(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.

(Review) The Violinist of Auschwitz by Ellie Midwood

Publisher and Publication Date: Bookouture. November 18, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II. Holocaust.
Pages: 356.
Format: Kindle edition e-book.
Source: NetGalley. I received a complimentary e-book copy, but was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of Holocaust stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
At this time the e-book is $3.99

Ellie Midwood’s Goodreads page.

To read more information about Alma Rosé:
Music and the Holocaust
World History

Summary:
The prologue starts the story creating a fear of what might happen.

The year is 1943.
Alma Rosé is a well-known virtuoso violinist. She’s played in Holland, Austria, Germany, and other countries on the continent of Europe. She has family members who are well-known musicians and composers. They are Jewish.

Alma and her father make it safely to England, but she returns to Holland to continue performing. She is arrested and sent to Drancy, France. From there she is sent to Auschwitz.

After arriving at Auschwitz she is sent to the experimental block. She plays the violin in a concert. She is recognized as the famous violinist Alma Rosé. She is moved to the female orchestra block. Alma becomes the conductor of the female orchestra. Her position makes is possible to save other females in the camp if they are able to play a musical instrument.

Alma meets Miklos a pianist and composer. It is an instant connection and attraction.

My Thoughts:
It’s interesting the story starts with a foreshadowing of the ending. Since I had not read the true story of Alma Rosé, I read the story fresh and without knowing the events in her life.

The Violinist of Auschwitz is an emotional story. The name and setting of the story is immediate at causing an anguish in my spirit.

The story is a reminder of the harsh and stressful daily survival for the prisoners. But, the story is a reminder of the bond and unity of the prisoners. Their quiet defiance against the Nazis and their devotion to help one another.

The writing style and tone expresses the serious and somber story. Yet, there is beauty in certain scenes. For example, a stolen and tender moment between a couple. There is also sarcasm. Alma is a person who has a strong personality. It is difficult for her to remain quiet and stoic. Her feelings are often expressed as sarcasm. However, she has moments that are emotionally overwhelming and she is stunned.

The Violinist of Auschwitz has external conflicts, but there is internal conflicts with the prisoners who are confronted with gut-wrenching type decisions.

Themes in the story: courage, death, bravery, loyalty, love, passion, kindness, compassion, and perseverance.

I’m thankful Ellie Midwood wrote this important story. It is a strong testament of Alma Rosé.

(Review) We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson

Publisher and Publication Date: Scholastic Focus. February 4, 2020.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II. Holocaust.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: Library copy.
Audience: Middle school readers or any age above middle school with an interest in World War II and Holocaust history. At the publisher, the age range is 8-12. I feel the age is closer to 10 to 12.
Rating: Very good.

Several black and white photographs are shown.

The publisher is Scholastic Focus. Their mission is to publish quality middle grade nonfiction books.
Link for the book at Scholastic Focus: We Had to Be Brave.

Recently I read and reviewed a historical fiction book, The Last Train to London. I’ve also watched at least one documentary on Prime Video on this history. It is the history of Kindertransport. Kindertransport was an organized effort to rescue Jewish children during pre-World War II. Most of the children were rescued from 1938-1939.
To read more information about Kindertransport:
Jewish Virtual Library
Encyclopedia.ushmm
There are several YouTube videos on the Kindertransport.

Summary:
We Had to Be Brave begins by sharing a brief bio of Adolf Hitler, and when he and the Nazis came to power. The year is 1933. It was at that time, the persecution of the Jews began escalating. In 1935, the Jews citizenship was taken away. The Nazis also persecuted people of political beliefs contrary to Nazis. They persecuted people with disabilities, the Romany or Gypsy, and LGBTQ.
Most of the children who survived because of the Kindertransport were from Germany and Austria but also Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The story mainly centers on three children who were apart of the Kindertransport.
1. Leslie Brent.
2. Marianne Elsley.
3. Ruth Oppenheimer David.

My Thoughts:
I love several things about this book but was left wanting a bit more. I believe it helps to have personal lives shared in a history book to create an strong effect. The book mainly shares the lives of three children. I feel my response is because of my age, and, because I’ve read a lengthy list of Holocaust and World War II books. I want more illustrations of personal lives.
We Had to Be Brave shares other people who were apart of the movement to try and stop Hitler and Nazi power. These people I’ve read about in other books: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the White Rose students.
I feel We Had to Be Brave is a solid first book for a young student to learn about this period in history.
Additional reasons why I enjoyed reading this book:
1. Other rescue groups involved in helping the Jews are noted in the book.
2. I learned about the network and steps involved in rescuing the children.
3. I learned about the faithful and dedicated work of those involved in the rescue of children.
4. In chapter seven, a story is shared about one particular family’s abuse by the Nazis. It is their story shared that represents so many others.
5. The book encourages young adults to tell trusted adults when they hear anti-Semitism.