What I Promise You

Mar 5, 2024 | Book Reviews

With all the thousands of World War II novels out there, sometimes I wonder how novelists keep coming up with fresh new stories. But considering all the people and places impacted by that world-wide catastrophe, even decades later, I suppose World War II authors will never run out of material. 

Author Liz Tolsma is one of those authors, having just published her tenth World War II novel. Her previous novel, What I Would Tell You, first in the Echoes of the Past series, explored the fallout from a DNA test with surprising results. The second book in the series, What I Promise You is set in a maternity hospital in Southwest France, not far from a transit camp. The matron is committed to helping pregnant Jewish mothers and keeping them safe.

Liz Tolsma World War II novels featured on Standout Stories or Journey To Imagination:

  • A Picture of Hope — Liz Tolsma (May 10, 2022) — Part of the Heroines of World War II series, this features an American journalist and a French soldier trying to save a French orphan girl with Down syndrome.
  • What I Would Tell You — Liz Tolsma (March 15, 2023) — Due to a DNA test, Tessa drops everything to head to Greece to learn about her ancestors—Jews in Salonika, Greece under Hitler’s regime. 1941 & 2019.
  • Melody of the Soul & Snow on the Tulips (April 5, 2018 on my Journey to Imagination blog) — Story worlds steeped in World War II history.

Liz has written other historical fiction, with romance and suspense, including The Pink Bonnet (Feb 1, 2022). This is one mom’s attempt to find her daughter after the child is snatched by Georgia Tann, the corrupt director of the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

Since I don’t consider myself a World War II fiction reader, I’m rather surprised at how many World War II novels I ended up having on the blog.

Other World War II fiction featured on Standout Stories:

  • My Dearest Dietrich — Amanda Barratt (April 26, 2022) — Based on the life of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fiancee Maria. Dietrich was part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. 
  • The Maggie Bright — Tracy Groot (May 3, 2022) — This unfolds the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk (AKA Operation Dynamo) prior to the United States’ involvement in World War II.
  • Friends & Enemies — Terri Wangard (May 24, 2022) — A young widowed German woman helps an American B-17 bomber navigator when he is shot down over rural Germany. Book 1 of the Promise of Tomorrow series.
  • No Neutral Ground — Terri Wangard (May 24, 2022) — An American artist in Sweden finds herself working as a spy while a German-born soldier fights against his home country. Book 2 of Promise of Tomorrow series (on the Friends & Enemies blog post).
  • Things We Didn’t Say — Amy Lynn Green (January 18, 2023) — On the home front at a POW camp in Minnesota, American Johanna Berglund works as a translator and gets accused of treason. An epistolary novel.
  • Almost Home — Valerie Fraser Luesse (April 5, 2023) — During the war, when folks leave their homes to work at a munitions plant in Alabama, they find “family” at the boardinghouse of Dolly and Si Chandler.
  • Thief of Glory — Sigmund Brouwer (August 1, 2023) — A World War II novel in the Dutch East Indies. Inspired by his father’s experiences growing up, Sigmund crafts a compelling, chilling tale about the Japanese invasion of the Dutch and internment camps as horrifying as those of the Nazis.

World War II — Dual timeline

  • Catching the Wind — Melanie Dobson (January 23, 2023) — An old man hires a journalist to help him find the girl he was separated from after escaping from Nazi Germany. The journalist is also trying to uncover a conspiracy. Set primarily in contemporary and World War II England. 
  • Whose Waves These Are — Amanda Dykes (July 4, 2023) — When Annie returns to her family home in coastal Maine, she tries to uncover the family dysfunction that ended in years of estrangement after World War II. 1940s and 2001.
  • Only the Beautiful — Susan Meissner (Nov 21, 2023) — Set in California and Europe, this story brings to light the horrific practice of enforced sterilization prevalent in the U.S. in the 1940s when Hitler was carrying out his own agenda in Europe. Has 4 timelines.
  • The Secret Book of Flora Lea — Patti Callahan Henry — In London, Hazel discovers a rare book that might hold the secret to the whereabouts of her long lost sister. 1939 and 1959.
Barbour Fiction (February 1, 2024)


My Thoughts

As engaging as it is turbulent, this novel espouses three timelines: 1942, 1955, and 2022. Periodically, I wondered why the 1955 thread was necessary, but by the end, I not only knew why but was glad for it. It definitely enriches the story. In fact, each timeline weaves through the other perfectly as events and their significance are gradually uncovered. 

Both the 1942 and 2022 timelines with Noemie and the contemporary Caitlyn engaged me. Many chapters were cliffhangers that tempted me to skip the alternate timeline and read ahead to find out what happened. But I resisted the urge. Instead, I benefitted from the author’s well-planned timing. Everything unfolds methodically as needed. 

For safety purposes, Noemie had to change her name halfway through the book, and was afterward referred to by a different name. but that was handled smoothly and did not become confusing or awkward.

At one point, I was extremely tense about a decision Noemie was making. Part of me was angry at her foolishness, for even contemplating such a dangerous plan. But her wrestling with all the pros and cons made sense, especially considering her own culpability in a previous situation. Her choice was believable. And the way it bore out was not completely predictable. The story kept me guessing.

Additionally, I appreciated the faith thread without heavy-handedness. Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end.

Join me for some Q & A with author Liz Tolsma.

Author Liz Tolsma

Questions about What I Promise You

I had an idea for the first book of the series, but I needed two more books that would work with the dual time, genealogical theme that all of the books have. I ran across a very interesting article about a Swiss woman who opened a maternity hospital in Southwest France that served Jewish women who were detained at a nearby transit camp. I’ve always loved France and anything French, and so the story idea just bloomed from there. 

Of course, I was limited by the World War II timeline. Most of what appears in the historical timeline is actually when these events took place. I fictionalized the real maternity hospital to give myself a little more flexibility with what the rooms might’ve looked like, and the kind of things the women there did.

I did end up fudging when the maternity hospital closed by about a year. I needed it to shut down earlier to fit my story and timeline. Since it was a fictionalized version of a real place, I felt that I had the liberty to do that.

I knew that Noemie and Caitlyn were similar, and that they had both suffered great, tragic losses, and were dealing with a great deal of survivors guilt. So I started both of them at places where they were very broken and from there they just took over the story.

I always allow my characters to take the lead and reveal themselves to me as I go along. It was beautiful to watch their journeys from utter brokenness to the healing balm of the Holy Spirit. Though they are separated by 80 years, they go on very similar journeys.

Each book is unique in its own way. This one I wrote each timeline separately and then had to weave them together at the end, so that was very challenging. I ended up writing out their stories on colored Post-it notes and then moved those Post-it notes around so that I could combine the stories.

I was not planning on writing a third timeline. That just happened. The first line of the first chapter came to me and it flowed from there. I didn’t even know who the character was who was speaking in the 1955 timeline. Little by little, she revealed herself to me until I knew who it had to be and where it had to go. That was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed writing that timeline. It’s the glue that holds the other two timelines together. 

I was able to travel to Spain and France to research this book, so I visited the maternity hospital in Elne, France and Camp de Rivesaltes, also in France. It gave me some perspective on the French culture and way of life, what the area looks like, what the people in the transit camp might have experienced, and the stories I could tell at the maternity home.

It truly was an unforgettable trip, and one that I will always remember fondly. I also got to use my very rusty high school French and add to my knowledge of the language. 

Thank you to everyone who buys the book. It’s one that I poured a lot of my passion into, so I hope you enjoy it !


If you like dual timeline fiction, you might enjoy my novel, A Hundred Magical Reasons. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, his friendship with a young girl, and his impact through the decades. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here. The story recently won Scrivenings Press novel contest and is currently under consideration at another publisher.

If you like small town historical fiction about family dynamics and secrets, you might enjoy my novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.

  • Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
  • Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest


Liz Tolsma Bio

Liz Tolsma is a popular speaker and an editor and the owner of the Write Direction Editing. An almost-native Wisconsinite, she resides in a quiet corner of the state with her husband and is the mother of three. Her son proudly serves as a U.S. Marine. They adopted all of their children internationally, and one has special needs. When she gets a few spare minutes, she enjoys reading, relaxing on the front porch, walking, working in her large perennial garden, and camping with her family. Visit her website at www.liztolsma.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter (@LizTolsma), InstagramYouTube, and Pinterest. She is also the host of the Christian Historical Fiction Talk podcast.


Join me next time for a visit with author Heather Kaufman.

Meanwhile, have you read What I Promise You or any others by Liz Tolsma? Do you have any favorite World War II novels? Answer in the comments below.

Ever reading,


Coming soon: A Hundred Magical Reasons, a novel

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  1. Elizabeth Daghfal

    I love how the story and its characters took Ms Tolsma on a journey–how she said she opened the book in a place where they were broken, and then let them take over the narrative.
    And once again, I love how fiction can help us experience history in a way that dates and bios can’t. Sounds like this book is another winner.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I agree! Good quality historical fiction is the best way to experience history, to really engage with the people who lived it.

  2. Deena Adams

    I’ve enjoyed the WWII novels I’ve read. I don’t think I’ve read Liz’s yet, but they sound good!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I hope you get a chance to read some of Liz’s!

  3. Mary Larson

    Thank you for sharing your feelings as you read this book. It certainly sounds like an engaging story. My experience with reading a split time book is that there is always one time period I find more engaging than the other. Even so, I’m always curious how they will all tie together. It sounds like the author was able to draw the purpose of each timeline into a meaningful end.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      No doubt it’s a challenge to make each time period in a split-time novel equally compelling! The author has to do double-duty in crafting the story.

  4. Anita Klumpers

    The first time I heard that Liz doesn’t plot her entire story out before writing, I was shocked.
    Her writing definitely seems organized.
    So it seems evident that ‘pansters’ can write a smooth, engaging,
    and cohesive story. Or 2 stories, in Liz’s case 🙂

    • Laura DeNooyer

      Whether an author is a plotter or a pantser, all writing is going to look organized in the end because it has been revised a million times and then polished!

  5. Ruth Schmeckpeper

    I haven’t read any of Liz Tolsma’s books yet, but they sound wonderful. I have read quite a few WWII novels and four of my favorites are The Winter Rose by Melanie Dobson, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron, and The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff. If I remember correctly, all of these books are dual time and incredibly powerful.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      Thanks for those recommendations, Ruth! I have wanted to read The Winter Rose but am not familiar with the others.

  6. Nancy Radosevich

    I’ve never read a book with three timelines. I want to find out why there are three and how they work out. Liz Tolsma novels are always excellent, and I’m sure this one will not disappoint. I’m looking forward to meeting Noemie and Caitlyn and immersing myself in their worlds!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I hope you do! I have read two other books with 3 timelines. Two would be difficult enough to write; I can’t imagine writing 3 timelines!

  7. Barbara M. Britton

    I enjoy Liz’s novels. When I read WWII stories, I read books by Liz, Terri Wangard, and Linda Shenton Matchett. I marvel at all the research and knowledge that these authors have.

    I must say that the porch with Mr. Baum looks inviting.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I haven’t read Linda’s but both Liz and Terri do a great job with integrating research into their WW II novels.

      Hoping you can visit Mr. Baum on the porch sometime soon!


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