(Review) The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Publisher and Publication Date: Crown Publishing Group. February 14, 2017.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Pages: 371.
Source: Library.
Rating: Good.


Chilbury, England is the setting for a fictional village of people during World War II. At first, the village choir was going to end. Later, the choir continued on as a ladies’ choir only. Most of the men are away, or about to leave to fight in the war. Five females are the main characters. The story is told through journals and letters.
The female characters are Mrs. Tilling (nurse), Kitty Winthrop (age 13), Venetia Winthrop (age 18), Silvie (10 year old Czechoslovakian evacuee), and Miss Edwina Paltry (midwife). Other women are included in the book, but are secondary characters.

My Thoughts:
Mrs. Winthrop who is the mother of Venetia and Kitty, would have been a wonderful main character. I wanted more of “her” story to be told. She had a cruel husband, an arrogant son, two teenage daughters, and a baby on the way. I was curious about Mrs. Winthrop all through the novel. I wanted more input from her than some of the main characters and I was disappointed by this.
The scheming midwife and her plan is not feasible. I do not believe it is realistic. However, it is a main plot for the book.
Venetia is a tart. I did not like her as a person until later in the story. I’m glad she developed and matured in her character.
My favorite character is Mrs. Tilling. She worked tirelessly to unravel and understand a plot.
The time period is World War II. The war is talked about in regards to its affect of turmoil, fear, and sadness for the village. The loss of life is a present threat.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a book that’s had strong media coverage. Although I liked the book, it is not a strong like. The main reason is it did not pull at my heart strings, because the story is told through letters and journals. These are written in brief, just a few pages. I didn’t have time to become apart of a character before another character began speaking. The book does not jump back and forth in time like so many fiction books seem to do. However, there are several voices in the book shown in brief chapters all vying for my attention.



(Review) The Women In The Castle by Jessica Shattuck

The Women in the Castle

Publisher and Publication Date: William Morrow, HarperCollins Publishers. March 28, 2017.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II.
Pages: 356.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Very good.


The synopsis on the back cover of the book states the book is “set at the end of World War II.” The Women in the Castle shifts back and forth in time in the story. The time periods are as far back as 1923, and as recent as 1991. Most of the story is 1945 and 1950.
Marianne von Lingenfels’s husband is Albrecht. They have three children. Albrecht is a resister of Hitler and Nazi Germany. A failed plot to kill Hitler places her husband in the hands of his enemies and subsequent death. Marianne accepts the responsibility to care for the wives and children of the other resistors who perished. A castle belonging to Albrecht’s family is the fortress for the women and children.

My Thoughts:
The three women in the story are Marianne, Benita, and Ania. The three women are vastly different from each other. It’s possible the three women represent varying aspects of German women during World War II. And, the women contribute three unique stories.
Marianne is mature. She is a devoted wife and mother. She is faithful and responsible. She is trustworthy. She sees past emotion and fear, and can think clearly and rationally.
Benita is a young woman. She is a beautiful girl and enjoys her feminine charms. The war and post war took away her husband, youth, nationalism and pride.
Ania’s had limited contact with the Jewish population; and problems in the home take her eyes away from the murderous atrocities happening to the Jews. Her thrust is to survive for the sake of her children.
The aspect I liked best about the story is the sharp comparison between Marianne and Benita. They are at war because of their strong differences. Each one trying to understand and control the other.
A second aspect I liked is through Ania’s eyes I had a perspective of a German woman’s views during World War II and post war: the Holocaust, the Jews, the early years of the Nazi Party, feelings about Hitler, the wife of a German soldier, and survival amid the chaos of 1945.
It was difficult for me to like Benita. I have empathy for her but did not understand her feelings and choices. I did not want to throw darts at her but she placed a heavy weight on the “being in love and adored.” I believe it is possible this was a source of escape.
I loved the conclusion. I did not want The Women in the Castle to be a novel that did not have closure. It is not neat and tidy but the story has a solid rest.

(Review) Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children From The Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Irena's Children

Publisher and Publication Date: Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books paperback. 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction, Poland, World War II, Holocaust.
Pages: 352.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Excellent.

I’d first heard of Irena Sendler after watching a film titled, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

There is a project and film about Irena’s life: Life in a Jar


Preface: Page xii. But while Irena Sendler was undeniably a heroine-a woman of immense, almost unfathomable moral and physical courage-she was not a saint either. To make her a saint in the telling of her story is, in the end, to do a kind of dishonor to the true complexity and difficulty of her very human choices…She was at once a heroine-although she disdained that word, too-and a flawed and average person.

All humans are “flawed and average.” A hero is someone who is ordinary in every way yet rises to the challenges set before them. The challenges set before Irena were immense. She was given an opportunity, and because of her career, to make a difference in the lives of children. Some people would have said no. Irena said yes.

Irena Sendler was age 29 when Nazi Germany attacked Poland in 1939. She was married and had a boyfriend. Irena was not Jewish. She had grown up with Jewish friends and neighbors. Most of her friends were not religious. They were educated leftist thinkers. She was a social worker. During the war she became involved in the underground network of helping Jews survive. Irena specifically worked to help Jewish children escape and survive the Holocaust.

My Thoughts:
One of the few things I disliked about the book was Mazzeo’s direct quote I gave. I don’t believe it was necessary to state Irena was a “flawed and average person.” However, I believe this was stated to show one of the elements of the book: Irena was a normal person who became a heroine by rescuing Jewish children during the Holocaust. I believe the story itself showed me the kind of person and character of Irena.
What I loved about the book:
1. I was given a broad and detailed view of the city of Warsaw-it’s people specifically.
2. The book gave me a view of the Jewish people I’d not seen before in other stories. For example, the Jews are not a 1 type people. They are as varied as any other people group. Some Jews are orthodox, some are educated, some had businesses, some were intellectuals; and some had Jewish blood in their ancestry but did not consider their religion to be Jewish. Some of the Jewish people were not religious at all, and were leftist thinkers leaning towards communism.
3. The events leading up to and during the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.
4. The network system of getting children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
5. The individual stories of those children Irena helped.
6. Irena’s story showed me the immense task, suffering, brutality, fear, and betrayal of what she endured, as well as the other people who worked to save the Jews.
7. The after affects of surviving the Holocaust is looked at in brief. The two stories shared gave a great impact on this aspect.



(Review) The Good At Heart by Ursula Werner

The Good at Heart

Publisher and Publication Date: Touchstone. February 21, 2017.
Genre: Historical fiction, World War II, family, Germany.
Pages: 320.
Source: Complimentary hardcover copy from Touchstone. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Very good.


Ursula Werner’s website. Please scroll down at Werner’s website to read a tribute to her great-grandfather, and the reason behind writing The Good at Heart.

Oskar and Edith Eberhardt had built a vacation dream home in the town of Blumental, Germany. Their home has a lovely view of the Alps of Switzerland. During the war, they relocated to this home in order to move away from Berlin. Their daughter, Marina, and her three daughters live with them. Oskar is apart of Hitler’s cabinet. He is away from home often. Marina’s husband, Franz, is in Hitler’s army. Marina hates Hitler and Nazism. Despite her husband being in the military and her father’s work, Marina became involved with helping Jewish people escape. Marina also has a lover who is involved in the Nazi government. Marina helps shelter Jews until they can move to the next safe place. During the arrival of one of her “packages,” Hitler came to visit her parents home.

The story’s timeline is over a three day period: July 18, 19, and 20, 1944.

My Thoughts:
I loved the story taking place over a three day period. By slowing down the timeline of days, the story had a pace I could keep up with, and understand the details of each day.
When the story began, I had no idea the attention each character would have in the story. One of Marina’s daughters has a strong role. She is a child, but the full scope of her purpose will become apparent at conclusion.
Marina and her father, Oskar, are at enmity. However, Oskar is adored by his wife and grandchildren. He is a quiet man. There is a gentle quality in his personality. This is a sharp comparison to his role alongside Hitler.
Marina is a sad character. She represents women who married the wrong person. I don’t know how else to express this predicament she’s in. She did not marry the person she loved, but the person who was available…she settled. I watched her story unfold. On one hand, she could have stayed at home and cared for her daughters in quiet duty and stoicism. Instead, she joined a movement to rescue the oppressed. This task took her out of her melancholy life and gave a new focus.
At times, I thought Edith was thin-skinned and unready for her new situation away from her beloved Oskar. But, her character showed me differently.
The Good At Heart is a very good character study. I loved this aspect more than the story itself. The story is good, but watching the characters move through the three hard days was the reason I could not lay the book down.





(Review) The General’s Women by Susan Wittig Albert

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Publisher and Publication Date: Persevero Press. March 7, 2017.
Genre: Fiction, war and military.
Pages: 532.
Source: Complimentary paperback copy from Susan Wittig Albert. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Good.

The kindle copy at Amazon is $1.99.

Tour Schedule at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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About the author:
A NYT bestselling author, Susan’s books include biographical fiction (A Wilder Rose 2013, currently under film option; Loving Eleanor 2016; and The General’s Women 2017). Her mystery fiction includes the bestselling China Bayles mysteries; The Darling Dahlias; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert. Working together, the Albert’s have also written over 60 young adult novels.
Susan’s most recent nonfiction work includes two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her earlier nonfiction work includes Work of Her Own, a study of women who left their careers, and Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story, a guidebook for women memoirists. That book led to the founding of the Story Circle Network in 1997. She has edited two anthologies for the Story Circle Network: With Courage and Common Sense (2004) and What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest (2007). She currently serves as editor of Story Circle Book Reviews and co-coordinator of SCN’s Sarton Women’s Book Awards.
She and Bill live in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, gardens, and tends a varying assortment of barnyard creatures.
For more information, please visit Susan Wittig Albert’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Goodreads, Amazon, and BookBub.

A compelling story of love, betrayal, and ambition by New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert, The General’s Women tells the story of two women–Kay Summersby and Mamie Eisenhower—in love with the same man: General Dwight Eisenhower.
Set during the chaotic years of World War II, The General’s Women tells the story of the conflicted relationship between General Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby, his Irish driver/aide, and the impact of that relationship on Mamie Eisenhower and her life in Washington during the war. Told from three alternating points of view (Kay’s, Ike’s, and Mamie’s), the novel charts the deepening of the relationship as Ike and Kay move from England (1942) to North Africa (1942-43) to England, France, and Germany before and after the Normandy landing (1944-45). At the end of the war, Ike is faced with the heart-wrenching choice between marrying Kay and a political future.
The story continues into the post-war years, as Ike (returning to Mamie) becomes Army Chief of Staff, president of Columbia University, Supreme Commander of NATO, and president of the United States. Kay, meanwhile, struggles to create a life and work of her own, writing two memoirs: the first (Eisenhower Was My Boss, 1948) about her war work with Ike; the second (Past Forgetting, 1976) about their love affair. An author’s note deals with the complicated question of the truth of Kay’s story, as it finally appears in the posthumously-published Past Forgetting.

My Thoughts:
The Generals’ Women is a work of fiction. When I began reading the book, I had to remind myself this is a fiction piece. As big of a historical figure as Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is easy to become wrapped up in the story believing this is a biography.
In the past, I’ve read several nonfiction books on Eisenhower as the central figure or as apart of the World War II story. The General’s Women is not a strong military story. References are made to the battles and the advancement of the war. Meetings Eisenhower attended with ambassadors, heads of state, generals and other military are mentioned.
The story’s emphasis is on the relationship Eisenhower had with his driver, Kay Summersby. Mamie Eisenhower, back at home in America is apart of the story but not a strong part. She seemed more like a secondary character. The spotlight is on Eisenhower and Kay.
I was glad, Susan Wittig Albert, documented her research on the people discussed in the book in the “Author’s Note.” Mamie Eisenhower’s granddaughter wrote a biography on  Mamie, as well as a few other sources were studied. Kay Summersby wrote a memoir and this is utilized.
Even thought Albert explains what is fictionalized in the story. I want to mention my feelings on how I feel about historical figures who are written about in a book. It is a guess as to what are people’s motives, feelings, and thoughts. Husbands and wives who have been together many years, parents who are close to their children, and best friends don’t know everything about each other. Only the individual and God know the true self behind the flesh. Maybe Eisenhower deeply loved Kay Summersby or cared for her or it was a wartime romance. During a time of war, sexual relationships between people happen. Afterwards, on reflection, that is when a person can adequately make a judgment about what happened.
The General’s Women is an interesting and entertaining story. It personalizes the military figure of Eisenhower. He is shown as the human with emotions behind the military uniform.
I have empathy for both Eisenhower and Kay. Both people spent time together during a war. They depended on one another. They had chemistry. They developed feelings. But the relationship did not last.
I have lived long enough (age 53) that I have heard several stories from people who loved a person but the relationship did not continue. They ended up marrying another person. They spent the rest of their life remembering that great love. It is sad. But this is the reality of life. There really is no happily ever after.