Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reading on a Theme: Young Women in World War II

Our second World War II Wednesday features books about young women navigating the difficult war years. As luck would have it, each of our leading ladies hails from a different country. I'm constantly amazed by how many stories there are to tell about World War II. I love learning from historical fiction, but I love how these books made me feel even more.

Martha Hall Kelly tells the stories three women in Lilac Girls, American Caroline Ferriday, German Herta Oberheuser, and Polish Kasia Kuzmerick. Kelly takes us through the early years of the war, the awful time at Ravensbruck, and then, she does something that was a little unexpected but greatly appreciated: she takes us far beyond the conclusion of war. I have read so many World War II books, and I can think of very few that spend any significant time on the aftermath and how the war impacted individuals for years to come. It was so uplifting to read about how Caroline and her mother cared about these Polish women and how so many others stepped up to help as well many years after the war's conclusion.

The setting is 1945 Scotland, where Lorna works on her father's farm, goes to school, and waits for her brothers to come home from the war. With farming essential to the war effort and farmhands scarce, German POWs from the nearby camp are assigned to help on the farms. Lorna is horrified by the thought of working alongside the enemy, but it turns out that Paul Vogel, scarred and battered, is not at all what she expected. Beyond its great setting and forbidden romance, Wait for Me is a book of humanity and healing. I loved this stunning debut by Caroline Leech even more after I read the Author's Note and learned how rooted in fact the story really is. Wait for Me is out January 31, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

The Netherlands:
In 1943 Amsterdam, Hanneke is a courier for her boss who dabbles in the black market. An unexpected request from a customer--to find the Jewish girl who vanished from her hidden room--leads Hanneke to the Dutch resistance and a greater knowledge of the terrors the Germans have wrought on her countrymen. I purchased Girl in the Blue Coat on a whim from Audible and ended up absolutely loving it. Monica Hesse does an excellent job evoking the setting of the World War II Amsterdam, and I really enjoyed learning more about the war years in The Netherlands. Hanneke is a strong character with a lot of passion and a lot of hurt who must decide if she will choose to fight back in the face of great danger.  

It's July 1940, and Peggy and her mother and brother are staying with Peggy's aunt and uncle on England's southern coast. When a plane crashes near their farm Peggy finds Henryk, a young Polish pilot, who has been traumatized by his time with the RAF. Against her better judgment, Peggy finds herself harboring Henryk. This is certainly a dangerous situation for Henryk, and it's dangerous for Peggy as well, thanks to the secrets her family is hiding from their neighbors. Lydia Syson's book is lush in setting and rooted in history. That Burning Summer was another great addition to all the Polish-centered World War II books I've been reading lately. That Burning Summer is out in the U.S. January 24th, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Even before I read this novel, I was intrigued by the 2010 discovery of the shut-up and forgotten Paris apartment that inspired it. (Article and images here.) Alyson Richman imagines the story behind both the original owner of the apartment, Marthe de Florian, and her granddaughter, Solange. The Velvet Hours alternates between the Belle Epoque of Marthe's younger years and the early years of World War II. The result is a stunning contrast between that time of rich elegance and closeted courtesans and the emerging modern world of the 1940s. I loved the premise of this book and its underlying themes of family secrets and lost loves. The Velvet Hours was out September 6, 2016. Review copy from NetGalley.

All reviews by JoLee.

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