Trying to catch up on reviews, these are three wonderful historical fiction books that I enjoyed. I definitely recommend all of these to those who enjoy this genre. They travel from WW1 to WW2 and to 1960 North Carolina, all imparting me with knowledge of times and events that I did not know enough about.
Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman
Published October 26th 2021 by MIRA
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
It’s the summer of 1914 and sisters, Elise and Ruth are living under the expectations of their roles put upon them by their father. Elise loves working on her father’s cars and is realizing that she likes women, while Ruth wants to be a doctor, but her father has vetoed that and she is training to be nurse. When Europe enters a brutal war, this is the opportunity they are looking for. They volunteer for the war effort, Ruth as a nurse, Elise as an ambulance driver. The sisters are stationed at a field hospital in Ypres, Belgium where they get a crash course in battlefield medicine. Ruth takes advantage of the situation where doctors are in short supply and begins training under the doctor she is stationed with, providing medical services that nurses do not normally do. Elise, an accomplished mechanic, finds purpose and an unexpected kinship within the all-female Ambulance Corps. As the war rages, both sisters suffer ups and downs, both find people to love and enjoy and relish an independence rarely granted to women.
I have not read a lot about WWI, and definitely nothing set at the front. This is not an easy story to read, especially when reading about medical treatment in 1914 and during the rest of the war. The lack of current medical knowledge and antibiotics shows us how lucky we are with the medical advances of today. Both sisters are strong and resilient. They adjust to the horror of war, and seize the opportunities to realize their dreams. They make friends and both find someone they want to spend their lives with, but that is not the major storyline. It is a story of women and the important roles they played during WWI. Despite the restrictions placed on women at the time, they persevered and followed their dreams. The bonds of friendship they forged at the hospitals cannot be broken by war. I enjoyed seeing what happened to Elise, Ruth, John and Hera. The story is told from both Ruth’s and Elise’s POV, but Ruth’s parts take up more of the story and are more detailed, however I enjoyed both. This story has many themes including the horrors of WWI, feminist issues, persevering, friendship, love and an LGBT relationship all through the eyes of two American sisters. I definitely recommend this story.
Auschwitz Lullaby: A Novel by Mario Escobar, Hayley Cresswell (Narrator)
Published August 7th 2018 by Thomas Nelson on Brilliance Audio
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
In 1943 Germany, Hitler’s Nazis are not just rounding up Jewish people, but Gypsies as well. Helene Hannemann is a German, a perfect Aryan, but she is married to a gypsy and when the police show up at her door, they want to take her husband and their five children to a work camp. Helene does not have to go, but she won’t leave her children. The entire family is deported to Auschwitz, with her husband being sent to the men’s camp, Helene and her children remaining together in a barracks, first with Russians women who treat her badly, then moved to a barracks with Polish women and children. A few days later, Doctor Mengele visits her and offers her a position to head up a nursery/school. Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one a nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old are set up and equipped with school supplies, play things, heat and extra food. Helene, two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organize the buildings and staff them. For a few hours a day, the children escape the crowded, cold and unsafe conditions. For sixteen months, Helene lives with this reality, desperately trying to find a way to save her children. Auschwitz Lullaby is a story of perseverance, hope, and strength in one of the most horrific times in history.
I have read many books set during WWII, but this was one of the most heart-wrenching stories I read, made even worse by the fact that it is based on a true story. Helene was an amazing person. The love, bravery, strength, perseverance, hope and uplifting personality under such terrible situations was amazing. Above all else, she was a mother. She was determined to save as many children in the camp that she could. Mario Escobar did a lot of research to make this book as realistic as possible, which means it was not an easy read. The story was well written and paced and had me constantly reaching for tissues. Dr. Mengele was evil personified, yet tried to appear different. The ending has me a sobbing mess, so just a heads up. It is important that you read the author’s notes as it shares his inspiration (Helene) as well as the innumerable gypsies that were killed. He challenges us: “It’s up to you, dear reader, and your love for truth and justice. Help me to tell the world the story of Helene Hannemann and her five children.” One thing I like about Historical Fiction is that I often learn about things that have happened that I did not know about before, in this book it was the plight of the Romany people as well as Helene’s story. I have to mention the dedication in this book: “To the more than twenty thousand ethnic Gypsies who were imprisoned and exterminated in Auschwitz and to the quarter million murdered in the forests and ditches of Northern Europe and Russia.” Something to think about.
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
Published October 7th 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Necessary Lies is a book from the bag (Susan at Susan Loves Books) that I picked up two years ago on my visit back in 2019, but I finally read it! I can’t believe I waited so long.
Necessary Lies is set in 1960. Social worker Jane Forrester is new to Grace County and is just beginning to realize how much help is needed. Jane finds it hard to remain detached and not become emotionally invested in her client’s lives. Fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart lives with her grandmother, her sister and her nephew in a shack on a small tobacco farm in rural Grace County, North Carolina. She is struggling to take care of her family. Her grandmother is getting older and is diabetic, her sister has mental health issues, her nephew is often in danger due to lack of supervision and she has epilepsy. Jane is their new social worker and takes over after the paperwork for sterilize Ivy is already prepared. She doesn’t believe it should go forward. While dealing with her struggles at her new job, she is also dealing with a new husband who doesn’t want his wife to work. Things begin to get out of hand and Jane has some serious decisions to make.
The book flows so well and is told in alternating first person perspectives, between Ivy and Jane. Both of these characters were amazing, strong and with definite ideas. Ivy’s family was so vulnerable, as often happened with farm workers and freed African Americans. This book was well written, paced and extremely emotional. Diane Chamberlain finds things in history that are not well known, but should be. This story highlights the Eugenics program in North Carolina that was carried out for many years sanctioned by social services and various government programs. I knew what a Eugenics Program was about, but did not know they were carried out in the not so distant past in the US. This program sterilized over 7,000 citizens in North Carolina between 1929 and 1975. Reasons for sterilization ranged from “feeble mindedness” to epilepsy to promiscuity of individuals living on welfare (to avoid welfare having to pay once future babies were born). The government viewed the sterilization process as “for the public good”. As in this book, many of those sterilized were minors who had the permanent operation without being made aware of what was happening. Jane and Ivy were heroes and I have to say, I was happy about the ending to this book.