couldn’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Baker’s Secret and look forward to rereading it along with The Curiosity and The Hummingbird (yes, they are all just that good).

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ for review purposes. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Read an excerpt from The Baker’s Secret here.


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2016 Book 233: THE HUMMINGBIRD by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
ISBN: 9780062369550 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062369567 (ebook)
ASIN: B00R1K3V94 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 28, 2016 (paperback release)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks


Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.

At the same time, Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons. 

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of loving commitment, service to country, and absolution through wisdom and forgiveness. 



Deborah Birch is a caring hospice nurse and only wants to make things easier for the dying and their families. She is also a loving wife and has no  idea how to help her husband, Michael, heal from the psychological wounds he suffers as a result of fighting in Iraq. Barclay Reed is a former college professor and dying from kidney cancer. Deborah enters at the end of Barclay’s life in The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan.

Deborah begins her time with each client by reviewing their records in the office and gently caressing her totem, a small wooden hummingbird. That hummingbird is a symbol and a reminder “…to see the person behind the problem.” Deborah has had difficult patients and difficult families to tend to in her years as a hospice nurse, but Barclay Reed is perhaps one of the most tragic. Mr. Reed, or Professor Reed as he has Deborah call him, is dying without friends or family. His 30+ year career ended in a huge scandal, so he isn’t even leaving behind the legacy of his good name. To say the Professor Reed is somewhat cantankerous is a major understatement. He wants what he wants, how and when he wants it. Sadly, in his quest to get what he wants he has gone through three hospice agencies and numerous hospice nurses. Deborah is determined to provide him not only what he wants but what he needs. Over the course of Professor Reed’s final weeks, Deborah learns more about the man and his final work that caused the scandal, The Sword. What is the lesson Deborah will learn from assisting Professor Reed?


“If you think of a person, anyone, even someone you dislike, if you imagine for a moment how one day they will lose everything—family and home and pleasures and work—and people will weep and wail when they die, you cannot help it: You feel compassion for them. Your heart softens. What’s more, every single human being is going to experience this same thing, without exception: Every person you love, everyone you hate, your own frivolous struggling self. It is the central lesson of hospice: Mortality is life’s way of teaching us how to love.” The Hummingbird, pp.195-196


You might think a story about a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a dying professor might be overly sad and morbid, but The Hummingbird is simply a darn fine story. Mr. Kiernan takes the current happenings between Deborah, Professor Reed, and Deborah’s husband Michael and alternates it with the story of a Japanese WWII pilot that firebombed Oregon and returned as a guest of the city years later. Michael is just as trapped by his sense of guilt over his actions as a sniper, as well as a sense of honor by serving his country as the Japanese pilot was in the past. Deborah must decide if she believes the Professor’s story and if she can find something that might allow her to help her husband. I thoroughly enjoyed rereading The Hummingbird and found it, once again, to be a riveting read. The first time I read it I stayed up all night and vowed not to repeat my allnighter the second time around. I failed; the story gripped me just as much the second time and I wound up staying up all night to finish reading it. I enjoyed the characters, the storylines, and the settings. Mr. Kiernan has a deft way of writing that pulls me into his stories with just a few pages. The Hummingbird deals with death, dying, and the trauma of war in a realistic yet sensitive manner. If you read The Curiosity then you’ll definitely want to read The Hummingbird. If you haven’t read The Curiosity, what are you waiting for . . . read it and then read The Hummingbird. I’m looking forward to reading more from Mr. Kiernan in the future. (I’ll probably be rereading his books until a new one arrives. Yes, they are both just that good!)


Disclaimer: I received a print copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



Photo credit: Noah Kiernan

About Stephen P. Kiernan

Stephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of The Curiosity, his first novel, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.


Find out more about Stephen at his website and connect with him on Facebook.



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2015 Book #291: THE HUMMINGBIRD by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
ISBN: 9780062369543 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062369567 (ebook)
ASIN: B00R1K3V94 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: September 8, 2015 
Publisher: William Morrow


Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.

At the same time, Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons. 

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of loving commitment, service to country, and absolution through wisdom and forgiveness. 



Deborah Birch is a caring hospice nurse and only wants to make things easier for the dying and their families. She is also a loving wife and has no  idea how to help her husband, Michael, heal from the psychological wounds he suffers as a result of fighting in Iraq. Barclay Reed is a former college professor and dying from kidney cancer. Deborah enters at the end of Barclay’s life in The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan.

Deborah begins her time with each client by reviewing their records in the office and gently caressing her totem, a small wooden hummingbird. That hummingbird is a symbol and a reminder that each patient may provide her with gifts and “…to see the person behind the problem.” Deborah has had difficult patients and difficult families to tend to in her years as a hospice nurse, but Barclay Reed is perhaps one of the most tragic. Mr. Reed, or Professor Reed as he has Deborah call him, is dying without friends or family. His 30+ year career ended in a huge scandal, so he isn’t even leaving behind the legacy of his good name. To say the Professor Reed is somewhat cantankerous is a major understatement. He wants what he wants, how and when he wants it. Sadly, in his quest to get what he wants he has gone through three hospice agencies and several hospice nurses. Deborah is determined to provide him not only what he wants but what he needs. Over the course of Professor Reed’s final weeks, Deborah learns more about the man and his final work that caused the scandal, The Sword. What is the lesson Deborah will learn from assisting Professor Reed?

“If you think of a person, anyone, even someone you dislike, if you imagine for a moment how one day they will lose everything—family and home and pleasures and work—and people will weep and wail when they die, you cannot help it: You feel compassion for them. Your heart softens. What’s more, every single human being is going to experience this same thing, without exception: Every person you love, everyone you hate, your own frivolous struggling self. It is the central lesson of hospice: Mortality is life’s way of teaching us how to love.” The Hummingbird


You might think a story about a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a dying professor might be overly sad and morbid, but The Hummingbird is simply a darn good story. Mr. Kiernan takes the current happenings between Deborah, Professor Reed, and Deborah’s husband Michael and alternates it with the story of a Japanese WWII pilot that firebombed Oregon and returned as a guest of the city years later. Michael is just as trapped by his sense of guilt over his actions as a sniper, as well as a sense of honor by serving his country as the Japanese pilot was in the past. Deborah must decide if she believes the Professor’s story and if she can find something that might allow her to help her husband. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Hummingbird and found it to be a riveting read. Seriously, I pulled an all-nighter just to finish the story and I’m way too old for all-nighters. I enjoyed the characters, the storylines, and the settings. Mr. Kiernan has a deft way of writing that pulls me into his stories with just a few pages. He deals with death, dying, and the trauma of war in a realistic yet sensitive manner. If you read The Curiosity then you’ll definitely want to read The Hummingbird. If you haven’t read The Curiosity, what are you waiting for . . . read it and then read The Hummingbird. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Kiernan in the future.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss and a print copy via LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




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