[Review] The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Publisher and Publication Date: Park Row Books. January 29, 2019. 
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 377.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers especially those who read WWII stories.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Pam Jenoff’s Goodreads/ website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram.

Summary:

February 1946. New York City, NY.

Grace Healey is late for work and cuts through Grand Central. She trips on an abandoned suitcase sticking out from underneath a bench. Out of curiosity, she opens the suitcase and finds the name of the owner. Inside she finds an envelope of photographs. They are of several women. Some of the women are in military uniforms. They are all young women. Grace begins working to put the puzzle together about all of the women. She must know who they are and what happened to them.

The second story is of the woman who was in charge of the young women. Her name is Eleanor. Her story begins in 1943, England.

The Lost Girls of Paris is the story of heroism and courage. Young women, who from different backgrounds and cultures, are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of country, duty, and loved ones.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I love this story and enjoyed reading it.

What I love about the story:

1. I don’t feel I will ever tire of reading World War II stories. My dad was a veteran of World War II, D-Day Omaha Beach, and the Battle of the Bulge. He shared many stories with me as a child and adult. I know his stories. I want to know other people’s stories which includes historical fiction.

2. Grace Healey is a perfect example of a grieving widow. I feel Pam Jenoff portrayed an accurate widow who is displaced, wounded, grieving, lonely, and at a loss in how to move forward. This includes not knowing even where to begin. I personally know a woman who lost her husband on the USS Indianapolis. She still grieves. She went on with life. She married and had children. But he was a great love-a great friend-a young love-who is lost to her. Grace and my friend show similar behavior. I feel Grace is an accurate and real character in this story.

3. I love it that romance is not the focus. So often romance is introduced in a story, and it can and often does take over.

4. I love it that Grace realizes she must move forward in life, but it must be “her own story.”

5. This is a minor detail, but I love it that Grace is defined as having “corkscrew hair.” I don’t think this has been described before in a story I’ve read. Grace is given a minor detail, yet it’s a difference compared to how other female characters are described. I love this minor detail.

6. I enjoyed reading about the instructions of operating a wireless.

7. I love the friendship between the women. Some of them upon meeting show a kindred spirit.

8. The dialogue and descriptions are wonderful and engaging. It felt easy to picture the scenes in my mind.

What I feel needs clarification:

At the start of the story, I didn’t quite understand what had happened to Grace. What I mean is Grace has marks on her neck, she had been drinking the night before, she is sluggish, and she is hungover. My first thought is she had been abused. My second thought is she has an alcohol problem. And she blames a person named Mark who I don’t know yet. My point is I feel lost at the start. Later, I put the event all together and understand. I don’t like feeling lost especially at the start of a story.

Final Thoughts:

Eleanor is too cool. Chilly. Icy. However, her personality fits her character.

Mark is grieving too. I feel sorry for him.

This is a story I’d like to read a part 2 so I will know what Grace becomes.

Themes in the story: war, peace, grieving, courage, heroism, resistance, honor, judgment, injustice, justice, dreams, trust, temptation, charity, hope, and acceptance.

[Review] The London House by Katherine Reay

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. November 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Katherine Reay’s website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Pinterest.

An excerpt audio.

Summary:

Chapter One begins in America with the modern time period.

Caroline is contacted by an old college friend who is writing a story about her family. Caroline and Mat meet to discuss his intentions about writing a story about her great aunt’s betrayal to family and country during World War II. Mat had already met with Caroline’s dad. Her dad is furious about the expose. Caroline decides to go to London and stay with her mother to discover for herself the real story of Aunt Caro.

Caroline is the modern time period’s heroine. She is named after her aunt Caroline, but Aunt Caroline is known through most of the book as Caro. Caro, a British citizen, had lived in Paris and worked in a couture dress shop in the late 1930s to 1941.

The story’s main time period is the modern time period and will reflect back to the 1930s and 1940s-especially during the readings of letters and journals.

My Thoughts:

I have several thoughts!

After I read a book, I read a few reviews over at Goodreads. I did not know Katherine Reay has written Christian fiction stories. The London House is the first book I’ve read by her. So, I have no other work of hers to compare to this one. I am not a fan of Christian fiction. I’ve read a few Christian fiction books over the years but do not consider myself knowledgeable about that genre.

It’s interesting that The London House and another book I’d finished the day before are both polar in writing style. The other book is a quick read type story. There is little building to events-just a jump right into the scene’s story. There are some detailed descriptions. The story has a bite as far as the over-all dark theme…review on that book will be later!

The London House is a thinking story-a mature story. It is mature in that the characters (all of them) have moments of clarity, recognition, conviction, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a peaceful resolution. Now, there is nothing in the book that is considered Christianese words, but those themes I listed are Christian in nature. I dislike a story that pastes Christianese words so that the book will be labeled as a Christian fiction book. I want to yawn while typing that comment. I want to yawn because it does not help a story by pasting words without development of action or behavior in the characters. And the behavior of characters will be remembered longer than pretty words.

Caroline knows there is something in her family’s past they are not talking about. This is a prime example of not communicating and thus the intimacy and bond with the family members is disconnected and frayed. This has happened in my family. This has happened in many families-the inability to communicate about what is wrong. Communication is hard work. For many of the people I know, they don’t know where to begin. The words will not even come to them in their brain so that they can speak audibly. This can be true in all types of families. I dislike a label that this only happens in families that are not Christian. Pooh.

Caroline is a remarkable person. Despite the disconnect in the family, she perseveres to find a point of connection with her parents. She does not give up. She is responsible, protective, kind, hardworking, educated, independent, and patient. I love her transformation that progresses in the story!

Caroline’s parents struggle. They share a bitter traumatic memory. My heart grieves for them as well as for Caroline. In addition, Caroline’s father carries an unresolved generational trauma that impacted him as a child and is still evident. And it has impacted the generation of Caroline. On multiple points the family needs help. Katherine Reay did a splendid job of perfectly describing the family’s awkwardness and yet trying to find a place to connect.

Caro is a character who I know through her letters and her sister’s memories. Caro is so much more than what her family has pegged her. Isn’t this often the case? People make a preconceived judgement (without all the facts) about a person and then build on that until the person is whittled down to a matchstick of what they really are. It is terribly sad. Caro’s story is the important background story that sets The London House in motion. Caro represents all those courageous people who through action defied the enemy.

I love the story’s relocation to London. I love the places they visit. For example, cafes and tourist stops. Towards the end of the story there is Paris.

The London House is a story that builds. It is not a quick paced story. It is a visceral story. It is a story with a strong focus-mystery to solve-a need to find the truth and reveal it.

The London House shows me some of the characters thoughts and feelings. The primary characters are heavy developed in their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

The London House shows me that the truth comes out eventually. But during the journey, there will be other important discoveries.

The London House does not sweep up everything tidy and put a bow on it to show this is a perfect family because there are no perfect families, but it is real and endearing.

Themes in the story: loyalty, perseverance, courage, bravery, redemption, acceptance, compassion, patience, circle of life, sacrifice, romance, suffering, judgment, war, survival, wisdom, grief, hope, justice, and love.

[Review] Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Publisher and Publication Date: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. July 27, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 395 total pages with written material. I counted!
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers who have an interest in World War II stories, travel, relationships, and romance.
Rating: Good.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Author pages @ Goodreads.
Hazel Gaynor.
Heather Webb.

Summary:

1937. The story begins in New York state.

The matriarch of the story is Violet. She has cancer. She has one daughter, Celestine Sommers. Celestine is a widow with two daughters. The two daughters are Clara and Madeleine.

Clara and Madeleine are in their twenties. Their personalities are as different as night and day. Clara is an artist. Madeleine is a writer. Clara is engaged. Madeleine doesn’t want a relationship to tie her down.

Violet asks them to travel together to Europe and deliver three letters. Violet has arranged all travel plans. The sisters will travel to Paris, Venice, and Vienna.

The sisters do not like each other and they usually avoid one another. Traveling together for an extended trip causes immediate angst. Their grandmother assures them all will be okay. She has arranged everything.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about the story. Over-all I enjoyed it. Over-all I read the book in two days because I couldn’t stop reading it. However, there are some things about the story I don’t like.

What I like about Three Words for Goodbye:
1. The story is about two sisters who are polar in personality. Their differences create internal and external conflicts. Their differences create a background and current circumstance. Their differences bring added drama to the story. Their differences bring satire to the story and to the dialogue. Their differences bring a strong interest for me to keep reading.
2. Violet is a strong character. Even though she is in poor health, she is a strong and interesting character. She is unlike most females of her generation.
3. I love the travel itinerary. I love the cities they visit.
4. I love the strong descriptions of the three cities. Whether they travel by ship, train, or air ship, I am there. I too am traveling with them. Plus, Clara has an eye for art. Her perspective is as an artist. Madeleine is a writer. Her perspective is as a writer. Both of them bring their perspectives of what they see and experience.
5. There is a transformation of the sisters. In the beginning, each see their own viewpoint and feelings. As the story progresses, they begin to understand their way has been one-sided.
6. I love stories that share what the characters think. When a story only shares the dialogue that is audible to others that’s not enough for me. I want to know how they feel that is not expressed audibly. I want to know their fears, insecurities, hurts, doubts, and anxieties.

What I do not like about the story or what I found lacking:
1. I know who Celestine is (the name) but she is like a ghost in the story. I know Violet. I know Clara and Madeleine. I know their deceased father. I know their deceased grandfather. But what is Celestine like. I feel she should have been completely dropped from the story. Let her be dead like the father and grandfather. She is unneeded. Her name takes up space.
2. I read one reference to Madeleine smoking. I read a few statistics about smoking in the first half of the 20th century. From the 1920s to 1950s, 70% of men smoked. In the 1920s females who smoked were rare. But smoking became more common as advertisements encouraged smoking. My mother was born in 1926 and she did not smoke. Her mother was born in the early 1900s and she did not smoke. Both my grandfathers smoked. My point in all of this is a story in this time period should reflect people and their common habits. It should reflect a lifestyle similar to that period and to the people themselves. Several references are made to drinking alcohol and gambling, but why only one reference to smoking?
3. The story is predictable. It is predictable from the first page to the last page. The romances are predictable. The direction of the story period.
4. I had hoped to read more of an emphasis on what is going on in Europe pre-World War II.
5. The biggest love story is between the two sisters. I feel this should be the primary focus with the theme of love and relationships. After-all, there are different types of love; there are different levels of love.

Closing thoughts:
1. I’m happy to state this is not a dual time period story. The story moves chronologically in time.
2. Madeleine is presented as a female trying to create a career in a male dominated world. Let her remain single. Let her write her own story about the trip or Violet’s life. People do not have to have a romantic storyline. It is an additional point to read. People do not have to be in a romantic relationship for life to be complete and enjoyable. Be a breath of fresh air and let them be focused on the joy of career and friends.

Themes in the story:

Love, relationships, family saga, romance, travel, acceptance, kindness, circle of life, injustice, conformity, beauty, and greed.

[Review] The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Publisher and Publication Date: Gallery Books. 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 400.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers of WW2 stories and the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.
Link @ Book Depository.

Kristin Harmel website/ Facebook/ Instagram/ Goodreads Author Page

Summary:

Dual time period historical fiction story: 2005 and 1942.
In the modern time period, Eva Traube Abrams is a librarian in Florida. She is a widow. She has one son, Ben, age 52. In a newspaper article she sees a photo of a book she’s not seen since the early 1940s. She recognizes it as the Book of Lost Names. It is a German man in Berlin who has the book. This coincides with the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. The man who has the book is also a librarian; and when he finds books that were stolen by the Nazis he tries to return them to their owners. Eva’s mind reflects on that time in her life and on a man she’d decided to forget after the war.
The Book of Lost Names is a courageous testament about those who were persecuted and suffered under the Nazi regime.
In the second part of story which is the past, Eva’s story begins in July 1942 in Paris, France. She works as a librarian at the Sorbonne Library in Paris. She is a young woman living with her parents. She does not have siblings. They are Jews.

My Thoughts:

World War II and Holocaust stories are at the top of my list of books to read. I read historical fiction, biographies, memoirs, and war stories all centered around the Holocaust and World War II.

The Book of Lost Names is a little different from some of the other types of books that it can be compared to. Some examples of my point is romance is not a strong theme. There is romance but it is brief. Through most of Eva’s story of the past it is just her and her mother. Their relationship is one of angst. There is unresolved trauma, fear, regret, and guilt. They are at odds with one another. It is sad because there is only the two of them. So often in a love story the romance is front and center in the over-all sweeping story. In this story, Eva loves her parents. This is a big theme in the story. Her great love for her parents. She must help them survive. It is a breathe of fresh air that this story is different. I love stories that are written-tweaked differently from most of the others. Bravo to Kristin Harmel.

What I love about the story:

1. The relationship between Eva and her mother even though it is thick with angst. Without their relationship in this story it would be flat.
2. Eva is an intelligent and talented young woman. The emphasis is less on her beauty and more about her character.
3. Secondary characters who are a strong balance for the story.
4. The mood of the story is tension. Moments of relaxation during brief periods.

What I didn’t like in the story:

1. I feel the brief romance in the story is not needed. Focus on Eva’s role in the Book of Lost Names. Focus on the people who she worked with. Focus on the relationship between she and her mother. Historical fiction does not have to have a romance. Love is expressed in different types of relationships.
2. Eva comes across as too cool under pressure. I feel it would have helped this story (to be more invested and swept up) for Eva to show deep emotion. I understand she needs to be calm under pressure with the work she did, but I’d like to see a deeper level of emotion, despair, and imperfectness in her character.
3. It would have been an added perk for this book if one of the children were written about in depth-their story representing all of the others.




[Review] The French Baker’s War by Michael Whatling

Publisher and Publication Date: Mortal Coil Books. April 18, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: The paperback has 298 pages.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of World War II and Holocaust stories.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link @ Amazon.

Michael Whatling’s Goodreads author page.

Summary:

Andre and Mireille Albert are husband and wife. They own a bakery. They have a young son named Frederic. The name of their bakery is Patisserie Saint-Lery. They live in the town of Saint-Lery d-Espoir’s place de villle in Occupied France.
On October 19, 1943, Mireille became missing. Andre found his son. He found a strange, young woman hiding, but his wife is gone. Andre doesn’t know what has happened? He doesn’t know what to do about his wife’s absence? He doesn’t know what to do about this new woman? Andre is shocked and fearful. He is aghast at what to do?
The story is a daily journal of this time period in the life of the Albert family and the new woman whose name is Emilie.
The story is a mystery. For most of the story, the reader does not know what is going on in this family.
Andre and Mireille are a couple who are in partnership as husband and wife, as parents, and in their bakery. They are also a couple who are in love with one another. They are a close couple with a long history.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this story. There are things I like about the story and things I dislike.

What I like:
1. The setting is in a small town in France.
2. I like the time period: World War II.
3. I like the married couple who are in love with one another. I like the long history they have. They are a respected and admired couple in town.
4. I understand the form of the story. I understand the plot.
5. This story is inspired by a true story.

What I dislike:
1. Andre is a loving husband and father. He is a respectable person. However, he is distraught through most of the story. And he is distracted. And he is at times frozen with the inability to make a decision. His behavior causes an annoyance and angst in me. I wish he had been a take charge person. I wish he’d been aggressive earlier in the story about a well-formed decision and carrying it out. I understand his character as the despondent husband, but I wanted more from him.
2. The story is filled with what if questions. What if a spouse goes missing, and a new character similar to the one missing shows up? What if both female characters are in trouble? What if feelings develop with the new character? What if this new person and the rest of the family bond? What happens if the missing person returns? The story is based on what ifs. What if is the foundation of the story. But it is that question that keeps me reading…that pulls me in.
3. The story does not have a satisfying or solid closure. I think that I know what happens but it ends loosely.
4. I’d like more of Mireille’s story. Her voice is in the first chapter. Emilie finally tells me her story. What about Frederic? I understand he is a child, but I’d like to have an area in the book where he narrates. His testimony is important.
5. For me there is something missing in this story. Yes, one of the characters is missing, but there is something else missing. Is it possible that the tone of the story: a frantic atmosphere of what ifs dominate the story so much that I am not pulled into the individual characters heartaches, fears, and ultimate decisions? Another words: the tone of the story rules.