First Line: Sirens. Was that what she’d heard? Yvonne dreamed about air raids when there weren’t any, slept soundly through the actual warnings.
Summary: The Delasalle family of Normandy, France have been under Nazi rule in their village for four years. They have watched as their Jewish neighbors have been arrested and disappeared. Now in June 1944 the sirens wail each day as the Allied invasion is approaching. After a bomb destroys their home, 16 year-old Yvonne survives, but other family members lose their lives.
Yvonne’s sister, Genevieve, is in Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. While playing her violin, she does not know that her family’s home has been destroyed. While Genevieve plays, her brother and aunt await news from their loved ones in Normandy.
Decades later, Genevieve is married to an American musician and lives in the United States. Each summer she returns to her homeland with her children so they may know of their French family.
Thoughts: This story moves back and forth in time, with various characters telling their points of view. This book shows how family histories are shared and shows how powerful storytelling helps us understand the past and who we are.
I like this story as it was different in its theme and content to what I usually read about family. At first it was hard to keep the characters straight but I soon learned who each member was and it became more interesting. I would recommend this story for its family theme and historical venue.
First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.
Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.
My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.
I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.
First line: The ramshackle warehouse was on the wrong side of the river, the south side, where the buildings jostled for space and the little boats unloaded pocket-size cargos for scant profit.
Summary: Twenty-two years have passed since the events at Foulmire. Alinor and Alys have established themselves in a warehouse along the Thames with a decent income from sailors and merchants. But on the same day two people happen into their lives that will change it once again. Sir James who has spent years in exile is looking for his child. And Rob’s widow from Venice arrives with their young son. The women try to deal with these changes the best they can.
On the other side of the ocean, in New England, Ned has traveled in the hopes of starting a new life where he is free and far from the reaches of the King he hates. But even with an ocean between his old and new life he finds that things are still the same. He has befriended the native people and learned much from them but he is looked down upon for this from his fellow Englishman. He is stuck between two worlds and doesn’t know which side to choose.
My Thoughts: Once again Philippa Gregory writes a stunning book! I loved this just as much as the first one in the trilogy but for different reasons. The first part was very character driven and where the landscape plays an important role. This one is more plot driven but has strong characters and amazing locations. From the very beginning I was strongly invested in the story. At one point I had to put the book down because I was so frustrated with the characters.
I loved being back with Alinor even though she was not the main character anymore. This centered more on her brother, daughter and granddaughter. A new generation of the Reekie family in a new time. The picture of these poor women striving for a living along the Thames is perfectly done. And then we visit Venice in the second half of the story. I can picture the canals, gondolas, and beautiful buildings. I visited Venice years ago and loved the city on the water.
Ned’s life in New England reminded me so much of Gregory’s book, Virgin Earth, with her beautiful descriptions of the forests of America before the settlers cleared the lands. The plants, the people and wildness of the land comes alive in her telling. It is so hard to read about the past at times when you see all the injustices that were done. Settlers took advantage of the natives and treated them terribly.
First Line: A friend’s baby shower was the last place Brette Caslake expected to encounter a ghost.
Summary: It’s 1946 World War 2 is over and Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Resistance spy are among the hundreds of European war brides aboard the RMS Queen Mary crossing the Atlantic to be reunited with their American husbands. But secrets come to light in their shared stateroom and when the ship lands in New York Harbor, only one of them embarks.
PRESENT DAY. Brette Caslake is facing difficult decisions in her life when she visits the famously haunted Queen Mary. What she finds there will cause her to solve a seventy-year old tragedy that will shake her mentally, and emotionally concerning the heartaches and triumphs of the war brides.
Thoughts: I enjoyed this book as I am an avid reader of historical fiction, especially books based on true stories of World War 2. I learned about the lives of war brides and how difficult it would be to come to America to start a new life with a husband and family they barely knew. I would recommend this book as a great historical fiction book!
First line: If great talent can arise from adversity, mine must have been forged in the cauldron of my childhood.
Summary: The most famous actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt, rose from obscurity to stardom in France. She was the daughter of a high-class courtesan. She is raised in a convent until her mother decides to start her in the family trade even though Sarah has hopes of being an actress. With the help of influential men like Alexandre Dumas she gets her chance to shine of on the stage and become a worldwide superstar. But even with stardom comes tragedy too.
My Thoughts: Before reading this I had never heard of Sarah Bernhardt but after finishing it I want to know even more. Her life had so many ups and downs. She achieved so much in a time when women still had very little power. She used her skills and strong will to rise. She may have had help but she knew who she was and what she wanted and took it. And she used her influence to help others like during the Franco-Prussian War, another event that I knew very little about.
Unfortunately, most of Sarah’s work was on the stage and before motion pictures and sound but there are a few examples from early recordings that can be found on Youtube. Even though her acting would be out of date in the present at the time it was revolutionary. She changed the way actors spoke to the audience and portrayed the characters on stage. We are lucky to have any piece of her and her skills available for us to see.
Gortner is a phenomenal historical fiction author. He really makes the story gripping. He brings the women he writes about to life. I learn more about the time period then I have ever known while being entertained by the story.
FYI: I highly recommend Gortner’s last book, The Romanov Empress, about the mother of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
First line: Katheryn was seven when her mother died.
Katheryn Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, lead a very scandalous
life before her marriage. She grew up as a charity case, living off of
the kindness of family. However, she got the great chance of living with
her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. While there she
meets several men who she falls quickly in and out of love with. And
then one day she earns a place among Queen Anna of Kleves household
which puts her in the path of the King. She is delighted but when the
King sets his sights on her she begins to worry that her past will catch
up with her.
My Thoughts: I have enjoyed all of Weir’s
Six Wives books. I think she did a great job bringing Katheryn’s story
to life. Unfortunately the girl made some terrible mistakes and had to
pay for them so dearly. I learned more about her earlier life. I was
fairly familiar with her time in the Duchess’ household and in Henry’s
court but before that was a mystery to me.
It’s sad that she was
pushed around from house to house. It makes it easy for me to see why
she was constantly looking for someone to love and love her back. Out of
all the women I think her story is the saddest. She was so young. She
was being maneuvered by her family into the King’s life. She had very
little choice over her life. I am looking forward to the final novel
about Katherine Parr.
FYI: There are several intimate scenes throughout her story.
Summary: Born with a clubfoot nine-year-old Ada Smith suffers not only the frustration and pain to the physical condition but the sting of her mother’s abuse and shame as well.
This book is about a young girl and her brother who live with their mother. The mother is abusive and ashamed of her daughter due to a club foot. The book starts before the war where we get a glimpse at the horrible life that Ada and Jamie are living. Ada being born with a clubfoot has received her mother’s shame for her whole life sitting at a window to see the world and not allowed to leave the apartment, which is where they live.
As the story goes on Ada and her brother, Jamie, see other young children their age going to the country where they will be safe from bombs. Ada and her brother sneak out one night and go to live in the country. Life in the country was good, almost perfect until their mother arrived.
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book not only because it was historically accurate, but because it brought the story to real life. When reading this book I felt that I knew Ada and Jamie personally, I think the author did an excellent job relating to the characters in the story. I think this book would be a good book for the whole family because it is friendly and there is no profanity or gruesome scenes.
This story really brought the life of children during the war to life. The story shows the struggles of children and the struggles of parents during these hard times. Ada had to leave her home and even though she really wanted to go out and see the world once she was in the country she really missed being home. Overall this story is a great story for all ages, and it can really help children and parents understand life during World War II.
World War II has arrived in France. A spy named Helene has dropped into
France. She has money and the means of getting arms to the struggling
resistance. Told through interweaving code names and timelines we get
the story of Nancy Wake, an Australian woman who uses her wits to help
undermine the Nazis.
My Thoughts: This was a fairly average WWII novel. It reminded me of The Alice Network in many ways. I liked Nancy and her husband Henri. I loved their interactions. The suspense and writing were well done. The history of this woman is written very well. I think people that love anything during this time period will really enjoy it. I used to read WWII books exclusively but it has slowly become one of the topics I rarely read about anymore.
FYI: Lawhon is an excellent author. I loved her book I Was Anastasia. It was told in such a unique way and on a subject I love to read.
Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a
beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take
over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the
occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a
secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she
and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the
staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.
I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very
interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of
Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life
in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I
imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as
normal as possible during those years.
One of the issues I had
with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband,
Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her
during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And
strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but
his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her
FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.
Nina dreamed of becoming a pilot. When the German army attacks her
native Russia, she enlists to help her country fight its invaders. As
one of the all-female bomber regiment called the Night Witches, she gets
her wish. Until one day when she goes down behind enemy lines and
encounters the evil villainous known as the Huntress.
spent the war years as a war correspondent. He everything from the
invasion of Omaha Beach to the Nuremburg Trials but he is determined to
find and bring to justice one person, the Huntress. With a personal
vendetta against the war criminal he joins an organization tasked with
finding members of the Nazi party that escaped punishment.
McBride is a young girl and aspiring photographer in 1946. Her father
recently married a mysterious Austrian widow but her story makes Jordan
suspicious. The more she learns the less she trusts her. She is
determined to find out who this woman is in order to protect her father.
Told in three narratives we piece together the story of the Huntress.
From the very first chapter I was hooked. I have been a longtime fan of
Kate Quinn and her newest novel does not disappoint. I think I can even
say with confidence that it is her best book to date. I loved the
different timelines and how each intertwine. This would be perfect for
fans of historical fiction and mysteries.
Nina was by far my
favorite character. She is strong woman but also has a deep seeded fear.
I enjoyed seeing her change and grow throughout the story. She starts
as a poor girl from eastern Russia who dreams of becoming a pilot. As
the war progresses she discovers more about herself and the country she
serves. I learned so much while reading her chapters. I had never heard
of female bomber teams during World War II. Even though Russia has a
history of being behind the times, this is a very progressive stance.
And for them to be highly decorated after the war for their courage.
Read the author’s notes at the end for more background on the story. You can tell that Quinn did a lot of research to build her narrative.
FYI: This reminded me a lot of the new release movie, Operation Finale, starring Oscar Isaac. It follows the search and capture of Adolph Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust.