The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner (Historical Fiction)

Most of us are aware that Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the United States during World War II were put in internment camps. What many of us might not know is that German-Americans who were suspected of being Nazi sympathizers were also interred.

Elise Sontag and Mariko Inoue are fourteen-year-old Americans in 1943 when they and their families are sent to an internment camp in Texas. Although no one in Elise’s family is a Nazi sympathizer, her family is at risk of being repatriated to Germany, where her parents were born. Likewise, while Mariko was born in the United States, she and her family may also be repatriated to Japan in exchange for American prisoners of war.

Needless to say, their lives are no longer those of carefree American teenagers. Still, as they become best friends, they share their dreams and make plans for their future. And then they are torn apart.

Now, sixty-seven years later, Elise is determined to reconnect with her old friend.

This book just kept getting better and better. The richness of Meissner’s writing drew me in, and the need to know how things turned out kept me reading late into the night. The ending was satisfying while being neither pat nor unrealistic. Meissner (As Bright As Heaven; A Bridge Across the Ocean) creates characters I want to know more about and reveals historical information that is fascinating. I always learn from her books while becoming absorbed in places and times I might not experience otherwise.

Five Stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher with a request for an honest review.

The Last Year of the War will be released on March 19, 2019 and is available for pre-order.

 

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The Suspect

The Suspect

The Suspect by Fiona Barton (Psychological Thriller)

Fiona Barton (The Child) has written another intriguing psychological thriller that’s hard to put down.

Two teen-aged British girls disappear while on a post-graduation trip to Thailand. Newspaper reporter Kate Waters takes an interest in learning more after meeting the girls’ parents. Kate’s own son is on a gap-year trip, and she can relate to a mother’s worry, especially when the travelers do a poor job of keeping in touch. Little does she realize how personal her interest will become once she travels to Thailand to flesh out her story.

Three characters narrate the novel in alternating chapters — one of the missing girls, Kate, and Detective Inspector Bob Sparke of the London police. Through their eyes we experience the seedy side of Bangkok, the angst of parents waiting for news they may not want to hear, and the damage that dogged commitment to career can wreak on families. Interesting twists keep the ending from being predictable even though one must wonder at the coincidence that brings all of the characters together in the first place. Barton’s enjoyable writing style keeps it all moving along, creating a book that’s likely to keep you reading later into the night than you may have intended.

Four and a half stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Suspect will be released on January 24, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

The Au Pair

The Au Pair

The Au Pair by Emma Rous (Psychological Suspense)

If you enjoy books that keep you guessing right up to an ending you never saw coming, this will be right up your alley.

Twenty-five-year-old Seraphine has always felt that she didn’t belong in her family. She doesn’t resemble her twin brother or her older brother. When she finds a family photo of the day she and her twin were born, their mother is holding only one baby. And shortly after that photo was taken, their mother committed suicide.

Seraphine’s father has died, and her wealthy, strong-willed grandmother refuses to talk about the day Seraphine’s mother fell to her death. The one person who may have answers is her older brother’s former au pair, Laura. But when Seraphine sets out to find her, everything becomes even darker and more complicated.

The tale unravels in chapters alternately voiced by Seraphine and Laura, with Seraphine documenting the present, and Laura revealing the past. The characters and the location, a seaside mansion on the English coast, come alive.  Although a couple of coincidences felt too convenient, the overall resolution was complex and unforeseeable, making for a satisfying ending.

Four and a half stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Au Pair will be released on January 8, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

Girls on the Line

Girls on the Line

Girls on the Line by Aimie K. Runyan (Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction)

Good historical fiction informs as well as entertains. Girls on the Line does a great job of both as it takes us into the lives of young women who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I.

While books about World War II abound, not a lot of present-day fiction is set during the Great War. As the author notes, modern-day Europeans are much more aware of the first world war than Americans are. But 100 years ago, Americans — both men and women — were deployed to Europe to fight “the Hun.” Among those individuals were female switchboard operators who volunteered to serve on the front lines connecting the troops with their commanding officers via telephone.

Runyan has done a lot of research, including reading the diaries of women who served in the signal corps. Her story is rich with details as well as nicely developed characters whose fates we become invested in. We see independent young women struggle with the misogyny and paternalism of the era, including the arranged marriages common among high-society families, and we witness the deplorable lack of recognition for the heroism of the “Hello Girls” as the operators were called, when the war ends.

Five stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of an independent review.

Girls on the Line will be released on November 6, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

 

The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman (Historical Fiction)

Another World War II novel, this one set in Springfield, Massachusetts, at the Springfield Armory. The author grew up in the area and has done a thorough job of researching the armory’s history and physical setting. She has read all of the old armory newsletters,  knows how the officers and their families lived, and understands how work in the munitions factories went. Still, I have a hard time thinking of this as historical fiction, for the story that is told could be set anywhere, any time. The armory and World War II simply provide an interesting (and currently popular) environment.

Two sisters have been estranged for most of their lives. Ruth, the serious one, has always resented her younger sister’s beauty and active social life. Everyone notices Millie; Ruth is invisible. They go their separate ways as adults, but then circumstances throw them back together when Millie shows up at Ruth’s door with a two-year-old and a husband who is MIA.

Ruth is happily married. Her husband is an officer stationed at the armory, and she has young twin daughters. Still, she is reserved and unsure of herself in social settings, and when Millie comes back into her life, old resentments flare. She relives every petty conflict and every perceived slight from their youth. Millie, meanwhile, is struggling to make ends meet and to take care of her child. She takes an armory job making triggers. But instead of endearing her to Ruth, their reversed social status only seems to make things worse. Ruth finds Millie a burden she must endure. Millie longs to get away from her bossy older sister.

The blurb for the novel refers to “deep secrets” that each sister carries, but they weren’t that deep nor were they a big surprise. There is some tension, a fleeting moment or two of danger, but any dangerous situations are quickly resolved. In short, there’s not a lot of new stuff here. As for the era, other than some name-dropping and a rare reference to a restaurant or club where Jews are not allowed, we’re not overly aware of the times. The war doesn’t really influence our protagonists’ daily lives beyond the fact that the armory makes arms and there’s a shortage of sensible shoes. The working class goes to work, and the haughty officers’ wives could be high society matrons anywhere.

Three stars.

This reviewer received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book will be released on January 22, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

Not Her Daughter

Not Her Daughter

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey (Thriller)

Is kidnapping a child okay if you feel you will give her a better life?

Emma is a five-year-old whose mother mistreats her, both verbally and physically. This breaks the heart of single, childless Sarah who has never fully recovered from being abandoned by her own mother. So, she does the unthinkable: she kidnaps the kid and heads out of town with her. Once they’re on the road, it’s too late to turn back. What now?

The story is told from the points of view of both Sarah and Amy, Emma’s mother. Amy is a thoroughly unlikable person drawn with a heavy hand. She is grossly overweight, has pock-marked skin, and possesses no self-control. Deep anger toward everything and everyone in her life consumes her. She’s a lousy wife to Richard, who is small, scrawny, and prone to tears. He’s also oblivious to the bruises on his daughter. These two certainly don’t deserve to have a child, especially Emma, who is an exceptionally beautiful little girl with huge gray eyes and a sweet smile.

Sarah, meanwhile, is attractive, successful, and rich — a self-made businesswoman. Her father is pretty much of a weakling, still waiting for his incommunicado wife to come back after twenty-five years, but the other men in Sarah’s life — Ethan and Ryan — are hunks. However, she longs for her own mother, and so she needs to save Emma the way she wishes someone had saved her.

Besides creating unappealing — and thereby undeserving — characters via significant reference to their physical appearance, this book is rife with crummy mothers. Sarah, on the other hand, in spite of the fact that she takes a five-year-old from her home and family, is meant to be a better bet than any of the parents we’ve seen so far. So, how could Emma not be better off?

More than once — three times to be exact — the author had one of the narrators tell herself that what was happening was real, not something in a movie or a book. Besides jolting me out of the story to think, “except this is a book,” the line served as a reminder of how unrealistic this was. The happy-go-lucky conclusion made it even worse.

Rather than a thriller, this was a fantasy.

Three stars for writing style but not storyline.

The reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

 

Blood & Water

Blood&Water

Blood & Water by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Once again Katie O’Rourke (Finding Charlie) has filled a book with real people, this time a single dad, the estranged younger sister who suddenly shows up in his life, a young wife struggling with multi-generational family issues, and a seemingly mismatched couple — he’s an adventure-loving motorcyclist and she’s confined to a wheelchair. All are connected in some way, and each has a story to tell, but their stories aren’t always what we think they will be.

O’Rourke has a talent for putting believable characters in real-life situations. They see things through their own lenses, make regrettable mistakes, have knee-jerk reactions, and are plagued by self-doubt. Family relationships, past or present, may not be the best, but nothing is cliched. People remain unpredictable, and what you believe is going to happen may be way off base.

This is a well-rounded story told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters, each revealing new facets of that specific narrator’s life as well as the lives and backstories of the other characters. O’Rourke’s references to current politics give the book a sense of timeliness without being overdone or distracting. We believe this is her best yet and look forward to more.

Grandma gives Blood & Water four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author with a request for an honest review.