Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Reviews, Part III (WWII Historical Fiction)

For some reason, I read a lot of books set in the World War II era.  Most of them were book club choices, but some of them were my own.

"Skeletons at the Feast" takes place in Poland and Germany during the height of the war.  A relatively wealthy family is forced to leave it's home on the border of the two countries and head west to try and outrun the Russian army.  Since the men of the family are forced to stay and fight for Germany, the women are sent with a wagon full of supplies and a captured Scottish soldier who, as a prisoner of war, was forced to work on the family farm.  The family faces horror after horror on their journey and meets several people along the way who change their lives and their outlook on life forever.  This was a real page turner for me and I literally could not put it down.  It reminded me of "The Sound of Music" (because of the whole "family trying to escape....will they make it? aspect), but without the unrealistic, squeaky clean Disney quality.  ****

This book may have a mouthful of a title, but it tells you exactly what the story is about.  "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" is set on Guernsey Island during and immediately after World War II.  Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands and was occupied by Germany during the war.  To make their lives more bearable, an eclectic group of islanders form a book club.  Because food is scarce, one of the things served there is potato peel pie, which sounds quite unappetizing and makes me feel a bit guilty about the yummy things I eat at my book clubs.  Anyway, the story is very sweet and while the characters' lives were not easy by any means, I really enjoyed reading a story set during the war that didn't concentrate on the blood and gore of the era.  *****

"Sarah's Key" is another one of those oh-so-popular story within a story novels.  The outer story takes place in modern day France and is told from the point of view of an American woman who is married to a stereotypical Frenchman.  She's a mother and a journalist and one of her assignments is to write about the time when occupied France was forced to send it's Jews to the concentration camps.  The inner story revolves around a young Jewish girl named Sarah whose immigrant parents were sent away.  However, as a French citizen, she was allowed to stay in France.  The two stories intertwine as the journalist uncovers some very unsettling details about Sarah's family and her husband's family's role in the deportation.  This book is very well written and was another good page turner.  The outcome of the outer story seemed a bit contrived, but the inner story was fantastic.  ****

I picked this book up on a whim when our library wasn't allowing me to reserve books and I am so glad I did.  Like the "Guernsey" book above, "La's Orchestra Saves the World" is another sweet WWII era book.  La is a young, widowed Englishwoman who spends the war in the English countryside.  To aid the war effort, she works tirelessly on a neighboring farm raising food for the soldiers at a nearby military base.  To pass the time, she organizes an orchestra made up of herself, local townsfolk and a few of the men at the military base.  Their concerts help liven the spirits of the community in a time when spirits were at their lowest.  This was a fairly quick read, but just as sweet as sweet can be.  ****

I'm not a big fan of murder mysteries, but this very well-written book by Alan Bradley was wonderful.  "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is set in rural England during the 1950's and stars Flavia, the world's most curious and outspoken eleven year old.  (While not technically a WWII era novel, I figured that being set in the 1950's made it close enough for review purposes.  :)  )   Flavia is obsessed with both chemistry and torturing her two older sisters until one day, she stumbles upon a body in the family's vegetable garden.  Her obsession turns to solving the murder of the mysterious man and clearing the name of her father who has been arrested for the crime.  This is the first novel in a series starring Flavia and I'm eager to read the rest.  Flavia is a fun and interesting character (although if my daughter acted like she does I'd lose my mind) and the writing style and prose of the novel is delightful.  I can hardly believe that this is the author's very first book! If you like murder mysteries, you'll like this one for sure.  ****

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your reading tips. I love historical fiction, and hadn't read any of these. I'll see if my library has them. Have you read any of Bodie Thoene's books? She has two series that I love; one set in World War II Europe and one set in 1948 Palestine. Quite the read.