Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald

She appears suddenly, out of thin air, on a cold December morning, wearing an out-of-style dress and no coat, confused but not lost. It’s early and Grand Central Station is quiet, filled with the bright light of the just-rising sun. Joe Reynolds, on his way to work, stops to ask if she needs help. She tells him she’s fine and they part ways and Joe never expects to see her again.

Except he does, exactly one year later, at the same place and time. Joe has not been able to forget about her and admits that he has always hoped to see her again. Joe finds out what her name is (Nora Lansing) and they spend some time together, wandering around Grand Central Station. Joe offers to walk Nora home but a few blocks from the station she disappears again.

Dumbfounded and intrigued, Joe starts researching Nora and the address she had given him; what he discovers shocks and unsettles him, but what he is sure of is the connection he had with Nora and that he must see her again.

Set starting in 1937, Time After Time takes place almost entirely at Grand Central Station which Grunwald brings vividly to life. Filled with people constantly on the move, it is also home to multiple shops, restaurants, hotels, classrooms, an art gallery and even a tiny hospital, all orbiting around the trains and their schedules. Against this lively backdrop, Joe and Nora fall in love and learn how to be together under unique circumstances.

This book has a lot going for it including a historical setting (the World War II era), intriguing facts about the trains and about Grand Central Station (which is nearly a character in the book itself), Manhattenhenge (which is critical to this story),  interesting characters (some real, some fictional) as well as a love story that stands firm no matter the hardship, across time itself. Highly recommended.

 

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

What would you do if you found a child abandoned on a bus? In current times, there are procedures in place for how to handle this. Now travel back to World War II. Imagine you found a small child asleep on the backseat of an empty bus after a mass evacuation from a town miles away that had just been bombed. What would you do now? We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet tackles this topic and more as civilians in England during World War II struggle to find a new normal.

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet begins in December 1940. German bombs are falling on Southampton. In the midst of a massive and chaotic scene, residents are evacuating from the bombed town on buses to rural villages to escape the devastation. Helping to clear one bus in Upton village, Ellen Parr is stunned to find a young girl sleeping in the back of an empty bus, entirely by herself. Picking up the exhausted child and walking through town to search for her mother, Ellen quickly realizes that five-year-old Pamela is utterly alone. Left with no other options, Ellen and her husband take the child and some other refuges home with them.

While the other refuges leave their house in the morning, young Pamela stays. Newly-married Ellen and her husband never thought that they would have children. In fact, they knew that they could never have any biological children of their own, something that Ellen always thought that she was fine with. The addition of Pamela to their home, as well as some other children that the Parrs have taken in, begins to change Ellen’s mind. The longer Pamela stays, the more attached Ellen becomes (Pamela gets attached as well). Ellen starts to think that after the war, Pamela will stay with them and their family will be complete. Once the fighting settles down however, circumstances occur that will once again shatter the quiet idyllic life that the Parrs have created with Pamela. They realize that Pamela was never truly theirs to keep.

Frances Liardet has written a masterful story about the many different forms family and friends can take. As we go through life, Liardet spins a tale of the many different ways we can reach out and change the lives of others. Both the smallest gestures and largest acts can forever alter the lives of others.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Some sacrifices are never known. Lives are saved, missions completed because of anonymous acts of courage. The deeds slip into forgotten history, yet the bravery and the actions may have made all the difference.

1946. New York City. Grace Healey is rushing to work, when a car accident snarls traffic and forces her to make a detour through Grand Central Station. There she finds a small, abandoned suitcase wedged under a bench. Inside the suitcase she finds a dozen photos of ordinary young women, each of whom stare into the camera with determination. Grace is intrigued and begins searching for the missing owner and, she hopes, the mystery of the photographs.

Soon Grace is pulled into a story of intrigue and secrecy as she learns about the owner of the suitcase, a woman named Eleanor Trigg who lead a network of women acting as secret agents in Occupied Europe. Their assignments ranged from couriers to radio operators in aid of the resistance in the weeks leading up to D-Day and the invasion of France. Twelve women – the young women in the photographs – never returned, their fate a mystery.

Based on true events, The Lost Girls of Paris crackles with tension. The women are resourceful and brave, but face many obstacles and difficulties. Their contribution to the war effort is mostly forgotten now, but brought vividly to life again here. Author Pam Jenoff focuses on a few key members of the unit, creating a story that is intimate and real. It is an incredible story of friendship, bravery and betrayal and the strength to carry on.

This story of World War II was new to me, but it hasn’t been forgotten. A new non-fiction book about these brave women has just been published:  The D-Day Girls: the Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose which you can find at the Davenport Library.

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner’s newest book, The Last Year of the War, is the story of a German-American girl whose life forever changes when her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas during World War II. I urge you to give this book a try because Davenport, Iowa is the family’s hometown! Most reviews only mention that the family is from Iowa, so I was pleasantly surprised when Davenport and other Quad City landmarks were frequently discussed through character background and development.

The Last Year of the War flashes back and forth between past and present. Elise Sontag’s family has been in the United States for nearly two decades. This fact proves not to mean much when government forces show up at their front door. Elise’s father is arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Elise’s mother struggles to provide for the family amidst government and local judgment and pressure. Her entire family is eventually sent to an internment camp in Texas where they are reunited with Elise’s father. In Texas, the family lives behind barbed wire and amidst armed guards and other fellow internees. Despite being with her family, Elise feels lost as almost every physical thing her family had loved and was familiar to them is gone. Elise struggles to find a sense of belonging and quickly feels herself becoming unmoored.

The one bright spot in Texas? Mariko Inoue. Mariko is a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles living with her parents and her two older siblings. Mariko and Elise become fast friends, much to the chagrin of other people given that Mariko is Japanese-American and Elise’s family is German. In order to survive the harshness of the camp, the two make plans for what they’ll do when they get out of the camp and turn 18.  Knowing, hoping, and praying that they will have a bright future outside of the camp, they work hard to stay together and build a positive future.

Flashing between past and present, readers see what happened to Elise and Mariko. Were they able to keep their big plans? What happened to both of their families? How did the war and its far-reaching aftershocks affect the different people that they came in contact with? The character development throughout this book really drew me in, as well as the references to places that I was familiar with throughout Davenport. Give this book a read and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson

I have inadvertently been reading a lot of historical fiction about World War II. How is this inadvertent you ask? I put a bunch of audiobooks on hold through OverDrive and as it so happened, five came ready at the same time. The last two that I’ve listened to have all been about World War II with the main women both playing the violin and one of the main men named Max. During the second book, I had to pay very close attention, so I wouldn’t mix up the books. Hidden Among the Stars was the second World War II fiction I listened to this week. It may be time for a lighthearted read…

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson slips from the past to the future in this gripping tale of hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people fighting to resist evil any way possible.  This piece of inspirational fiction unites 1938 Vienna, Austria with 2018 United States.

1938. Austria. Hitler’s troops are sweeping into Vienna, much to the chagrin of Max Dornbach. With political views that differ from his parents, Max has no desire to shun his Jewish friends. Max offers to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions, so they won’t fall into the hands of the Nazis. Max works closely with the father of Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman he has grown to love. Smuggling those goods to his family’s summer estate near Hallstatt, Max quickly finds himself needing the help of Annika Knopf. Annika’s father is the current caretaker of the summer estate, meaning that Annika and Max have grown up together. Annika has loved Max for as long as she can remember and has thusly decided to help him however she can. Her loyalty and love for Max is stretched when Max brings Luzia with him on one of his trips to the summer estate. Agreeing to hide Luzia in the castle, Annika doesn’t realize the full extent of what is on the line until the Nazis come to Hallstatt and destroy the castle. Luzia and the treasure have disappeared, throwing everyone’s lives into turmoil.

Flash forward eighty years. Callie Randall may not be living the life she thought she’d have at this point, but she’s mostly happy with what she has. Callie is running a small local bookstore with her sister where she is known as Storygirl with amazing striped socks. Callie also runs a blog where she writes stories about different authors. While working on her current article, Callie stumbles upon a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that introduces her to the bewildering world of Annika’s story. Digging into Annika’s life, Callie finds that this story may be connected to the life of a close dear friend of hers. In order to find the truth, Callie must venture outside of the safe place she has built for herself. She soon finds herself on an adventure with a chance for new love and long-awaited for answers.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

In the chaotic aftermath of World War II three very different lives intersect as they all seek one goal – to find and bring a cold-blooded killer to justice in The Huntress by Kate Quinn.

Ian, a newspaperman who went into battle alongside the soldiers he reported on, can no longer find it in him to write. He now hunts down former Nazi’s that have slipped away, bringing them to trial to answer for their crimes. Nina, raised in Siberia to be tough and unforgiving, fought in the war as a bomber pilot for the Soviet Union. When her father is disavowed by the Soviet government, Nina is considered guilty by association and, despite the fact that she has served loyally she must flee, past the front lines into German-held territory where she barely survives. And Jordan, safely tucked away in America slowly realizes that the war has come to her, years after it officially ends.

This is one of those can’t-put-down books not just for the twists and turns and tension (which there is plenty of) but to find out more about the characters and their lives. Nina is especially interesting – her (very harsh) childhood in Siberia, her training to be a pilot and her exploits in the Soviet Army as a bomber pilot (the Soviet Union was the only country to use women in combat roles in World War II) as part of the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment nicknamed the “Night Witches” by the Germans. The blending of Nina’s fictional story and the true exploits of the Night Witches is fascinating and introduced me to a little-known part of the war.

Ian is also an interesting character. He is obviously suffering from PTSD brought on by some of the horrors of war he has witnessed when following soldiers into battle armed only with a notebook. He now channels his guilt and energy into tracking down former Nazi’s that have escaped notice in the chaos at the end of the war. Many of them fled to other countries, changing their names and trying to hide among ordinary people. Many countries, including the United States, turned a blind eye and a war-weary world chose to move on. Ian has not forgotten though and goes after these minor Nazi’s with dogged determination.

Jordan may seem the least touched by the war but in the end it is she that brushes up against it’s brutality most intimately. Her suspicions of her new stepmother only grow as time passes and she is thrust into a race to save the people she loves. It is “The Huntress” herself that ties these people together and when their stories finally intersect, the result is explosive.

A tense, absorbing read. Highly recommended.

 

 

The Tuscan Child

Rhys Bowen’s newest mystery, The Tuscan Child, is one of those books that starts out a bit slowly. But when there is a change of locale, the book really hits its stride. Alternating chapters are set in either the 1970’s  or in the 1940’s.  The 1970’s chapters begin when Hugo Langley’s daughter, Joanna, first learns of her father’s death. She then travels to Tuscany to find out more about his experiences  during the war, and this is when the book really takes off.

The novel goes back and forth between Joanna’s visit to Italy and  the period when her father was  shot down  in the remote hills of Tuscany.  Not only must he brave the elements, hiding in a ruined monastery, but he is nearly immobilized by a broken leg.

The suspense really builds as the reader is excruciatingly aware of the danger faced by those who helped Allied servicemen. The Germans threaten to kill everyone in the village if they find proof that one of them has been aiding the pilot they suspect is still in the area. Bowen supplies lots of detail about life in these towns overrun by the Germans, as well as about the groups of men who resisted.  Even though these groups were anti-Fascist, they could also pose a threat to civilians caught in everchanging alliances that made any kind of trust dangerous.

There is  suspense even in the 1970’s as there are long-held secrets about the war and how the villagers had to deal with the German occupation. Another mystery is the relationship between Hugo and Sofia. Joanna’s impetus to visit Italy is a letter from Hugo to Sofia, the young woman who fed and helped to hide Hugo. Sofia’s son, Renzo, still lives in the village and Joanna wonders if he is, in fact, her brother.  (This would be awkward as there is some romantic tension between the two).

There are many appeals to the substance and the style of the novel.  There is the enjoyment of learning lesser-known facets of history, such as how war impacts civilians, both during the actual conflict and how it resonates decades afterwards. The novel’s structure highlights the contrast between Hugo in his final years and Hugo as a young man. It’s a compelling illustration of how death and loss can change a courageous and generous hero into an embittered man.

Another thread of the plot deals with artistic masterpieces and how, tragically, many were destroyed or went missing. This is given extra relevance because Hugo is a gifted artist, himself.

I love the way information is slowly discovered by Joanna. You get a sense of the terror of the wartime, and why families would not want everything to be known, even 30 years later. It did bother me a bit that one final mystery was never revealed – the fate of one of those villagers who was key to the story. Perhaps Bowen will revisit San Salvatore, and the intriguing cast of characters who live there.

 

Darkest Hour on DVD

Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill’s early days as England’s Prime Minister, as he battles doubts (his own, those of the politicians and even the King) and leads England into it’s great trial yet.

Europe has fallen to the Nazi invasion, nearly the entirety of the British Army is trapped at Dunkirk and America remains neutral. England stands alone. Should Churchill sue for peace and try to come to terms with Hitler, or fight what seems an impossible war? The politicians around him want to negotiate, feeling that they are in a better position now than if England falls. To fight German will come at great cost – is Churchill willing to shoulder that burden?

Gary Oldman, as Churchill, is masterful. He delivers some of Churchill’s best lines (“We will fight on the beaches. We will fight on the landing grounds….We shall never surrender.” and “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”) with assurance and drama that matches the serious situations. Physically, Oldman does not particularly look like Churchilll, but he captures his quirks, gestures, mannerisms and voice unerringly.

The film does take a few liberties, and fudges a couple of dates, but the overall atmosphere – of England united against a great evil – feels very real. A great choice for fans of World War II history.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

After falling in love with and marrying a Frenchman, California girl Ruby moves to Paris despite her parents’ concerns. It’s 1938 and Europe is on the verge of war. Ruby insists on staying, even after war is declared and soon finds herself involved in the French Resistance, facing great danger and heartbreak.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel takes a look at the homefront in Paris, the deprivations, the very real danger and the fear. At first, the French residents have difficulty believing that anything awful will happen to them, that the French government will protect them. The reality is that the French government flees before the invading Germans, food becomes scarce and citizens turn a blind eye to the rounding up and deportation of Jews.

Ruby, however, cannot look away; she agrees to shelter a Jewish child and begins helping the Resistance smuggle downed Allied pilots out of the country. Along with the stress and struggles of daily life, she and her husband grow apart, watches neighbors and friends fall to Nazi aggression, suffers personal loss and falls in love.

As expected, I enjoyed the setting and the time period and found the glimpse of the French home front to be very interesting. However, I never really connected with the heroine – she seemed very detached and almost untouched by the events surrounding her. I think that descriptions of conditions and hardships were minimized which made everything somewhat distant. But maybe that’s just my interpretation. Did any of you read this book? And if so, what did you think?

If you’re looking for other books about the homefront in France during World War II, I’d highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (one of my very favorite books), The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Sarah’s Key by Tatiana Rosnay.

Now Arriving From – London

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did September go for you? Did you find something fabulous to read that was set in London? There certainly isn’t a lack of great reading material set in the English capital. With so much history and culture and so much influence on the world (an Empire that at one time spanned the globe), the possibilities for excellent reading material are nearly endless.

I chose to read a fairly new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Set in London during World War II, it focuses on the home front during the London Blitz and the hardships suffered and bravery shown by those left behind. Typical dry British wit and stiff upper lip attitude contrast with the very real terror and danger of London under siege making for a tense and absorbing read.

When war is declared in 1939, Mary immediately leaves her school in Switzerland and races back to London, convinced that she will miss out on the “action” and volunteers at the War Office. Instead of becoming a spy as she has imagined, she is assigned a position teaching children who have not been evacuated. She is disappointed and frustrated, but then the Blitz begins and she is suddenly in the midst of the “action” and it’s brutality. A growing friendship with her boyfriend’s roommate, who is stationed in Malta, brings the horrors of the front lines to the story and shows that there are many ways to be brave both at home and in the field. A fascinating, bittersweet look at wartime London.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in September? Let us know in the comments!