The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

Tag Archives: World War II

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

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I recently received from The Library Thing, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom (B+) by Alison Love a World War II novel with a slightly different approach.

Antonio Trombetta and several members of his family have moved from Lazio, Italy to London. His dad leases a kiosk where he sells candy and tobacco; his sister Filomena works at the local laundry. Antonio is in pursuit of a singing career. His beautiful voice has allowed him to supplement the family income by singing in local restaurants and bars. While working one night at the Paradise Ballroom, he meets Olivia, a dancer. Though married and expecting his first child, Antonio falls hopelessly in “forbidden” love with her.

As the novel develops, the atmosphere in Europe and especially in London begins to change. War is inevitable. Hitler and Mussolini are both aggressively stomping around Europe. In London, foreigners are now all under suspicion and eventually those with leanings toward the fascist movement are removed from their homes and families and held captive.

Historical fiction, yet mostly a love story, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is entertaining. The complicated love affair between Antonio and Olivia is the main attraction with supporting stories from other family members and world events.

I have felt lately that the market is a bit saturated with novels about World War II; however, there was something that caught my eye and attention in The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom. I honestly enjoyed the novel more than I expected and hope that you will be surprised by it as well. The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is definitely one to check out.

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase

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This seems to be my month to read stories about World War II. Our book club choice for this month was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and yesterday I finished Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase (A) by Louise Walters. The time periods may be the same but the stories are very different.

Roberta Pietrykowski works in a bookstore that sells “old and new” books. She inspects and shelves used books and often discovers handwritten letters concealed within the pages. Every old book seems to have a story, so too for old suitcases. Her grandmother, Dorothea has been placed in a retirement home and Roberta has taken her old suitcase for herself. The initials on the suitcase are DS for Dorothy Sinclair. Who is Dorothy Sinclair and why is a letter from her grandfather, Jan Pietrykowski within the suitcase?

In alternating chapters, the past and the present are explored. The story of Dorothy Sinclair unfolds as she survives World War II with personal events being the center of her attention. Presently, as Roberta explores the secrets of her suitcase, the complications of her life are revealed.

I particularly love the pace of this story. I felt that the past and present mingled easily to create an intriguing narrative that slowly evolved into one connected story. Life during the war was well illustrated without being overbearing and oppressive. While the reader knows from the beginning who Dorothy Sinclair is, it was exciting to watch Roberta unravel her family’s secrets.

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is definitely one to read and enjoy. Louise Walters is a good storyteller. She has done a good job on this her first novel and I hope there are many more to follow.

 

 

 

The Lavender Garden

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I have just finished reading The Lavender Garden (A) by Lucinda Riley. It is one of those books that you just hate to see end.

Two time periods, 1944 and 1999, are linked through the de la Martinières family. In 1944 the French aristocrat Edouard de la Martinières entertained many high ranking Nazi officials at his chateau, he became privy to many of their plans. Secretly working with the French Resistance he passed along all he learned allowing them to disrupt the German efforts and thus saved many lives.

Now it’s 1999, Edouard’s wife has died leaving their daughter Emilie heir to his great fortune. This is the first time that Emilie has been in a position that requires her to make financial decisions. While struggling with how to manage all of her new responsibilities, she meets Sebastian. His grandmother is connected to Emilie’s family through the role she played during the War. Sebastian appears to be a kind and loving gentleman who is concerned with Emilie’s well being. Only after they are married are his intentions questioned.

Alternating from the past to the present, the author weaves a seamless tale. The characters are effective and deliver a spellbinding story revealing secrets along the way. The reader’s attention is captured and held till the very end.

I found this novel to be one of the better-written World War II stories. It incorporates good historical facts with drama and suspense. For these reasons, I recommend The Lavender Garden as a must read. I am confident you will feel that it is very much worth your time.

The Nightingale

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It was recommended that because I love historical fiction I read The Nightingale (B) by Kristin Hannah. As such, it begs the question, “how many books on the same subject can be written and still be interesting?” I felt at times that I was re-reading Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky or Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. The Nightingale was extremely similar to both stories.

We find the Rossignol (which in French means nightingale) sisters in France during 1939 preparing for war and all it’s ramifications. Having difficult childhoods due to the death of their beloved mother, they now must face the demons that continually threaten to destroy their relationship. Vianne is married to her childhood sweetheart and lives in the countryside with her husband and daughter. She feels confident that they will remain safe and protected from war. Isabelle lives in Paris where the realities of war are evident. Always the feisty defiant one, she is prepared to take action and become part of the battle.

As the novel progresses, Isabelle behaves as expected and becomes a very active member of the French underground risking her life for others and the country she loves. Vianne’s actions are no less risky as she rises to the occasion and through self-discovery becomes a force of her own.

Hannah’s writing is true to her style. The novel is easy to follow and the characters are well developed and engaging. My problem, as I stated before, is that it just didn’t bring anything new to the table. Perhaps I expect too much or maybe this is as good as it gets when a subject is repeatedly written about. I do recommend The Nightingale for those that are not as critical as I am. It is a decent story that will satisfy those that haven’t read many World War II novels.

All The Light We Cannot See

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All The Light We Cannot See (B) by Anthony Doerr has left me with mixed feelings. The story of war torn France, a blind girl named Marie-Laure and a very young German boy named Werner was a bit over-much for my tastes.

Marie-Laure’s Dad is the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. There he does more than introduce his daughter to things she cannot see; he allows her the opportunity to feed her intelligence by acquiring knowledge about her environment. Not stopping with what she can learn at the museum, he builds her a miniature replica of the city. By touch, she becomes familiar enough to be able to travel the streets by herself.

In Germany, a young orphan and his sister are learning many things too. Werner is obsessed with how things work, in particular, radios. His incredible ability to repair radios draws the attention of officers in Hitler’s army. His fascination with technology and his eagerness to learn everything he can blinds him to Hitler’s atrocities.

The museum safeguards the world’s most incredible diamond, The Sea of Flames, by entrusting it to the care of Marie-Laure’s father. This puts Marie directly in harms way.

As the (endless) war and story continue, the author embeds the message that life is not always about what you can see. Though Marie is the sightless character; they all suffer from blindness. While Doerr’s intentions were all good, for me, I believe the novel suffers for them. Time would have been better spent further developing some of the key characters. Jutta, Werner’s sister is wise beyond her years, yet her voice is only a whisper. There were far too many boring chapters depicting Werner’s success in battle. Perhaps a bit more development of his inner struggles would have made him a more believable hero.

If you enjoy historical fiction based on World War II and if you have time to pour through 500 plus pages, then give All The Light We Cannot See a try. If time doesn’t allow for such a long read, just wait, because since it reads like a movie I am sure one is on the way.

The Light in the Ruins

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Hard to imagine that Chris Bohjalian could write anything more dramatic than The Sandcastle Girls but he has with The Light in the Ruins (B+).

Written like a diary entry, the very first page is narrated by a ruthless murderer. Honestly, it is the most dramatic book opening I have ever read. If it had been written by anyone other than Chris Bohjalian, I would have put it down.  However, I have come to know that his novels are always worth the read even if I have to read with my teeth clenched. 

It’s 1944; war is in the air. The Rosati’s family villa in the south of Florence is well protected. Antonio and Beatrice Rosati, the Marchese and Marchesa, have two sons and a daughter. The villa is a thriving farm with livestock, olive tress and beautiful views. While the sons are active soldiers, their daughter Cristina enjoys her days spent at the villa entertaining her niece and nephew that is, until the Nazis invade their privacy.

Eleven years later, a female police officer is investigating the gruesome murder of Francesca Rosati.  She is the first murdered in a plan that if successful with eliminate the entire family.

Serafina is scarred from burns that almost killed her as she fought with the partisans against the Nazis during the war.  Being left for dead, there is little that she remembers. As the Rosati murder investigation progresses; she begins to piece things together.

Bohjalian combines historical fiction and suspenseful mystery into this well-written novel. While I found the story a bit too graphic at times, I was propelled through the story finishing it in one day. Clearly, not for the feint of heart The Light in the Ruins is definitely one to read.