Thursday, March 10, 2016

4 Stars - Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

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Lilac Girls begins as three parallel threads, each a story about a woman affected differently by the war. American Caroline gives her time and energy to assisting French families and orphans in the US and abroad; Polish Kasia becomes caught up in an underground movement as Nazi forces threaten freedom; and German Herta, a doctor, grows frustrated by sexism in her field as a byproduct of nationalist pride.

Gradually these threads overlap as their stories come together during and after WWII. Kelly writes in the afterword how her book is based upon true stories of the women imprisoned in Ravensbruck and of the real Caroline's effort to see these victims compensated years later. I've been drawn to war fiction lately and a title where women primarily tell the story intrigued. Of the three, though, I found Kasia's story the most compelling - naturally, it's more intense given the setting and circumstances. If you are looking for WWII fiction, it's worth picking up.

ARC received by publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, March 3, 2016

4 Stars - The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre

Publisher: TulaBella Ruby Press
Historical Fiction, Time Travel
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

What if the woman you loved was more than a century away? Dara, a computer programmer from Chicago, is visiting London when she opens a door in an Edwardian house and slips into Edwardian England. Agnes, a beautiful London shop girl, takes in the bewildered 21st century American lesbian, but, as Dara begins to accept that she is stuck in 1908, she also begins to accept that she has feelings for Agnes that go beyond gratitude. And the longer Dara stays, the harder Agnes finds it to hide her growing love for the accidental time traveller from the future. Will they overcome grief and prejudice to acknowledge their true feelings for one another? Or will Dara be snatched back to the 21st century before they can express their love?

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I enjoy time travel stories, and this has the added element that nailed it for me - an Edwardian London setting. The romance is sweet and builds up nicely, and there's a good balance of the "fish out of water" trope as Dara adjusts to living in the past.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

3 Stars - Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Publisher: HarperCollins
Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

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I liked To Kill a Mockingbird. It was one of the few required reads in school I enjoyed, and one I read more than once. When I first found out about Go Set A Watchman I was all



and I pre-ordered at first opportunity. Then we all learned about the actual story, then



and then came the thinkpieces. I didn't read any before going into this, and I didn't read reviews despite having the NYT and others spoil certain parts. I wanted to see for myself, and to be honest the book was...okay. It didn't blow my mind, but it didn't infuriate me. It's basically the story of a young woman who comes home for a visit to realize the pedestal on which she viewed her father isn't as high as she once thought. How her family treats her after she confronts them on their prejudices, though, left me rankled.

I thought the strongest parts of the story were the flashbacks with Jem, and I imagine her editor initially thought so, too, and encouraged the story that became TKAM.