Summer should be a time of few rules and restrictions. Therefore, I am serving up a potpourri of books I have enjoyed reading and hope you feel the same.
As the distance from World War II widens, more is becoming known of the women who participated in the Resistance and as spies. Their actions and the consequences are stories that are as compelling as any novel.
Sisters of Night and Fog (Erika Robuck, Berkley Books, 2022, 428 pages, $17) is a novelized rendition of two women’s lives. Violette has both French and English heritage and has lived in both countries. She is a spitfire who longs to do something for France during the war. When her French husband is killed at El-Alamein, she joins the British Special Operations Executive.
One of the few women who make it through the training, Violette is sent on missions to France. Captured, she endures torture, imprisonment and death at Ravensbruck.
Virginia is an American, married to a Frenchman. Their easy life is upended by the war, and after years of survival, she becomes actively involved in the Resistance, saving the lives of 27 pilots. Arrested and sent to the same prison and then to Ravensbruck, Virginia and Violette endure the terror-filled lives as prisoners.
These two women are real, and the author has provided back matter that explains where the novel and real life merge, as well as providing information on other real persons in the book.
It is truly a pleasure to read a book where the language is so wonderfully wrought that I must read certain sentences and paragraphs over again to savor them. The Librarian Spy (Madeline Martin, Hanover Square Press, 2022, 384 pages, $16.99) juxtaposes the lives of two women in Europe as WWII rages on.
Ava is a librarian at the Library of Congress in the Rare Book Room. Her life is bound up in books and the power of the written word. Helene/Elaine is a housewife in France whose husband has disappeared. Both experience total upheavals in their lives as Ava goes to Portugal to aid in the US effort to end the war. Helene becomes Elaine and is active in the Resistance. We see in alternating chapters how their lives touch, and their experiences give us a different perspective on what was going on in Europe during the war.
The costs of war are explored in depth, with pulsating, horrific stories of the people involved in the war. Throughout the entire book, the power of the written word is underlined. The book is terrifying and captivating, with beautiful text and vivid characters.
I do enjoy novels that incorporate real people as characters. The Paris Library (Janet Charles, Atria Books, 2021, 353 pages, $28) tells a story of the habitués of the American Library in Paris just before and during the German occupation in World War II. Odile, a newly minted librarian, applies for a position in the library and gets it. We see the others who work there, as well as the patrons who often come daily, through her eyes.
As the war progresses, Odile becomes a member of the Resistance and others fall into roles that reflect their characters. Interspersed through the story is another tale, set almost 50 years later, of a youngster in Montana who loses her mother to heart disease. A rather outcast elderly neighbor next door becomes Lily’s refuge, teaching her French and about life. How the two stories merge is a rich tale, engagingly told. The back matter reveals what happened to the real people from the story.
Among the many recent books set in World War II, The Resistance Girl (Mandy Robotham, Avon, 2022, 410 pages, $26.99) reveals a part of the war effort that has been given little notice.
Norway was overrun by the Nazis who wanted to absorb their “pure Aryan” bloodlines into the German race. One thread of this story is the creation of the Norwegian Lebensborn and the horror it imposed on Norwegian women.
This is also a story of resistance, told through the omniscient viewpoint and focusing on Rumi, her family and friends. It opens with Rumi in despair and filled with rage because her fiance, Magnus, has been lost to the sea in an attempt to save others. The Shetland Bus was a clandestine special operations unit that operated between Norway and Scotland to save those in the greatest peril. We follow Rumi from her reluctant rescue of a Special Operations Executive operative to the end of the war. It is a story of great danger, change, family and love. It is so absorbing that I read clearly through the night so I could finish it.
It is always nice to get in on the beginning of a new series. Miss Aldridge Regrets (Louise Hare, Berkley Hardcover, 2022, 368 pages, $27) features Lena Aldridge, a biracial singer and performer who wants to make it into the big time.
She is singing in a lower-class club in London when the owner is murdered. Lena knows who did it.
In a stroke of luck, she is offered an opportunity to sail first class on the Queen Mary to New York to become the lead in a musical on Broadway. But is it luck, or the beginning of an intricate plot? While on the ship, she is seated at the table of a wealthy and bizarre family who begin to be murdered.
Who is behind these murders and why was Lena placed in the mix? Set in 1936, the descriptions of life aboard the Queen Mary as a first-class passenger are elegant and intriguing. There is considerable use of foreshadowing, but the answer to all of the questions was certainly a surprise to this reader! I look forward to reading more about this feisty character.
One of my favorite books that I read recently was The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The sequel, The Book Woman’s Daughter (Kim Michele Richardson, Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022, 334 pages, $26.99) is a successful continuation of the story.
Life in the Kentucky mountains can be brutal, and it is no less so in 1953 than when Cussy was taking books back to the mountain folks. Cussy and her husband have been taken to jail for marrying and continuing to live in Kentucky. Their daughter, Honey, is 16 and on her own, trying to evade being sent to a juvenile prison. She gets the same job her mother had, and most of the mountain folks welcome her. But bitter clan rivalries threaten both her life and freedom. Honey strives to gain emancipation and the struggle to succeed is a story well told.
Valerie is a specialist in dead Nordic languages and a recluse, afraid to live in the world. When she is asked to come to a remote scientific station off Greenland’s coast, the only reason she goes is because her twin brother died there. Why do they need her? Because a Girl in Ice (Erica Ferencik, Scout Press, 2022, 291 pages, $27.99) has been discovered, thawed out alive, and no one can speak or understand her language.
Valerie goes to that remote station because she is not convinced her brother committed suicide, and she and her father want answers. There are many twists and turns, scary events, and people who are not who they seem. On the edge of science fiction, the author expects you to suspend disbelief, and if you do, you are in for a dynamic story.
Laurie is about to turn 40 and has backed out of two engagements. She is trying to decide who she is and what the direction of the rest of her life should be. When her Aunt Dot dies and leaves a house and belongings, she is the only one in the family free enough to go to Maine to settle the estate. Flying Solo (Linda Holmes, Ballantine Books, 2022, 308 pages, $28) is an engaging, light read, perfect for summer. There is a scam, a caper, good times with old friends and romance all in the mix. The ending is satisfying without being cliched.
There are two women, separated by 100 years, but united by their love for The Forgotten Cottage (Courtney Ellis, Berkley, 2022, 400 pages, $17) and by their need to discover who they are and where they fit in the world.
Lady Emilie Dawes has been promised to a duke, her brother’s best friend, since her birth. But she is not happy about being wrapped up as a present and given away. She wants to “do” something with her life. When World War I begins, she runs away and becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, sent to France to help with the wounded. The harsh realities of such a life give her perspective and the strength to go her own way.
Audrey is an American and an alcoholic struggling for recovery. Her grandmother left her Sparrow Cottage in England. Audrey’s life is a mess: no home, no career, and her family life is not great. What she finds in England is not the estate she envisioned, but a chance at a new and better life. How the lives of the two women are connected is well worth reading.
I have read so many versions of the story of the royals involved in the War of the Roses that it is amazing I can still find a new version interesting enough to read 500-plus pages. After all, I know how the story will end.
It is the skill of the storyteller that draws me in, and Alison Weir is known for her ability to bring history alive. The Last White Rose (Alison Weir, Ballantine Books, 2022, 526 pages, $28.99) is a novel of Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of Edward IV. Her childhood was both grand and fraught with danger. When her father dies unexpectedly, she becomes a pawn of Richard III and then marries Henry VII.
Shakespeare’s statement that “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” can sum up her life. None of the kings she is associated with is secure and, therefore, neither is she. If you enjoy a deep dive into history, this will make you happy.
I debated long and hard as to whether to include Corrections in Ink (Keri Blakinger, St. Martin’s Press, 2022, 322 pages, $28.99) in this review.
It is a harsh and profane memoir of a young woman who never felt comfortable in her life. Keri came from an upper-middle-class home with many support systems, but she went down the path of drugs, prostitution and prison — all while working on a degree at Cornell University.
What makes it an important and compelling book is the redemption she found in prison and what she has made of her life since. Coming clean from drugs, Keri took what she learned in prison — all the horror stories that are true — and became an award-winning investigative reporter.
She has made a difference in the lives of prisoners. Her writing is responsible for prisoners in Texas being able to receive dentures, for example. It is a rough read, but I learned a lot.
Check the Denton Public Library for these books and more. Our local Barnes & Noble will have a display of these books and others related to the theme.