Wait for Me by Caroline Leech

9780062459886_b8b2dReview first appeared in School Library Journal, November 2016.

LEECH, Caroline. Wait for Me. 384p. Harper Teen. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062459886.

Gr 8 Up- In 1945 Scotland during WWII, Lorna Anderson is tending to the family farm alongside her father while her older brothers are fighting at war. Her mother passed away when she was young, leaving Lorna to grow up quickly, assuming some motherly responsibilities in the household. Lorna’s initial uneasiness upon meeting Paul, a German solder with a badly burned face assigned to work at Craigielaw Farm, turns into a mutual respect and friendship. Then, a forbidden romance begins: the daughter of a Scottish farmer and a German prisoner of war. Tension between Lorna and her best friend Iris increases as each grow into young women and fall in love for the first time. Lorna longs for an end to the war, but the end is bittersweet, as her future with Paul is uncertain. Though missing his mother and younger sister, Paul is unsure whether he will have a home to return to after Dresdyn was left in ruins. Even though the war moves slowly, the narrative flows quickly as readers are immersed in the innocent love of Lorna and Paul. Leech includes historically accurate details, and a helpful notes section as well. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Laurie Halse Anderson will enjoy Leech’s debut novel. VERDICT Historical fiction, forbidden romance, and a coming-of-age tale combine into a memorable story perfect for young adults. Recommended as a first purchase for all libraries.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

After having seen the book-to-movie film preview for this novel, I purchased a copy, thinking it would be like so many of the historical fiction novels of WWII that I’ve read and enjoyed. Though it was very different, I still enjoyed it very much. It took me quite a bit longer to read it than others, but I believe that is because of the large amount of quotations and well-researched background information. This is a nonfiction narrative based upon the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski during WWII in war-ravaged Warsaw, Poland. Jan was the zookeeper for the well-known and successful Warsaw Zoo. His wife, Antonina, shared a special bond with the animals at the zoo, and her courageous and compassionate personality allowed her to save over 300 people, mostly Jewish, who were seeking refuge from the Nazis during WWII. The reason the Zabinskis were able to hide so many Jewish people on the zoo property and in the villa is because of the Nazis obsession with preserving certain animals in their purification scheme. Were the Nazis not concerned with animals and zoology, Jan and Antonina would likely not have been able to save lives like they did.

The descriptions of exotic zoo animals and even common animals in the story are detailed and realistic. The author clearly completed many hours of extensive research in order to tell the Zabinski’s story, as evidenced by the lengthy chapter-by-chapter details section and the bibliography at the end of the book. This story was different from most of the WWII novels that I normally read because rather than focusing on life in a concentration camp, it detailed the daily life of those living in Poland during the war, which for some was living in constant terror and fear. Because of the wealth of detail and personal stories weaved into the story, this was not a quick read. It took me a while to get through the book, but it was worth the read and I did enjoy it very much.

I look forward to seeing the movie, because I believe it will be a nice complement to the book.

At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole

9780345547897_c667aAt the Edge of Summer will be published on May 17, 2016.

It is the summer of 1911, and 15 year old, Clare, is sent from her home in Scotland to Mille Mots, a castle in the French countryside. Her father passed away, so she was send to live with the Crepets, artists and friends of her mother. Clare’s mother, also an artist, disappeared when Clare was younger, leaving Clare with a feeling of being unwanted and unimportant.

At Mille Mots, she meets Luc, the only child of the Crepets. Luc is a few years older than Clare and he studies at the university. Clare is intrigued by Luc, who treats her as an equal and encourages her to be herself, teaching her how to draw and spending time getting to know her.

Just when Clare starts to feel at home with the Crepets and her feelings blossom for Luc, her grandfather shows up to take Clare with him on his journey through Portugal and Africa. Clare is once again thrust  into unfamiliar environments where she feels like an outsider looking in.

Fast forward a few years, as World War I is raging across the land and Luc and Clare have drifted apart, Luc is serving his country in battle. He thinks of Clare often and gets through some very hard days with the help of a friend and fellow soldier named Chaffre. Clare yearns for summer days spent with Luc, the one place she was truly ever happy – at Mille Mots. Thinking about Luc and hoping he makes it out of the war alive, she decides to take his advice and pursue study in art. She attends the Glasgow School of Art, and while there begins volunteering in a Paris studio where artists sculpt prosthetic pieces for injured soldiers. What she finds there will forever change the course of her future.

Brockmole does a fabulous job describing Paris, the French countryside, and the castle at Mille Mots. Readers can easily picture Clare’s surroundings and share in her feelings of loss and sadness when she must leave Mille Mots after such a memorable summer spent there.

The novel includes many letters between Luc and Clare over the years they are apart, some replies and some that go unanswered and unread. The letters add a richness to an already beautiful story line and budding romance.

Another aspect of the story which I really appreciated were the man/woman platonic friendships that both Luc and Clare had while they were apart. Luc became close with Mabel, a nurse who helped him so much after he was injured in the war. Clare is fortunate to meet and become close with Finlay, also an injured solder with a heart of gold. Without the support of Mable and Finlay, Luc and Clare may not have had the courage to find themselves or fight for the way back to each other.

Fans of historical fiction, fiction, and romance will surely enjoy this story. It is well written with an intriguing story line and beautiful descriptions of art and landscape.

 

 

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

9781501112171_6e1b5.jpgI’m back again with another WWII historical fiction novel, which seems to be one of my favorite genres of late. This is written for a YA audience, but like Salt to the Sea, adults will also enjoy reading it. Girl in the Blue Coat will be published April 5, 2016.

The story takes place in Amsterdam in 1943. Hanneke is a brave, young Dutch girl with nothing much else to lose, having recently lost her true love, Bas, to the war, as well as her best friend Elspeth. She supports her mother and crippled father working for a funeral director. What she actually does for Mr. Kreuk, however, is locate and deliver items found on the black market, items such as chocolate, cigarettes, and extra meat which have become scarce during the war efforts. As German soldiers roam the streets in her village and Jewish families are rounded up all around her, Hanneke’s courage shines. She becomes skilled at tricking the soldiers so they let her pass without any trouble. Her small acts of rebellion against Nazis and Hitler, though done mostly in secret, provide a small measure of satisfaction to combat the immense grief she struggles with daily.

One day, during a routine delivery to an older woman names Mrs. Janssen, Hanneke’s is asked to help locate a missing girl in a blue coat, named Mirjam. She was hiding in Mrs. Janssen’s cellar since her family was transported and killed by German soldiers, but has recently turned up missing. The problem is that the girl is Jewish, and if Hanneke is caught helping a Jewish girl, she will also be sent away or worse.  As Hanneke searches in secret, with the help of some members of an underground resistance group including Bas’s brother Ollie, she finds out that the girl in the blue coat either doesn’t want to be found, or that she may not be the girl Hanneke is searching for after all. Is it worth risking lives to locate one missing Jewish girl, when so many Jewish people are being rounded up like livestock and sent to uncertain death? Hanneke gave Mrs. Janssen her word, and she will not stop until she finds Mirjam, the girl in the blue coat.

This is a coming-of-age novel with so much going on. There are stories of Jewish babies and young children who are rescued by brave resistance workers, much like Hanneke’s friend, Mina, as their families are taken to concentration camps. There is hope, even in the most dire circumstances, and there is love between family, and between best friends. The author has done a beautiful job bringing light to a portion of history which should always be remembered. Overall, Girl in the Blue Coat is a wonderful story, for which you won’t be disappointed. My only disappointment is that it had to end.

Thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the early review copy.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt to the sea

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys will be published on February 2, 2016 by Penguin.

Below is a must-watch video of Ruta Sepetys describing her book. Many thanks to Penguin Teen for providing it.

 

The first thing I want to say is that I do not believe I can actually do this wonderful, beautifully haunting book justice with my review. I read it so quickly (in just over a day) because I couldn’t put it down. It was written for a young adult audience, but I firmly believe that adults would enjoy it just as much, if not so much more than young adults. I’ve read and enjoyed many works of WWII historical fiction, including (to name my favorites) The Storyteller, The Nightingale, and Sarah’s Key, but this book is now at the very top of my favorites list.

This isn’t just another WWII historical fiction based upon the Holocaust, but instead it is about a little-known disaster which affected over 10,000 people as they tried to desperately leave war-torn homelands in a race for survival. Much like the Holocaust, the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff is horrifying and devastating. Unlike the Holocaust, however, history has chosen to keep this disaster quiet, even though it is the single greatest maritime disaster in history, much larger in terms of lost lives than the Titanic or the Lusitania.

Here are the facts: The Wilhem Gustloff, a former cruise ship, set out into the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea on the evening of January 30, 1945. The ships capacity was 1,463, but there were actually 10,573 passengers on board. Of these, it is estimated that there were over 5,000 children. Other large groups of passengers on board included injured German soldiers and pregnant or new mothers with infants. The ship was equipped for 22 lifeboats, but only 12 were actually on the ship when it set sail. Around 9:15 PM, about 25 nautical miles offshore, the Wilhem Gustloff was struck by 3 Russian torpedoes and completely sunk within 1 hour after being hit. A total of 9,343 people perished, either on the ship or floating in the dark, icy waters of the unforgiving Baltic Sea.

It’s very clear that the author extensively and thoroughly researched the historical events retold in the story. She stayed true to historical fact. There are author’s notes and research & sources sections at the back of the book which are interesting and also heartbreaking to read. They give details from actual survivors, as well as stories from family members of those who didn’t survive the tragedy.

The pace of the book is quick, with short chapters, switching back and forth between 4 different young character’s points of view. Joana, a young nurse from Lithuania, Emilia, a young Polish girl, Florian, a young Prussian art restorer and forger, and Alfred, a German sailor with high regard for himself, but little regard for others. Each of these young people have a past haunting them and a future completely based upon trying to survive the war and evacuate before it’s too late. Their paths cross on the way to the Wilhem Gustloff. All but Alfred have suffered great loss at the hands of Hitler and the war. The characters are all from different nations, youth who have had to leave everything behind and suffer great loss, though they held no part in causing such catastrophe and strife. Joana, Emilia, Florian, along with an old shoemaker known as Poet, a 5 year old orphaned boy named Kraus, a blind girl named Ingrid, and a large, loud woman named Eva form a makeshift family, as they stick together on their way to the port. Each has only a tiny shred of hope, but together they are capable of loving and caring for one another, even when they thought they had nothing left to give. The relationships between the characters is heartbreaking, real, and so very beautiful. I will never forget them or their stories.

I cannot say enough about this wonderful book. I would encourage you to read it and pass it on to as many people as you can, so that those affected by this tragedy are never forgotten. As Ruta Sepetys says, “When the survivors are gone, we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please, give them a voice.”

 

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover will be published November 3, 2015.

This was such a beautiful story that I was fortunate to come across and read. It reminded me quite a bit of another historical fiction book which I absolutely loved called Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey. Like in Grey’s book, The Japanese Lover alternates between present day and and back to the 1940’s. Alma is an elderly woman who has checked herself into Lark House, a beautiful assisted living facility for the elderly. As the story progresses, we find out more and more about Alma’s life, including many secret meetings and correspondence with Ichimei Fukuda. Alma met Ichimei when they were 8 years old and Ichimei’s father was the gardener for Sea Cliff, the mansion owned by the Belasco’s, Alma’s aunt and uncle. Ichimei and his family were interned in a camp at Topaz for 3 years, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans living in California. Alma’s family, because they were Jewish, sent her away from Poland at the start of the war to live with the Belasco’s in America. Her family was sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust, and she never saw her parents again. Allende’s story portrays this heart breaking time for so many families with honesty and dignity. Running alongside of Alma’s story is that of her caregiver at Lark House, Irina. Irina, born in Moldovia, came to America and endured a horrifying adolescence, which she is still trying to keep secret and escape from when she meets Alma and her grandson, Seth, at Lark House. Alma takes Irina under her wing almost like a niece, as Irina helps her with daily tasks and takes care of her personal affairs. Irina and Seth realize that Alma is receiving letters from Ichimei, some 70 years after they first met. Seth finds himself falling for Irina, but she is reluctant to let anyone get close to her because of her embarrassment about the past. As the story comes to an end, many long buried secrets regarding Alma, her cousin (who would later become her husband) Nathaniel, Ichimei, Irina, and a newcomer to Lark House named Lenny who seems to know Alma very well. This book will definitely keep you reading until the last page. I absolutely loved the story.

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

I’m so glad to have read this book. It reminded me a little bit of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, which is also a beautiful WWII story that I have reviewed previously. I had no idea that during WWII, German prisoners of war were used for farm labor in the states, while many of the American farmers and their sons were fighting in the war. The Cherry Harvest takes place in Door County, Wisconsin, home to many cherry orchards. The Christiansen family’s young son Ben is away at war, leaving a teenager Kate, mother Charlotte, and father Thomas to work the orchard without any workers available, as in years past. Because of the war, food and many common luxuries (such as coffee and scented soap) are scarce and if the orchard isn’t harvested and tended, the Christiansen family might not be able to keep their farm running. They decide to allow German POW’s to work on the farm, against the wishes of many of the other townspeople. Thomas befriends one of the POW’s named Karl, a teacher who is well versed in English and appreciative of the Christiansen family allowing him to live and work on the property. As Karl tutors young Kate and becomes closer to Thomas and Charlotte, decisions are made that will forever impact the family. Meanwhile, young Kate starts a secretive relationship with a rich son of a political figure. When the family receive news of the long awaited return of their son Ben from war, the story unfolds quickly and sadly. Be prepared for a heart-wrenching ending. Even with the ending being sad, I really got lost in this story. The writing was beautiful. The author described the cherries and all the things on the orchard in vivid detail, making it seem like the reader was there seeing everything in person. The story has just the right amount of romance, humor, suspense, and heartbreak. You won’t be sorry for reading it!