Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Karolina's Twins-- The Secret of a Holocaust Survivor

Novels dealing with WWII have been extremely popular.  I think they have replaced Tudor themed books as the most published type of historical fiction.  When they focus on Holocaust themes, they are very emotionally intense.  Unfortunately, because of their intensity readers tend to burn out on them eventually.  So I predict that there will be another shift in the historical fiction market in the near future.

As someone whose family was severely impacted by the  WWII Holocaust, I actually avoided Holocaust themed novels for a long time.   I felt that they would be too painful for me to read.   I'm not sure what changed for me, but I started to read Holocaust fiction a few years ago.   At this point, I have begun to burn out.  I don't think that it's a good thing for anyone to read too much about genocide because it blunts the feelings of horror and outrage that should be the normal response to these events.  Yet I am still open to reading Holocaust novels that are unusual in their focus, or which educate me about an aspect of the WWII Holocaust that was previously unknown to me.

Karolina's Twins by Ronald Balson is a different sort of Holocaust novel. It is a contemporary/historical legal thriller.  It is also the third in a series dealing with the cases of private investigator Liam Taggart and lawyer Catherine Lockhart.  It centers on locating a pair of twins who have been missing since WWII.  I received a request to review this book through the publisher and downloaded it from Net Galley in return for this honest review.


I knew that the Jewish community in pre-WWII Poland located in the cities and larger towns was very different from that of my own shtetl ancestors.  A shtetl is a small insular village composed entirely of Jews.  They were isolated from the outside world, and had very little knowledge of Polish society.  Their way of life was eradicated by the Nazis.  The contemporary Haredi, who are more commonly known as Hasidim, have done their best to preserve it. Yet it's difficult to duplicate the culture of a rural village in an urban environment.

Lena Woodward, the fictional client in Karolina's Twins, came from a Polish town that still exists.  Her father was a tailor who was also a WWI hero. Due to his military background, he was highly regarded by local Poles.  The family was Polish speaking rather than Yiddish speaking, and was very much integrated into Polish society.  I had actually never read about Polish Jews who were so identified with Poland.  They reminded me of what I've read about German Jews.  So it didn't surprise me to learn that Lena's father had business and family ties in Berlin.  Through research I discovered a Jewish memorial website which stated that Jewish tailors who emigrated to Germany from Lena's town of  Chrzanow were an important factor in the establishment of the German clothing industry in the early 20th century.

Lena's story was told to Catherine Lockhart as part of the investigation in the present.  Normally, I would be very critical of a novel whose structure was so expository because it usually lacks immediacy.   Yet Lena's narrative contained dialogue and other characteristics of flashbacks that made it more engaging, and lent it dramatic power.  It allowed me to visualize events.  This is a key difference that made expository storytelling more successful in Karolina's Twins.
Ronald Balson also handled suspense very well.   The plot was organized so that both the investigation and Lena's account reached a climax at the same time.

Lena was a courageous woman who was willing to take risks that most people would consider unthinkable, but her circumstances called for bold action.   In the present, this Holocaust survivor retained her mental acuity and vitality.  Yet she had regrets which caused her to conceal a crucial aspect of her past.  It's  this secret that brings her into a painfully distressing legal conflict with her son.  It lies at the heart of the narrative. Catherine's empathy and consistent supportive attitude toward Lena eventually allows the truth to surface.

Catherine impressed me with her willingness to place her career in jeopardy out of loyalty to her client.  Although the danger to Catherine in the contemporary storyline wasn't equivalent to Lena's traumatic experiences, there were suspenseful elements.  Catherine had the mental toughness to rise to the occasion.   So this book had two strong female protagonists.  This makes Karolina's Twins a novel that I can recommend to the audience for this blog.


Oklahoma Dust Storms Will Blow You Away in I Will Send Rain @RaeMeadows

I Will Send RainI've read many a novel about the Oklahoma dust bowl and I thought there was nothing new to take in about it. Reading this book, I discovered how people dynamited the sky in hopes it would bring rain. There is a jackrabbit hunt. My point is, I learned a few new things.

All the while I became absorbed in this family's tale of confusion and survival...shame and pride. Each person in the family is facing their own dilemmas and tests of faith. The father grows deluded and the only thing keeping him facing each day is the belief that he is following God's plan by making an ark in the middle of a drought. The mother grows antsy, embarrassed, seeks comfort elsewhere. The daughter thinks she's in love and makes bad choices that don't suit her future plans. The son begins to struggle with asthma and yet refuses to wear his mask. Each person is stubborn and thinks they know best...and in the end nobody does.

I feel like there are tons of morals here and food for thought and though I can't pinpoint or explain it all I can honestly say I was impacted by this tale and drawn into it. The writing is superb. The characters are revealed in such a manner that even if you think what they're doing is crazy or wrong, you understand their reasonings. It artfully goes back and forth without jarring the reader, at times even taking us to the life and mind of a character not of the family, showing us all the different dilemmas folks are facing. 

I think this is a great novel vividly portraying Oklahoma farm life in the thirties.

I received this via Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great WarThis is an anthology about love and war, just as the title suggests, but it's not the sappy, tear-your-clothes-away kind of love. It's all kinds of love. Not just the man-woman love but also the mother-son love.

The first story, The Daughter of Belgium, focuses on a young woman in occupied Belgium who has been hiding her daughter from the invading soldiers. Her life has been pretty much destroyed. When charged with caring for a German soldier, she's rather conflicted.

I didn't like this story. I gave it two stars on Goodreads. The love was instant, came out of nowhere, and the story seemed pointless. I took nothing away from it.

The Record Set Right by Lauren Willig was terrific. It's about love...gone wrong...when misunderstandings get in the way. What I liked about this tale is that in the end, the woman ended up on top. She dodged a bullet, perhaps. She's not bitter or even remorseful, but a bit self satisfied. She did well for herself and success is the sweetest revenge. I felt this had a strong feminist tone.

All for the Love of You was unique as it showed us the intricacies of facial masks for those wounded. I loved this, the story of the shop, the people running it, the way the soldiers are respectfully treated. Interesting things came up, such as training your face not to react in a manner that makes these men feel worse than they already do. I enjoyed this. Can't say I cared for the romance though. I wasn't "feeling" it.

I enjoyed Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole so much I immediately set out to obtain her novel. The hero tells the tale, and he's such a likable guy. And the woman involved is so sassy even in her grief. They made me chuckle and root for them. This was a unique and very quick romance yet I "felt" it along with them.

An American Airman in Paris...did not do much for me. It felt weird--both the hero's obsession with the girl who'd lived in his house and his sexual stuff. I didn't finish it. After You've Gone...I found the narrative unengaging and did not finish that one either.

The Photograph was also a good tale. I could feel the love between the characters, however fleeting. The story was probably the most unique as it involved a British soldier not on the frontlines but in Ireland fighting in a conflict the rest of the book doesn't explore and also touching on the hostilities between the Irish and British. It's a tale of forbidden love.

In both Hour of Bells and Hush, the love of a mother for her children is explored. I enjoyed the former as the mother sought revenge and instead received a surprise.

Overall, the book is worth the time and read. You may find an author you've never read before and as a result, get more books on your to read, as was the case with myself and Jessica Brockmole. I can't wait to get my hands on her novel now.

I received this through LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Flying High Reviews: Book Babe Gets A Banner Overhaul

If you saw Flying High Reviews and thought you were in the wrong place, I'm here to reassure you that this is the blog that was formerly Book Babe.  When Tara posted recently, she decided to change the banner because the old one no longer reflected her current life or outlook.  I (Shomeret) agreed with the change. 

I am happy to see a banner that centers on women in aviation because that theme has always been important to this blog.  Tara and I both have an abiding interest in it.  I also feel that women flying is a good metaphor for feminism.  So that unites the most important focuses for both of us.

Tara will continue to post occasionally and I will do my best to keep the torch burning with reviews dealing with books that have strong female protagonists.