Review: Annelies by David R. Gilliam

A different take on a familiar story…

We all know the heartbreaking, inspiring story of young Anne Frank. But what if her story had taken a different turn? What if, instead of perishing at Bergen-Belsen, she had made it out alive? This newest tale from David R. Gillam imagines just that.

She would almost certainly reunite with her beloved father who actually did survive. As the sole living members of their family, they’d only have each other. Maybe they’d fall back into their routines, working at the family business. Maybe Anne would pick up where she left off, taking up her writing once again. But it’s just as likely that too many things would have changed, made them all different people.

There are many things to like about this story. It’s full of historical accuracies making it highly believable. It also makes you wonder what might have been…

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Annelies

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Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

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I love historical fiction, especially World War II era stories.  I’ve read many, ranging from exceptionally good to just so-so to absolutely dreadful.  But I’ve learned from each one of them, a bit of something from history that I was unaware of.  And isn’t that, after all, the point of historical fiction?

Young Hannah’s family isn’t particularly concerned in the year 1939.  Her German family is well to do, after all.  They move in all the best circles and want for nothing.  But things quickly begin to change in Berlin as the Nazis quickly move in and begin to take over.  They find themselves being shunned by those who once welcomed them.  Their possessions no longer belong to them.  And they no longer feel safe.  All because they’re Jewish.

So when her father discovers a possible escape route, he jumps on it.  After much struggle, the family finds themselves aboard the St. Louis, bound for Cuba.  The country has promised safe haven to those escaping Hitler’s Germany.  As the family pulls away from the shores of their homeland, they begin to relax a bit and hope for a happy future.  But things take an unfortunate turn when Cuba suddenly refuses to admit them.  An entire ship full of passengers is stuck in limbo as they await word of their fate.

This is an outstanding debut novel.  It’s clear that the author put much thought and research into this story.  We hear the story from two generations, that of young Hannah and that of her great niece, Anna.  As Anna discovers her past, she helps us to fill in the gaps as well.  An excellent story for fans of historical fiction!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The German Girl

Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

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With every new piece of historical fiction I read, I gain something.  Knowledge about a previously unheard of occurrence, deeper understanding of an event, compassion for a character that I never imagined…these things are all possible with a good story.  Lilac Girls  takes a horrible time most are familiar with, the Holocaust, and introduces the reader to an aspect that many have never heard of.

The year is 1939.  Hitler has just invaded Poland.  France is next.  With her work at the French consulate, Caroline feels the tragedy more than most New Yorkers.  Her job takes her into the lives of those most affected, finding homes for children orphaned by the war and arranging care packages for families.

Across the sea, Kasia witnesses her childhood stripped away as her town is taken over. Not satisfied just sitting by and watching everything she loves destroyed, she begins working for the underground resistance movement.  Never in her wildest dreams does she imagine that not only will this endanger her life, but the lives of her mother and sister as well.  When her secret life is discovered, they’re all rounded up and shipped off to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women.

It’s here that they cross paths with Herta.  Her path in life has been changed as well, although surely in not as tragic a way as Kasia’s.  Before the invasion, Herta was well on her way to becoming a respected German doctor.  Now she’s deep into war crimes and horrible experiments at Ravensbruck.

This is yet another story that reminds the reader of one of the darkest times in our world’s history, a time when people were persecuted and killed simply for who they were.  It’s heartbreaking and thought-provoking at the same time, especially in today’s tumultuous climate.  It’s also a story of love and survival and hope, things that can get people through some of the darkest times.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Lilac Girls

 

Review: Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

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Stories like this are the reason I continue to love historical fiction.  Skilled authors are able to take an event or era from the past and weave an intricately compelling story around it.  Granted, there’s no shortage of stories set in Nazi Germany, but this one is definitely a must-read if you’re a fan of the genre.

It’s the early 1970’s, and Hannah must come to terms with her mother’s recent death.  Not particularly close to her in life, she now is faced with the task of clearing out her mom’s house and possessions.  A job to be completed as quickly as possible so that she can get back to her life. Until she comes across some mysterious letters, that is.

And so  her quest takes her all the way to Germany where she meets a grandfather she had no idea even existed.  And she’s a surprise to him as well.  Hannah is as determined to find out her family secrets as her grandfather is determined to keep them forever hidden.  As she digs deeper, she finds out so much more than she bargained for.  And she discovers the person her mother truly was.

Much of the appeal of this story, as is the case with most historical fiction, is that it’s told from two perspectives spanning several decades.  What Hannah is feeling is entirely justified, but hearing her mother’s story puts a whole new spin on things.  An excellent story with the reminder that things aren’t always what they seem!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:   Secrets She Kept

Review: The Children’s Train: Escape on the Kindertransport by Jana Zinser

51Xzv+KHYsL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_If you asked me what my preferred genre is, I’d be hard pressed to narrow it down to just one. However, historical fiction ranks at the top of that list. I love a book that tells a great story while also teaching me a bit of something new. That’s why some of my favorite books of all time include The Book Thief and The Orphan Train. It’s for that very reason that this book by Jana Kinser caught my eye.

Nazi Germany was a terrifying place for all, but especially for young children. Their safe, secure world was turned upside down as they were targeted for nothing more than being Jewish. Homes and livelihoods were destroyed, families were separated, loved ones lost their lives. All because of something they had no control over. But there was hope for many of the children in the form of selfless volunteers who risked their lives to help these children escape and have a chance at a somewhat normal life.

For the most part, this story centers on young Peter. He and his family have a happy, secure life in their comfy little apartment above their butcher shop. That all comes crashing down when the Nazis invade their small town taking over everything. Suddenly, being Jewish is a crime, punishable by death even. Peter and his family find themselves without a home along with many others. When the chance to escape presents itself, Peter and his younger sister take it. On the Kindertransport they go, off to a better life. Their journey is not without risks, though, as the war rages on.

There are other characters, of course. And their stories are just as important. There’s young Eva, the apple of Peter’s eye. She has a ticket on the train to freedom but her older brother has a different idea. Stephen and Hans are sent on the train to safety by their respective families. And then there are the tragic stories of those left behind, children who didn’t get a seat on the train as well as adults not able to escape.

This was an incredibly engaging story for me because I had no idea such a thing existed. The Kindertransport was something new that I’m now highly motivated to learn more about. For that reason alone, it was a book I just couldn’t put down. The characters and storylines were good as well, although I did feel that many of the deaths were described too matter-of-factly. Still, a great story about an interesting subject!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: The Children’s Train: Escape on the Kindertransport

Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

20140728-154355-56635463.jpg There’s nothing quite like having a sister to help you through life. In Lucky Us, the expectation is that Iris will take care of her little sister Eva after their loved ones abandon them. But it is Eva who holds together the relationship, with dim hope and quiet strength. The sisters embark on an adventure like no other, opening their eyes and their lives to worldliness and shallow sophistication. They try – but fail – to piece together a family. They try again. And again.

Lucky Us is about losing a family and finding a family. It’s about the damage that a mother and father can do and undo. It’s about making a life out of nothing but the kindness of strangers, and then recognizing that kindness as the only love you’ll ever know.

This book is historical fiction, set during the 1940s, referencing the war and its horrors, and illustrating the stunning commonalities among Jews, Germans, and Japanese. I don’t even like historical fiction, but I was taken in by the human facet of the decade. It read so much like contemporary fiction that I forgot what decade I was in. The crafting of this book is exceptional, the format perfect for the story, and the writing is tight, with every substantial paragraph meaning more than you think.

Lucky Us is hopeful. Eva shows how a young woman can endure much – maybe not with joy but with grace – and find acceptance for the life she has.

I found Eva so impressive, gracious, and strong. The grand finale in Eva’s life is the return of two loved ones. Adding them to the one who never left is Eva’s happily-ever-after finally coming to fruition. Lucky, indeed.

–calliope

Note: Amy Bloom will give a free talk about LUCKY US on Friday, August 1, at 7p.m. at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut.

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Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink Translated by Carol Brown Janeway

readerThe last twenty pages of this book deeply affected me. I can’t even express it at the moment. I just wish I could take it all back and somehow unread the entire book. Then I want to read it for the very first time again…but this time somehow read it while being the person that read the last 20 pages…

This story is told by Michael Berg. It is told later on his life. He is looking back to a relationship he had with a woman named Hanna Schmitz. A woman who by one random act of kindness changes his life when he is 15 years old. Later on, he attends a trial and finds Hanna as one of the defendants.

At times this novel felt disjointed. However, the more I think about it, the more I am sure that Schlink wanted me to feel this way. This novel is told by Michael. It is his story of Hanna. Even as an older man, decades after his relationship started with Hanna, he is still unsure what she means to him. How she has changed him into the man that he has become. He understands bits of it. He can even rationalize much of it. But there is still mystery to much of it.

In some ways, I wish this story could have been told from Hanna’s voice. However, I realize that it would not be the story it was if it had been. I am both appreciative and frustrated with this knowledge.

Why did I love this book so much? At about 1/2 way through this book I was feeling very frustrated. I kept going back and forth on my feelings for Michael. At points I thought he was so unbelievably selfish. At other times I felt like he was almost a victim. At points I had the exact same feelings about Hanna herself. I was also becoming increasingly pissed off that I was not allowed to see inside of Hanna’s mind. With the last couple of chapters, none of those feelings changed….however, I was left humbled and a bit awestruck at my emotions. If I had been reading this book standing up, I might have even staggered a bit and found myself leaning up against the closest wall until I could find myself on steady feet again. It’s not that Schlink reviled anything I didn’t already know…it’s just the way that he brought it all into the light of day. Why??

Simply because this book didn’t just seem to provide answers and questions about the characters it was about. At this point…I had questions about myself. I am not even sure at this point what they are. I just know that they are bouncing back and forth within my mind, even at this moment. And much like Michael, I am not sure I will ever know the correct questions to ask. I am not sure that I will ever find the answers if I do. Much like Michael, I am not sure these questions need answered…perhaps they only need to be asked.

This novel moved me….and has given me so much to ponder…It’s a book that I *know* will stay with me for days, weeks, even years to come. One day, I will be walking down a lonely city street. The wind bitterly cold against my skin. I will be confident that I am happy and secure in my life. “The Reader” will be the furthest thing from my mind….then like a ghost of the past, Hanna will be there…walking along beside me…begging me, finally, to ask the questions just within by grasp….my mind will find itself, out of the blue, wrestling with the feelings this novel has brought to me….

Until next time

Urania xx

Buy it now The Reader