Friday, February 28, 2020

Resistance Women, historical fiction about real life heroines in WWII Germany

Title: Resistance Women
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2020 (originally published 2019)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, a historical novel that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of an era and brings to life one courageous, passionate American—Mildred Fish Harnack—and her circle of women friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin.

After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.  As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.

For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.  Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

My Impressions: Everyone who knows me is familiar with my love of books set during World War II and, in particular, the work done by women in times of war. Most of the WWII books I read are set in England or France so it is always refreshing to read one with a different setting. This provided a vivid look at Germany just before and during the war, featuring four brave and strong women, three historical and one fictional, who try to fight Hitler from within. I had read a little about Martha Dodd, daughter of the US Ambassador, and here she comes across as frivolous and reckless, rather than charming. However, I did like the other characters, American Mildred who married a German and never seems to have seriously thought of abandoning him and returning home; Greta, who studied in Wisconsin, and loved the intellectual companionship of university life, but can barely scrape together a living as a writer when she returns to Germany; and Sara (not a real character like the others), who starts out as Mildred’s student and as a Jew is the most vulnerable as the Nazis rise to power. Together with the men in their lives, they undertake dangerous espionage to bring Hitler down, aware that the Gestapo is watching them.

I was unfamiliar with Mildred’s story but interested to read that her husband came to the United States on a Rockefeller Fellowship just as my grandfather did in 1928. Unlike Arvid Harnack, he did not return to his native Hungary (if he had, I wouldn’t be here!). The book also reminded me of The Women in the Castle which also provided a different perspective on Nazi Germany but this provided more detail on how these women actually spent their days and was even darker. Although at times it was hard to keep the characters straight and the vast amount detail about their everyday lives prevented me from feeling engaged with the actual character, it was worth reading just to learn about Mildred Harnack, and I enjoyed the depiction of intellectual German society before it was brutally ended.

Favorite Quote: "This could never happen in America.  A nation that elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt would never elect a madman populist."

Off the Blog: It’s coronavirus 24/7 and I hope for everyone’s sake it can be contained. Selfishly, I also hope it doesn’t ruin my forthcoming trip to France which got postponed from last year when my mother broke her pelvis.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. Please visit other stops on the tour below:

Wednesday, February 5th: Instagram: @allthebooksandchocolate
Thursday, February 6th: Orange County Readers
Monday, February 10th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Wednesday, February 12th: Instagram: @myreadingchronicles
Friday, February 14th: Booked J
Sunday, February 16th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie
Tuesday, February 18th: Really Into This
Wednesday, February 19th: Book by Book
Thursday, February 20th: Jathan & Heather
Friday, February 21st: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, February 24th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Tuesday, February 25th: Blunt Scissors Book Reviews
Wednesday, February 26th: Instagram: @barkingaboutbooks
Thursday, February 27th: Instagram: @rendezvous_with_reading
Friday, February 28th: Instagram: @sarahandherbookshelves
Tuesday, March 3rd: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, March 6th: A Chick Who Reads
TBD: Tuesday, February 11th: Books and Bindings

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Bromance Book Club, in which some macho athletes use romance novels to improve their real-life relationships

Title: The Bromance Book Club
Author: Lyssa Kay Adams
Publication: Berkley, Trade Paperback, 2019
Genre: Romance
Plot: Pro baseball player Gavin Scott has a beautiful wife, Thea, and three-year-old twins, and what he thinks is a perfect life until he learns his wife has been faking orgasms since their marriage.  Hurt and ashamed, he moves out and Thea asks for a divorce.  Drinking himself to oblivion in a motel, Gavin is visited by his best friend Del and several other athletes and Nashville notables who urge him to join their secret group, which uses romance novels to improve their ability to understand and please the women in their lives.  Gavin is skeptical but has no better options, reluctantly accepting a pile of romance novels, including Courting the Countess, a regency historical that has some parallels with his situation.  Under the tutelage of this ramshackle group, he persuades Thea to let him move back in for one month, with the goal of winning her back.  During this time, he will try to show he understands her needs, convince her of his love, and cope with those who don’t want Gavin and Thea to have a HEA . . .

My Impressions: I don’t remember who recommended this book to me but I usually enjoy contemporary romance with a sports theme and found this entertaining and often amusing, if not quite as charming as I had hoped. While the source of Gavin and Thea’s problem is meant to be funny, their real issue is that they married quickly when Thea was pregnant, and the lifestyle/absences of a professional athlete put a strain on their marriage while they were still developing their relationship.   Now they have to decide if they want to work through their problems or just bail.

Thea and her sister Liv both have a lot of baggage from their parents’ unhappy marriage and divorce.  Their father is about to remarry someone close to them in age and their mother’s bitterness has rebounded on her daughters.  Gavin also (although this is less convincing, given that he is a handsome, talented athlete) has struggled to believe he could find a loving relationship.   The premise of the story is that until they can share their feelings and their troubled pasts, there cannot be a true meeting of the minds.  Thea also has a lot of resentment that Gavin’s job takes him away from home a lot and she dropped out of college after their marriage (not sure why as they can certainly afford a babysitter if she wanted to continue her studies either full or part-time).   Although Gavin’s attempts to woo her are sometimes poignant and sometimes funny – as when he takes her on a date to a craft warehouse to show he understands her interests, and his buddies stalk them in disguise), it takes Thea going to her father’s wedding to understand some truths about her own marriage, not to mention a grand gesture from Gavin to work everything out. I definitely enjoyed this enough to read the second book about Thea’s sister!
Harvard freshman Chris Ledlum (4) has been the Ivy League
Rookie-of-the-Week five times
Off the Blog: It was a busy basketball weekend with two “eyelash wins” by the Crimson over Princeton (61-60)and Penn (69-65), and a disappointing double OT loss by the University of Chicago to Brandeis (cheering for a family friend).  I managed to squeeze in a few hours at our VITA tax site as well.

Source: Library

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Deep State, a White House thriller in which a young woman investigates a conspiracy against the President

Title: Deep State
Author: Chris Hauty 
Publication: Simon & Schuster, hardcover, January 2020
Genre: Suspense

Plot: Hayley Chill, who joined the military to get out of West Virginia yet sends most of her salary home to her family, is now beginning an internship at the White House.  Driven and patriotic, she is more mature than the college students with whom she is sharing projects and distinguishes herself from the beginning.  First, she helps bring down a trespasser on White House grounds and then when a jealous colleague tries to sabotage her work, she saves her boss from embarrassment and impresses him and the President.  However, when her boss dies suddenly, Hayley is the only one who wonders if it was more than a natural death.  Soon, she has uncovered a conspiracy that threatens the President, and anyone – such as Hayley – who gets in the way, in a thriller that seems realistic enough to be true . . .  

My Impressions: I had read a great review of this book so put it on my 2020 list, and I enjoyed it enough to keep reading until I finished it at 3 am.  The plot could be pulled from current headlines, and Hayley is an entertaining heroine because she is intrepid, confident, resourceful, and is not ashamed of being from small-town West Virginia.   Hayley is not as cartoon-hero invincible as Jane Hawk, in the Dean Koontz series I recently enjoyed, although she seems to triumph almost effortlessly.  Fans of David Baldacci will enjoy the political overtones, the intricate plotting, and the pursuit scenes.  Deep State is not as compelling as books by David Baldacci, which often disarm the reader with humor, and I found one aspect of Hauty’s style quite annoying.  His omniscient narrator (for want of a better phrase) sometimes warns the reader of the unpleasant fate of certain characters in the future ("Ten years later she would become a televangelist and would defraud her followers of millions of dollars"). This is a mistake because it disrupts the narrative and jolts the reader out of an absorbing story. Better to keep us reading!

Off the Blog: It’s the annual New England Betsy-Tacy Halloween Party today, hosted by Judith in her beautiful Worcester home where every piece of furniture and bric-a-brac has a story. I am bringing spinach squares.
Source: Library copy

Monday, February 10, 2020

Books I'm looking forward to in 2020

Historical Fiction

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel                                March 2020
This is the final novel in Mantel’s trilogy of historical novels about the life of Thomas Cromwell, and will cover the final four years of Cromwell’s life, starting with Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, and (spoiler!) moving to his own execution for treason and heresy in 1540.  And she'll be in Boston on March 20th!  Unfortunately, I know from a family member that she is quite unpleasant.
The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman                 March 2020
From the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Sharon Kay Penman comes the story of the reign of King Baldwin IV and the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s defense against Saladin’s famous army.  I have been a huge Penman fan since the summer I spent in DC, poor and only allowed to check out two books at a time by the library.  I bought The Sun in Splendor for $1 on the street and, entranced, made it last an entire week.  

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau                                                 January 2020
The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground; a historical thriller about corruption, class and dangerous obsession set in New York City and Coney Island.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner                            May 2020
Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen.

Fiction

We Wish You Luck by by Caroline Zancan                              January 2020
In Zancan’s second novel, a group of students at a low-residence MFA program band together to take revenge on a professor who has wronged one of their classmates.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano                                            January 2020
The story follows Edward, a child who is the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash and returns to the final minutes of the crash.
Weather by Jenny Offill                                                          February 2020
I am strangely attuned to librarian stories now!   This is about a librarian in New York assigned to answer the climate change mail and how it changes her life.  The title also refers to the prevailing atmosphere in the country, after the election of Trump, which happens around halfway through the book.

Suspense

Hid from Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming                       April 2020
Russ and Clare find themselves investigating two mysteries from the past - 1952 and 1972 – that are connected to a present day 911 call.  This is the ninth in one of my favorite series.
The Cutting Place by Jane Casey                   February 2020
In book 9 in the series, DS Maeve Kerrigan finds herself in an unfamiliar world of wealth, luxury and ruthless behavior when she and her partner Josh Derwent investigate the murder of a young journalist, Paige Hargreaves.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley                    February 2020               My review
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.  Soon one of them is dead.

Deep State by Chris Hauty                              January 2020                 My review
I started this last night!  After serving in the United States military, Hayley changes career paths and ends up working at the White House.  When the president’s Chief of Staff dies unexpectedly, Hayley is the only one who finds this suspicious and uncovers a conspiracy.


Romance

Headliners by Lucy Parker                              January 2020
My copy has finally arrived!  Sparks fly when two feuding TV presenters are thrown together to host a live morning show in Lucy Parker's latest enemies-to-lovers contemporary.  Check out this EW mention!
The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren                 March 2020
A romantic comedy about what happens when two assistants tasked with keeping their bosses’ rocky relationship from explosion start to feel sparks of their own.  This book was in high demand at ALA Midwinter and the S&S minions at the show would not give me a copy!  Having been a minion in my day, I could usually judge the real fans and would sneak them an ARC if they were nice to me.  

YA

Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett                                 April 2020 (delayed to November)
An ambitious teen returns to her hometown only to have her plans interrupted after falling for the town’s “bad boy”—a.k.a. her childhood best friend.

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski                           March 2020
Nirrim lives in a restrictive world where people of her low status follow grim rules, so she hides her secret and stays out of trouble.  But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away, who whispers rumors that the High Kith possess magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself.  I hope I like this as much as her Winner's trilogy.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord                                         January 2020
When Pepper and Jack find their family restaurants in competition for ownership of a legendary grilled cheese recipe, they become locked in a Twitter war, filled with snarky memes, that goes viral. But tweeting with the enemy shouldn’t be this fun. Will their online battle move to an IRL romance neither of them expected?

More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn                                May 2020
Growing up under his punk rocker dad’s spotlight, eighteen-year-old Luke Greenly knows fame and wants nothing to do with it.  He hides his musical talent but has another secret. He also has a major un-requited crush on music blogger, Vada Carsewell.

Children’s 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley          August 2020
A powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor.   This was the book I most hoped to find at ALA Midwinter and I was rewarded!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Second Midnight, historical fiction about an English boy's survival in Nazi Europe

Title: The Second Midnight
Author:  Andrew Taylor
Publication: Harper Collins, trade paperback, February 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: From a bestselling author comes a World War Two tale of one boy’s fight for survival in Nazi Europe

A secret mission . . .

1939. As Europe teeters on the brink of war, businessman Alfred Kendall is asked to carry out a minor mission for the British Intelligence Service. Traveling to Prague, he takes his troubled young son, Hugh, as cover.

A terrible choice . . .

When Hitler invades Czechoslovakia, Alfred is given an ultimatum by the Czech Resistance. They will arrange for him to return to England, but only if he leaves his son Hugh behind as collateral.

A young boy stranded in Nazi terrain . . .

Hugh is soon taken under the wing of a Nazi colonel – Helmuth Scholl. But even though Scholl treats Hugh well, his son, Heinz, is suspicious of this foreigner. And as the war across the continent intensifies, they are set on a path that will ultimately lead towards destruction. . .

My Impressions: Not long ago my mother told me she had read and enjoyed a book called The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor.   I don’t think she realized it was a sequel until after she had finished it but, once she realized, she told me to begin with the first book, The Ashes of London, which I did in December.  Set during the Great Fire of London in 17th century London, it is well-written and an atmospheric page-turner.  Thus, I was very pleased when TLC invited me to review The Second Midnight.
Most of the books I read about World War II feature a heroine so it was a change of pace for the main character of this book to be an adolescent boy.  Hugh is an interesting character: when we meet him he is 12 and has just been (unfairly?) expelled from boarding school. Traveling to Prague with his verbally and physically abusive father, Hugh is fascinated by his exposure to a different culture and soon is studying Czech and modern history.   This stands him in good stead when his father abandons him and this child has to scramble for survival.  How he manages to stay alive and end up working for a Nazi colonel, who is kinder than his own father, is a compelling story.  Hugh comes to love the colonel’s daughter Magda but war tears them apart.  I have just a couple more chapters to go to see how this will end.

This book was originally published in Britain in 1988 and has now been reissued to take advantage of Taylor’s strong UK sales on his Marwood-Lovett series and (doubtless) the crazy for WWII settings.  It is full of interesting characters, although some are very disagreeable indeed, particularly Hugh's siblings and father, while his mother was weak.

Purchase Links: Amazon * Barnes&Noble * IndieBoundHarperCollins

Off the Blog: Watching for Iowa Caucus results – glad my state has a primary!

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes.  Please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:

Wednesday, January 29th: Booked J
Thursday, January 30th: Helen’s Book Blog
Friday, January 31st: Really Into This
Monday, February 3rd: Instagram: @hooked.by.books
Wednesday, February 5th: Welcome to Nurse Bookie
Thursday, February 6th: Book by Book
Friday, February 7th: Instagram: @rendezvous_with_reading
Wednesday, February 12th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, February 13th: Laura’s Reviews
Friday, February 14th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom