Sunday Book Review – Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My Sunday Book Review is for a moving children’s book (ages 9 +), Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I typically don’t read children’s books often, but I do read a lot of historical fiction, and I came across this book while I was looking at two books Robbie Cheadle had written reviews for and talked about these books written for children to help them understand in their terms about the wars and politically incorrect things humans do to humans. I was curious to read such a book to see how an author could write for the young ones to help them understand the tragedy of WWII.

This book was written in 1989, yet has over 10,000 reviews, many of them from recent years, and many from teachers and parents who’ve read this book to their children. This book is also in school libraries.

This is the heartfelt story of Annemarie Johansen, a Danish girl, and her best friend Ellen Rosen during occupied Denmark 1943. Nine year old Annemarie is a fictional character whose story the author based on true stories she learned of from a friend who lived in Copenhagen during the German occupation, and the sacrifices the Danes made to save most of their Jewish population from capture. Beautifully told with many lessons, teaching children about loyalty and compassion. Denmark surrendered to the Germans in 1940 because their country was too small and not a big enough army to defend themselves. It also explains the story about the Danish King, King Christian, who loved his people and rode on his horse, unaided by guardsmen, to greet the people of his city, daily, even through the war – a story that is documented, and was told to the children as a fairytale to keep them inspired and to know their king loved them, despite the takeover of his country. No doubts Hans Christian Anderson was Danish and well ahead of his times with his famous fairytales and plays!

Blurb:

The unforgettable Newbery Medal–winning novel from Lois Lowry. As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.

Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

A modern classic of historical fiction, Number the Stars has won generations of fans.

“Readers are taken to the very heart of Annemarie’s experience, and, through her eyes, come to understand the true meaning of bravery.” (School Library Journal)

My 5 Star Review:

In this story, the author expresses events that occurred with such an easy to understand and compassionate style, teaching history through simpler and metaphoric explanations as used to explain to the children what they were seeing and hearing on their streets, and in public anywhere. For example, when the Danes sank their own navy in Copenhagen harbor before the Germans could take them for their own use, the explosions as ships were burned, were loud and lit up the skies, in the book, the parents would tell them they were fireworks to entertain the children. The author has a wonderful way of conveying the scary events in a way that lets them absorb, what lightens the way to teaching.

A well conveyed story with genuine understanding of a child’s mind – example: little Kristi, Annemarie’s five year old sister, is used to seeing German soldiers on every corner in their neighborhoods as Annemarie tells her bestie, Ellen Rosen, reiterating Kristi is only five and that’s how she grew up in five years of occupation. She’s used to that, that’s all she knows. It’s the nine year olds who were born in freedom and watched their world taken away from them. A very clever telling.

This is a timely book still. And I should think everyone, any age above nine could read this and learn.

A beautifully told Afterword is at the back of this book, where the author authenticates the events that took place are all truth from the people who witnessed. She has a light way of writing on some gloomy subjects and does a great job of expressing – gently, heavy events. She authenticates events and enlightens as to what were facts and which were fiction. Yet, her fictional characters represented actual people’s circumstances. When she brings in Peter who worked for the resistance and was close with Annemarie’s family, Peter was fictional, based on a true person she read about that worked for Resistance.

A good and current reminder timely about the fragility of democracy.

The author reiterates the part of the book where it was the Jewish High Holiday, the New Year, and 1943 now, Jews were still allowed to be in public, (which I sure wouldn’t have gone to synagogue with German SS standing on street corners.) And on this holy day,the Rabbi warns the congregation in time to leave home because the Germans had asked the Rabbi for a ‘list’ of members and they were going to be taken and ‘relocated’. The Rabbi found out as a favor from someone in the high up ranks. Most Jews, except the non believers, left that same night. Most Danes took them in, took care of them and eventually, got them off to Sweden. Only weeks after that holy day, almost the whole 7000 population of Danish Jews were eventually smuggled across water by fishermen to Sweden. These are just some of the things we learn about history, in easy to digest stories.

A fantastic historical telling in easy to read comprehension for children 9 and up to help learn about Danish occupation during WWII.

©DGKaye2022

Sunday Book Review – Queen of Paris #historicalfiction – Coco Chanel

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m reviewing a book by Pamela Binnings Ewen – Queen of Paris. This is a historical fiction story about the life of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, from her poor childhood and dropped off as a young girl, at a nun’s convent by her father, after her mother’s death, through her tumultuous years as a mistress, to her break through idea creating a hat, to her ruthless survival, hanging out with high ranking German officers during WWII, to her eventual fleeing of Paris once France was freed of Germans. As a lover of biographies and my curiosities for how people became famous, I found this a riveting read.

Blurb:

Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel is revered for her sophisticated style—the iconic little black dress—and famed for her intoxicating perfume Chanel No. 5. Yet behind the public persona is a complicated woman of intrigue, shadowed by mysterious rumors. The Queen of Paris, the new novel from award-winning author Pamela Binnings Ewen, vividly imagines the hidden life of Chanel during the four years of Nazi occupation in Paris in the midst of WWII—as discovered in recently unearthed wartime files.

Coco Chanel could be cheerful, lighthearted, and generous; she also could be ruthless, manipulative, even cruel. Against the winds of war, with the Wehrmacht marching down the Champs-Élysées, Chanel finds herself residing alongside the Reich’s High Command in the Hotel Ritz. Surrounded by the enemy, Chanel wages a private war of her own to wrestle full control of her perfume company from the hands of her Jewish business partner, Pierre Wertheimer. With anti-Semitism on the rise, he has escaped to the United States with the confidential formula for Chanel No. 5. Distrustful of his intentions to set up production on the outskirts of New York City, Chanel fights to seize ownership. The House of Chanel shall not fall.

While Chanel struggles to keep her livelihood intact, Paris sinks under the iron fist of German rule. Chanel—a woman made of sparkling granite—will do anything to survive. She will even agree to collaborate with the Nazis in order to protect her darkest secrets. When she is covertly recruited by Germany to spy for the Reich, she becomes Agent F-7124, code name: Westminster. But why? And to what lengths will she go to keep her stormy past from haunting her future?

My 5 Star Review:

As a lover of historical fiction – and my fascination with Coco Chanel, I found this story riveting. If you Google up Coco Chanel and her ‘colorful’ past, you will find all the elements this author covered in the book that seem accurate as much as we can learn about this mysterious woman and her shenanigans. The said facts are woven into this telling about this intriguing woman, her tragic beginnings and love life, and the evolution of her couture and infamous fragrance, Chanel #5, and how far she’d go to protect it.

Gabrielle Chanel came from a poor family and when her mother died Gabrielle was twelve years old, and was sent to live in a nun’s convent/orphanage where she had to work and scrub the abbey floors because she was poor. Once freed, she started singing in cabaret halls and rubbed shoulders with some elite along her path, and ultimately, became part of an elite group of mistresses where she made some colorful liasons. It was a song she sang at the cabarets that inspired her new name – Coco. Chanel’s shmoozing with the elite as a mistress, had her falling in love with Boy Capel, who would turn out to be the one and only love of her life, which was really a tragic love story on so many levels.

She was a clever woman who made her mark when she made up a hat she wore around her elite friends in the early 1900s, and the hat was the beginning of her millinery career, created because of her determination to make her own money to stop being beholden to rich men. It was her lover, Boy Capel who helped her eventually set up shop for her couture business that followed her millinery beginnings.

A few years later, Coco met up with a perfumer, she commissioned him to come up with a scent to match her designs, and after assessing five certain scents, she fell in love with the fifth one and five, being her favorite number for various reasons, became her signature scent. To move this product along, Chanel had already met some people in high society and they hooked her up making a deal with Jewish marketing brothers, Pierre and Paul Wertheimer to run the company of Chanel perfumes. Chanel was given only a 10% cut of her own product, but with no money of her own, this venture helped begin her empire.

The history of the making of this perfume is interesting enough, but with all the hob-nobbing Chanel was involved with, this book takes us into her world once WWII was approaching and her Jewish partners who had fled France to the United States just before the war began spreading into France. They fled with the ‘secret recipe’ and locked down all the Jasmine fields in and around Grasse, Provence with buying off perfumers to make sure the product wouldn’t be altered by inferior or synthetic ingredients, and Chanel couldn’t get to them first.

Chanel did everything she could to get her rights back, but everything she tried, it seemed, her partners were always one step ahead of her. And then the war came to Paris. Chanel fled to the south of France, made some new connections with the elite, and after a few months, returned to Paris, to her beloved Ritz Hotel where the German hierarchy had taken over, but ‘the elite’ Parisians were still permitted to stay. It was during this time she made friends with some of Germany’s most ruthless SS leaders – a dangerous game.

This story also depicts how ruthless and vengeful Chanel was as she tried to declare her product as Aryan, stopping at nothing to get back her perfume rights, while trying to convince some very high gestapo to help her get her company back away from Jews. She is also forced to beg a favor of them for a very personal nature, and as we all know, once you are indebted to the gestapo, you are trapped. Chanel had a big choice to make – betray her country by becoming a spy and aligning with the Germans, or give up on trying to reclaim her company – and something else she loved even more dearly.

The author engages us in great story lines here, spanning between two different decades the early 1900s to 1919 and 1940 as WWII approaches, to the end of the war.

This book takes a deep look at the choices Chanel made in her life, her mission to survive and everything she would do to try and get back her rights. She was a clever woman who made her mark with an unusual hat, growing it into a huge empire. After WWI, when she could finally obtain materials, she began her fashion career. But she paid many steep prices along her way to fame, and this book highlights a lot of her heartache, and ruthlessness, depicting just how far she would go to obtain what she wanted.

Everyone thinks, ooh Chanel, but after reading this book, it left me feeling that Coco was both, a woman who would sellout anyone for personal gain and was sometimes lacking in human empathy in the name of keeping grandiose standing in high society. She was a woman who was very damaged and broken in many ways. I couldn’t feel sympathy for her, as I hold no value for those who value money more than human life. And as it turns out, after the war, many Parisians felt the same way. It wasn’t until ten years after the war she reclaimed her fame in America as Americans knew nothing about her secret life and liasons with the Third Reich.

A truly engaging read!

©DGKaye2022

Sunday Book Review – The Peaceful Village by Paulette Mahurin, #WWII #historicalfiction

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m sharing a book by one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Paulette Mahurin. This is her newest release I was thrilled to be able to obtain a copy from Netgalley – The Peaceful Village. Based on a heartwrenchingly true story about one of the biggest WWII massacres on French Soil that occurred because of a lie.

Blurb:

During the German occupation of France, nestled in the lush, verdant countryside in the Haute-Vienne department of central France was the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane. It was a community where villagers woke to the medley of nature’s songs: roosters crowing, birds chirping, cats purring, and cows shuffling out to pasture. The people who lived there loved the tranquil nature of their beautiful home, a tranquility that existed year-round. Even with the German occupation and Oradour-sur-Glane being incorporated as part of Vichy France, Oradour – the village with cafés, shops, and a commuter tram to Limoges – remained relatively untouched by the stress of the occupation.
While Oradour enjoyed the lack of German presence, twenty-two kilometers to the northwest in Limoges, the Germans were reacting with increasing cruelty to organized attacks on their soldiers by the armed resistance organization Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). Headed by Georges Guingouin, the Limoges FTP was considered the most effective of the French Resistance groups. Guingouin’s missions fueled the German military to kill and incarcerate in concentration camps anyone perceived as supporters or sympathizers of the Resistance.

Up until the middle of 1944, the German anti-partisan actions in France never rose to the level of brutality or number of civilian casualties that had occurred in eastern Europe. A little before the Allies landed in Normandy, that changed, when German officers stationed on the Eastern Front were transferred to France. It was then that FTP’s increasing efforts to disrupt German communications and supply lines was met with disproportionate counter attacks, involving civilians. Guingouin’s response was to target German officers. When Guingouin set his sights on two particular German officers, all hell broke loose.

Based on actual events as told by survivors, The Peaceful Village is the story of the unfolding of the events that led up to one of the biggest World War II massacres on French soil. But it is not simply a story of Nazi brutality and the futility of war, it is a story of love. The love of family. The love of neighbor. The love of country. Compassion and courage burn from the pages as the villagers’ stories come alive. Written by the international bestselling author of The Seven Year Dress, Paulette Mahurin, this book is an homage to the villagers who lived and loved in Oradour-sur-Glane.

My 5 Star Review:

Marguerite lives on her carrot farm with her husband and other family in the beautiful, peaceful village of Oradour, France. During WWII, this quiet and peaceful village had not yet been threatened or occupied as much as other parts of France and Europe by the nazis, despite the Vichy accepting German rule, until a German capture that had gone wrong had brought forth the brutal nazi regime (no, I will NEVER capitalize the word ‘nazi’) to this peaceful ‘untouched’ by war, town, just before the allies landed in Normandy.

As Marguerite was approaching menopause, the gruel of farming without enough hands was getting to her physically and mentally. She went to church one Sunday and discovered the clergy could use some well needed office help and approached her understanding husband asking for time away from working the farm and by taking up the offer to work for the church office. When she discovered a horrifying piece of paper in a book, as she was tidying the rectory, she approached Father Chapelle, asking if anyone else shared the office, ultimately, showing him what she’d found in a book as she was organizing a bookshelf. Their eye contact established a mutual understanding that they were both on the side against the nazis, when the Father let her know that he was part of the resistance helping place Jewish families where he could. Marguerite’s sympathetic and good nature led her to helping out the church by delivering secret messages, food and clothing where she could.

All was calm, but Marguerite had a foreboding feeling in her stomach, and it wasn’t long before the SS butchers rounded up the whole village in retaliation for the resistance killing one of their higher up murderous high rank nazi leaders. It was first the resistance who made a fatal mistake by letting another of their captured nazis escape, who made it back to headquarters and lied about what happened to him in this innocent village.

Mahurin tells a gripping story in such detail, it’s as though we are there witnessing the action. She paints a picture of this blissful town full of compassionate, loving, neighborly people going on with their business as though the rest of France had nothing to do with them in their sacred untouched perimeters, and just as the serenity turns to hell on earth, she equally writes of the pain, brutality, butchering of innocent mankind because of one SS trying to cover his ass by lying about his attack saying it had taken place in Oradour – when it did not! This lie became the war that wiped out an entire peaceful village in one day.

Based on true events as told by survivors, one of biggest WWII massacres that ever took place on French soil. The expensive price of human life paid for letting one of those heinous, murderous nazis escape capture. The author never disappoints in her gripping true tales of some of the true horrors that innocent people endured under the brutal tyranny of Hitler and his nazi evil regime.

©DGKaye2022

Sunday Book Review – Over the Hedge #Historicalfiction by Paulette Mahurin

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m thrilled to be sharing my review for one of my favorite Historical Fiction author’s book, Paulette Mahurin with Over the Hedge.

As many of my readers know, historical fiction, particularly, the WWII era genre, draws me into the world of the human condition, the evils of man, and the strength to survive. And Paulette is an amazing writer in this genre as she knows how to tell a story and bring our emotions right into it.

 

Over the Hedge

Get this book on Amazon

 

Blurb:

During one of the darkest times in history, at the height of the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1943, members of the Dutch resistance began a mission to rescue Jewish children from the deportation center in Amsterdam. Heading the mission were Walter Süskind, a German Jew living in the Netherlands, Henriëtte Pimentel, a Sephardic Jew, and Johan van Hulst, principal of a Christian college. As Nazis rounded up Jewish families at gunpoint, the three discreetly moved children from the deportation center to the daycare across the street and over the backyard hedge to the college next door. From the college, the children were transported to live with Dutch families. Working against irate orders from Hitler to rid the Netherlands of all Jews and increasing Nazi hostilities on the Resistance, the trio worked tirelessly to overcome barriers. Ingenious plans were implemented to remove children’s names from the registry of captured Jews. To sneak them out of the college undetected past guards patrolling the deportation center. To meld them in with their new families to avoid detection. Based on actual events, Over the Hedge is the story of how against escalating Nazi brutality when millions of Jews were disposed of in camps, Walter Süskind, Henriëtte Pimentel, and Johan van Hulst worked heroically with the Dutch resistance to save Jewish children. But it is not just a story of their courageous endeavors. It is a story of the resilience of the human spirit. Of friendship and selfless love. The love that continues on in the hearts of over six hundred Dutch Jewish children.

 

My 5 Star Review:

Gripping Heartbreak.

This is a story that will keep you gripped throughout the plight of three people who joined the Dutch Resistance and in 1943 began a rescue mission in Amsterdam to save however many Jewish children as they could from being sent to their deaths.

Walter, Henrietta and Johan’s mission at the deportation center was to move the young children who were deported from their homes to the daycare center next door, a ploy to keep the children calm while the adults were being accounted for, beaten and awaiting the trucks to take them to the trains that would ultimately land them at Auschwitz. What the SS and fellow nazis didn’t know was that the children were methodically moved from the daycare and passed ‘over the hedge’ to a college campus next door. From there, Henrietta would take care of the children and prepare them for transport by other resistance members to be taken to new homes by good Dutch people who adopted them. Humanity at its best during a dark time of history.

Walter worked in the deportation room where the rounded up Jews were first sent to ‘register’ for their ‘next journey’. Walter worked hard and secretly to remove the children’s names off the rosters, always fearing being found out. He would try and save as many children as he could by first approaching the parent(s) and offering them to save their children. Devastated parents with fear, starvation and broken hearts were elated to give Walter their children for a chance for them to live and survive, as they knew what was waiting for them ahead.

The three worked diligently, secretly and methodically to do their part in saving Jewish lives. Intrinsically timed plans were carried out to bypass guards to smuggle the children over to the daycare, and once cleaned and fed, transported by inconspicuous vans and bicycles by other helpers, often placing the children in a suitcase or the like, with a small dose of drug to make them sleep so they wouldn’t get scared and cry. The fact that these three earth angels worked tirelessly right under the noses of the German SS patrol killers and got away with saving the lives of those meant to be killed, is astounding in itself.

Sadly, this story was written on true events. Walter and his friends managed to save the lives of over 600 Dutch Jewish children at a time when helping Jews was a crime punishable by death by the nazis. And if you are wondering what happened to these three heroes after their selfless, heroic efforts, you’re going to have to read the book.

 

©DGKaye2021

 

 

Sunday Movie Review – Hacksaw Ridge – WWII Hero

Welcome to my Sunday Movie Review. I thought I’d share this movie because despite the ‘war’ content, which I always cover my eyes when I see violence or blood, like a gag reflex, I loved the message and the compassion of Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, whom I’ve never heard of, but wow, this guy can steal your empathy in Hacksaw Ridge. He almost reminds me of a young Sean Penn?? I had this review in draft for when I didn’t have a book review to share, and I managed a few stolen moments to edit and post here for your enjoyment.

A WWII true story about the unlikeliest hero, Desmond Doss who enlisted to save lives, not kill them.

This movie from 2016, was a based on a true story about a man who enlisted himself to join the fight in WWII. He grew up in Virginia under the belt of his abusive father and God-loving mother. But Doss is a compassionate soul who when he had the chance to kill his father after near beating his mother to death, he couldn’t. The story is about a man who wanted to do something for his country but would not participate in violence and only wanted to be a medic – who turned into a hero.

Desmond Doss grew up and was known as a ‘conscientious objector‘ who desperately wanted to serve in WWII as a medic. The problem was he refused to carry or even touch a gun. He was abused by the court martial sentence, but he stood his ground. He made clear he wanted to serve his country by saving lives, not killing them.

His life in the army was tough as at first he took a lot of teasing for his stance. There’s a beautiful love story in this movie too, despite the fact that much of the movie was war footage in the battle at Okinawa, which of course was the main theme of the story about how Doss came to be a respected medic and eventually receiving a gold medal of honor for saving 75 lives in that gruesome battle. Too be honest, despite the gore and the pain I feel when I see the injured, and despite the fact that the theme was about the ugly war, this guy had me swallowing my heart through his rescues that I had to peel my hands away from my eyes to make sure he lived. Being that it was a true story and all I’d read was he’d received the gold medal for his heroic rescues, I wasn’t sure if he received the medal as a survivor or posthumously. And there, I will leave you hanging to find out for yourselves.

Check out this gripping trailer. It pretty much highlights what I highlighted in my review. Lol, maybe I’m in the wrong business? I love reviewing movies, especially the ones that grab my heart and require Kleenex.

 

I always like to look at book reviews for a movie after I’ve watched, to see what people got from the book to discover which was better. Most times, the book is better because, after all, it was good enough to make into a movie but then gets rewritten in script form where time is taken into consideration, so naturally, some things are left out. But I have seen some fine movies in my time that the book somewhat disappointed.

I dug around Amazon to look for this book and I saw a few. But I was searching for the original author’s book and I came across this comment in a review for a book version that is an abridged version,

“Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge (hardback) is a much expanded, reedited edition of the original The Unlikeliest Hero, which went out of print in 1967. The new edition contains nearly three times as many pictures, a new Foreword, and Epilogue.”

 

I found the book on Amazon:

 

Have any of you seen this movie or read the book? If you like hero stories about survival, standing your ground for your beliefs, you will surely love this movie.

 

©DGKaye2021

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Sunday Book Review – Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay – #HistoricalFiction

My Sunday Book Review was a riveting read by Tatiana De Rosnay – Sarah’s Key. Once again I came across this moving book after a fellow author shared her own gripping review for the book. As many of you know I’m drawn to historical fiction – particularly in the WWII era. As much as my empathy has me turning away from violence and abuse, I am drawn to the stories that take me on a journey of trying to understand the human condition and the triumph of those that survive the heinous war. The atrocities of war don’t always have to relate to the physical violence, but the atrocities of mankind that instill fear in those living daily struggling to survive is equally frightening, sometimes more than a hand or a stick being struck against them.

 

 

Blurb:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

 

My 5 Star Review (Really 4.5 stars, read on to discover why)

In this heart-grabbing story, it is told in two eras – the present day 2002) , where American journalist Julia – living in Paris for the past 25 years, is hired to do a story on the 60th anniversary of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup by the French police, where 13,000 Jews were suddenly snatched from their homes in Paris, July 1942 and disappeared. Julia comes across a list of families taken on that fateful night, and later finds on the death list, one girl’s name is missing, despite her name being on the roundup list. Where did Sarah go? In the now, we are taken into Julia’s erratic life, marriage and stunningly, a common bond she discovers with Sarah of the past when Julia’s husband has chosen a new apartment for them to live in Paris.

Is it possible for anyone to survive the death camps? What happened to Sarah after that fateful night on July 16, 1942 after she and her parents were taken along with 13,000 others to the Velodrome stadium in Paris, once a sports arena, left to starve as they waited for days til their fates were sealed? Their crimes? They were Jews. The children were taken elsewhere separately and murdered, so as not to cause ‘alarm’ to onlooking citizens, while they watched parents loaded  onto buses headed for the train station and then loaded on like cattle in cattle trains, and were taken to their immediate deaths in Auschwitz.

In Julia’s investigation to try and solve what happened to Sarah from 1942, she travels from Paris to a farm community in Orleans, back to Paris, and then Italy where a lead takes her. When she returns to Paris she must deal with her newly discovered pregnancy that her philandering husband isn’t too excited about. Until she grows a pair and leaves him (finally) and moves back to New York.

The two stories converge when later, Julia discovers an incredible and heart-wrenching link between her husband’s family and Sarah’s family.

I found Julia’s life was a bit blase with some unnecessary filler, and I did not like the character of her husband and found Julia wasn’t empowering enough by staying way too long with her philandering husband. I can’t help but wonder how the book might have been more intense if it was told by Sarah in its entirety. Julia was banal, lacking dimension and gumption.  But this book was a great read with lots to keep me turning the pages. One of those – hard to put down books – despite my not loving the protagonist’s weakness as a woman. But Sarah’s story was absolutely riveting. And because Sarah’s story was riveting I’m giving this book 5 stars instead of 4 with my 4 1/2 actual rating (I deducted only half off for Julia’s lack of depth), because it was a fantastic, although disheartening story.

 

*NBFor those unfamilar with the Vel d’Hiv capture, even France liked to keep it under wraps for decades, ashamed to speak of their part in thousands of Jewish deaths. The roundup was the largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust.  Vel d’Hiv and how it began with the German occupation in France.

 

©DGKaye2020

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Sunday Book Review – The Violin Maker’s Daughter by Sharon Maas

My Sunday Book Review is for Sharon Maas’s – The Violin Maker’s Daughter. This book takes us to Colmar, France 1940, when Germany is about to take over France during WWII. A hard to put down book as we follow the life of Sarah Mayer, a 17 year old girl, the eldest of five sisters who will be the first of them to be sent away from her home, arranged by her parents and the French Resistance with the ultimate journey and goal for Sarah to reach Switzerland or Spain.

 

 

 

Blurb:

When the Nazis march onto the cobbled streets of Colmar on November 1st 1940, Josef, a Jewish violin maker, gathers his wife and daughters closely to him and tells them everything will be alright.

But one year later, three sharp knocks on the door at midnight turn his seventeen year old daughter Sarah’s world upside down. As the oldest child, Sarah must be the first to leave her family, to make her escape in a perilous journey across France via Paris to Poitiers. And she must hide who she is and take a new name for her own safety. For now, bilingual Sarah is no longer a French Jew but a German girl.

As she bids farewell to her beloved father and family, Sarah has hope, against all odds, that she will see them again when the war is over. But, travelling through the mountains she finds herself in terrible danger and meets Ralf, a German deserter, who risks his own life to save her.

Ralf and Sarah continue their journey together, keeping their identities secret at all cost. But when Ralf is captured, will Sarah pay the ultimate price for sharing who she really is?

A gripping and heart-breaking account of love, bravery and sacrifice during the terror of war. A story of standing up for what you believe in; even if it’s going to break your heart. Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Ragged Edge of Night.

 

My 5 Star Review:

Josef Mayer is the violin maker in Colmar, France. As Germany’s takeover of France nears, Josef makes arrangements with the French Resistance for his five daughters to be escorted to Switzerland. His eldest daughter Sarah will leave first, despite her own resistance for not wanting to leave her home and family, as the severity of what was to come to France couldn’t be realized. Sarah’s papers are all ready, stating she’s a German from Colmar, France with no yellow star stamped on the paper. Josef is an agnostic Jew and his wife Leah is a converted Jew, although the family are not practicing Jews, to the Nazis, they are still Jews. The children don’t understand why plans are being made for them all to eventually flee Colmar and quick plans are made with a nearby neighbor, Yves, to hook the family up with the resistance to get them all to safety – first Sarah, then her sisters to follow, and eventually her parents. That was the plan, but during war, plans can change in a moment’s notice.

Sarah is picked up in the middle of the night and taken to first stop – the winery where Rebecca who’s in charge of an old farmhouse, prepares the routes and missions with Eric to guide runaway Jews through the mountains from this underground safehouse pitstop along the way of Sarah’s journey. But when Rebecca falls and twists her ankle, early into the journey, the three must turn back as she cannot walk, and Eric and Sarah help to carry her back to the safehouse. New plans are made as Rebecca is housebound and will now await the next two sisters to come to the safehouse while she heals and Eric and Sarah set out again.

Eric and Sarah encounter two young German soldiers in the forest. One of them apparently relishes his job to kill Jews and the other, Raif Sommer, stood in mortification as he watched the struggle between Eric and the other soldier as Eric tried to protect Sarah and foil his attempt to rape Sarah, until Eric was shot in the leg. In this stunning commotion, Raif shoots and kills the other soldier and becomes a deserter and helps carry injured Eric with Sarah’s help, back to the safehouse once again. We soon learn, once Sarah and Eric and a German soldier return, that Raif was drafted in a war he wanted no part of as he was supposed to be studying in university to be a doctor. And now with Rebecca and Eric out of commission, the plans have changed. Raif is given civilian clothes from Rebecca’s son’s wardrobe and he will lead Sarah once again on the journey.

Before leaving, Rebecca has a chat with Raif, informing him how Sarah is young and naive and has no experience with relationships, warning him not to start any romance business. They set out for the journey to Metz, only Sarah will take a train and Raif will have to walk for three days because he has no papers. Those three days of traveling Sarah realizes she has feelings stirring for Raif who has been kind and chivalrous to her and has ultimately saved her and Eric’s life. Once they meet up again and have made it to the next farmer’s safehouse, they are to wait with the resistance members until Raif’s new papers are made for them to carry on together – only the safehouse is ambushed one night with mass murder going on upstairs. Once again, Sarah’s life is spared by Raif’s quick thinking, as they were sleeping in their respective rooms in the basement when the kerfuffle began and Raif grabs Sarah and squashes them both into a bathroom hole  with a secret crawlspace as they await the Nazis to finish inspecting the basement and leave. Later Raif walks around outside to make sure the coast is clear and with the help of a neighbor who saw the whole invasion, they are directed to the next safehouse where they will then get on a train to Paris where they will connect to the next town, Poitiers.

The train ride is nerve-racking as gestapo go around checking for papers and Raif – now Karl, and Sarah sit separately as not to attract undue attention. Sarah’s weakness is learning to keep her mouth shut as she loves to talk and still doesn’t grasp the peril of her journey. Great tension as we follow Sarah on the multiple journeys, almost squirming with hope she doesn’t make any mistakes.

They stop at a cafe and watch Jews being berated and ultimately beaten by Nazis. Sarah wants to shout out at them and Raif shuts her up by kissing her, and so the romance begins. Although Sarah is confused after because Raif backs off. He is also attracted to Sarah, but tries to honor his promise to Rebecca, not to tangle up Sarah’s young heart when she is dealing with so much more.

When they finally arrive at the last safehouse in Poitiers, a town south of Paris, the two must be separated. Raif has joined the French Resistance, and Sarah who speaks fluent French and German is sent to apply for a job as a nanny who is to teach the four young children, German, and give them violin lessons at the Limoin residence where this upper class French family have become collaborators with the Nazis. Sarah rests comfortably there as she pines away for Raif/Karl awaiting message from him so they can meet up. In the meantime, Madam Limoin’s boisterous and socialite younger sister, Monique, befriends Sarah and gets a little too close for comfort, especially when Monique  snoops and finds a letter Sarah stupidly, left on her bed. Sarah gets a message from her safehouse keeper, Regine, in Poitiers, and she’s told to get moving before she is discovered by the Limoins.

At that point, Sarah decides not to continue her journey to now Spain, but to also join the resistance. Her mission is to gather intelligence by traveling to Germany to visit various train stations to learn which towns in France the troops were being sent to next. Sarah also takes the opportunity to spread fake news to anyone she makes small talk with, in hopes they will spread her rumors that the allies have landed in some small towns in France and are killing the Germans. This mission offers great tension taking us all the way to the end of the book with a nice twist surprise ending I didn’t see coming.

This book was a fantastic read, well written, lots of suspense to keep the pages turning, a bit of romance, and, love, endurance, sadness and triumph. If you enjoy stories about courage and survival, espionage, mixed in with love, hatred and redemption during the perilous WWII era, you will love this book!

 

©DGKaye2020

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Sunday Book Review – The Cruel Romance: A Novel of Love and War by Marina Osipova

Book reviews by D.G. Kaye

I recently finished this book, The Cruel Romance: A Novel of Love and War by Marina Osipova. I learned about and connected with Marina on Sally Cronin’s author interviews and new books series at Sally’s virtual Bookstore and Cafe. I knew I wanted to read this book so didn’t hesitate to purchase it and bump it up on my big fat TBR. It’s historical fiction from the WWII era and that is one of my favorite genres to read when I’m not reading nonfiction. Have a look at my review below:

 

 

Blurb:

 

On October 1941, in a small village outside Moscow, Serafima bids farewell to Vitya, a Soviet officer going to the front. With only moments left together, she places a cross around her beloveds neck and reluctantly releases him into a cruel world where nothing is certain, especially whether she will ever see him again.

Days later, Germans invade her village and take over her tiny house. Serafima and her mother must comply with orders, endure abuse, and stay put, or their village will be annihilated.

As World War II intertwines Serafimas and Vityas life with that of a young German violinist and a Russian intellectual, their destinies are irrevocably altered. Can they rise to the challenge of agonizing moral choices and learn to forgive and love again?

Praise

The Cruel Romance is a tale of love, violence, and acceptance as Serafima is forced to live with what the Germans left behind. This compelling story makes for a thrilling read in a setting and time that comes to life, pulling the reader into the vividly drawn, rarely seen world (Elisabeth Amaral, author of When Any Kind of Love Will Do and Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup).

 

My 5 Star Review:

A cruel romance indeed. And as we all know, nothing is fair in love or war.

A fast paced, unputdownable engaging read from Osipova where she takes us into the troubled, and life of hardship of Serafima, a poor Russian girl, barely yet 18 years old. Serafima is caught in the midst of WWII and a sorrowful parting with her newly flourishing love with Victor who is heading off to the Russian front to join the war. Serafima vows to wait for him, both in virtue and in her heart. The author paints vivid imagery with poignant settings and well fleshed out complicated characters in a complicated time.

Already living in a tiny village in the forest, well outside of Moscow, Serafima knows poverty and hunger well, yet never complains. Living with her emotionless mother in a tiny hut, she learns that her hardships are about to get a lot worse after  two German soldiers invade and take over her tiny home, complete with her and her mother as their private slaves, where Serafima endures the brunt of mental and physical abuse.

Throughout the passing years, Serafima never stops pining for her lost love Victor. And as the war comes to an end and the Germans move out, Serafima finds herself with child. We are now drawn into the raw emotion  and struggle Serafima must deal with when her child is born and her disgust for his conception overshadows any joy she should have from giving birth and ultimately, distancing herself emotionally from her own child.

When a few more years pass, still with hope her Victor will return to marry her, she receives a rude awakening one day when he does return and he spots her child. A misunderstanding from unspoken words and a lifetime of holding back the truth changes the course of Serafima’s life dramatically. Instead Serafima continues to work and make the best life she can  while dismissing her undying love for Victor and learning to live with a broken heart.

Victor too never stopped loving Serafima despite their lack of reconciliation, and demonstrates how unresolved love can grow into vengeance. Life is a circle, and secrets of the past have a way of working themselves back into one’s life just as they did for Serafima, when she was faced to make peace with her past. Can she ever find love again? Will she eventually reunite with Victor? You will have to read the book to find out.

This book had me turning pages at every opportunity I could pick up the book. I will say. the ending was quite surprising, The book was beautifully written and so engaging I can’t help but give it 5 stars!