(Review) The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Publisher and Publication Date: Hanover Square Press. 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 320.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers who want to read about civilian life in London during World War II.
Rating: Very good.

Link to Amazon

Link to Goodreads

Summary:

August 1939.

Grace and Viv are best friends. They move to London to start a new life. They’d lived in Drayton, Norfolk since they were born. They are young women in their early twenties. Grace’s mother died a year ago. A friend of her mother’s, Mrs. Weatherford, lives in London and provides a place for the girls to live. She helps them secure jobs.
Grace has a job at a bookshop. Viv has a job at Harrod’s.
Not long after arriving in London the war begins. In less than a year, the German planes begin bombing London.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a few comments from other reviewers asking if this is a suitable book for young adults? Yes. It is appropriate.

Several reasons why I love this story:
1. The story is in linear or chronological order. It doesn’t jump back and forth in time.
2. The story’s focus is on the experiences of one group of people during the London Blitz.
3. The primary character is Grace. She is a person of high character and this is remarked about in the story more often than her physical beauty. She is a person who transforms during the story. Her character shines.
4. The story has inner and outer conflicts, but mainly outer conflicts and how the characters respond.
5. Romance is apart of the story (in a small part), but the emphasis is not on it. Romance in a story can overwhelm the structure of it, making other elements pale.
6. Other characters I love: Mrs. Weatherford, Mr. Evans, Colin Weatherford, and George Anderson.
7. The Last Bookshop In London is an examination of what it was like in London during the Blitz. I have wanted a book to reflect on this history and I’m so glad this story has been written.

Themes in The Last Bookshop In London: heroism, war, perseverance, compassion, death, courage, bravery, kindness, suffering, survival, charity, grief, dreams, and romance.

(Review) The Girl From the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

Publisher and Publication Date: Graydon House Books. February 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 304.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who enjoy World War II history.
Rating: Okay.

The book is based on a true story.

Amazon

The Girl From the Channel Islands is a first novel for Jenny Lecoat.

Goodreads author page for Jenny Lecoat.

Summary:

1940.
Jersey. The Channel Islands.

Hedy Bercu is a Jewish young woman who escaped Austria and fled to Jersey. She’s been working in the home of the Mitchells. The Mitchells have left Jersey ahead of the expected German invasion. Hedy is left without a job. She cannot stay in their huge home alone. Her best friend is Anton. He has a new girlfriend named Dorothea or Dory.

After the occupation of the Germans. Hedy is able to work as a translator for them. She begins a romantic relationship with a German officer.

Hedy’s knowledge of what is happening to the Jews in Europe is minimal. She knew enough about the Nazi’s to escape Austria, but she doesn’t know what has happened since she left. She fears for her parents.

My Thoughts:

I don’t know how many fiction and nonfiction books I’ve read on World War II history but it is lengthy. It is rare to read about a Jewish person who became involved romantically with a Nazi. I have often wondered what the percentage is of Jewish women who were in romantic relationships with Nazis? It is possible that because this story takes place on the island of Jersey and not mainland Europe, the love story has more believability. I wonder how a Jewish person at this time would view this situation? It is easy for me to say I am not going to be sexually aroused, attracted, or have romantic feelings for the known enemy. But, I am not living in “their” shoes. I am not experiencing this type of situation. And, The Girl From the Channel Islands has not helped me to understand the situation. This is the first reason why I have given this book an okay rating. I am not convinced at their situation, feelings, or plight. I could care less. I care about Hedy. I care about the people of Jersey. I care about what is going on in mainland Europe. I care about what is happening with the Jews. I care about Hedy’s parents and sister. Hedy’s romantic partner is Kurt. I don’t care how cute Kurt is-he is the enemy. I don’t care if he is a little bit of a Nazi. It is nice that he helped Hedy. He is still a Nazi. He is still the enemy.

I love the descriptions of the island, town, and the people. This is a strong feature of the book.

In one brief description of Hedy she is described as a “a pale skinny girl.” She has blonde hair. Her eyes are large. The “color of the sea.” Her description shows me she is vulnerable, but has lovely features. She is some what of a loner. I don’t feel that I really know her as a character. There is little information given about her background. She is not someone who stands out. However, she is the main character. This is a second reason why this book is an okay rating in my view. Her character is not developed.

Hedy works in a minor role of resistance. It is so minor I have forgotten exactly what she was doing. This point is disappointing. Especially since I cannot remember.

Themes in the story: romance, perseverance, loyalty, courage, bravery, kindness, good and evil, survival, peace and war, resistance, trust, temptation, self-control, and hope.

(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!

(Review) The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith

Publisher and Publication Date: Park Row Books. September 4, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction. WW2. Holocaust.
Pages: 344.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of WW2.
Rating: Okay.

Link @ Amazon
Link @ Barnes and Noble

Summary:

The story begins in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 1943.

Marijke de Graaf, and her husband, Theo, are both arrested by the Gestapo and sent to camps. Marijke is at Ravensbruck. Her husband is sent to another camp.
Marijke is singled out with other attractive young women for a chance to survive in another type of “climate.” They are given the opportunity to work in a brothel as prostitutes in a different camp. They will be housed in a better place. They will be given better food with more portions. They will be regularly checked by camp doctors. They will be asked to perform as prostitutes for the camp inmates.
Marijke wants to find Theo. They are a young married couple. They are in love.
Marijke accepts this job. She tells herself it is to survive and find Theo.
After Marijke’s arrival at the camp, she is given a few days to settle.
Meanwhile, a new commander arrives at the camp. His name is Karl Muller. He is young and handsome. He is a staunch believer in Nazism.
Muller is immediately attracted to Marijke. They have a pseudo relationship.
Added to the book is another time period and another story. It is the story of Luciano Wagner. He lives in Argentina in the late 1970s.

My Thoughts:

*Possibly giving away too much about the story. Forgive me.

There are more things I dislike about the book than like.
1. I dislike the dual time period. I am seeing this too much in historical fiction and it has become boring.
2. I dislike the addition to the book of Luciano Wagner. He is introduced in chapter three. I spent most of the book wondering why he is in the book? What is the purpose? Does he matter to the whole of the story? Do I care?
3. In other books with a woman who becomes involved with a Nazi, the Nazi is almost always a reluctant Nazi. There is something in his behavior that gives him attributes of compassion, tenderness, and a willingness to help. Karl Muller is not this kind of person. As a result, there are several disadvantages given to Karl and Marijke’s relationship. One of them is their relationship is a fake. I feel no pull to read their storyline. When they are together it doesn’t hold my attention.
4. Theo is at the beginning of the story, but then he is gone, except in Marijke’s memories. If he had been more in the development of the story (his plight), I might have become invested in their outcome. After-all, Theo is the motivator for Marijke.
5. I feel the plot/storyline is a difficult one to engage the reader. A group of women who are prostitutes for the camp inmates, and because of their job their sexual acts are just acts. The women stare off into space-they check out. Some make a joke about it. Others are sickened. Their attitude and behavior is mechanical which makes their story feel mechanical. It doesn’t come across on page well. The one point that impacted me is the soreness of Marijke. Her private area is sore from having had so many clients-up to 8 per night. I want to have empathy and become invested (swept-away) in the story, but it comes across as a mechanic representation.

What I like about the story is the style of writing. I noticed instead of lengthy pages with descriptive writing, there is condensed, strong, and vivid sentences.

(Review) Those Who Are Saved by Alexis Landau

Publisher and Publication Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. February 23, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 432.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: I received a complimentary hardcover copy from G. P. Putnams’ Sons. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with a World War II time period.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link @ G. P. Putnam’s Sons. This link has an audio sample.

Link @ Amazon

Link @ Barnes and Noble

About the Author:

Alexis Landau is a graduate of Vassar College and received an MFA from Emerson College and a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. She is the author of The Empire of the Senses and lives with her husband and two children in Los Angeles.
Website/ Instagram


An interview by The Poisoned Pen bookstore:

Summary:

France. 1940.
Vera is a Russian Jew who is living in France with her husband and young daughter. Vera’s husband is Max. Their daughter is Lucie.
After the German Nazi’s occupy France, Vera and Max are sent to an internment camp. They leave little Lucie with a friend named Agnes. Vera feels this is the best place to ensure Lucie’s safety. Vera meant to return soon for Lucie. What Vera didn’t know, until the opportunity is upon her, is she has a chance to escape France and relocate to America. She is hoping Max will follow her. Vera cannot take Lucie with her, she must leave her with Agnes.

The story is dual time periods. Vera reflects on memories of France and the departure, and her new life and relationship in America. Some of the story is Lucie and her experience. Some of the story is Sasha’s life.

My Thoughts:

When I read a story with multiple characters, especially a child, I wonder how the story would read if the voice of the story is a child? A child reveals a story with a unique voice. Their perspective of life, people, and themselves reflect a different viewpoint. Further, there is an innocence that brings a heavy emotional atmosphere to the story.
When a story is told from an adult perspective almost always a romantic element is attached. A romantic element can add to or take away from the heart of the story. Those Who Are Saved is already an emotional story because parents have been forced to leave behind their young daughter in a country at war and with a pogrom of killing Jews. But, Vera is the main voice of this story. Her thoughts, fears, insecurities, and loneliness is a heavy burden she carries. Her inner life is back in France, but she is living in sunny California. I don’t care about Vera’s new life in America. I don’t care about who she has now decided to have sex with. I don’t care what kind of clothes she wears or the parties she attends. I care about Lucie who has been left behind. Lucie is the reason I felt pulled to read to the last page. Lucie is the heart of the story. Everything else is chicken feathers.

Sasha is a character I like from the first moment of introduction. He loves his mother. He is hard working. He is a man of grit and determination but with a touch of tenderness. He serves his country in a time of war with perseverance and distinction. He has a dream that gets a setback, but he chases that dream like many Americans. He needs a hug and a kiss.

Poor Max. I hardly know him. His character is more like a prop that’s used every once in a while. He shows little emotion. His character is not developed. He is just there. However, Max shows one example of how people grieve.

I love the writing style, the choice of words, and the arrangement of those words that bring a smooth rhythmic sentence.

Those Who Are Saved has both internal and external conflicts the characters act to overcome.

Themes in the story: grief, sacrifice, honor, courage, love, bravery, war, marriage, and perseverance.

Over-all, Lucie and her plight is the main reason I wanted to read to the last page. The rest of the characters circle around with their own individual stories. Sasha’s story is my second favorite-after Lucie. Vera not so much. Max not at all.

I feel Those Who Are Saved shifts too much away from Lucie, and takes on adult situations and agendas.