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

Children's trainISBN ~ 978-1939371850
Publisher ~BQB Publishing
No. Of Pages ~368 pages
Links ~ Netgalley, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Jewish children of Germany are frightened, and their parents are too. Hitler’s men have just broken their store windows, stolen and destroyed their belongings, and arrested many Jewish fathers and brothers. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized. The train filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chugs over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. That night the Coventry farm is bombed. The Nazis have reached England. Peter has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

5 Thumbs-Up I actually downloaded this novel for free from Netgalley, with the usual caveat I would provide an honest review, as if I write anything else, as it fit into my studies and was looking for a different fictional viewpoint for a paper I was writing.  Little did I know that once I started reading this I would find it very hard to put down.

There really aren’t any words I could write here that could make anyone read this book, particularly given the subject, but it surely is a book that needs to be read to ensure something as horrific and tragic as this never happens again. The Author writes mainly from the viewpoint of the children involved in the journey of the Kindertransport, but also takes time to bring to life on the page the awful decisions their parents had to make in letting them go.  As always with history, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time in which the novel is set many of these adults still did not believe their lives could possibly be in jeopardy, never mind the lives of their children.

Although there are few places in the book where the Author reminds us that this is truly a work of fiction, the novel is very informative and engrossing and I would highly recommend this book as reading for teenagers to help them understand another aspect of the Holocaust.  I am always indecisive when it comes to the issue of whether to read another novel on this subject, but I am glad I read this and will be looking out for more from this Author in the future.

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Review: The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust ~ Edith Hahn Beer, Susan Dworkin

Nazi officers wifeISBN ~ 978-0349113791
Publisher ~  Abacus
No. Of Pages ~ 305 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harper Collins

Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman studying law in Vienna when the Gestapo forced Edith and her mother into a ghetto, issuing them papers branded with a “J.” Soon, Edith was taken away to a labor camp, and though she convinced Nazi officials to spare her mother, when she returned home, her mother had been deported. Knowing she would become a hunted woman, Edith tore the yellow star from her clothing and went underground, scavenging for food and searching each night for a safe place to sleep. Her boyfriend, Pepi, proved too terrified to help her, but a Christian friend was not: With the woman’s identity papers in hand, Edith fled to Munich. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi party member who fell in love with her. And despite her protests and even her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity secret.

In vivid, wrenching detail, Edith recalls a life of constant, almost paralyzing fear. She tells of German officials who casually questioned the lineage of her parents; of how, when giving birth to her daughter, she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal her past; and of how, after her husband was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia, Edith was bombed out of her house and had to hide in a closet with her daughter while drunken Russians soldiers raped women on the street.

Yet despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith Hahn created a remarkable collective record of survival: She saved every set of real and falsified papers, letters she received from her lost love, Pepi, and photographs she managed to take inside labor camps.

On exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., these hundreds of documents form the fabric of an epic story – complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.

3 Thumbs-UpI always feel that when reading about this period of our history, the Holocaust and its accompanying literature should be taken in small pieces due to its intensity and the emotions it can bring out in the reader.  This is one small piece that was worth reading but it wasn’t as mind-blowing as other true accounts I have read.  I actually feel a little guilt at only giving 3 thumbs to a book written about a holocaust survivor, as each survival story is remarkable in and of itself, but this book didn’t capture me in the way others have, and I found the Author really hard to connect with.

With that said, this book opened my eyes to a part of the Holocaust I had heard of, but never really read anything about; the story of a Jew in Nazi Germany living as a non-Jew, or as they were known a ‘U-boat’.  This book gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘living with the enemy’.  I was totally immersed in the paperwork and rationing involved in Germany at this time, and along with the presence of mind required by the Author to remember who she was at any given moment, and to keep her cool when questioned I found myself pulled more into the era and life then, than I was towards the Author herself.

The evidence of how the Author had to harden her emotions to everyday events, something that she still carries with her today, was apparent in the way in which this book was written.  Events were put on the page in a very matter of fact manner and with very little emotion, this also spilled over to others mentioned in the book, as they came across as one-dimensional and with little to no depth.  This made it very hard to figure out their personalities and the motivation behind their actions; but maybe I was looking for too much in what is an account of an extraordinary life.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Holocaust fiction as they might find a viewpoint on this period they had not read before.

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Review: World War I: The Definitive Visual History from Sarajevo to Versailles ~ R.G. Grant

WWIISBN ~ 978-1465419385
Publisher ~ DK Publishing
No. Of Pages ~ 360 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository,

2014 marks the centennial of the start of World War I — DK will mark the occasion with the publication of “World War I: The Definitive Visual Guide,” a vividly illustrated, in-depth account of the Great War.

Written by historian R. G. Grant, and created by DK’s award-winning editorial and design team, “World War I” charts the developments of the war from a global perspective. Using illustrated timelines, detailed maps, and personal accounts, readers will see the oft-studied war in a new light. Key episodes are set clearly in the wider context of the conflict, in-depth profiles look at the key generals and political leaders, and full-color photo galleries showcase the weapons, inventions, and new technologies that altered the course of history.

A vivid portrait of the confrontation on land, sea, and sky, “World War I: The Definitive Visual Guide” offers readers a bold and thoughtful new look at this complex and explosive moment in history.

4 Thumbs-UpWhat is not to love about a book that has been put together by The Smithsonian and DK?  Sometimes they don’t always hit the right note and produce a piece of work that appeals to all audiences, but with this book they hit all markets and made this period of our world history accessible to everyone.

Full of pictures, maps and excerpts from people who were actually there, this book provides an interesting collection of information about the World War One.  I originally picked this book up as I am having to write a paper on trench warfare, and found facts in here that I had not come across anywhere else; the detailed maps were also a plus in my research, and would help in understanding this form of warfare to those not familiar with it.

For those who might be concerned that this book may be too much for younger readers, there is no need; although the pictures used are mainly ‘war’ photographs and paintings, there is nothing too graphic or disturbing about them, rather the opposite they exude a sense of sadness when viewed from this point in our history.  The start of the book provides a timeline up to the outbreak of war, and then in a somewhat chronological order follows it through to the Armistice and then the aftermath and how the end of the war didn’t just stop with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The way in which this book has been put together gives the reader the museum experience without leaving the comfort of their own homes, and the heavy pages and striking cover add to this feeling of being in another place.

My reasoning for giving this lovely book only a four thumbs rating was the size of the text, I did find it rather small and densely packed in places, and would have been happier with more pages in the book if the text were larger. Overall though this a great book to use as an introduction to the era, and as a supplement to more serious studies; as a plus it also looks great on the coffee table too.

I would highly recommend this book to all who are interested in this era, or just want to expand their knowledge about, what was supposed to be, the ‘war to end all wars’.  It will make the reader think considering that some of the places mentioned in the book are still fighting today, which will bring up the question of why?

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Review: Black Cross (World War Two #1) ~ Greg Iles

black cross

The New York Times bestselling author of Spandau Phoenix offers another riveting novel–a blockbuster that sets forth an intriguing premise and answers a bewildering question. Fact: In 1945, Allied scientists combing the secret laboratories of the ruined Third Reich discovered a weapon that could have completely wiped out D-Day invasion forces. Why didn’t Hitler use it?  It is January 1944 — and as Allied troops prepare for D-day, Nazi scientists develop a toxic nerve gas that will repel and wipe out any invasion force. To salvage the planned assault, two vastly different but equally determined men are sent to infiltrate the secret concentration camp where the poison gas is being perfected on human subjects. Their only objective: destroy all traces of the gas and the men who created it — no matter how many lives may be lost…including their own.

5 Thumbs-Up

If you have a weak stomach, this is not the novel for you.  However, if you do decide to pass it over, you will be missing an incredible read.

What characters there are in this book, from real life to fictional, and all are woven together to create people who the reader will either be 100% with throughout, or really want to see them come to a grizzly end.  Despite them all been based in the WWII era, and everyone knows the outcome of this war, it doesn’t stop the reader from immediately connecting with anyone of a number of the principal players in this plot.  It does take some time to get to know the characters but the wait is well worth it and the journey to the reader learning about them and their motivations adds a great deal to the plot.  There really isn’t a great deal more I can say about the characters in this book without beginning to include spoilers in this review; one thing I will say though is that it was very refreshing to read some very strong female characters and to travel their path with them to its conclusion, and many times the ‘who will you choose?’ question raises its ugly head, and they have to make that choice.

This novel is a very solid and well researched piece of historical fiction with, as I mentioned earlier, fact woven seamlessly into the fiction.  Some of the facts included actually had me doing research myself into them once I had finished the book and this is always a good thing.  Although this could be listed as a holocaust book, the action does not take place entirely in a camp and when it does it is not the usual kind of camp we read about.  The descriptions of the horrific things that took place in this camp to not just Jews actually made my stomach turn at some points and I am far from being squeamish.  It is not a fast paced book by any stretch of the imagination, but this is good as when the action takes place it leaves the reader breathless and wanting to read on.  I loved the ending to this book, in fact I think it was my favourite part; there were no neat ribbon tied packages that gave closure, but an image of hope for the future which epitomised everything those who had participated in this war fought for.

I would highly recommend this book to any and all readers.

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Review: The Quick ~ Lauren Owen

the quickLondon, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.

5 Thumbs-UpSo, what can I say about this book?  Three things really, a) it is a debut novel for this Author b) I really didn’t see that coming and c) Noooooo!!!

I found this book by chance on a rummage through my local lending library the other day, and was intrigued both by the cover and the synopsis, so home with me it came and I’m glad I took a chance on something so unknown to me.  If other readers have already heard of this novel they may think I live under some rock and rarely venture out; that is not the case, I never read reviews on books and choose them purely on their own merit when out and about and this was the case with this one.

From a character point of view they are plentiful in this novel, and they are morose, they are arrogant; you may love them or you may hate them, but each of them will bring about a reaction in the reader of some description.  In my opinion it was hard to pinpoint one main character in the whole of this novel, as so many come and take centre stage in a way that will impact all those around them; and once they step away from the limelight they do not fade out of the plotline entirely as many Authors have their lesser characters doing.  Despite the time period in which this novel was set, there was one particular character I really connected with and I was rooting for her every time she appeared in the story; there were also others that no matter how hard I tried I could not find anything redeeming in their character and found myself chuckling when rough things happened to them.

Because of the way in which this book is written it is hard to write an in-depth review without giving away the plot.  It is written from a multi-perspective point of view , as each character comes to the front and also includes journal entries; all the good stuff that combine together to make an exceptional Victorian gothic novel.  It is very apparent from the way in which the Author addresses class issues and gender expectations that they have done an extensive amount of research into this period of history; the shock one woman expresses at seeing another wearing trousers is a good example.  The location descriptions are the best I have read in a long time, and in this area put me in mind of Dickens and Conan-Doyle in the way the Author uses the surroundings to propel the storyline along.  The grandeur of some buildings is, in the next paragraph startling contrasted against the poorer areas of London; along with smells and attire I could almost feel I was back in this time with the characters.

This is a moody, dark and gritty novel which really doesn’t show London at its best, but this is what adds to the novel.  There is no sugar coating of the privations some suffered and the excesses others enjoyed.  Because of its abrupt ending however, I am hoping that this may be the start of a series, one that I will definitely be following.  If not, and the Author decided to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger, I don’t really mind as I will definitely be reading this Author again.

I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, and those who enjoy a good gothic novel.  Also those who enjoy Victorian crime fiction may find this to their liking.

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Review: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History ~ Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (Contributor)

The Monuments MenAt the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.  Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

3 Thumbs-UpUnusually for me and this genre of book, we had a love hate relationship.  I have previously read other works on this topic and found them to be engrossing and insisting I keep reading them until the end to discover the next piece in the puzzle; this particular one did not have that hook that pulled me all the way in, and is one of the reasons for the three thumbs review.

The story told within the pages of this book is that of a little known group who can be credited with our being able to view works by some of the greatest Artists in the world that, without their existence may have been lost for all time.  Their story is an interesting and important one as it follows them from the inception of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives to the end of the war.  It documents in great detail the hardships they encountered, and the stonewalling or disinterest shown in their mission by others they met whilst often working on the edge of the battle lines; they actually lost two of their unit through combat related deaths.  Despite this, they regrouped and continued on with the mission at hand, hunting out information and pouring over myriads of records, which in the case of the Paris cultural treasures had been scrupulously kept by a Frenchwoman Rose Valland.  But again, despite this being a fascinating story it was also a frustrating story.

Despite being forewarned in the Author’s Note that some liberties were taken in the creation of the dialogue to help with the continuity of the book, it came across at times that he had taken too many liberties which tended to give this historical account the feel that it was being pulled, kicking and screaming, into the realms of historical fiction; not a place I wanted to be taken when reading this, as there a several great fiction works on this topic out there I have already read.  This created dialogue also took up far too much of the book, and I feel a greater impact would have been achieved if they had been pared down somewhat by a skilled editor, putting the focus firmly back on the purpose and discoveries of the MFAA.  The saving grace in this book, for me, were all the hidden nuggets of information that were buried deeply underneath the unnecessary ‘chatter’.  When taken from a purely historical point of view, this book is well researched and very educational and, combined with pictures taken from the actual time and events mentioned, it could have been something truly exceptional.

Anyone interested in this era in history may enjoy this book; if they can get past the obvious attempts in include a fictional aspect to events.

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Review: Snow White Must Die (Bodenstein & Kirchhoff #4) ~ Nele Neuhaus

snow white must dieSnow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus is a tremendous new contemporary mystery series and huge international bestseller—with more than 3.5 million copies in print! On a rainy November day police detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are summoned to a mysterious traffic accident: A woman has fallen from a pedestrian bridge onto a car driving underneath. According to a witness, the woman may have been pushed. The investigation leads Pia and Oliver to a small village, and the home of the victim, Rita Cramer.

On a September evening eleven years earlier, two seventeen-year-old girls vanished from the village without a trace. In a trial based only on circumstantial evidence, twenty-year-old Tobias Sartorius, Rita Cramer’s son, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Bodenstein and Kirchhoff discover that Tobias, after serving his sentence, has now returned to his home town. Did the attack on his mother have something to do with his return?

In the village, Pia and Oliver encounter a wall of silence. When another young girl disappears, the events of the past seem to be repeating themselves in a disastrous manner. The investigation turns into a race against time, because for the villagers it is soon clear who the perpetrator is—and this time they are determined to take matters into their own hands.

An atmospheric, character-driven and suspenseful mystery set in a small town that could be anywhere, dealing with issues of gossip, power, and keeping up appearances.

5 Thumbs-UpAfter reading Stieg Larson’s Millennium trilogy, and also listening to it on audio book (which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end), I was eager to read another ‘import’ of the same genre regardless of the country or origin.  I was intrigued to see if the aforementioned book was a rarity in that it translated well, or whether there was a new generation of foreign Authors whose works also responded with the same impact; I’m glad to be able to say that this book checked all the blocks.

It would be unfair to compare this novel with Larson’s work, as they are not alike in any way apart from the fact they are well worth picking up and reading.  It wasn’t until I was mentally bemoaning the lack of character development in this book that I realised I had entered the world of the two main protagonists four books into their story, and so based on this I had to take them at face value.  Again I was not disappointed; all the characters in this novel are tightly and expertly written, with all their European mannerisms and quirks translating wonderfully for the American reader.  As I read about the characters, some of these mannerisms brought to mind our time living in Germany and actually made me miss it somewhat.  The two main characters are very reminiscent of Lynley and Havers from the books by Elizabeth George, but a lot less gentile and polite, and it was this kind of familiarity that made me warm to them even more.

The complexity of the plot grows as the reader progresses through this mystery, but due to the skilful handling of the Author it does so without throwing too much information too quickly at the reader.  Like a fly fisherman, this Author plays with the reader through hints and innuendos, but never reveals anything early than is necessary for the continuation of the storyline.  Because of this, and even though it is number 4 in a series, this novel works exceptionally well as a standalone read; one that will have the reader promising themselves just ‘one more chapter’ well into the night.

I will definitely be reading more by this Author, and hope that my German skills are up to the task, if not I will just have to pray to the literary gods that they translate the other books in this series.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a gritty and often brutal police procedure and also those who enjoy and good mystery/thriller.

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