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.


The Last Train

The Last Train

The Last Train by Michael Pronko (Thriller/Mystery)

Michael Pronko writes mysteries set in Tokyo, making this book not only a fast-paced thriller but a close look at a city where holy temples rub shoulders with hostess clubs and high-speed trains provide a means for homicide.

Hiroshi Shimitzu is a Tokyo police detective who normally deals with white collar crime, but because he speaks English well, he is pulled into the investigation of an American businessman’s death by train. Insider trading, high-stakes real estate deals, and a mysterious ex-hostess give Hiroshi and his fellow detectives plenty to contemplate as they race against time to capture the murderer. In a unique twist for the average mystery, we already know who the killer is. What remains to be learned is why she did it and will she get away with it?

Novels with a strong, well-drawn sense of place rate highly with me, especially when they provide insights into an unfamiliar culture (Dew Angels, Hillstation, The Brazilian Husband, Savaged Lands). This book is no exception. Pronko takes us deep into Tokyo nightlife as well as giving us glimpses of the holy shrines, religious practices, and food traditions that are an integral part of daily life. We meet everyday people, teen-aged call girls, hard-boiled corporate executives, and ex-sumo wrestlers. At the same time, he creates well-developed characters who keep the reader’s interest.

Grandma gives The Last Train four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

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

Star Sand

Star Sand

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers (General Fiction, Historical)

In 1941, a teen-aged Japanese-American girl from California travels to Japan with her father. When he joins the Japanese war effort, she moves to a small village on a remote Japanese island to live with her aunt. By April of 1945, when the majority of this story takes place, the aunt has died and the girl, now seventeen, is living alone. By chance, she discovers an oceanside cave occupied by two deserters from the war, one American and one Japanese. They cannot understand each other’s language, but they both wish to co-exist in peace. The girl, Hiromi, speaks both English and Japanese and becomes their interpreter and benefactor, risking her life to bring them food and medicine. Then, one day, a wounded Japanese soldier joins them in the cave. He considers all three to be enemies of Japan and threatens their safety and survival.

The story then fast-forwards to the report of a 1958 American Marine Corps Survey Team that discovered the cave and its contents, which include Hiromi’s diary and the skeletal remains of three people. Fast-forward again to 2011, when a college student working on a research paper questions the validity of the diary and the identities of those who died in the cave. She goes on to solve the mystery in short order.

This book had great promise, but the conclusion was a disappointment. The story of Hiromi and the two deserters provided a unique perspective on World War II, showing everyday people who just wanted to live their lives and do the right thing. However, the final twenty percent of the book felt as though the author had tired of the whole thing and decided to wrap it up as quickly and easily as possible. He introduces a student we’ve never seen before and don’t get to know at all, who gives a quick narration of how she neatly determines who actually died in the cave. What could have been an intriguing bit of sleuthing with something extra thrown in — a startling revelation or heart-wrenching detail — becomes a question answered with little time for the reader to speculate about what might have happened.

I at least wanted some significance for the hundreds of little milk bottles Hiromi filled with star sand on the beach in 1945. I was pretty sure each little milk bottle of sparkling star-shaped fossils was meant to commemorate an innocent Japanese child who became a victim of the war. Instead, filling the little bottles collected by a school teacher and given to Hiromi apparently had no meaning, except to provide a reason for her to visit the beach and find the cave. I wanted more.

Grandma gives Star Sand three stars. 3 stars