Louise’s War ~Sarah R. Shaber

Louises WarISBN ~ 9780727880406
Publisher ~ Severn House Publishers
No. Of Pages ~208 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books

The first in a new series from the author of the ‘Simon Shaw’ books – 1942. Louise Pearlie, a young widow, has come to Washington DC to work as a clerk for the legendary OSS, the precursor to the CIA. When, while filing, she discovers a document concerning the husband of a college friend, Rachel Bloch, – a young French Jewish woman she is desperately worried about – Louise realizes she may be able to help get Rachel out of Vichy France. But then a colleague whose help Louise has enlisted is murdered, and she realizes she is on her own, unable to trust anyone . . .

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first time I have read a book by this Author, and I was pulled to it by the subject matter; I have read many books about the SOE and their operatives, I was interested to read about the American equivalent, OSS.

I was initially disappointed by the fact that this was not an OSS book, but rather a novel that revolved around the life and experiences of the title character who worked for the OSS.  Very much like the real women in the book The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, the main protagonist was firm in her belief that any little she could do would help win the war.  Despite not being a war widow, she has taken full advantage of the war to expand her horizons and make a new life for herself.  The whole story is told from her point of view and, despite living in a boarding house full of other war workers in DC, it also manages to highlight the mistrust that so easily arose from the slightest thing, and how everyone had secrets.  Apart from the main character, those others mentioned in the book were not given as in-depth a back-story, and even in this I felt there was something in Louise’s story that the Author was holding back, or has not quite decided on making a part of her character yet.

I particularly liked the descriptions of live in the capitol during the war years, and had a wry smile at the mention of rationing in a country that was capable of producing food for themselves.  It is apparent that the Author has meticulously researched this book as it covers things from victory gardening to the insufferable heat that was documented for 1942, and how the inhabitants of Washington DC coped with it.  This book actually became quite sluggish in part (maybe a reflection of the hot summer), but it left me feeling that the pace of the action could have been picked up to add to the flow and tension of the book.

I would recommend this book to any reader looking for a quick but enjoyable read on a rainy day; I read it in one sitting.  I will be reading others in this series as the fate of Louise and the OSS has me curious.

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Review: Thores-Cross: A Yorkshire Ghost Story (Yorkshire Ghost Series, #1) ~ Karen Perkins

Thores CrossISBN ~ 978-1481928175
Publisher ~ LionheART Publishing house
No. Of Pages ~ 266 pages
Links ~ Amazon

Emma Moorcroft is still grieving after a late miscarriage and moves to her dream house at Thruscross Reservoir with her husband, Dave. Both Emma and Dave hope that moving into their new home signifies a fresh start, but life is not that simple. Emma has nightmares about the reservoir and the drowned village that lies beneath the water, and is further disturbed by the sound of church bells – from a church that no longer exists.

Jennet is fifteen and lives in the isolated community of Thores-Cross, where life revolves about the sheep on which they depend. Following the sudden loss of both her parents, she is seduced by the local wool merchant, Richard Ramsgill. She becomes pregnant and is shunned not only by Ramsgill, but by the entire village. Lonely and embittered, Jennet’s problems escalate, leading to tragic consequences which continue to have an effect through the centuries.

Emma becomes fixated on Jennet, neglecting herself, her beloved dogs and her husband, to the point where her marriage may not survive. As Jennet and Emma’s lives become further entwined, Emma’s obsession deepens and she realises that the curse Jennet inflicted on the Ramsgill family over two hundred years ago is still claiming lives. Emma is the only one who can stop Jennet killing again, but will her efforts be enough?

This is the kind of book that you can pick up and read in a day, there’s nothing too technical or complex in the storyline that would make a reader want to take their time reading this and this in itself presented me with a problem; I really wasn’t sure what kind of a rating this particular short story should have.

The story is actually, in my opinion, two stories set in the same area of England; one of them being current times and the other being the late 1700’s.  As much as I really wanted to see a comparison made between the lot of women in these two eras, I just failed to be invested in the modern day plot and found myself skimming over these parts to find out what was happening in the past; in my mind the main protagonist of the book was the woman grounded in the past, and the way the Author grew her from being a grieving teenager to a vindictive woman was extremely realistic and convincing.  By comparison the modern day equivalent came across as being less credible and if anything hinted that the reader may not be bothered too much by the gaps in her personality.  The Author did do their historical research though and, I did enjoy the way the Yorkshire dialect was included in the speech patterns.

As a whole the story itself was interesting and well written, but could have done with more polishing to make parts of it more credible.  I would classify this book as more of a haunting short than a horror short.  If I am ever on the lookout for another quick light read to fill a couple of hours, I will probably look at something else written by this Author.

This book was read as part of my 2016 Reading Challenge; a book you can finish in a day.

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Review: The Nightingale ~ Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleISBN ~ 978-0312577223
Publisher ~ St. Martin’s Press
No. Of Pages ~ 440 pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Macmillan

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women

4 Thumbs-UpAfter reading the first two lines of the description above I knew this was a book I wanted to read, a book that would deliver great things and not disappoint, and a book that would bring 2015 to a five thumbs end on the review blog.  Unfortunately it was not to be; it really wasn’t the book’s fault as there really was nothing bad at all about it, it was me I just didn’t love it as I hoped I would.

The main protagonists of this novel are two sisters, which the book is centred around, and even though I don’t have any sisters I found them, up to a certain point to be very realistic; they had opposing views and opinions on most everything in their lives, and totally different personalities to each other which helped make them feel like more like siblings rather than two characters the Author had deemed must be related.  It was interesting to see how handled the circumstances they found themselves in, in their own way and this lent the feeling that although they were sisters they were still individuals in their own right.

Set in Nazi-occupied France, I found this novel to be full of good historical research, which the Author then included in the telling of the story.  This brought the reality of living under occupation to the front of the readers mind and helped them to live the experiences, to some degree that the characters were faced with.  It is easy to see why, after many days of seeing bodies hanging from trees in the village square one begins to not notice them anymore; it is a kind of self-preservation for the mind.

Why didn’t this make the much anticipated 5 thumbs review I was expecting to give it; I hate to say this but it was the romantic interludes  which seemed forced and unnatural, and the parts immediately following the end of the war  which, after considering everything I had read before, seemed a little anti-climatic.

I would highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy reading of this time period, but for me it didn’t make me want to read anything else written by this Author.

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Review: Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69 ~ Stephen E. Ambrose

Transcontinental RRISBN ~ 978-0743203173
Publisher ~ Simon & Schuster (NYC)
No. Of Pages ~ 432 pages
Links ~ All Bookstores, Amazon

Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.

The U.S. government pitted two companies—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads—against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. In Ambrose’s hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.

3 Thumbs-UpI initially picked this book up to help in my PhD research, intending only to look through the index and make notes on the parts and people who I needed; instead I found myself reading this book from cover to cover.

I am not a railroad enthusiast by any means, but I found the story of how the railroad was built across America to be fascinating and, from reading this book am now intending to research into this subject a little more.  The Author always writes good books based upon historical events, but I am a little wary as to how factual their accounts are, and this book was no different.

My main problem with this book was how the Author appeared to praise and admire those men in big business that funded the railroad, but did little of the actual work itself.  I was hoping to find more on the plight of the Chinese, Irish and Mormon labourers as well as details about life in the hell on wheels towns they lived in that followed the railways progress as well as the encounters the workers had with the Native Americans and Homesteaders who refused to relocate so the railway could cut through their land.  Despite this lack of detail that, in my opinion, would have resulted in a first class account of the building of the railroad, the Author does an excellent job when writing about the backbreaking and soul-destroying amount of work that went into laying every mile of these tracks.  With a skilful pen he makes the reader realise what a momentously huge project this was, and how much of an accomplishment in the advancement of westbound migration the railroad was.

If you are interested in this period of American history, or in railroad history, this is a book that you would enjoy; although I would recommend doing additional reading and would recommend Empire Express for a follow-up book, as well as a book written by William Francis Bailey.

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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: Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center ~ Ray Monk

oppenheimerISBN ~ 978-0385504072
Publisher ~ Doubleday
No. Of Pages ~848 pages
Links ~ Random House, Amazon

Robert Oppenheimer was among the most brilliant and divisive of men. As head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, he oversaw the successful effort to beat the Nazis in the race to develop the first atomic bomb—a breakthrough that was to have eternal ramifications for mankind and that made Oppenheimer the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” But with his actions leading up to that great achievement, he also set himself on a dangerous collision course with Senator Joseph McCarthy and his witch-hunters. In Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center, Ray Monk, author of peerless biographies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, goes deeper than any previous biographer in the quest to solve the enigma of Oppenheimer’s motivations and his complex personality.

The son of German-Jewish immigrants, Oppenheimer was a man of phenomenal intellectual attributes, driven by an ambition to overcome his status as an outsider and penetrate the heart of political and social life. As a young scientist, his talent and drive allowed him to enter a community peopled by the great names of twentieth-century physics—men such as Niels Bohr, Max Born, Paul Dirac, and Albert Einstein—and to play a role in the laboratories and classrooms where the world was being changed forever, where the secrets of the universe, whether within atomic nuclei or collapsing stars, revealed themselves.

But Oppenheimer’s path went beyond one of assimilation, scientific success, and world fame. The implications of the discoveries at Los Alamos weighed heavily upon this fragile and complicated man. In the 1930s, in a climate already thick with paranoia and espionage, he made suspicious connections, and in the wake of the Allied victory, his attempts to resist the escalation of the Cold War arms race led many to question his loyalties.

5 Thumbs-UpI don’t read many biographies as I tend to come out of most them with more questions than answers about the subject; this was not the case with this superb biography of Oppenheimer.

Through careful and extensive research the Author paints the picture of a man who was not only a puzzling character but a man of many contradictions. The only continuous thread that seems to run through the whole of this man’s life was his undeniable love of America, and it was this love that appears to have had an influence in many of the choices he made.  However, as the reader progresses through this large book, even this love of America is open to contradictions and leaves the reader wondering if Oppenheimer actually had loyalty to anyone but himself.  In my opinion the only consistent thread in Oppenheimer’s life was his love of physics.

This is a meaty book will definitely make a reader a think; about the justification of the Manhattan Project, about the issue of identity in America, about the morality of using Fat Man and Little Boy on the Japanese, and above all about the motives behind Oppenheimer’s actions. There is no doubt that it is exceptionally well-written, and is definitely not a book to be dipped in and out of, it is serious reading at its best without the dryness of many biographies.

I would highly recommend this Oppenheimer biography both for clearly laying out the man behind the myth that was Robert Oppenheimer and also to reveal some of the mystery that was the United States in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

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Review: The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn ~ Suzannah Dunn

queen of subtletiesISBN ~ 978-0060591588
Publisher ~ William Morrow Paperbacks
No. Of Pages ~ 320 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis: queen and confectioner, fatefully linked in a court rife with intrigue and treachery.   She was the dark-eyed English beauty who captivated King Henry VIII, only to die at his behest three years after they were married. She was both manipulator and pawn, a complex, misunderstood mélange of subtlety and fire. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

In The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn reimagines the rise and fall of the tragic queen through two alternating voices: that of Anne herself, who is penning a letter to her young daughter on the eve of her execution, and Lucy Cornwallis, the king’s confectioner. An employee of the highest status, Lucy is responsible for creating the sculpted sugar centerpieces that adorn each of the feasts marking Anne’s ascent in the king’s favour. They also share another link of which neither woman is aware: the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

1 Thumbs-UpI picked this up in the local thrift store, and it will be heading back there just as quickly as it came home.  After my seemingly bad run of luck with books recently, I was hoping that a historical piece of fiction might help break the dam; it was not going to happen with this book and, to be honest I didn’t finish it either.

I had many issues with the book as far as I read.  The character of Anne Boleyn was rather insulting when compared to what is known of her from historical documents.  In this interpretation of her character she is portrayed as being the innocent pawn of her Families’ ambitions to rise higher within the Tudor Court, rather than the driven and confident woman who readers are used to.  As one of the narrators of the book, the language she uses is far too modern for the time period in which it is set, and this was the reason for my not finishing the book.  The language used by both Anne and the other narrator was extremely distracting and, I can’t help but feel the Author wrote this book in this manner to make her work more accessible to the modern reader.

I wish I could say something good about the contents of this book, but the only saving grace about it for me was the cover image, which I kept returning to look at time and again and this was the reason for my 1 thumb review.  I will not be reading anything else by this Author, and find it a hard book to recommend to anyone who enjoys a good historical novel.

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