Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

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My Review:

 

If you missed the release of Lilac Girls, now is the time to buy the paperback.  It is historical fiction based on true and harrowing events during World War II.  For me, the Holocaust has always been mostly about how the Jews were prosecuted; a devastating time in our history across the world.  But of course the Jewish people were not the only ones who were affected.  Author Martha Hall Kelly gets up close and personal with Kasia, a young Polish girl with Jewish ancestry who is completing secret missions for the underground anti-war efforts and is captured by the Gestapo with her sister and her mother… Herta, an out of work, German doctor who is offered a job at the women’s re-education camp and forced to execute by lethal injections… and Caroline, a New York francophile who sent supplies to the orphanages in France and who becomes a hero and savior to many.

Each chapter is about one of the three women; we learn about their everyday lives and challenges, love, relationships, hope and dreams as they navigate life during the war.  The most inspiring character for me is the reality based Caroline Ferriday.  She works for the French consulate, sending money and supplies to those in France during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Ultimately she learns of the Rabbits, this courageous group of young women being held at the concentration camp who were victims of a tragic medical experiment…horrible surgeries performed on them unnecessarily, their legs mangled and infected on purpose by the camp doctors to see what medicines worked, how much pain could be tolerated and which infections could be treated.  Many women died of this horrendous torture, but approximately 75 strong willed victims survived.  After Hitler was defeated, Caroline sought them out and brought all of these women to NYC for medical treatment and a tour of the United States.

If you have the chance to see author Martha Hall Kelly speak, do it!  You will hear about her research process for this book and how she travelled to Poland and had the privilege of meeting and interviewing several of the surviving Rabbits.  She has also spent countless hours at Caroline Ferriday’s summer house in Connecticut where the women stayed when they came overseas.  Her information gathering and writing process along with her book, Lilac Girls, are fascinating, and lucky for us, a prequel is in the making!  My book group and I were thrilled to spend a little time with Martha, hearing the back story and asking some questions.  Lilac Girls is a book not to be missed!

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As seen on Goodreads:

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and 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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About the Author:

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is now hard at work on the prequel, thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true story behind Lilac Girls at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and lots of great pics on her ever-changing Pinterest pages.

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The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams

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My Review:

Don’t let this exceptional new novel fall under the radar!  Based on war-torn Africa and the innocent people caught in the middle, the stunning debut, The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams takes us to Uganda where a young girl, Lily, goes missing.  The authorities are hard to come by and disorganized, so her aunt, Sabine, a former aid worker, travels from Germany to the village where she was last seen, to trace Lily’s steps and try to understand if she was in danger and kidnapped, or if she had a motive to disappear.  At the same time, a Ugandan woman, Rose, previously kidnapped and emotionally and physically abused by the Lord’s Resistance Army but now back in her village, is looking for her missing boyfriend, Ocen.  Sabine and Rose work together to unravel the intertwined lives of their loved ones, leading them back to their own deep, dark secrets.

Having had aid work experience herself, author Jenny D. Williams takes us on a vividly portrayed journey through Uganda, and  this incredible story was inspired by real events.  In 1996 there was an abduction of 139 school girls from St. Mary’s College in northern Uganda.  Operation Lighting Thunder was the name of the military action by the Ugandan government against LRA forces.  In the book, one of the characters talks about the problems there saying “The conflict in Congo is probably the most complicated war in the world.  Two wars, technically, in the last twenty years, but they overlap quite a bit.  Nine African nations.  Twenty armed groups.  Five and a half million people dead, mostly from disease and starvation.   Large-scale fighting has been occurring in various provinces since Rwanda invaded eastern Congo – it was Zaire, then – 1996.  Ever since, the country has been mired in one conflict after another.”

Jenny D. Williams has traveled and lived in Uganda and then to Germany where she wrote the book.  Her knowledge of the country is evident and her complex characters slowly reveal themselves as we learn about their pasts.   With beautifully expressed emotion and character complexity Williams allowed me to feel the pain and struggles as the story progressed. She provided insight into why the characters are who they are, giving them dimension.

During the frantic search for her niece, Sabine recalls her deceased sister’s comment about being a mother, “It feels as though a piece of my heart exists outside my own body, in another person.  And I can never get it back.”  Sabine is introspective and recognizes why she will never have children, “why would you want a piece of your heart in such a precarious location as someone else’s body?  Why choose that uncertainty, that terror, that utter lack of control?  As she grew older, this approach extended to lovers and friends, because how could she do her job if her heart was elsewhere?  Love made you selfish; love made you choose some above others.  And so all these many years later, her heart was lonely but whole.  Unseen – but intact.”

Visit www.JennyDWilliams.com for more from the author and pick up a copy of The Atlas of Forgotten Places; Beautiful writing and chock full of emotion, this suspenseful, historically rich debut is not to to be missed.

 

As seen in Goodreads:

The Atlas of Forgotten Places is that rare novel that delivers an exquisite portrait of family and love within a breathlessly, thrilling narrative.

After a long career as an aid worker, Sabine Hardt has retreated to her native Germany for a quieter life. But when her American niece Lily disappears while volunteering in Uganda, Sabine must return to places and memories she once thought buried in order to find her. In Uganda, Rose Akulu—haunted by a troubled past with the Lord’s Resistance Army—becomes distressed when her lover Ocen vanishes without a trace. Side by side, Sabine and Rose must unravel the tangled threads that tie Lily and Ocen’s lives together—ultimately discovering that the truth of their loved ones’ disappearance is inescapably entwined to the secrets the two women carry.

Masterfully plotted and vividly rendered by a fresh new voice in fiction, The Atlas of Forgotten Places delves deep into the heart of compassion and redemption through a journey that spans geographies and generations to lay bare the stories that connect us all.

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About the author:

JENNY D. WILLIAMS has lived in the U.S., Uganda, and Germany. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a BA from UC Berkeley. Her award-winning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrations have been published in The Sun Magazine, Vela, and Ethical Traveler, as well as several anthologies. A former Teachers & Writers Collaborative fellow and recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation grant for emerging writers, she currently lives in Seattle with her husband and dog. The Atlas of Forgotten Places is her first novel.

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

Available June 13, 2017

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My review:

Author Jillian Cantor truly knows how to draw a reader in…I could not put down this beautifully written book!  At the end of every chapter my heart was pounding in anticipation.  The Lost Letter is two compelling stories artfully woven together and destined to intertwine at the end.  The first takes place in the late 1930s Austria, and is about the Fabers, a Jewish family.  The father is an engraver and he has a young, non Jewish apprentice, Kristoff, living with them to learn the trade. Kristoff becomes smitten with the older daughter, Elena, a bit of a rebel, who is secretly learning to engrave stamps in the night.  When the war reaches their small town, the Fabers are in danger and Elena along with Kristoff become part of the Austrian resistance, using stamps to communicate right under the noses of the Nazis.  The desperation of making it through this horrible time and the hopefulness of love are palpable as the characters secretly help others escape while biding their time.

In late 1980s Los Angeles, a philatelist (stamp collector) is battling dementia and is living in an Alzheimer’s memory unit.  His daughter, Katie, is going through a divorce, sorting through her dad’s belongings and is getting his stamp collection appraised with the hope of finding a hidden gem.   An unusual stamp is found on an unopened letter which leads her on a quest for answers.  This fascinating journey takes Kate back to the 1930s Austria as she learns about the war, Austrian resistance and her father’s past.

The Lost Letter is historical fiction at its best; dual storylines, wonderful relationships, information about use of the stamp during wartime, paired with incredible storytelling by author Jillian Cantor makes this one of my favorite books of 2017!  Order your copy on AMAZON today!

 

As seen in Goodreads:

A heart-breaking, heart-warming historical novel of love and survival inspired by real resistance workers during World War II Austria, and the mysterious love letter that connects generations of Jewish families. For readers of The Nightingale, Lilac Girls, and Sarah’s Key.

Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher’s fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself.

Los Angeles, 1989.
Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad’s collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

A beautiful, poignant and devastating novel, The Lost Letter shows the lasting power of love.

Image-1-1.jpgAbout the author:

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the author of award-winning novels for teens and adults including the critically acclaimed MARGOT, which was a Library Reads pick for September 2013 and also featured in O the Oprah Magazine, People, Ladies Home Journal, and Time.com. Her most recent book for teens, SEARCHING FOR SKY, (Bloomsbury US & UK, Scholastic book club) was nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Medal in the UK. Jillian’s next historical novel for adults, THE LOST LETTER, will be out 06/13/17 from Riverhead/Penguin. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

“Give Me Your Tired…”

“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

In 1886 France gave the United States the Statue of Liberty. “The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The Statue of Liberty’s torch lights the way to freedom showing us the path to Liberty.”  And yet…

On Saturday, May 13, 1939 the ocean liner St. Louis set sail from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba with 900 passengers, mostly Jews, trying to escape Hitler and his armies. Two weeks later the ship arrived in Havana and only 22 Jews along with four Cubans and two Spaniards were allowed to disembark and the remaining passengers and crew on the St. Louis were ordered to leave Cuban waters by June 2. The German captain of the St. Louis, looking out for the best interests of his passengers, regardless of their religion, continually attempted to find another safe port and as the ship approached Miami, Franklin D. Roosevelt denied entry to the United States and then Canada followed suit. Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland ultimately agreed to take some of the passengers and then, months later, many European countries were occupied by Nazis. Only the people who disembarked in Great Britain escaped the immediate horror of Hitler and his followers, the rest were caught up in the war or murdered in concentration camps.

 

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The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa is a fictional story based on the history of Nazi Germany, the ocean liner St. Louis, the Cuban Revolution and New York City post 911. Young Hannah and her family, feeling the effects of antisemitism in Hamburg in 1939, make plans to start fresh on the island of Cuba. Along with her friend, Leo, and his dad, they embark on the ocean liner, the St. Louis, with high hopes for a new beginning.

Young Anna and her mother live in New York City post 911, and they have received a package with old photographs from a relative in Cuba. Living with imagined memories of her Cuban father she never knew, the young girl is anxious to know who the people are in the photos. Anna’s mother agrees to take her to Cuba to see where her father grew up and to learn more about the family history of her husband who is gone.

The two stories are beautifully woven together with first loves, hopes, disappointments and tragedies as we learn how the two girls are connected. This heart wrenching and tragic historical fiction debut novel was well written and the author included a special treat at the back of the book; all the signatures of the passengers on the St. Louis.

To read about the horrible injustices our country and others exhibited during this time is appalling and hopefully enough of us will continue to fight for everyone’s rights so it won’t happen again.

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Photo credit:  Jennifer S. Brown, author of Modern Girls.

The Memory of Us by Camille Di Maio

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Love, loss, war, religious conflict, sacrifice, and hope, The Memory of Us is the best kind of emotional tearjerker. In 1930’s England,  Julienne, a young, fashion conscious, Protestant girl deciding on her goals and enjoying an active social life in search of the perfect escort learns her parents have been hiding the fact that she has an institutionalized deaf and blind twin brother, Charles. Overwhelmed with this secret and unbeknownst to anyone she sneaks away to visit him and meets the gardener’s son, Kyle, who is kind to Charles and they develop a friendship. Julienne is attracted to Kyle but he is sworn to celibacy as he is studying to become a Catholic priest. The unlikely couple go their separate ways as Julienne goes to nursing school and Kyle to the seminary although they can’t forget the attraction they both feel for each other.

Their paths cross again and unable to break free from their secret courtship, Kyle leaves priesthood to marry Julienne against her parents wishes. And then the war…You could never predict what happens next.

The star crossed love, the arduous parental relationships, the brutality of war, the religious discourse, personal secrets and the unabashed decisions to protect oneself and loved ones all combined into what is a bestseller! This incredible debut had me crying and surprised and hopeful… and awake way past my bedtime to read it!

According to Goodreads “Camille is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio who, along with her husband of 18 years, home schools their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawaii to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She overdoses on goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries), and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it does’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel, and her second book, “Before the Rain Falls” will be released in spring 2017.”

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