[Review] We Shall Not Shatter: A World War II Story of Friendship, Family, and Hope Against All Odds by Elaine Stock

Publisher and Publication Date: Amsterdam Publishers. May 15, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II literature.
Pages: 398.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Elaine Shatter, and Amsterdam Publishers. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who want to read World War II literature.
Rating: Very good.

Page for the Book Tour which runs May 15-31 @ Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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LOOK FOR THE AUDIO BOOK OF ALL 3 BOOKS OF THE RESILIENT WOMEN OF WWII TRILOGY TO BE RELEASED BY TANTOR MEDIA, PART OF RECORDED BOOKS. THEY WILL BE SOLD IN BOTH DOWNLOADABLE DIGITAL FORMATS, AS WELL AS CD AUDIOBOOKS AND WILL BE SOLD ON AMAZON, BARNES AND NOBLE, INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES, AND MOST ANY OTHER OF YOUR FAVORITE VENUES.

Praise:

“For anyone who loved ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr, this is another beautiful journey of not just one woman’s story through the turbulent times of Nazi Germany, but two. A story which will touch your heart, and perhaps bring a few tears to wipe away, showing how love does indeed break barriers and sees beyond human labels and disabilities. You will absolutely fall in love with Zofia and Aanya, and how strong friendships were forged in the heat of oppression from Hitler’s Germany despite their different faiths.”
— Historical Fiction Company

“Drawing from her own family’s history, author Elaine Stock has created a compelling story of enduring friendship, heart wrenching sacrifice, and resilient strength. While set during one of the darkest moments on history’s stage, We Shall Not Shatter’s themes—conveyed through characters who will inhabit your heart—have much to say to readers in today’s world, too.”
— Carrie Schmidt, ReadingIsMySuperPower.org

“Elaine Stock’s novel, We Shall Not Shatter, the first of a promised trilogy, Resilient Women of WWII, is a poignant and heartfelt tale of perseverance, of friendship across boundaries, of making families in different ways, of horror and of healing. In the characters of Zofia and Aanya, and the families they make and lose in their native Poland, the barbarities of war, the added peril of Aanya’s deafness, and their harrowing escape, the story is offset by the plot strands of Christians helping Jews, Germans helping Poles, hearing people cherishing the strength of the deaf, and the deaf healing others. This is a story not only of resilience, but of the victory of love and friendship over pain and suffering.”
— Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of the award-winning novels, Even in Darkness and Hard Cider, Speech-language therapist and Teacher Consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

“We Shall Not Shatter is a compelling novel, inspired by real-life events in Brzeziny, Poland that so dramatically changed the fortunes of both a close-knit Jewish family and a Catholic family during the Hitler years. Elaine Stock’s poignant narrative charts the despair, confusion and sheer will to survive during this terrible period in modern European history. This is a story that oozes tragedy, hope, love and courage in the face of adversity.”
— Ron Vincent, author of The House on Thrömerstrasse: A Story of Rebirth and Renewal in the Wake of the Holocaust

“The story and its characters will linger in the reader’s heart for days… perhaps forever.”
— Patricia Bradley, Author of the Logan Point Series, Memphis Cold Case Novels, Natchez Trace Park Ranger Series

“We Shall Not Shatter takes readers on a rare journey of life-tested relationships and uncompromising courage. Stock brilliantly creates a time and place that is terrible and heartbreaking only to reveal the beauty that awaits on the other side of devastation. This story will stay with you long after the last page is turned.”
— London Clarke, #1 Amazon bestselling author of Wildfell and The Meadows

About the Author:

Elaine Stock writes Historical Fiction, exploring home, family and friendships throughout time. She enjoys creating stories showing how all faiths, races, and belief systems are interconnected and need each other.

Elaine’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, narrowly escaped World War II by immigrating from Poland and Austria to the US. Fascinated by the strong will of people to overcome the horrors from this era, she wrote We Shall Not Shatter, book 1 of the Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy inspired by her deaf great aunt who was left behind as a teenager in Poland and perished in the Holocaust, while her other deaf siblings were permitted to enter the US when their young ages helped them to circumvent medically revealing exams. Other extended family members also remained in Poland to lose their lives in the Holocaust.

Although multi-published in award-winning Inspirational Fiction, and a past blogger and online magazine contributor, Elaine now pens novels for the General reading audience. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and The Historical Novel Society. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has now been living in upstate, rural New York with her husband for more years than her stint as a city gal. She enjoys long walks down country roads, visiting New England towns, and of course, a good book.

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Summary:

An unforgettable story of friendship, family and hope as two courageous young women face one of history’s most horrific tragedies.

Brzeziny, Poland, 1939 Zofia’s comfortable-lifestyle overturns when her husband, Jabez, who monitors Nazi activity, has gone missing. Rather than fleeing the country with her young son, as she had promised Jabez who is fearing retaliation, she decides to stay. She cannot possibly leave her friend, Aanya. Since their childhood they have amazed fellow Brzeziners that it does not matter that Aanya is Jewish and deaf, and that Zofia is Catholic and hearing. Now, more than ever with war looming, Zofia will do whatever is necessary to protect her family and Aanya.

As both love and war approach their Polish town, Zofia and Aanya must make choices that will change the meaning of family, home, and their precious friendship. The journey, decisions and the no-going-back consequences the women face will either help them to survive—or not—as Hitler’s Third Reich revs up its control of the world.

Inspired by the author’s paternal heritage from Brzeziny, this is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of two women who are determined to remain united in friendship and to live freely despite the odds.

My Thoughts:

World War II literature is the most widely read books I read. It does not matter whether it is fiction or nonfiction. I first began reading books in this realm because my dad was an American soldier during World War II and overseas in Europe. He was a D-Day Veteran. A Veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He shared many stories of what he witnessed and experienced. As I grew older, Dad told the stories he did not tell me when I was young. Some of these stories are what he witnessed during the liberation of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. It was through dad’s stories that piqued my interest in reading more stories of this history.

One of the first things I love about We Shall Not Shatter is it is exactly what I have been asking for in a story. I have expressed in some reviews how I’d like to read stories showing other types of love, not just romantic love. Some examples of what I’d like to read are the love between friends, and the love between children and their parents. We Shall Not Shatter is the story of two women who have been best friends since they were young children. Despite the differences in religion and culture, they have persevered and strengthened the bond of friendship. They love each other dearly. They would sacrifice for one another.

Other reasons why I love this story:

1. The story has a character who has a disability. It is very rare to read a story that has a person who is disabled. It seems that most book characters are near perfect. This includes the front cover of a person who is beautiful-handsome-an airbrushed model. This is not real life. I prefer characters to reflect reality. I want to read about their story that reflects what and how they are living.

2. I love it that Elaine Stock has based this story on some of her relatives. It is a memorial and testament.

3. I love the organized and interesting book selection for further reading. These are books that the publisher also has on this subject. This section is located in the back of the book.

4. We Shall Not Shatter shows the days before and during the German occupation. In addition, the horrors at Brzeziny, and the tightening of restrictions on the Jews.

5. The story is strong in showing love, compassion, kindness, and charity between the family members and friends.

Some things I have trouble with:

1. There are areas where the story drags and other areas where it feels rushed.

2. Aanya’s husband has a more prominent role in the story. Whereas Zofia’s husband has a more interesting storyline, yet he is in the background (thought of and wondered about.) And this point is related to number 3.

3. Zofia’s husband is involved in resistance work. I’d rather have his story more pronounced because this is important. He represents a group of people resistant to the German invasion and their genocide of the Jews. Until later in the book, I am finally educated about what he has been doing. Whereas before I had limited information.

4. In a sea of World War II type books, I believe it is important to try and tell a story that has not been told. For example, Aanya’s story. She is deaf. I want to know what she is thinking. I want to know what it is like to be her. I want to become lost in her story of living with a disability during the Holocaust. I wish the book had focused the most on Aanya.

Themes: suffering, war, power of love, courage, bravery, kindness, hope, injustice, resistance, survival, romance, sacrifice, and good and evil.

[Review] Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Teen. 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Young adult.
Pages: 379.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult readers to adult readers who enjoy reading historical fiction from World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Audible.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Summary:

It is January 1945. Several people are in route to the northern coast of Germany so they can escape the war and the approaching Russians. They are refugees.

The main characters are young adults. Most are in their teen years. It is a mix of young men and young women.

Each want to secure passage on the ship, Wilhelm Gustloff, it is a ship that will take them away from the harrowing life they’ve lived. The ship is a savior of sorts in their minds. It will take them to a new life.

My Thoughts:

As many World War II and Holocaust stories that I’ve read and I have not heard of this ship’s tragedy!

There are several elements I love about this story.

1. The form or structure is from the perspective and voice of four people. Each are given a chapter with their name as the heading. I enjoyed reading the overall story from the perspective of the four characters.

2. I’m reminded a bit of Hemingway’s writing style. He too wrote crisp and short sentences. And the dialogue is the mainstream of the story.

3. During the course of the characters sharing, I am told about their background. In most stories, the background and descriptions of the characters are shown in the beginning. In Salt to the Sea, I am given the background and descriptive information during the whole of the story. These things are revealed slowly but naturally.

4. It is a heavy story. It is heavy with feelings of fear, anxiety, weariness, angst, and moments of despair. These are people who have endured years of war. The trauma of what they’ve seen and personally experienced is imbedded in their hearts and minds and bodies. Their plight is what kept me reading. It is what drew me into the story at the first page.

5. The internal and external conflicts are extremely strong.

6. Even though the characters share a common goal to survive. It is interesting they are segregated by their ethnicity and heritage. This causes feelings of isolation and insecurity.

Do I have a favorite character among them? Joana. She is indispensable because of her nursing skills. I believe she is probably the most important character in the story. She is able to care for people despite their ethnicity which made her likable and heroic.

How does the story make me feel? War is a horrible event. It is not just the military who fight and are affected. The civilians are always impacted. Obviously, the Russians ignore The Geneva Conventions.

Themes: survival, war, bravery, courage, kindness, honesty, betrayal, death and dying, resistance, trust, grief, hope, injustice, suffering, romance, sacrifice, power of love, and good and evil.

[Review] Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Square Fish. March 7, 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Memoir.
Pages: 352.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult nonfiction.
Rating: Excellent!

Link @ Amazon.
Link @Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

There are several YouTube videos with Michael or his daughter Debbie who are co-authors of the book. These are two I’ve shared.

Summary:

On January 27, 1945, the Russians liberated Auschwitz. Of the 2,819 prisoners, 52 were children under the age of eight. Michael Bornstein was one of those children.
Michael, with the help of his daughter, Debbie, has documented this narrative style account. He felt his story needed to be shared about this traumatic event. He did not want to remain silent on what happened to him, his family, and the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The story begins in October 1939 when the Germans invaded Zarki, Poland. Michael’s family lived in a home in Zarki. Michael’s older brother, Samuel, is age four. Michael will be born in May of 1940.

Michael’s parents are Israel and Sophie Bornstein. There are several family members who live in the Zarki area. For a while, they are able to continue living in their home, later, they will be resettled, and then, transported to Auschwitz.

In this story, the focus is on his family but shares the chronological history of what happened to the Jews in Zarki, and in great detail the hellish life in Auschwitz.

My Thoughts:

I have read a lengthy list of memoirs of the Holocaust. It is rare to read an account through the lens or perspective of a small child. This brings a unique nature to the story. I believe, Survivors Club, is in the top five books I’ve read of Holocaust memoirs because of the unique structure and feel to the story. Michael was born during the Holocaust. He was an innocent babe in peril at his first breath.

Other reasons why this is an excellent book.

1. A detailed chronological timeline of the events happening in Zarki, Poland, starting in October 1939. This is not a sterile type of account, but deeply personal.

2. Most Holocaust stories that share the experiences in Auschwitz do not share thoughts and daily life in great detail. What I mean is Michael shares perspectives and thoughts not usually shared. For example, on pages 126-127, “Men who reached for suitcases that weren’t there.” “Women reached for children who had been pulled from their grip.” My takeaway is the shock of what is happening has not registered yet in their brain that the item or beloved person is no longer there. This is startling, shocking, and a surreal moment. This illustration is one of many that caused me to pause and ponder.

3. Further events in the book: the processing of the prisoners, the work details, the bathhouse, Mengele’s selection of children, the infirmary, the “Death March” out of Auschwitz, liberation, and rebuilding a life afterwards. The story is a solid view Michael’s life and what he has experienced.

4. Thirty-six illustrations. Most are in black and white, a few are in color.

5. A glossary is included

6. Notes on their research is included.

7. In the preface, the authors explain what has been pieced together through research, interviews, and memories (factual), and what they have constructed (conversations and emotions.) I love it when the author lets me know what is factual and what has been pieced together in the story.

Themes: war, survival, grief, intolerance, hope, resistance, suffering, sacrifice, family honor, good and evil, fear, heroism, power of love, courage, and bravery.

Survivors Club is a powerful story. It is an important story. It is a story I will not forget.

And, considering the events happening in the Ukraine, this story is more than just a memory, both remind us that evil exists. We cannot ignore, we cannot take a nap thinking this will all be over when we wake up. This story makes me feel firm in my convictions that freedom is important; and a huge part of that freedom is the ability to have free speech, and to live in a humane, safe, and free society.

[Review] Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

Publisher and Publication Date: Mira Books. October 26, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 400.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of World War I historical fiction, both combat, and medical/nursing care. Readers of romance: male/female romance and a same sex female romance.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

The last pages in the book are the Acknowledgement and Source pages. It’s brief.
If you are interested in reading more about World War I, I am including the books I’ve read. These books are nonfiction and fiction.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918 by G. J. Meyer.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
The character Bess Crawford in the mystery series by Charles Todd. She was a nurse during World War I but became a sleuth-detective both during the war and afterwards. The settings are in England, Ireland, and France.
None of Us the Same by Jeffrey Walker.
Letters to Doberitz by Derek R. Payne.
The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.

I recently watched Charite and Charite at War on Netflix. I enjoyed both series. Watching them piqued my interest in reading about nursing/medical care during a time of war. I’ve read more books about World War II and wanted to read about World War I medical care. This interest led me to search for books on Amazon that were in this genre. I settled on Sisters of the Great War. However, I’d like to read a book that’s primary focus is on nursing and medical care during World War I.

Summary:

The story begins in 1914. The story ends in 1920.

Ruth and Elise Duncan are sisters who live in Baltimore, Maryland. When the story begins Ruth is a nursing student at Loyola College of Nursing. Elise is the family mechanic. Ruth is the older of the two sisters. Elise is 18. Their father is a physician. Their grandfather lives with them. Their mother died in childbirth having Elise. In August of 1914, both sisters decide to travel to Ypres, Belgium and help with the war. Ruth will be a nurse. Elise will be an ambulance driver. They arrive in Belgium, April 1915.

Meanwhile, Ruth had met John in Maryland, who is now a medical doctor in Belgium treating the wounded soldiers.

Elise is coming into her own person about who she is and what she wants in life.

Both sisters are on the cusp of discoveries about who they are and what they will persevere to become.

My Thoughts:

The main problem I have with the story is it’s too busy. War itself is a gigantic and busy theme for Sisters of the Great War. But added to it is two sisters with their own personal stories: romances, war experiences, injuries, life decisions, female traditional roles, social customs, society in early 20th century, traumatic family history, and decisions about who they are and what they want in life. One sister would be sufficient for a book. By adding two sisters, I feel it makes the book top heavy. When a book is full of heavy themes, plots, etc., it is difficult to become swept away and feel an investment in and feel a part of the story, because I don’t have time to settle down and become engaged with the story and characters. Another words I felt yanked from here to there too much.

The setting for most of the story is in Belgium. The specific places are the hospital settings, living quarters for Ruth and Elise, and Elise’s ambulance driving in the war zone areas.

Sisters of the Great War is told from the 3rd person point of view.

I feel it is too much to expect Ruth and Elise will continue through all the time they are involved in the war effort, to be near one another in location. It is the same for Ruth and John. I feel these are valid points that cause the book to lack in believability. By the end of the war, there were about 22-23,000 nurses who had given care. And there had been almost 5,000 ambulance drivers. Yet these three people are able to remain near one another.

The story ends too clean. I almost expected a red bow pasted to the last word. Where is the believability in this? War causes loss-multiple losses. John lost a body part. But his story about how he feels as well as the aspect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for all the characters who were in the war is not talked about. At that time, it was called Shellshock. I had hoped the book would address this. I am disappointed.

I have read several reviews from people who are disappointed in the same sex romance. They didn’t know this theme is in the book. Actually, in the opening pages of the book where the publisher usually has a short list of what the genre, subjects, or themes of the book is listed-nothing is written! I feel it is beneficial to know about the genre and other aspects of a book. Not everyone wants to read about sexual activities. Not everyone wants to read about combat operations in a war. Not everyone wants to read about a sexual assault. Not everyone wants to read about other types of subjects or themes in books. It is helpful to know about a book before purchase or reading. Good communication is also for the books we read.
I do not name call or call a person out because they do not want to read about certain themes in a book. When I think about this situation, I am reminded about being on the playground in elementary school with other kids taunting other kids. It is never okay to name call-neither side. I have a great love and compassion for people no matter who they are. And I dislike name calling.
I am only disappointed because I wanted the book to have a primary focus on medical and nursing care during World War I. Nevertheless, Sisters of the Great War is a good starting place.

My favorite place in the story (even though it is sad) is when an aero plane flew over a hospital and shot at the defenseless and vulnerable people on the ground. This action scene shows the destruction and brutality of war. The moment when Ruth took charge is a “bravo” moment for the whole book!

Themes in the story: war, peace, romance, heroism, courage, power of love, bravery, perseverance, survival, judgment, family honor, hope, tolerance, conformity, resistance, and suffering.



[Review] Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

Publisher and Publication Date: G P Putnam’s Sons. March 23, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 480.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with an interest in the Holocaust, Italian history, Rome, and World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon for the Kindle copy.
Link @ Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Penguin Random House.

Lisa Scottoline’s Goodread author page/ Website/ Twitter/ Instagram.

An interactive map for the book, Eternal.

Summary:

Elisabetta, Sandro, and Marco grew up together in Rome, Italy. While growing up as children they were best friends. During the teenage years their feelings changed to romantic love. Two young men in love with the same young woman. Elisabetta loves them both, yet differently.

The story begins in 1937, in Rome, Italy. Benito Mussolini or Duce is in power in Italy. He is a Fascist dictator. The rise in antisemitism is in Italy just as in other European countries. In Germany, the Nazi’s are in power, and they are tightening restrictions and spurring hatred of the Jews. Their power is spreading.

In Italy, the members of the Fascist Party wear black shirts. Marco and his father are Fascists. Sandro and his family are Jews. To make things even more complicated, the two families have been friends for years. And the relationship will remain strained and at a danger to all of them.

My Thoughts:

Eternal is a name of Rome-the Eternal City. Rome is both the setting and a character of the story. Sometimes a home, church, or city can be so descriptive and alive that it too can be compared to a character in a book. Rome-the Eternal City-is to me a character. The setting of Rome is a breathing character-it is alive and vivid. This is the first reason why I love this story. The setting of Rome, Italy is described beautifully (despite the horrors of the evil atrocities of some people) Rome is still itself beautiful and loved by its people. I am also glad to have a World War II historical fiction story in a different place than most of the other books.

The love relationship between three people is not going to end positive for someone. Someone will get hurt, maybe multiple people. At times in the story, I had no idea what to expect in this entanglement. What would be the final outcome? This is both a theme, conflict, and a strong reason to continue turning the pages.

I love the passion of the characters. I am not referring to just romantic passion. For example, the passionate love of Italy. The passionate love of parents.

Internal and external conflicts are strong. The external conflicts are Italian Fascists, Mussolini, Nazi Germany, antisemitism, the love triangle, and the war. The internal conflicts are the love triangle, duty, loyalty, power of love, revenge, grief, intolerance of race and religion, and other factors.

Further themes in the story: jealousy, compassion, bravery, kindness, survival, sacrifice, honor, suffering, peace, war, and resistance.

Eternal is an emotionally moving and memorable story. It is a story I will not forget.