The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

9780778330271_56037Originally 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.

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The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

9781250140708_05103

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.

The Competition by Cecily Wolfe

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Originally appeared in School Library Journal, November 2018.

Grade 7 & Up: A diverse cast of characters take part in the Penultimate, an Ohio state writing competition, where 100 teens battle for a full college scholarship. Mary Sofia (a Latina) lives in a shelter. Her mother blames her for the unforgettable, tragic night her abusive stepfather was killed by her older brother Matias, as he protected Mary Sofia. She longs to visit Matias in prison, missing him dearly. Michael, Caucasian, is an introvert who excels at swimming and writing, who is instantly attracted to Mary Sofia. Camera who is shy and biracial carries a secret of being sexually assaulted during a party. Raiden is a Chinese American teen who dreams of becoming a nurse, though his father would rather he be a doctor. The four young people conveniently pair up into couples, forming a foreseeable cozy group for the remainder of the story. One of the contest themes is writing about “a defining moment,” which forces both Camera and Mary Sofia to finally come to terms with their painful pasts. The story line is realistic with hints of tame romance. After an unlikely turn of events for the new friends, the predictable yet hopeful ending offers each an unexpected chance at a brighter future. Compared to other realistic teen fiction, Wolfe’s second novel falls short in pacing and writing quality. Themes of friendship and typical teenage behaviors are represented well. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase.

The Latecomers by Helen Klein Ross

9780316476867_f37acOriginally published in Library Journal, October 15, 2018.

In her third novel, Ross (What Was MineMaking 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.

Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

y648.jpgPurple Hearts is the final book in the Front Lines trilogy by Michael Grant. This young adult historical fiction story takes place in 1944. Though the Battle of D-Day at Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and the depiction of German death camps is written with historical accuracy, the one twist in the story is that it takes a place in a world where women are drafted into military service right along with the men. For this reason, the series focuses on three main female characters from the first book when they start out as recruits, through the second book where they receive Silver Stars for bravery and to the final book where they have earned Sergeant status and Purple Hearts. Rio, Rainy, and Frangie (Doc) courageously fight through excruciating conditions and never-ending days of battle, in which the harsh realities of war are not sugar coated. 

Rio, a Sergeant and the first woman to receive a Silver Star recipient, has a boyfriend (an army pilot named Strand who cares more about himself than anyone else), but she begins to develop feelings for Jack, one of the soldiers under her command. This makes for a bit of romantic angst in the midst of so much war, which I rather enjoyed.

Fellow Sergeant and friend, Rainy, is undercover in Nazi-occupied France in order to get closer to the enemy and destroy some of their ammunition stockpiles. She joins forces with the maquis, forming an unlikely partnership in which the end goals are the same. Rainy is a Jewish American who is both bold and brave, not afraid of her mission at all.

Frangie Marr, known as “Doc,” is a black Army medic from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her religious Southern upbringing bodes well for her “bedside manner” with wounded soldiers, making her a friend and favorite to many. Though she is dealing with “separate but equal” segregation back home, as a soldier she is equal, allowing her to really make a difference, saving and comforting wounded soldiers with a fierce, brave tenacity that is unparalleled.

The writing is well-researched as Grant seamlessly weaves together the narratives from Rio, Rainy, and Doc, along with some other lesser known characters that are important to the storyline. Being the final book in the trilogy, the way the author provides closure for each of the characters taking readers through to the end of the lives is well-written and most appreciated, allowing readers to see that the war wasn’t the end for these brave young women. They had so much life left to live and enjoy after serving selflessly for their country. Also included between the narratives are letters written to many of the soldiers from family members they left back home, which really brings the characters to life even more.

Even though it’s intended for a young adult adult audience, it would certainly appeal to adults who enjoy military fiction. The battles and violence are graphic and bloody and the dialogue includes quite a bit of rough language, so I would not recommend this book for younger teens or middle grades. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Chris Lynch will enjoy this series.

A sincere thank you to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

9780062870674_3cee2Originally 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 by Susan Orlean

51pmjwgu0bl._sx340_bo1,204,203,200_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!