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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

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

Once you knew–really knew–of the women and children being shot in the woods, of the shower rooms constructed for the sole purpose of killing, how could you not act? But now, here was the obvious reason she had repressed: the cost. If the plan failed, all that she cherished would be lost.

(from The Women in the Castle)

After her husband and best friend are executed for their roles in the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944, Marianne von Lingenfels acts on her promise to protect the wives and children of their fellow resisters. In 1945, Germany is in shambles, and the Nazi atrocities are being brought to light, forcing ordinary Germans to acknowledge their nation’s defeat and guilt. Amid the ruins, Marianne is able to find her best friend Connie’s family — his wife, Benita, a victim of the Red Army’s occupation of Berlin, and six-year-old son, Martin, who was sent to a Nazi re-education home after the failed plot. She eventually finds Ania and her two sons at a displaced persons camp, and along with her own children, Marianne establishes a new family with these women in the crumbing Bavarian castle that belonged to her aristocratic husband’s family.

Marianne is the leader, focused on honoring the memory of her husband and his co-conspirators and ensuring that the women and children understand exactly what their husbands and fathers died for. Benita, naive peasant girl, was sheltered from her husband’s work in the resistance, which makes her more determined to break free from the past and try to find happiness in the years after the war — a desire that puts her at odds with Marianne’s need to record the history of the German resistance. Ania is quiet and capable, becoming the caretaker of the women in terms of food and necessities, but her secrets eventually catch up to her.

The Women in the Castle is among the best World War II novels I’ve read and definitely will have a place on my Best of 2017 list. Jessica Shattuck uses these women, with their different upbringings and experiences before, during, and immediately after the war, to explore what it means to resist, how to rebuild their country and their lives amid a sense of hopelessness and guilt, and how to balance the need to remember the past and be held accountable for their actions with the need to live again. Shattuck paints a complex portrait of women with admirable strengths and deplorable weaknesses.

The novel moves back and forth in time, adding layer upon layer to each of the women’s stories, unraveling their secrets and surprising readers along the way. I grew attached to these women and found at least some small way to connect to them, which made it easier to understand their reasoning for — but not condone — the choices they made in a tumultuous period in history.

The Women in the Castle is a novel that makes you really stop and think. How does one live with the choices they made during wartime, whether to follow orders and commit atrocities, resist, or ignore the evidence of their nation’s crimes? Is it possible, should it even be possible, to move forward without the weight of these crimes, or their failure to do what was right, hanging over them? When is it okay to say it’s time to stop living in the past and move on?

Shattuck follows these women over decades as they forge new bonds and new lives, are forced to acknowledge their actions and inaction, and realize the war follows them in everything they do. It’s a fascinating study of human nature and the will to survive, both the war and its repercussions. If you plan to read at least one World War II novel this year, I highly recommend The Women in the Castle.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Women in the Castle. Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received The Women in the Castle from William Morrow for review.

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Source: Review copy from Crown
Rating: ★★★★★

Everything was black in the moonless night, the blackout rules forcing all the light out of the world. But with a cautious smile, I realized that there are no laws against singing, and I found my voice becoming louder, in defiance of this war.

In defiance of my right to be heard.

(from The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir)

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is an impressive World War II homefront novel set in 1940 in the village of Chilbury in Kent, England. Jennifer Ryan tells the story in journal entries and letters from the points of view of Mrs. Margaret Tilling, a woman left alone with her thoughts after her only son goes off to war; Miss Edwina Paltry, the village midwife who takes on shady jobs for the right price as a means of atoning for her past mistakes; Kitty Winthrop, the 13-year-old daughter of the menacing Brigadier who longs to be a singer and is waiting for the dashing RAF pilot Henry to marry her someday; Venetia Winthrop, Kitty’s older sister who uses her beauty to her advantage and sets her sights on a mysterious artist; and Sylvie, a 10-year-old Jewish refugee living with the Winthrops who holds tightly to a secret.

The novel opens with a funeral and a note from the vicar indicating that the village choir will be disbanded now that all the male members have gone to war. However, under the guidance of the new choirmistress, Prim, the women of the village form the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, using their voices to both lift up and comfort each other and their fellow villagers during the chaos of war. The women of the choir forge new friendships, uncover secrets, fall in and out of love, and find strength in themselves and each other as the war begins to take its toll.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, but I was immediately intrigued by these women and the life of the village. Some of the women were resistant to the changes brought about by the war, while others viewed the absence of the men as an opportunity to take charge, see the needs that must be fulfilled, and move forward. Where the novel shines is in Ryan’s ability to give each of the women a distinct voice and show their evolution within their diaries and letters. Although some of the plot lines may have been a bit overly dramatic or far-fetched, Ryan made them work, and I was swept up in the gossip and the rivalries of the inhabitants of Chilbury.

I really enjoyed The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, especially for Ryan’s skill in painting a portrait of a society in flux. Even when the bombs begin to fall and the losses begin to pile up, the narrative never gets too heavy and is never devoid of hope. I couldn’t help but love these women and root for them despite their flaws and misguided actions. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a quick and pleasant read, and I found myself wishing there was another installment that showed how these women fared in the latter years of the war.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in the tour for The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir from Crown for review.

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Source: Review copy from MIRA
Rating: ★★★★★

I try to move forward again. My toes are numb now, legs leaden. Each step into the sharp wind grows harder. The snow turns to icy sleet, forming a layer on us. The world around us has turned strangely gray at the edges. The child’s eyes are closed, and he is resigned to the fate that has always been his.

(from The Orphan’s Tale)

I’ve long been a fan of Pam Jenoff’s World War II fiction, and her latest novel, The Orphan’s Tale, is among her best. The story is told alternately through the eyes of Noa, a 16-year-old Dutch girl whose relationship with a Nazi soldier leaves her pregnant and alone, and Astrid, an aerialist whose search for her family leads her to Herr Neuhoff, whose circus competed with her family’s and who takes her in when she is forced to flee Berlin. Their paths converge when Noa, stumbling upon a boxcar crammed with Jewish infants, takes a boy who reminds her of her lost child and runs off into a winter storm, where she is found by Peter, a circus clown and Astrid’s lover.

To protect the child, Noa is given the opportunity to train with Astrid on the flying trapeze. She has only a matter of weeks to perfect the act and soon finds herself acclimated to the circus lifestyle, much to the chagrin of Astrid, who has trained since she was a child and views the young girl as a rival. The women each have secrets, but they manage to bond over them and their love for Theo. But as the war comes to a head and the days of the traveling circus seem to be numbered, their futures become increasingly uncertain and their loyalty to one another is put to the ultimate test.

The Orphan’s Tale is the kind of novel that is both impossible and necessary to put down. It’s not often that I cry at the beginning of a book, but the opening scene with the boxcar of infants broke my heart, even more so when I realized it was based in fact. There were so many times that the book took a toll on my emotions. I wanted to keep reading because I needed to know what happened next, but I had to take a moment here and there to process what had occurred. I was unaware of the stories of hidden Jews in the traveling circus, so that aspect of the novel was fascinating, as were the descriptions of the circus acts and lifestyle. I especially loved how Jenoff used the first person point of view and alternated the chapters between Noa and Astrid, allowing me to understand and bond with both characters.

When Noa and Astrid were flying through the air, it was almost possible to forget that the war was going on around them, but Jenoff does a great job ensuring that readers feel the undercurrent of danger at every turn, from the surprise inspections of the circus by the SS to repeated warnings not to perform politically charged routines. Although the war is at the center of the novel, so are the themes of love, friendship, and sacrifice. The book hit me hard at a few poignant spots, and all the ugly crying I did emphasizes Jenoff’s ability to tell a powerful story. The Orphan’s Tale a strong contender for my Best of 2017 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in the tour for The Orphan’s Tale. Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received The Orphan’s Tale from MIRA for review.

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

There seemed to be only one option. It would break her heart, but it would protect the man she loved. And wasn’t that the very definition of love? Doing what’s best for the other person, in spite of your own desires?

(from Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey)

Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey is the sequel to Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes, a novel inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set during the Great War. While Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey can be read as a standalone book, I think it’s important to read them in order for a richer experience.

Picking up where the first novel ended, Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have expressed their love for one another and are hopeful about being reunited in a matter of months. However, while waiting for Darcy at his home, Pemberley, Elizabeth receives some terrifying information that prompts her to flee without a trace. Meanwhile, Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are working to solve a mystery involving a conspiracy when he learns that Elizabeth has disappeared, dealing him a crushing blow that is only the beginning of his pain.

Ginger Monette does a fantastic job painting a picture of wartime, from the trenches to battle to the hospitals, and crafting characters traumatized by their experiences but still open to finding love and happiness. There is plenty of action to keep readers’ attention from the very first page, but Monette also provides plenty of food for thought about the physical, mental, and emotional impact of war. My heart ached for Darcy and Elizabeth, but it rejoiced with them as well. I loved how Monette worked in characters from Emma, with Darcy’s connection to the Knightley family, Hartfield, and Donwell Abbey, as well as Sense and Sensibility, and I especially appreciated how she stayed true to Austen’s beloved couple even while putting them in a different time and more difficult circumstances.

****

About Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey

1917. Amidst the chaos of WW1, Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy has won the heart of Elizabeth Bennet. Finally.

Then she disappears.

Still reeling from the loss, Darcy is struck by a battlefield tragedy that leaves him in a dark and silent world.

Sent to Donwell Abbey to recover, he's coaxed back to life by an extraordinary nurse. A woman whose uncanny similarities to Elizabeth invite his admiration and entice his affections.

His heart tells him to hold on to Elizabeth. His head tells him to take a chance with his nurse.

But Donwell Abbey holds a secret that just might change everything.

Check out Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey on Goodreads | Amazon | other retailers

****

About the Author

Ginger Monette

Ginger Monette

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I.

When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Connect with Ginger Monette via website | Facebook | Amazon author page

****

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Disclosure: I received Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey from the author for review.

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

‘I’m afraid I was born stubborn, sir. It gets me into trouble and some would say I don’t know my place.’

‘Ah…’ A soft chuckle escaped him. ‘But what is your place, Miss Hale? I wonder if any of us know these days.’

(from Jessie’s Promise)

Rosie Clarke’s latest novel, Jessie’s Promise, is set in England after World War I and follows Jessie Hale, a 26-year-old nurse navigating the depths of grief, social upheaval, and her place in the world. Jessie was a VAD during the war, and when the novel opens she has lost her job at a London hospital for speaking out on behalf of a fellow nurse. Still grieving the loss of her fiancé during the war, she cannot marry the kind bookstore owner Archie and instead takes a position at Kendlebury Hall in Devon as a nurse to Lady Kendle and her grandchildren, precocious 5-year-old Jack and sweet 2-year-old Catherine.

Jessie immediately embraces her new role, taking care of the aging Nanny, forging a close bond with the children, and attempting to bring some order to the understaffed household despite the overbearing presence of her employer, Mary Kendle, who is cold to her daughter, barely tolerant of her son, and distant from her husband, Captain Harry Kendle. Jessie’s determination to do right by the children, especially Catherine, who needs special care and attention, frequently puts her at odds with Mrs. Kendle but earns her the admiration of Captain Kendle — a man haunted by a lifetime of tragedy, most recently the war, but whose warmth toward the children and kindness toward her begin to break down the wall Jessie had built around her heart after Robbie’s death. Just as she beings to feel at home at Kendlebury Hall and believe that happiness is possible after all, a series of tragedies befall the Kendles and Jessie is forced to contend with yet more loss and the consequences of her decisions.

Clarke has done a great job creating a strong heroine in Jessie. She stands up for what is right and goes out of her way to help those in need, but she is far from perfect. However, it is her strength amid devastating loss and broken dreams that makes Jessie a truly admirable character. She loves deeply, cares fiercely, and steps up and takes charge when she is needed, even when she is desperately hurting inside.

The pace of the novel starts slow, but that helps to develop all of the characters, highlight the weight of responsibility that Jessie assumes from her very first moment at Kendlebury Hall, and set the stage for all that follows. Jessie’s relationship with Harry feels real, and Clarke doesn’t sugarcoat any of the obstacles in their way. She has created a strong cast of supporting characters, namely Nanny, Lady Kendle, and the rest of the household staff, adding numerous layers to the story.

Jessie’s Promise is about finding love amidst grief and finding oneself after the chaos of war as society dramatically changes in terms of sex and class. Clarke puts readers directly into the setting, so they understand what Jessie is up against and that the times are changing. I loved that Jessie was a modern women, understanding society’s constraints but unwilling to simply accept the way things were. Even when there was little she could do to change the situation, she questioned things, fought back in little ways, and refused to just give up. I was caught up in Jessie’s story from the very beginning, and I loved all the little twists and turns along the way, so much so that I look forward to reading more by Clarke in the future.

****

About Jessie’s Promise

DEVON 1918. When Jessie Hale loses her nursing job at the end of the First World War, she leaves London to become the nursemaid to the Kendle family in Devon.

On arrival she finds the family in disarray. Captain Kendle is a loving father but is traumatised by the war and kept at arm’s length by his frosty wife. When their elderly Nanny suffers a bad fall, Jessie has to try to bring the household together. Gradually Jessie finds her place in their lives, becoming devoted to Captain Kendle’s lively son Jack, his lovely, but quiet daughter Catherine, as well his invalid Mother.

Jessie soon starts to love her life at Kendlebury Hall, but problems arise when her feelings for her employer start to change…

Check out Jessie’s Promise on Goodreads | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

****

About the Author

Rosie Clarke

Rosie Clarke

Rosie Clarke was born in Swindon, but moved to Ely in Cambridgeshire at the age of nine. Married at eighteen, she ran her own hairdressing business for many years. Rosie started writing in 1976, combining this with helping her husband run his antique shop. She loves to write for her own enjoyment and to give pleasure to her millions of fans. Rosie was the well-deserved winner of the 2004 RNA Romance Award and the Betty Neels Trophy.

****

Giveaway

Aria is generously offering a giveaway of 3 ebook copies (epub or mobi) of Jessie’s Promise. To enter, simply leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will close Sunday, February 19, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Disclosure: I received Jessie’s Promise from Aria for review.

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darcys-hope

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

In fulfilling a promise to her father, he had laid his heart open, and she sliced it up and handed it right back to him. Then he had invested in his company of men–cared for them, thought only of their safety day and night–only to have them slaughtered, leaving him the heart-wrenching task of writing letter after letter to their families.

(from Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes)

Ginger Monette’s latest novel, Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set during World War I. Elizabeth Bennet wants to be a doctor and does not want to depend on any man, especially not Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy, who requisitioned part of her family’s property for the war effort, insulted her upon their first meeting, and then expected her to accept his proposal of marriage. With her family torn apart and no home to return to, Elizabeth finds herself at a French chateaux turned field hospital serving as a nursemaid for an elderly man.

Darcy, meanwhile, has shut off his feelings following Elizabeth’s painful rejection and massive losses at the Somme. When he arrives at the field hospital as part of an investigation to weed out enemy operatives, he never expects to find Elizabeth there. As they each get to know the other’s true nature, uncertainties regarding their past history threaten to keep them from revealing their true feelings. The danger of Darcy’s mission looms large, threatening what little happiness they have managed to find amidst the carnage of war.

In Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, Monette does a fantastic job weaving the history of the Great War, the horrors of the trenches, and the excitement of a covert operation into the basic plot of Austen’s novel. A lot is changed in Monette’s variation, and those changes kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Much of the attention is on Darcy and Elizabeth, of course, with small appearances made by Jane Bennet and Charles and Caroline Bingley. There is a darker mystery surrounding Lieutenant Wickham and Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia, and there are several intriguing original characters, from an American doctor to a Mr. Collins-esque French officer.

The evolution of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship unfolds realistically, as does the portrayal of their scars inflicted by the war. Readers should be aware that the action of the novel builds up toward the end, and while some ends are tied up between the pair, they will have to wait for the upcoming sequel, Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey, to see how their tale concludes. Overall, I was satisfied with the ending of Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, but I really wish I could have immediately delved into the next book!

***

About Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes

World War 1 has turned French chateaus into bloody field hospitals, British gentlemen into lice-infested soldiers, and left Elizabeth Bennet’s life in tatters.

Her father is dead and her home destroyed. Never again will Elizabeth depend on a man to secure her future!

But when an opportunity arises to advance her dreams of becoming a doctor, she is elated—until HE arrives…

Heartbroken. Devastated. Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy is left rejected by the woman he loved and reeling from the slaughter of his men on the battlefield. “Enough!” Darcy vows. “No more sentimental attachments!”

But arriving at a field hospital to pursue a covert investigation, Darcy discovers his beloved Elizabeth training with a dashing American doctor and embroiled in an espionage conspiracy.

With only a few months to expose the plot, Darcy is forced to grapple with his feelings for Elizabeth while uncovering the truth. Is she indeed innocent? Darcy can only hope…

Check out Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes on Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

***

About the Author

Ginger Monette

Ginger Monette

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I.

When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Connect with Ginger Monette via website | Facebook | Amazon author page

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Disclosure: I received Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes from the author for review.

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heirlooms

Source: Review copy from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing
Rating: ★★★★☆

In the last light, the fields outside gleam. She must finish her letter, so she can post it at the next station. There is much she cannot write her parents and her sister Allegra about: not the round-ups in Paris, for instance, not her new awareness of the gradations and varieties of fear — one that numbs, another that makes her sharp and quick, certainly not Alain’s and Jean’s involvement with the Resistance.

(from Heirlooms)

Rachel Hall’s Heirlooms is a collection of interconnected short stories that takes readers to France, Israel, and the United States during and after World War II, following a single family as it navigates the fear, devastation, and loss of war and the evils of the Holocaust. The collection opens with Lise going to her sister-in-law’s deathbed, secretly pleased at the prospect of raising her niece, Eugenie, as her own. Then Lise and Eugenie, escape Saint-Malo to avoid having to register as Jews, and thus begins the family’s journey from place to place, leaving behind their lives, their belongings every time they are forced to flee.

Each story stands on its own, but putting them into a single volume makes for a richer, more profound tale that spans generations. Hall brings to life such interesting characters — from Simone, a woman in the Resistance who dares to dream of a future after the war, to Magda, a Holocaust survivor who takes great pains to hide the numbers on her arm — and it was fascinating to see how they were connected to the Latour family. The stories also touch on the immigrant experience, with Eugenie becoming “Genny,” and the ways in which a family’s history is passed on.

The story “Heirlooms” was particularly touching and reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried in listing the things the family had lost to the war, from furniture and businesses to their language and their loved ones, and how secrets and desires cannot be left behind.

“Sometimes,” Lise will say, “I find myself wondering where something is–an owl brooch set with turquoise eyes from my sister or a particular square platter. And then I know: It is gone.” She shakes her head, laughs at her forgetfulness.

For the Latour family and others who have been displaced by war, the heirlooms they pass on are these stories of survival and their ability to rebuild their lives and move on, to even laugh again. I didn’t realize how attached I’d grown to these characters until I teared up on the last page, when the story comes full circle and acknowledges the sad fact of life that not all of the questions about our pasts will be answered. Heirlooms is a hauntingly beautiful tale of love and loss over the course of generations, touching upon what it means to be family and how the pains of the past can impact the future.

Disclosure: I received Heirlooms from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing for review.

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