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.

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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.

Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.

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.

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.

Historical Fiction Favorites

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I’ve always loved historical fiction, especially WWII-era fiction. I can’t get enough of it!

Below, in no particular order (because I love them all so dearly), is a list of some of my favorite historical fiction books.

WWII era Historical Fiction Favorites

  • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg
  • Letters to the Lost by Iona Gray
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
  • The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen
  • The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
  • The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons
  • The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
  • Mischling by Affinity Konar

Other Historical Fiction Favorites (not WWII era)

  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
  • The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

Please let me know in the comments if you have any favorites that I have not mentioned.  I would love to add them to my TBR pile!

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The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

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Emma, a young Jewish woman living in Poland during WWII, is forced to assume a new identity as a Polish girl named Anna. A newlywed, Emma’s husband Jacob is in the Jewish resistance group and he is forced to go into hiding just a short time after they are married.  Emma and her parents are taken into the Jewish ghetto to live in cramped quarters with no comforts of home. Luckily, Emma is secretly taken out of the ghetto in the middle of the night by one of the resistance group members. She assumes the role of a Polish gentile named Anna, a niece to a wealthy Catholic woman named Krysia, who is Jacob’s aunt. Krysia is also involved with the resistance but Emma is much safer in her care than in the Jewish ghetto. Fearing for Jacob’s safety, the uncertain future of her aging parents in the ghetto, as well as her own future, Emma must press on, living a life of lies and secrets in order to remain safe from the Nazis.

To complicate matters further, Emma is introduced at Krysia’s dinner party to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking, powerful, and extremely handsome Nazi official. Emma knows she should loathe the Kommandant, but he is sweet, caring, and very much interested in her. “Anna” goes to work for the Kommandant, which allows her to secretly assist the resistance group in gathering information from the Nazis. She never dreamed she would be so comfortable in the presence of a Nazi official, much less spend all her time with him and become his “girl.” As the war intensifies in and around Krakow, Anna gets even closer to the Kommandant in order to carry out a most dangerous mission for the resistance group. Torn between her vows to Jacob and her feelings for Richwalder, Emma must decide which path to take.

When the secrets of her true identity threaten to come out, Emma’s life will never be the same again. The ending will have readers reeling. I cried for Emma, who lost so  very much, but still had the courage to carry on despite the circumstances.  This is a beautifully written story with a fast-paced story-line which readers will enjoy from beginning to end.

Thank you to Harper Collins MIRA for an advanced digital review copy.