My goal was to read five WWII books and I read … five WWII books. I know. I’m astounded as well.
In all seriousness, I really enjoyed this challenge; it was my first reading challenge in general and I picked a great one to get started on what I suspect might become an addiction. Watching all the reviews come in on War Through The Generations added to my TBR pile. Keeping up with all that must have been a challenge on the part of the blog owner and I appreciated it.
On to the books!
Past and Present:
Two books I read fall into the “past influences the present” category.
I have a longer review here, but I really enjoyed how Mal Peet wove this tale of past betrayals and damage from the war into a present-day coming of age story. It’s an important reminder that war doesn’t just end.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
While I enjoyed this book, of the five, it was my least favorite. There were parts I really liked. The history was riveting. I knew a bit about the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, but not a whole lot, and not about the Vél’ d’Hiv’ in particular.
Like other reviewers, I found the modern-day portion of the story not quite as satisfying. Or rather, there were parts I thought added to the story and parts that left me less interested. When the story focused on Julia’s quest to find out how her in-laws were connected to the Sarah of the title and the repercussions of that, I felt the modern portion really hit its stride. I especially liked the growing understanding between Julia and her previously remote father-in-law despite her crumbling marriage to his son.
The ending, to me, felt removed, divorced from the story, although I don’t think the author meant it to be. I recommend this one with reservations.
Can you keep a secret:
Normally the setup where the protagonist is “living a lie” is one that is a challenge for me. It’s probably why I don’t like a lot of romantic comedies. I find the motivation for the lie silly or unnecessary. Wouldn’t it be easier to tell the truth? Yeah, I know, that would mean a fifteen minute movie, which wouldn’t exactly work.
When done well (as with the two books below), I’m So. Freaking. Tense. I can barely stand it.
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
I loved this book. I loved it so much, I nominated it for this year’s Cybils Awards. Not only is it an entertaining read, it packs in an incredible amount of information, not only about the WASP program, but life in the south and the military for African Americans during the 1940s. It would make an excellent book for a middle grade/high school classroom.
I adored Ida Mae. While Sherri Smith builds an excellent case for her to pass as white and join the WASP program (the only way she can join is to pass for white), as a former Army vet, she didn’t really need to convince me. Go Ida Mae!
I found myself grinning during the training scenes, and at the reactions of the civilian women to the flygirls (all women associated with the military must be “loose,” don’t you know). Some things simply don’t change.
All in all, an excellent read. I highly recommend it.
Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
In this novel, Ruby, both tough and naïve, faces the challenge of providing for her family when her mother can no longer work due to rheumatoid arthritis. Choices are limited for a sixteen-year-old Polish-American girl in 1941. She’s tempted away from her job in the meatpacking plant (wonderfully and nastily described–I don’t blame Ruby) by the local bad boy heart throb.
She finds herself working as a taxi dancer, keeping five cents for every ten-cent dance, although she tells her mother she has found work as a night-shift telephone operator. Ruby gradually learns to “fish,” and gets a lot more than five cents for her efforts.
This is a downward spiral story, and it’s a hard fall for Ruby. Even so, Christine Fletcher had me cheering Ruby’s small victories, even the ones I knew would come back to bite her in the rear end.
It’s also a fairly gritty look at an era we tend to romanticize: organized crime, blatant racism, limited opportunity. It’s all there.
In the end, tough little Ruby saves herself. It might not be a rose petal happily ever after, but I found the end of her story totally satisfying.
I recommend this one, especially for writers. Not only is there the overall story arc to provide tension (oh, ow, ow, yes, it killed me), but Christine Fletcher has mastered the art of what Donald Maass calls micro-tension–that tension on every page that keeps people reading.
Squee-filled fan-girly love:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This is a novel told in epistolary form, a series of letters between author Juliet Ashton, her publisher, and the inhabitants the channel island of Guernsey.
I knew next to nothing about the German occupation of Guernsey, and in that respect, this novel illuminates a great deal about that. But beyond that, it’s a bibliophile’s book, it’s a charming book, and I’m not going to attempt any type of review because I have massive fan-girly love for it.
Seriously, if I had to pick a favorite book read for 2009, it’s this one. Additionally, the audio book is doubly excellent, the actors for the various characters pitch-perfect.
Highly recommended, if you haven’t already guessed.