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Archive for the ‘war through the generations’ Category

stella bain

Source: Personal library
Rating ★★★★☆

Publisher’s summary: 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.

My thoughts: I really liked how Shreve focuses on the experiences of women during World War I and acknowledges that they might not have been in the trenches but still put their lives on the line and suffered the consequences.  By telling the story from Stella’s point of view when she has no memory, readers see how the war took its toll on her, and through her drawings, Shreve emphasizes the complexity of memory.  The novel is about more than the war and shell shock; it is about the difficulties women faced when they sought independence from the confines of marriage and home.  I might have loved this book, but the ending was a bit flat, though satisfying overall.

Disclosure: Stella Bain is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I’m going to finish this week in blogging by FINALLY posting reviews of two books I read last summer.  These books have been staring me down for months, but I just haven’t been motivated to blog about them.  Well, I figured it was time for me to share a few thoughts on them so I can finally put them away.  Stay tuned for the second mini-review on Friday.  Also, I may not be around much for the next month or so, as I’m busy with some freelance editing projects.  I can’t wait to tell you all about the books I’ve been editing!  Anyway, on to today’s mini-review:

once we were brothers

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Publisher’s summary: Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fund-raiser when he is suddenly accosted by Ben Solomon and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamość.  Although the charges are denounced, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice.  Solomon reveals that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family, only to betray them during the Nazi occupation.  But has Solomon accused the right man?

Once We Were Brothers is the compelling tale of two boys and a family who fight to survive in war-torn Poland, and a young love that struggles to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust.  Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for a moving and powerful tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

My thoughts: I had such mixed feelings about this book.  The narrative set during World War II was very interesting, as was the quest in the present to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice.  However, I had some issues with the structure of the narrative.  Despite all the time constraints on the legal side, Ben insists on telling the story in chronological order, and with Catherine always cutting him short, it seemed to drag it out longer than necessary.  And the author would insert information/statistics about the Holocaust into the dialogue, which was unnecessary and felt forced.  I also felt it was unnecessary to focus on Catherine’s life outside of the case; I didn’t find her to be very interesting.  I liked the book overall, but it could have been a great book if it had been structured differently, without Catherine’s story and without all the shifts from past to present.

Disclosure: Once We Were Brothers is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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after the war is over

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

Charlotte’s thoughts were never far from Edward. The brother and friend they loved, the man who had been returned to them, but whose soul, she feared, still walked among the dead, the millions of dead, who haunted the battlefields and charnel houses of Flanders and France.

(from After the War Is Over)

Quick summary: After the War Is Over is the sequel to Somewhere in France, which focused on Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford (Lilly), who turned her back on her family’s wealth and status to become an ambulance driver in France during the Great War. Jennifer Robson’s latest novel tells the story of Lilly’s close friend and former governess, Charlotte Brown, an Oxford educated woman who works in the constituency office of Eleanor Rathbone in Liverpool. Charlotte’s story focuses on her desire to speak for the families left hungry and homeless after the war due to their inability to find work and her need to overcome her feelings for Lilly’s brother, Edward, who has just assumed his role as Earl of Cumberland following his father’s death. The novel takes readers back in time to the beginning of her relationship with Edward and her work during the war as a nurse at a hospital for officers with shell shock. Charlotte is the only one who can help Edward, who is still suffering the effects of the war, and she must do so knowing that class differences will forever keep them apart.

Why I wanted to read it: Somewhere in France made the list of best books I read in 2014, so I just had to continue the story. There will be a third book as well, according to the author interview at the back of the book, and I can’t wait!

What I liked: I absolutely adore Robson’s writing, which is infused with so much emotion and detail without being flowery, so readers really get a sense of what England was like in the year after the armistice. World War I ushered in so many changes in terms of gender and social class, and Charlotte embodies these. She works hard to put her education to use in a meaningful job, but that same education makes some of the people who come to her office wary of accepting her help. At the same time, she is merely a vicar’s daughter from Somerset and not high enough up the social ladder to be a suitable wife for the man she loves. Robson perfectly captures the discontent among the working class and the lingering effects of the war. I also was glad to catch up with Lilly and Robbie, the main characters of the first book, and was delighted to encounter some references to Jane Austen within these pages.

What I disliked: Nothing! I loved this book from start to finish, and I nearly read the whole thing in one sitting.

Final thoughts: After the War Is Over is a powerful novel about a country recovering from a devastating war, as seen through the eyes of a woman ahead of her time. It’s more than just a romance novel and more than just a novel about war. Robson emphasizes the struggles faced by women as they sought more for themselves than just a husband and family, but most of all, she writes about the hope people like Charlotte possessed amid so much loss and grief and change. Like Charlotte says to Edward, “There’s no use feeling sorry for yourself or fretting about the past. You need to make the most of the life that has been given to you.” This may be only the third book I’ve read so far this year, but it’s definitely a contender for my Best of 2015 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for After the War Is Over. To learn more about the book and follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received After the War Is Over from William Morrow for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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omphalos

Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★☆

“If we accept that history belongs to the dead, then we will always be its slaves. If we write history ourselves, with all its complications and its ambiguities, then we take ownership of it, we accept responsibility.”

(from Omphalos)

Quick summary: Omphalos is an ambitious historical novel by Mark Patton that connects several stories from different time periods to an ancient mound and chapel on the island of Jersey, La Hougue Bie. The novel opens with the story of Al Cohen, an American visiting Jersey to learn about his biological father, a German officer whose letters while stationed on Jersey and in a POW camp in Wales are featured. Patton also tells the stories of a female spy who fled to Jersey from revolutionary France, a Catholic priest and his secretary on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1517, a knight on a pilgrimage of pennance in 1160, and a sorceress in 4,000 B.C.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the idea of several stories from different time periods being connected, and of course, I was especially curious about the story set during World War II.

What I liked: Once I got a handle on all the characters, I enjoyed watching their stories unfold and discovering their connections. I also enjoyed reading about so many different time periods in a single novel. Most of all, I appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book, where Patton separates the facts from the fiction and lists resources for further reading.

What I disliked: There are a lot of characters and story lines, so at times, it was hard to keep it all straight in my head. However, it helped that Patton gave titles to each of these stories and separated them by chapter.

Final thoughts: Omphalos is a fascinating look at thousands of years of history and the connections between events and people over time. The novel covers a lot of ground, from the Nazi occupation of Jersey and espionage during the French Revolution to religious pilgrimages and ancient epic journeys, and is sure to get readers thinking about their family history, as well as their connections to certain places and how generations of people have been there before them.

Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for Omphalos. To learn more about the book and the author and to follow the tour, click the banner below.

omphalos tour

war challenge with a twist

Book 31 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 29 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Omphalos from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours 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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going after cacciato

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“The point is that war is war no matter how it is perceived.  War has its own reality.  War kills and maims and rips up the land and makes orphans and widows.  These are the things of war.  Any war.”

(from Going After Cacciato, page 197)

Quick summary: Going After Cacciato, winner of the 1979 National Book Award, is one of the most unique war novels I’ve ever read. Tim O’Brien tells the story of a soldier during the Vietnam War who simply decides to leave the war and walk from the jungle all the way to Paris. The novel is told through the point of view of Paul Berlin, one of the soldiers who sets off on the mission to find Cacciato. O’Brien plays with the novel’s timeline, so readers alternate between following Paul Berlin on the journey to fetch Cacciato, going back in time to when Paul Berlin first joined the war and witnessing the horrifying things he saw during those months before Cacciato left the war, and moving forward in time to an observation post on the sea as Paul Berlin spends the long night contemplating what happened with Cacciato.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a huge fan of Tim O’Brien. His writing is fantastic and thought-provoking. The Things They Carried is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’d let Going After Cacciato sit unread on my shelf for too long.

What I liked: I thought the shifts back and forth in time were clever, allowing the layers of detail about the various soldiers and the mission from Quang Ngai to Paris to be pulled back one by one. I also enjoyed the element of fantasy in this novel and how O’Brien kept me guessing about the events of the story until the very end. His writing always packs a punch, with vivid imagery that makes you feel like you are wading through the paddies or sweating through the jungles or marching the dusty trails alongside the characters. He manages to balance weighty discussions about war and its purpose with the reality of what the soldiers endured on a daily basis.

What I disliked: At first, the time shifts were jarring, but after a few chapters, I understood the structure of the novel and was immersed in the story. This definitely is a novel where readers just have to go with the flow and hang on for the ride without knowing what to expect.

Final thoughts: While I didn’t love Going After Cacciato as much as The Things They Carried, I am able to appreciate it as a brilliant war novel. O’Brien explores the blurred boundaries between true and fictional war stories in The Things They Carried, and in Going After Cacciato, he focuses on the line between reality and fantasy. Reading about what these soldiers endured makes it easy to believe that they would want to simply walk away from it all. Going After Cacciato focuses on the evolution of a soldier, the lessons he learns over time, the fear he fights to control, and the coping mechanisms that become necessary to simply survive another day.

war challenge with a twist

Book 30 for the War Challenge With a Twist (Vietnam)

historical fiction challenge

Book 28 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: Going After Cacciato 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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the beautiful american

Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★★

The larger question: do they matter, simple facts?  America was in love with celebrities, the photographers and flappers with their short bobs and sexual daring.  The world was already in love with Lee and all she represented: the new woman, brave and bold, matching men in sexual freedom, and carrying secrets.  They were like their own photographs, full of dark and light, heavy with shadows.

(from The Beautiful American, page 43)

Quick summary: Jeanne Mackin’s The Beautiful American is the story of Nora Tours, an American living in southern France after World War II who journeys to London to find her missing teenage daughter.  Distraught and unsuccessful in her efforts to locate Dahlia, she bumps into an old friend from her days in the expat community in 1920s Paris.  Back in the day, Lee Miller, the famous model and war correspondent, had introduced Nora and her boyfriend, Jamie, a budding photographer, to influential artists, including her lover, Man Ray, and Pablo Picasso.  While spending a weekend with Lee and her husband, Nora recounts her childhood in Poughkeepsie, her early days in Paris and the events that sent her fleeing, how she and her daughter survived the war in Vichy France, and the secret about a tragic event in Lee’s childhood that she has been keeping since she was a young girl.

Why I wanted to read it: I must admit I was drawn to the cover right away, and I can’t resist novels set in England or France that touch upon World War II in some way.

What I liked: Mackin’s writing is simply beautiful, and there’s a haunting quality to the prose as Nora recounts her friendship with Lee and the life she made for herself and Dahlia after Paris.  I had never heard of Lee Miller before reading this book, and I was fascinated by her life, especially her work as a war correspondent who photographed battles and the concentration camps.  Both Lee and Nora were unconventional, but they were also opposites, especially when it came to their views of love and sex.  I was intrigued by both characters, finding things to like and dislike in both of them, but that’s what made them interesting.  Mackin also brings 1920s Paris and post-war Grasse and London to life, and I easily lost myself in the story.

What I disliked: I wish Mackin had told the story through both Nora’s and Lee’s points of view, mainly because I wanted more about Lee’s experiences during the war.  I definitely want to read more about her in the future.

Final thoughts: The Beautiful American is a story about loss and betrayal at a time of much social upheaval.  Mackin puts two strong women at the forefront of this novel, both of whom carry secrets and weaknesses.  Nora’s evolution over the course of the book was fascinating, yet not quite as fascinating as Mackin’s portrayal of Lee Miller.  It’s a novel about relationships that withstand the worst betrayals, the regret that can plague someone who doesn’t fight for what they want, and how motherhood and war put things into perspective.

For more information about the book and the author and to follow the tour, click the banner below.

beautiful american tour

war challenge with a twist

Book 29 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 27 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Beautiful American from NAL 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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past encounters

Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★★

In his previous life they might never have been his friends.  But here — well, they were who he had got to know.  And he needed friends, he realised.  It was difficult to live together and be civil in these conditions.  Here he was, hungry and cold and afraid, and still he was trying to play draughts.  How bloody stupid.

But perhaps this was what civilisation was.  To move pieces round on a board instead of shooting each other.

(from Past Encounters, pages 112-113)

Quick summary: Set in England in 1955, Past Encounters is a novel about a marriage plagued by secrets.  Rhoda Middleton and her husband, Peter, have grown apart emotionally and physically, and when she finds a letter from another woman, she assumes he’s having an affair.  But the truth might even be more disturbing: Helen is the wife of Peter’s best friend, Archie Foster, and while they know about her, Rhoda has never heard Peter mention them once in their 10 years of marriage.  Trying to find out why Peter kept this part of himself a secret from her forces Rhoda to face the secret she has been keeping since 1945, when the film Brief Encounter was being filmed at the Carnforth train station where she worked and volunteered during World War II.  Davina Blake tells the story from Rhoda and Peter’s points of view during the war and in 1955, detailing Peter’s horrific ordeal as a prisoner of war and on The Great March through snow-covered Germany and Rhoda’s life on the home front.

Why I wanted to read it: I’d never read a novel about POWs or the Great March, and I must admit I was drawn to the haunting cover.

What I liked: Blake obviously did her research about conditions in the POW camps run by the Germans and the forced marches of prisoners at the end of the war.  I thought the parts of the book told from Peter’s point of view were very well done, and the details Blake provided really made the harsh landscape, the harsh treatment from the guards, and the tensions among the prisoners come to life.  Dividing the narrative between the two time periods also made it possible for me to really get to know the characters, what they endured during the war, and how the secrets they kept from one another took a toll on their marriage.  It was interesting to see how vastly different their wartime experiences were, with Peter experiencing the very worst of humanity but hanging onto his relationship with Rhoda, and Rhoda living a much easier life but finding it hard to manage the tensions within her family, the obvious dislike Peter’s parents had for her, and her confusion over her relationship with Peter, as they hadn’t been seeing each other very long when he went off to war.  Also, the inclusion of Helen and her interactions with both Rhoda and Peter added another layer to the story.

What I disliked: Parts of the novel were long and probably could have been trimmed without affecting the plot, but I really liked Blake’s writing, so the length didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel overall.

Final thoughts: Past Encounters is a beautifully written novel about how the past makes you who you are, how it can haunt you, and how finding peace requires that old ghosts be confronted.  Blake delves deep into her characters so readers can understand the depths of their pain, and her portrayal of Rhoda and Peter’s troubled marriage felt so realistic, given the different paths they took during the war.  It’s a novel not just about secrets but also the effects of war, the many different experiences of war, and how the ways we deal with grief and guilt define us and our relationships.

For more information about the book and to follow the blog tour, click the banner below.

past encounters blog tour

war challenge with a twist

Book 28 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 26 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Past Encounters from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours 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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