Originally published in Library Journal, January 2019.
Jenoff seamlessly weaves together the stories of three remarkable women and the impact of WWII on their lives. In the New York train station, Grace Healy, a newly widowed legal secretary, stumbles upon a suitcase with the name Trigg, containing a dozen photos of women with only first names and no other way to identify them. Eleanor Trigg, an outsider with a painful past, is the leader of a group of secret female agents. Her girls are sent into occupied Europe as radio operators, charged with the task of sabotaging the Germans and arming the citizens. Grace feels a connection to Eleanor and the girls, yearning to discover why they never made it home, creating an element of mystery to the story. Marie, a young single mother, takes a job with Eleanor’s unit of the Special Operations Executive in London, posing as a French woman. Marie is sent to Paris to serve in the Vesper circuit under the direction of roguishly-handsome Julian. The City of Lights will bring great passion and heartache for brave patriot, Marie. VERDICT: Recommended for fans of Lilac Girls and The Alice Network, Jenoff’s fast-paced historical fiction boasts an intriguing plot and strong female characters.
Originally published in Library Journal, January 2019.
Loigman’s second novel follows Jewish sisters Ruth and Millie Kaplan from their childhood in Brooklyn to adulthood living at an armory base in Springfield, MA. The eldest by three years, Ruth is held to almost impossible standards, while Millie, with her striking looks and pleasing manner, gets away with most anything. Possible male suitors for Ruth always end up pursuing the younger, more beautiful Millie. After their parents die unexpectedly and Millie loses her husband, Lenny, the sisters end up together. Ruth’s husband, Arthur, is an army officer allowing Ruth a prestigious job in payroll, while Millie becomes a soldier of production in an armory factory. Resentment and jealousy intensify as Millie again becomes the beloved center of Ruth’s social circles. Then a stranger arrives and long-buried secrets are revealed, leaving the sisters a chance at a hopeful future. Unfolding in alternating points of view, Loigman provides a behind-the-scenes look at women fighting their own wars at home. Readers will enjoy the heartfelt picture of women’s daily life during wartime through the eyes of two unique, extraordinary sisters. VERDICT: Recommended for historical fiction fans of Pam Jenoff and Kate Morton.
Originally published in Library Journal, October 15, 2018.
In her third novel, Ross (What Was Mine; Making It) weaves a tale of the wealthy Hollingworth family and a secret that spans five generations. Rich historical details bring time periods to life from early 1900 wartime to the Great Depression and all the way up to September 11, 2001. Bridey, age 16, leaves Ireland with her sweetheart, Thom, hoping to marry in America. Thom perishes of ship fever, leaving her alone and pregnant. She gives the infant up for adoption, working in a factory until she meets Sarah Hollingworth and becomes a maid at the family’s lavish estate in Wellington, CT. Sarah, who lost her mother at age 12 and then took care of her siblings, marries Edmund, but is unable to have children of her own. Readers will come to know the infant as Vincent and follow him until his adult years. Vincent’s granddaughter, Emma, loses her own father when the twin towers collapse, a repeating pattern of tragedy for the Hollingworth family. Family drama unfolds in alternating viewpoints; the characters are linked across time periods, as they navigate poverty, loss, loneliness, and heartbreak. VERDICT: Fans of historical sagas will enjoy this dramatic tale.
Originally published in Library Journal, August 31, 2018.
Set in the French village of Caen, Normandy during the Nazi occupation of 1944, the lives of one family and their Jewish neighbors are forever altered. Told in varying points of view and switching between past and present, it is at times difficult to determine the narrator or the time period. The war weaved together the lives of the many characters in oftentimes heartbreaking, unforgettable ways. Many lost their children and loved ones, their identities, and even the will to carry on. Central to the story are young sisters: Yvonne, Francoise, and Genevieve, children of Pauline. Genevieve is living in Paris with Pauline’s sister, Tante Chouchotte, studying violin when her family home is bombed, and only Francoise and her step-father, Oncle Henri survive. Decades later, Polly, the young daughter of Genevieve, half French, but living in America, struggles to balance two cultures and longs to know more about her French family history. Through storytelling and spending time in Brittany, she is able to better understand and appreciate her ancestry. Readers also uncover the secret, passionate love lives of both Pauline and Chouchotte. VERDICT: Recommended for additional purpose to increase a historical fiction collection, DeWitt’s third novel is far surpassed by others in the genre.
Originally published in Library Journal, August 2018.
Originally intended as a screenplay, this compelling debut historical fiction novel is based upon the life of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew imprisoned for almost three years at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he served as the tattooist. Soon after Lale, 25, arrives at Birkenau, he contracts typhus and is left for dead. He is rescued by fellow inmates and Pepan, an older French man and tattooist. Pepan teaches Lale the trade, which along with fluency in six languages, allows Lale privileges of a single room and extra food. Lale’s sole mission is to survive the unbelievable horrors and live to see another day outside the camp. Then he meets young Gita, and his mission changes to surviving and marrying Gita. Despite surroundings of bleakness and death, Lale and Gita’s passionate love blooms in the precious, miniscule moments alone. Lale’s story is heartbreaking, yet hopeful. Readers will root for him despite many setbacks to his survival. An afterword by Gary Sokolov, Lale and Gita’s son, further demonstrates his parents’ unbreakable bond of love and survival against unfathomable evil. VERDICT: Recommended for historical fiction & memoir fans for its unforgettable Holocaust story told from the unique perspective through the eyes of the tattooist of Auschwitz.
The Library Book is a fabulous in-depth look at the unsolved mystery surrounding the single largest library fire in United States history, that of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. Though the book is nonfiction, it is packed full of interesting information, including the history of the very first libraries as well as both hilarious and heartwarming anecdotal details from various library employees which Orlean interviewed.
Perhaps I loved it so much because I’m a librarian, but I believe it will be loved by any reader based upon the great popularity it has already received. Celebrity reader, Reese Witherspoon selected The Library Book as the January pick for her book club, Hello Sunshine and it’s also spent time on the New York Times Bestseller list, of course. It is evident that Orlean spent many years researching and studying the Los Angeles Public Library system, as well as libraries in general. Most fascinating to me was the description of the process of thousands of wet, damaged books from the fire that were frozen before the mold started, and then months later pressed dry to remove all the moisture. Another really neat thing to read about was the start of e-books and the mind-blowing statistics of their worldwide usage today. I kept repeating facts out loud while reading to my husband because they were so interesting.
The Library Book has been called “a love letter to libraries” by some, which is certainly on point. In the beginning, Orlean tells of when she was a young girl visiting the library with her mother, a memory which she will always cherish. She remembers vividly the discussions with her mother on the way home which books they would read first and the feel of the stack of books in her lap, a comforting presence. Her mother always said she should have been a librarian. Like Orlean, I too have always held a special place in my heart for libraries. I can remember being in them from the time I was very young, in awe of the wonder surrounding me on the shelves. And, like Orlean’s mother, I always dreamed of being a librarian, and here I am. This book really captivated me and reminded me just how fortunate and thankful I am to be able to be living out the dream I once had as a little girl.
I would highly recommend The Library Book for fans of nonfiction and fiction alike, especially those who love a bit of mystery and/or history. You won’t be disappointed with this book!
Books Read in 2018: 109
My Favorite Books Read in 2018
Listed in no particular order, here are some of my favorite books read in 2018. I’ve included a bit of information after each title as to the intended audience and genre. Many are linked to my review of the title. Please let me know if you enjoyed any of these as much as I did. Happy New Year!
- Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (Adult, Self-Help, Women’s Life)
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Adult, Historical Fiction)
- One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards (YA, Suspense, Thriller)
- The Other Woman by Sandie Jones (Adult, Psychological Suspense, Thriller)
- Crucible by James Rollins (Adult, Suspense, Thriller, Adventure)
- The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff (Adult, Historical Fiction)
- Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (Adult, Psychological Suspense)
- Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (YA, Contemporary Realistic)