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Archive for the ‘war through the generations’ Category

land of dreams

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

I couldn’t paint.  I had nothing to say.  My art had left me and all I could do was capture the story behind the eyes of a pretty girl.  Somehow, in the past few weeks, I had become silenced.  My voice was gone and I was becoming ever less certain that it would return.

(from Land of Dreams, page 165)

Quick summary: Land of Dreams is the last installment in Kate Kerrigan’s Ellis Island trilogy that follows headstrong Ellie Hogan, who has left Ireland for good to forge a new life in New York City.  Set in 1942, Ellie has become a well-known artist and is raising her adopted sons, Leo and Tom, on Fire Island off the Long Island shore.  She has settled into the quiet life of an artist, but all that changes when 16-year-old Leo runs away from his boarding school to Hollywood to become an actor.  It’s not long before Ellie, Tom, and her old friend Bridie have forged a new life in Los Angeles.  Ellie has lost her creativity, and after the loss of two husbands, she thinks her desire to love and be loved has left her as well.  Amidst the fame and greed of Hollywood, the Japanese internment camps, and memories of the life she left behind, Ellie embarks on a friendship with a Polish composer, Stan, and puts her dreams on the sidelines to give her son a chance to live his own.

Why I wanted to read it: I really enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy, Ellis Island and City of Hope, and I wanted to find out how Kerrigan concludes Ellie’s story.

What I liked: Land of Dreams can be read as a standalone novel.  Of course, you’ll care more about Ellie if you read all three books in order, but Kerrigan provides enough back story so you won’t feel too lost — which was good for me since it’s been a year since I read the previous books, and I needed a quick update.  I love the character of Ellie.  She has gone through so much in her 42 years, but she has always managed to pull herself up, adapt, and move forward.  Having long wanted to be a mother, Ellie would do anything for Tom and Leo, putting them first in all things.  The first-person narrative helps emphasize how much she has endured and how much she has sacrificed, and Kerrigan does a great job ensuring that readers understand Ellie, even when they don’t agree with her.  Hollywood in the 1940s is an intriguing setting, but Kerrigan doesn’t let readers forget that there is a war going on.  The fighting may be happening elsewhere, but the tensions and the animosity toward anyone with a connection to Germany and Japan, however slight, is very real and very dangerous.  However, Kerrigan also doesn’t let the war take center stage.

What I disliked: The only thing I didn’t like was having to say goodbye to Ellie when I turned the last page.

Final thoughts: Ellie’s fierce love for her children shines through, and the same take-charge attitude and adaptability that enabled her to survive hunger, build successful businesses, and keep going after tough losses help her see through the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.  Even while stepping aside to let her son shine, Ellie cannot completely hide in the shadows, and the relationships she forges in Hollywood make her realize she still has much to learn about life, love, and creativity.  Land of Dreams is a satisfying conclusion to the Ellis Island trilogy, which centers on love and loss, family, the immigrant experience, and the American Dream.  The trilogy spans the years of the Irish War of Independence, the Great Depression, and World War II and follows a woman who was truly ahead of her time.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for Land of Dreams.  To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 23 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 23 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Land of Dreams from William Morrow for review.

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

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GI Brides

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

When they had married, it had been in the midst of a war that seemed never-ending.  She had accepted Raymond’s ring without considering the fact that one day it would mean following him halfway across the world.  But now, as she waited for her orders to join him in America, she began to question what she had done.

(from GI Brides, page 174)

Quick summary: GI Brides profiles just four of the more than 70,000 British women who married American soldiers during World War II and followed them to the United States, including author Nuala Calvi’s grandmother, Margaret. Based on interviews with the women, the book goes into detail about each of their lives during the war, how they met their GI husbands, and what life was like for them in a new country as they raised their families.

Why I wanted to read it: I had no idea there were so many war brides, and I was curious about how these women fared after leaving their homes and families to start anew in a strange country.

What I liked: GI Brides reads like a novel, which makes it very easy to get absorbed in the stories of these women. Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi obviously did a lot of research, and they present the stories of Sylvia, Rae, Margaret, and Lyn in such a way that I cared about them and felt like they were old friends. Pictures are included so readers can put faces to the names, and I found myself flipping to them many times while I read.

What I disliked: The chapters alternate among the women, and at first that made it difficult for me to keep track of their stories, especially if I put the book down for a day or two before coming back to it. That didn’t keep me from loving the book, though.

Final thoughts: Sylvia, Rae, Margaret, and Lyn came from different backgrounds, but they had a lot in common. These women each found a way to do their part for the war effort, whether volunteering at a Red Cross club like Sylvia or joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service like Rae. Despite each of them finding love or at least some semblance of happiness with their American soldiers, these women experienced many challenges and hardships. Most importantly, these women were strong, adventurous, and able to overcome the various obstacles thrown in their paths. GI Brides is a fascinating book about just a few of the many women brave enough to cross an ocean — on their own — for a chance at love, with no guarantees that it would work out or that they would ever see their families again.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for GI Brides. To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 22 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Book 2 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received GI Brides from William Morrow for review.

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

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the summer of long knives

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★☆☆

There was pleasure to be derived from having a false face to hide what the false heart knew.  Maybe, Rolf thought, that was what kept killers like this going when they weren’t strangling or stabbing or torturing.  Just the fun of shaking the maitre’d’s hand, complimenting him on his service and chef’s skill at fixing rabbit, while all the time thinking, you think I’m just a friendly face, but do you know what else these hands will do tonight?  Such thoughts would add spice to the mundane.  Every wave and smile and bit of small talk asks the social world the essential, but unspoken question: do you see me for what I am?

(from The Summer of Long Knives, pages 212-213)

Quick summary: Set in Munich in 1936, The Summer of Long Knives follows Kommisar Rolf Wundt as he navigates the fear and tensions in Nazi Germany to catch a killer who brutally murdered a member of the League of German Girls, carving a message into her bare chest.  Rolf and his wife, Klara, are desperate to escape Germany, as they are a target of the Nazi regime due to their political affiliations, but Rolf is told that he will not be able to leave until this case is solved.  However, as the Gestapo continues its takeover of the criminal police, Rolf soon learns that they care little about finding the real killer and everything about furthering their own agenda.  The Summer of Long Knives delves not only into Rolf’s determination to solve the case but also his marital troubles, as he is forced to seek out his former lover, both to extract information and to save her life.

Why I wanted to read it: I’d never read a crime thriller set in Nazi Germany.

What I liked: Jim Snowden definitely did a lot of research about the political climate after Adolf Hitler rose to power.  The Summer of Long Knives is an interesting take on the power struggles that occurred within the upper levels of the Nazi regime and how Nazi ideology led to many innocent people being arrested, subjected to show trials, and almost immediately executed.  Snowden does a good job showing how difficult it was for Rolf — a man haunted by his job and driven by a need for justice — to get real criminals off the street.  The case and all the twists and turns were interesting, as were appearances by historical figures like Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and of course, Hitler.  This was also my first introduction to Albert Göring, Hermann’s brother, who apparently was known for helping Jews and political dissidents and for his opposition to Nazism.

What I disliked: The author went a little overboard with his descriptions, like using the phrase “blonde ocean of headage” to describe someone with blonde hair.  I also didn’t think Rolf’s actions always made sense, given the climate of the time.  If he was so desperate to solve the crime and leave Germany, of course, he was going to have to go over the heads of the Gestapo, but I find it hard to believe that he would have been able to talk to a Gestapo officer the way he did and still live.  After all, this book is set two years after the Night of the Long Knives — when Hitler purged those he viewed as a political threat — so I don’t think they would have had any qualms about making Rolf disappear. I also didn’t feel any kind of connection to Rolf and Klara and didn’t much care about their martial problems, though I did appreciate his willingness to risk his own safety in his quest for justice.

Final thoughts: My curiosity about the case and how Rolf would manage to find the killer given all the obstacles put in his path by the Nazis enabled me to overlook the flaws, and I was satisfied with the ending.  The book took a little horror-novel turn toward the end, but that just increased the excitement, especially since I didn’t find it overly graphic. Overall, I thought The Summer of Long Knives was an interesting novel about a fascinating period in history.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Summer of Long Knives. To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 21 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 22 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Summer of Long Knives from the author for review.

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

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my mother's secret

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

We don’t dream of exotic trips or adventures anymore.

We dream of our old life, and of our routines.  We long to return to the world as we remembered it.

I see that my father closes his eyes when my mother works her visual magic.

He is soaking it all up, like I am.

(from My Mother’s Secret, page 126)

Quick summary: My Mother’s Secret is based on the true Holocaust story of two women, Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, who saved several Jews and a German soldier during World War II by hiding them in their home in Nazi-occupied Sokal, Poland (now part of Ukraine).  The soldier in the attic, the family in the loft above the pigsty, and the family in the cellar in the kitchen were unaware that Franciszka was hiding anyone besides them.  Franciszka and Helena hid them right under the Germans’ noses. The novel is told from the points of view of Helena, who must hide their secret from the man she loves, who is close to the German commander; Bronek, a ranch worker desperate to get his family out of the ghetto; Mikolaj, the young son of a Jewish doctor; and Vilheim, a pacifist who abandons the German army to avoid being sent to fight in Russia.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued when I heard this was a Holocaust story with a happy ending, and I’d never before heard the courageous story of the Halamajowas.

What I liked: My Mother’s Secret is a novel that can be read in one sitting.  Its fast pace and simple prose keep the story lighter than most novels about the Holocaust, yet at the same time, author J.L. Witterick makes sure readers do not forget the dangers these characters faced at every turn.

What I disliked: The sparse prose means there is little character development, and the four viewpoints at times are indistinguishable, as they are all written in the same style and voice.  However, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.  In fact, it’s quite the page-turner!

Final thoughts: My Mother’s Secret is a short novel that packs a punch despite its simple, direct prose, though at times I longed for more description and details.  However, Franciszka and Helena’s kindness, generosity, and bravery overshadow the novel’s flaws and make for a truly fascinating story.

war challenge with a twist

Book 20 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 21 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received My Mother’s Secret from Berkley for review.

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

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another world instead

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is what happens when a city is bombed:
Part of that city goes away into the sky,
And part of that city goes into the earth.
And that is what happens to the people when a city is bombed:
Part of them goes away into the sky,
And part of them goes away into the earth.
And what is left, for us, between the sky and the earth
is a scar.

(from “These Mornings,” Another World Instead, page 52)

Quick summary: These are Williams Stafford’s earliest poems, spanning the years 1937-1947.  Only a handful of these poems were published prior to this collection.  They were inspired by his experiences during World War II.  Stafford was a conscientious objector, which was a difficult stance to take during a popular war that many people deemed necessary and just.  Under penalty of law, Stafford was sent to work in a Civilian Public Service camp in Los Prietos, California, which he viewed as being exiled in his own country.

Why I wanted to read it: Another World Instead was our book club’s pick for May.  (Yes, I am very behind in writing up reviews, hence my new review format.)  Also, the editor of this collection, Fred Marchant, was my English professor back in the day at Suffolk University in Boston.

What I liked: The introduction by Fred Marchant is very informative, and without knowing Stafford’s background, it would be difficult to understand these poems.  I most enjoyed the poems that were about the war, particularly “These Mornings” (which I quoted above) and “The Sound: Summer 1945,” which compares the atomic bomb with a rattlesnake.

What I disliked: The third and last section of poems from 1946-1947 were my least favorite.  They were odd, particularly in comparison to the previous poems, and even numerous readings didn’t reveal any sort of meaning.  Also, there was a lot of nature imagery in this collection of poems, and while I love being out in nature, I’m not a huge fan of reading about it.  Maybe if I read the poems a few at a time, instead of all at once for the book club discussion, I would’ve enjoyed them more.

Final thoughts: I had mixed feelings after my first reading of Another World Instead, but I had a new appreciation for Stafford and these poems after our book club’s meeting with Fred Marchant via Skype.  Fred went into even greater detail about Stafford’s background, and we read aloud several poems chosen by him and members of the book club, and then delved deeper into them.  At some point, I’d like to read Stafford’s later and more popular poems, but it was interesting to read his first efforts in the genre.  Readers who give this collection a try will definitely want to read the introduction by Marchant first.

war challenge with a twist

Book 19 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

dive into poetry

Book 2 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

Disclosure: Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford, 1937-1947 is from my personal library.

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

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sketches of a black cat

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

The smoke covered hillside dimmed the flashes as our altitude increased.  Ahead, a last bursting shell fanned out in the clear smokeless sky like a brilliant American star to light our way.

(from Sketches of a Black Cat, page 94)

Quick summary: Sketches of a Black Cat is the World War II story of Howard Miner, a PBY pilot in the South Pacific.  His son, Ron Miner, found his artwork, journal entries, and other writings after his death and transformed them into this memoir, which chronicles Howard’s military training, service during WWII, and his life after the war.

Why I wanted to read it: I had never heard of the Black Cats, who flew at night in black seaplanes.  I also was curious about Howard Miner’s story and his artwork.

What I liked: The sketches and writings found by Ron Miner after his father’s death are a real treasure.  Sketches of a Black Cat not only shows his father’s evolution from student to soldier but also emphasizes Ron’s love and admiration for his father.  Howard Miner’s story is detailed, full of adventure and even humor.  The photos, sketches, and watercolors bring this memoir to life.

What I disliked: I wouldn’t say I really disliked anything in this book, but at times, it was too detailed for me.  The descriptions of the planes and their maneuvers, for instance, were not as interesting to me as the overall story.

Final thoughts: As fewer and fewer heroes from WWII remain to tell their stories, books like Sketches of a Black Cat take on greater importance, and the inclusion of original artwork make it one of the most unique WWII memoirs I’ve read so far.  I appreciate Ron Miner taking the time to reconstruct his father’s story, sharing it with the world and ensuring his father and his tales of courage during wartime will live forever within its pages.

war challenge with a twist

Book 18 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sketches of a Black Cat from the author for review.

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

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monuments menFor the October readalong for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I are turning our attention to World War II, which began 75 years ago on Sept. 1, 1939.

As Hitler was attempting to conquer the Western world, his armies were methodically pillaging the finest art in Europe, from Michelangelos and da Vincis to van Eycks and Vermeers, all stolen for the Führer.

The Monuments Men had a mandate from President Roosevelt and the support of General Eisenhower, but no vehicles, gasoline, typewriters, or authority.  In a race against time to save the world’s greatest cultural treasures from destruction at the hands of Nazi fanatics, each man gathered scraps and hints to construct his own treasure map using records recovered from bombed cathedrals and museums, the notes and journals of Rose Valland, a French museum employee who secretly tracked Nazi plunder through the rail yards of Paris, and even a tip from a dentist during a root canal.

These unlikely heroes, mostly middle-aged family men, walked away from successful careers into the epicenter of the war, risking — and some losing — their lives.  Like other members of the Greatest Generation, they embodied the courageous spirit that enabled the best of humanity to defeat the worst.

This is their story.  (publisher’s summary)

Here’s the schedule for the discussions, which will be held on War Through the Generations:

Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14

Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28

Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42

Friday, Oct. 31: Chapters 43-the 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.

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