[Review] A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

Publisher and Publication Date: HarperCollins Publishers. 2011.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II. France. Holocaust. Women and literature.
Pages: 374.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Public library.
Audience: Readers of history, World War II, French Resistance, and the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Goodreads page for Caroline Moorehead.

Link @ Amazon.

Summary:

A Train in Winter is the story of French women, from all walks of life, who were arrested and jailed in France in 1942 by the work of the Nazis and the French who were collaborators. This is also the year of the Jewish round-up in France. In January 1943, they were sent by train to Auschwitz, Birkenau. Later in the war, the women were split up and sent to other camps. For example, Ravensbruck and Mauthausen.

These women had been a part of the Resistance in France. Many of them were members of the Communist Party. Most of the women had husbands and lovers who were in the Resistance. Some were swept up in the arrests because of their affiliation.

There were 230 French women who arrived at Birkenau. Most of the women died of dysentery, disease, abuse, starvation, and execution.

My Thoughts:

This is the first nonfiction history book I’ve read specifically about the French women involved (in some way) in the Resistance during World War II. They were political prisoners.

An important thing to note about this book is it does not focus on one woman or a few women. It is a broad look at many women. When reading a book with a long list of people, the book can come across as a fact-based book. There are brief personal stories included, not lengthy stories, but brief, and these bring a personal intimate look at several of the women. In some instances, it was a mother and daughter who were arrested. In some instances, the women had young children or were pregnant. In showing a large sweeping group of women, I see a fuller picture of the Nazi’s brutality against not just a few people but a huge group of those who stood in their way. I know this in theory. I realize the depth in a book like this.

One of the women prisoners is a psychiatrist. The area she worked in brought her in to contact with Joseph Mengele, the German physician who did medical experiments at Auschwitz. She gave witness to horrendous acts.

The horrific acts against them are emotional and provocative.

One of the most important chapters is at the end. The after-effects of trauma inflicted on the women. How they were not able to articulate what had happened. Its effect on their personal lives after the war.

There is a follow-up chapter addressing those Nazi’s who brutalized them after the war ended.

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[Review] Half Notes from Berlin by B V Glants

Publisher and Publication Date: Anchor Media. October 4, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction. Young adult historical fiction.
Pages: 256.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and B. V. Glants. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers with an interest in Holocaust stories, and those who read young adult fiction.
Rating: Very good.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Link for the book @ Barnes and Noble.

About the Author:

B.V. Glants was born in Soviet Ukraine and immigrated with his family to suburban New Jersey when he was ten years old. Raised on family stories ranging from his grandparents’ fight for survival in WW2 to his parents’ confrontations with Soviet antisemitism, he now lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and daughter.

B.V. Glants is a lay leader at a Jewish day school, a Wexner Heritage Program member, and a technology entrepreneur, most recently having cofounded Tonic Health (sold to R1, NASDAQ:RCM) and Turnkey Labs. That hasn’t stopped him from earning an MFA at California College of the Arts and attending writers’ conferences at Squaw and Sewanee. He writes historical fiction from a Jewish perspective, focusing on how major historical events challenge and transform the lives of everyday families. Half Notes from Berlin is his first published novel.

Summary:

Berlin, Germany. 1933.

Hans believes he and his family are safe from persecution.

Then, he discovers his family’s dirty secret: his maternal grandparents were Jews who converted to Christianity.

Driven by the desire to understand who he is and whether his mother’s blood is tainted, Hans befriends Rebecca, the only Jewish girl he knows. Perhaps if Jewish blood isn’t evil, his mother will be ok.

To be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany is dangerous.

But to fall in love with one is unthinkable.

Desperate to keep both his family’s true heritage and his love for Rebecca a secret, Hans attempts to navigate this terrifying new world. He’s disconsolate when his Jewish mother is kicked out of the Berlin Conservatory. He’s disgusted by his Aryan father’s aims to acquire a Jewish business on the cheap.

Worst, he must watch helplessly as his classmates target Rebecca with increasing violence and malice.

But when his school announces it will expel Jewish students, Hans is determined to fight for Rebecca — and the lives and souls of his family.

“…[a] beautifully written historical debut explores themes of identity and resistance…their gripping stories will stick with readers long after the last page.” –BookLife Reviews – Editors Choice

“A mesmerizing novel, moving and intelligent.”–Kirkus Reviews

This is the link for the Kirkus Review: Half Notes from Berlin.

My Thoughts:

I’m excited to share my thoughts about this story for two reasons:

  1. This is a first published story for Glants. I love to discover new authors. I love to read a first published story.
  2. This is a favorite genre.

I want to first share a few thoughts about the genre and the summary that’s been given. The book is presented as a historical fiction story, and the summary that’s given is brief or vague.

When I am browsing books there are several factors, I want to have clear information about. Half Notes from Berlin is a historical fiction story, but it is also young adult fiction and a coming-of-age story. Not all readers of historical fiction want to read those other two types of books. I happen to love all three genres.

I also enjoy having a strong summary to read. It is the summary that sets the tone as to what I can expect. It is a prompt and a teasing and a setting of the stage for the full story.

Kirkus Reviews gives a strong summary of the book, and you can read it at this link: Kirkus Reviews.

I have come to expect that when I read historical fiction there is almost always a reflecting back from the narrator of the story. Often there are dual time periods. This is a form or structure in a story that I dislike. I don’t mind reflecting back-what I don’t like is the back and forth, and back and forth between the dual time periods. I love it that Half Notes from Berlin stayed in the past (with brief thoughts from the man who is telling the story), AND it stayed in a short period of time, the spring of 1933. This pivotal and significant period of time in the life of a 15-year-old young man. It is during this time period that changed the course of his life.

One of the best points of this story is I felt engaged because of the main character, the 15-year-old young man named Hans. He is exactly how I’d imagine a young man of his age to be. In his interests, vulnerabilities, stubbornness, and rebellion. He has strengths and weaknesses. He has a vision of what his life is and what it can become. He is a lone child of parents who are at odds and unhappy. His parents do not work together as a team. As a result, his grandparents are a source of stability. Yet, all of the adults have failed to be honest with him.

Hans has a group of boys he hangs around with in school. He joins a youth choir with the help of a female classmate who is an assertive kind of girl.

Hitler’s influence and ideology has seeped or poured into the youth groups or movements of Germany. Hans is unsure of the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, he has a building interest in another girl in his class. He is drawn to her, I feel, because she is different. There is something remarkable about her. She is vulnerable; however, she is strong. She is a Jew. The growing hate and abuse escalate among the other classmates towards her.

The story has several inner and outer conflicts that pull me along because I have to know what will happen.

I am glad the story is over a period of several weeks in the spring of 1933. This gave time to examine closely the various events and impact of the people.

I wish the story had allowed Hans’ mother’s character to develop more. She is a character with much more going on in her mind and past life. There is a revealing of some things of her past, but I am left wanting to hear her voice-her thoughts.

[Review] The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945, Citizens and Soldiers by Nicholas Stargardt

Publisher and Publication Date: Basic Books. 2015.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. War literature. World War II.
Pages: 704.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library copy.
Audience: World War II history readers, especially those with an interest in civilians.
Rating: Excellent.

8 black and white maps.

52 black and white illustrations.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Author page at Goodreads for Nicholas Stargardt.

I recommend a previous book Nicholas Stargardt has written and I’ve read: Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis.

Summary:

In brief, The German War is a “social history” of the German people, both soldiers and civilians, during World War II.

The German War is a study of German men and women, boys and girls, who lived during pre-World War II, World War II, and post-World War II. It is a thorough exploration showing various points of views of the Nazis, Hitler, the war, and Allies.

Stargardt researched and worked on this book for over 20 years. He was privileged to read private archives and personal letters.

One of the questions he had upon starting this work is when did the German people know about “the murder of the Jews?” The answer is both shocking and disturbing.

Another question is how did they become swept up in believing Hitler was a savior of sorts?

My Thoughts:

It has been a few years ago that I was looking for books to read from the civilian perspective during World War II. I have read a lengthy list of Holocaust and World War II books, but few have been written with a focus on civilians.

I’m reminded of a personal story of my own. In 1999 and 2001, I traveled with family to several European countries. We traveled to several cities in Germany. During the trip, we ate dinner with a family my brother-in-law knew when he was stationed in Germany in the early 1960s. The family owned a pub. They treated him like a son. He has continued to keep in touch with the children (who are all in their senior years). The mother of the family had a tattoo of numbers on her arm. My brother-in-law never asked her about those numbers nor her personal story. Before our dinner together, my brother-in-law asked me and my parents (my dad a World War II veteran), not to bring up the war. And we did not. It was a great meal and visit, despite me not remembering much high school German, my brother-in-law speaks fluent German, and no one else in our party spoke the other’s language. He was the interpreter. Of course, I had many questions I wanted to ask.

It appears the don’t ask questions and the not talking about the war is widespread in that generation and the next. This is one of many things I learned in reading The German War.

The most shocking and disturbing concern is people do not learn from history. The same type of thought patterns and behavior continues on and on. I am referring to control of what is released in the media. I am not referring to one particular group, but this is widespread, and is also displayed on social media. People share what they want the public to know about them. They do not share everything. These things are often released at opportune times to make them look a certain way. Transparency is rare.
Before any of you get your panties in a ruffle, I am not referring necessarily to a political group, but religious, businesses, and individual peoples. I’m reminded of the Hollywood of the early days when press releases about actors were released strategically.

Another interesting thing I learned is the German people have been divided over who were the real victims during the war.

Other reasons why I believe The German War is excellent (I want to clarify, these are not positive as in feel good points, but bring an education for readers).

  1. A broad look at groups of people: Jews, Ethnic Germans, German soldiers, Jehovah Witnesses, Homosexuals, disabled people, children, Polish people, mixed marriages of race, Catholics, and Soviets.
  2. The disturbing, senseless, and barbaric methods of murder of the disabled adults and children.
  3. Large groups of Polish (both Jews and non-Jews) murdered by the Germans that were without “restrictions.”
  4. Food rationing among other factors faced by German civilians.
  5. Women who remained at home while their husbands or boyfriends were fighting.
  6. Rumors of poison gas that would be used by the Allies.
  7. Even in the 1920s, children were taught in German schools that, “France is a hereditary enemy and Hitler is their hero.”
  8. Catholic priests who spoke out against the Nazis.
  9. People’s trust is shown in their government, medical doctors, and those in authority.
  10. A list of countries and the total number of Jews murdered.
  11. Various forms of execution.
  12. Allied bombings of Germany.
  13. Civilian’s experiences during the raids.
  14. Post war Germany. The hunger and lack of food.
  15. Allied soldiers who asked the German people about the war and the limited to no response.

After I read the last page, and I closed the book, I continued to sit in my reading chair pondering what I’d read. I’ve used the word disturbing in this post several times, but it is the best word to describe. Other words are traumatic, visceral, shocking, and memorable.

My God, what humanity does to another.

[Review] Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley

Publisher and Publication Date: Pegasus Crime, an imprint of Pegasus Books, Ltd. Distributed by Simon and Schuster. September 6, 2022.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography.
Pages: 428 written pages. And 52 black and white illustrations.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of biographies. Fans of Agatha Christie. Readers of women in literature.
Rating: Excellent!

Link at the publisher for more information: Pegasus Crime.

Link at Amazon.

Link at Barnes and Noble.

Lucy Worsley Goodreads author page.

Website for Lucy Worsley/ Blog/ Facebook/ Twitter.

Summary:

Lucy Worsley expresses that Agatha Christie wanted people to have the impression she was an “ordinary” person, an “ordinary” woman. This is untrue. How can a woman who was born in the late Victorian era who rose above the culture and society of that day to become a successful author of mystery books be considered ordinary? Agatha Christie was a trail blazer in this genre. She was a trail blazer as far as her generation of women having a successful writing career.

Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman is a biography of the whole life of an amazing woman. It touches on every area of her life. It does not focus on one aspect. For example, her writing career.

Lucy Worsley is a historian and curator. She is knowledgeable about the research process. Her expertise is strongly noticed in this new work.

My Thoughts:

I have An Autobiography by Agatha Christie on Kindle but have not read it yet.

I have three other books, one a collection of her stories, all on Kindle.

I am currently reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

I’m planning to read as many of her mysteries/crime fiction as possible.

I’m a newbie to Agatha Christie. I knew very little about her personal life before reading Agatha Christie by Lucy Worsley. This is a good thing in that most of what I read is fresh. I consider this book a fresh perspective of the whole of Agatha Christie. This is the first reason why I love this book!

Additional reasons why I love this book:

  1. It does not leave me with an unfulfilled curiosity about parts of her life that was left untouched in the biography. What I mean is the bio takes in every area of her life as a person, wife, mother, daughter, writer, traveler, divorced woman, single mother, and career woman.
  2. I enjoyed reading about her work during WWI and WWII. She is quick to enlist in helping with the war effort and wounded.
  3. I enjoyed reading about her life as a child, especially the parenting roles of her parents, and their homelife.
  4. I enjoyed reading about her unique personality and character. Even as a child, there is something about her that stood out as unique and gifted.
  5. Worsley points out Christie’s prejudice opinions about domestic help and people of other races are common for that era. The reader should not be quick to dismiss her or judge her books based on our current history, society, culture, and beliefs.
  6. Worsely reminds me where most of the females of the early 20th century worked. In 1901, there are only 31.6% of females in Britain employed. Most of them worked in the textile and domestic areas. This book will not give a strong history lesson in females in the work force during Agatha Christie’s life. The statistic is given to share the standard in respect to her life. She was expected to marry and marry well. She was not expected to have a paid writing career.
  7. I enjoyed reading about the first serious relationship Agatha had with her first husband, Archie. World War I started to put a damper on their courting. However, they sped things up by a quick marriage in late 1914.
  8. I enjoyed reading about her crafting of the characters in her books. For example, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
  9. I love how Worsley included the writing and publishing of Christie’s books plus what was simultaneously going on in her personal life.
  10. I enjoyed reading about what Christie thought about her own writing, especially in regard to her contribution to the mystery literature world.
  11. The period of time in 1926 when Christie is missing. This period in time is a strength of the book. Worsley takes her time in piecing together the steps during Christie’s disappearance, as well as her return and her own remembrance. It was during this part of the book that I became so captivated I lost track of time.
  12. I read the book in two days!

[Review] D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose

Publisher and Publication Date: Crown Publishing. April 23, 2019.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. Resistance in France during World War II. Espionage. Women in literature.
Pages: 394. I counted every written page. From pages 289 to 394 is Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography, Index, and About the Author.
Format: Hardcover. Library binding.
Source: Public library.
Audience: World War II history readers, especially those with an interest in the Resistance work in France.
Rating: Very good.

Author page @ Goodreads for Sarah Rose.
Website/ Twitter.

Summary:

A character chart is located before the first chapter. The characters are Andrée Borrel, Lise de Baissac, Odette Sansom, Yvonne Rudellat, Mary Herbert, Francis Suttill, Gilbert Norman, Peter Churchill, Claude de Baissac. In addition, I noted other characters: Hélène Aron, Andre Girard, Major Karl Bömelburg, André Marsac, and Phyllis Latour.

Beginning in 1940, England recruited 39 women to train for various spy work in a new government agency called the Special Operations Executive or SOE. These women were recruited because most young men were busy in military service. These women were from all walks of life. They spoke French. They were all trained with knowledge and abilities to carry out specific spy and espionage work in France. Some examples of the work are radio operators and sabotage efforts.

The inside flap cover of the book mentions Sarah Rose used extensive research for the book, including “recent declassified files.”

Odette Sansom was recruited in 1942. Her story has been written about in other books I’ve read, and she is a defining character in D-Day Girls.

The book begins in 1942, and the climax will be during the D-Day invasion of Normandy beaches in France.

My Thoughts:

I’ve mentioned this before, but World War II history is one of my favorite subjects to read. It doesn’t matter if it’s nonfiction or fiction. I like all of them. I’ve read children to adult books in this subject.

The principal reason I love this genre is my dad was a veteran in World War II. He was a veteran of Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944.

I stood on that beach with dad and other family members in the fall of 1999. Dad reminisced about that event. It was then I realized his story was no longer a story told in bits and pieces at the dinner table. His story was real. Violent. Historical. Memorable.

Several reasons why I love D-Day Girls:

  1. There is no fluffy stuff in the book. What I mean is the book delivers exactly what the inside flap summarized about the book. The women involved in the SOE work in France in the two years before the D-Day invasion. Fluffy is added material in a book that creates a larger and longer work with information not necessarily pertaining to the main topic.
  2. No one character is in the spotlight. The work they all did as a whole is explored and studied and recreated for the reader.
  3. I’m amazed at the courage, bravery, ingenuity and savvy nature of all of them. Even one of the last characters in the book who is suggested as not that bright is a person of determination.
  4. I saw one of the most important traits of a spy, to be one step ahead of the enemy. To think and plan and be one step ahead of them.
  5. A baby is difficult to hide. In one person’s case it is a double blessing for them.
  6. D-Day Girls is a concise, panoramic view, and engaging read.