Online Reading Challenge – Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How did your “spy reading” go this month? Did you read something that kept your interest during this difficult and confusing time?

I read Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon, a fictionalized account about a real person. Well, I meant to read this book this month, but, sadly, it didn’t happen. I blame the pandemic as I found myself constantly distracted. They claim that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in isolation during the Black Plague, but he didn’t have 24/7 news or social media to block out! Here’s to hoping my reading mojo comes back soon!

I did get started on Code Name Helene and it certainly has potential. So here’s a quick overview of what it’s about and my initial impressions.

Nancy Wake left Australia in the 1930s as a young woman, seeking adventure. She traveled throughout Europe as a journalist and socialite, making contacts with the wealthy and the powerful. She was free-spirited, independent and stubborn, walking into danger without hesitation. As the Nazi’s gain power in Germany, she struggles to raise the alarm but finds that many people, such as her editor, don’t want to hear what she is telling them. Unable to stand aside and do nothing, Nancy becomes a spy for the Allies. Known for her signature red lipstick, ferocious wit and her fearlessness, Nancy eventually becomes one of the most powerful leaders of the French Resistance, frequently putting herself and her loved ones in danger.

The story jumps across timelines, from the late 1930s to the end of World War II and from the point-of-view of several characters. I often enjoy this style of storytelling, feeling that it gives a more complete view of what happened and the results and consequences. However, I was having more trouble keeping track of characters, locations and dates with this book – perhaps it was my pandemic-induced distraction, but I found it hard to really fall into the world of this novel.

Nevertheless, Code Name Helene has great potential as a superior spy novel with it’s brave heroine set during one of the pivotal periods of history.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month? Tell us in the comments!

Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero

August 1943. The Allies have invaded Sicily, the first step in liberating Europe from the Nazi’s. As the US Army advances, the 11th Field Hospital follows about 25 miles behind the front line, ready to treat the wounded at all hours. Soldiers, doctors and nurses must deal with unrelenting heat, malaria, staff shortages, bad food not to mention air strikes from the Germans. During the chaos of one of these airstrikes, a doctor is gunned down not by the enemy, but from someone within his unit in Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero.

Eddie Harkins, a beat cop from Philadelphia serving in the Army as an MP (Military Police), is assigned the job of finding the murderer. Eddie is not a detective, but no one else is available. He stumbles through the investigation, relying on sheer stubbornness and dogged determination. He’s helped by Kathleen Donnelly, one of the nurses, who he grew up with back home and his driver Colianno who also acts as translator and always seems to find trouble.

Eddie quickly discovers that the victim, Dr Stephenson, had a lot of enemies but he also finds that that the rot goes deeper – nurses have been assualted and abused but their complaints have been ignored by their captain; a German doctor who stayed with the German POWs is given unprecedented privileges and freedom; the unit commander is petty and incompetent and appears to be involved in one or more shady practices. The nurses are angry and mistrustful, making Eddie’s job especially difficult. He is also weighted down with a terrible secret, one that he cannot forgive himself for. Fighting fatigue, time constraints and military protocol, Eddie edges closer and closer to the truth, eventually putting himself directly in danger.

I really enjoyed this book. The setting of wartime Sicily at the beginning of the Italian Campaign is fascinating. I especially enjoyed that the story revolves around a Field Hospital – my Mother was an Army nurse during World War II, stationed in England and France so this glimpse of the work and living conditions that the nurses endured during the war was especially interesting. The various mysteries, complicated and muddied by the chaos of war, are twisty and complex, and there are several white-knuckle, hold-onto-the-edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Through it all, the machine of the war grinds on, with the terrible cost and the real job of these people – helping the wounded – remaining a constant.

Online Reading Challenge – January Finish

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’ve reached the end of January and the finish of our first month of the 2020 Online Reading Challenge. How was your reading month? Were you able to find a good book or watch a movie somehow related to our theme of Casablanca?

I had an very good January, reading the excellent The Last Train to London by Meg Clayton, a remarkable story of courage and determination during the dark times just before and during the early years of World War II.

The book opens in the late 1930s when Hitler’s rise to power is throwing a dark cloud over Europe. The world watches in disbelief as threats against Jews grow but Truss Wijsmuller, a Dutch woman, is not standing by; she begins escorting Jewish children out of Austria to safety at great danger to herself. Most of the children are orphans, but as conditions worsen, parents begin making the heartrending decision to send their children away, desperate to protect them.

At first the Jews of Vienna believe they are safe – after all they have been loyal Austrians for generations and many no longer practice the Jewish faith. Vienna has long been a center of art and sophistication, Mozart and opera – surely nothing bad will happen here. However, within days of Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Germany), the rights of Jewish citizens have been stripped, their property and businesses seized and families forced from their homes.

The Last Train to London depicts real events, part of the Kindertransport rescue that saved nearly 10,000 children’t from Nazi-occupied Europe. Truus Wijsmuller was a real person, known to the children as Tante Truus, kind and warm-hearted but with the courage and determination to confront Adolf Eichmann (who was the creator of the “Jewish solution” that sent millions to their death) and insist that he allow 600 children to leave and immigrate to England. Clayton personalizes the novel by telling a story of two young adults caught up in the chaos and despair – Stephan, son of a wealthy Jewish businessman and Zofie, the daughter of an anit-Nazi journalist. Their fate becomes entwined with Tante Truus and a nearly impossible dream to escape. This is a white-knuckle, can’t-put-down novel of both the horrors humans are capable of, and of the great kindness and compassion of ordinary people. Highly recommended.

OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challengers!

Just checking in halfway through the month to see how things are going for you. Have you been able to find a book you want to read? There are so many books set during World War II, it can be hard to pick one!

If you’re still looking, be sure to check the displays at each Davenport library location. And don’t forget about e-books – check our collection on the Overdrive or Libby app to see if a title you want to read is available to read on your Kindle or tablet (check with any librarian at the library if you need help getting started!)

Of course, sometimes the culprit is time – too many other obligations and distractions! In that case, maybe a movie would be a better idea. Here’s a few ideas.

Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds follows the convoluted journey of one of Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings, from it’s creation, to it’s seizure by the Nazi’s to it’s return to it’s rightful home.

The Courageous Heart of Irene Sendler – Starring Anna Paquin true story of a Polish social worker that was able to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.

Dunkirk with Tom Hardy, Harry Styles and Kenneth Branagh recreates the tense and daring rescue of thousands of Allied soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

Saving Private Ryan starring Tom Hanks. From the terrifying Allied invasion of Normandy to the dangerous, war-torn villages of France and Germany, eight soldiers are sent to bring home one.

The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly is the fascinating story behind the Enigma machine and how the English broke the German’s secret code, saving thousands of lives.

Band of Brothers, a ten-part HBO mini-series about ‘Easy Company’ of the US Army who fought in several major battles including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge and captured Hitler’s Eagles Nest while suffering major casualties.

And, of course, Casablanca. If you’ve never seen this classic, do yourself a favor and watch it now.

That’s just a small sampling. I’ve concentrated (both with movies and books) on the war in Europe, but there are many more set in the Pacific Theater. As always, read what interests you!

Happy reading (or watching!)

Online Reading Challenge 2020 Begins Today!

Hello Challengers!

It’s a New Year and a New Online Reading Challenge! Hurrah! Unlike those pesky New Year’s Resolutions that try to “fix” you and are usually abandoned within a few days, the Online Reading Challenge is all about having fun and trying something new with no pressure. Read as much or as little as you like, whenever you like. And you get to choose what to read from a list of suggestions – no more getting stuck using your precious reading time on a book you really don’t want to read!

Our 2020 theme is “From Film to Book”. We’re going to take iconic films (you’re probably familiar with the basic story even if you’ve never seen the film) and read books that have a similar setting or time period or theme.  At the beginning of each month I’ll talk about the film a bit and then list some suggested titles. There will be displays at each Davenport Library location with more ideas, plus you’ll want to stop in and pick up a Online Reading Challenge book log/bookmark which lists the film for each month and even has room to list the books you read!

OK – time to get started! Our first film is Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  Surely everyone is familiar with this film – the love triangle, the bar, the famous song, the final scenes at the airport.  Set in 1942 in Casablanca, a city teeming with refugees desperate to escape Nazi-occupied Europe, it embodies loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, patriotism and love.

There are a couple of different routes you can take when looking for this month’s book. World War II has long been a very popular subject for books and there is no shortage of excellent titles both in fiction and non-fiction. You could also read something set in Morocco (although there aren’t many to choose from), stories about refugees or the French Resistance or any wartime romance. And any book set during World War II will qualify (remember – there are no Library Police!)

I’ve always been interested in World War II and have read a lot set in that time period. A few of my personal favorites include:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr  (blog post)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (blog post)

The Huntress by Kate Quinn (blog post)

City of Thieves by David Benioff (blog post)

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (blog post)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (blog post)

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (blog post)

A Thread of Grace by Mary Russell (blog post)

Check the displays at each of the Davenport library locations for lots more titles!

I’m planning on reading The Last Train to London by Meg Clayton. It’s fiction based on a true story about a woman in The Netherlands helping Jewish children in Europe escape to England. Can’t wait to get started!

Now, what about you? Will you be joining us in this year’s Reading Challenge? What do you plan to read in January?

 

 

 

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Did you know that the Davenport Public Library offers book clubs that you can join for free? We currently offer four book clubs that you can join: Book to Film, See YA, Short & Sweets, and True Crime Book Club. More information about the book clubs can be found on our website, by calling 563-326-7832, or by stopping by any service desk.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is the September book club pick for See YA, our adult book club that reads young adult books.

Girl in the Blue Coat tells the story of a teenage girl fighting to survive in 1943 Amsterdam. Amsterdam in 1943 is now Nazi-occupied with citizens scared as family and friends are either being killed in front of them or are being shipped out of town in transports. Hanneke has found a way to help her family survive by working the black market.

Hired to work at a funeral home, her boss has ‘errands’ for her to run on the side. Hanneke is good at finding whatever people need. With a network of contacts, she hunts down cigarettes, makeup, perfume, lotions, food, etc. While out on a delivery, Hanneke is asked by a repeat customer to find a Jewish girl that the customer had previously been hiding. The girl has seemingly disappeared into thin air.

Beginning the search for the missing girl, Hanneke is drawn into the resistance. Asking questions leads her down a road filled with underground resistance, activities, and secrets. Not sure about wanting to join the resistance, but wanting to find the missing girl, Hanneke has to decide how far she is willing to go in order to save the missing girl and solve the mystery surrounding her disappearance.

Sound interesting? Want to join one of our book clubs or have questions? Stop by any Davenport Public Library location and we can help! If you can’t make it to the book club, read the book anyway and let us know what you thought about it in the comments below.

Battlefield V Video game

Battlefield V is the newest entry into the Battlefield series. Battlefield is one of the longest-running first-person shooter (FPS) franchises in all of gaming. Don’t let the number next to the title fool you, there are way more than five entries in this franchise dating back to Battlefield 1942 back in 2002. Battlefield V returns the franchise to its WWII roots. Continuing on their single player theme from the previous game Battlefield 1 (I told you the numbering of this franchise is weird), the War Stories episodic singeplayer format returns. Multiplayer, as always, is the main focus of this game. Wage massive 64 player battles on land, air and sea across a myriad of landscapes and locales in extremely destructible environments. The final mode is one that was recently added only a few months ago and that is the battle royale mode Firestorm where squads parachute into the map then fight for survival as a ring of fire surrounds and encloses the map.

War Stories is Battlefield’s way of tackling single-player campaigns. These standalone stories send you to different corners of the global conflict and play through a handful of missions from different soldiers perspectives. This serves as a great change of pace from campaigns of old where players were tasked as playing as one man armies who traverse the globe doing anything and everything. With war stories players are treated to far more grounded encounters and far more variety of gameplay and story experiences.

Multiplayer is big, beautiful and deep as always from entries in the Battlefield franchise. Traditional 64 player Conquest is back as well as a continuously updated list of gamemodes that are constantly being added and removed to keep the gameplay experience fresh. From massive open 64 player combat to squad focused close quarters deathmatch, there is going to be a mode that caters to every playstyle. Teamwork and destruction are the name of the game in this FPS.

Firestorm is another fun addition to the Battlefield franchise with DICE’s take on battle royale. Scavenge, destroy, and work together to be the last squad standing at the end of the match. Once you die, you’re out in this free for all gamemode.

Battlefield has a lot to offer FPS fans, especially those that love to play WWII shooters. Fight across the European and Pacific theater in this fun squad-based massive battle shooter.

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.