Tag Archives: world war II

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

The Oprhan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale is about two women during the Second World War one of whom is a Jewish circus performer and another who took a Jewish baby from a rail car at a train station and they have to work together at the circus to survive.

I enjoyed the relationship between the two main characters; they had two opposing but believable personalities. I also liked the themes of atonement and survival that are in the novel. The end of the novel was also something I didn’t expect and it left me in tears.

The only problem I have with it is that one of the women has a lover that is kind of stalker-y and it makes you a little uncomfortable.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

A Single Spy by William Christie

A Single Spy

This is the best book I’ve read all summer and may turn out to be my favorite for 2017. The main character, who is difficult to love but fascinating to follow, is a Soviet orphan who takes the street survival skills of the Artful Dodger to a far meaner and more violent level. As a teenager, he’s recruited by the Soviets to impersonate the nephew of a senior Nazi official in Germany. After arriving in Berlin, he later joins the German army, where he becomes an intelligence officer. He winds up spying in the Middle East FOR the Germans, but at the same time, he’s spying ON the Germans for the Soviets.

Building a plot around a double agent can be tricky; I’ve read other “spy thrillers” where I’ve had to double back to make sure I haven’t lost the thread. But Christie does a great job keeping everything straight, which lets the reader focus on one of the best aspects of the book: all the spying and intelligence “trade craft” that Christie works into the plot. Although I seldom read a book twice, I might be compelled to read this a second time just to savor its cleverness. The ending is marvelous but I can’t say more about it without giving too much away.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Mary Hall
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2017

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper"s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife is about Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who after the Nazi invasion of Poland became active in the underground and used their zoo to hide Jews and Resistance members. It is a story about very brave people and my issues with the book aren’t meant to insult them. I enjoyed the setting and perspective of the book and I liked learning about Nazi-occupied Poland for non-Jewish people. I also enjoyed the description of the zoo and Antonina’s love for animals made the book very interesting. I also like that for the main description of the couple as “Christian” they don’t actively villainize atheists and don’t bring it up much, they just leave it at these people used their faith to help other people which I think is a good direction to take it.

My first issue with the book is that there were or two instances where the author seems to imply that the discrimination against Roman Catholics by Nazis was comparable to their discrimination against the Jews, which did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I’m just going to chalk it up to me not understanding the original intentions of the lines in question as this does stop when the main narrative of the story takes over.

The main issue is that I couldn’t stand the way the book was written. For a book entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife there is shockingly little focus on the zoo or the people in it. The book would be going along then every few pages there would be a random tangent about people who aren’t really connected to the family which would last a few pages or even an entire chapter. It got really annoying after a while as because of this I didn’t really hear much about the stuff at the villa or their attempts to help resistance members. I would like to read a story about these people but I don’t need a few pages of a summary in the middle of a story about other people. Also, the book time jumps a lot. The main problem with this time jumping is that it happens at random in the middle of chapters and gets a confusing because the author is trying to document the lives of these people in 1943 and then suddenly they are back in 1942. A good example of this is with Antonina’s pregnancy as she appears to be pregnant and is bed ridden because of health related issues and then suddenly isn’t pregnant anymore and helping hide people in her house only for her to become bedridden again and then she is helping people again and then later she gives birth. Although maybe the birth is miraculous because after the birth the time jumping stops.

I can’t build a relationship with these people because I have no idea what their position is or if their in danger. Also, Jan is kind of mean to his wife, which I found uncomfortable to read about but since it’s nonfiction there isn’t much to be done about changing that attitude. I will say that it probably would have made sense in a more linear story because it comes right up out of nowhere in the middle of the book and isn’t discussed again.

I would recommend the book with reservations because while I found the writing style annoying that is a personal preference and other people might like that about it.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:   Recommended with reservations

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky documents the true story of Pino Lella, an Italian who in World War II joined the Italian Nazi army and spies on the Nazi activities for the Resistance. It details his involvement with the resistance and the invasion of Italy by the Nazis. The book is very engaging and goes into great detail about the part of World War II that isn’t discussed much, which is Italy’s role and invasion. It also talks about the direct aftermath of the War where innocent people are punished and some of the Nazis are allowed to go free.
The book does start out a bit slow and Pino can be a little annoying early on but when it gets into the main part of the story it is amazing from then on and he matures into a more reasonable adult.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book published in 2017

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.

A Train in Winter

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France is about the 200 women who worked for the French Resistance during the Holocaust and were taken to concentration camps. The author interviewed the women who were still alive in 2009 and they told her the stories of the other people. It is also contextualized with how the greater politics of the time influenced their lives before and after their capture.

The major and really only problem with this book is that it is written in a hive-mind way where the story of the woman being told changes almost at random and it cuts back to the same person at random as well. This is problematic because it becomes hard to remember who is who, especially when several of the women have similar names.

However, overall it is a well researched book and it is apparent that the author has a lot of respect for the women involved. It also captures the horror and heartbreak of the Holocaust and I cried several times. Also there were a few women who were much more identifiable so you can get into their story instead of just reading it for education. Finally there is the horror at the end of the book where several of the women who survived were severely depressed and had tremendous survivor’s guilt, showing that even though people survive tragedy it doesn’t mean that they can get over it. The book also talks about why people collaborated with the Nazis and turned on their neighbors, citing personal grievances, monetary gain and a fear of communism. This is important because from a modern perspective it is hard to imagine why someone would willingly help them and it helps contextualize the danger that the people were in. Namely that a neighbor who doesn’t like you could turn you in and there was nothing you could do about it.

Overall it is a great book to read if you want to learn about human tragedy, the Nazi occupation of France or the Holocaust in general.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:  Highly Recommended

Pacific Glory by P. T. Deutermann

Pacific GloryImagine being the captain of a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. Your ship is called a “tin can” because of its lack of armor and 5” guns are the largest guns available to you and the other destroyers in your unit. Now imagine sailing into battle against the major Japanese surface fleet: four battleships (including the heaviest battleship ever built with the largest guns ever put on a warship), eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers. Fiction? Nope. This is what happened in the action off Samar during the battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, and it’s the story Pete Deutermann tells in Pacific Glory, a novel featuring a U.S. Navy destroyer captain and a U.S. Navy pilot flying off an escort carrier into the battle.

I started reading Pete Deutermann novels after either his first or second novel in the mid-1990’s and would read his grocery list if he were to publish it. He’s now written about 18 novels, many of which are military and/or political thrillers. But several of his books, including Pacific Glory, are novels set in World War II. Deutermann is a retired Navy destroyer captain (and his father was a destroyer division commander in the Pacific in World War II), so I have every confidence while reading his World War II Navy novels that the technical aspects of the book are spot on.

Most discussions of the battle of Leyte Gulf tend to focus on Halsey’s actions in abandoning the San Bernardino Straits, a debate with which Deutermann is quite familiar. But a lesser-known — far more heroic — story from Leyte Gulf is the action off Samar. Deutermann wrote this book because he always wondered what he himself would have done as a destroyer captain in Taffy 3, the small U.S. task unit — seven destroyers and destroyer escorts and six escort carriers — that took on the biggest firepower in the Japanese fleet. Note: one interesting feature on Deutermann’s website (www.ptdeutermann.com) are photos of the ships/classes of ships discussed in the novel.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Mary Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended