The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

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I received The Last Train to London from my Aunt Sue as a gift when we welcomed our newest baby, Alice, into the family. I think this was such a sweet gesture, and a great reminder that mommy needs looking after too!! I’ve been meaning to pick up this book since last year… but my library pile had always seem to get in the way.

Now in the time of self-isolation, and covid-19, and the libraries are closed. So my unread bookshelf is getting a workout! I’ve read a ton of WWII books, and every time I pick up one I am always in awe at how many different stories there are to tell during this time period.

Set pre-war in 1936, this novel is based on the true story of Truus Wijsmuller, who was member of the Dutch resistance. As Germany’s political climate is becoming more troubling, Truus begins rescuing Jewish children here and there, and getting them fitted up with a family who will take them in Britain until this troubling time is over. Two of these children happen to be in Vienna, Stephan Neuman, the son of the famous Jewish chocolatier, and his best friend, Zofie-Helene, whose Christian mother is a journalist at an anti-Nazi Newspaper. Truus goes on to spear head the Kindertransport, where she tries to help these two, and also over ten thousand other children all over German-occupied countries. Amazingly enough, Truus struck a deal with Adolf Eichmann, and lo and behold was able to save these children before the War started.

I had a bit of a hard time getting into this one, but once I was down about 120 pages, I was in! The characters for the first while seemed somewhat disjointed from each other, but around that 120 page, it all came together. It is a really well-researched book, and one thing I found really neat and haven’t seen in many fictional WWII books is that there is some narration from Eichmann, and Hitler themselves. Usually you are seeing these characters from the periphery, so I found it really interesting, and also a big undertaking on behalf of the author! There were some really heartbreaking moments in this novel, and I don’t know if it was me or the quarantine-version of me… but I found myself choking up a couple times.

One thing that I loved about this book was the Dutch references, from food like hagelslag,  to the towns in Holland, I found myself reminiscing about the trips I’ve taken there with my family, and all the foods we ate my Gramma and Grandpa’s house growing up. Isn’t it wonderful how a book can strike such a personal chord with a reader?!

This feelings that this book brings on are so relevant to what’s currently going on in the world. I’ve heard multiple references to this pandemic being a War that we are fighting. I’m going to share with you one of the quotes that was on the back on the book;

Recommend this book to anyone who thinks no one person can make a difference. – Karen Joy Fowler

Well, if that’s not encouragement that’s needed right now in this crazy times, I don’t know what is. Just like Truus, any normal person can help.

That’s all for today, stay home and read!

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain

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I went out and bought Circling the Sun immediately after reading Paula McLain’s novel The Paris Wife. From what I’ve read of McLain’s work, she writes beautiful historical fiction that are based on real people’s lives. Not only is she re-telling fascinating histories, but she also writes a setting so beautifully.

Set in 1920 Africa, a young Beryl Clutterbuck moves with her family from Britain to Kenya. She grows up exploring her surroundings that is shared with the native Kipsigis tribe. Then her mother abandons the family when Beryl is four, she becomes her father’s sidekick. She learns how to train horses, work on a farm, but also grows up to be a startling beauty. Although she doesn’t always make the best of choices, her strong will pulls through and she gets herself out of the muck and mire. Eventually after multiple failed relationships, and scandalous affairs, she decides she needs to start finding her own way.  She gains her independence by training horses, and then eventually becomes the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic.

This novel is wonderful. As much as I love historical fiction, I do feel like the genre has been flooded with WWII stories. So when I was craving some historical fiction, I started perusing my bookshelves and began to read and was hooked. Paula McLain transports the reader to the dusty, hot setting of Africa during a time that was oddly glamorous against the backdrop of the farms.

This novel is really a coming of age story of Beryl Clutterbuck Markham, who is quite the pistol. At a young age she was working in a field that even men had a hard time keeping up with, and all the while she was crushing hearts. She is one heck of a woman, but being headstrong in her workforce made it also impossible for her to find love. This story eventually ties in with the movie Out of Africa… which turns this novel into a love story. Although this type of love story is full of deceit, and betrayal. There is also mention of Beryl her romantic entanglement with a member of Royalty! Now I can’t wait to read Beryl Markham’s memoir, West with the Night.

He stared into his coffee, thinking quietly. “But you’ve never been afraid of anything, have you?” 

“I have, though,” I said, surprised at my own emotion. “I’ve been terrified… I just haven’t let it stop me”

Anywho, I loved this book. Whether you are feeling the winter blues, love a strong female story in history, or just want a great story… I think this would be the perfect novel to pick up.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

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Cilka’s Journey is the long awaited sequel after Heather Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz. If you haven’t read that one yet, just do and thank me later… my review of that one is here. It’s a story of love that started in an improbable situation, and against all odds survived. I was reluctant to pick this one up for a couple reasons, but mostly for the saturation of WWII, and Holocaust fiction in the last couple years. Eventually, I caved and decided to read it when I reflected on who Cilka was in The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Cilka was a background character in The Tattooist, and based on a real person. Cilka Klein was 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviet soldiers, but because of her “job” she was sentenced to a labour camp on being a collaborator. The labour camp, Vorkuta gulag, was in Siberia. She was sentenced for 15 years, and had multiple jobs while there. Beyond making a large impact for the betterment of the prisoners there, she also met the man who later becomes her husband.

This is a story is told in a very similar fashion to The Tattooist, which I think readers will really enjoy. The story jumps back and forth between her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and now her time in Vorkuta. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Cilka was forced to choose either to become a prostitute for a head officer in the camp, or her own death. She chose to live, and unfortunately for her, choosing to live meant she had to be raped, and become an overseer to the women who were ultimately going to be sent to the gas chambers. Throughout this novel, Cilka is constantly haunted by the guilt and shame of her past. During her sentence at Vorkuta it seems she is trying to redeem herself for this haunted past. She becomes a nurse, and saves many people. She also tries to change the protocols within the hospital, and succeeds multiple times.

Then when Cilka least expects to find love, she does. This is the clencher to the story, and it sets her up for almost an “happily ever after” of sorts. Unfortunately, this is the part of the story that I lost interest in. I found Cilka’s experience as a nurse much more fascinating. The love story I think is really interesting, because it is based on her real life, but I just found that the writing kind of lagged here.

Heather Morris has been receiving criticism on the fact that it may not be the most historically accurate. Morris has spoken out defending this by saying that she has actually interviewed Lale for the first novel, and then for the sequel interviewing the people who surrounded Cilka. Because Cilka had already passed away before Morris started to write this, she had to rely on the sources that surround her. Not only had Morris done interviews, but she also did her research on the records that were kept at the camps, and also at Vorkuta gulag. Obviously Morris had to take liberties to write a fictional novel. I wish people would remember that the reason so many people read it, is because she has written a beautifully told novel…  that is fiction based on some facts. It is a great story, and I think so different from the WWII/Holocaust novels that we have been reading lately.

Anywho, that’s all for today. Until next time, happy reading!

Tidelands, by Phillipa Gregory

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Phillipa Gregory is quite prolific in the historical fiction genre, and sadly, I’ve never read one of her novels. But honestly, I was craving some historical fiction, and am kind of tired of the WWII angle that it has been over populated with lately. When I heard that Gregory was coming out with Tidelands I put in a request at the library for it… and it finally came in!

It’s 1648 England, and there is a civil war between the King and the rebellious Parliament. The troubled times have divided the people, and caused a lot of questioning of loyalty. Alinor, one of the main characters, is a mid-wife and a healer who lives in the rural Tidelands. She is also a mother, and wife of an abusive husband who has run away. When Alinor meets James, a Priest, they partake in a romantic affair that proves to be quite dangerous for both of them. Being scary times for a woman, Alinor eventually becomes suspect of doing some dark arts… and the only one who may be able to save her is her Priest, James.

This book was honestly kind of dull until about the last 70 pages… and it’s over 450 pages long!! I found myself skipping through the pages, as I just couldn’t believe how much detail about her everyday routines Gregory was going into. I don’t feel like it was necessary, as it was quite repetitive. Then, the book really picked up. I was then flipping the pages so fast because I needed to know how the story ended. It had the “witch trial” information that I was hoping that this whole novel was going to cover!

What I’ve noticed other readers saying is that this is quite a different story for her to write, as she’s writing about everyday type people, instead of Royals. And Gregory has said that this is the first of a new series she is wanting to write, and the ending has that cliffhanger feel to it. And although I didn’t love the beginning slog, I really am interested in the cliffhanger that I’ve been left on. That being said, I will probably read the second one. Maybe it will gain some steam on the way 🙂

If you love historical fiction, or books like Pillars of the Earth, The Thorn Birds, and the other Phillipa Gregory novels, I think this read would be perfect for you. Anywho, until next time, happy reading!

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall was the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, and one I’ve heard everyone who loves historical fiction RAVE about it. So when I got the urge to dig into a big old book, I ended up picking this one, because my fascination with the Tudors was just too much to resist! But I will start off by saying this is not an “easy-to-read” novel, it requires attention, but is so fascinating.

It’s the 1520’s and on, and Tudor England is in the throes of its own chaos. Henry VIII has begun the arduous feat of annulling his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, due to the fact that he hasn’t been born a living male heir. He is ending his marriage of 20 years, to marry the elusive Anne Boleyn. Although the Pope, England, and Europe is opposing this marriage, he leans on Thomas Cromwell to help him scheme his plan into action. Cromwell, who was known as a family man, lawyer, an entrepeneur, and a bully, slowly helps him work his plan into action.

You all know that I have an undying love for historical fiction, and Wolf Hall is probably one of the most researched, epic novels I’ve read in this genre. I had sat with my computer, or phone while I read this book, and looked SO many things up throughout it. From the terrible torture methods, to the plotting characters, Hilary Mantel nailed it. I cannot even imagine how long his novel must have taken her to write.

A great thing to know and use in this novel, is the Cast of Characters at the start of the book, because let me tell you, there are a whole lot of Thomas’, Henry’s, and Johane’s! The storyline tends to follow a linear path, with some little side trips along the way. Mantel tells us the past of Cromwell through these little side trips, which start to make the reader realize why he may have turned out to be the scheming character he was. Historically Cromwell has been seen as a villain, but Mantel chose to make him into the hero of this novel. This is an interesting point of view, and she does such a great job convincing you that he was a visionary who could be counted on to get the job done.

On the day of the trial, rivers breach their banks; the Thames itself rises, bubbling like some river in Hell, and washes its flotsam over the quays.

Lastly, I’d be remise if I didn’t mention the character that was not in the official cast… the setting! The descriptions of the city, and the river were just so well done you felt like you needed to pour yourself a cup of tea to get the dampness out of your bones.

Until next time, happy reading!

The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde

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The History of Bees was our latest book club pick. And I have to say, it’s was a great pick for book club. There was a lot to talk about, plus we had dinner at a new restaurant, the Hunter Street Tavern… and it was a hit!! The evening was a win all around.

The novel is told through three different characters, who are all beekeepers from the past, present, and future. In 1852 England, William is a seed merchant/biologist who decides to make himself a name by developing a new design of a beehive. In 2007, The United States, George is the owner of a bee farm, which has been in the family for generations. He battles internally with the idea of whether he should be adopting modern bee farming techniques, and trying to guide his son to become the next generation on the farm. Lastly, 2098, China, Tao works as a pollinator on a fruit farm, as there are no bees anymore. When Tao’s young son is taken away after an accident, she is determined to find out what the cause of his accident was. These three storylines are intertwined with the backdrop of the potential loss of the bees, and their bonds with their children.

Our book club had some great discussions about The History of Bees. Although this wasn’t my favourite book we’ve read, I can definitely appreciate it’s importance. In a world where we are starting to see the affects that our modern technology has had on our earth, it’s great for people to read reminders of how we need to make a more conscious effort to help our world be here longer. The things I didn’t like about this book was the writing was a bit rough for me, and it lacked a flow. But at book club it was mentioned that this is a translation, so this could be a reason why the writing just felt a little choppy. The other part of this book that I didn’t love, was that it felt SO close to home. It made me scared for the world’s, and my children’s future. So although it made me feel uncomfortable, maybe this book accomplished exactly what Maja Lunde was hoping it would.

I found the relationships between these characters and their children fascinating. There was so much internal dialogue, that you as the reader you knew what they were thinking, but their children were left in the dark to their thoughts. This made me think just how much of an issue comes from the things that we don’t actually say to each other. The assumptions that are made on the things that are unsaid, can drastically change outcomes, and relationships.

That’s all for today, happy reading until next time!

Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah

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This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time. I had clients, and close friends, both recommend Winter Garden to me… but the cover just looked so cheesy that I was definitely judged the contents! So when yet another close person to me in my life said, you need to read Winter Garden, I picked it up finally.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard, while the other traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. The one thing that these two sisters have in common is an unbreakable bond with their father, and an almost non-existent relationship with their mother. But when their father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves having to comfort their cold, and distant mother, Anya. As children, the only connection they had with Anya was the unfinished Russian fairy tale she told the girls at night. When their father is dying, he requests one last wish… that Anya tells the whole tale. This begins a curiosity in the girls, who find out that the fairytale, is actually the real life events of Anya in war-torn Leningrad during WW2.  Between the fairytale, and the bonding with their mother, Meredith and Nina discover the harrowing story of their mother’s life before they were in it.

Okay, so be patient with this novel in the first 100 pages. I wasn’t completely hooked until I realized the fairytale was actually Anya’s real life story. But when things really started to unwind, I found I was unable to put it down! I ripped through the last 200 pages in one day.

This was a WW2 history which I wasn’t aware. Learning the St.Petersburg was actually called Leningrad when Stalin was in power was completely new to me. What’s incredible about this story is it’s just the story of a woman and her experience getting through the war. You realize how much could be lost in just a few short years. Then once the war was over, you are expected to live on. How does one do this? How do you just start over? These are the questions that you are asking yourself this whole novel.

Seeing the sisters develop a stronger relationship with their mother was probably the most rewarding part of this novel. You see just how hiding a part of your past can truly affect the people around you. As a mother, I think we want to protect our children from the bad things that happened to us, or the bad things that we had done to other people. But when we open up and become vulnerable, it lets your children know that we are all just humans trying live.

We women make choices for others, not for ourselves, and when we are mothers, we…bear what we must for our children. You will protect them. It will hurt you; it will hurt them. Your job is to hide that your heart is breaking and do what they need you to do.

If you are a lover of historical fiction, and complex family relationships… then this is the perfect novel for you. Because of the large amount of WW2 fiction being produced nowadays, it’s always refreshing to hear a story that you’ve never heard before.

Anywho, that’s all for now. Happy reading, friends!

The Huntress, by Kate Quinn

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I’ve been anticipating Kate Quinn’s next book for so long now! Harper Collins Canada kindly sent me an advanced copy, and The Huntress will be coming out on February 19th. Kate Quinn’s last novel, The Alice Network, was a New York Times best seller, and the book that I told everyone last year to read. It was fantastic! So when news broke about her writing another novel, I think that all the bookworms in the world started to rejoice.

It’s 1950, five years since the wreckage that WWII brought upon the world, and the world is far from able to forget it as much as they try to. Told through the perspective of three different characters, you are first introduced to the past of Nina Markova from Soviet Russia. Nina is full of piss and vinegar. Actually she probably was the one that that saying was invented for. She dreams of being a pilot, which she becomes, and ends up on the team of all female night bombers in the war, infamously known as the Night Witches. But when her plane is downed in Poland, she meets the notorious Nazi murderess, known as the Huntress. Luckily, Nina survives this encounter. Flash forward to 1950, where Ian Graham who has abandoned journalism to become a Nazi hunter… and also has a little history with Nina… has one target that he is determined to find. The Huntress.
Nina and Ian become a team, travelling around the world on this hunt, that eventually leads them to a young Jordan McBride in Boston, whose stepmother is a quiet, German widow who Jordan has suspected since meeting her is hiding something. Upon some digging it turns out, the secrets will unfold in a dramatic, and thrilling way!

This novel gets a standing ovation from me. All the gold stars, and everyone will be sick and tired of me talking about how incredible this novel is. First off, in the historical fiction world it seems that World War II novels are extremely popular. But this novel is a book about what happens after the War, which in this case was a Nazi hunt. Because I loved SO many things about this novel and I could go on and on about it, I will leave you with a bullet list:

  • Nina’s Russian accent. Kate Quinn captured this so perfectly! I actually found myself reading in a Russian accent. This is bullshit!! A line Nina loved, and I will never forget how well Kate Quinn translated this accent on the page.
  • Salzburg, Austria. This is a place I hold very dear to my heart! First of all, the Sound of Music was shot there, and secondly I made my poor husband go there on our honeymoon and take a 4 hour tour. It’s a stunningly, beautiful town, and I was given all the warm, fuzzy feelings when this town was one of the settings.
  • How the War lived on within these characters. I think for us to forget how the experiences of War are/were engrained in the brains of the people who lived through it. PTSD was something that wasn’t really a “thing” back then, but with our knowledge now, it’s pretty amazing that that generation moved forward.
  • Lastly, the Night Witches. These ladies were badass, and most of the characters that Kate Quinn referenced were real women. They flew, navigated, and bombed the night skies. These Russian women were under slept, peroxiding their hair, and the only flight regiment of women.

Okay, enough of my raving!! Just read this book, it is going to be quite the ride. There’s historical fiction, romance, and tons of thrill.

Happy Sunday!

The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict

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I’m going to be honest with you. I purely put this book on hold at the library because it’s just such a gorgeous cover. I didn’t even know what it was about until I picked it up to read it, but in this case you can judge a book by it’s cover!

Hedy Kiesler, who is later known as the famous Hollywood actress Hedy Lemarr, is lucky. Her beauty leads to a starring role in a controversial film and marriage to a powerful Austrian arms dealer, which gives her a pass to the Nazi persecution despite her Jewish heritage. But Hedy’s not just a pretty face, she’s also intelligent. At lavish Vienna dinner parties, she overhears the Third Reich’s plans. One night in 1937, desperate to escape her controlling husband and the rise of the Nazis, she disguises herself escapes her husband’s grasp. Eventually Hedy has made it to Hollywood where she is on the big screen, but even through her success cannot shake the survivor’s guilt she is suffering from. Hedy’s past inside knowledge, leads her to a place where she decides to use it and invent something that would help save lives.

I really enjoyed this book, and was sucked in instantly. You are thrown into the 30’s glamour, and lavishness by experiencing Hedy growing up and becoming her own self. Obviously the fact that she decided to successfully invent a technology we still use today is impressive, but also the fact that she decided to escape a very abusive, yet monetarily comfortable, life, is where you see her strength begin to build.

The most chilling thing about this novel is the moments where Hedy is in the same room as the Third Reich and overhearing the terrible things that they believed, and wanted to put into action… and then they ultimately do even worse things than she could ever imagine. I loved learning these little details about Hedy’s early life, and I also enjoyed listening to a couple interviews with Marie Benedict talk about Hedy Lamar. Check out the Professional Booknerds Podcast if you want to listen to!

The technology that Hedy Lamarr invented was one that would help the communication of torpedos to be more accurate. But, each day you look at your cell phone, you are actually staring at technology that Hedy had invented. Not only was she a beauty, but she was a scientist. She put her mind to work in a way that she hoped would help save refugees lives. You will have to read the book to see just what happens.

Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.
-Hedy Lamarr

 

Victoria, by Daisy Goodwin

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They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.

From a young age Princess Alexandrina Victoria, knows that she will most likely be Queen one day. Just before her 18th birthday she becomes Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Having a sheltered upbringing, small in size, and lastly, being FEMALE, most of her ruling had thought it was madness that she would be taking the throne. When she is crowned, Victoria starts to flex her muscles, and steer herself away from the grip her mother has had on her. As a young Queen, Victoria finds herself leaning on the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne for guidance… and possibly has something else in mind as well.

Victoria is a fictional account based on true events of the young Queen Victoria. Daisy Goodwin was hired to write for the PBS series Victoria, and she decided to also write a novel. She had done many years of research on Victoria, and what I found fascinating was that Victoria was a lifelong diarist. This little fact gave Daisy Goodwin tons of really valuable research, and probably why you feel like Victoria’s voice in the novel was just perfect. She made her seem intelligent, full of wit, and also quite dramatic… like the teenager she was.

This is such a thrilling time in Britain. There is the women’s movement starting, and at this time women are still considered “property” of their husbands. You also have this being a monumental time in the abolishing of slavery. Which Victoria was very much pushing for. The other thing I really enjoyed learning was that Victoria had an intense relationship that she developed with Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister. These two spent countless hours together, riding, dinner, educating… and then enters her “prince” Albert. And that put to end the possibility of Victoria, and Lord Melbourne ever exploring the possibility of their relationship.

Now what I really want to do is watch the PBS Masterpiece show, Victoria, to compare! I really enjoyed this book, and learning more about this time in history.

Until next time, happy reading!!