At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

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1942 Philadelphia and World War II is pulling able-bodied men and boys from every corner of the country. Young Maddie Hyde and her husband, Ellis come to blows with his crusty, uptight, disapproving upper class parents and are thrown out, disinherited and with limited financial support. Along with Ellis’s best friend Hank, a crazy plan is formed to travel to Scotland and finally find proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists…Thereby exonerating his father’s reputation which was ruined when he tried to do the same…And putting Ellis back in his father’s good graces.

But the spoiled, entitled little rich kids are about to learn what war has done to the rest of the world while they have been throwing back champagne at parties. The Scots are less than impressed by the rude, drunken American travelers and Maddie is about to learn what it is to be a friend, to serve the greater good, and to be grateful for life’s little blessings… If she can manage to survive the horror that becomes her marriage in the process.

At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), is a novel about the monsters that come in all shapes and sizes, a touch of magic (some helpful and some very, very dark), love, loss, and the importance of thinking about what good you can do in the world. Not quite a coming-of-age story, but a story about how one young woman becomes the woman she was always supposed to become, despite the many people in her life who have tried to stand in her way.

 

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

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A Pattern of Lies, by Charles Todd, is the 7th novel in a series starring the heroine Bess Crawford, a Nurse during World War I who uses her wit and solid reputation to help friends and acquaintances to solve mysteries and get out of dire situations.

A Pattern of Lies is set in Kent in 1916, Bess is on leave and visiting the Ashtons, a well-to-do aristocratic family beset with tragedy. Their gunpowder mill burned down, killing more than a hundred men, and the town seems set on blaming the father of her friend and watching him hang on the gallows. But Bess thinks there is more to the story and she uses every resource available to her to find the truth. Someone is sabotaging the Ashtons, vandalizing their property and even setting fire to their home. Who could want to harm the Ashtons and can Bess sniff them out before someone is hurt, or worse?

The Bess Crawford novels are a dignified, proper read with intelligent language and a slow, simmering pace that can’t be rushed. The reader is tickled with details gently up until the final climax and it’s a slow burn with a satisfying ending. If you like novels that are perfect for a slow, breezy, quiet day, A Pattern of Lies, by Charles Todd, will be a great choice for you.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, by Edith Hahn Beer (with Susan Dworkin)

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The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin, is one story you will not be about to put down…But don’t pick it up at all if you want something sweet and romantic and warm and fuzzy. Because this is not that kind of story.

Edith Hahn was raised by Jewish parents, but raised as a pretty typical Austrian girl. Her parents had high hopes for her future, and she was encouraged to go to college and planned to one day be a lawyer. In her final stretch of school, unfortunately, the worst thing imaginable happened….The Holocaust began. Jewish citizens began to lose their basic human rights and even personal possessions. They were treated like lesser beings. They were denied jobs, education, even communication with the outside world. Jews started to disappear, running away to friendly neighboring countries, going into hiding, forced into labor, imprisoned, killed in random acts of violence.

Edith’s world was getting smaller every day. Her father passed away, her sister left the country, and her mother and a scattering of relatives was all that remained of the life she used to live. One day she and her mother are separated. She begs Nazi officers to spare her mother as they are being hauled off to do mandatory labor out on a farm…And she never sees her mother again.

When Edith is finally done with her labor, she is released and only wants to see her mother again. But her mother is gone and she is no longer welcome in the homes of her old German friends. She is too dangerous to have around. She is homeless, nameless, destitute…She must work the system and deceive everyone into believing that she isn’t Jewish…And what better way to cover her tracks than to marry a Nazi officer?

The Nazi Officer’s Wife is the most powerful story I’ve read this year, putting it squarely into a spot on my Best of 2015 List. The horrors of the holocaust, the inhumanity, the strength of one woman who had nothing and still survived. She risked everything and nearly sold her own soul to stay alive and persevere.

The story is that of Edith Hahn Beer, but it was made into a novel by Susan Dworkin. If you want literature that moves you, pulls your heartstrings, makes you angry, makes you feel desperate for the character to survive, then The Nazi Officer’s Wife is for you. I stayed up much too late at night reading this one….And if you can make it all the way through, I can guarantee you will lose some sleep, too.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Two women decided to risk their lives to serve Great Britain in effort to end World War II. One is a pilot, the other is an agent specializing in espionage. Proving themselves in a man’s world is the least of the problems these ladies face: one night, during a mission, the plane is shot down and the women are separated beyond enemy lines. One of them is brought into SS custody and placed in a makeshift prison to be tortured for information and held until she can be “dealt with”. The other goes into hiding with a solid plan : find her friend, rescue her, and get the hell out of France.

The situation is very, very dire…But the operation is not hopeless. These amazing women cannot be stopped, and the power of friendship is an impenetrable force. Secret codes, secret operations, espionage, targeting rogue enemy operators, and the strength of two remarkable women fill the pages of Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.

If you liked reading The Hunger Games trilogy, you are likely to enjoy this novel. Reality is harsh, but inner strength and the power of love drive the heroines through the wreckage. If you can’t handle some allusion to POW torture techniques, however, I recommend you avoid this one. Code Name Verity is considered a Teen novel, but is very adult in nature. If you love espionage, especially with strong heroines, you won’t want to miss this one.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

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William E. Dodd became America’s Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in 1933, bringing his family to Berlin with him. Based on correspondences between a number of very colorful individuals, including his flamboyant daughter, Martha, various public officials from Germany and the U.S., and much more, the story of an American family experiencing the horrors and confusion of a very painful dark mark in world history comes through, piece by piece, leaving the reader to decide for himself how such unspeakable events could possibly have been allowed to happen.

This is a non-fiction work based on letters and personal accounts of a number of different individuals, telling the painful tale of the persecution of the Jews, of Jew sympathizers, of the various other victims of the Nazi oppression, the birth of concentration camps (to keep jews safe, of course), and the corruption of a government that set branches against one another in bloody attacks leading to imprisonment and deaths.

If you enjoy reading about history and sociology of the past, and you like non-fiction that draws on your heart strings with brutal strength, leaving you in horror of the crimes that humans commit against one another, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson, is for you.  is for you. The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman, is another suggested read in this genre, should you decide to delve in deeper.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

13508607Anyone who knows me can already guess that this is going to be a raving review. Kate Morton is HANDS-DOWN my favorite author, has held the title for the last couple of years. I read The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton as fast as I could get my hands on them, after falling in love with the first title by her that seduced me into her exquisite world of mystery, scandal, and provocative history that she has mastered and made into absolute perfection for the reader.

The Secret Keeper is about actress Laurel Nicolson, a middle-aged icon on London stage who comes home when her mother is dying and discovers a mysterious photograph hidden in a book. She begins to wonder just how well she actually knows her own mother. The woman who fed them, played with them, danced with her father in the moonlight, might actually have a few deep dark secrets of her own, and Laurel just can’t seem to let them go. She starts a journey into the past, following clue after clue until she discovers a shocking secret that will forever change her own perception of her mother.

Delving into the past, two women with similar, yet very different lives, cross paths in air-raid stricken London during World War II…And events spiral, changing the course of lives all around them.

If you loved any of Kate Morton’s previous works, this one will be another delicious treat for you. If you haven’t read one of her works, but you like women’s fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction (of the non-bodice-ripping variety), then these intelligent, beautifully scripted novels are definitely for you.  Pick it up. You won’t regret it.