Posted in Historical Fiction, Romance, World War II

The Riviera House by Natasha Lester

The Past: When the Nazis invade Paris, they steal works of art owned by French museums and the Jewish people. Having been forewarned, the museum staff whisks away some of the most valuable works of art, including the Mona Lisa. But the plunder is astoundingly heartbreaking, in both quantity and value.

Two women work in secret and in constant danger to catalog the stolen art, so it can be returned to its rightful owners after the Nazis are defeated. One of them is a young woman named Éliane. Before the war, she worked at the Louve, as well as her family’s small cafe. She risks her life to save the artwork and what is left of her family.

The Present: Remy is struggling with depression after the loss of her husband and young daughter in a car accident. She retreats to a house on the Riviera, which she inherited as a baby. There she meets a photographer, Adam, who helps her take photos for her vintage clothing business. As she starts to unravel the mystery of a stunning painting that was also part of her inheritance, she falls in love again.

I enjoyed the parts of the book that takes place in Paris in the 1940’s. The sections that take place in the present, not so much. The present timeline section read like a boilerplate romance with very little substance. In my opinion, if this book had only taken place in the 1940’s, it would have been a much better book. I also took issue with the cover, which depicts a glamorous woman casually looking through a window. This is not a book about high society and fashion. At its heart, this is a book about war, starvation, danger and the bravery of those who fought behind the scenes in the French Resistance.

The Riviera House, Book, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Natasha Lester

My Rating 3.5 Stars, Grade C+

Posted in General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction, World War II

Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman

Publication Info: Expected publication date: August 4, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press. I read the Kindle pre-pub edition courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley. Other editions available at publication.

Summary: After nearly four years of Nazi occupation, the people of Paris are emotionally drained and starving. The German soldiers in the city, sensing the end of their rule, are increasingly cruel to the French. Citizens are harassed, rounded up, shot or sent to the camps. The tension is so great that Parisians are turning on each other, making accusations and killing their fellow citizens for reasons based on nothing but rumor. The primary allegation against the victims of the mobs is collaboration.

In 1944, Charlotte Foret and her baby daughter, Vivi, are struggling to survive. They work in a bookshop owned by her friend, Simone. Charlotte’s husband was killed in the war. Charlotte, Vivi, Simone and her young daughter live on the money from the meager book sales and their special ration cards, but food is still in extremely short supply. They they are slowly starving to death.

A German soldier begins to quietly frequent the bookshop. He says he is a doctor and helps Vivi through an illness. After Simone is taken by the Germans, Charlotte reluctantly accepts the doctor’s small gifts of food and his friendship. It is the only way they can survive. In the definition of the mobs, she is a collaborator.

Many years later, teenage Vivi is searching for her identity. Charlotte, who has buried her past, comes face to face with her guilt for what she did to survive the war in Paris.

Comments: For me, the central theme of Paris Never Leaves You is guilt, both survivor’s guilt and Catholic guilt. I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience the former, but I sure know a lot about the latter. My mother was fiercely Catholic and sent me to Catholic School in the 60’s and 70’s for thirteen years (including Kindergarten).

I fully related to Charlotte’s inability to forgive herself and move on with her life. After the war, she became an emotional wraith, just passing through life without really living it. While physical present and functional, she lived in the past, unable to form attachments beyond her unduly protective relationship with her daughter, Vivi.

I’ve read several other women in WWII novels, but none quite like this one. Where most of them feature a heroine character drawn from real life, Paris Never Leaves You is about ordinary people just trying to survive in an extraordinary time.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Women’s Fiction and stories about World War II.

My Rating: 4.5 STARS, B+

Posted in General Fiction, Historical Fiction, World War II

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publication Info: Published September 4, 2018 by Harper Paperbacks. I read the paperback. Other editions available.

Summary: In 1942, Lale Sokolov is transported by train to Auschwitz concentration camp with thousands of other people in cattle cars. He is forced to abandon his personal belongings, is shaved, tattooed and shoved into overcrowded barracks. Hungry and weak from thirst, he and the men stumble weakly from their bunks the following morning. They discover two of their block-mates are already dead.

Lale is determined to survive this place. His wits, innate charm and ability to speak several languages are valuable skills in this polyglot cesspool. His language skills get noticed by a German officer. Lale finds himself assigned the job of Tattooist, marking numbers on the arms of incoming victims. He hates his job, but with it comes privilege. He is given more freedom and additional rations, both valuable commodities in the survival game.

In his first days as tattooist, as he holds the arm of a young woman, he looks into her eyes to give her a few seconds of humanity and falls in love. From that moment, Lale’s goal is for both of them to survive and have a life beyond Auschwitz.

Comments: I’ve read other novels about the WWII German atrocities and concentration camps, but none quite so poignant as The Tattoist of Auschwitz, as it is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov. The book frankly left me a bit at a loss for words as I struggle to write this. As I read of thousands, MILLIONS of people starved, shot and gassed for just being different, I shook my head at the horror. And I think of what is happening in the world today, as people forget — and even deny the existence of — the past.

I picked this book up after learning that a sequel is soon to be published. Entitled, Cilka’s Journey, it is based on the life and experiences of another woman Lale met at Auschwitz.

Very highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction and General Fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in 20th Century, Asian, Cultural, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Publication Info: Published February 19th 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. E-book edition provided by NetGalley. Other editions available.Daughter of Molokai

Summary: In the Kapi’olani Home for Girls on O’ahu, three-year-old Ruth is a lively handful. Ruth loves animals and wants a pet of her own. But as loving as the nuns in the Catholic orphanage are, they must maintain the strict rules and can’t allow Ruth to be an exception.

But Ruth is already an exception in the Hawaiian orphanage. While all the other girls are also children of lepers, they are of pure Hawaiian heritage.  Ruth is different. She is hapa, someone of mixed heritage. Ruth is half Japanese, born to her parents who met in the leper colony on Moloka’i. When potential adoptive parents meet her, they turn away, not wanting to take on a child who not only carries the stigma of leprosy but is also hapa.

Finally, a Japanese couple adopts Ruth. She becomes Ruth Dai Watanabe and lives with her two brothers and new parents in Chinatown. She learns to speak Japanese and is taught their customs. Ruth thrives in the love of her adoptive family, but she is still hapa.

The novel follows Ruth as her family moves to California. There she grows up and has a family of her own. But after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ruth and all the other people of Japanese descent on the west coast are rounded up in concentration camps or sent back to Japan. After the camps are closed, Ruth and her family return to California to try to put their lives back together. It is after going through all this that Ruth gets a surprise and finally learns to accept her heritage.

Comments: I absolutely loved the first Moloka’i book and wasn’t disappointed by this sequel, Daughter of Moloka’i. While the first takes place almost exclusively on the island, this one reflects the changes in the treatment of lepers, both socially and medically, and moves to the greater world. A large portion of the book takes place in the Japanese internment camps and from the resources listed in the back of the book, I know the descriptions and details were well researched. In writing about Ruth’s mixed heritage and the atrocity of rounding up the Japanese Americans (and not rounding up the German Americans, for example), the author makes some profound observations of what it’s like to be non-white in America. What happened to the Japanese is not “in the past”. It happened and continues to happen to Native Americans, Blacks and currently to Hispanics and others. Fear and ignorance are powerful forces that destroy people’s lives.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction and Literary Fiction.

Posted in 20th Century, 70's, Best Sellers, Fiction, General Fiction, World War II

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Publication Info: February 20th 2018 by Lake Union Publishing, hardcover edition. Other editions available.The Tuscan Child

In December, 1944, Hugo Langley, the soon to be heir of Langley Hall, is shot down over Italy by the Germans. His leg badly injured, he manages to crawl to the edge of an olive tree grove and passes out. He is discovered by a young woman named Sofia, who lives in the village nearby. She helps him hobble to the ruins of a nearby monastery, where he can hide and try to heal. Over the course of the next few weeks, she brings him food and medical aid, stealthily avoiding the Germans and the sharp eyes of the townspeople.

In April 1973, Joanna Langley, receives word that her father, Hugo, has passed away. Hugo returned from the war to find that his inheritance must be sold to pay taxes. In greatly reduced circumstances, he lived with his daughter in a cottage behind the grand manor, which was now being run as a girls school, where he is employed as an art teacher.

Hugo and his daughter had a difficult relationship, as he remained emotionally distant after he returned from the war. Joanna’s first glimpse into her father’s behavior came in the form of a letter that she found in an old trunk. The letter, addressed to Sofia in Italy, was returned, unopened.

After opening the letter and reading the surprising contents, Joanna decides to embark on a journey to Italy to see where her father’s plane crashed in 1944. What she discovers helps her solve problems from her childhood and recent past.

The Tuscan Child is an easy read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is fiction in an historical setting, rather than historical fiction, and half of the book takes place in Joanna’s time in the 1970’s. There were parts toward the end that I thought were a bit trite and predictable, but overall it was an engaging novel. I have been a fan of Rhys Bowen’s works for a few years now, after discovering her Molly Murphy novels on the recommendation of a friend.

Recommended for readers of general fiction who are looking for a book to simply savor with a glass of Italian red wine.


Posted in China, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II, Young Adult

Wings of a Flying Tiger by Iris Yang

Publication Date: May 2018 by Open Books

Summary: Jasmine Bai, a university student, leaves the relative security of her uncle’s house in Chungking to find her parents in Nanking. It is 1937 and the Japanese are reported near the Republic of China’s capital. Having already ravaged Peking and Shanghai, the Japanese army is headed to Nanking. Jasmine fears for the safety of her parents, both esteemed educators. Her father, Professor Bai, with his fluency in Japanese, is confident that he could help communicate with the invaders and protect the university.Wings of a Flying Tiger

When Jasmine arrives at her parents’ home, it is too late. Her parents are dead, and Nanking is in complete chaos. She takes refuge in a safety zone, a church, directed by Father John, a priest from the United States. But safety zones mean little to the Japanese and she is forced to flee again…and again. The Japanese are constantly looking for soldiers in hiding and “prostitutes”—basically any very pretty, young woman. The first they kill; the second they capture and rape.

Father John arranges for a disguise for Jasmine and gets her out of the city. It is believed to be safer in the countryside. But when an American airman, a Flying Tiger, crashes near the remote village where she is staying, the Japanese are determined to find him—and will destroy anyone they believe to be even remotely involved in his survival.

Comments: Wings of a Flying Tiger is much more than Jasmine’s story. Told with a direct, sympathetic style, it is an agonizing depiction of the Japanese atrocities in China during World War II. Personally, I never knew much about this part of the war. My childhood studies focused on the United States’ war with Japan, but barely mentioned China. I am grateful to the author for educating me about this period of China’s history. The horrors tore at my soul, now more than 80 years distanced. It is good to never forget what human beings can do to each other in war.

The author was born and raised in China and drew from her parents’ and grandmother’s experiences in the war. An interview with the author can be found here.

Highly recommended.  This book is suitable for adults and older young adults.