Rosie’s #Bookreview #WW2 #HistoricalFiction A Thread Of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

A Thread Of GraceA Thread Of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

3.5 stars

A Thread Of Grace is historical fiction set during World War Two.

The main setting is north west Italy, primarily the two year period from 1943 to the end of the war. By 1943, pockets of Europe’s Jewish communities had escaped to South East France and were overseen by Italian armed forces, but then Italy switched sides. No longer safe, many of the Jews crossed the Alps hoping for safety in Italy; however, the Germans still dominated most of the country.

Featuring a complex mix of social, political and religious supporters, this story is about the strengths and determination of the people of this small province of Italy and how they helped hide, feed and protect thousands of Jewish refugees.

The book begins with a list of forty-six characters names, a daunting number, so I read with some trepidation thinking about how I would create memorable images of them all. The plot moves at a good pace and there is plenty of action and tension; I could imagine the settings and the situations that happened.

The author’s quantity of research shines through and her enthusiasm to tell the tale of the brave men and women is exemplary. However, with multiple characters all needing time for their stories, and weaving them together, the storytelling is, at times, hard to follow. Characters became names on paper rather than rounded three dimensional images in my head.

Renzo Leoni became a firm favourite; his bravery, confidence and control of situations while masking his own guilt gave him much needed layers of character. It also helped that he had three different identities, meaning that he frequently appeared in the narrative, which gave me an anchor to connect some of the many other characters to.

Overall, I mostly enjoyed the book.  What I will take away is the bravery of so many in protecting strangers and the lengths they went to in a horrific period of history.

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Book description

8th September 1943, and Claudette Blum and her father are among thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing over the Alps towards Italy. For the Italians have broken with Hitler and sued for peace, and here the Blums hope to find safety at last. But overnight the Nazis seize control and the country becomes a battleground – for the occupying German forces, the advancing allies, partisans, Jews in hiding and ordinary Italians simply trying to survive.

Against this dramatic backdrop and through the lives of a multitude of beautifully drawn characters – a mercurial resistance leader, a priest, an Italian rabbi and his family, and a disillusioned Wehrmacht doctor – Mary Doria Russell tells the little-known story of those who sought refuge in Italy during the final phase of the Second World War, and of those who risked all to help them.

It is a powerful, profoundly moving novel.

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A Thread Of Grace by [Russell, Mary Doria]

Rosie’s #Bookreview of #WW2 #Histfic The Soldier’s Girl by Sharon Maas

The Soldier's GirlThe Soldier’s Girl by Sharon Maas

3 stars

The Soldier’s Girl is a wartime historical fiction. I bought this book after reading a glowing review of it on another book blog. I enjoy this genre, especially the intense fear and danger that resistance members and agents put themselves under.

The story beings in the pre-war years from 1929. Recently widowed, Sibyl’s mother takes her two young daughters to Alsace, France, where they can heal from the horrors of a father who left them with little financial support. They stay with her mother’s school friend at a vineyard for five years until the threat of war draws near.

By 1938, Sibyl is training as a nurse in England. Fluent in French, German and Alsatian, a local French dialect, she is identified as someone who could be trained as a secret agent. The story then takes us to 1943, when Sibyl is given a new identity as well as her own spy circuit. She’s dropped into the isolated Alsace area to meet with, and help coordinate, the local resistance fighters.

I enjoyed learning about the historical fight for ownership of the Alsace region between Germany and France. I was unaware that during the war, Germany claimed the area as its own, forcing the people to rename their streets, towns and even their family names with German ones. I also liked the parts of the book set around the vineyard; they felt very genuine and idyllically French.

Much of the writing is dialogue-led and although it is used to move the story forward, great chunks of detail in dialogue format are never my favourite style of storytelling.  I found Sibyl a disappointment; wartimes spies were extraordinarily careful and professional, as they knew that their work was a matter of life and death. However, reacquainted with Jacques, a childhood friend from the vineyard, she breaks her strict training rules of secrecy. Her radio messaging is unrealistic; everything should be in code, but Sibyl speaks to her contact as if she is using the telephone. And I’m afraid I couldn’t believe that her high-ranking German officer ‘sweetheart’ would be so easily led into gossiping and the divulging of intelligence details to a local girl. This could have been so much darker and more edgy.

Overall, the setting was a delight, but the secret agent aspect was let down by unbelievable actions and it weakened the storyline.

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Book description

France 1944. An English Nurse. A German Soldier. A tragic love affair …

English girl Sibyl Lake arrives in Colmar, a small French town, surrounded by vineyards and swarming with German soldiers. Trained as a nurse, Sibyl has been recruited as a British Agent to support the French Resistance.

When Sibyl’s work leads her to her childhood sweetheart Jacques, she is overjoyed. But their happy reunion is shortlived as it is not just Jacques’ eye that Sibyl has caught …

Commander Wolfgang von Haagan is very taken with the attractive English stranger, and Sibyl realises that she can help her own country by listening to the secrets of this soldier’s heart. As she grows closer to Wolfgang she gets to know the man behind the uniform and despite her best intentions, soon she is caught in a terrible love triangle.

And when Jacques finds that Sibyl is involved with the enemy, he is determined to prove himself to her with one last act of heroism. An act that will put all of their lives into terrible danger ….

A gripping and heartbreaking story of love behind enemy lines and the overwhelming tragedy of war.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview of Historical #Romance Searching For Gertrude by D.E. Haggerty

Searching for GertrudeSearching for Gertrude by D.E. Haggerty

3 stars

Searching For Gertrude is a romance set during World War Two.

Rudolf has loved the daughter of his Jewish neighbour for as long as he can remember, but one morning he wakes to discover her family are leaving, because of the dangers present in the country during that time. Gertrude’s father has lost his job at his German university, and he’s taking his family to Istanbul.

Devastated by the loss of his love, Rudolf vows to follow. But first he must finish his studies, and it is eight years before he can travel to Istanbul. When he arrives, his search for Gertrude is made harder as she hasn’t written to him for six years, and he doesn’t have her address.

Rosalyn, a young teacher from New York, is determined to help Jews escape from Europe. She begins by taking a job as a nanny to a Jewish family in Istanbul. Rudolf and Rosalyn meet by chance, in a park; Rudolf’s story touches Rosalyn deeply and she promises to help him find his girl.

The Istanbul setting for this war story gives it an interesting aspect; the author slips in historic details which were new to me. The chapters alternate between the two main characters, but at times there are some sprinkling of points of view from other characters, which made for confusing head-hopping. I would have enjoyed chapters being told solely from one point of view at a time. Mostly, the author uses an omnipotent narrator to tell the story, which kept me from empathising with the characters. I never felt the really deep emotions and motivation behind many of the actions.

Overall, I liked the historical setting, but there were missed opportunities to add tension, feelings and atmosphere.

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Book description

How far would you go to find the woman you love?

Nazi Germany. While growing up in Germany in the 1930s, Rudolf falls in love with the girl next door, Gertrude. He doesn’t care what religion Gertrude practices but the Nazis do. When the first antisemitic laws are enacted by the Nazi government, Gertrude’s father loses his job at the local university. Unable to find employment in Germany, he accepts a position at Istanbul University and moves the family to Turkey.

Eight Years Later. As war rages in Europe, Rudolf arrives in Istanbul to search for Gertrude. With Rudolf finally living in the same city as Gertrude, their reunion should be inevitable, but he can’t find her. During his search for Gertrude, he stumbles upon Rosalyn, an American Jew working as a nanny in the city. Upon hearing his heartbreaking story, she immediately agrees to help him search for his lost love. Willing to do anything in their search for Gertrude, they agree to work for a British intelligence officer who promises his assistance, but his demands endanger Rudolf and Rosalyn.

As the danger increases and the search for Gertrude stretches on, Rudolf and Rosalyn grow close, but Rudolf gave his heart away long ago.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #WW2 #Histfic The Lost Letters by @SarahM_writer @bookouture

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell

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The novel tells two stories centred in two different times, one set in the 1940s, mostly in WWII Norfolk, although with some visits to London, and another taking place now, also set in Norfolk in its majority. The chapters set in the past are written in the past tense from the point of view of Sylvia, a married woman, mother of two children, still pining for her teenage love. When her aunt dies she leaves her a beach hut and through it she meets Connie, a girl from London, and her brother Charlie. Despite the distance and the difficulty in maintaining communication during the war, they become friends, and their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The chapters set in the present are written in the present tense (something I must confess took me some time to get used to, although it means it is very difficult to get confused as to where you are or who is talking), and told from the point of view of Martha, a Canadian teacher whose father was evacuated during the war from England to Canada. Following the death of her father and gaps in the information about his childhood (as he was working on an autobiography when he died), she decides to use the opportunity offered by her father’s plane ticket and the hotel and beach hut he had booked to do some research into his past.

Both women, whose stories most readers will guess must be connected in some way, have their own problems. Sylvia’s marriage is not exactly happy, the war takes her husband away, and apart from the everyday danger and destruction, she has to face the evacuation of her son. The author manages to create a good sense of the historical period and, in particular, of women’s lives during the war, without being heavy-handed in the use of descriptions or over-the-top in the nostalgic front. We experience the character’s turmoil, her doubts, and although we might not always agree with her decisions, it is easy to empathise and understand why she does what he does.

Martha is at a bit of a loss. She is divorced and although her ex-husband has moved on (he has remarried and has twins), it is not that clear if she has, as she still sends him birthday cards and seems jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father’s new wife. She knows her relationship with her daughter Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, is strained but seems to have forgotten how to communicate with her. Her research into her father’s childhood and past gives her a focus, and the mystery behind Catkins (a file her sister finds in her father’s computer) and his/her identity help give her a purpose.

We have some male characters (and Martha’s father and his past are at the centre of the novel), but this is a novel about women: about mothers and daughters, about friends, about women pulling together to survive and to get stronger (I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the war recalling the tasks women were doing in the home front, and how they supported each other becoming all members of an extended family), about the difficult decisions women were (and are) faced with for the good of their families and their children. The author is very good at conveying the thought processes of her characters and although it also has a great sense of place (and I am sure people familiar with Norfolk will enjoy the book enormously, and those of us who don’t know it as well will be tempted to put it on our list to visit in the future), in my opinion, its strongest point is its great psychological depth.

The book is well researched and it has a lightness of touch, avoiding the risk of slowing down the story with unnecessary detail or too much telling. As the different timelines are kept clearly separate I do not think readers will have any difficulty moving from one to the other.

The book flows well and the intrigue drives the reader through the pages, with red herrings and twists and turns included, although its pace is contemplative, as it pertains to the theme. It takes its time, and it allows its readers to get to know the characters and to make their own conjectures. I worked out what was likely to be the connection slightly before it was revealed, but it is very well done, and I don’t think readers will be disappointed by the ending.

A great first book, that pulls at the heartstrings, recommended to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction, especially those interested in WWII and the home front in the UK. I will be following the author’s career with interest in the future.

Book description

What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again? 

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

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