#Review: Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction

I seem to be reading more WWII fiction than normal these days, and I always try to read a variety of experiences and perspectives. So you can imagine my joy when when I came across Within These Lines which features the internment of Japanese Americans in the San Fransisco area. It’s brutal without shedding a drop of blood, cruel without employing force to gain complaisance, and utterly heartbreaking despite the prevalence of endearing love. Get ready for a gut punch, Morrill will leave you absolutely devastated.


lines.jpgTitle: Within These Lines

Author: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Romance, Japanese Internment in America


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family in 1941 is everything it “should be” until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.

Degrading treatment make life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world are treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out on behalf of all Japanese Americans, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.

With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their values and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.


My Review

Being a Canadian, especially one who lives rather proximal to the Canadian internment camps in the prairies and the rockies, I’ve always had an interest in the internment of Canadian (and American) citizens, emigres, and foreign nationals during WWII. In large part, this interest is born out of the fact that our capital ‘H’ History tries so hard to erase these deplorable actions from the record. I live just 45 minutes from where the Kananaskis internment camp once stood, and I can tell you first hand that the history of this place is overshadowed by a nearby national park, the ’88 Olympics, and a booming tourist industry. The history from 1942 – 1949 is marked with nothing more than a few lines on a hard to find plaque, a fading memory of injustice, and the power of shame and willful ignorance.

And so, when Within These Lines – the riveting love story of Evelina and Taichi  set in 1941 San Fransisco and later the Manzanar Relocation Centre – became available on NetGalley I simply couldn’t resist. It’s equal parts hopeful and horrifying, which made it impossible not to feel deeply as our two narrators undertook their journeys through the societal landscape of California following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Told in split narrative, we’re able to catch glimpses of two sides of the dividing lines. This hard hitting topic was carried tactfully by a sweet and passionate love story of two teens caught in the thick of it all. It helped that Evalina came from an Italian family, and that she was not completely free from the stigma and prejudice that was rampant at the time, as this helped to bridge the chasm between her and Taichi. And the fact that Evalina stayed committed to Taichi even when she had other options or when it would have been easier to walk away makes this story just that much better.

It was painful to see the quiet acquiescence with which many families went to the Manzanar camp simply because they were asked to, the cruelness with which the Japanese were treated even when they were clearly causing no harm, and the ways in which the citizens who were willing to speak out against these injustices were treated in turn. It made perfect sense that Evalina connected with the church group, that she decided to take up a male-dominated field of study at university, and that her advocacy efforts continued on campus.

Taichi showed a different kind of strength and offered the perfect balance to Evalina’s stubborn and headstrong ways. He is quiet and contemplative, worried about disappointing his family, and always careful not to make waves. And though it broke my heart to read, I appreciated how he tried to protect Evalina from the reality of what he and his family were enduring. Also, I was completely undone by lengths he went through to protect and support his sister, provide for his mother, and eventually the steps that he took to keep the peace within the camp when tensions began to rise.

While there is a small amount of action, Within These Lines is driven by string characters, flawless research, and an exquisite attention to detail which brings all of the pieces together. Not only are Taichi and Evelina sweet and relatable, they are supported by a cast of excellent secondary characters. It’s beautifully written, highly emotive, and absolutely breathtaking.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!

But be warned, this one will require a box of tissues close at hand.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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#BlogTour #Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz by #HistoricalFiction #WWIIFiction

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Today I am beyond thrilled to be taking part in the Blog Tour for The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio ItrubeThis exceptional work of historical fiction brings to life the sheer will of a young Jewish girl, her love for books, and an infectious desire to transform fear into survival. It is one of the best WWII fiction novels I’ve read in a goof long while, and I have no doubt that this baby is going to stay on my keep shelf for many, many years to come.


LibrarianTitle: The Librarian of Auschwitz

Author: Antonio Iturbe

Translator: Lilit Zekulin Thwaites

Publisher: Ebury Digital

Publication Date: April 4, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: Friendship, Family, Relationships, WWII, Survival, the Holocaust

Features: Author’s Notes


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From goodreads…

For readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice: this is the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous.

‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.

But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…


My Review

I loved this book.

I mean, I may have bawled my face off more times than I care to admit while I was reading it, but I loved this book.

I appreciated how right from the get-go that Itrube established that this book is a work of fiction, and as such cannot be read as fact. But also, how he made it clear that this particular work of fiction is inspired by real people, real events, and real suffering. It’s heartbreaking, uncomfortable, profound, and above all it’s undeniably inspiring. As a result I found the horrors depicted on the pages easier to pallet than pure fact, whist maintaining a feeling that every moment was grounded in reality.

Now, being a librarian I like me some research. And the depth of the research that went into The Librarian of Auschwitz was evident from the outset. With the scenes so painstakingly crafted as to engender dread, the hunger to set my tummy rumbling, and the tenderness to remind us that humanity can still exist in inhuman conditions I was completely swept away. And through it all, Block 31 remains a relief from the horrors of Auschwitz, a balm against the war, and a place where children get to be children if even just for a little while longer. That is not to say that the family camp and the school were naive to their situations or had any delusions about their situation, but just that it provided few beautiful hours of respite every day.

And as a fellow book lover, I felt an immediate connection to Dita and the passion that she held for her little library. I felt her love for the book as an object of escape, as person who could bring a story to life, as a path to enlightenment, and as vehicle for resistance in it’s simplest form. And through it all the power of words, of stories, remains a constant theme reminding us of why so many tyrants have sought to burn books and ban knowledge in their quests for power. In return for the hope, joy, and distraction that these books provide Dita lavishes them with the love and care that any being would need to survive in an extermination camp.

But the part that I loved above all else was how books were the balms to every evil that befell the family camp in BIIb. Mass liquidation? Tell a story. Can’t celebrate passover? Tell many stories. Caught in a living hell where surviving just one more day is a victory? Tell many stories, day after day, after day. Do not let them die. Seek more stories, more books, more living libraries, and spread ALL of the words.

It broke my heart, however, to follow all of the disparate characters through their painfully real experiences and to their ends. From the stoic yet tragic optimism and dedication of Freddy Hirsch to the desperation and disillusionment of Rudi Rosenberg, The Librarian of Auschwitz is equal parts horror and hope. The characters provide a balance to one another with Leisl’s silence countering Dita’s quick wit, Morgenstern’s lightheartedness to Hirsch’s determination, and the innocent joy of the children to the oppressive weight carried by their parents.

Carefully crafted, expertly written and beautifully translated I would recommend The Librarian of Auschwitz to just about anyone. It is real and it is horrible, and yet it remains human and passionate and pure of heart. I love that love found a way to flourish in a living hell, that families found a way to stay loyal and strong, and that for once a few books get to stand alongside the heroes of the story.

Read it book lovers. This baby earns every bit of it’s 5 stars.


Biography

Antonio Iturbe lives in Spain, where he is both a novelist and a journalist. In researching The Librarian of Auschwitz, he interviewed Dita Kraus, the real-life librarian of Auschwitz. Lilit Zekulin Thwaites is an award-winning literary translator. After thirty years as an academic at La Trobe University in Australia, she retired from teaching and now focuses primarily on her ongoing translation and research projects. Dita Kraus was born in Prague. In 1942, when Dita was thirteen years old , she and her parents were deported to Ghetto Theresienstadt and later to Auschwitz,. Neither of Dita’s parents survived. After the war Dita married the author Otto B. Kraus. They emigrated to Israel in 1949, where they both worked as teachers They had three children. Since Otto’s death in 2000 , Dita lives alone in Netanya. She has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Despite the horrors of the concentration camps, Dita has kept her positive approach to life.


Many thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to join in this tour.

 

#Review: Conspiracy of Lies by Kathryn Gauci #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction

Today I’m over the moon to share my 5 star review for Conspiracy of Lies by Katheryn Gauci. Part saucy romance part gripping WWII fiction, I simply couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages – it was absolutely amazing!


conspiracyTitle: Conspiracy of Lies

Author: Kathryn Gauci

Publisher: Kathryn Gauci

Expected Publication Date: July 12, 2017

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Themes: WWII, SOE, Romance, the French Resistance

Features: Book Club reading guide and questions.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the author of The Embroiderer comes a powerful account of one woman’s struggle to balance her duty to her country and a love she knows will ultimately end in tragedy.

1940. With the Germans about to enter Paris, Claire Bouchard flees France for England. Two years later she is recruited by the Special Operations Executive and sent back into occupied France to work alongside the Resistance.

Working undercover as a teacher in Brittany, Claire accidentally befriends the wife of the German Commandant of Rennes and the blossoming friendship is about to become a dangerous mission.

Knowing that thousands of lives depended on her actions, Claire begins a double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress in order to retrieve vital information for the Allied invasion of France, but ghosts from her past make the deception more painful than she could have imagined.

Part historical, part romance and part thriller, Conspiracy of Lies takes us on a journey through occupied France, from the picturesque villages of rural Brittany to the glittering dinner parties of the Nazi elite, in a story of courage, heartbreak and secrecy.


My Review

I’ve given up on thinking that I don’t like romance, because clearly I have been loving it lately – and Conspiracy of Lies was no exception. It starts of with a whirlwind romance in Paris (um hello, beautiful daydream much?) and is followed dramatically by a complete immersion in the SOE and a deployment to occupied France. I mean, oooft! Does it get any better?

I loved the tenacity of Claire Bouchard, and especially the retrospective introduction to the story. We see Claire at the end of her journey sharing moments with her daughter, so we know that she survives. Yet despite this, the events that Claire endures in 1943 had me on the edge of my seat wondering how she makes it through. I seriously doubted that Claire was going to survive her landing in Brittany, ad certainly not her unexpected infiltration of the Nazi elite as she fell into the bed of a Gestapo Commandant.

I enjoyed too, how Claire’s past and present were interspersed throughout the book. Her return to Brittany and reconnection with her daughter cut the tension of Claire’s mission at the best possible moment. Not only did they provided glimpses of insight into Claire’s character, but they also dolled out key clues into the history of the geography in which the story takes place. I found that it really helped to root the narrative in reality, and to make it feel like the past isn’t so far away.

And the scenario with the Gestapo Commandant was an absolute trip as well. It really brought to light the degree of subterfuge and infiltration undertaken by members of the SOE and the complicated situations that had to be navigated in the aftermath of the war. And keeping in mind the secrecy to which SOE agents were sworn, I can only imagine how shocking discovering the truth of a parent or grandparent’s real past might have been.

Yet, the magnitude of this drama was subtly balanced by the opulence of the Nazi elite. The dresses, the hotels, the parties and the food in the face of such drastic austerity was almost overwhelming. And once Claire was embedded in this world, I couldn’t shake the feeling of Stockholm Syndrome despite Claire’s obvious commitment to the SOE. The depth of detail provided a sense a grounding and realism that made every scenario believable, and solid foundation on which some extreme events can take place. And the best part was that despite having some knowledge of the French Resistance and the events leading up to the liberation of France, I never once felt that I could guess what was coming around the corner or that I knew an outcome before it came to pass.

This baby is truly the best of both worlds with enough pulling at the heartstrings to give you a flutter, and a riveting game of SOE cat-and-mouse espionage to keep those pages turing. It’s detailed, dramatic, and incredibly well written.

Read it book lovers, you won’t be disappointed!


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction @PamJenoff

I first fell in love with Pam Jenoff’s writing almost two years ago, when I read and reviewed The Orphan’s Tale. So today I am absolutely over the moon to be offering a 5* review for The Lost Girls of Paris. An intricate braid of three riveting stories, Jenoff transports you back to WWII in Paris, London, and New York and to a time of immeasurable sacrifice, incalculable strength, and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. This book is an absolute beauty and a must read for lovers of historical and WWII fiction.


lost girlsTitle: The Lost Girls of Paris

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: Park Row

Expected Publication Date: January 29, 2019

Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Themes: WWII, SOE, Romance, the French Resistance

Features: Book Club reading guide and questions.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Talecomes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.


My Review

I’m biased, I know, but I love Jenoff’s writing. So I simply couldn’t resist when The Lost Girls of Paris are out, bought a copy on publication day, and then made myself wait until we went on holidays to read it. I’m seriously mad that I didn’t cave and let myself read it sooner, but it was absolutely worth the wait, and one of the best rides I’ve ever been on!

Let’s start with my favourite thing apparent in Jenoff’s writing – the obvious presence of research! It’s clear that no detail is haphazard or half-assed, and that no stone has been left unturned. Everything from the locales to the clothing breathes authenticity and and make the characters and their lives feel ever-so real. But what I appreciated more than the reliance on fact to craft the tales of Marie, Eleanor, and Grace was that all of the characters and events were entirely fictional. As a lover of WWII fiction I have read enough fictional versions of Himmler to last a lifetime, so having new and exciting characters in this setting was a breath of fresh air. It gave the freedom for an immersive read without inspiring an irrational need to fact check, and for that I am eternally grateful.

The split storylines of our ladies were beautiful complements to one another. I think in some cases that if the book had been about just one or the others of the women, that the sadness of their stories would have been overwhelming. However, the balance of Grace rebuilding her life after the loss of her husband served as the perfect complement to the hopelessness of Marie & Eleanor’s positions.

Of all the girls, I found Eleanor’s lot the most precarious and nerve wracking to read. Sure, she was our of the action and running things from the SOE, as it was clear early on that her superiors were setting her up to take the fall if her F Section agents failed and the credit if they succeeded. And because the women of F Section were never given official ranks or any sort of recognition, they too became easy to sweep under the rug when things got difficult. I can only imagine how painfully aware of this situation Eleanor was, which is why she was so invested in the recruiting, training deployment, and monitoring of her agents.

Garce was hard to read too, but in the best possible way. She bucked against the expectations of both her family and society in order to find herself doling her husband’s death, and in that had to grapple with an almost overwhelming amount of grief and guilt. Finding Eleanor’s suitcase was the perfect act of deflection to find closure for both the victim on the car crash and herself. I found her romance with Mark both sweet and timely, and adored how Mark pursued Grace through kindness and assistance rather than machismo and pressure. It was nice to see his empathy and understanding of Grace’s grief and other needs, as well as his respect and appreciation for her choice in having a career.

Marie was an absolute breath of fresh air. As much as I pitied her back story with such a users husband who ran off her fortune after their daughter was born I liked her grit, tenacity, and determination to maintain her home, even with Tess living safely in the country. I loved how she stuck it out against the odds when everyone expected her to fail in her training, and even when she expected failure from herself. I found her easy to relate to and exciting to read – especially after she was dropped for her mission in France.

The interplay between the three plots was perfectly balanced and made for an absolutely outstanding read. The push and pull between hope and grief, loss and love, war and recovery made for a dynamic and enjoyable experience. Like I said, I know I’m biased, being a Jenoff groupie and all, but I would recommend this baby to anyone. It’s the perfect blend of history and fiction, and it hits you in the heartstrings over and over again. It’s absolute perfection.


I purchased and reviewed this title independently, all opinions are my own.

#BlogTour #Review: The Blameless Dead by Gary Haynes #WWIIFiction #CrimeFiction @endeavourquill

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Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Gary Hayne’s stellar novel The Blameless Dead. Part WWII fiction, part psychological crime thriller this multi-viewpoint mosaic is the best of both worlds. If you like dark and twisty and playing puzzle master as you read, this baby is sure to please.


The Blameless DeadTitle: Death Before Coffee

Author: Desmond P. Ryan

Publisher: Copper Press Publishing

Publication Date: February 8, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Crime Fiction, Police Procedural

Themes: Friendship, Relationships, Human Trafficking, Crime

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In the dying days of World War Two, Pavel Romasko and his Red Army colleagues pick their way through the carnage and detritus of a dying Berlin. Stumbling upon the smoking remains of a Nazi bunker, they find something inside that eclipses the horror of even the worst excesses in the city above them…

As the war ends, retribution begins. But some revenge cannot be taken at once. Some revenge takes years.

And so it is, as post-war Europe tries desperately to drag itself back onto its feet, and soldiers attempt a return to normality, that retribution continues to ferment in the Gulags of the Soviet Union and beneath the surface of apparently ordinary lives.

Which is how, seventy years later, FBI agent Carla Romero and New York lawyer Gabriel Hall are enlisted to investigate a series of blood-chilling crimes that seem to have their roots in the distant past — even though the suffering they cause is all too present. And for one of them, the disappearance of young women is a particularly personal matter.

The Blameless Dead is an epic, compelling, edge-of-the-seat drama that sweeps the reader from twentieth century Europe to modern-day New York, taking in some of the most important events of modern history and exposing them in honest and unflinching terms. Part murder-mystery, part historical novel and shot through with adrenaline-pumping action, this novel superbly demonstrates that, while the hostilities may cease and the peace be signed, the horror that is war is never really over.


My Review

I first took part in the cover reveal for this baby back in November because I was absolutely in love with the blurb, so you can imagine my delight when I was able to get my hands on the galley. And let me tell you this, the reality of the narrative far exceeded my expectations! I mean, some twisty WWII fiction packaged together with a seriously messed up modern serial killer in a riveting investigative procedural – ooft! Amazing.

Keep in mind though, this is not the type of book that can be readily enjoyed by the detached or casual reader. Rather, the variety of viewpoints and span of settings and times, demands a master puzzler to keep track of the crucial yet disparate goings-on. And given that none of the characters are inclined to share information with one another, it falls on the reader to pull the threads together and make sense of how each piece fits together. If you’re paying attention the ending can be sussed out to great satisfaction. But don’t get too cocky about those sleuthing skills, because there are some twists and turns that simply can be predicted.

Packed with a cast of uniquely individual characters, I was surprised to find myself attaching to more than one, including our eventual bad-guy. I found myself trapped in the cycle of grief with Gabriel as he mourns the loss of his niece, raging with Kazapov as he seeks justice for the atrocities committed against his family, and feeling excited and empowered as Carla engages fully with her investigation. Each of them are loaded with secrets from the past, a toast of idiosyncrasies, and an unpredictable nature.

Now throw in a foreign hitman with a few sadistic tendencies and a criminal network rooted in society’s underbelly, and there’s simply no guessing which character is going to be the next to die. At one point I felt like Mr. Martin took over and was dealing out deaths just to keep you from getting too attached. But seriously though, while some of the events certainly seemed cruel and senseless, they all adhered to a certain criminal logic and were not without purpose.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be difficult and uncomfortable, and it deals with both the atrocities of war and the lasting effects that being involved in such events can have on the human psyche. Torture and psychotic tendencies aside though, The Blameless Dead is exceptionally well written and undeniably gripping.

Would I recommend this book? Without a question! Although if you’re like me I might suggest breaking out the notepad and paper, as Haynes will certainly put your attention to detail to the test. Gritty, brutal and undeniably powerful The Blameless Dead will hook you from the first page.


About The Author

haynes

Bestselling Thriller/Crime novelist published by HarperCollins/Endeavour Quill. Gary Haynes studied law at university before becoming a commercial litigator. He is interested in history, philosophy and international relations. When he’s not writing or reading, he enjoys watching European films, travelling, hillwalking and spending time with his family. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization.

You can contact Gary via his website and social media sites.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/GaryHaynesNovel

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7391784.Gary_Haynes

Website: https://garyhaynes.weebly.com/


Many thanks to Hannah Groves at Endeavour Media for inviting me to join in this tour and for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Blameless Dead Blog Tour Schedule