Posts Tagged ‘tlc book tours’

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

Tsingtao, China,
March 15, 1946

Ding how, my little lotus bud,
(Eng. Translation: hiya, toots)

I’m freezing to death so I thought I’d sit down and write you a few–just thinking about you warms me up.

(from As Always, Jack, page 51)

Emma Sweeney’s father, Jack, was a Navy pilot whose plane went down north of Bermuda in November 1956.  Sweeney’s mother was pregnant with her at the time, so she never knew him.  Her mother had remarried, and she was told to call her stepfather “Dad.”  When her mother died, she came across the letters depicting her parents’ courtship, and for the first time, she came to know her father.

As Always, Jack features the numerous letters her father wrote to her mother when he was stationed in the Pacific in 1946 as part of an effort to stabilize the region following World War II.  They met in December 1945 and knew each other for just 11 days when he was shipped out, but for Jack, that was long enough to know he was in love with the woman who would soon become his wife and then the mother of his five children.  It’s not surprising that her mother fell in love with him as well, as the Jack who graces these pages is sweet, charming, and goofy.

I finished this book in just a couple of hours.  It’s a beautiful story of two people in love who have their whole lives ahead of them, yet it’s hard not to be saddened by the thought that the lively young man who wrote these heartfelt letters would live for just another 10 years and that his daughter — who looks so much like him, based on the photos in the book — would never meet him.  Reading in Sweeney’s words how her mother didn’t talk much about him was so heartbreaking; she must have been dying for any scrap of information about her father, and at the same time, her mother must’ve been lost without him.  But what a gift to have found those letters!

As Always, Jack is one of those books that pulls at your heart, even more so knowing that it’s a true story.  It made me so glad that when cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment after her death in November, I found a paper bag full of my dad’s letters to my grandparents when he was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.  Granted, I had 22 wonderful years with my father before he died, but to think I might get to know him as a young man through these letters…I can’t even put it into words.  I’ve ordered the letters, but I haven’t been able to read them yet.  Even though he’s been gone for almost 13 years, just seeing his handwriting gets me all choked up, and I’m just not ready to read through them yet.  I can’t imagine what Sweeney must have been feeling as she met her father for the first time through these letters, but I’m delighted that she was able to have such an experience, and I appreciate that she is willing to share her father with all of us.

Giveaway: Courtesy of the publisher, Axios Press, I have one copy of As Always, Jack to give to a lucky reader.  This giveaway is open to readers 18 years and older with U.S. addresses and will end at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, July 29, 2012.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for As Always, Jack. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received As Always, Jack from Axios Press for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Harper
Rating: ★★★★★

Purefoy kept throwing; kept throwing.  He threw for weeks, for months.  At some stage he was given proper grenades and a helmet, though they all learnt to piss on a handkerchief to breathe through long before gas masks came around.  One night he saw Captain Harper flying across the sky like a whirling starfish before shattering into a flaming shell crater, and he put the sight in that special part of his brain he would never go to again, fed it through the greedy slot in the forever unopenable door.  His thoughts jumped like fleas, like drops of water on a hot plate, uncatchable, inexplicable.

(from My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, pages 46-47)

I’m going to have such a hard time picking my list of the best books I read this year if I keep adding to the list of contenders, but here’s another one that simply cannot be ignored.  My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young is a haunting tale of love and war set in England and France during World War I, full of descriptions that are both beautiful and horrifying.

Young centers her story on two young couples.  Being hit by a snowball as a young boy forever changes the life of working-class Riley Purefoy, whose chance meeting with the upper-class Waveney family and an artist puts him on the path toward bettering himself.  But when Riley and Nadine Waveney fall in love, he learns that it is virtually impossible to cross the class divide and that her parents would never accept their relationship.  In 1914, Riley impulsively joins the army, figuring that if he’s killed, Nadine’s parents won’t have to worry about him anymore, but he also could return as an officer and a gentleman worthy of the woman he loves.

Young follows Nadine as she joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment as part of the war effort, thinking about every injured soldier as if he was Riley and keeping in mind the nurses at the front who may or may not be caring for him.  She also puts readers into the trenches with Riley, where he befriends his commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife, Julia, is not fit for war work so spends all of her time making sure she and their house are beautiful for when he returns home.  Peter’s cousin, Rose, a woman who has resigned herself to being single, works as a nurse, and it is through her that the paths of all of these characters will cross.

I absolutely loved My Dear I Wanted to Tell You from the very beginning.  Young’s writing is just about perfect, from her masterful use of description to her ability to portray the inner turmoil of so many unique characters all at once.  She skillfully paints a picture of a society being changed by the war, with women becoming more ambitious and independent and more willing to talk about and embrace their sexuality.  The female characters are all quite different, with Rose professing no need for marriage and even becoming a smoker, Nadine wanting to break free from the responsibilities forced upon her by her family’s societal standing and to travel and be an artist, and Julia wanting nothing more than to be a good and beautiful wife.

At the same time, she gets into the heads of Riley and Peter and shows how they process the horrible things they witness on the battlefield, whether thinking of themselves as non-existent when in the midst of the chaos or turning to women and drink to forget the painful images.  Regardless of how they cope, Young emphasizes an important truth, that they and their relationships with their wives and girlfriends will never be the same again.  Nadine understands Riley to a certain extent due to her VAD work, but Julia has a hard time coping with the changes she sees in her husband and his distance from the romantic life they once shared.

I was surprised by how quickly I became invested in these characters and how real they and their experiences felt to me.  Although a love story at its core, the war and its impact is so vivid and so well portrayed that the romance really takes a back seat to everything else (which is why I think the hardcover image is a better representation of the story than the paperback cover at the beginning of this post).  Young also goes into great detail about the facial reconstruction surgeries pioneered at the hospital in Sidcup, which was fascinating but hard to read.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is a novel that really gets to the heart of what it means to go to war and how nothing will ever be the same again for both the soldiers and their loved ones, even if they are lucky enough to come home.  Young doesn’t shy away from describing the horrific things that happen in war, including the fear that prompted some soldiers to go to great lengths to escape the fighting, and she also emphasizes the home front, from the misinformation in the newspapers to the impact of the war on a marriage.  If you haven’t read too much about WWI or simply want to read a book rich with history, beautiful writing, and surprisingly real characters (and you aren’t afraid of the darkness and intensity that accompany depictions of war), then you must give this one a try.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.  To follow the tour, click here.

Book 10 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 25 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received My Dear I Wanted to Tell You from Harper for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Hogarth
Rating: ★★★★★

Atara’s hands reached for walls as if stones returned caresses, her lips whispered to crack and moss as if they whispered back.  To the polished stones, Atara confided that one day, courage might call for a bigger self, not for making oneself smaller. 

(from I Am Forbidden, page 90)

I Am Forbidden is an utterly enthralling family saga focused on the Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews.  Anouk Markovits, who left her Satmar home at 19 to avoid an arranged marriage, paints a detailed portrait of a family bound together by faith and tragedy and pulled apart by secrets stemming from desires they are unable to quell.  Markovits takes readers from Transylvania in 1939 to Paris in the 1940s and 1950s and eventually to New York in the present day.

The novel focuses on Josef Lichtenstein and Mila Heller, both Hasidic Jews whose families were murdered in Transylvania during World War II.  Josef’s parents and baby sister are slaughtered by the Romanian Iron Guard when he is just five years old, and it’s a miracle that he survived.  By the time he witnesses the murder of Mila’s parents, the boy knows too much about loss.  He helps Mila make her way to Zalman Stern, a rabbi and friend of her father’s, and she and Josef’s shared grief makes them kindred spirits.

Mila becomes a part of the Stern family, and she and Zalman’s daughter, Atara, are raised as sisters.  After the war, Josef is sent to the Satmar community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, while the Stern family moves to Paris.  Mila and Atara grow apart, with Mila focused on her faith in order for her parents to live again and Atara wanting to taste freedom and to know what it means to think for herself.  With all the details Markovits provides about the laws and observances of Hasidic Jews, readers easily understand how Atara feels stifled, but they also can see how these rules strengthen and comfort the believers.

I Am Forbidden shines a light on what it means to be a woman in the Satmar sect when Mila and Josef marry, what it means for someone to say, “I am forbidden, so are my children and my children’s children, forbidden for ten generations male or female.”  There is such a heaviness to the novel, but it was so fascinating that I didn’t want to put it down.  Markovits enables readers to sympathize with the characters, even when they might not agree with their religious convictions.  I really felt for both Mila and Atara throughout the book, and I teared up many times while reading.  The book was perfectly paced, yet at times I felt the pages turned too quickly because I knew I wouldn’t be ready to let these characters go.

Markovits has given readers a captivating glimpse of an insular religious community.  I felt like I learned a lot of new things while reading I Am Forbidden, and it certainly was my first trip to Transylvania during World War II.  Markovits doesn’t give a lot of background about the Romanian Iron Guard, and the scene in which Josef’s family is murdered is seen through his five-year-old eyes, so I’ll have to do some research on my own.  I Am Forbidden is that kind of book — it grabs you, doesn’t let you go, and inspires you to read more about the history of the people detailed within.  It’s a thought-provoking novel, and it definitely will be on my best of 2012 list.

Courtesy of Hogarth, I am giving away a copy of I Am Forbidden. Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada only and will end at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, May 27, 2012.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for I Am Forbidden. To follow the tour, click here.

Book 19 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received I Am Forbidden from Hogarth for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Maisie ended the call and left for the station.  She wondered how she had become so much more adept at telling lies since she signed the Official Secrets Act.  But then, secrets and lies always went together.

(from A Lesson in Secrets, page 208)

I can’t believe I waited so long to read a Maisie Dobbs book!  Given the setting of the series between the world wars, I’ve long been wanting to start it, but I honestly wouldn’t have started reading it right now except for the fact that its the April pick for my book club and I was offered a spot on the Maisie Dobbs blog tour.  If you’ve been waiting as long as me to give this series a try, trust me, you’ll want to drop everything right now and get started.

A Lesson in Secrets is the 8th book in Jacqueline Winspear‘s series about Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator based in post-World War I London.  Maisie runs her own private detective agency, where she works with her assistant, the endearing Billy Beale.  There’s a lot going on in this book, and Winspear wastes no time getting into the action, as the first line indicates that Maisie is being followed.  Maisie is soon tapped for an undercover assignment with the British Secret Service in which she becomes a junior lecturer in philosophy at the College of St. Francis in Cambridge.  The college was founded by Greville Liddicote, a pacifist who wrote a children’s book during World War I that, according to rumors, caused a mutiny on the Western Front.

Maisie is supposed to watch the comings and goings of the various faculty members and report on any activities not in the interests of the Crown and government.  Her job becomes more exciting and demanding when Liddicote is murdered, and she is expected to stand back and let Scotland Yard handle the murder investigation.  Of course, Maisie isn’t going to relegate herself to the sidelines, so thankfully her assignment puts her in direct contact with numerous people who may have wanted Liddicote dead.

Meanwhile, Maisie is trying to get her father to move from his cottage to the house she inherited from her late mentor, and she takes advantage of her new found wealth and a boom in home construction to help Billy and his family move out of a shady section of the city — but she has her work cut out for her given her father’s and Billy’s stubbornness.  There’s a mystery involving the death of the husband of one of Maisie’s friends, a young woman who is now homeless and jobless and turns to Maisie for help, and Maisie also contemplates her relationship with James Compton and whether or not she’s ready to take the next step.

Winspear truly is a talented writer, and I still can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read her work.  She juggles multiple storylines and numerous, complex characters with ease.  It’s never difficult to follow the various threads of the story, and I was impressed by how she made connections between the characters and Liddicote.  Best of all, I had no idea whodunnit until it was revealed in the narrative, which kept me plowing through the pages long after my bedtime.

A Lesson in Secrets can be read as a stand-alone book, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything from the prior books.  However, I bet it would have been a richer experience if I’d read all the previous books first, especially in terms of Maisie’s relationship with James and her connections to the other characters.  I think I got to know Maisie well enough through this book — she’s an independent woman who knows both poverty and wealth and is scarred (literally and figuratively) by her service as a nurse in World War I — but I’m definitely going to go back to the beginning to see what I’ve missed.

The setting itself could be considered a character.  It’s 1932, and Hitler’s Nazi Party is coming to power in Germany.  Maisie thinks emerging support for the Nazis in England is a concern, though she is dismissed by her superiors.  Of course, we know Maisie has cause for concern, and I hope this is all revealed in future books in the series.  I also was captivated by the connections to World War I through a seemingly simple children’s book.  Winspear provides much food for thought about pacifism, the treatment of conscientious objectors during the war when everyone was geared up to fight, and how people who had seen the outcome of the war could ignore what was going on in Germany in 1932.

A Lesson in Secrets was a delightful read, one that made me excited about mysteries again, probably because of the war-related connections and the character of Maisie.  The story is old fashioned in that it takes place in the 1930s, but Maisie is very much a modern woman, and I love that about her.  I can’t wait to discuss it with my book club next month, and I can’t wait to read more about Maisie Dobbs.  She’s become one of my favorite literary characters, and I’ve only read one book in the series so far!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for A Lesson in Secrets. To follow the March is Maisie Dobbs Month tour, click here.

Book 5 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 9 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of A Lesson in Secrets from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Reba’s hand lifted off the page.  This was more interesting than expected.  She tried to keep a neutral tone.  “Were you a Nazi?”

“I was German,” replied Elsie.

“So you supported the Nazis?”

“I was German,” Elsie repeated.  “Being a Nazi is a political position, not an ethnicity.  I am not a Nazi because I am German.”

(from The Baker’s Daughter, page 52)

The Baker’s Daughter is, hands-down, the best book I’ve read so far this year, and I am confident that it will be on my “best of” list for 2012.  I have read numerous novels in recent months that shift back and forth between the present and World War II, and most times I prefer the storyline set during the war.  While I felt the same way with The Baker’s Daughter at first, by the time I finished I felt that Sarah McCoy had expertly connected the past and the present.

The Baker’s Daughter focuses on two women from different eras, both of whom know hardship and heartache and are trying to find themselves.  In 2007, Reba Adams is a reporter trying to forget her past.  She left her mother and older sister behind in Virginia and headed to El Paso, wanting to escape the truth about her Vietnam vet father, his suicide, and its aftermath.  She reinvents herself with strangers, and when the lies escape her lips, she almost believes them.  She is engaged to a border patrol guard, Riki Chavez, but she doesn’t let him see her true self and wears his ring around her neck because she can’t seem to commit.

While writing a Christmas-themed story, she ends up at Elsie’s German Bakery looking for a quote about a traditional German Christmas, but the bakery’s owner, 79-year-old Elsie (Schmidt) Meriwether only remembers the difficult Christmases during World War II, when her family was separated and food was scarce.  Reba asks about a picture of a younger Elsie with her mother, asks Elsie to tell her about that Christmas in Garmisch, Germany, in 1944, a night in which 16-year-old Elsie attends a Nazi Christmas Eve party with SS Lieutenant Colonel Josef Hub, who that night asks her to marry him.  Elsie is overwhelmed by the entire evening; Josef’s sleazy friend, Major Kremer, hits on her, she tries champagne for the first time, she receives a marriage proposal from a man almost twice her age, and she is captivated by a young Jewish boy from the Dachau concentration camp who the Nazis get to sing for the occasion — the same Jewish boy who turns up on the doorstep of the Schmidt Bakery later that night.

I was instantly captivated by Elsie’s story, and McCoy does a brilliant job setting the scene.  I felt like I was in the bakery, with the smells of the dough, the brick oven, and Elsie’s fear in the air.  McCoy perfectly captures the frustrations of the Germans as the war nears the end; they are hungry, scared to say the wrong thing with the Gestapo always watching, and torn between their love for their country and their disillusionment with the politics of the Reich.  This patriotism and confusion are exemplified by Elsie, as she accepts Josef’s proposal for the protection it offers not because she loves him, and especially by Elsie’s sister, Hazel, who is a resident of the Lebensborn program and has given birth to twins for the Fatherland, and one of the infants appears not to be a perfect Aryan.  McCoy also gets into the heads of some of the minor characters as well, particularly Josef and Riki, juxtaposing one’s struggles with Nazi ideology with the other’s involvement in the border wars between the U.S. and Mexico as he questions immigration laws even while he enforces them.

I didn’t expect The Baker’s Daughter to be such a complex novel that covers so much ground, from mothers and daughters and relationships between sisters to the hardships of war and the battles we fight internally.  McCoy deftly moves between the past and the present and mixes things up a bit with letters and e-mails between the characters, but never does the reader feel lost.  Even the secondary characters are complicated and intriguing, which can be difficult to pull off.  Normally I finish these types of novels believing that the story set in the present could have been removed without readers noticing, but The Baker’s Daughter is a perfectly crafted novel in which Elsie’s past plays into Reba’s present and both are important to the story.  But if that’s not enough of a recommendation, let me tell you that several recipes from Elsie’s German Bakery are featured at the end of the book.  The Black Forest Cake and Cinnamon Rolls sound delicious.  I should have baked them first and ate while reading!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for The Baker’s Daughter. To follow the tour, click here.

Book 5 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Baker’s Daughter from Crown for review. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Before leaving, she turned and looked at her beloved cottage one last time and then toward the restless lake that lay just beyond it.  She already knew that she could never return here.  She would never again see this wonderful place, swim in that pristine lake, or hear the familiar rustle of the pine trees. 

(from More Than Words Can Say, page 299 in the uncorrected proof; final version may be different)

After all the heavy Civil War novels I read during the last week of 2011 to finish up the War Through the Generations challenge, I was eager to begin the new year with Robert Barclay’s new novel, More Than Words Can Say.  Family secrets, a cottage by the lake, and a World War II backstory?  Count me in!  However, even though it was a quick and mostly enjoyable read, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

More Than Words Can Say takes place in 1999, with 33-year-old Chelsea Enright learning just days after her grandmother’s death that she has inherited a cottage in the Adirondacks that has been vacant since 1942.  Chelsea isn’t too interested in the cottage and would just sell it if her grandmother hadn’t left her a letter and a key to a tin box hidden under the floorboards in the cottage’s guest room.  Hoping to uncover the answers to why her gram never returned to the cottage and learn more about the woman she loved so dearly, Chelsea travels to Lake Evergreen and falls in love with the scenery and the cottage that holds so many memories and secrets.

Chelsea finds a friend in Brandon Yale, a young doctor with a painful past, who lives in the neighboring cottage.  They grow close over the few days that Chelsea is to spend in the cottage, then closer as those few days turn into the whole summer.  The two read the journal kept by Brooke Bartlett during the summer of 1942, when she was young, vibrant, in love, and just months away from the car accident that would confine her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  But Chelsea already knows that the accident isn’t what kept Brooke from returning to the cottage.

These journal entries bring readers back in time, letting them see things from Brooke’s point of view.  She is newly married but separated from her husband as he trains to be an officer and go to war.  She worries about how long the war will last and whether Bill will ever come home, and she decides to spend the summer alone with her thoughts in the family cottage.  Her life becomes complicated when she meets the owner of the cottage next door, Greg Butler, a handsome photographer and artist whose only fault seems to be the clubfoot that kept him from joining the military.

More Than Words Can Say was pretty predictable, the relationships were forged quickly and were a bit dramatic for my tastes, and the characters’ internal dialogue bordered on cheesy.  Even though the characters’ thoughts are spelled out continuously for readers, the characters lacked depth.  There is plenty of (and sometimes too much) description, from what the characters were wearing on a daily basis to what they ate at nearly every meal.  The food descriptions are tied to the fact that Chelsea inherited her gram’s book of wartime recipes, but I would have rather had characters with more substance than details about what they ate.

Still, More Than Words Can Say was an overall enjoyable novel.  I have to give Barclay credit for writing the only lovemaking scene (paragraph, really) that I’ve ever found beautiful.  And his descriptions of the cottage and the lake made me long for my own summertime retreat.  I also think my ability to connect with Chelsea helped me enjoy the book more than I would have otherwise.  Having recently lost my grandmother, I knew how Chelsea was feeling and could understand her desire to want to know more about her grandmother as a young woman.  It made me wish I had a journal or a cookbook or some other link (like the cottage!) to my grandmother’s past.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for More Than Words Can Say.  To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of More Than Words Can Say from William Morrow for review. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Mrs. Ryfle released some of her air and batted her eyes at Mother.  “All I’m saying is, they got it better over there than we do.  It ain’t fair they got food and electricity and such when the gov’ment don’t do nothing for us but ‘cept take tax money.”  She released the potted ham back to the shelf.

“You still got your home, Ethel,” Mother said, her voice rising.  “And your way of life.  Let somebody come take that from you, and then you tell me if it’s worth trading for all the corn you can stuff in your greedy mouth.”

I followed her as she stormed the exit.  She was halfway outside when she stopped abruptly and turned.  “And then you also tell me if you’d send your boys off to fight and die for a government that would do that to you.”

(from Camp Nine, page 103)

How fitting that my (delayed) review of Camp Nine appears on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Today is an important day to remember all the men and women who died that day and in the years following in an effort to preserve our nation’s freedom.

In Camp Nine, Vivienne Schiffer brings to light an event in the history of the United States that is often forgotten:  the internment of hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese descent in the months following Pearl Harbor.  Schiffer uses the internment camp in the fictional town of Rook, Arkansas, (which is similar to the real Rohwer Relocation Center that was located in Desha County, Arkansas) to emphasize the plight of these American citizens, some of whom even fought and died in World War II for a country that took away their homes and livelihoods.

The novel is told from the point of view of Chess Morton, a young girl whose family’s land is sold to the government and becomes Camp Nine.  The book opens in 1965 with an adult Chess waiting to meet with a friend from the camp, then goes back in time to 1942 when the camp was established.  Chess is a very observant girl; she is aware of the tension between her grandparents and her mother, who is in charge of the land that was held by her late husband and clashes with her father-in-law about the sale of land that was supposed to belong to Chess.  Her mother, Carrie, is a feisty woman, the daughter of Italian immigrant farmers, and she doesn’t care that people are talking about her visits to Camp Nine, where she teaches art to the internees.  Chess notices how her mother changes for the better when she has something to do with her time and energy — and when she reunites with a man from her past, an officer at the camp.

Despite being a fairly short novel, there is a lot going on in Camp Nine.  Schiffer describes the workings of the internment camp and its residents, focusing mainly on the Matsui family and their ties to Chess and Carrie.  She shows how the answers given by the internees to two questions about their allegiance to the United States could tear apart families, sending fathers to prison and sons off to war.  Although the internees appear to be treated fairly well, Schiffer doesn’t let readers forget that they were relocated against their will and likely would have no home to return to after the war.  Family relationships and racial tensions in the Arkansas Delta also are touched upon, and showing them through Chess’ eyes helps tone down the heavier issues.

Camp Nine is a quiet book, more like a snapshot of one town and one family during a troubling time in the nation’s history and how one young girl perceives the world and the people around her, learning what it means to call a place home.  The novel is poignant and beautifully written, and I felt like I really knew the characters and grew to love them, especially Chess and her mother, over the course of the story.  However, there were times when I felt that events were being told more than shown, particularly with regard to Chess’ feelings for Henry Matsui, who is an important secondary character though he doesn’t make much of an appearance in the narrative.  Not being witness to their interactions made it difficult for me to truly understand how Chess felt about him.  Still, this is only a minor complaint as I thought the novel flowed beautifully for the most part.

Camp Nine is one of those books that doesn’t hit you hard in the gut but still affects you emotionally.  Schiffer gives readers a lot to ponder and a sympathetic narrator whose observations are honest and endearing.  Whenever I had to put down the book, I found that I kept thinking about the characters and all they went through.  If you haven’t read much about the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II, Camp Nine is a great place to start.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for Camp Nine. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Camp Nine from The University of Arkansas Press for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Two and a half months after reaching Birkenau, the French women were down to eighty.  A hundred and fifty of them had died, from typhus, pneumonia, dysentery, from dog bites and beatings and gangrenous frostbite, from not being able to eat or sleep, or from being gassed.  In the filth and cold and danger of Birkenau, almost anything was fatal.  The ones still alive were the stronger women, those neither too old nor too young, those sustained by belief in a new world order; or, quite simply, because they had been lucky.  Without the help of the others, they knew that many more of them would already be dead.  One Sunday, when the sky was blue and the women were allowed to rest, Charlotte remembered other spring Sundays, walking by the Seine under the chestnut trees.  ‘None of us,’ she thought, ‘none of us will return.’

(from A Train in Winter, page 218 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France is biographer Caroline Moorehead’s attempt to piece together the stories of the 230 women of the French Resistance who were arrested by the Gestapo and the French police during the country’s occupation by the Nazis during World War II.  These women were transported to Birkenau, part of the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, in January 1943, and only 49 would come out alive.  When Moorehead began researching and writing this book, seven of the women were still alive, and she talked to those whose health allowed it.  She also tracked down relatives of some of the women who perished in the camp to tell their stories as well.

These women joined the Resistance for different reasons.  Some did not like how the Germans were shipping France’s raw materials back home, leaving them hungry and cold.  Others protested the treatment of the Jews, whether French citizens or refugees, or the Nazi crackdown on intellectuals.  Some simply did not want to see their country defeated.  They came from different backgrounds; some were students and farmers, one was a dentist.  Some were married and saw their husbands beaten and executed by the Germans, and some were mothers forced to send their children to live with their parents or foster families so they could carry on with their Resistance work.  Some helped Jews and others escape into the Free Zone, helped Allied airmen, or hid other resisters.  Others printed or distributed anti-Fascist tracts, were members of the Communist Party, or helped derail trains, while some were wrongly accused of Resistance activities.  Regardless of their differences, they were joined in their hatred of the Germans, their desire to free France from the Nazis, and later, to survive the torture and inhumane conditions of prison and the extermination camp.

A Train in Winter is a very detailed account of the French Resistance from the moment the Nazis marched into Paris in June 1940 and how the French police collaborated with their occupiers to the horrors these women endured in Birkenau and beyond.  Moorehead obviously performed much research, but the way the information is presented, especially at the beginning, is a bit dry.  She states facts so that it reads almost like a textbook, and so many names are mentioned that it’s hard to keep track of them all.  In some cases, there are no transitions from one paragraph to the next, so it seems like you’re abruptly leaving one person’s story and moving to another.  A lot of French words are included in the text without translation, and that sometimes made it difficult to fully grasp the matter being discussed.  Moreover, the beginning focuses on the Occupation itself and how it affected the Communist Party and created pockets of resistance, and I found that these parts dragged because I wanted to read about the women and their involvement in the Resistance.

Still, Moorehead successfully shows how these women were courageous and strong — not only for standing up to the Nazis but for not bowing to the pressure for women to have a family at a time when the government blamed the country’s defeat on women going to university and work and having fewer children.  Once Moorehead began introducing the women who would be followed throughout the book, I couldn’t put it down.  I found A Train in Winter fascinating because I hadn’t read about these women before, and they got me thinking about how I would have reacted if I had been in their shoes.  I would like to think I would have been brave enough to resist, but I can’t imagine enduring what they did in the camps.

A Train in Winter shows how ordinary people can do extraordinary things and how even in the most horrible of circumstances, people can find the strength to stand up for themselves and what they believe is right.  These woman banded together to support and care for one another even when they were sure they would not survive, and of course, many didn’t; those who did were never the same, healthwise or otherwise.  They continued to perform acts of sabotage when and where they could, sang the Marseillaise (France’s national anthem) in front of their captors, and were symbols of solidarity and patriotism even while they were starving and sick.  The book features photographs (though I wish the ARC included the captions) and a list of all 230 women and their fates.  I applaud Moorehead for seeking out the survivors to tell their stories before it was too late, and A Train in Winter is a fitting tribute to these brave women.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for A Train in Winter.  To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of A Train in Winter from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound associate and an Amazon affiliate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Sally didn’t care whether the WASP were civilians or soldiers.  Nor was she really concerned about the condition of the planes they flew.  WASP got advanced training and were paid to fly; that put being a WASP head and shoulders above anything she’d done so far except barnstorm with Tex.  “Not me!” she said.  “I won’t quit!  Any kind of flying beats anything else, any day of the week.”

(from Wings, page 17)

Karl Friedrich’s novel Wings:  A Novel of World War II Flygirls pays homage to the 1,074 women who graduated from the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, which operated from September 1942 to December 1944.  These women were civilians with pilot licenses who volunteered for training to deliver aircraft all over the country.  The U.S. Army needed their services because most of its pilots (male, of course) were fighting oversees in Europe and the Pacific.  They worked just as hard as any male pilot and oftentimes were better pilots, yet the U.S. government did not grant them the same benefits and did not award the WASP veteran status until 1979.

In Wings, Friedrich tells the story of Sally Ketchum, a young girl hoping to make a career in aviation.  Sally is rough around the edges, but it’s easy to understand where her anger and defensiveness come from, given that she grew up the daughter of a poor, alcoholic, and abusive farmer in East Texas.  She’s uneducated but bright, and the light of her life was Tex Jones, the boyfriend who taught her how to fly and how to love.  In the first chapter of the book, Sally’s life has come apart at the seams; all the fun she had barnstorming with Tex ends in a fiery crash that takes his life and forces her to return home to her father.

After her father’s death, Sally finds the letter inviting her to participate in the WASP program, and she heads to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, to begin her new life as a pilot.  She meets the beautiful, lively, and brusque Dixie, the intelligent Twila, and the snobbish Geri, and even though they see Sally at first as a “ragamuffin,” the girls become reluctant friends.  Sally also meets Beau Bayard, a flight instructor who is not nearly as adept as Sally at flying planes.  Despite their heated arguments, there is an attraction between them, but Sally doesn’t think she can love anyone like she loved Tex, whom she has placed on a pedestal that no one could ever hope to climb.  Meanwhile, she goes toe-to-toe with Ira Waterman, a ruthless attorney sent to Avenger Field by Congress to gather information about the WASP with the intention of disbanding the program.

Wings is a compulsively readable novel, with action in the skies, tension on the ground, a lot of heated dialogue, and a little romance.  Friedrich does a great job showing how the women in the WASP program were capable and ambitious and emphasizing the challenges they faced, from being forced to pay for their uniforms and room and board to dealing with men who believed the cockpit was no place for a woman.  The Army ordered these women to fly missions in weather that kept male pilots grounded, and there were reports of sabotaged planes and parachutes that kept the WASP on guard.  A handful of WASP lost their lives.

I found the story of the WASP program fascinating, and I admire the women who went against what society thought were respectable roles for them to do what they loved.  However, the characters lacked depth — the female characters were more stereotypes (the arrogant privileged girl, the flirty model with a big mouth, and the boyish girl with a chip on her shoulder) than real people.  I felt it difficult to connect with Sally and invest myself completely in her story.  She was always on the defensive in conversation, and she would go from being pleasant to shouting in the blink of an eye.  Her attitude got old after awhile, and even though I found the scenes where she was forced to use her natural talent as a pilot to get herself and others out of life-threatening situations entertaining, it seemed a little over-the-top that Sally — out of all the WASP in training — would continually find herself involved in near tragedies and always find a way out.   Yet no matter how much Sally and the other girls annoyed me, I found the book hard to put down.

The details of the WASP program and the flying of the aircraft is where Wings really shines.  I know nothing about airplanes and am not much interested in aviation; I wanted to read Wings because I had not heard of the WASP and am interested in all-things-WWII.  I can’t say whether Friedrich’s descriptions of the planes or Sally’s in-flight maneuvers are accurate, but it seems he has done his homework.  He does a good job balancing the technical terms with readability.  Overall, I’d recommend Wings for fans of WWII fiction who want to learn more about the contribution of women to the war effort, but they should be ready for more than just a history lesson.

McBooks Press would like to offer a copy of Wings to one lucky reader.  To enter, simply let me know in your comment that you are interested in reading the book.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, entries must be from readers with addresses in the U.S. or Canada.  This giveaway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, October 23, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

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

Disclosure: I received a copy of Wings from McBooks Press for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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He would not, he had not, become what they wanted them to become, animals desperate to live, no, something uglier than animals, for animals did not kill except for food.  He had not fallen in war, and he would not fall now.  He still had his photographs, and now he had money.  It was peace.

(from Displaced Persons, page 13)

Displaced Persons is at times depressing, at times hopeful, and at all times powerful.  Ghita Schwarz has written such complex characters that even while I could not put myself in their shoes or understand what they had endured, I was able to feel their sorrows and their joys, however limited the latter were.

Displaced Persons is a novel about what happened to survivors of the Holocaust after the war ended and the Allies liberated the concentration camps.  They were free, yet they were not.  They became displaced persons, without a home to return to, without most, if not all, of their loved ones, and without the money and resources to pick up and move on.  Many were forced to live in the camps that were converted for refugees, where they were given jobs and food, their children were able to attend school, and they could apply for visas to relocate out of Germany.  However, the visa process was long, especially for those wanting to go to America, and with Germany divided into zones occupied by the British, the Americans, or the Russians, they needed paperwork giving them permission to travel freely.

The strong and the resourceful are able to get ahead, albeit slowly.  Pavel Mandl, who escaped from a concentration camp right before it was liberated, takes advantage of the change in power to steal from two Germans trying to get away with valuables stolen from the Jews.  Now he has food, money, and stones (diamonds) that he can use to start a new life.  At the refugee camp, he meets a young woman, Fela, and the teenage boy, Chaim, who helped her make her way safely into Germany.  Pavel manages to secure them a home, and they become a family of sorts.  But everything that they endured during the war and all the losses they suffered have scarred them, and they must learn to put the past behind them and press on into the future.

The novel also covers another family:  Berel, who tells a lie in the refugee camp that will haunt him, Dvora, who fights an ongoing battle with typhus, and their young daughter, Sima, whose very presence lights up the eyes of the survivors who haven’t seen a child in ages.  How all of the characters’ lives are entwined over years propels the book forward.  Schwarz divides the book into three sections: right after the war when everything is chaotic and confusing for the displaced persons; the years when they have cobbled together a new existence in a new land and are raising their families; and the later years when they revisit the hurts of the past and come to terms with how it shaped their lives.

Displaced Persons is a quiet novel about the long-term affects of the Holocaust.  It is not a light novel, but there are periods of light when you think the characters will be okay.  It’s a book that really gets you thinking about survival — how the Jews survived the horrors of World War II only to face more years of struggle and hardship; how they were threatened and forced to leave when they returned to their former homes hoping to find something left; how they continued to live in overcrowded conditions in the refugee camps; and how those who moved to Israel were called “the weak of the diaspora, Old Jews, the ones who let themselves be slaughtered for fear of fighting” (page 214).

This was a very emotional read, one that made me sad and angry, one that kept me blabbing to my husband about the unfairness of it all.  But then I reread the passage I included at the beginning of this review and recognized the beauty of the characters’ survival.  Displaced Persons touches upon ordinary people who will never know the paths they would have taken in life had war not taken its toll, and rather than thinking of the survivors as a nameless and faceless group, Schwarz personalizes the survivor experience through characters both brave and haunting.  This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for Displaced Persons. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Displaced Persons from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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