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June 30, 2022

2 Books of Historical Fiction to Read on Vacation

by Susan Roberts

If you are a big historical fiction reader then you know that there are often more books coming out each month than we can get read. Most of the time they are not the quick read of a romance novel, though the rich characters and historical information they impart are definitely worth the tradeoff. Summer vacation can be a great time to catch up on some of the titles you might have missed. Today, I have two that came on in May. The second one, in particular, would be great to read if you are doing a staycation as the descriptions of the Caribbean island setting will have you mentally at the beach.

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Daughters of the Occupation by Shelly Sanders 

book cover of WWII historical novel Daughters of the Occupation by Shelly Sanders
May 2022; Harper; 978-0063247895
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); historical fiction

This World War II story takes place in Latvia and it's the first book I've read about the effects of the war in this country.  Miriam and her husband Max have one child, Ilana.  Max is a businessman and the family lives well.  In 1940, they added a second child to their family, their son Max.  On the day that Max is born, the Russians invaded Latvia.  The family is Jewish so the Russians confiscated the family house and bank accounts and they are forced to live in a small apartment.  The lack of food and the fear of the brutal Russian soldiers makes Miriam think "Miriam yearned for the day another country's Army would intervene and overpower the barbaric Soviets."   She realized soon after the Germans invaded, that they were even worse than the Russians.  They killed Max and planned to send the rest of the family to the Jewish ghetto.  Miriam begs a non-Jewish friend to take the two children so that they have a chance to survive.  

The second timeline of the story is in Chicago in 1975.  Sarah's mother, Ilana, has just died and Sarah and her father are struggling with the loss.  Ilana and her mother, Miriam are estranged and Sarah was surprised to see her at the funeral after so many years.  After seeing her, Sarah decides to get to know her better to find out more about her mother's life.  Miriam is a stubborn and unfriendly woman and doesn't want to see Sarah but finally, her attitude begins to soften.   When Miriam is in the hospital, she finally begs Sarah to go back to Latvia and find the son (Max) that she left there after the war.  So Sarah takes a trip to Latvia, which is under Russian control again, and runs into a lot of danger trying to find her uncle.  Will she be able to return to Chicago and give her grandmother information about Max or is the Russian regime so restrictive that she can't find out any information?

This book was full of terror and fear.  First in Latvia during the war and seeing how the Germans treated the Latvian Jews - It's no doubt that people who survived didn't want to talk about those times and relive the pain.  Sarah was really tenacious in her quest to find out the family secrets.  Her trip to Latvia was also scary.  She was helped by a Russian professor who was on the tour with her, but when they snuck away from the tour group several times, they were in constant danger.

This is a heartbreaking story about emotions passed down through the family.  All three of the women - Miriam, Ilana, and Sarah were brave and tenacious during their hardships.  It's a book about man's inhumanity to other men but at the end of the day, it's a book about family, love, and hope for the future.  Even though I read a lot of WWII fiction, this one really affected me and I won't soon forget the characters and their descriptions of life in Latvia both during and after the war.  Be sure to read the Author's Notes at the end of the story.  Even though the characters are fictional, the author based many of the characters on real people, including some of her family members.  She has also included pictures of the ghettos and the forced March that killed so many people.  I also spent a lot of time after finishing the novel to goggle the war in Latvia and to learn more about the war.  I always love reading a book that teaches me while I'm enjoying reading it.

Mustique Island by Sarah McCoy

book cover of historical fiction novel Mustique Island by Sarah McCoy
May 2022; William Morrow; 978-0062984371
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); historical fiction

"Home is never really a place...It's something you make inside of yourself.
(p 298)

It's January 1972, when Willy May's boat arrived on Mustique Island.  It was a private island owned by an eccentric Englishman who carefully choose the people he allows to build homes on the island.  Willy May is a rich recently divorced (and then made a widow) and is looking for a quiet place to spend some time.  She is a former Texan who ended up married to British nobility and has two daughters.  She's soon caught up in all of the drama and extravagance that exists on the island and decides to build a house there.  The land that's picked out for her is directly across the bay from Princess Margaret's house.  Princess Margaret is Queen Elizabeth's younger sister and she was well known as a party girl back in the 70s.  Her home on the island was her place to have fun out of the eyes of the British press and her sister.

Willy May also wants to rebuild her relationship with her two daughters.  Hilly is a well-known model who is on the back side of her career.  As she gets older, the jobs are going to younger women.  She's also good about avoiding reality and using pills to get her through her day.  Joanne is a musician and is finishing college.  Hilly and Joanne quickly get pulled into the extravagances and drama that take place on the island.  Willy May soon learns that it isn't money that's the most important part -- it's family that is worth more than any amount of money.

Many of the characters in this book are based on real people - from the owner of the island to Princess Margaret to Mick Jagger.  The author does a great job of making them part of the story while making sure that Willy May and her daughters aren't overshadowed.  Also, the scenery on the island is described so well that you can imagine being there on vacation.  I did some searching on Google to see if you can rent houses on the island and found out that you could but you'd need lots of money.  Princess Margret's home rents for $34,000 a week.

I definitely enjoyed this book about the lives of the rich and famous during the early 1970s.  I didn't like Willy May at first but I began to enjoy her character once her daughters were on the Island and I could see what a caring person she was.  The three women realized that their family was more important than all of the partying and celebrities on the island.

Buy Mustique Island at Amazon

AMAZON Best Book of the Month Pick for Literature & Fiction

BOOKBUB Best Book of Spring Pick

Town & Country Best Book of May Pick

Veranda Magazine Best New Book of Summer Pick 

 POPSUGAR's Most Anticipated Books of 2022

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina. She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. 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 Facebook.

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