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

Hitler’s Forgotten Children is the heartbreaking story of Ingrid von Oelhafen’s decades-long journey to uncover her true identity. Ingrid grew up in Germany with German parents, but she was only a young girl when she learned that she might be Erika Matko, who was born in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in 1942, stolen from her parents, brought to Germany, and placed with “politically vetted foster parents.”

In a first person narrative, von Oelhafen explains in great detail her earliest memories, her cold treatment by her foster parents, how she first learned about Erika Matko and the Lebensborn program, her research into Lebensborn, and all the steps she took over the years to find out the truth.

Von Oelhafen’s story is hard to read at times, from the way her foster parents treated her to the part of her life that was taken away and irrevocably changed by the Nazis. I vacillated between sadness and anger, and there were several times I had to put the book down for a day or two. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the evil of the Nazi regime and how one can live nearly their whole life without knowing who they truly are.

Hitler’s Forgotten Children provides much food for thought, particularly about identity, what makes you who you are, and how to build a life for yourself when you don’t know where you came from or who you belong to. Von Oelhafen was forced to consider what she knew, what she didn’t know, and what she will never know, and the book explains how this affected her opportunities and her decisions over the course of her life. Fortunately, there are moments of hope and light in her story as well, but it definitely is one that will pull at your heart.

Unfortunately, Hitler’s Forgotten Children is a relevant read these days with the migrant children in detention who are separated from their families and may never be reunited with them. It will definitely make you think long and hard about the impact on those children, especially knowing that some of them could very well find themselves in von Oelhafen’s shoes in the coming years, questioning their origin and identity. If you are fascinated with stories about World War II and want to think deeper about its impact, Hitler’s Forgotten Children should be on your list.

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

Niklas Frank was seven years old when his father, Hans Frank, governor general of Nazi-occupied Poland, was hanged after the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946. In the Shadow of the Reich reads like a conversation with his dead father, in which Niklas Frank pours out his hatred and rage. He details his father’s career as a lawyer for the Nazi party and his rise to the governor general position, his theft from the Jewish ghetto, his groveling at Hitler’s feet, his hatred for Himmler, and, mostly, his cowardice.

In the Shadow of the Reich is the most bizarre book I’ve ever read about the Nazis. Niklas Frank imagines he is speaking to his father in hell. He interrupts excerpts from his father’s diary, letters, and testimony with his own thoughts. He imagines how his father acted in certain situations or what his father should have done, calls his father names, and basically goes on and on (and on and on) about how much he hates his father and his crimes.

This was a hard book to read, both for the content and its rambling. There was a lack of focus in its structure, like the only purpose of the book was to denounce his father. Niklas Frank had a lot of things to get off his chest, a lot of things to say to his father that he wasn’t able to say as a child seeing his father for the last time, and it feels like this book served as a kind of therapy to his tortured soul.

On the one hand, it was nice to see that he distanced himself from his father’s beliefs, but on the other hand, it felt way too personal. It’s hard to describe the book to people who haven’t read it before, but as someone who has read dozens and dozens of books about Nazi Germany, I must say this is the most unique and yet most disappointing in terms of the writing. Niklas Frank has an interesting story to tell, but I got more out of watching various YouTube interviews with him and other books about the children of Nazis in which he was featured (such as My Father’s Keeper) than from his own book. However, I think it would be worth giving a try if you are fascinated with firsthand accounts from World War II. In the Shadow of the Reich is definitely something different.

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

My Father’s Keeper is based mainly on the extensive 1959 interviews of children of high-ranking Nazis by Norbert Lebert (who died in 1993). These interviews detail what happened to the children of Nazi war criminals right when the war ended and in the 15 years after. Norbert Lebert’s son, Stephan, then follows up (or attempts to) with the “Nazi children” in 1999-2000 to learn about their lives in the subsequent decades.

The book focuses on Wolf Rüdiger Hess, son of Rudolf Hess; Martin Bormann, Jr., son of Martin Bormann; Niklas and Norman Frank, sons of Hans Frank; Gudrun Himmler, daughter of Heinrich Himmler; Edda Göring, daughter of Hermann Göring; Robert and Klaus von Schirach, sons of Baldur von Schirach; and Karl-Otto Saur Jr., son of Karl-Otto Saur.

Some of these “Nazi children” forged a different path and distanced themselves from their fathers’ crimes; some embraced the ideology of their fathers and defended them even decades later. Most loved their fathers still. Some found their fathers’ names to be a detriment; others still reaped the benefits of their Nazi connections. But none can be held guilty for their fathers’ war crimes.

The narrative is a bit disjointed, shifting from the 1959 manuscripts by Norbert Lebert to the later interviews by Stephan Lebert. Stephan Lebert also attempts to discuss the psychological aspects of being a child of a high-ranking Nazi, and how that shaped their early years and contributed to the paths they took later in life. There are quotes from researchers on the subject, some comparisons to the psychological trauma of the children of Holocaust survivors, and even how the German mentality in the 1950s was to sweep the horrors of the war under the rug, rebuild, and move on. But mostly My Father’s Keeper is merely a collection of biographical stories about the “Nazi children.”

There is much to ponder within these stories — like how much guilt, if any, should they bear; whether they should have been allowed to just pick up their lives, albeit without the money and comforts they enjoyed as children during the Third Reich, when so many lives were lost at their fathers’ hands; how to separate their suffering as the children of the perpetrators from the suffering of the victims and their children; whether one should feel sorry for their harsh treatment based on their parentage (they were children, after all); and how they could possibly feel love for their fathers after learning the full extent of their crimes. How could some turn a blind eye to that as they grew into adults? There is no clear answer to any of these questions, but they certainly provide much food for thought.

I had a hard time reading these stories, especially the ones where the children continued to adore their fathers long after the war. But I was fascinated with the psychology behind their stories and felt like I learned a lot from these “case studies.” If you are like me and read as much as you can about World War II, this book is not to be missed.

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

Please note: This review is for the 5th book in the Tradd Street series. There are no spoilers for this book, but there might be spoilers from the previous four installments.

The Guests on South Battery is the fifth book in Karen White’s Tradd Street series, one of the few series that I believe continues to get better and better as the main characters evolve and new characters enter their lives. Centered on psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton, now married to Jack Trenholm with 10-month-old twins, the novel begins as Melanie prepares to go back to work for the first time since the babies were born.

As she laments losing some clients in her specialty area of historic homes, she meets Jayne Smith, who recently inherited a home belonging to a childhood friend of Melanie’s mother. Jayne is a shy, skittish young woman, and she wants nothing more than to sell the home as fast as possible. Having grown up in the foster care system, no one is quite sure why the home was left to her in the first place, but knowing from personal experience the troubles that accompany historic homes, Melanie has no qualms about helping Jayne sell. However, she wants her to see the home before making any snap decisions, and on the first tour of the property, Melanie knows something isn’t quite right. Her “gift” of seeing spirits is slowly coming back to her after having the twins, and she senses an evil spirit in the house.

Being new to Charleston, the whole process of renovating and selling a historic home is a bit overwhelming, and Jayne has no job or home. This, coupled with her experience with children and glowing references, works out perfectly for Melanie, who is in desperate need of a nanny, especially since Jack is trying to work on a new book, dealing with the fallout from a previous failed book deal, and playing stay-at-home dad all at the same time. In Jayne, Melanie finds a lifesaver, but Jayne’s youth and beauty, coupled with Melanie’s insecurities about her post-pregnancy body, make Melanie concerned about her marriage. Meanwhile, Melanie also must deal with a cistern discovered in the backyard of her Tradd Street home, weird phone calls in the night, and her mother’s desire to use their psychic abilities to help solve a cold case, as well as navigate her mother’s difficult past and what it means for her own future.

There was a lot going on in The Guests on South Battery, but none of it is confusing or overwhelming. White paces the novel perfectly, and Melanie’s first person narrative is always entertaining. It was nice to see Melanie coming into her own as a wife and a mother, juggling the various tasks that those roles and a full-time job entail, and realizing that she can no longer control and schedule literally every aspect or detail of her children’s lives. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and recognize that you can’t do it all, and perfectly at that.

As always, White does a great job making the ghostly aspects of the story seem believable and adding a bit of creepiness to balance out Melanie’s humorous antics. It also was nice to see more of Melanie’s best friend, Sophie, an historic homes expert who is in charge of the South Battery renovation, and Jayne was an interesting character to try to figure out. Despite piecing together the big twist before it was revealed, I loved the story, and I can’t wait for the next installment, The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street, which will be released in October.

Other reviews:

The House on Tradd Street

The Girl on Legare Street

The Strangers on Montagu Street

Return to Tradd Street

Disclosure: I received The Guests on South Battery from NAL for review.

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

Now that I’ve caught up with reviews of the holiday books I read over the last couple of months, the rest of this week and all of next week will be reviews of books I read since last summer that I hadn’t had a chance to review until now.

First up is Return to Tradd Street, the fourth book in Karen White’s Tradd Street series.

Please note: This review is for the 4th book in the Tradd Street series. There are no spoilers for this book, but there might be spoilers from the previous three installments.

Karen White has long been on my list of favorite authors, and I don’t know why I waited so long to continue this series. Return to Tradd Street, book four in the Tradd Street series, continues to follow psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton as she struggles with her feelings for writer Jack Trenholm and the renovations on her historic home in Charleston, South Carolina. When the novel opens, Melanie is still angry with Jack and determined to take on parenthood alone. However, Jack is equally determined to be in his child’s life, and when he hires Melanie to help him find a bigger house, she finds that she can’t get rid of him.

Meanwhile, the ongoing renovations at 55 Tradd Street unearth the remains of a newborn buried in the foundation, which explains why she has been hearing a baby cry throughout the house. But soon a more sinister presence reveals itself, and Melanie must uncover the source of its unrest despite her psychic abilities being dulled by pregnancy. As if her relationship troubles, pregnancy at 40, and ghosts aren’t stressful enough, Melanie’s inheritance of the Tradd Street property is called into questions just as it is finally starting to feel like home.

I love the way White brings together romance, humor, and a suspenseful ghost story in the Tradd Street series, and Return to Tradd Street didn’t disappoint. As soon as I started the book, I realized how much I’d missed Melanie, Jack, his teenage daughter Nola, and even Melanie’s inherited dog General Lee. After having visited Charleston — and, of course, Tradd Street — on vacation two years ago, I was better able to picture the setting, and that made reading it even more enjoyable.

I’ve always found Melanie a bit over the top when it comes to her need to control everything, but it’s endearing and funny, especially when she expects that she will be able to control every aspect of a baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule. And of course, I loved Jack, especially when he refuses to give up and accepts Melanie, flaws and all. As always, the secondary characters, especially Nola and Melanie’s best friend Sophie, are a breath of fresh air (and a much needed dose of reality for Melanie), and the ghost story was clever and believably written.

I immediately started book five, The Guests on South Battery, after finishing this book (stay tuned for my review tomorrow), and I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

Other reviews:

The House on Tradd Street

The Girl on Legare Street

The Strangers on Montagu Street

Disclosure: I received Return to Tradd Street from NAL for review.

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Source: Purchased

Today marks the last of my holiday catch-up reviews, and I finished with a good one. A Holiday to Remember by Jennifer Redlarczyk is a modern-day Pride and Prejudice variation with very little angst but a lot of romance. Redlarczyk’s Elizabeth Bennet is a choral director at the Mertyon Academy for the Performing Arts, and Mr. William Darcy is CEO of Darcy Enterprises. Their troubles and misunderstandings happen before the events of this book, when Georgiana Darcy has an unfortunate run-in with George Wickham at a summer music festival. In the months since they last saw each other, Darcy has come to his senses and realizes he acted harshly toward Elizabeth and her aunt, who was his sister’s piano teacher.

Elizabeth and Darcy are brought together again at a Christmas party thrown by Charles Bingley, Will’s friend and the boyfriend of Elizabeth’s sister, Jane. A mishap with a dress and some sultry music increase the steam between them — and prompt an unfortunate (but entertaining) reaction from Caroline Bingley. Their romance is a whirlwind that takes readers through the holiday season, and it read much like a Hallmark movie.

I really enjoyed Redlarczyk’s take on Elizabeth and Darcy, even if their romance progressed a little too quickly. I loved that it was a sweet, fun read for the busy holiday season, but I do wish there had been some obstacle or tension of some sort to stand in their way. However, that didn’t affect my enjoyment whatsoever. I also loved how music was woven throughout this short tale, helping to ramp up the romance.

Redlarczyk offers readers a treat at the end of the novella in the form of a Regency-era short story centered around the Twelve Days of Christmas. Someone takes the song a bit literally, and the Darcys’ home is thrown into chaos. I loved it, and I can’t wait to see what Redlarczyk comes up with next.

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Source: Purchased

Day 2 of three days catching up with Christmas reviews. Today’s book is Christmas with Miss Austen, a novella by Laura Briggs set in the present that follows Julia Allen, a waitress and painter who portrays Jane Austen during a historical open house. Julia manages to fall asleep while in character, reading a first edition of Northanger Abbey that was borrowed from a friend, and as she rushes home in the dark, she bumps into a mysterious man in the park and manages to lose the book.

It’s no surprise that when she learns the book is missing she panics, wondering how she will be able to cough up thousands of dollars to replace her friend’s beloved, rare edition. Meanwhile, local professor and book historian Elliot Weston tries to locate the mysterious Regency figure in order to return the lost book. He knows its worth and its importance to its owner. And he also was entranced by the woman in the park, wondering if she was real.

Briggs manages to create the perfect atmosphere in the park for a mysterious encounter, and as Julia and Elliot are brought together in search of a book and its rightful owner, they find a connection, as both are drawn to a mix of the historical and the contemporary in their respective fields. Their banter is sweet, but of course, they are hiding things from each other given what is at stake, and that makes for some interesting misunderstandings.

It was hard to imagine that someone would be so careless with such a rare book, and with so many coincidences, it was hard to believe that it took so long for Julia and Elliot to figure it all out. But overall, Christmas with Miss Austen was a fun book, and I would definitely read something by this author again.

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