[Review] Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis

Publisher and Publication Date: Gallery Books, a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2019.
Genre: Nonfiction. World War II. Women and Literature.
Pages: 384.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of WWII history and SOE British agents.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble link

SOE is the initials of Special Operations Executive.
List of female SOE agents during World War II:
Wikipedia.
WordPress blog of Alan Malcher. He has a post about SOE female agents.
Nigel Perrin. This site has a photo archive of the SOE agents and profile information.
Biography Online about Odette Sansom.
Imperial War Museum about Odette Sansom.
History101.com about Odette Sansom.

Summary:

In 1912, Odette Marie Celine Brailly was born in Amiens, France. Her father fought and died in World War I. Odette had a younger brother, Louis. Odette married an Englishman, Roy Sansom, and they had three daughters. After the birth of the first daughter, the family moved to England where the other two daughters were born.
Odette’s grandfather predicted another war. He told his grandchildren to do their “duty, both of you, to do as well as your father did.” From page 2.
When World War II began Odette wanted to serve in some way but hesitated because of her young daughters. In 1942, Odette contacted the War Office and she eventually joined the SOE.
Code Name: Lise is the story of Odette Sansom and her work as a SOE during World War II. The book gives a little background information of her life before 1942, but the book is primarily about her role as an agent.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a few other books about SOE agents. I’d been a little familiar with her name and history. I am pleased to finally know her full story in history.

Several reasons that led me to give this book an excellent rating:

1. Odette is portrayed as a remarkably strong person who endured separation from family, injuries, imprisonment, and torture. Several times I have been amazed at how she handled herself in a crisis or during those periods when she was tortured. She is a hero.
2. I love it that several black and white photographs are included in the book.
3. The appendix addresses criticism and problems that were brought up in the 1950s with the SOE. Odette was criticized by other agents. In one example, her report of what happened to her were made up-untrue. I am glad Loftis added this chapter to the book for clarification.
4. Code Name: Lise gave me an education of how the SOE agents were trained and how assignments were implemented; and how they were treated by the Gestapo, especially the techniques of interrogation and torture.
5. The book is told in narrative nonfiction and the author narrating.
6. Odette is a compelling historical character. The life she lived during the time period of the book is strong, and it is more than engaging, it is on the edge of your seat drama unfolding.

[Review] The Secret of The Grand Hôtel du Lac by Kathryn Gauci

Publisher and Publication Date: Ebony publishing. 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 274.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Gift.
Audience: Historical fiction readers who enjoy World War II stories.
Rating: Excellent.

The story is inspired by true events in France during World War II.

Kathryn Gauci’s Author Page @Goodreads.
Kathryn Gauci’s Website/ Blog/ Facebook/ Twitter

Summary:

1943. World War II.

Guy Maxwell is an SOE on a mission in France when he is shot in the left leg. He also has other serious injuries. The Germans had intercepted his rendezvous with another agent. Guy Maxwell is thought to be in hiding.

SOE officers Vera Atkins and Colonel Maurice Buckmaster ask Elizabeth to return to France and find Guy. Atkins prepares Elizabeth with accurate clothing, a special make-up compact, brooch pin, and a pistol. Elizabeth returns to France hoping to find Maxwell and solve the mystery of what happened.

Guy and Elizabeth are married.

The time period of this story is leading up to the D-Day, Normandy, France invasion of June 6, 1944.

My Thoughts:

I love this story! I love it because of the two main characters: Guy and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is one of the toughest female lead characters I’ve read. She is a no-nonsense, intelligent, savvy, beautiful; and, she is handy during a torture scene using her brooch pin. Elizabeth is very much in love with her husband. This is a second aspect of why I love this story: it is a great love story.

I’ve read a few other reviews. One of them is in regards to the inaccurate history of some of the story. For me, I am not bi-lingual. I do not speak or read French. I am not going to catch-on to inaccuracies about the French language and customs. I believe it is possible the average reader is just like me.

Over-all, I believe the story is entertaining, thrilling, and adventurous. It is a strong tension building story. It is difficult to lay the book down.

The story is based on real events that began in October 1944.

Themes in the story: heroism, fear, good and evil, deception, revenge, sacrifice, honor, romance, suffering, survival, war, trust, hope, self-control, and loyalty.

[Review] Revelations by Mary Sharratt

Publisher and Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. April 27, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction. Women and literature. Medieval history. Travel.
Pages: 320.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction.
Rating: Excellent.

Mary Sharratt’s website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Goodreads author page

For more information about the book visit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This link provides an excerpt at the bottom of the page.

To read more information about Margery Kempe:
Medieval Studies Research Blog on Margery Kempe
Historic-UK
British Library– This link shows illustrations of her autobiography.

Summary:

Margery Kempe was born about 1373 and died after 1438 or 1440. We do not know precise dates of her birth and death. She was born and lived in Bishop’s Lynn, Norfolk, England. She married John Kempe. They had 14 children. She began having visions after the birth of her first child. She was about 20. She continued to have visions. Some visions were of Jesus Christ sitting next to her. Some of the visions were frightening creatures. She is considered a mystic. She is not a Catholic saint, but she is remembered in the Anglican Communion. Her autobiography is the first in the English language.

After the birth of her 14th child, she told her husband they should not be sexually intimate anymore. She had a difficult labor with the 14th child. She did not want to risk her life with another pregnancy and labor. To cut herself off from her husband was shocking, unheard of during this era; and it marked her as an uncommon and disobedient wife. She began preaching to women, she traveled extensively without her family; and she visited Julian of Norwich, another female mystic, to seek support and guidance. She was arrested several times. She was tortured. She was considered a heretic. Her autobiography is written with transparency about her life. It is an unusual story for its time. It is a story about a woman living during the middle ages who endured many of the same things other women endured, except Kempe’s visions and pilgrimages set her apart.

My Thoughts:

Revelations is a remarkable story. It is a story that causes me to pause and reflect on what it must have been like to be a woman who didn’t have a choice to say no. No was a forbidden word for females. Females were to be compliant and obedient. If they were not, they were viewed with suspicion.

Several reasons led me to give an excellent rating to Revelations.
1. I love the characterization of Margery Kempe. She is a woman ahead of her times. She loves her children but felt drawn to something more. She illustrates what grief does to people. She has a strong personality but is stifled by culture. Her character develops in her maturity. Through her story, I understand maternal and child health during this era.
2. I have not read another story about Margery Kempe.
3. Descriptive setting of her travel mode, scenery, people, and the places or cities she saw.
4. Other female characters in the story gave different perspectives on women’s lives of this era and how they felt about Margery.
5. The story is chronological or linear. I am so glad to read a story that is not multiple time periods going back and forth.
6. The story shows male and female relationships, especially marriage. I am more sad than angry at the dominance of males over females. Sad for the females of course.
7. The story shows the different roles or responses from her children. People are people and their perspective and behavior is varied, but I saw her children showing different responses to her life.
8. Inner and outward conflicts.
9. Revelations is one of my favorite types of historical fiction: women in history.
10. There is a building of sensory, imagination, fear, anxiety, and tension.

Themes in Revelations: death and dying, bravery, courage, kindness, innocence, shame, suffering, judgement, injustice, conformity, charity, and hope.

(Review) The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Publisher and Publication Date: Berkley Books/Penguin Random House. February 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 384.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers of early 20th century California history.
Rating: Excellent.

To read more information about the book from the publisher: Berkley Books. At this link there is an audio sample.

Link @ Amazon

Link @ Barnes and Noble

Author Info:
The following link is Susan Meissner’s bio.
Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest

Links to read more information about the 1906, San Francisco earthquake.
History.com
USGS
Archives.gov-several photographs at this website
Wikipedia-don’t dismiss the write-up and photographs because it’s at Wikipedia


There are several videos of the earthquake destruction. I chose these two. The second shows San Francisco before the earthquake and afterwards.

Summary:

The story begins in 1905, San Francisco, California.

Sophie Whalen arrives in San Francisco and is immediately taken to the courthouse for a hasty marriage to Martin Hocking. She met and married him on the same day. They’d written letters to one another while she still lived in New York City. He wanted a mother for his young daughter, Kat. He wanted a wife without fanfare. He is a business man and travels often.
Sophie had not been in New York City long. She is from Northern Ireland. She left behind her mother. A brother lives in Canada.
Sophie’s heart goes out to Cat. Sophie’s days are spent caring for Cat and making the house a home. The relationship with Martin is chilly, strained, and with no affection.
Meanwhile, a young woman arrives at Sophie and Martin’s home. Her visit followed by the earthquake shake up the lives of everyone.

While reading The Nature of Fragile Things I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

My Thoughts:

The Nature of Fragile Things is a heavy story. It is heavy with strong themes, it has a huge historical earthquake at its swirling center, and there is a mystery element. A book this heavy could cause gastric reflux, but it works, and it works well!

Themes in The Nature of Fragile Things: marriage, maternal health, courage, sacrifice, shame, ambition, obsession, bravery, complex trauma, death and dying, self-worth, abuse, betrayal, compassion, friendship, loyalty, parenting, society and culture standards, crime, and survival.

Several reasons why I love The Nature of Fragile Things:
1. Surprises. There are surprises about the characters I didn’t expect-I didn’t see coming.
2. Martin Hocking is sinister from the introduction. He is a character no one takes their eyes away from. I believe this is clever writing because it hides the possibility other characters are not who or what they claim to be.
3. The devastation of the 1906 earthquake and the fires afterwards are seen dramatically through the lens of Sophie. The descriptions and experiences brought additional tension and emotion to the story.
4. I have read (possibly) one other historical fiction on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I wonder why? This is a fabulous history spot to write about people’s lives through fiction. I love the time period. I love the history of this book.
5. I love the character Sophie. She is imperfect. She is not described as a beautiful, gorgeous woman. So often in stories the female lead characters are beauty queens. Okay, I am being overly dramatic. Most people are just in the middle. Neither the most beautiful nor the ugliest. In my opinion, middle of the road and imperfect people are believable. When the characters are believable I can relate to them. And, I can become swept up in the story.


(Review) The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Publisher and Publication Date: Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House. February 23, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction. WW2.
Pages: 416.
Format: NetGalley e-book copy.
Source: I received a complimentary NetGalley e-book copy. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who like the WW2 era.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon

Link @ Barnes and Noble

Summary:

Four women each want to win The Kitchen Front contest. Each woman is from a different station in life. Each woman has a uniquely different personality than the others. Two of the women are estranged sisters. One is an outsider.
The setting is Fenley Village, England. The year is 1942.

My Thoughts:

I love the unique storyline of this World War II historical fiction period.

The themes are cooking, baking, sisters, gardening, single parenting, pregnancy, maternal health, hospitality, honor, sacrifice, war, ambition, perseverance, courage, grieving, compassion, forgiveness, power of love, self-worth, loyalty, and bravery.

I love reading WW2 stories. I love cooking and baking. I love stories about women who persevere against the constraints placed on them. I love reading about true friendship among women. If all of these were points they’d add up to 100% for this story.

Additional reasons why I love The Kitchen Front:

1. The plot of the story is who will win the coveted prize, but the story is so much more. It is about building relationships. It is about forgiveness and the steps needed before then. It is about grieving; and how grieving impacts people differently. It is about shame from abuse. It is about closure.
2. I love it that these women are all from different lifestyles. Yet, through their experience in The Kitchen Front, and through their love of cooking and baking, these bring them a oneness-a bond-a building point for everything else.
3. The Kitchen Front is an uplifting story. It’s encouraging. It’s a feel good story.
4. The Kitchen Front has characters who evolve in a good way. I love transformations.
5. I love a story that’s focus is not on a romantic element, but on a true and lasting bond of love. I’d like to see more stories like this!