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City of Women by David R. Gillham

I loved this novel of Berlin during World War II.  David Gillham does a great job portraying the lives of women in 1943 Berlin.  The main character, Sigrid Schröder, is the wife of German soldier, who works an office job and lives with her mother-in-law in an apartment building.  Around her are various personalities, from a young woman who helps Jews and other targeted people escape Germany, a Jew in hiding, and another who is half Jewish pretending he is not.  Bombs are falling from the skies, but even your neighbors can be dangerous.

This novel is full of twists and turns, and makes for a wonderful thriller.  It is also thought provoking.   What would you have done in Sigrid’s place?  Excellent read!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
392 pages

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The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

Oh boy!  A few short weeks after I finished the sequel to The Passage, Ballantine Books kindly sent me the third part of this gripping trilogy.  From the moment I opened the first page, I was checked out of my life.  Leave me alone kids, mommy’s reading!  What?  You need some laundry?  Wear something dirty, because dogs and people are missing, and you just know the virals are coming back. There’s no way I’m stepping away from this book right now!

This is one of those books that you really don’t want to put down.  So send the family away, stock up on your groceries and turn off your cellphone.  And prepare to do a marathon weekend session.  It’s that good!  You can land your own copy of The City of Mirrors when it hits the shelves of your favorite bookseller May 24, 2016.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2016
599 pages

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The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles

I’m on a mission to find a novel with a Latin American setting that I can actually enjoy.  I carefully do the research, pick up books with great ratings, only to slam them down in disappointment.  I was very hopeful when I started this book.

The novel takes place in Brazil during the 1920’s, where two sisters (both seamstresses), end up living lives that could not be more polar opposite of each other.  Luzia dos Santos, escapes the mountainside by marrying a young legal scholar from a fine family in the city.  Older sister Emilia is kidnapped by a band of cangaceiros, who are outlaw vigilantes, seeking to even the score between the wealthy landowners and the poor who must work for them.  Emilia is a kind of good luck charm or talisman to this band of men, but she later marries the leader of the group, and becomes infamous throughout  the area.

The author is a beautiful writer, carefully researching and presenting a Brazil on the verge of cultural and political upheaval.  It was by far the best Latin American novel I’ve read to date.  Did it dispel my bias against subjects that take place south of the United States?  Not entirely, but it was certainly no fault of the author.  She is an excellent writer and this was a fine example of good historical fiction.   I think it must be some ideosyncrasy of mine.  So please don’t let it deter you from reading this novel, especially if you think you’d enjoy learning about Brazilian history.

4 stars (out of 4)
Published in 2008
646 pages

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A Higher Call by Adam Makos

When Adam Makos was a kid, he was fascinated with World War II stories.  He especially loved the stories of American pilots and eventually he made it his mission to interview as many of these brave men as he could to preserve their stories for the rest of us.  You can imagine how much he looked forward to interviewing Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown, whose heroics included flying a nearly destroyed B-17 bomber out of heavily defended German territory all the way back to Britain.  When he sat down to talk to Mr. Brown, Charlie told him he wouldn’t do the interview until the author first interviewed German fighter pilot Franz Stiegler for his side of the story regarding that same B-17 bomber.  The author admits he was taken aback, because he was never interested in hearing “the enemy’s” story.  But he really wanted Charlie’s story, so he sought out Franz Stiegler.  This book is the culmination of the interviews of both men.  Their story is not just one of heroics or duty. Their story is one that stands higher than that – it is about preserving humanity in the midst of war.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  The stories of both of these men is important and heartwarming and it will make you cry.  But I think you will find, like I did, that it is a fantastic story that can change your perspective on war.  And while most of us aren’t on one side of a violent conflict, the idea that our value lies in our humanity, is one we can employ in our daily lives.   Wonderful book!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
392 pages

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Only Call Us Faithful by Marie Jakober

Only Call Us Faithful

This book was recommended by one of my Goodreads friends, and it’s a perfect example of why I appreciate the site so much.  Despite it’s limited number of reviews, Only Call Us Faithful is definitely a five star read.

Historical fiction, set during the U.S. Civil War, Marie Jakober pens the tale of Union sympathizer Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond resident who helped Union prisoners and spied for the North.

Not only is this novel extremely well-written and researched, but I greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear the greater story of this amazing woman of whom I had recently read about in Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott.

Fantastic novel!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2002
381 pages

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Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Harvest is a work of historical fiction, it’s English setting highlighting the effects of post-isolationism following the Enclosure Act of 1773.  An agrarian village, with families dwelling there for centuries, finds itself in upheaval as its lands are to be parceled, a new master is moving in, and strangers suddenly appear in the local forest. Fear and violence ensue, amid Crace’s beautiful metaphors and images.

The novel was a slow read for me, not only for the haunting language, but because Crace crafted a book heavy on symbolism and light on engaging characters.  The story line was a good one, but without the pull of sympathy, wasn’t enough to draw me in.  Lastly, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of a lecture here and it rubbed me the wrong way.  I’m sure there are no end of reviewers claiming modern metaphors with Black Lives Matter, Immigration or other “different” social groups such as the LGBT crowd.  Maybe you will relish the chance to wave that flag of modern political correctness, but I find it tiring.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
243 pages

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