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December 20, 2019

5 Books about the World Wars

by Susan Roberts

My reviews today are about the devastation caused by war.  The first three books take place during World War II in Germany, Holland, and Russia.  The last 2 books are set during WWI and take place in Russia and France.

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The Center of Gravity by Patricia Brandon

The Center of Gravity
May 2019; 978-1513649092; ebook, print (317 pages)
historical fiction, WWII
"The center of gravity is the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or the will to act."  
"What makes you act or react?  What keeps you in balance?  What would cause your center of gravity to change so dramatically that life, as you know it, would be forever different."  (p 9)

I read a lot of WWII books and thought that The Center of Gravity was an outstanding novel because it dealt with people living in Germany during the war - regular people who had nothing to do with the politics of the war but whose lives changed dramatically during this time period.

Sonne is an adored only child in Berlin in 1933. Soon after her father moves Sonne and her mother to East Prussia in 1941 for safety,  he is taken into custody by the Reich military police to help with a project back in Berlin. Because Sonne and her mother need money to live, she decides to go to work. After she rebuffs a local Nazi leader's amorous advances, he decides that she will be sent to the Wolf's Lair. The Wolf's Lair was one of Hitler's hideouts where Sonne and 14 other young women were held prisoner to be food tasters for Hitler's food. They faced possible death at every meal because of the possibility of someone trying to poison Hitler. She manages to escape but it isn't the end of her problems because her time at the Wolf's Lair throws a shadow over the rest of her life.

Ranier is an art historian from the Alsace area of France. He is in training in France to become a restoration expert when he is told that he is needed to work on the project to remove the Amber room from Russia.  While he is working for the Germans, he is worried about his family and his best friend, a Jewish man he grew up with who is now working with the Resistance.

When the stories of the two main characters blend together, we get a wonderful look at two people who hate the Nazi regime and know that they need to escape to stay alive. It was impossible to escape without help and very dangerous to try to get help. Would they be able to find somewhere safe or will they be arrested and put into a camp?

The story of these two people from different parts of Europe is beautiful and well written. It's apparent that the author did extensive research because there are historical facts scattered throughout the book. She states in her notes that even though this is a work of fiction, she tried to preserve as much historical fact as possible.

This is a beautiful love story of two people during one of the most tumultuous times in recent history. It's a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and loss with well-written characters that readers will care about.

Buy The Center of Gravity at Amazon

The Amber Tablets by Andrea Kon

The Amber Tablets
October 2019; Lulu Publishing; 978-1684704880
ebook, print (288 pages); historical fiction, WWII
The Amber Room, which was made of several tons of  Amber, was a gift to Peter the Great in 1716 celebrating peace between Russia and Prussia. The room's fate became anything but peaceful: Nazis looted it during World War II, and in the final months of the war, the amber panels, which had been packed away in crates, disappeared. A replica was completed in 2003, but the contents of the original, dubbed "the Eighth Wonder of the World," have remained missing for decades.

Seven unskilled German officers dismantled the Amber room near the end of World War II and removed it from the Catherine Palace in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg, Russia) and it has never been seen again.  A replica of the room can currently be seen at the Palace.  Several years ago, my husband and I traveled to St. Petersburg with a travel group and were able to tour the Palace and see the Amber Room.  It is unbelievably beautiful and If the replica was so beautiful, I can only imagine how awesome the original room was.

Image result for picture of the amber room

The premise of The Amber Tablets by Andrea Kon is that instead of seven Nazi officers packing away the room that it was done by a Jewish slave labor gang of 150 prisoners.  Simeon, one of the laborers, managed to swallow several pieces of amber and they were his good luck charms through the rest of the war. After the room was dismantled, the 150 laborers were taken out into the woods and shot but only Simeon survived.  He spent the rest of the war helping the Resistance.  The other main character is Hanna, Simeon's twin sister who managed to escape when her husband was taken prisoner and her children were shot.  She too spent most of the war working for the Resistance.  Even though they were working in the same area, they didn't see each other again.  There are also many minor characters who play important roles in Simeon and Hanna's lives but this is really their story.

The characters were well written and the book was very fast-paced because both characters were often very close to being discovered by the German troops.  My only complaint about this book is that it ended very abruptly with several unanswered questions.  I can only hope that there is a plan for another book about these characters so we can get answers.

Buy The Amber Tablets at Amazon

The Vision of Antje Baumann: Dutch Resistance to Nazi Terror by Laurence Power

The Vision of Antje Baumann
May 2018; Lulu Publishing; 978-1483485324
ebook, print (286 pages); historical fiction, WWII
"I had to tell the others. This is what happened to civilians when generals got it wrong and brought their battles into our streets and homes. Through the noise and my headache and grief, I knew there was no such thing as a just war."  (loc 3275)

When Germany invaded Holland in May 1940, the peaceful life of the residents was over. Hollanders were shocked because they didn't think they'd be invaded and many of the residents quickly became part of the underground resistance. The Bauman family is made up of the parents plus three children - Antje, Gerrit, and Cornelis. The children didn't really understand what was happening around them and all they knew is that they felt powerless as they watched their father cry during the invasion. Nelis is in his teens and soon realizes that he needs to start working to help support the family. With their father in hiding and his younger sister, Antje, who has been in precarious health, goes blind he realizes that he needs to protect his family. He is soon approached by the Resistance in his town and does what he can to help. As the war continues and food becomes very scare, it's apparent that the people of Holland are suffering greatly but things get worse when the war is almost at an end and the Germans make a last stand in his city. With bullets and bombs everywhere, it's up to him to keep his family safe and protected.

This is an interesting look about life in a small town in Holland after the Germans take over told through the eyes of a teenage boy. I found it amazing how much people helped their friends and neighbors even though life was difficult for everyone. This was a different look at the war from the eyes of a young man in a small town who is trying the make sense of the chaos and protect his family.

Buy The Vision of Antje Bauman at Amazon

Sunflowers Under Fire by Diana Stevan

Sunflowers Under Fire
April 2019; Island House Publishing; 978-1988180045
audio, ebook, print (325 pages); historical fiction, WWI
"As a flower strains toward the light, so a man strains with thoughts, words and deeds towards the motherland.  For the sunflower, the sun is the only guide;  for the man, the motherland is the one and only treasure. "(Ukrainian Folk Saying)

The year is 1915 and Lukia, her husband Gregory and their 6 children live on a farm in Russia.  The war between the Germans and the Austrians has been joined by Russia and the fighting is getting closer to the farm every day.  As the novel begins, Gregory has gone to town to sign up for the Czar's army while Lukia delivers their 8th baby while home alone.  After the birth and a short nap, she begins to cook the family dinner.  The readers know right from the start that Lukia is a strong woman and as the novel progresses, we find out just how strong she really is.

In a time of war and revolt, Lukia is left at home alone to take care of her 6 children but that soon ends when they are removed from their land and sent to a camp for war refugees.  She and her children live in the camp for fourteen years before they can return home and start to rebuild their home. During these years, it's up to her to make sure that her children are clothed and fed and kept safe.  She is very religious and uses her religion and the old folk ways to help keep everyone safe.  One of her major problems is keeping everyone healthy because there was a lot of typhus in the camp and because they are so crowded, disease spreads quickly. As she is faced with more hardship, she works to remain strong and be a good mother to her children and keep them safe.

This is the story of one strong woman who with love, perseverance and faith works tirelessly to keep her family safe from the war around them and safe from the beginning of communism. Her goal is that are all able to grow into responsible adults.  She had to make a lot of sacrifices and is met with sorrow throughout her life but she remains stoic.  She is not a character that readers will forget.

Sunflowers Under Fire is a heartbreakingly intimate novel that illuminates the strength of the human spirit. Based on the true stories of her grandmother’s ordeals, author Diana Stevan captures the voices of those who had little say in a country that is still being fought over.

Buy Sunflowers Under Fire at Amazon

Mercy Road by Ann Howard Creel

"...home.  A place I hadn't seen for a long time and might never see again.  Perhaps none of us would  make it out of here." (loc 1766)

Mercy Road
November 2019; Lake Union Publishing
978-1542041980; audio, ebook, print (283 pages)
historical fiction, WWI
Arlene Favier lives in Paris, Kentucky with her parents and brother.  After a fire destroys their home and their father dies in the fire, the family finds that they have no money.  Arlene realizes that she has to get a job and after looking all over town with no luck, she decides to try a larger town.  When she answers a help wanted ad for a French-speaking female, she finds out that the job is for an ambulance driver in France.  World War I is going on and the job is very dangerous but with the hopes of helping out her family, she decides to accept it.   Arlene becomes part of the American Women’s Hospital in war-torn France during World War I. Serving as doctors, nurses, aides, and ambulance drivers, the women struggle to be respected in a traditionally male environment.  After extensive training, the women ambulance drivers are put to work and find that their training couldn't prepare them to face all of the destruction, all of the dead bodies and all of the injured people - both military and civilians.  It's very difficult but Arlene is an extremely tough woman and is able to survive.  When Arlene runs into an old friend from home, she finds some peace as her feelings for Jimmy grow but even though they are both ambulance drivers, they are in different parts of France so they rarely see each other.  When a scandal occurs. Arlene has to decide whether she will remain quiet and keep her secrets buried or take the blame and possibly lose her job.

This was a well-written book.  I really enjoyed the main character of Arlene and was impressed with her strength and dedication to her job and her friends.  The parts of the novel about the battlefields in France are horrific but despite all of the carnage, there is a romance for Arlene and fantastic female friendships.  It's apparent that the author did a lot of research into the war but her strong female characters are what makes this book so special.

Buy Mercy Road 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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