Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Reading on a Theme: Young Women in World War II

I don't really think of myself as a big World War II buff, but, in putting this post together, I realized I had read quite a few excellent options. I settled on books that feature young women in wartime. They come from a variety of places, England, America, Montmarey, and Germany, and their experiences are as diverse as their origins. And, you guys, just thinking about them fills me with nostalgia as I recall how I felt when I read them.

Scotland in Wartime:
Maddie, her husband Ellis, and his friend Hank have always been a cozy threesome. Their outrageous behavior precipitates a falling out between Ellis and his father. Ellis, in his usual impulsive manner determines to go to Scotland and hunt the Loch Ness monster, war be damned, in order to make amends with his family. Scotland brings out the worst in Ellis, who begins crumbling under all his secrets, and the best in Maddie. Sara Gruen's writing is truly effortless to read. I appreciated Maddie's growth as she gained friends, purpose, and a greater understanding of the world and of herself. The Scottish setting offered a different perspective on World War II that I quite enjoyed. At the Water's Edge is out March 31st, 2015. Review copy from NetGalley.

An Island Nation and the Spanish Civil War:
Michelle Cooper's  Montmaray Journals has got to be one of my favorite series ever. It begins with A Brief History of Montmaray which is set on the tiny, fictional island of Montmaray and stars the island's royal family, the FitzOsbornes. The first in the series is set in the 1930s, and Montmaray, along with its domestic problems--the island's dwindling population, mad King John--has Nazis right at its back door thanks to its proximity to Spain and the Spanish Civil War. This is great historical fiction. I fell in love with all the characters over the course of the three novels, especially Sophie, our narrator. I also love that Michelle Cooper writes about the events leading up to the war. Now will someone make these books into a mini-series? Please.

A Captured Spy:
Elizabeth Wein's book Code Name Verity takes place during World War II. Best friends Verity and Kittyhawk are trapped in Nazi territory on the wrong side of the English Channel. Verity, in order to buy time, draws out her interrogation by writing the story of their friendship in the guise of a confession. All the praise you've heard about this book is well deserved. It is truly remarkable. The writing is superb. The action is harrowing and horrifying. The friendship is so real. And Verity is the epitome of the unreliable narrator. This book is crazy good. These girls. Wow. These brave girls. Elizabeth Wein has written two other novels about young women in WWII, Rose Under Fire and the newly released Black Dove, White Raven

From the Idyllic Alps to the Ravages of War:
A Song for Summer is one of my favorite Eva Ibbotson books. Set in Austria and London just prior to and during WWII, A Song for Summer features Ellen Carr who takes the housekeeper position at the unusual Hallendorf school in the Alps. I absolutely love the characters in this novel--the school children who think they are Marxists, the suffragette aunts, the crazy teachers. The romance between Ellen and Marek is so sweet and filled with a fateful good fortune. However, eventually their good luck runs out, which, I think, is symbolic of how the whole world falls apart amidst the insanity of the war. And, by the way, it's written by a woman who lived through it herself. Thankfully there are new beginnings for the world and our characters. I have nothing but warm feelings about this book.

The Early Days of the Nazi Regime:
Daniel returns to Germany when his cousin is killed and ends up being framed for murder. Gretchen follows to help Daniel clear his name. My reaction: "Wait. What? You're going back to Germany? You escaped by the skin of your teeth in the last book." I realize that the events of the early-Nazi regime look a lot more sinister in hindsight, but for me, this book had a "Don't go in the scary haunted mansion in the first place" feel to it. Once I got over the fact that we were going back into Germany, I found the plot fairly compelling. I liked the new setting, 1930s Berlin, and I appreciate that Anne Blankman chronicles a time that we don't see in fiction very often. Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is out April 21, 2015. Review copy from Edelweiss.

All reviews by JoLee. 

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