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August 7, 2020

4 Books for Fans of WWII Historical Fiction

by Susan Roberts

I read a lot of Historical Fiction and have reviews of four new books that have been published in the last several months.  Two of them are based on events that happened in the 1930s and two are about WWII.
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Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight
June 2020; William Morrow; 978-0062834782
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); romance
"The airplane lies in the shadow of a plateau, half-buried in sand and scrub.  It sits at an angle, so the right wing slants upward against the sky while the left wing sinks in the ground.  The dull green fuselage is mostly intact but the tail has broken off. Only the ghost of its original paint - the red, yellow and midnight purple of the Spanish Republic- has survived a decade of relentless white sun." (p 1)

 Her Last Flight is a well researched, well-written novel about the early days of female pilots.  There are echoes of Amelia Earhart whose story has always intrigued me but this is a novel about fictional female pilots.  The book is told in two timelines - 1928 is told by Irene Lindquist, the owner of a local island-hopping airline in Hawaii, and the timeline from 1947 is told by photographer and war correspondent Janey Everett.  Janey is writing a book about Sam Mallory, a famous pilot who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War.  From her research, Janey believes that Irene Lindquist is really legendary Irene Foster, Mallory’s onetime student and flying partner. Foster’s disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937 remains one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries.  At first, Irene is unwilling to talk to Janey but once Janey tells her that she's found Sam's airplane in the desert, Irene begins to tell the story of her past.

This novel goes seamlessly back and forth between time periods and both stories are extremely interesting.  Both Irene and Janey are strong and determined women who have worked very hard to fulfill their dreams.  I loved both characters and thought that they were both well written.  The author describes both their strengths and flaws and that makes them even more real.  Because of the way the story is told we learn not only about both women in their present-day but also their childhoods, their families, and what they had to endure to become strong women in their time periods.  There are also a few surprises that are part of both stories that make the novel even more interesting.  This is a story about history but also about family and love, loyalty, and perseverance.  

Most of the novels that I've read by Beatriz have been in compellation with authors and after reading this excellent book, I'll be watching for more books written by her.

Buy Her Last Flight at Amazon

To the women and men who took to the skies in their frail machines and gave their lives to make human air travel an everyday miracle.

An Appalachian Summer by Ann H. Gabhart

A Appalachian Summer
June 2020; Revell; 978-0800738600
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); romance
I love reading historical fiction and learning about something that existed in the past that I had little to no knowledge of. An Appalachian Summer is about the Frontier Nursing Service that was started in the hills of Kentucky to provide nurses and mid-wives to the people in the area.   The organization eventually evolved into a hospital and a graduate school of midwifery. Today it is a highly ranked school for nurse-midwifery and family nurse practitioner programs.  

The novel begins in 1933 at Piper Danson's debutante party. She has had two years of college and doesn't want a coming-out party but agrees to it to make her mom happy, even though she is miserable all dressed up and in the spotlight.  Her parents' goal is to help her find a rich husband who can take care of her and who she can learn to love over time.  Her goal is to live life before she settles down as a wife.  She knows that there is a whole world out there that she wants to explore but she isn't sure how she's going to make it happen.  Her best friend, Jamie, isn't in attendance because his family lost all their money in the depression and he is no longer accepted among the rich.  Her aunt, a bit of a rebel, has a tea party where Piper meets Mary Breckinridge, the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky, and is excited to be asked to be a horseback courier with the Frontier Nursing Service for the summer.  Once she convinces her parents to let her participate in the program, she boards a train to Kentucky and her adventure begins.

Life in the mountains of Kentucky is nothing like her rich pampered life.  She is expected to make long trips on horseback delivering supplies, paint buildings, and milk cows.  She helps the nurses with the sick children and she even assists at births.  She is thrilled with her new life and can't imagine going home and getting married to the rich man that her father has picked out for her but what choice does she have?  Society was structured so that she didn't have many choices in her life.  Can she find a way to change her future from what her parents expect to what she needs - a beautiful wide-open future filled with true love?

This is my first book by this author and I look forward to future books.  This was a light-hearted book with characters that represented this time period.  I loved learning about the nurse program in Kentucky and about the adventurous woman who kept it running during a time that women had few choices in their lives.

Buy An Appalachian Summer at Amazon

FRONTIER NURSING SERVICE Founded in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge in Leslie County, Kentucky, FNS introduced the first nurse-midwives to the U.S. Riding horses up mountains, through fog, flood or snow, the FNS nurses brought modern healthcare to one of the poorest and most inaccessible areas in the U.S.

The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes

The Prisoner's Wife
May 2020; Berkley; 978-0593197752
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); romance  
"Everything seemed to happen at once:  the dogs, the men, a searchlight in my face. I raised my arm to cover my eyes and heard the panting breath of the men, the loudness of their voices.  My teeth were chattering and I had to clamp them shut.  The voices behind the light became one disembodied shout in German from the senior officer. 'Hands up!  Against the wall!'"
  (loc 105)

Izzy lives on a farm in Czechoslovakia with her mother and brother.  Life on the farm has been very difficult since her father and brother left to join the resistance.  Izzy feels that her life is drifting along with no friends or fun.  The German Army in the area agrees to send some English prisoners of war to the farm to help out.  One of the men who came to help was Bill, an English prisoner of war.  When Izzy and Bill make eye contact, there are interested in each other and they soon fall in love.  They decide to escape and get married.  Izzy dresses like a man to help hide her identity but it doesn't take long before they are captured and sent to a work camp.  Despite the difficulty, Izzy continues her male impersonation so that she and Bill can stay together. A group of prisoners in their group becomes friends and Bill tells them the situation and they help protect Izzy and help keep her secret.  As the conditions in the camp continue to get worse and Bill begins to wonder if they will survive, they begin hearing rumors that the American and Russian armies are getting close.  To hide what they've done, the Germans who are left make the prisoners walk hundreds of miles in horrible conditions to stay ahead of the Russian Army.  When Izzy and Bill are separated on the march, she knows that she'll never see him again.  Will their love survive all of the punishment and pain that they've been through?

This is a different look at WWII and a unique story.  The author did a tremendous amount of research to make sure that her story matches the history of the time.  I loved both of the main characters and was on the edge of my seat hoping for their survival against the darkest odds.

Note:  Be sure to read the author's notes at the end to find out about the true story that led to her to write this book.  She also provides interesting facts and figures about the work camps and how the English prisoners were treated there.

Buy The Prisoner's Wife at Amazon

While the Music Played by Nathaniel Lande

While the Music Played
May 2020; Blackstone; 978-1982632335
audio, ebook, print (528 pages); coming of age
"I thought of all that had passed, everything.  I understood then that I was a part of everyone that I had met, and that I was a sum of everything that I had done and seen, every decision that I had made, all the times I had lived through, all the people that I had known and loved. They were all there, still alive, within me. No one is truly gone who lives on in the memories of others and they lived on through me as I would live on through them...We had all survived.  We were the music makers."
(p 432)  

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

This is a beautifully written, well-researched novel about WWII told through the eyes of Max who is a teenager when the novel begins but becomes part of the resistance as the Nazi regime takes over his country.  Max and his friends and family all connect through music - at times it is the only way they can keep their sanity in their world gone crazy.

1939 in Prague - Max Mueller lives with his father Viktor, a world-famous conductor.  He isn't  Jewish but has been taught to respect everyone no matter their religion or heritage.  He and his father are very close and his father has instilled the love of music into him and he has become a pianist and is a piano tuner on the side.  The two most important people in his life are his best friend David and the girl he is falling in love with, Sophie.  As the Nazis invade Prague and change the life that Max has always known, the truths that he has carried since childhood come into conflict.  His father gets drafted into the German Army and becomes friends with a high ranking Nazi.  As their friendship continues, Viktor gets more involved in the Nazi party and helping them with their propaganda.  Max is confused by this change in his father who had always taught him to be accepting of everyone and he begins to rely more on his friends.  After both David and Sophie are sent to live in Terezin which was referred to as a spa area but was actually one of the first concentration camps,  Max goes there to live outside the camp through the help of his father's Nazi cronies but he goes into the camp as much as possible to spend time with David and Sophie and to help them and others where he can.  This camp was known for its relatively rich cultural life, including concerts, lectures, and clandestine education for children.  As conditions worsen and people start to disappear on the trains to Auschwitz, Max and David know that the only way there can stay alive is to escape...but is it even possible?

I read a lot of WWII fiction and found this one exceptional.  The writing is beautiful, the friendship between Max, David and Sophie is very honest and real and the way that music ties everything together throughout the novel was outstanding.  This is a WWII novel that I will long remember.  Be sure to have tissue close at hand while you read this book.

Note:  Be sure to read the author's notes at the end to see which of the characters in the novel are based on real people and their effect on WWII.

Buy While the Music Played 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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