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November 26, 2020

4 More World War II Stories

by Susan Roberts

Like a lot of people, I've had extra time to read during the pandemic.  Even though the stay-at-home orders have loosened some, I still stay in as much as possible due to my age and underlying health issues.  I've always viewed World War II as a time that all Americans worked together for the common good of America, unlike the current crisis where it appears that America is more divided than ever. With that comparison in mind, I pulled several World War II books off my shelves and here are my reviews.
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When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel 

When We Meet Again
June 2016; Gallery Books; 978-1476754161
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); women's fiction
“Every time someone hurts you, you carry a little piece of that with you. When it’s one of the people who’s supposed to love you most in the world, well, I’d imagine that takes a whole chunk out of your faith in humanity.”

I have enjoyed Kristin Harmel's new books so much that I decided I needed to read some of her older books.  It was a great decision because her older books are just as well written and unforgettable as her new books.

When We Meet Again is another WWII novel but told from a different perspective - that of a German prisoner of war in the US.  I wasn't aware that over 425,000 members of the German military were interned as prisoners of war in the United States during World War II.  They lived in camps all over the US and were used to help in areas such as agriculture and building.

This dual timeline novel takes place in Florida in 1944 and present time.  In the 1944 timeline, Margaret lives on a small farm in Florida where there are German POWs working near.  She makes eye contact with Peter and they gradually fall in love.  Peter hadn't been a Nazi - just another young man who didn't believe in Hitler but was forced to serve in the German Army.  They fall in love and she becomes pregnant right before the war ends and he is sent back to Germany.  She has disgraced her family and leaves her home.  The only letter that she got from Peter told her that he was marrying an old girlfriend.  When Peter gets home to Munich, he is also shunned by his family - his father felt that he was a traitor because he got captured and had disgraced the family.  Before he left, his father gave him the only letter that he said Margaret sent that told him she was pregnant. They never stopped looking for each other for their entire lives.

In the present-day timeline, the main character is Emily.  She is alone in the world, her father abandoned her when she was young, her grandmother Margaret had just died and she is feeling tremendous guilt over a baby that she had at 18, not too long after her mother died, that she gave up for adoption.  She receives a painting of a woman who looks like her grandmother when she was younger and begins a search for the artist and the meaning behind the painting.  During her search, she not only finds out about her grandmother's past but also begins to understand some of the issues in her life.

This book is about family, love, forgiveness not only of others but also forgiving yourself for past mistakes,   but the main focus is on love. It's a wonderful book that I won't soon forget.

Buy When We Meet Again at Amazon

Other Fantastic Books by Kristin Harmel:
The Winemaker's Wife - read my review.
The Room on Rue Amelie - read my review.

Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman

Red Sky Over Hawaii
June 2020; MIRA; 978-0778309673
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); historical fiction
"In the end, we remember those slices of time where we feel the most - love, anguish, joy, sorrow, fright, I don't care what the reason. Maybe, it was the day you first realized you were mortal or that first moment you saw love walk in the door. Or that no matter how many years passed, you would still be that girl, the barefoot one with long brown hair and a penny in her pocket.  Maybe it was when you suddenly realized you had everything to lose and you were too blind to notice.  What matters most is what lives in your heart.  I know, it is this:  love is the only way."

Red Sky over Hawaii is a book about the courage and bravery of a young woman after the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Lana rushed home to see her estranged ill father but got there after he died.  She went to his home where she met his next-door neighbors.  When the parents of the German family are picked up by the government and sent to an internment camp, she decides to keep the children safe until their parents return.  (During the time right after the war started, German and Japanese families were put into internment camps because the government was worried that they might be spies or sympathetic to the enemies of the US.)    To keep them safe, Lana decides to travel to secret property that her father owned that was tucked away in the remote rain forest of Kilauea volcano  She also takes a Japanese fisherman and his son who were friends of her father.  She knows that she is going against the government but is willing to take a risk to keep them safe.   They have visitors from the nearby Army base show up and she struggles to keep their secrets.  When she finds out that there is an internment camp at the Army base, she knows that has to work even harder to keep her secrets.

Lana was an extremely well-written character.  Even though she had no family of her own she was willing to make a family out of the people that she helped escape from being taken away by the government.  Family is more than blood ties - it is also the people that we love and protect.  

This book is an interesting look at how the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the war against Japan affected the people of Hawaii.  If you enjoy light historical fiction with a little romance, give this one a try! 

Buy Red Sky Over Hawaii at Amazon

The Takeaway Men by Meryl Ain


The Takeaway Men
August 2020; SparkPress; 978-1684630479
ebook, print (264 pages); Jewish literature
With the cloud of the Holocaust still looming over them, twin sisters Bronka and Johanna Lubinski and their parents arrive in the US from a Displaced Persons Camp. In the years after World War II, they experience the difficulties of adjusting to American culture as well as the burgeoning fear of the Cold War. Years later, the discovery of a former Nazi hiding in their community brings the Holocaust out of the shadows. As the girls get older, they start to wonder about their parents’ pasts, and they begin to demand answers. But it soon becomes clear that those memories will be more difficult and painful to uncover than they could have anticipated. Poignant and haunting, The Takeaway Men explores the impact of immigration, identity, prejudice, secrets, and lies of parents and children in mid-twentieth-century America.

My Opinion:  

This was a well written, well-researched book about how a Jewish family searched to bring normalcy into their lives by immigrating to America to attempt to eradicate their memories of their treatment by the Nazis during WWII.

The Lubinski family - parents and four-year-old twin daughters move to New York City from a DP camp in Europe to live with cousins and start a new life after surviving the horrors of Europe during WWII.  They move into a Jewish neighborhood where many of the families have been affected by the war but each chooses to handle it differently - some will never talk about it and others want to make sure that their past is known.  In the Lubinski family, Aron, the father, doesn't want to tell anyone, especially his daughters about his past or the loss of his entire family.  He has trouble acclimating to America and retains many of his old ways.  His wife, Judy, feels like they should tell their daughters the family history but agrees to keep it a secret at her husband's demands.  The twin girls grew up and become totally acclimated to American life.  When they first hear about Hitler at school, they have no idea who he was or the damage he caused and had to go home and ask their parents.  Secrets can't remain hidden and when they find out the truth years later, they are totally shocked and they react differently to the secrets of their parents' past.

The Takeaway Men is a different look at WWII.  The readers get a look at the long-term after effect of the war on a Jewish family that barely survived and mentally re-live much of it in their heads.  The author did excellent research on the Jewish immigrants during this time period and wrote wonderful characters to convey their reality as they tried to start new lives.

If you enjoy WWII historical fiction read this book to get an intimate look at the long-term effects on the survivors of the Holocaust.  

Buy The Takeaway Men at Amazon

The Sweetness of Forgetting by Kristin Harmel 

The Sweetness of Forgetting
August 2012; Gallery Books; 978-1451644296
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); women's fiction
"For years, she had counted all the stars she could see in the night sky.  She was always searching for something, but she hadn't found it yet.  She didn't deserve to, she knew, and that made her sad.  A lot of things made her sad these days.  But sometimes, from one day to the next, she couldn't remember what she was crying for."
(p 27)

I have read Kristin Harmel's three most recent books and really enjoyed them so I decided that I would read some of her older books.  I sure picked a fantastic older book to start with.  The Sweetness of Forgetting is full of fantastic characters with a plot that is well researched and will make you smile and cry.

Hope is in her mid-thirties.  She's recently lost her mother to cancer, her husband to a much younger woman, and her teenage daughter seems to hate her.  She runs that family bakery but has just been informed by the bank that her loan will be canceled and she'll lose the business.  Her beloved grandmother Mamie, who started the bakery,  has Alzheimer's and even though Hope visits her frequently, Mamie doesn't always recognize her.  Mamie had always kept her past a secret - they knew that she had come from France at the end of WWII but she never talked about her family or how she met her American husband.  One day in a rare moment of clarity, Mamie asks Hope to fly to France and gives her a list of people that she wants to find out about.  She feels that most of them are dead but wants to know for sure.  After stalling a bit, Hope decides to make the trip, and what she finds there totally changes her perception of her grandmother and brings to light the secrets that Mamie had been hiding for over 70 years.  Hope pieces together her family's history and she finds horrific Holocaust stories mixed with powerful testimonies of her family's will to survive in a world gone mad.

This is a powerful story told in present-day and in Paris in the 1940s.  The characters are so well written that I cared about them and wanted them to succeed and be happy.  There were several times that I just wanted to shake Hope and tell her to get a grip but she was really my favorite character in the novel.  It's a powerful story of family and love, memory and forgiveness, and a reminder that the basic beliefs of all the major religions are not that different from each other.

“Life doesn't work out the way we plan, but maybe it works out the way it's supposed to after all.”

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. Since her travel plans had to be canceled for this year, she is starting to make plans for travel in 2021. 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 historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

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  1. Ok. I haven't heard of any of these and they all sound good. I'll have to check out Kristin Harmel's books.