Feeds:
Posts
Comments
the fault in our stars

Source: Borrowed from The Girl
Rating: ★★★★★

I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.

(from The Fault in Our Stars, page 125)

I’ll be honest: I never wanted to read this book.  It just sounded too depressing, and I read enough depressing books as it is.  But then The Girl read it, and it made her cry.  Book, movies…they NEVER make her cry, so I admit I was mildly curious at this point.  But then I thought, if it made her cry, then I’ll be a blubbering mess.  And then she BEGGED me to take her to see the movie, so I figured that maybe I’d read the book so then I’d know what happens and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t embarrass myself by sobbing in the movie theater.

The Fault in Our Stars is narrated by Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 17-year-old with terminal lung cancer.  An experimental drug has bought her a little extra time, and her mother, worried that she is depressed, makes her attend a support group for kids with cancer.  This is where she meets Augustus Waters, a charming boy whose cancer is in remission.  He is instantly smitten with Hazel, and they bond over discussions about Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, and her burning desire to know what happens to the characters after it ends.

Yes, the novel is depressing at times, but mostly The Fault in Our Stars is hopeful.  Hazel and Augustus felt real to me, and their relationship unfolded beautifully, giving them something to look forward to, something to hold onto when the only thing that’s certain in life (for everyone) is death.  John Green made me feel like a teenager again, and yes, I sobbed, dried my eyes and sobbed some more, but I was surprised how many times I also laughed out loud while reading this book.

My daughter and I saw the movie the weekend it opened, and it was a good thing I packed a handful of tissues in my purse.  It was a fantastic adaptation, and I have to agree with The Girl, who said watching the movie was like reading the book all over again.  And The Fault in Our Stars is definitely a book I’d read again.  (We plan to buy the movie, too.  I need to watch it in the privacy of my own living room because there were too many tears left unshed in the theater because I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself!)

Don’t let the subject matter, or the fact that it’s a young adult novel, stop you from reading this book.  I’ve told several people in the weeks since I finished it that it’s the kind of book that made me feel like I was hit by a truck, like my heart was ripped out of my chest and handed back to me…and I enjoyed every minute of that pain because there was more to it than that.

Looking at the world through the eyes of a girl who is facing the end before she’s really had a chance to live makes you ponder what it means to be truly alive and to fall in love.  The Fault in Our Stars makes you appreciate the little things and think about what it means to remember and be remembered.  I didn’t expect these characters and their love story to affect me so deeply, but it’s definitely a novel that will stay with me for a long time.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Fault in Our Stars from my daughter’s personal library.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

grand central

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

In those moments when she was alone, her body propped up in bed and a borrowed book she was using to study English on her lap, she saw her mother saying good-bye for the last time through a forced smile, and her father still holding on to her bag for a few more moments.  She didn’t want to look at those horrible photos in the paper and believe her parents could be amongst the piles off bodies or reduced to dark ash.  She wanted instead to look at the family photograph that sat on her nightstand and believe that they were still just as she had left them.  Father in his dark brown overcoat and stylish fedora, and Mother always with something warm and sweet in her hands.

(from “Going Home” by Alyson Richman, Grand Central, page 27)

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a collection of 10 short stories that at some point bring readers to Grand Central Terminal in New York City on the same day in September 1945.  The stories are set shortly after the end of World War II, when refugees were creating new lives in America and soldiers were making their way home.  When I saw the list of authors and stories in this collection, I definitely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it.

  • “Going Home” by Alyson Richman (The Lost Wife)
  • “The Lucky One” by Jenna Blum (Those Who Save Us)
  • “The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy (The Baker’s Daughter)
  • “The Kissing Room” by Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife)
  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Sarah Jio (Blackberry Winter)
  • “I’ll Walk Alone” by Erika Robuck (Call Me Zelda)
  • “The Reunion” by Kristina McMorris (Bridge of Scarlet Leaves)
  • “Tin Town” by Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Britannia Road)
  • “Strand of Pearls” by Pam Jenoff (The Kommandant’s Girl)
  • “The Harvest Season” by Karen White (The Time Between)

I don’t usually read short stories because I often feel like they end before the story takes off, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself satisfied by every one of these stories.  I couldn’t put this book down, and while I liked some stories more than others, in the week since I finished it, I still can’t decide which story was my favorite.

These stories are all unique in their subject matter, from a Holocaust survivor trying to get on with his life after losing his wife and daughters to a female pilot struggling with a different sort of grief and guilt, from a woman who dreads her soldier husband’s return to a young girl leaving her home in England to start a new life with her mother and GI husband in America.  Another story follows a young girl who travels alone from Shanghai to New York City to reunite with her father only to learn he’s not the man she thought he was, and Sarah McCoy lets readers know what happened to Hazel from The Baker’s Daughter, who joined the Lebensborn program.

Grand Central seems to perfectly capture the postwar atmosphere in a big city, with the chaos in the train station and the roller coaster of emotions within each character.  The changes in society, especially in regards to women and their romantic relationships and career aspirations, also feature prominently in some of these stories.  I was impressed not only by the character development in these stories but also by the ways in which the characters crossed paths with one another, which emphasizes how well this collection is structured.  If you love novels set during World War II or have loved novels by these authors in the past, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy.

war challenge with a twist

Book 16 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 17 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Grand Central from Berkley for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

war babies

Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

We sat outside in a sort of silence.  Everything else made noise — the black birds growled, the trees rattled in a wind that stuttered, then died — while Hilary ran her fingers round and round the moistened rim of the glass we had drunk from.  It screamed despite its thickness and heft, proving its value.  I’d proved mine, I thought, by standing for the toast to the hero my father had helped to betray.  I disproved mine, I thought, by sitting with the hero’s daughter whom I probably would betray.  What I wanted was her history.  What she offered me was all the rest.  I’d taken some of each.  I wanted more.

(from War Babies, page 49)

In War Babies, Frederick Busch emphasizes how war wounds the children of soldiers long into adulthood.  Peter Santore is an American lawyer whose father was jailed for being a traitor during the Korean War.  While in a POW camp, Peter’s father worked with the Peace Fighters Battalion in coercing confessions out of American and English soldiers.  He never really knew his father — why he did what he did, whether he really had converted to the side of the enemy — and he has spent much of his life searching for answers.

Peter thinks Hilary Pennels, a bookstore owner in Salisbury, has the answers he seeks, so he goes to England to track her down and learn how his father played a role in the death of her father, the “hero” lieutenant.  In an oh-so-convenient fashion, Peter finds Hilary almost immediately after he arrives, and the pair right away commence a very weird, very sexual relationship.

Through Hilary, Peter meets a Mr. Fox, who was in the same POW camp as their fathers and has a strange obsession with Hilary; one can’t tell whether he wants to be her lover or her father figure.  Readers learn what happened in the POW camp through Mr. Fox’s bitter, exaggerated, and even romanticized narrative.

War Babies is a short novel, but its disjointed narrative makes it a bit of chore to read.  In fact, if Serena and I hadn’t been reading it for a readalong on War Through the Generations (click here and here for our discussions, beware of spoilers), I doubt I would have finished it.  I couldn’t connect with the characters; they spent most of their time together in bed, the dialogue was just odd, their whole meeting felt contrived, and I felt like I was missing something essential about them.  What I did take away from the story was a sense of pain and loss.  Mr. Fox’s war story speaks for itself, but both Peter and Hilary were wounded in different ways by their fathers, especially Hilary, who doesn’t see her father so much as a hero but as the man who chose not to come home.

War Babies is an intriguing novel, but Busch spends too much time on Peter and Hilary’s “relationship” yet barely scratches the surface of the most interesting (and arguable most complicated) character — Mr. Fox.  It’s probably not a book to pick up if you know very little about the Korean war (like me) or want a more traditional war novel (like me).  However, War Babies is worth giving a try if quirky characters are your thing or you have an interest in character studies dealing with the effects of war.

war challenge with a twist

Book 15 for the War Challenge With a Twist (Korean War)

historical fiction challenge

Book 16 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed War Babies from my local library.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

i am regina

Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“I don’t remember my mother,” I told Quetit.

“You must remember something,” Quetit said.

I closed my eyes and with all my aching heart I tried.  I saw a dark mist and two oxen pulling a wagon away from me.  That was all.  And suddenly, I felt so terribly alone, with nothing to fill the years behind me and nothing to look forward to.

(from I Am Regina, page 153)

I Am Regina is a young adult novel set during the French and Indian War.  It is based on the true story of Regina Leininger, who was kidnapped by Indians in 1755 at the age of 11 and held captive for nearly a decade.  She and her sister, Barbara, witness the murders of their father and older brother, and the pair become the spoils of war.  Separated from her sister, Regina and a little girl she names Sarah are suddenly the property of Tiger Claw, who takes them back to his village and his bitter mother Wolefin.

Regina and Sarah are assimilated into the tribe.  Regina is given the name Tskinnak, or the blackbird, and Sarah becomes Quetit, or little girl.  They are not allowed to use the language of the white man and must learn the Indian ways — from farming to scavenging for food when Tiger Claw leaves for weeks and rarely brings home the promised food and supplies.

Regina’s memories of the song her mother always sang to her, her faith, and her new friendship with Nonschetto, who becomes like a mother to her, keep her alive, but as the years pass, she loses her language, the memories of her old life, her name, and her identity.  Her new life is fraught with hardship — from her tumultuous relationship with Tiger Claw to the war and disease that take their toll on the village.  Even as Regina becomes part of the tribe, she hangs onto the hope that she and Sarah will one day be rescued.

I didn’t know what to expect from I Am Regina, but I know I didn’t expect to become so absorbed in the story.  Keehn is not afraid to focus on the darker aspects of Regina’s time in captivity, which really makes the story come alive and feel authentic.  Telling the story in the first person from Regina’s perspective gives it a sense of immediacy and helps readers imagine themselves in Regina’s shoes.  Most importantly, Keehn enables readers to see the good and evil on both sides — to see the humanity in Regina’s captors and feel compassion for them.

The only thing that kept me from loving this book was the ending, which seemed too rushed and abrupt and kept readers from coming full circle with Regina.  Although there is an afterword that aims to wrap things up and shed light on the real-life events that inspired the story, it just wasn’t satisfying, given that the entire narrative up until that point had so fully grabbed my attention.

Still, I Am Regina exceeded my expectations.  I can’t remember ever having read a novel set during the French and Indian War, so it really piqued my interest in that period.  I think it would be a great novel to cover in school, with engaging, well-developed characters, a real-life heroine, and plenty of topics to discuss.  In fact, check out the readalong chats that Serena and I posted on War Through the Generations here and here (beware of spoilers).

war challenge with a twist

Book 14 for the War Challenge With a Twist (French and Indian War)

historical fiction challenge

Book 15 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed I Am Regina from my local library.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

stella bainFor the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I will be hosting an August readalong of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, which is set during World War I.  2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, or the War to End All Wars.

It is 1916, and a woman awakens, wounded, in a field hospital in northern France.  She wears the uniform of a British nurse’s aide but has an American accent.  With no memory of her past or what brought her to this distant war, she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, and that her name is Stella Bain.

As she puts her skills to use, both transporting the wounded from the battlefield and ministering to them in hospital tents, the holes in Stella’s psyche gnaw at the edge of her consciousness.  At last, desperate to find answers, she sets off for London to reconstruct her life.

She is taken in by Dr. August Bridge, a surgeon who becomes fascinated with her case and with the agonizing and inexplicable symptoms that plague her.  Delving into her deeply fractured mind, Bridge seeks to understand what terrible blow could have separated a woman from herself.  Together, they begin to unlock a disturbing history — of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal.  But as her memories come racing back, Stella realizes she must embark on a new journey to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In a sweeping, dramatic narrative that takes us from England to America and back again, Anita Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, and about loss and redemption in the wake of a war that devastated an entire generation.  (publisher’s summary)

Here’s the schedule for the discussions on War Through the Generations:

Friday, Aug. 8: pages 1-70

Friday, Aug. 15: pages 71-138

Friday, Aug. 22: pages 139-207

Friday, Aug. 29: pages 208-end

We hope you will read along with us, and even if you’ve already read the book, please feel free to join the discussion!

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, the weekly meme where book lovers share the titles they received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the past week.  It is now being hosted at the Mailbox Monday blog.

Here’s what I added to the shelves:

For review:

the winter guestThe Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff — from the author

Life is a constant struggle for the impoverished eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three young siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation.  The constant threat of arrest for even the most minor infraction has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor.  Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn’t be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats and hardships the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day.

Then Helena discovers an Allied paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive.  Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam — a Jew — but Helena’s concern for the American grows into something much deeper and the dream of a life beyond the mountains beckons.  Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee.  But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all — and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.  (publisher’s summary)

this is how i'd love youThis Is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods — from Plume

It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I.  After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his antiwar writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have.  Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine.  Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post.  Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both.  When everything turns against them — will their words be enough to beat the odds?  (publisher’s summary)

dashDash by Kirby Larson — from Scholastic

Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wage of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home — or her beloved dog, Dash.  But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it.  The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties.  With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and their life will return to normal.  They have lost their home; will the Kashinos also lose their sense of family?  And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?

With heartbreaking honesty and stunning emotional depth, Newbery Honor-winning author Kirby Larson brings to bold life a powerful story of family, enduring friendship, and the resilience of the human spirit.  (publisher’s summary)

darcy choosesPride and Prejudice: Darcy Chooses by Gianna Thomas — from NPC Pubs

What if Elizabeth Bennet met Fitzwilliam Darcy before the Meryton Assembly?

What if she heard Darcy’s insulting comment at the Assembly?

What if he apologized at that ball?

What if they rubbed along for a while until Lizzy’s pride and temper got in the way?

And what if Wickham falls in love for the first time in his profligate life? What will he do, and how will he react when the young woman doesn’t return his feelings?

Pride and Prejudice: Darcy Chooses is about innocent young couples – Darcy and Elizabeth and Bingley and Jane – and the feelings that love evokes and how they handle those feelings. It even takes a brief look at several married couples: Why is there little affection between Thomas and Fanny Bennet? How have the Gardiners grown in their love for one another? And what will happen to the Hursts’ marriage? It is a realistic look at relationships that very well may have readers taking a closer look at their own marriages.

Add the Wicked Wickham to the mix and what do you have? You have a tale of friendships, love lost, love gained and the angst of everyday life in Regency England. (publisher’s summary)

From a friend at book club:

no graves as yetNo Graves as Yet by Anne Perry

On a sunny afternoon in late June 1914, Cambridge professor Joseph Reavley learns that his parents have died in an automobile crash.  Joseph’s brother, an officer in the Intelligence Service, reveals that their father had been en route to London with a mysterious secret document — allegedly possessing the power to disgrace England and destroy the civilized world.  Now that explosive paper has vanished, and Joseph is left to wonder: How had it fallen into the hands of his father, a quiet countryman?

But Joseph is soon burdened with a second tragedy: the shocking murder of his most gifted student, who was loved and admired by everyone.  Or so it appeared.  As England’s seamless peace begins to crack, the distance between the murder of an Austrian archduke and the death of a brilliant student grows shorter every day.  (publisher’s summary)

shoulder the skyShoulder in the Sky by Anne Perry

By April 1915, as Chaplain Joseph Reavley tends to the soldiers in his care, the nightmare of trench warfare is impartially cutting down England’s youth.  On one of his rescue forays into no-man’s-land, Joseph finds the body of an arrogant war correspondent, Eldon Prentice.  A nephew of the respected General Owen Cullingford, Prentice was despised for his prying attempts to elicit facts that would turn public opinion against the war.  Most troublesome to Joseph, Prentice has been killed not by German fire but, apparently, by one of his own compatriots.  What Englishman hated Prentice enough to kill him?  Joseph is afraid he may know, and his sister, Judith, who is General Cullingford’s driver and translator, harbors her own fearful suspicions.

Meanwhile, Joseph and Judith’s brother, Matthew, an intelligence officer in London, continues his quiet search for the sinister figure they call the Peacemaker, who, like Eldon Prentice, is trying to undermine the public support for the struggle — and, as the Reavley family has good reason to believe, is in fact at the heart of a fantastic plot to reshape the entire world.  An intimate of kings, the Peacemaker kills with impunity, and his dark shadow stretches from the peaceful country lanes of Cambridgeshire to the twin hells of Ypre and Gallipoli.  (publisher’s summary)

angels in the gloomAngels in the Gloom by Anne Perry

In March 1916, Joseph Reavley, a chaplain at the front lines, and his sister Judith, an ambulance driver, are battling not only the Germans but the bitter cold and appalling casualties at Ypres.  Scarcely less at risk, their brother Matthew, an officer in England’s Secret Intelligence Service, fights the war covertly from London.  Only the Reavley’s married sister, Hannah, living with her children in the family home in tranquil Cambridgeshire, seems safe.  But appearances can be deceiving.

When the savage brutalized body of a weapons scientist is discovered in a village byway, the fear that haunts the battlefields settles over Cambridgeshire — along with the shadow of the obsessed madman who murdered the Reavley’s parents on the eve of the war.  Once again, the sinister figure who calls himself the Peacemaker is plotting to kill.  (publisher’s summary)

at some disputed barricadeAt Some Disputed Barricade by Anne Perry

July 1917:  Joseph Reavley, a chaplain, and his sister Judith, an ambulance driver, are bone-weary as they approach the fourth year of the conflict; the peace of the English countryside seems a world away.  On the Western Front, the Battle of Passchendaele has begun, and among the many fatalities from Joseph’s regiment is the trusted commanding officer, who is replaced by a young major whose pompous incompetence virtually guarantees that many good soldiers will die needlessly.  But soon he, too, is dead — killed by his own men.  Although Joseph would like to turn a blind eye, he knows that he must not.  Judith, however, anguished at the prospect of courts-martial and executions for the twelve men arrested for the crime, has no such inhibitions and, risking her own life, helps all but one of the prisoners to escape.

Back in England, Joseph and Judith’s brother, Matthew, continues his desperate pursuit to unmask the sinister figure known as the Peacemaker — an obsessed genius who has committed murder and treason in an attempt to stop Britain from winning the war.  As Matthew trails the Peacemaker, Joseph tracks his escaped comrades through Switzerland and into enemy territory.  His search will lead to a reckoning pitting courage and honor against the blind machinery of military justice.  (publisher’s summary)

we shall not sleepWe Shall Not Sleep by Anne Perry

After four long years, peace is finally in sight.  But chaplain Joseph Reavley and his sister Judith, an ambulance driver on the Western Front, are more hard pressed than ever.  Behind the lines, violence is increasing:  Soldiers are abusing German prisoners, a nurse has been raped and murdered, and the sinister ideologue called the Peacemaker now threatens to undermine the peace just as he did the war.

Matthew, the third Reavley sibling and an intelligence expert, suddenly arrives at the front with startling news:  The Peacemaker’s German counterpart has offered to go to England and expose his co-consipirator as a traitor.  But with war still raging and prejudices inflamed, such a journey would be fraught with hazards, especially since the Peacemaker has secret informers everywhere, even on the battlefield.  (publisher’s summary)

where rainbows endWhere Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern

Since childhood, Rosie and Alex have stuck by each other through thick and thin.  But they’re suddenly separated when Alex and his family move from Dublin to America.  Rosie is lost without him.  Then, just as she is about to join Alex in Boston, she gets life-changing news — news that will keep her home in Ireland.

Their magical connection remains but can their friendship survive the years and miles — as well as new relationships?  And always at the back of Rosie’s mind is whether they were meant to be more than just good friends all along.  Misunderstandings, circumstances and sheer bad luck have kept them apart — until now.  But will they gamble everything — including their friendship — on true love?  And what twists and surprises does fate have in store for them this time…?  (publisher’s summary)

his majesty's dragonHis Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire Book 1) by Naomi Novik

*I really enjoyed this book when we read it for book club (reviewed it here) but now I get to own it!*

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies…not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future — and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.  Thrust into the rarefied world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle.  For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.  (publisher’s summary)

victory of eaglesVictory of Eagles (Temeraire Book 5) by Naomi Novik

For Britain, conditions are grim:  Napoleon’s resurgent forces have breached the Channel and successfully invaded English soil.  Napoleon’s prime objective is the occupation of London.  Unfortunately, the dragon Temeraire has been removed from military service — and his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to death for treason.  Separated by their own government and threatened at every turn by Napoleon’s forces, Laurence and Temeraire must struggle to find each other amid the turmoil of war.  If only they can be reunited, master and dragon might rally Britain’s scattered resistance forces and take the fight to the enemy as never before — for king and country, and for their own liberty.  (publisher’s summary)

What books did you add to your shelves recently?

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

the sea garden

Source: Review copy from Harper
Rating: ★★★★★

In some ways they were all the same now.  So many people stumbling around in the dark, just as she was.  All across Europe there were secret roads along which men and women were moving, some towards safety, others farther into darkness.  One false step.  Lives in the balance.  So much unknown.

(from The Sea Garden, page 128)

Deborah Lawrenson’s new novel The Sea Garden beautifully weaves together three stories of love and loss during wartime, with a focus on British intelligence and French resistance activities during World War II.  The novel begins with “The Sea Garden,” a story set in the present on the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles that focuses on British landscape designer Ellie Brooke, who was hired to restore a memorial garden at the Domaine de Fayols.  There is a haunting and mysterious tone to this story, as Ellie learns about the wartime history of the island, which had been occupied by the Germans, and contends with the elderly Madame de Fayols, whose bitterness turns more sinister as her hold on reality loosens.

In “The Lavender Field,” Lawrenson drops readers into Nazi-occupied Provence, where the blind perfume maker Marthe Lincel is forced to choose between fighting for her country or remaining in the dark.  Lawrenson details the fascinating ways in which perfume was used to carry secret messages, blends the beauty of the lavender fields with the horrors of the war, and emphasizes the dangers and the triumphs that went hand-in-hand with Resistance work.  And in “A Shadow Life,” readers follow Iris Nightingale, a British intelligence officer tasked with helping prepare men and women to serve as spies in Occupied France.  Her love affair with a French agent fuels her need to find out exactly what happened to the agents who went missing during the war.

It’s not until the end of the last story that the novel comes full circle, and readers finally understand the confusing events in the first story.  While I had some idea how the pieces would all fit together, it wasn’t entirely predictable, which kept me up reading until the wee hours of the morning.  The Sea Garden is a unique tale full of well developed, intriguing characters, some of whom are based on historical figures, and I appreciated the author’s note at the end where Lawrenson explains her inspiration for the novel.

The Sea Garden brings to life the ordinary people who did extraordinary things during the war, from the young women who proved they could hold their own as secret agents to the farmers who allowed Allied planes to land in their fields.  Lawrenson captures the desperation of wireless operators running from the Gestapo and those who spent years trying to find out why their loved ones disappeared during the war, as well as the blurred lines between hero and traitor.  I found myself lost in this story from the very beginning, with rich descriptions of the various landscapes and plenty of mystery to keep me guessing.  I think this book just might make my Best of 2014 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Sea Garden.  To check out the rest of the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 13 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWI)

historical fiction challenge

Book 14 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Sea Garden from Harper for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 202 other followers