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July 4, 2019

Celebrate Freedom with These Stories about WWII

by Susan Roberts

Image by Defence-Imagery from Pixabay

I read a lot of books about WWII and there are plenty of new books about this time period to choose from.  What I find so interesting is that very few of them are the same story - there are many people who played important roles in the war and their stories are finally being written about.  Many of these forgotten heroes were women who contributed much to the war effort.  Here are 8 new books set during the war.

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In Alexa's Shoes by Rochelle Alexandra

In Alexa's Shoes
June 2019; Author Academy Elite; 978-1640856158
ebook, print (320 pages); historical fiction
"In her mind as well as her thoughts, she could be free. There she could escape from the pain, suffering and separation which she felt in her heart. There she could be her own liberator and dismantle the prison walls, brick by brick. She would choose to be happy rather than depressed. She'd choose to be hopeful, over being miserable and bitter. She realized that it was her choice and she chooses joy and freedom of the mind. These thoughts sustained her and helped her to endure through her most difficult days." (p83)

When the author of this beautiful story was young, she would visit her grandmother every summer and they became very close. Eventually, her grandmother shared the story of her life during WWII and her granddaughter decided to write the story. This is Alexa's story.

In 1940, Alexa and her mother were shopping for shoes near their home in Poland when the Nazis arrived in town and put everyone into trucks. Instead of being bitter over the changes in her life, she continued to follow the teachings of the Bible and tried to make the best of the situation. Through it all, she remained kind and helpful and loving towards other people. This is a historical novel that lets the reader follow in the footsteps of a real-life individual who walked by faith to triumph over tragedy, one step at a time.

As with many WWII novels, this book was difficult to read at times. The cruelty that was inflicted on other people is difficult to imagine but we know that it did occur. Alexa is a wonderful example of someone who refused to let the cruelty affect her outlook on life and allowed her to rise above it all based on her belief that God was protecting her all of the time.

Thanks to the author for sharing this wonderful story of her grandmother with the world.

Buy In Alexa's Shoes at Amazon

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan

The Spies of Shilling Lane
June 2019; Crown; 978-0525576495
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction
"An overwhelming feeling came over Mrs. Braithwaite, a crush of pain that life was so fleeting, that the dance was over almost as soon as it had begun.  She thought about her own life, how she'd wasted so much of it marching, staying on the footpath, when she could have been dancing." (p 69)

You're never too old to change your ways -- and in the case of the main character of this book change would be a very good thing. She had already lost most of her friends as well as being estranged from her daughter and divorced by her husband. To say that she was overbearing and rude is putting it mildly! But what caused those changes in someone who ALWAYS knew the right way everything should be done?

Mrs. Braithwaite is the leader of WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) in her small town in rural England during the war. After her husband leaves her for another woman, she is asked to step down from her leadership role because of her bossy ways and the embarrassment brought to the group by her divorce. She decides to go to London to visit her only daughter and when she finds out that her daughter is missing she uses her rude and overbearing manner to try to find her daughter. While in London, she stays in her daughter's rented room and pushes Mr. Norris (the landlord) to become involved in her search. She was far removed from the war in her small town and the reality of what it going on quickly sets in when the air raid sirens start to go off and she has to go to a shelter to stay alive. As she tries to find her daughter, she begins to feel compassion for the people injured in the bombings and begins to question her attitude toward other people and life in general. Will the search for her daughter cause her to search her own soul or will she continue to feel superior to those around her.

"We shouldn't be blaming each other. We should be supporting each other. This isn't a race whereby one of us wins and the others all lose. Do we want a world where men can isolate us from society for no fault of our own?  Or do we want a world where women stand up for ourselves together?"  (p 336)

This was a fun book to read. Mrs. Braithwaite was so over the top and out of touch that she was a funny character. The book read more like a cozy mystery than a spy book but I found it a very interesting and fun book to read.  I enjoyed the relationship that developed between Mrs. B and Mr. Norris - she was brass and bold and he was totally the opposite and almost afraid of his shadow.  I would love to see them both in another book in the future.

Buy The Spies of Shilling Lane from Amazon

The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

The Paris Seamstress
September 2018; Forever; 978-1538714775
audio, ebook, print (464 pages); romance
'When you awaken in the morning's hush I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die.'

This is a dual timeline historical fiction. The author has done extensive research that blends well into the storylines. There is a little mystery, some espionage during WWII, and a lot of friendship and love.

One timeline is centered in Paris when Estelle is forced to leave before the Nazis take over Paris. Her mother tells her that she is part American and she has the paperwork so her daughter can leave on the last ship taking Americans out of Europe. She is confused at her mother's confession but uses her sewing skills to start a new life in America. She leaves Paris with nothing but a sewing machine and a dream to design clothes in America. The second timeline takes place in modern times in Australia and NYC. Fabienne is the granddaughter of Estelle and is starting a new job in Australia when she goes back to NYC to see her grandmother. She has uncovered some information in her father's papers and has questions for her grandmother about family history. As Estelle explains her past, the reader gets taken back in history with them to both NYC and Paris.

This is a lovely story about the love between a grandmother and granddaughter. It's about love and family and how you can face the future by learning more about the past.

Buy The Paris Seamstress at Amazon

In Another Time by Jillian Cantor

In Another Time
March 2019; Harper; 978-0062886231
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); Jewish Lit
This beautiful, well-written novel is a look at Berlin before, during and after WWII. I have read many WWII novels and this one looks at the effects of the war on the people of Germany from a completely different perspective. It is well researched and so well written that the words just flow off the page. Even though it's a book about war - the main theme is love - love of music, love of family and friends but most importantly the love between two people.

Max meets Hanna in 1931 when he hears her playing the violin at university in Berlin and is immediately interested in her. His life has been very lonely since his father died and left him a small bookstore that is barely making ends meet. Hanna is working very hard to become a concert violinist. They fall in love but life in Germany is rapidly changing and it becomes forbidden for them to be a couple because Hanna is Jewish. Max has a secret way that he can save Hanna but is unwilling to share it because he is afraid that she will think he's crazy. Jump ahead 10 years and Hanna wakes up in a field totally unaware of where she is or where she has been for the last 10 years. She wants to go back to the bookstore to find Max but the bookstore is gone and so is Max. As she continues to think about Max in the coming years, will her music be able to keep her memories from destroying her? Will she ever see Max again?

Be prepared when you start reading this book as it's a very emotional journey. I loved Max and Hanna and wanted them to be together, I hated what happened to separate them and I cried with them during the good times and the bad. This is another beautiful book by Jillian Cantor and I highly recommend it.

Buy In Another Time at Amazon

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer 

The Things We Cannot Say
March 2019; Graydon House; 978-1525831515
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); women's fiction
“What happens when stories like theirs are lost? What happens when there’s no one left to pass your experience on to, or you just can’t bring yourself to share it?”

I love historical fiction especially novels about WWII. There have been so many of them the last few years that it would be easy to keep reading the same story over and over but once again an author has totally put a different spin on the story and it read like a story of a time period that I knew very little about. The book was well written and very well researched with characters that I really cared about and that I cried with during the book.

This is a dual timeline novel. Timeline 1 is present day with Alice as the narrator. Alice lives with her husband, daughter and special needs son. For the last several years she has concentrated her whole life on the needs of her son - often to the exclusion of her daughter and husband. Her beloved grandmother is dying and requests that Alice go to Poland to find someone from her past. After refusing to talk about her years during WWII for so long, Alice is convinced she must make a trip to Poland for her grandmother. The second timeline is in the late 1930s and early 1940s in Poland and is Alina's story. Alina is in love with Tomasz and had been since they were children. Soon after he goes to Warsaw to college, the Nazis invade Poland and start to take away privileges not only from the Jewish people but from everyone - they take all of the food that the farmers grow and leave the people to starve. As Alina tries to live under the new regime, she wonders if life will ever get back to normal and she will ever see Tomasz again.  It's up to Alice to help her grandmother remember the past.

This emotional novel is about loyalty and honor but most importantly it's a novel about love.

Buy The Things We Cannot Say at Amazon

Almost Home by Valerie Fraser Luesse

Almost Home
March 2019; Revell; 978-0800735623
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); Christian fiction
"Some men collapse under the weight of a failing farm, but Jesse had stood firm - sadly for both of them, turning to stone. Now he had decided the only way to revive their farm was to leave it behind, at least for a while. He was driving them away from everything and everybody they loved but Anna was determined not to cry in front of her husband.  She had to believe that somewhere, deep down, he still had a heart and she didn't want to break it by letting him know how desolate she felt." (p 9)

It's the 1940 and the war is going on in Europe. Most of the young men are fighting in the Army but not all men were qualified to serve.  For them, along with a lot of women, there is war work in factories to make the airplanes and fulfill the needs of the Army.  Dolly Chandler is running a boardinghouse in her family home in Blackberry Springs, Alabama. All of her boarders are far from home and they have a lot of personal baggage - Daisy's husband was killed in the war, Reed was wounded, Jesse and Anna are in the process of losing the only home they've ever known.  Will coming to Dolly's boarding house and getting to know Dolly and Si help them all to become whole again?

This is a book about friendships with a southern setting and lots of sweet tea.  The characters were all interesting and even though they had very different backgrounds, they all became friends. Add in a secret hidden diary from 100 years earlier and the quest to learn more about the diary and you have a sweet, simple book that you will be happy you read.

Buy Almost Home at Amazon

Mendelevski's Box by Roger Swindells

Mendelevski's Box
February 2019; Amsterdam Publishers
978-9493056107; ebook, print (318 pages)
Jewish literature
Much is known and, quite rightly, much has been written about the fate of Europe's Jews in the extermination camps of the Holocaust. Much less is known, and even less documented about the life of survivors on their return to their homes. (Foreword)

In September 1945, Simon Mendelevski returns to his home in the Netherlands from his years in Auschwitz. He left his home as a teenage boy and now returns as a young man who has seen the worst that life has to offer. He is hoping to find his parents and his young sister when he returns home but found almost no Jewish people left in Amsterdam. He is emaciated and is beginning to lose hope when he runs into the woman who used to clean his father's factory. She takes him in and helps him get back on his feet while he continues his search to find out who betrayed his family when they were in hiding and to find any friends, relatives or neighbors left in Amsterdam.

At the end of the war, only 18 of the 34,000 Dutch Jews who were sent to Sobibor returned after the war. Many of the Dutch citizens felt guilty and very sorry for the survivors who came back to Amsterdam and tried to help where they could. However, there was still a strong feeling of anti-antisemitism among many people. The hatred that remained made it very difficult for Simon to try to get information about his family. Despite this being a book about a horrendous time in world history, I had a feeling of hope at the end as Simon struggles to rebuild his life.

I highly recommend this book for the look at the lives of the concentration camp survivors at the end of the war as they returned to their homes. The author did tremendous research to make this story real and his excellent writing skills make the characters come alive.

Buy Mendelevski's Box at Amazon

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen 

Dutch Girl
April 2019; GoodKnight Books; 978-1732273535
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); biography
Audrey Hepburn (born Audrey Kathleen Ruston; 4 May 1929 – 20 January 1993) was a British actress, model, dancer, and humanitarian. Recognized as a film and fashion icon, Hepburn was active during Hollywood's Golden Age. She was ranked by the American Film Institute as the third-greatest female screen legend in Golden Age Hollywood and was inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.

This is a book about Audrey Hepburn but not the movie star person who we got to see in Breakfast at Tiffany's, My Fair Lady and many other Hollywood Films. This is the young Audrey who was a teenager during the years of the Nazi occupation of her homeland. It reads more like a history book of the war in the Netherlands than it does as a biography of a Hollywood icon and was a well-researched look at how Audrey grew up and how it affected her later life.

'When my mother wanted to teach me a lesson about life she never used stories about her career. She always told stories about the war. The war was very, very important to her. It made her who she was.' ~ Luca Dotti, youngest son of Audrey Hepburn (p. 318)

When Audrey was 11 years old, the Germans began their occupation of the Netherlands. As a child, life didn't change much for her but as time went on and the restrictions worsen her life began to change and she had to give up her much-loved ballet lessons. In 1944, her life took a turn for the worse when the Allies started bombing the town that she lived in. She and her family spent much of their time in the cellar of their home hoping to survive while bombs exploded all around them. Following that came the 'hunger winter'. There wasn't enough food and many people starved to death. Audrey commented that this was the first time she had ever seen starvation of such a large scale. She had a lot of determination to go from a starving young girl to a Hollywood icon in such a short period of time.

The author of this book worked with the members of Audrey's family plus did considerable research and found out things about Audrey's early life that her family didn't know - that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation. Audrey’s own reminiscences, new interviews with people who knew her in the war, wartime diaries, and research into classified Dutch archives shed light on the riveting, untold story of Audrey Hepburn's life during World War II.

I found this book to be a very well researched and entertaining book about a Hollywood icon and how her early life affected the rest of her life when being a UNICEF ambassador and visiting poor places in the world were more important to her than her life in Hollywood.

Buy Dutch Girl at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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