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Friday, November 20

String of Pearls (Glenn Miller)

Looking for the perfect gift for the book-lover in your life?  These fabulous NEW books are all World War II themed, and make the cut of best new books of the year.  If you have little history buffs, Jars of Hope and The Secret of the Village Fool are exceptional reads for children, while The Children's Train is geared toward teens.

Secrets She Kept - Cathy Gohlke
All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.  Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love—but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.  Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.

Thoughts :
Loved it, loved it, loved it!  The book switches back and forth between generations, which can be a little confusing at times, but it becomes easier as each of the characters' 'voices' appears.  There are many twists and turns along the dark journey through WWII, as well as sinister leftovers in post-war Germany.  It's a fresh perspective on an old subject, as we visit Germany in the thirty years post-war.  One of the characters scared the bejeezus out of me....he'll make you look over your shoulder for days.

The Rules in Rome (A.L. Sowards)
With Hitler’s forces firmly entrenched in Europe, countless
heroes seek to end the madman’s reign. Bastien Ley is one of the best. Working in Italy for the Office of Strategic Services, he’s been tasked with sabotaging German convoys. When his team kills an officer headed for Rome, the man’s similarity to Bastien is undeniable, and seeing an opportunity to turn the tide of the war, Bastien makes a bold decision: he will assume the dead officer’s identity. He becomes Dietrich, an Iron Cross–wearing German officer—an ideal position from which to infiltrate the Nazi ranks in Rome. Bastien’s assignment becomes extremely stressful, and his superiors send him a reinforcement in the form of the lovely Gracie Begni, an intelligent, eager, and completely inexperienced radio operator.
With a gulf of resentment between them, these two agents must find a way to portray a couple in love. Soon their reluctant alliance becomes much more as Bastien and Gracie find themselves getting lost in their feelings for each other. But as they engage in battle against the deadliest foe the world has ever known, the pair quickly realizes their love may be doomed. As the Rome Gestapo threatens to destroy all they’ve worked for, will Bastien and Gracie survive their charade?

I absolutely loved this book, and blame it for three sleepless nights in a row!!   The action parts were very well done, and the characters shone in their individuality...even the bad guys.  Being familiar with some of the horrible ways that prisoners, and civilians, were punished by the Nazi's, I was anxious throughout the book for Gracie and Bastien.  But there was no romance for the first half, and then suddenly they’re in love!  I’d recommend this book as a main course for lovers of WWII spy stories, with a little romance on the side.  ;)  (The romance is clean, but it does have some graphic war violence.)

War Baby (Lizzie Lane)

The war has had a devastating effect on the Sweet Family, with young Charlie Sweet, lost at sea, presumed dead, and bombs falling on nearby Bristol. Still there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon in the form of Mary Sweet's upcoming wedding to her Canadian beau. But even that has failed to rouse their father from his grief. But in London a baby has been found in a bombed out house, sheltered in the arms of his dead mother. A child to make life worth living again. 

Thoughts :

While the Sweet sisters are a little too polarized, the book itself holds together nicely with a fantastic cast of supporting characters. I won't reveal spoilers...but you can easily envision the scenes unfolding before your eyes, and feel sympathy for everyone involved in the drama. They also have some fabulous wartime recipes included!! My biggest complaint is that you are quite deep into the book before the prologue actually ties into the story...leaving you feeling as though you were reading the wrong book, and the prologue went with something else entirely.

Jars of Hope (Jennifer Roy)
Amid the horrors of World War II, Irena Sendler was an unlikely and unsung hero. While many people lived in fear of the Nazis, Irena defied them, even though it could have meant her life. She kept records of the children she helped smuggle away from the Nazis’ grasp, and when she feared her work might be discovered, she buried her lists in jars, hoping to someday recover them and reunite children with their parents. This gripping true story of a woman who took it upon herself to help save 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust is not only inspirational; it's unforgettable.  (For ages 9-12)

Thoughts :

This was a fantastic story!!! I will definitely be reading this to my elementary kids. It is simplistic enough for children to understand, yet conveys a very serious topic. And the pictures are just wonderful!

Secret of the Village Fool (Rebecca Upjohn)

Milek and his brother Munio live in a sleepy village in Poland, where nothing exciting seems to happen. They reluctantly do as their mother asks when she asks them to visit their neighbor Anton, knowing that the rest of the village laughs at him because of his strange habits of speaking to animals and only eating vegetables. Things change quickly when war comes to their town in the form of Nazi soldiers searching for Jewish families like that of Milek and Munio. Anton refuses to tell the soldiers where to find them, and then goes so far as to hide the family in his own home, putting his life at risk without a thought. Based on a true story.
What a wonderful, true story!  Over the past decade, I have seen many stories come from the WWII era...stories of heroism and bravery.  This one is exciting and uplifting.  It is on a children's level, but conveys the emotions that the characters felt at different times.  Also, there is a "what happened afterward" section in the back, with photos and stories of the real characters.  Very touching.   The pictures are lovely, too.  Well done! 

The Children's Train (Jana Zinser)
In November 1938 on The Night of the Broken Glass, the Jewish people of Germany are terrified as Hitler s men shatter their store windows, steal and destroy their belongings, and arrest many Jewish fathers and brothers. Parents fear for their own lives but their focus is on protecting their children. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized and parents scramble to get places on the trains for their young family members, worried about what the future will hold. Soon, trains filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chug over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom.  But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping.  When the Coventry farm is bombed and the Nazis have reached England, Peter feels that he has nothing left. He decides it s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and baby sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

This is a great introductory-level novel to the Holocaust.  As someone that has had a lifelong interest in WWII and Holocaust studies, I like that  this novel gives a variety of viewpoints and experiences...Jewish, German, Nazi, Resistance, British...they're all included in a realistic account.  It is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. After reading, you have a better picture of the many devastating situations endured by Holocaust victims and survivors, as well as a clearer understanding of people’s positions and actions.  But it's still all at an introductory level.  
The novel is a little heavy for young readers, but I’d certainly recommend it for high school through adults. It's written without over-dramatizing or trying to be graphically-shocking, but the very nature of the events, even through the author’s delicate handling, could be overwhelming.

We Were There of those

War in My Town (E. Graziani)
Bruna, the youngest of seven children, lives an idyllic life in a small town in northern Tuscany in the 1940s. As the Second World War unfolds in Europe her life remains largely the same, full of the preocupations of any fourteen-year-old girl. The Italian leader Mussolini's allegiance with Hitler and the distant reports of fighting seem far away. But this is not to last, as war comes to their village and Nazi soldiers occupy their town. Bruna must help her mother and sisters stand up to the occupying soldiers as her brothers are caught up in the resistance. A true story.

In the same vein as Roald Dahl's "Boy," this book was full of great anecdotes that didn't really fit together well as a complete story.  It was interesting, but dry and disjointed at times. 

The Farmerettes (Gisela Sherman)
Six girls just out of high school live together during the summer of 1943 on a farm as part of the Farm Service Force, doing the work of the men who are off fighting the war in Europe. We follow the stories of Helene, who sends her wages home to support her single mother; Peggy, a flirt who spends her time writing to her soldier beaux; Binxie, whose rich family doesn't approve of her; Isabel, who pines over her fiancĂ©, who is off fighting; Jean, whose family farm has been taken over by the “farmerettes,” as they became known; and the mysterious X, who of all the girls feels the most out of place. Friendship, romance, hardship and heartbreak shape their summer, all against the backdrop of the World War II.

I wasn't always sure where this book was headed, but enjoyed the journey!  This was a new aspect of the War at Home for me, the characters were likable and believable, and the plot was interesting.  The sub-plot comes out in the last third of the book, and it's a good mystery.  Overall, a solid B read.