Tag: World War II

Book Review: The Forest of Vanishing Stars, by Kristin Harmel

Image belongs to Gallery Books.

After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.

This was a fantastic read! I had never heard of the historical facts behind the premise and found it both fascinating and heartbreaking. I read a solid amount of World War II-set historical fiction, but this was new territory for much. Surviving in the forest like this required so much strength and resiliency, and I am just in awe of these people.

I liked Yona a lot and seeing her grow from a child to a woman—and how her thoughts evolved—was engrossing to read. I loved how she left her comfort zone behind to help others—she knew it was the right thing to do, even though she’d never been taught that. Proof that people are inherently good (which I tend to forget). Loved this read!

Kristin Harmel is a bestselling author. The Forest of Vanishing Stars is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Widows of Champagne, by Renee Ryan

Image belongs to Harlequin/Love Inspired.

Champagne, 1939

Gabrielle Leblanc Dupree is taking her family’s future into her hands. While she should be preparing for a lavish party to celebrate two centuries of champagne making, she secretly hides Chateau Fouché-Leblanc’s most precious vintages behind a fake wall in the cellar in preparation for the looming war. But when she joins the resistance, the coveted champagne isn’t the most dangerous secret her cellar must conceal…

A former Parisian socialite, Gabrielle’s mother, Hélène, lost her husband to another war. Now her home has been requisitioned by the Germans, who pillage vineyards to satisfy the Third Reich’s thirst for the finest champagne. There’s even more at stake than Hélène dares admit. She has kept her heritage a secret…and no one is safe in Nazi-occupied France.

Josephine, the family matriarch, watches as her beloved vineyard faces its most difficult harvest yet. As her daughter-in-law and granddaughters contend with the enemies and unexpected allies in their midst, Josephine’s deep faith leads to her own path of resistance.

Across years and continents, the Leblanc women will draw on their courage and wits, determined against all odds to preserve their lives, their freedom and their legacy…

This was an incredible read! It wasn’t in the least what I expected, but it was so good. I will say that Hélène wasn’t my favorite character, but it was due more to her reserved and secretive personality than anything, as she was incredibly determined to protect her family. I didn’t care for the youngest daughter at all, but Gabrielle was a great character and I enjoyed her journey so, so much!

Renee Ryan grew up in Florida. The Widows of Champagne is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Love Inspired in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

TitleThe Warsaw Orphan
Author Kelly Rimmer
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In the spring of 1942, young Elzbieta Rabinek is aware of the swiftly growing discord just beyond the courtyard of her comfortable Warsaw home. She has no fondness for the Germans who patrol her streets and impose their curfews, but has never given much thought to what goes on behind the walls that contain her Jewish neighbors. She knows all too well about German brutality–and that it’s the reason she must conceal her true identity. But in befriending Sara, a nurse who shares her apartment floor, Elzbieta makes a discovery that propels her into a dangerous world of deception and heroism.

Using Sara’s credentials to smuggle children out of the ghetto brings Elzbieta face-to-face with the reality of the war behind its walls, and to the plight of the Gorka family, who must make the impossible decision to give up their newborn daughter or watch her starve. For Roman Gorka, this final injustice stirs him to rebellion with a zeal not even his newfound love for Elzbieta can suppress. But his recklessness brings unwanted attention to Sara’s cause, unwittingly putting Elzbieta and her family in harm’s way until one violent act threatens to destroy their chance at freedom forever.

I’ve read a number of books about World War II, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read one set in Warsaw. With the different points-of-view, the reader sees what life is like inside the ghetto, but what it looks like outside the ghetto, too. This was an engrossing read, and although not a light or happy one, there were some glimmers of light peeking through.

I recommend this read, for illustrating a slightly different aspect of the World War II tragedy. The characters are believable and I was invested in what happened to them and how they learned and grew from their experiences.

Kelly Rimmer is a bestselling author. The Warsaw Orphan is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Secrets We Left Behind, by Soraya M. Lane

Image belongs to Lake Union Publishing.

TitleThe Secrets We Left Behind
AuthorSoraya M. Lane
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Occupied France, 1940. When the staff at a field hospital draw straws to find out who will join the evacuation from Dunkirk, Nurse Cate is left behind. But when the Nazis arrive to claim prisoners of war, she takes her chance and flees into the night, taking one patient with her.

Fifty miles away, the surrendering soldiers of the Royal Norfolk Regiment are shot dead by the advancing Germans. Beneath the pile of bodies two men survive, crawling to the safety of a nearby farmhouse, where sisters Elise and Adelaide risk their lives to take them in. When Cate, too, arrives at their door with her injured soldier, the pressure mounts.

The sisters are risking everything to keep their visitors safe. But with the Nazis coming ever closer and relationships in the farmhouse intensifying, they must all question the sacrifices they are willing to make for the lives of others. How far will they go for family, friendship, and love?

I enjoyed this read! I liked the characters a lot, and they were realistic and people to root for. Except maybe Adelaide, who I kind of wanted to smack in the back of the head. I was never sure how this was going to turn out, so it wasn’t predictable to me, and the writing was excellent, with a setting that I enjoyed reading more about.

Soraya M. Lane lives in New Zealand. The Secrets We Left Behind is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

TitleThe Woman with the Blue Star
AuthorPam Jenoff
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

This is not a happy book. I liked the characters; their strength, determination, and resourcefulness. I cannot even imagine hiding in a sewer for months on end. I did find the idea that Ella could stand in the middle of a street over a sewer grate for long enough to have entire conversations and give Sadie food and no one noticed a bit far-fetched. That wasn’t believable to me, but apart from that, I found the book entirely readable, even if sad.

Pam Jenoff is a bestselling author. The Woman with the Blue Star is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Last Bookshop in London, by Madeline Martin

Harlequin/Hanover Square Press.

TitleThe Last Bookshop in London
AuthorMadeline Martin
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.

Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

It seems like every World War II novel I read is sad, but this one proved to be an exception. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely sad and horrifying moments, but the overall message of this novel is hope and helping others. I thought it was a wonderful touch that initially Grace isn’t even a reader, so we get to experience her falling in love with books as she grows to love the bookshop and its patrons. This is a lovely read!

Madeline Martin is a bestselling author. The Last Bookshop in London is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Last Garden in England, by Julia Kelly

Image belongs to Gallery Books.

TitleThe Last Garden in England
AuthorJulia Kelly
Genre:  Fiction, historical
Rating:  4 out of 5

Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

I enjoyed all three timelines in this novel. I’m not sure I’ve read anything by this author before, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout in the future. Emma’s timeline, the present-day, was probably my favorite, as she experiences a lot of character growth and she seemed like she’d be a fun person to hang out with. Venetia was dealing with so much living on the edge of high society—those people were awful—and this didn’t end like I thought it was going to. Beth’s timeline featured things I’d never heard of, keeping me interested and invested in the characters. This is definitely a solid read!

Julia Kelly is a bestselling author.  The Last Garden in England is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Girl from the Channel Islands, by Jenny Lecoat

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:  The Girl from the Channel Islands
Author: Jenny Lecoat
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

I don’t think I’ve read anything about World War II in the Channel Islands, so this was something new for me, as was the German officer who wasn’t a Nazi (most of the historical fiction set during this time that I’ve read just portrays all German soldiers as monsters).

This time period is so hard to read about. The atrocities Hedy went through and witnessed are terrible, but she comes through with her hope and her spirits intact. I found this to be an excellent read.

Jenny Lecoat was born in the Channel Islands. The Girl from the Channel Islands is her new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Mermaid from Jeju, by Sumi Hahn

Image belongs to Alcove Press.

Title:   The Mermaid from Jeju
Author: Sumi Hahn
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In the aftermath of World War II, Goh Junja is a girl just coming into her own. She is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. Confident she is a woman now, Junja urges her mother to allow her to make the Goh family’s annual trip to Mt. Halla, where they trade abalone and other sea delicacies for pork. Junja, a sea village girl, has never been to the mountains, where it smells like mushrooms and earth, and it is there she falls in love with a mountain boy Yang Suwol, who rescues her after a particularly harrowing journey. But when Junja returns one day later, it is just in time to see her mother take her last breath, beaten by the waves during a dive she was taking in Junja’s place.

Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father, Suwol is gone, the ghost of her mother haunts their home–from the meticulously tended herb garden that has now begun to sprout weeds, to the field where their bed sheets are beaten. She has only her grandmother and herself. But the world moves on without Junja.

The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan’s forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops, and her grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea’s occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. When Suwol is arrested for working with and harboring communists, and the perils of post-WWII overtake her homelands, Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she’s ever known.

This is a gorgeous cover, isn’t it? I probably would have picked this book up for that reason alone, but the blurb intrigued me as well. And I’m glad I read this—although it’s not a happy, fluffy bunny book, by any means. This book is about sorrow and danger and unimaginable courage.

This isn’t a fast-paced book, although there’s a lot going on. The reader is firmly in Junja’s life and what happens to her, getting a feel for the culture and experiences she lives through in Jeju. If you’re looking for a deeply moving story, this is definitely the read for you.

Sumi Hahn was born in Korea. The Mermaid from Jeju is her first novel.

(Galley courtesy of Alcove Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Paris Never Leaves You, by Ellen Feldman

paris never leaves you
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: Paris Never Leaves You
Author:  Ellen Feldman   
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Moving between wartime Paris crushed under the boot of the Nazi Occupation and 1950s Manhattan giddy with postwar abundance and optimism, Paris Never Leaves You is the story of one woman’s struggle to save her infant daughter and herself.

Running a bookshop in occupied Paris, a city darkened by blackouts, curfews, and constant fear; gripped by hunger, cold, and sudden roundups and deportations, Charlotte Foret walks a fine line between protecting her daughter and staying true to herself and her country; between her hatred for the enemy and her unwanted sympathy for a Wehrmacht physician tortured by his own lethal secret.

Charlotte endures and her daughter ultimately thrives, but the compromises she has made shadow her new life in postwar New York, where she works in a publishing house presided over with wry irreverence by a man haunted by his own war history. Their fates and that of the Wehrmacht physician who has fled to South America prove that though the war is over, the past is never past.

I have to admit, this book traumatized me a bit…and I’m not completely sure why. Yes, the basic setting and time period in history was awful, so that was part of it. And, Charlotte’s worry over her daughter and her struggle to keep her well and safe was terrible to imagine, but that wasn’t all of it either. Just the horrifying experiences of Charlotte and the doctor and everyone…

Honestly, I didn’t connect too well with Charlotte. The guilt she inflicted on herself was a lot, and I found it hard to relate to her. Her actions in the present weren’t that likable, either, but even the secondary characters weren’t terribly likable (Except the doctor. I liked him.). I just found this book more emotional than I was comfortable with at the time I was reading.

Ellen Hampton lives in New York. Paris Never Leaves You is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)