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January 3, 2021

End of the Year Historical Fiction Reading

by Susan Roberts


Historical Fiction is one of my 'go-to' genres when I want to ignore my day to day life.  The way 2020 has gone, I've read a lot of historical fiction so that I can visit other time periods instead of stressing out over what is going on in the world.  Here are reviews of my last six historical fiction novels of 2020.  Two of the books take place during WWII, three take place in the late 40s and one is a book about the 1960s.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review. 

An American in Paris by Siobhan Curham

An American in Paris
January 2021; Bookouture; 978-1800190115
audio, ebook, print (350 pages); WWII fiction
"Walking through Montmartre that morning was like the eerie calm right before a storm. The roads were deserted. We carried on, arm in arm, and then finally, we saw them. Columns and columns of soldiers, spreading through the streets like a toxic grey vapour. ‘You must write about this,’ he whispered to me. ‘You must write about the day freedom left Paris.’'

I read a lot of WWII fiction and it never gets boring because each book looks at the war and the people it affected differently.  An American in Paris is the story of an American woman who falls in love in Paris and decides to stay and do what she can to bring peace back to her adopted country.

An American in Paris is a dual timeline novel but the most important timeline is the one that takes place in Paris in the 1940s.

Florence is a dancer and is in Paris to dance at a friend's club.  When she first arrives and is trying to find her apartment, her suitcase opens up on the steps to Sacre Coeur, and the man who stops to help her ends up being the love of her life, Otto.  It's 1937 and the people of France believe that that they are safe from the German armies.  Otto is an artist from Austria where life has already changed for the Jewish citizens. In 1940, when the Nazis invade Paris, they both realize that their lives will drastically change. Otto goes into hiding because he's Jewish and both Florence and Otto begin to work for the resistance. Can her work with the Resistance help save Otto's life?

The current time timeline features Sage who is a media influencer until she posts some honest videos and the backlash against her becomes highly negative.  As she is trying to find herself and her purpose in life, she meets an uncle that she never knew who had a manuscript written by her grandmother Florence during the war.  Will reading the story of her grandmother help to put her current troubles in perspective?

An American in Paris has it all - historical information, lots of action and intrigue, friendship, and most importantly love.

The characters are well written and believable.  There are a few holes in the plot - things that happened that would have been impossible but they are easy to overlook once you get caught up in the scope and excitement of this novel.  Another great WWII novel about strong women and the roles they played during the war.

Buy An American in Paris at Amazon

The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

The Good Doctor of Warsaw
January 2021; Pegasus Books; 978-1643136363
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); biographical
“Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr. Janusz Korczak.”

 When you look at the tragedies and inhumanities of WWII there are some true beacons of light and love that stand out for the help that they provided.  This novel is based on the life of one of Poland's greatest heroes Dr. Janusz who worked to protect the children in his orphanage.  He did his best to provide them with food, when there was no food, safety in the danger, and love which he offered unconditionally to the children.

Misha and Sophia met at college and immediately connected with each other.  They were both compassionate and loving people who worked to take care of others.  Misha worked at the orphanage when he wasn't in classes and Misha soon became interested in helping.  After the Nazis invaded Warsaw, their lives changed.  They could no longer attend university and had to follow the strict rules of the new regime.  Soon the Jewish families were moved into a ghetto with terrible conditions.  Misha and Sophia still worked with the children and tried to help Dr. Janusz take care of them.  As things got worse, they walked away to try to find a safer place to live.  They are torn from each other and can only hope that they will find each other again after the war.  Back in Warsaw, the doctor kept trying to protect the children and keep them from the concentration camp.  He was a real glimmer of light in the darkness that was covering Poland at the time.

This well-researched novel is another chapter about that horrific war and some of the forgotten people who worked to help others.  It's a look at the war through the eyes of people who were there and about people who put their lives in danger to help others.  Even if you've read lots of WWII books, you need to read The Good Doctor to learn more about a real-life hero.


The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff

The Diplomat's Wife
November 2020; Park Row; 978-0778311089
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); WWII fiction
"How have I been lucky enough to come here, to be alive, when so many others are not? I should have died… But I am here."

The Diplomat's Wife begins as World War 2 is ending. The main character, Marta, has been in prison and the Nazis tortured her to get information about the resistance group that she was part of.  She is near death when the prison is liberated by the American Army. After spending time in a hospital to regain her strength, she goes to London to start her new life. She is waiting for Paul, an American soldier that helped her in prison and that she got to know better when she was in the hospital, to join her in London so that they can be married.  When his plane crashes with no survivors, she realizes that she needs to be strong and start her life again.  She's devastated over Paul's loss but is pregnant and destitute so she decides to marry Simon, a British diplomat. While working for him, she finds out that there is a traitor in their group and agrees to go back to Poland to try to find out who is sharing information with the Russians.  What she finds on her trip totally changes her life and her plans for the future.

The Diplomat's Wife was an interesting book that looks at the upheaval in Europe after the liberation of the camps and prisons.  Not only were there many people without homes but at the highest level of government, Russia was trying to take control of many of the most devastated countries. Marta was very brave to go back to Poland and risk her life to help her new country and during this time she was strong and resourceful.  I definitely liked the ending and the way that good triumphed over evil in Marta's life.

I am a fan of this author and have read most of her books - I'm not sure how I missed this one. I found out that it was book 2 in a series when I started to do this review.  It can be read out of order with no problem but I enjoyed book 2 so much that I have just ordered book 1 in the series (The Kommandant's Girl).
 
Buy The Diplomat's Wife at Amazon

Secret Shores by Ella Carey

Secret Shores
December 2020; Bookouture;
audio, ebook (319 pages); historical fiction
“We need rules in order to survive as a society, or ultimately we don’t know who we are or what rights and obligations we have to each other.”

This historical fiction novel covers 1946 - 1987 and travels from Australia to New York to London.  It's a story about true love that endures over time no matter the problems that stand in the way.

1946 - Rebecca is an artist in Australia.  Her mother refused to allow her to paint and she finally left home so that she could fulfill her dream  Then she meets Edward, a former WWII pilot who is still mentally dealing with the effects of the war.  Even though they are in completely different social classes, they fall deeply in love.  Rebecca feels that Edward is the only one who has ever understood her and her need to paint.  When Edward has to choose between family and love and he decides that his duty is to his family, Rebecca goes to a cliff overlooking the ocean where she enjoys painting and accidentally falls to her death.

1987 - Tess is one of the few female editors at a major publishing house and has worked very hard to make one of their major authors a best seller.  When she is replaced by a rich entitled man, she doesn't know where her life will go until her boss asks her to take on a new author who is writing about his time in Australia after WWII and losing the love of his life.  As Tess reads his book, she realizes that she has a potential bestseller in her hands and that she needs to meet Edward in person.

I loved the way that the author brought together the two timelines and especially liked the ultimate joining of the two stories.  The twist at the end was perfect and made the book even more enjoyable.  The characters were well written with Rebecca and Edward being my favorites.  I didn't always like Tess but understood her need to make her stand in the publishing world that was pretty well closed to women at this time.  Overall, it was a  great historical fiction novel.

Buy Secret Shores at Amazon

The Things We Don't Say by Ella Carey

The Things We Don't Say
January 2021; Bookouture; ebook
historical fiction
“As I get older, I’m coming to believe that being in love is less and less important, but loving people is more so. Friendship is the thing. Loving one’s friends. And accepting them as they are.”

A beguiling painting holds the secrets of a woman’s past and calls into question everything she thought she knew about the man she loved…

This dual-line historical fiction novel takes place in London in 1980 and France in 1913.  The timelines are told by a grandmother and her granddaughter and mesh together perfectly to bring a fantastic story about the art world of the early part of the century.

1913 - Emma is an artist and a free thinker.  She lives to paint and when she falls in love with Patrick, a fellow painter, she feels that her life is complete and they shared their lives together for over 50 years despite the fact that he was homosexual.  He painted her portrait when they first met and she kept it hanging over her bed.

1980 - Emma is 90 years old when an art appraiser decides that the portrait that Patrick painted is a fraud and was painted by one of his students.  This will not only make her question her relationship with Patrick - how could he have lied to her?  but it also affects her granddaughter Laura and her studies at a prestigious music school.  Her tuition was being paid by the collateral on the painting and if the painting is a fraud, then the painting is worthless and the bank will call in the loan.  Laura needs to prove that the painting was done by Patrick and she works with the appraiser to try to find out the truth.

Emma must face the truth of her past to help Laura gain her future.

This is an excellent historical fiction novel with two timelines that intermingle to give the reader the answers to the mystery of the painting.


Into the Streets: An Antiwar Love Story by Charles S. Isaacs

Into the Streets
Nov 2020; Black Rose Writing; 978-1684335824
ebook, print (461 pages); political fiction
"But now I understood that it wasn't enough to stay out of this war.  I absolutely had to do something to get my country out of it, to stop the atrocities.  But what could I do?  (p 4)


The late 1960s were a tumultuous time in American history. There were protests for women's rights, civil rights, and anti-war demonstrations. Nowhere was the feeling of unrest and unhappiness with the current status quo of American life felt more strongly than on the college campuses. This novel takes place in 1967 - 68 in Chicago and tells the story leading up to the student protest at the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

In 1967 when Steve started college at Midway in Chicago, he was just a kid trying to avoid being drafted. He wasn't a particularly great student but he knew that he didn't want to go to Vietnam and college was the best way to avoid going. It isn't too long after he arrives on campus that he meets Emma and Cat.  Emma is an older woman who runs a book store near campus and has been a radical organizer for years and  Cat is a black female college student who works at the bookstore. Through Emma and Cat, Steve meets many of the anti-war and civil rights members on campus and realizes that there is so much more wrong with the war than he had originally thought. He gets very involved with the movements on campus and he falls in love with Cat.

The author does a fantastic job of making this book very readable yet full of facts about the history of the time. There is reference to many of the situations and people that were part of what was really going on and it is interspersed with Steve and Cat's story in a way that makes it all very interesting. Sometimes a book like this with so much history is slowed down by all of the facts but this book is very readable and keeps your interest. I must admit that even though I knew the outcome of the political part of the story, I wasn't bored with all of the historical facts because they were presented so well as part of the story of Steve and Cat.

Whether you were around during the 60s and remember what went on or you are younger and want to learn what your parents or grandparents were doing back then, I highly recommend this book. It's very interesting and well written and has two main characters who are so real that you will end up caring and thinking about them long after you close the book for the final time.

Buy Into the Streets at Amazon

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 comments:

  1. Great post! I am doing the historical reading challenge this year so it's great to have titles that will work for it. Thank you

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