I took the opportunity to listen to The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff and I was captivated by this wonderful story of friendship, dedication and courage. Suspenseful, and fast moving, this historical fiction novel takes us to 1940s NYC. Grace, a young widow trying to get her life together, discovers some photos in an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Terminal. After some digging, she finds they belong to Eleanor, a woman who had just been in an accident, and was previously the ring leader to a group of women who were spies in Europe during World War ll. Grace also learns that Marie, a brave mother who left her young daughter behind to assist with the war efforts and act as a radio operator, is missing, along with the rest of the women spies. Grace is determined to investigate the suspicious disappearances of these women and learn all she can about their contributions to the resistance.
Pam Jenoff does a remarkable job intertwining fact and fiction when it comes to history and women’s efforts as spies in the 40s. We hear from Grace, Eleanor and Marie as they navigate their lives and make difficult choices during wartime. I enjoyed the audible version – different voices were assigned to each character and it was easy to follow the alternating time periods. I love stories that have strong female characters, highlighting friendships, dedication and courage, and how they shaped our history. The Lost Girls of Paris does just that!
Pam is the author of several novels, including her most recent The Lost Girls of Paris and The Orphan’s Tale, both instant New York Times bestsellers. Pam was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.
Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.
Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff practiced law at a large firm and in-house for several years. She now teaches law school at Rutgers.
In Another Time by Jillian Cantor is a wonderful historical fiction novel with deep characters who love books, music and each other.
In 1930s Berlin, Max, a German bookshop owner sees Hanna playing what she loves most, the violin. He is enchanted and in an attempt to get her attention, he brings her what he loves most, a book. After his dedicated pursuit, he wins her over, and the relationship between the two blossoms. German life during the rise of Hitler is not easy and to make matters worse, because Max is not a Jew, Hanna’s family is not supportive. Then Max has an unexplained disappearance which causes Hanna to be worried, angry and confused. She steps back from their relationship for a time, but the love between them is powerful and eventually it draws them back together.
Antisemitism is increasing in Germany and although Hanna, so focused on her violin playing, does not take much notice, Max worries about her and his Jewish friends. Hitler and the Nazis are taking over, panic is starting to set in and his longtime Jewish neighbors are in terrible danger. When Max sees them in distress he reaches out to offer help. Max has a huge secret that he believes can save those in danger, but when his beloved Hanna is looking the Nazis in the eyes, can he bring her to safety?
In 1946 Hanna finds herself in an open field with her less than pristine violin and no memory of the recent past. Hitler is dead, the train station has been bombed, she has no idea what happened to Max, and she has lost her memory of the last 10 years of her life. Hanna’s sister comes to get her and bring her back to her home in London where she searches for opportunities to play her trusted violin in an orchestra. Her love for music and Max are the only things she remembers and without him she focuses on playing violin to bring peace and joy to her life, and to give her a purpose. Will Hanna and Max cross paths again? In Another Time is a heartbreaking story of love, and survival in difficult times, and the ability to learn the truth.
I enjoy narration by two characters alternating chapters as it is easy to read and it compels me to read just one more chapter, and then just one more, always wanting to know what is going to happen next…Jillian Cantor created interesting characters and I get immersed in her writing with the World War ll setting, appreciative for the research involved in historical fiction. I adored The Lost Letter published 2017, and I highly recommend In Another Time too!
In Another Time is the story of Max, a German bookshop owner, and Hanna, a Jewish violin prodigy, who fall in love in the 1930s outside of Berlin as Hitler is rising to power. Max narrates the story in the 1930s, before the war, and Hanna narrates beginning in 1946, after the war, when she wakes up in a field with only her violin, no memory of the past ten years, and no idea what happened to Max. Max’s story moves through the 1930s as Hanna’s moves through the 1940s and 50s. I wanted it to be a love story between Max and Hanna but also a love song to books and music in our most trying times.
When I learned about Max’s huge secret, the special closet door in his bookshop, it first made me think of the novel Exit West where Mohsin Hamid wrote about doors people went through to get to other countries. He mostly used it as a metaphor for immigration, allowing him not to have to focus on the physical journey. In In Another Time, I was unprepared for the magical time travel that happened in the closet but was pleasantly surprised. Unexplainable, supernatural elements like this are not often used in historical fiction. How did you come up with the idea?
I really wanted to explore the question of what made people leave, or not leave, Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the lead up to WWII. I spoke with a Holocaust survivor who’d been a young Jewish girl in Berlin at the time. She said her parents refused to leave, saying it was their country too. They were Germans too. So I thought a lot about what it means to love your country, and feel allegiance to your country even if terrible things start happening. And how hard it would’ve been to fathom how horrible everything would eventually get if you were living there in those years. The question I set out to answer before I even sat down to write the book was, what if you had every way and means possible to leave, even a magical escape, would you still want to stay?
I just accepted the magic and immersed myself in the lives of the wonderful characters, Hanna and Max. Did you ever consider explaining more of the details regarding time traveling through the closet? How did you decide what to explain and what to leave unsaid?
I definitely don’t see this a science fiction novel in any way, even though time travel does play a small role, like you said. So I never wanted to get bogged down in the details of how it worked. And Max is a bookshop owner, a reader, not a scientist, so I didn’t believe as a character he would get bogged down in these details either. My goal was to explain enough to make the plot and Max’s actions make sense, but not too much where the book became more science fiction than historical fiction.
Your novel has Max’s story and Hanna’s story each from their own perspective. Did you write them alternating chapters like we read them, or did you create each character’s narrative separately?
I wrote them exactly in the order that you read them, as they appear in the book now, alternating chapters. It did get a little confusing, and at a certain point as I was drafting (about 100 pages in) I stopped, and made a giant chart on the wall of my office to keep track of where each character was in each year, how old each was, etc.! But I felt I needed to write the book the way it would eventually read so I could get the pacing and the story arc right in the first draft. When I went back and revised, however, I did pull each story out and revise each one separately to make sure it was all coherent and made sense in order.
All the chapters are narrated by Max or Hanna except for one. Why did Elsa have her own chapter?
Elsa is married to Max’s best friend, Johann, and she has a small but important role in the novel. The chapter she narrates allowed me to give the reader information that neither Max nor Hanna could’ve known.
What are you reading now (if you even have time) and what do you recommend?
I’m reading a lot of research for the next novel I’m writing right now! But I have a giant to-read pile sitting on my desk that I plan to get to once I finish drafting my next book: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, and The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer, just to name a few. One upcoming historical novel that I got to read early, and that I highly recommend, is The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. It’s out in July – look out for it!
If you would like to hear some orchestra music, here is a clip from my teenage son’s most recent concert with the NORWALK YOUTH SYMPHONY .
According to Google: Listening to music can help reduce stress according to many studies. It can help relieve a person from anxiety, depression, and other emotional and mental problems. Music is also capable of eliminating physical exhaustion as it allows the body and mind to relax.
Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the USA Today bestselling author of THE LOST LETTER, THE HOURS COUNT, MARGOT, and, most recently, IN ANOTHER TIME, which is a March 2019 Indie Next pick. Her work has been translated into 10 languages, and has been featured as a Library Reads pick, and in People Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Glamour, and PopSugar among others. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.
Feeling comfortable with who you are can be complicated…a difficult journey for many who feel different from others. Often this is just a perception, as we all come from various sordid places and are birthed from unique people with their own individual backgrounds.
I am lucky enough to be part of a group that feels like home, a safe place to tap into who I am and also feel connected to others. For 15 years I have been taking the same dance class and, although there has been some ebb and flow of participants through the years, there is always a solid group of regulars who together create a warm atmosphere of acceptance for all who take part. We come together because of dance, and the positive, nurturing environment our teacher, Luisa, creates and sets the example for. In the safety of the four walls where we convene, we express ourselves freely as individuals, and collectively when we catch eyes in the mirror, simultaneously experiencing heightened endorphins and joy from the movement and the music. From married, single, children, no children, business owners, workers, retired… to under 40, over 80, black, white, asian, immigrant, townie…everyone has their own unique identity that is accepted and celebrated in the shared space filled with each person’s confidence, energy and light.
Our dance family has planned outings on occasion, providing us with opportunities to talk, get to know each other and develop connections and friendships that increase the fulfillment of time spent together. Recently this unique community of ours started a book club, and this month we chose to read Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time.We selected it because we thought it was about two girls who were brought together through dance. We thought we were going to love it.
It started out about a dance class uniting two young girls, but quickly veered away and was really about much more.
Book Club Impressions
In Swing Time, an unnamed narrator told her story and we, as readers were the observers, charged with the task of understanding and finding meaning in her life. She was a light skinned black girl who came from a mixed race family. She was drawn to Tracy, another racially mixed girl from her dance class and they became fast friends. Their young friendship was strong, the narrator became Tracy’s loyal sidekick, and then the friendship faded as their lives went in different directions. The narrator’s lack of proficiency in dance led her to becoming an assistant to a pop star, while Tracy pursued a dance career but ended up unemployed with three children each from a different father. Mixed race, broken homes, untapped talents and unfulfilled dreams, drug overdoses, neglected friendships and bad relationships, betrayals, lack of support systems, poor decisions and misdirection sum up the challenges the characters faced, but the underlying theme was everyone’s search for identity, self fulfillment and acceptance.
Only half our group was able to finish the book, as we all mostly agreed it felt like it was a bit of slog, an emotionless slice of life, providing nothing of great interest to tap into our curiosity. An anonymous narrator with lack of ambition didn’t show enough of herself to create connection with us. We never even knew her name. I believe the author intended to keep all the characters at arms length in order to allow readers to draw conclusions about identity, race and wealth from their actions, but for our group this approach fell flat.
This was an ironic book choice for a diverse group that collectively has the opportunity to feel supported, connected and in touch with their individual identity in a warm and accepting environment.So it is not surprising that we were not overjoyed with a story about unresolved personal journeys, struggles and unfulfilled dreams. In the book, the time periods jumped around quite a bit and despite the easy to read prose, Swing Time was a challenge to follow and not as engaging as we had hoped. It definitely was fodder for rich discussion though, and while the characters in the book struggled, we bonded. Read this one at your own risk.
The Weight Of Ink tells the story of Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi in London in the 1600s right before the plague. At the same time we learn about Helen Watt, a close to retiring British historian who is working on translations of some 17th century documents signed by scribe “Aleph”. Even though these women lived-in different centuries, both were strong and determined to pursue their interests and fight to be heard, and choosing a life to satisfy the mind and sacrifice the heart.
Ester is a product of the Portuguese Inquisition and although displaced with little family, what feels like home for her is her job a a scribe for the rabbi, where her love of learning is nourished. She turns down marriage offers as she prefers to work for the rabbi in order to continue her scholarly pursuits. She has an open mind and longs to converse with philosophers and educated men, and although it is not acceptable for women to engage in these types of discussion, she creates unorthodox opportunities to be heard.
Helen has a love of Jewish history and as she and her American graduate student assistant Aaron Levy investigate the many pages of letters written to and from the London based rabbi to determine the identity of the scribe, it is a race against time as Helen’s physical health is failing, she is approaching retirement, and another team of historians are working on the same project.
We also learn about Aaron Levy, the Jewish assistant, who is interested in a relationship with a girl who is living in Israel on a Kibbutz and is pushing him away. And then there are Ian and Brigette Easton, the couple who live in the 17th century house where the documents were found. This is a complex story; a mystery and rich with history and well developed characters.
Author Rachel Kadish provides extensive depth: Jewish theology and philosophy, interfaith relationships and lost love, 17th century history, the Portuguese inquisition, the plague and so much more…no skimping on research here, but for me a bit too wordy, complex and long. The Weight of Ink is powerful, intricate and the well deserved winner of the National Jewish Book Award. Although this is not an easy book, if you love historical fiction and Jewish history and set aside a big chunk of time to conquer it, you will be rewarded with the beauty of memorable storytelling.
I often begin writing when something is bothering me. Years ago, I was thinking about Virginia Woolf’s question: what if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister?
Woolf’s answer: She died without writing a word.
What, I wondered, would it take for a woman of that era, with that kind of capacious intelligence, not to die without writing a word?
For one thing, she’d have to be a genius at breaking rules.
My novel The Weight of Ink reaches back in time to ask the question: what does it take for a woman not to be defeated when everything around her is telling her to sit down and mind her manners? I started writing with two characters in mind, both women who don’t mind their manners: a contemporary historian named Helen Watt and a seventeenth century Inquisition refugee named Ester Velasquez. It’s been a delight working on their story.
The Weight of Ink is my third novel, but I’ve also written two other novels and one novella, plus a few dozen essays and stories. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I put words to paper because it’s my way of metabolizing life. To paraphrase Henry James: I don’t really know what I think until I see what I say.
Thanks for your interest in books.
If you love the 80s, music, tradition, England and love, you will want to read The Music Shop right away! Frank had an odd childhood; growing up he called his single mother by her first name and, the only thing his not so nurturing, nontraditional mom ever taught him about was music. Now, a single man outside of London, Frank owns a small music shop on a run down street. He only sells vinyl records; refuses to keep up with the times and offer cds or even cassette tapes. He has given up on the possibility for love and seems content in his role in life as a music expert. Frank matches customers and friends to songs he thinks they need to know. He is quirky and old fashioned, but likable and has a reputation for being a good man and helping lots of people.
An emotional and timely novel, Home Fire is a compelling story about Muslim families in crisis. Isma is the responsible older sister of twins Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their mother and grandmother have passed away and the twins are now 18 years old, so Isma, having previously put her ambitions on the back burner to look after her siblings, is leaving her home in London to travel to America for a work opportunity. Aneeka is beautiful and intelligent and will be studying law in London, and Parvaiz vacates the country on a quest to learn about his father, a known jihadist, who fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan.
In the US, Isma meets Eamonn, the son of a British politician who has a Muslim background like she does, but values that appear to be very different. It seems like a spark is developing between them but then Eamonn returns to London and gets involved with younger sister, Aneeka. Parvaiz is unfocused and becomes radicalized by a friend who under false pretenses convinces him to go to Syria where he is told he will learn more about his estranged father but has really been recruited to a terrorist group. When he decides he doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps but wants to return home to London, the law is not on his side and Aneeka is desperately hoping for help from Eamonn and his powerfully political father.
Government, loyalty to family and religious beliefs all come into play as author Kamila Shamsie skillfully writes about the Muslim immigrant struggle and the difficulties the innocent communities face due to extremists. I loved this book and believe it has great movie potential.
As Seen on Goodreads:
Home Fire is the suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences.
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
About the Author:
Kamila Shamsie is a Pakistani novelist, who writes in the English language. She was brought up in Karachi and attended Karachi Grammar School.
She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College, and an MFA from the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she was influenced by the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali.
Kamila wrote her first novel, In The City By The Sea, while she was still at UMass, and it was published in both India and England in 1998. It was soon shortlisted for the ‘John Llewelyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday award in the UK’, and she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her second novel, Salt and Saffron, followed up on her success, and was published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Italy. in 2000 she was selected as one of Orange’s 21 Writers of the 21st Century. Her third novel, Kartography, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys award in the UK. Both “Kartography” and her most recent work, Broken Verses have won the Patras Bukhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan.
Nothing beats a heart pounding psychological thriller to keep you looking over your shoulder! Clare Mackintosh has done it twice with her novelsI Let You Go and I See You. I loved them both! Be prepared for the twists and turns every step of the way…and don’t forget to breath!
As seen on Goodreads:
In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .
As seen on Goodreads:
You do the same thing every day.
You know exactly where you’re going.
You’re not alone.
When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.
Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .
I See You is an edge-of-your-seat, page-turning psychological thriller from one of the most exciting and successful British debut talents of 2015.
As seen on Goodreads:
Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant and is the founder of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. She now writes full time and lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their three children.
Clare’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is a Sunday Times bestseller and was the fastest-selling title by a new crime writer in 2015. It was selected for both the Richard and Judy Book Club, and was the winning title of the readers’ vote for the summer 2015 selection, and ITV’s Loose Women’s Loose Books. Her second novel, I See You, is a number 1 Sunday Times bestseller. Clare’s books are translated into more than 30 languages.
Clare is the patron of the Silver Star Society, an Oxford-based charity which supports the work carried out in the John Radcliffe Hospital’s Silver Star unit, providing special care for mothers with medical complications during pregnancy.