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i am reginaFor the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I will be hosting an April readalong of the young adult novel I am Regina by Sally M. Keehn, which is set during the French and Indian War.

“Alone yet not alone am I,” the young Regina sings to herself, as she and her mother always used to sing together.  But she sings now in a different time and a different place.  Attacked by the Indians, her wilderness home has been burned to the ground, her father and brother scalped, and she taken captive.  And her mother, who was away from home that fateful day?  Regina can only hope she survived.

Yet even as she hopes, the eleven-year-old girl begins a new life.  Befriended by kindly Nonschetto, she learns to catch the wily fish maschilamek, to dance the Indian dance, to speak the Indian tongue, to stand up to the vicious Tiger Claw, and finally, even to grieve as her new people are lost to smallpox and the gun of the white man.  Still, as the years go by, she does not forget the song, or the hope that someday she will once again meet the woman with the light brown hair and the sweet voice who was her mother.

In poetic prose, remarkable for its simplicity and beauty, Sally Keehn captures the drama of a young girl torn from her home and forced to learn an alien way of life.  I am Regina is an unforgettable first novel, written with understanding and compassion for the innocent of both sides caught in a war between conflicting cultures.

Winner of the 1992 Carolyn W. Field Award  (publisher’s summary)

Because the book is so short (my copy is only 240 pages), we’ll be dividing it into two discussions:

Friday, April 11: Chapters 1-13

Friday, April 25: Chapter 14-the end

The discussions will be held on War Through the Generations.  We hope you’ll join us!

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

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citadel

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

The uniforms were different in each age, the battle colors under which they marched changing as the centuries marched on.  Boots and guns had replaced banners and horses, but the story was the same.

Men with black hearts.  With black souls.

(from Citadel)

Citadel is the third book in Kate Mosse’s Languedoc trilogy, but it can be read as a standalone novel.  In fact, I have not read the previous installments (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) and didn’t even realize it was part of a trilogy until it arrived in the mail, and I was able to follow it just fine.  However, there is one character that makes an appearance in all three novels, and the supernatural aspect of the story might best be understood by reading them in order.

The novel is set in the fortified town of Carcassonne in southern France.  Much of the book takes place during World War II, specifically 1942-1944, and centers on a network of female Resistance fighters.  Mosse was inspired by a plaque commemorating the deaths of several Resistance members, including two unknown women, who were executed by the fleeing Nazis at Baudrigues in August 1944.  Interwoven with the fictionalized story of these courageous women, led by 18-year-old Sandrine Vidal, is the story of a 4th century monk seeking refuge in the town, carrying with him a Codex the Church wanted destroyed to stifle the power of its words.

The story of the monk may not have been necessary, but it was interesting to see how Mosse connected it to events occurring more than a thousand years later, with a supernatural aspect that goes beyond the typical wartime story of resistance.  It certainly helps to give readers a sense of the lengthy history of the town, and in a sense, Carcassonne itself was a leading character.  Mosse’s descriptions of the town emphasize its age and its beauty and make it come to life in readers’ minds.

Citadel started off slow, but that helped in a way to further the character development.  And there are a lot of characters, making it a bit difficult to follow at times, especially at first, but that’s to be expected in a detailed story about a Resistance network.  Though not all of the characters are memorable, I am not likely to forget the courage and bravery they symbolized.  It was nice to see women and their accomplishments in the Resistance take center stage.

At about 700 pages, Citadel isn’t a very portable book (and if you try to read it in bed, try not to let if fall on your head while you doze off, like I did), but it’s worth the extra time and effort.  Mosse brings to life the women and men who refused to stand still when France fell to the Nazis, and she does this in the context of a coming-of-age story, as readers watch Sandrine fall in love and transform from a somewhat sheltered girl into a take-charge woman.  I was fascinated with the setting as well, and at some point — when I’ve rested and recovered and can once again tackle a lengthy novel — I hope to read the first two books in the trilogy.

Thanks to France Book Tours for having me on the Citadel tour.  To follow the tour, click the banner below.

Citadel BannerAbout Citadel:

From the internationally bestselling author of Labyrinth and Sepulchre comes a thrilling novel, set in the South of France during World War II, that interweaves history and legend, love and conflict, passion and adventure, bringing to life brave women of the French Resistance and a secret they must protect from the Nazis. In Carcassonne, a colorful historic village nestled deep in the Pyrenees, a group of courageous and determined operatives are engaged in a lethal battle. Like their ancestors who fought to protect their land from Northern invaders seven hundred years before, these women — codenamed Citadel — fight to liberate their home from the Germans.

But smuggling refugees over the mountains into neutral territory and sabotaging their Nazi occupiers is only part of their mission. These members of the resistance must also protect an ancient secret that, if discovered by the enemy, could change the course of history.

A superb blend of rugged action and haunting mystery based on real-life figures, Citadel is a vivid and richly atmospheric story of a group of heroic women who dared the odds to survive.

Kate MosseAbout the author:

Kate Mosse is the multimillion selling author of four works of nonfiction, three plays, one volume of short stories and six novels, including the New York Times bestselling Labyrinth and Sepulchre. A popular presenter for BBC television and radio in the UK, she is also cofounder and chair of the prestigious Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and a member of the board of the National Theatre of Great Britain. In 2013, she was named as one of the Top 100 most influential people in British publishing and also awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to literature. She divides her time between England and Carcassonne, France.

war challenge with a twist

Book 8 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 10 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Citadel 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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Dominion

Source: Review copy from Mulholland Books
Rating: ★★★★☆

Jim spoke then: “In the trenches, at night, sometimes it could get really quiet.  People don’t realize that.  Then the big guns would start up over on the German side, somewhere down the line.  And I used to sit there, wondering if the sound would get closer, if the shells would maybe land on us.  I used to think, there’s some young fellow just like me over there, sweating to load one big shell after another.  Just a young chap like me.  It was nights like that which made me understand that war is totally wrong.  Not in the heat of battle, but during the quiet moments when you had a chance to think.”

(from Dominion, page 93)

In Dominion, C.J. Sansom reimagines the events of World War II after 5 p.m. on May 9, 1940.  Imagine a world where Lord Halifax became prime minister instead of Winston Churchill, a world where people feared a repeat of the bloodshed of World War I, so much so that World War II never happened, with the Nazi invasion of Norway and the retreat of the British troops putting a stop to the fighting.  This is a world where Britain signed a peace treaty with Germany, under which Britain would keep its Empire, Hitler would take the rest of Europe, and Churchill, correct in the assumption that the treaty would lead to German dominion over Britain, goes underground to stir up resistance.

The novel is set in 1952, with Germany still at war with Russia and Britain suffering from rampant unemployment and poverty.  The novel focuses on four characters: David Fitzgerald, a veteran of the 1939-40 war and a civil servant in the Dominions Office who hides his mother’s Jewish ancestry and works as a spy for Churchill’s Resistance; Sarah, David’s wife, who is unaware of her husband’s Resistance ties and thinks he is having an affair, as the accidental death of their toddler son has taken a toll on their marriage; Frank Muncaster, a geologist at Birmingham University and an old friend of David’s who was sent to a mental hospital after an altercation with his brother; and Gunther Hoth, a Gestapo agent known for his success in tracking down hidden Jews who feels worn out and hopes a new assignment will give him the opportunity to do something important with his life.

Gunther is tasked with finding out what Frank knows about his brother’s work in America on the atomic bomb — intelligence that the SS wants in order to further its nuclear program and ultimately win the war against Russia.  David, however, has been given the task of rescuing Frank, which puts both him and his wife on Gunther’s radar.  Meanwhile, Sarah, the daughter of a WWI veteran and staunch pacifist, witnesses violence in the streets and the relocation of London’s Jews, forcing her to question her beliefs.

At more than 600 pages, Dominion is a novel that takes a bit of effort to get through.  It was hard to push all that I’ve learned about WWII over the years out of my mind and suspend disbelief, but it really is a novel where you have to go with the flow.  I had some trouble following all the politics and understanding how this alternate world came about, but Sansom doles out plenty of details as you go along.  Because so many details have to be given in order for readers to buy into this version of events, the story starts off slow, and in the end, is probably longer than it needs to be.

However, there were a lot of things I liked about this novel.  Sansom does a great job developing his characters.  I felt like I really understood them and their motivations.  There are many references to the London fog, or the Great Smog of 1952, which helps evoke a dreary atmosphere that is perfect for a dark, suspenseful novel.

Overall, I enjoyed Dominion for provoking much thought about what could have happened had Hitler’s Reich lasted longer than it did.  I appreciated the author’s notes at the end, where Sansom explains his ideas for the book and the vast amount of research that went into its creation.  Ultimately, it’s a novel that is a bit scary in contemplating how many more lives could have been lost but also hopeful in realizing that, regardless of the scenario, there always will be courageous men and women willing to resist and fight back.

Thanks to Amy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for Dominion.  Click the image below for more information about the book and to follow the tour.

Dominion_Tour Banner

war challenge with a twist

Book 7 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 9 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 3 for the European Reading Challenge (United Kingdom)

Disclosure: I received Dominion from Mulholland Books 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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Stalemate

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

Perhaps it was denial, perhaps it had been an honest optimism, but this was a continuation in a lesson she was beginning to learn in Hitler’s Germany; that denial was an enabler, and the hope of good people was dwindling to a candlestick’s flame.

(from Sophia’s War: Stalemate)

[Please note that this book is the third in a series.  It is not a standalone book, and while my review will not contain spoilers for the third book, there could be spoilers from the earlier books.  Check out my reviews of book one, Sophia's War: The End of Innocence, and book two, Sophia's War: Lies and Allies]

Sophia’s War: Stalemate is the third book in Stephanie Baumgartner’s series about a young American woman’s experiences in Germany during World War II.  This installment opens in December 1939, a little more than two months into the war.  Sophia has assumed her great aunt’s identity in a deal with her cousin, Diedrich, in order to stay in Germany and run Marelda’s library.

A darkness has descended upon Germany, and Sophia fears Diedrich has embraced Nazism and Hitler’s lies, which run counter to her strong Christian beliefs.  Diedrich has changed since the death of his family, becoming cold, mean, and threatening toward Sophia.  She finds herself torn between showing him love and standing her ground, especially when it comes to her friend, Adrian.  Diedrich wants Sophia to sever ties with him, but the more time she spends with Adrian, the more she likes him.

Not only is Sophia torn between the two men in her life, but she also must contend with a nosy neighbor, a peeping Tom, and an encounter with the Gestapo that makes her finally understand the danger of the lie she has been living.  Sophia has to think long and hard about what she believes and whether she is willing to stand up for those beliefs in a country where freedoms are being taken away.  As an American, even one posing as a German, Sophia is an outsider, not quite understanding how and why Hitler came to power and how everyday life has changed as a result.

Sophia’s War: Stalemate was my favorite book in the series so far, mainly because the action picked up and Sophia finally started to see the truth about the country that is her new home.  Although the series is progressing somewhat slowly, Baumgartner is thorough when it comes to character development.  Readers really get to know Sophia, whose sheltered upbringing means her life in Germany (during a war, no less) and her feelings for Adrian are opening her eyes.  Sophia is firm in her beliefs, but I’m curious to see what kind of soul-searching is in store for her as things go from bad to worse.  Baumgartner has created strong, believable characters, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

war challenge with a twist

Book 6 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 7 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sophia’s War: Stalemate 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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lies and allies

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

She had been naive before, not to see what was happening in Germany.  All things that were considered noble — mercy, Christian verities, altruism — had been distorted into forms of weaknesses.  Power was not found in love, but in might, in hostility…

In Nazism.

(from Sophia’s War:  Lies and Allies, page 182)

[Please note that this book is the second in a series.  It is not a standalone book, and while my review will not contain spoilers for the second book, there could be spoilers from the first book.]

Sophia’s War:  Lies and Allies is the second book in Stephanie Baumgartner’s series about a young American woman living in Germany during World War II, and it picks up right where the first book, Sophia’s War:  The End of Innocence leaves off.  Sophia left her home in Virginia to help her great aunt build a library in her home in a small German village, and now that Marelda is gone, Sophia feels it is her duty to make sure the library is successful.

However, without any money of her own, Sophia is beholden to her cousin, Diedrich, who used to be like a brother to her but in the midst of his grief has become cold, unreachable, and even sinister.  In order to remain in Germany, Sophia must pose as Marelda, albeit a younger version, speak only in German, and break off her friendship with soldier and war photographer, Adrian.  Sophia is willing to comply with the whole Marelda charade, but Adrian was the first person to befriend her in Germany.  And as the attraction between them grows, she is unwilling to end their relationship — even when Diedrich’s threats rise to a new level.

Sophia must contend with feelings of isolation, with Diedrich often leaving for long stretches of time without notice; her meddling neighbor, Wilhelmina, who reports a mysterious man peeping in Sophia’s windows; and anger, uncertainty, and fear, as she learns more about Nazism and begins to see it as a real danger.  She also struggles for a way to get through to Diedrich, to show that she loves him, even when he is being unreasonable.

Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies is an exciting second book in a series that I hope will continue to be enthralling as the war begins to have more of an impact on Sophia and her new home.  I like that Sophia is such a well-drawn character; she’s naive and overly optimistic, but she’s also strong and intuitive.  I did want to shake some sense in her when it came to the bargain she made with Diedrich; even when she seemed torn about lying about her identity, she still didn’t seem to understand how dangerous doing such a thing would be in Nazi Germany.  I also was surprised that, being an American, no one questioned her accent.

I am really enjoying this series so far.  Baumgartner does a great job letting readers into Sophia’s head so they can understand her feelings and motivations.  Not only does she explore more deeply the characters that intrigued me the first time around, but she also introduces an assortment of new and interesting characters — from a little boy with cerebral palsy forced to leave his parents to Rolf, Adrian’s soldier friend who seems taken with Sophia and makes me worried for her.  Baumgartner leaves enough unanswered questions that I can’t wait to pick up the latest book in the series, Sophia’s War: Stalemate, yet I feel satisfied with how the story progressed in this installment.

Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies is just what the title implies:  a tale of the alliances and lies that are forged in the midst of war.  But these books are more than just Sophia’s experiences during war.  There is a war being fought between her beliefs and those of her cousin and a war within her soul as she struggles with her expectations for romance and the reality of her relationship with Adrian.  Baumgartner has only scratched the surface of Sophia’s wartime trials, and the longer she stays in Germany, the more entangled she will become.  Sophia is torn between familial and romantic love, and I can’t wait to see where Baumgartner takes her next.

war challenge with a twist

Book 5 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 6 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 2 for the European Reading Challenge (Germany)

Disclosure: I received Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies 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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a star for mrs. blake

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

They walked through the park and continued along Boulevard Saint Michel, the words freely bubbling out, about how Sammy had joined the army after his grandfather died, the prayer she repeated several times a day while he was overseas, neighbors who helped with the farm work, the shameful wish that somewhere along the line she’d had another baby.  The writer listened, the notebook filled up, and Cora could feel something lift, as if she’d tossed that thorny secret over her shoulder, left it to the pond and the flower beds and the bittersweet afternoon light.

(from A Star for Mrs. Blake)

A Star for Mrs. Blake is a novel about the thousands of American woman who traveled to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near Verdun, France, in the 1930s to visit the graves of their sons and daughters who died during World War I.  Set in 1931, the novel focuses on a handful of women from different walks of life who were brought together in their grief.  April Smith centers her novel on Cora Blake, a librarian and cannery worker in Deer Isle, Maine, whose son, Sammy, enlisted after lying about his age and died toward the end of the war.  She is tasked with coordinating the other mothers in her party for the trip to France.

Smith shows how these women came together as friends but also how the differences in race and social class caused friction.  She shifts back and forth between the points of view of the Gold Star Mothers and even gives readers a glimpse of the massive military operation behind the tours by including the viewpoints of the army officer and the nurse that accompanied the women to France.  Arranging the travel and accommodations for thousands of women at a time as they made their way to New York City, then to Paris, then to Verdun was a massive undertaking, and as Smith shows, things didn’t always go smoothly.  The differences in accommodations based on race are highlighted, with the white Gold Star Mothers given the best rooms, food, and service and the black Gold Star Mothers — despite making the same sacrifice and suffering the same intense grief — given dormitory/cafeteria-like service.

A Star for Mrs. Blake is a well-written novel about a little known aspect of history, and Smith’s storytelling is fantastic.  I really got a sense of who these women were, the differences in their circumstances, and the intensity of their grief.  Smith covers so much ground, from the mothers’ back stories to their shared journey to the graves and the battlefield, from the soldiers who survived with deformities and both hid behind and were able to live because of facial masks to the new generation of soldiers slowly marching toward the next world war.

This is a slow-building, character-driven novel.  It’s not until the half-way point in the novel that the women make their way to Verdun, and even though the slow pace meant I read this book more slowly, the more thoughtful, reflective prose matches the journey the mothers take.  Once the women arrive in France, the book picks up steam, as their faith in the government their sons served is tested and tragedy strikes.  A Star for Mrs. Blake is fascinating look at a government program in which 6,693 women traveled to France over a period of three years and powerful story about the bonds between mothers and their children and the long-lasting impact of war.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for A Star for Mrs. Blake. To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 4 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWI)

historical fiction challenge

Book 5 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received A Star for Mrs. Blake from Knopf 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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For our 2014 War Challenge With a Twist, in which we cover six wars over the course of the year, Serena and I decided to host a few readalongs that correspond with the challenge.  And since you only have to read one book to complete the challenge at the lowest level, we hope you’ll join us for one or all of these readalongs.  (And it’s not too late to sign up for the challenge!  The details can be found here.)

sunrise over fallujah**Our first readalong will be hosted at War Through the Generations in February and focuses on the war in Iraq: Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Spring 2003.

Robin “Birdy” Perry, a new army recruit from Harlem, is not quite sure why he enlisted, but he’s sure where he’s headed: Iraq.  He’s riding along with the rest of the Civilian Affairs unit:  Marla, the witty gunner; the ever-cool career man Captain Coles; Jonesy, the funny guitar-picking blues player; Victor, an ex-gangbanger; and Captain Miller, a thoughtful and complicated military doctor.

Birdy and the others in Civilian Affairs are supposed to help secure and stabilize Iraq and successfully interact with the Iraqi people.  Officially, the code name for their maneuvers is Operation Iraqi Freedom.  But these young men and women in the CA unit have a simpler name for it:

War.

Much of what Birdy knows about war he learned from the letters his uncle Richie Perry wrote from Vietnam.  Seems like a lot of the fear feels the same.  But it’s a different time, a different war.  Caught in the cross fire of a conflict, a country, and a culture he doesn’t understand, Birdy soon finds that “winning” sometimes becomes just surviving — and that hero is a complicated word.  (publisher’s summary)

Discussion questions will be posted on Fridays for the designated chapters on War Through the Generations.  As there are no chapter numbers, we’ll have to use page numbers (which are the same in the hardcover I have from the library and the paperback Serena owns).

Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, Feb. 7:  Pgs. 1-86 (ends with “I don’t mind, though.”)
  • Friday, Feb. 14: Pgs. 87-152 (begins with “April 12, 2003″; ends with “nothing over here.”)
  • Friday, Feb. 21: Pgs. 153-214 (begins with “Sergeant Harris and Jonesy got” and ends with “toothpaste to the Iraqis.”)
  • Friday, Feb.  28:  Pgs. 215-end (begins with “A tribal leader”)

Here’s our plan for the rest of the readalongs:

April: I Am Regina by Sally M. Keehn (French and Indian War)

June: War Babies by Frederick Busch (Korean War)

August: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve (WWI)

October: The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter (WWII)

December: Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien (Vietnam)

We hope you’ll consider joining us for one or more of these books!

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

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somewhere in france

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

Lilly had been fearful, too, but had done her best to hide it when Edward had said good-bye.  He, and all his friends, seemed to regard the war as a great lark.  To them it was a blessed chance to do, to act, to be forged by the crucible of war into better men.  An improbable notion, Lilly was sure, though she could understand its appeal.  What had any of them actually done with their lives thus far, despite the riches and privileges heaped upon them?

(from Somewhere in France, page 21)

Somewhere in France is a beautifully crafted novel set during the Great War that emphasizes the horrors of the trenches without actually taking readers inside them and the changing roles of women as a result of war.  Jennifer Robson focuses her debut novel on Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford, a young woman from an aristocratic family who is suffocating under her mother’s expectations that she marry well.  Lilly has longed to pursue an education, travel the world, and put in an honest day’s work, and when Britain is swept up in the chaos of World War I, she hopes to finally have the chance to prove herself.

Lilly is out of touch with the larger world due to her sheltered upbringing, but she is a strong woman with enough faith in herself and enough courage to walk away from the security afforded by her life as Lady Elizabeth.  She moves to London, living on toast and tea and the meager salary she earns as a bus conductress.  She might not have had the strength to pursue her independence had it not been for Robbie Fraser, her brother’s best friend, whom she has loved since she was a child.

With her brother, Edward, and Robbie’s encouragement, Lilly eventually becomes an ambulance driver and is sent to France, where Robbie is stationed as a surgeon.  When Lilly arrives in France, she is no longer just the girl he dreams about but can never have, given her mother’s disapproval of his social status.  Their relationship strengthens as Lilly witnesses first-hand the gruesome tragedies Robbie couldn’t put into words for her before, and it is torn apart by the fear and danger of living in a battle zone.

The narrative alternates between the points of view of both Lilly and Robbie, giving readers a glimpse into how their vastly different upbringings shaped their personalities.  Robbie didn’t like to focus on how he overcame his impoverished childhood, while Lilly shed her life as Lady Elizabeth because she didn’t want any special treatment.  By letting readers get to know Edward as well, Robson emphasizes the different coping strategies used to survive amidst so much hell.

Somewhere in France is at its core a wartime romance, but it is so much more than that.  Robson brings to life the battles at home and abroad and shines a light on the women who got their hands dirty and put their lives on the line for the war effort.  Robson keeps the narrative off the actual battlefield, but the descriptions of the ambulance runs and the casualty clearing stations are just as powerful as stories told from the trenches.  Once I started this novel, I couldn’t stop and read its nearly 400 pages in one sitting.  I fell in love with the characters and was captivated by the atmosphere Robson created, and while I haven’t read too many World War I novels, Somewhere in France ranks among the best I’ve read so far.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Somewhere in France tour. To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 3 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWI)

historical fiction challenge

Book 3 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Somewhere in France 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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no surrender soldier

Source: Review copy from Merit Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

That steamy, bloody day in 1944 when the Americans stormed the island of Guam, the moment had come.  Seto’s moment of decision.  Should he charge back over the mountain and face the US Marines with his rifle and bayonet?  Or should he be done with it?  He would disembowel himself like a true samurai.

If he did neither, Seto knew he would shame his family name, bring shame to the emperor and Japan.  His head throbbed at this moment of decision.  Bile rose in his throat.

(from No Surrender Soldier, pages 8-9)

No Surrender Soldier is a young adult novel set in Guam in 1972 during the Vietnam War.  Fifteen-year-old Kiko is worried about his older brother, Sammy, who is off fighting, and his grandfather, Tatan, who is becoming harder to handle due to dementia.  He would rather be hanging out with his friends and the girl he likes, but instead, he is forced to either work in his parents’ store or babysit Tatan.  When Tatan loses himself in memories of the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II and attacks a Japanese man, Kiko learns that his mother was raped by a Japanese soldier during the war.  He doesn’t know how to handle this knowledge or his concern about his brother and grandfather, and he is filled with murderous rage when he comes face to face with a Japanese man hiding in the jungle behind his home.

Interspersed with Kiko’s first-person narrative is the story of Isamu Seto, a Japanese soldier who never surrendered when the Americans took over the island in 1944.  Christine Kohler, who based Seto on the true story of Shoichi Yokoi (which she explains in an Author’s Note at the end of the book), describes how one man can survive for 28 years in hiding, living off the land.  Seto lives in his memories of his childhood in Japan and fights to keep from losing his mind when the ghosts of his fallen comrades haunt him at night.  And when Seto sees a boy, an old man, and a dog prowling through the jungle, his fear of being caught after all these years takes over.

No Surrender Soldier is an emotional tale of the effects of war years after peace has been declared, both on the survivors of the atrocities and the children born long after the fact.  Kiko is a typical teenager, focused on himself, embarrassed by his grandfather’s behavior, and shy around the girl he likes.  He has always dismissed the war stories told by the old timers, until it gets personal.  Kiko can’t help but be angry, but it soon spirals out of control.  It’s not hard for readers to feel for Kiko, with all he is dealing with at home, and Kohler does a great job developing and evolving this character.

While billed as a novel for young adults, No Surrender Solider deals with some heavy issues, like rape and dementia.  There is an intense war scene and a pretty graphic scene involving the slaughter of an animal for food.  No Surrender Soldier is not only a story about war but also a story about relationships, namely Kiko’s ties to his grandfather, his parents, and his best friend and how his anger and inner turmoil threaten and also strengthen these bonds.  Kohler brings the jungles of Guam to life in this novel and shows how war leaves deep scars on a country and its people for decades to come.

war challenge with a twist

Book 2 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII/Vietnam)

historical fiction challenge

Book 2 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received No Surrender Solider from Merit Press 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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last train to paris

Source: Review copy from Europa Editions
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve experienced more than thirty killing frosts in my mountains.  And each time, I think of that night on the train.  It’s become a ritual for me.  I now understand that each year, a part of us dies.  Our leaves and flowers are absorbed into the earth.  But our roots are still here, dormant, waiting out the cold time.  Some of us blossom again.  Some do not.

(from Last Train to Paris, page 174)

Last Train to Paris is a beautifully written novel set mainly in Paris and Berlin in the years leading up to World War II.  Michele Zackheim’s haunting prose tells the story of Rose “R.B.” Manon, a journalist from Nevada who is on the front lines during Hitler’s rise to power and march toward war.  The novel is narrated by 87-year-old Rose as she goes through her notes from that tumultuous time when a trunk she never thought she’d see again arrives on her doorstep.

Zackheim originally set out to write a nonfiction book about a distant cousin who was kidnapped in Paris in 1937, and that storyline is worked into the novel, as Rose covers the case.  The plot isn’t told in a linear fashion, which makes sense when the narrator is an elderly woman thinking back on the moments that defined her and kept her searching for closure for years.  I never had trouble following the story and just sat back and enjoyed the ride as Rose’s past unfolded, from her troubled relationship with her selfish mother to her passionate love affair with a Jewish artist in Berlin forced to work for the Third Reich.

I was fascinated by Zackheim’s portrayal of Paris before and after the Occupation, contrasted with the atmosphere of doom in Berlin before and especially after Kristallnacht — especially as seen through Rose’s eyes.  Rose is half-Jewish, but her American citizenship and press credentials give her a certain level of protection that wasn’t granted to European Jews.  The fact that she is an American and doesn’t identify herself as Jewish, given that her mother’s family history was hidden from her for much of her childhood, Rose views the pre-war breakdown of society as an outsider and feels removed from the antisemitism she witnesses first-hand.

I loved Zackheim’s writing from the very first page.  Her descriptions are rich and vivid without being overly detailed, and she moved between the past and the present so seamlessly that I hardly noticed the transition.  Zackheim also keeps the story in the past for the most part, with the only present-day details being those about the person Rose became and her reflections on life as she nears its end.  The use of hindsight in the narrative packed a heavy punch, showing that the consequences of what happened at the train station in Berlin were just as painful to Rose five decades later.  Rose’s journalistic talents are on display in her observations of the people around her and especially herself, and there were several poignant passages that nearly had me in tears.

Last Train to Paris is a fascinating portrayal of a young woman who spends much of her life feeling small and invisible and finds herself within the enormity and loss of war.  Zackheim perfectly captures the chaos and helplessness as the Nazis take over every facet of society and shows the fragility of relationships forged during such a time.  I felt the excitement, hopelessness, fear, and grief right alongside Rose as she came to terms with the what-ifs and the might-have-beens that accompany such introspection.  It’s a thoughtful novel with undertones of guilt, regret, sadness, and anger that left me both hurting for Rose and satisfied with the ending.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Last Train to Paris tour.  To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 1 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 1 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 1 for the European Reading Challenge (France)

Disclosure: I received Last Train to Paris from Europa Editions 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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