Book Review

Book Review: The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Audience: Historical Fiction
Length: 400 pages
Author: Kristin Harmel
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: July 21st, 2020
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

EMOTIONS.

I had a lot of up and down with this one, but by the end I was really invested in getting some kind of ending I could be satisfied with. And even though it took awhile, I loved the way this ended which solidified a great book for me.

One of the things I struggled with was Eva’s Mother. I could understand the grief and despair she was feeling, but kept being angered at how much she taking out on Eva. There was never a chance for them to truly reconcile and it hurt my soul watching the relationship slowly deteriorate because of atrocities outside of their control.

World War II historical fiction is common in the genre. While sometimes I find the stories repetitive, I thought this one took on new aspects. I liked the focus on the children and of a Jewish woman working to forge papers to help those around her. Not to mention the romance sub-plot thrown in was SO SWEET. I mean, definitely tore my heart out, but also the development was spot on. The action and movement kept me interested and I enjoyed reading this as an audio book. Even when you could kind of see things coming, the whole of the plot still took me by surprise.

Overall audience notes:

  • Historical fiction [WW2]
  • Language: very little
  • Romance: kisses, one little detailed open scene
  • Violence:
  • Trigger/Content Warnings: loss of loved ones, depictions of World War 2, suicide (a small paragraph with depiction of method)

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Book Review

Book Review: Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Audience: Historical Fiction
Length: 464 pages
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Release Date: March 31st. 2020
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

This book is based on the life of Nancy Wake, an Australian expat who worked as a reporter for Hearst in Paris just before WWII and later as a spy for the British. Lawhon throws readers into the middle of the action, as Nancy, under the alias Hélène, prepares to parachute from an RAF plane into France to help the Resistance in 1944, carrying in her head memorized lists of vital data, including bridges targeted for destruction and safe house addresses. After she lands, the story flashes back eight years, as Nancy struggles for respect and recognition as a journalist; despite her firsthand observations of Nazi brutality in 1930s Vienna, her editor is reluctant to publish a story about what she’s seen. Frequent jumps in time draw out the arc of Wake’s remarkable life; despite her statement early on that women’s weapons of warfare were limited to “silk stockings and red lipstick,” by the end she’s proven herself skillful at physical combat as well.

I’M CRYING.

Oh, I have found another book to make me cry and hug it to my chest upon closing. I loved this one that much.

Nancy Wake is a flippin’ bada**. I loved the way she was portrayed in this historical fiction version of her life. It was magnificent. Her ability to stay brave and courageous in the face of such horrid evil.

I love the converging timelines and how this kept me on my toes. It’s some tiny word/big page writing, and yet I never felt like it dragged. Ever. The absolutely beautiful writing combined Nancy’s story with dialogue and descriptions of the French countryside. It was truly a new tale for historical fiction in the World War 2 sub-genre. I know it’s often said that there are too many WW2 books, but this one proved that all wrong.

Nancy’s romance with Henri was, EVERYTHING. Oh my goodness I love him so much. I was smitten with his love and devotion to Nancy (and hers with him). I love a beautiful portrayal of marriage. They never gave up on each other and I couldn’t help but cry at the ending of the war.

This is without a doubt one of my new favorites in historical fiction. I loved getting to read the author’s note at the ending about the real Nancy Wake and I want to learn more about her and her missions. What a powerful woman.

Overall audience notes:

  • Historical Fiction [WW2]
  • Language: some strong throughout (often in French)
  • Romance: kisses; one fade out closed door scene
  • Trigger/Content Warnings: this is a book about war; a lot of violence and murder; mentions of rape, horrendous war crimes (descriptive and intense)

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Book Review

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Rating: ☆☆☆
Audience: Young adult historical fiction
Length: 344 pages
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: March 22nd, 2011
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

INFORMATIVE.

I did find enthralled in the story, but I struggled with some pieces of it.

This was intense and informative to other parts of World War 2 that I am less familiar with. I like that it tackled the Baltic countries and what the Soviet Union was doing to oppress them and trying to make them disappear. It was heart-breaking and I struggled to read through a lot of it.

But I did feel like this lacked a plot. Lina’s painful journey was just that, a painful journey. There was a repeat of events that really emphasized how pretty this book isn’t. I wish there was a little more development with Andrius to really solidify the side romance occurring.

What I felt on another level was Lina’s Mom. The way she cared for her children and even took time to show love to those around her really melted me. The strength and resilience she gave to others clearly was in Lina as well. Lina was courageous and tough as she dealt with trial after trial.

I didn’t love how abrupt the ending was. I turned the next page and all of a sudden I was in an epilogue years later. I wish there was a bit more of a conclusion or a general sense of the situation coming to a close.

Overall audience notes:

  • Young adult historical fiction
  • Language: very little light
  • Romance: kisses
  • Violence: murder, gun violence, physical altercations; bloody/gory; depictions of wartime, abandonment
  • Trigger warnings: brief sexual harassment, loss of loved ones

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Book Review

Book Review: Lovely War by Julie Berry

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Audience: Young adult historical fiction + romance
Length: 480 pages
Author: Julie Berry
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

A sweeping, multi-layered romance with a divine twist, by the Printz Honor-winning author of The Passion of Dolssa, set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II.

It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep—and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.

Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.

Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.

CLOSED THE BOOK WITH TEARS IN MY EYES.

Y’all. When I first read the synopsis I thought it was a bit curious to combine Greek mythology with World War 1. I have heard good things about this book and decided to give it a shot, IT WAS AMAZING. SERIOUSLY.

The writing was absolutely beautiful. This had some insta-love that we all know I’m weary of. This is one of those times when it worked out flawlessly. The writing really captured my soul and it had me cheering on both of these couples through their trials.

Hazel and James were my precious broken souls. Oh how I love them. I was most involved in their story and was wrapped up in the nuances of the few chance meetings they got over the months while James was in the trenches of France. Lovely War showed a lot about the human condition. Struggling with having to kill others, PTSD, explosions, loss of friends and family. I felt the atrocities of war brought to an awful light.

Aubrey and Coletter were a wonderful relationship to watch flourish too. As an inter-racial couple in this time period the amount of awful things they had to deal with just to be together makes my stomach turn. They both had the hope and fight to be with one another and I begged for them to get a happy ending.

The narration of the story by the gods (mostly Aphrodite) was definitely unique. Thought it was a bit odd at first, but the deeper I got into the story, the more it all made sense. Bringing in Ares, Apollo and Hades brought new point of views. By the end their was an even bigger love story between Aphrodite and Hephaestus. I thought this played out beautifully and connected all the dots in the end.

One of my favorite tidbits was that it’s mostly set in World War 1. I’m always looking for different historical fiction books set in time periods I don’t normally read about.

Overall audience notes:

  • Young adult historical fiction + romance
  • Language: a few words
  • Romance: some kisses
  • Violence: war, physical, guns, see trigger warnings for more
  • Trigger warnings: racism, hate crime, PTSD, sexual assault (unwanted grab and kissing), descriptions of the trenches and battle scenes

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