At the Wolf’s Table

At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino

Ten women seated around a table, eating delicious food, then spending an hour resting or chatting in a courtyard. Beautifully described, yet not at all a calm scene, as the women are tasting Hitler’s food, which may be poisoned. Rosa Sauer was conscripted after moving in with her husband’s parents in Gross-Partsch, in East Prussia. Rosa, a secretary in Berlin before marrying engineer Gregor, was bombed out of two apartments. Gregor is away at the front, and seems increasingly remote. The women, bussed daily to Hitler’s secret headquarters, occasionally clash but gradually become friendly. Who can you trust? What will you do to survive? The reader doesn’t know the year, or when the war will be over, nor do the women waiting for the men of the village to return from the war. Hard to put down, even before the sense of danger from the food, the guards, and the war intensifies. A compelling, memorable read that’s based on a true story, translated from Italian by Leah Janeczko. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is a readalike.

Brenda

Daughter of Moloka’i

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i was a bestseller and a favorite with book clubs, but I hadn’t read it until I heard about this forthcoming sequel. Daughter of Moloka’i is the compelling story of Ruth, an adopted Hawaiian-Japanese girl who grew up in Hawai’i and California, and was later sent to internment camps with her family during World War II. The daily life, joys, disappointments and hardships of the Watanabe family make for engaging reading. After Ruth is a mother herself, she receives an unexpected letter from her birth mother, Rachel, who lived in the leper settlement on Moloka’i. This poignant, family-centered, ultimately hopeful novel can be read before or after reading Moloka’i, and is a real pleasure for fans of character-driven historical fiction.
Brenda

We Must Be Brave

27We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

This is a splendid, moving novel about a young woman and the girls she mothers in southern England in the mid 20th century. Ellen Parr, born well-off, struggles when her father loses his money. Trying to cope in a run-down cottage with her impractical mother, Ellen finds unexpected kindness from her schoolmate Lucy’s family and a local handyman. Ten years later, recently married Ellen finds young Pamela asleep on a bus after Southampton is bombed in December, 1940. Although Ellen’s husband, a miller, doesn’t want to keep Pamela, they do. Eventually, they have to give Pamela back to her relatives in a heart-wrenching scene. Much later, schoolgirl Penny needs somewhere to stay after a flood and during school holidays. This first novel, while a tearjerker at times, is a compelling, satisfying, and ultimately heartwarming read.
Brenda

The Red Address Book

The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg

Almost impossible to put down, this emotionally intense first novel is a compelling, character-driven story. Doris, 96, pages through her address book in her Stockholm apartment, remembering people encountered throughout her life in order to share her stories with Jenny, her American great-niece. Over the years, Doris experienced poverty and loss, but also love and luxury, having worked as a maid and a Parisian model, helped raise her niece and great-niece, and kept house for an artist friend. Jenny chats with Doris weekly but is kept too busy caring for her young family to remember her earlier dreams of being a writer. When Jenny and her young daughter fly to Sweden to visit Doris, she tries to find out what happened to Doris’ long lost love. A charming, ultimately heartwarming read.

Brenda

 

Dear Mrs. Bird

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

Emmy Lake, with her fiancé Edmund overseas, wants to do her bit for the war effort. Volunteering at a fire brigade station answering phones helps, but she’d really like to be a journalist, maybe even a war correspondent. But instead of landing a job at a London newspaper, Emmy’s hired as a typist for Henrietta Bird, advice columnist for a women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird won’t tolerate any unpleasantness, and most of the letters are to be shredded. Secretly, Emmy sends advice to some of the women, signing her name as Mrs. Bird, which upsets her friend and roommate Bunty. Emmy is worried that Bunty’s boyfriend Bill is taking unnecessary risks as a firefighter, and then gets an unexpected telegram from her fiancé. Emmy wonders who is supporting the women on the home front, who are expected to send cheerful letters to men in uniform, but are struggling themselves. Life in wartime London in 1940 is vividly described, as Emmy is encouraged to find out what she can do best. I raced through this terrific first novel, which made me laugh, cry, and want to cheer on Emmy and Bunty. This Library Reads pick is a good readalike for The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Brenda

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Full of drama and suspense, this novel tells the story of Italian teen Pino Lella and his experiences in northern Italy during World War II. When bombs start to fall on Milan, Pino and his father camp in the hills at night, but soon he is sent to the mountain camp of Father Re, where Pino learns to hike the mountaintop trails, then leads Jewish refugees across the Alps to safety in Switzerland. At 18, he must enlist in the military, and his father thinks he’ll be safer in the German Organisation Todt. Having learned to drive in the mountains with a future racecar driver, Pino becomes the personal driver to Nazi General Leyes. Reporting to his uncle at his store in Milan, Pino is also a spy known only as Observer. Pino soon falls in love with Anna, the maid to Leyes’ mistress Dolly. Leyes confuses Pino, taking food and blankets from the Italians for his troops, but also saving some Jews from being sent to work camps. Beneath the Scarlet Sky is fiction, but is based on the amazing true story of Pino Lella, and is being made into a movie. An epic story full of thrills and heartbreak; suggested for readers of real life adventure stories or World War II fiction.

Brenda

 

To Die But Once

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear

In 1940, London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs and her assistant, Billy Beale, are asked to look for Joe Coombes, a young painter’s apprentice. His parents, Phil and Sally Coombes, own a local pub and are worried they haven’t heard from Joe, who had been complaining of frequent headaches. Maisie and Billy learn that Joe had been applying fire-retardant paint at aerodromes, and wanted to apprentice to a sheep farmer in Hampshire. Billy notices that the Coombes seem to be unusually well off.

Maisie finds a weekly respite at her country home in Kent, visiting with her extended family, including young evacuee Anna, who has the measles. The British Expeditionary Force in France is in retreat, and Maisie’s godson Tim runs off to help with the evacuation at Dunkirk.
I learned that the World War II experiences of the author’s family inspired this story, especially her father’s work as a young painter’s apprentice. This compelling mystery with engaging characters and strong sense of place would be a good place to start reading this series, especially readers who enjoy historical fiction, British mysteries, or strong female protagonists. I especially enjoyed this book because Maisie and her family are happier than in recent books. This book will be published on March 27.

Brenda