Reading Challenge Roundup

Isn’t this time of year when we assess where we are with our reading?  I’ve taken stock and here are the hard numbers.  I enjoyed most if not all of the books I read this year, and I cannot wait to see what 2015 has in store for me.

2014 War Through the Generations Challenge With a Twist

  • signed up for Expert: Read 2+ books for each war for a total of 12 books
  • read 34 (including 2 per war)

2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

  • signed up for Renaissance Reader – 10 books
  • read 38

2014 Portuguese Historical Fiction Challenge

  • signed up for Afonsine – 1 to 3 books
  • read 1

Dive Into Poetry 2014

  • signed up for Dive in and read 7 or more books of poetry
  • read 24

New Authors Challenge 2014

  • signed up for 50 New-to-Me Authors
  • read 84

2014 European Reading Challenge

  • signed up for Five Star (Deluxe Entourage) — at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.
  • read 28 (Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, Scotland, England, Crete, Greece, Ireland, France, Germany, Portugal, Monaco, Hungary, Norway)

Ireland Reading Challenge 2014

  • signed up for Shamrock level: 4 books
  • read 4

How did you do on reading challenges this year?

The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 384 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman is an emotional tale of finding the strength to do what’s right even if it places you, your dreams, and your family in danger.  Elodie Bertolotti is a young, virtuoso with the cello, and her father teaches violin at the local music school in Verona, Italy.  She has the musical talents of her father, and they often connect with just the music around them or speak through minimal glances and facial expressions.  But like her mother, she can memorize things instantly. She has the best gifts for a musician — the ability to memorize entire scores and the ability to play them with passion.  However, she is mild compared to her friend, Lena, who is outspoken against the Fascists and eager to get involved in the Italian resistance.

“His playing was the lullaby of her childhood.  She knew when he played Mozart that he was savoring good news; when he was nervous, he played Brahms; and when he wanted forgiveness from her mother, he played Dvorak.  She knew her father more clearly through his music than she did through his words.”  (page 19)

The Venetian blood running through Elodie’s veins and her gift of memorization are things that she had little thought for beyond her music, but she soon realizes that they can be of great use.  Richman has created a novel in which a young music student finds that she’s passionate about more than the scores she learns in class; she is eager to be noticed by Luca who catches her eye, but she also wants to take action against the Nazis who have come to lay a heavy hand on her country.  Things are not what they once were in Verona, and she must learn how to either blend into the background or stand up for what she believes in.

The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman is stunning, and a real treat for those interested in the Italian resistance during WWII.  But the novel also offers a coming of age story and a story of second chances.  Richman has created an emotionally charged, suspenseful, historical fiction novel that at its heart speaks of redemption and new beginnings.  Weaving together music, art, books, and war, Richman’s story transcends time through the lives of her dynamic characters.  Another for the Best of List 2014.

About the Author:

Alyson Richman is the internationally bestselling author of: The Garden of Letters, The Lost Wife, The Last Van Gogh, The Rhythm of Memory (formerly published as Swedish Tango), and The Mask Carver’s Son. Her books have received both national and international critical acclaim and have been translated into eighteen languages.  The Lost Wife was nominated as one of the best books of 2012 by the Jewish Journal of Books and was The 2012 Long Island Reads Selection.  The novel is now a national bestseller with over 200,000 combined print/ebook copies sold and is in development to be a major motion film. Her forthcoming novel, The Painted Dove, centers around the French courtesan Marthe de Florian and the mystery of her Paris apartment that remained locked for 70 years.  It will be published by Berkley/Penguin in September 2016.  A graduate of Wellesley College and a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow, she currently lives with her husband and children in Long Island, New York.

37th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





33rd book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.





28th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Italy)

Women of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich by Joanne D. Gilbert

Source: Gihon River Press
Paperback, 204 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Women of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich by Joanne D. Gilbert is a collection of heart-warming, terrifying, and inspiring stories of Polish resisters against the Nazi Third Reich during WWII.  These four women have tension filled tales to tell, and they are full of bravery, luck, and serendipity.  As stated in the introductory pages and the brief history on Poland and its Jewish people, Poland was often conquered and victimized and in some areas of the nation, there was rampant antisemitism.  In fact, the country was often treated like a spoil of war, and that did not change when the Nazis began expanding their reach across Europe.  Several of these resisters mention in their stories how Jews are often considered weak and meek, but their stories clearly illustrate that these women engaged in all kinds of resistance against the Nazis and that they were not alone in their fight.

“Before the 1939 German invasion, Poland’s population of approximately 35 million included almost 3.5 million Jews, more than any other European country.  In fact, for many centuries in Poland had been considered the heart and center of Europe’s Jewish population.  When German occupation of Poland ended in 1945, over 6 million Poles–approximately half of which were Jews–had been annihilated.”  (page 17)

Manya Feldman, a nurse and fighter during the war, was considered the “crazy Jewess” when she was infected during the war and unable to walk and move.  She was forced at an early age to decide to flee the ghetto into the forest or stay with her mother and young sisters, but her decision left her haunted forever.  After joining the Kovpak partisans in the forest, she was again separated from her brother and father, but she had little time to wallow as she was expected to not only engage in village raids for supplies, but also nurse the wounded and sick.  Faye Schulman was a nurse, fighter, and photographer, and her skills as a photographer saved her from Nazi punishment more than once.  She even noted, “We all had to be off the streets at dark, which was difficult in winter when darkness came so early.  It was especially challenging for teenagers who wanted to socialize or carry on romances at night.  … I had no idea that this sneaking around would soon become a skill that would keep me alive.”  And at one point, she even found herself near the camp of the Bielski partisans, who were depicted in the movie Defiance.

“When we arrived, we were astounded to see that my possessions had been neatly packed in several boxes, and placed out on the sidewalk.  Everything was just sitting there. Apparently someone in the house had figured out that I’d be in on this partisan raid, and in the chaos of a war zone, took a chance on helping me.”  (page 81)

Lola Lieber was a young woman between childhood and womanhood who was forced to grow up quickly when the Nazis came to Poland.  Her birth outside Poland in Czechoslovakia even became an asset, not only because she knew different cultures and languages, but because the Nazis spared her and the family for a time.  As they put their artistry to the test in forging documents, Lola’s life and that of her family was constantly hanging in the balance.  Miriam Brysk was a little girl who dressed as a boy, and she took to heart the discipline she had been taught as a young girl: to always listen and follow orders.

Women of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich by Joanne D. Gilbert is a fantastic look at how these women used their intelligence and the skills they had since childhood to resist the Germans, to fight them through guerrilla tactics, and evade capture and death.  Gilbert does a great job of setting up each story so that the reader knows how these women fared after the war and where they live now.  And as many of these women, men, and soldiers are passing on, these stories from WWII grow ever more important to collect because they remind us that people’s courage should never be under-estimated.

About the Author:

Influenced as a little girl by her Grandmother’s vivid and poignant stories of the beloved family and friends who were so brutally murdered when the Nazis destroyed the Jewish People of Vilna, Lithuania, Joanne has always understood the importance of preserving Jewish History – one family story at a time. With this mission in mind, she became a professional Personal Historian in 2007, creating her own business, “Your Write Time!”

A popular Adjunct English professor at the College of Southern Nevada, Joanne is also a sought-after-public-speaker, whose presentations on both Jewish Genealogy and Jewish and Gentile WOMEN OF VALOR: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich consistently receive glowing reviews.

Joanne’s extensive travels to meet with Female Resisters and Partisans have taken her to Toronto, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Palo Alto, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Paris, where she was honored to meet with a group of women who had been in the French Resistance.

77th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.






31st book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.






27th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland/Czechoslovakia)

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter

Source: Hachette Books
Hardcover, 473 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter expertly combines the search for art with the internal mechanics of military operations.  These Monuments Men are struggling to justify their mission to their compatriots and superiors, even though they are given a mandate from the U.S. government, and they are forced to get creative as they are continually denied the resources they need to locate, transport, and protect the art they are searching for.  Stout at one point decides to place signs on monuments that will ensure they are not disturbed: “Danger — Mines!”  Through a series of chapters that not only delve into the fall of the Third Reich but also the confusion of orders from Adolf Hitler with regard to the Nero Decree, Edsel and Witter personalize the stories of these unassuming and dedicated men.

“But with that, the portrait was complete.  Balfour the British scholar.  Hancock the good-natured artist.  Rorimer the bulldog curator.  Posey the Alabama farmboy.  And, lurking somewhere in the back, dapper, pencil-mustached George Leslie Stout.” (page 58)

“This was not to say the job was easy: far from it.  The men had all realized that they really were on their own in the field.  There were no set procedures to follow; no proper chain of command; no right way of dealing with combat officers.  They had to feel each situation out; to improvise on an hourly basis; to find a way to finish a job that seemed more daunting every day.  They had no real authority, but served merely as advisors.”  (page 86)

These men are not only dedicated to their mission, but some are longing for home and the future they have dreamed about.  Like other soldiers in the war, their lives are at risk as the military meets sustained combat and pockets of resistance even as the Nazis retreat into the Alps.  Even after the art has been found and collected, it takes more than six years after the end of WWII before the art would be returned to the museums, owners, and countries from which they were taken.  In many cases, the success of the mission was aided by luck, infiltration of key French personnel, and the meticulous record-keeping skills of the Germans themselves.

“‘A number of our officers went up to see the camp,’ he wrote.  ‘I did not go, because much of my work depended on friendly relations with German civilians, and I feared that after seeing the horrors of the camp my own feelings toward even these innocent people would be affected. …'” (page 310)

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter brings to life a part of WWII history that had been buried and forgotten for far too many years, and it pays tribute to the modest and dedicated men who fought to preserve not only works of art but entire cultures in the face of great evil and destruction.  These men were hardly alone in their fight to save the art, but they continued to have the courage to push onward and achieve their goals in spite of the obstacles they faced.  As Jacques Jaujard, one of the integral players in France, said, “It matters little that you are afraid if you manage to hide it.  You are then at the edge of courage.”  Moreover, he said, “There are fights that you may lose without losing your honor; what makes you lose your honor is not to fight them.”

About the Authors:

Robert M. Edsel is the best-selling author of Saving Italy, The Monuments Men and Rescuing da Vinci and co-producer of the award-winning documentary film The Rape of Europa. Edsel is also the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, and a trustee at the National WWII Museum. After living in Florence for five years, he now resides in Dallas, Texas.

Bret Witter has co-authored eight New York Times bestsellers. His books have been translated into over thirty languages and sold over two million copies worldwide.
26th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Austria/Germany)
30th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Source: Dey St. and William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is one of the most honest, heartfelt, and engaging memoirs out there.  Cumming is the son of a Scottish family, and his father was verbally and physically abusive, but that’s just part of this story.  Despite the abuse, Cumming had dreams, dreams that he ultimately hoped to achieve and did, even if they just began as fantasies of escape.  As a young boy, he was given impossible tasks by his father on a Scottish estate where they lived as caretakers, and really they were given so that he could fail and be the subject of his own father’s wrath. His escape from that life was acting and school, but he was careful after several early incidents to never show too much passion or love for anything because his father would take it away.  Although his relationship with his father shaped some of his anxieties that he took with him later in life, it is his relationship with his mother that solidified his confidence in becoming the talented actor he is today.

“You see, I understood my father.  I had learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room.  It has not been pleasant as an adult to realize that dealing with my father’s violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.”  (page 4 ARC)

Parallels between Cumming’s past and that of his mother’s father, the grandfather he never knew, are drawn easily in his mind and throughout the memoir after he agrees to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s death in Malaysia sometime after WWII.  Like his mother, Cumming did not have a real relationship with his father, but unlike his mother, his father lived with him for most of his life until he left for Glasgow for acting school.  Shifting between past and present in his own life, Cumming also examines his relationship to his deceased grandfather and how memory is subjective and that most people remember in an emotional way.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is not about how his father drops a bombshell on him that he is not his son.  The memoir is about how Cumming is his own man and nothing like the abusive, angry father he had, and in many ways how he is more like the grandfather he never met.  This is a contender for the Best of list this year because it is told with such honesty, self-reflection, and humor that readers will not be able to avoid examining their own lives and familial relationships.

About the Author:

Alan Cumming is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer and director. He recently starred in an acclaimed one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway, and appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical Cabaret, a role he is reprising in 2014.  He hosts PBS Masterpiece Mystery and has appeared in numerous films, including Spy KidsTitusX2: X-Men UnitedThe Anniversary PartyAny Day Now and Eyes Wide Shut.  Photo by Ricardo Horatio Nelson.

25th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Scotland and England)





71st book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

War in the Balkans: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941 by Jeffrey Plowman

Source: Pen & Sword Books
Paperback, 160 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

War in the Balkans: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941 by Jeffrey Plowman is a photographic history of the year in which the Balkans became the battleground for the Nazi’s in World War II as it worked with Italy and sought to advance on Russia.  Plowman is very detailed in troop movements and the artillery used, but the pictures were more helpful in ascertaining what tanks, bombers, etc., he was talking about.  Most of the book is photographs that were not been used previously or published before, and the text is a backdrop to these photos.  Plowman clearly has done his research as he follows the accumulation of weapons as they prepare for war, and the unexpected strength of the forces the Nazi’s encountered, even when they were outnumbered.

“This led Britain to discuss the possibility of a coordinated defense of Crete but the Greeks would not allow any landings on their soil without a declaration of war.  Nor did the Italians have much luck either in their discussions with Germany.  When they sought German support for an attack on Jugoslavia, Adolf Hitler was adamant that he did not want to see the war spread to the Balkans.”  (page 11)

There were a high number of casualties in this battle for Greece and Crete, and those were accounted for by nationality — British, Australian, etc. — in the epilogue.  The stance of the major leaders of these governments shifted over time as it looked like the British would enter the war and the Nazis could face harsher opposition than from those of smaller nations’ armies.  This is a book that would be best read over a longer period, with readers taking in small amounts each time.  War in the Balkans: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941 by Jeffrey Plowman is a fascinating look at one series of battles in WWII, and the pictures flesh out his text well.

24th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Greece and Crete)





28th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.





70th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

The Paradise Tree by Elena Maria Vidal

Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Paperback, 252 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Paradise Tree by Elena Marie Vidal recounts the real life of Daniel O’Connor, the author’s great-great-great-grandfather, based upon his own letters and writing and family lore and woven into a work of historical fiction.  Daniel O’Connor was a young man during the potato famine in Ireland, and watched as his parents struggled against starvation, political wills, and bigotry.  Even as he had dreams of becoming a doctor, laws in the land of his birth forbade his ascension in the profession, despite his skill in setting bones and working as an apprentice with other non-Catholic physicians.  After running out of the funds to attend medical school, he set his sights on a new life — one that would take him across the Atlantic into the harsh wilderness of Ontario, Canada, in the late 1880s.

Vidal has crafted a tale based on fact, and although it is fictionalized, the prose has a very non-fiction feel, which leaves readers at a distance from the characters.  The factual feel of the novel can fall flat for readers looking to connect with the characters, especially as the years pass along and the interactions are few in dialogue and often seem more like a recounting of the past.  Daniel and his family are separated from one another for a long time as he makes his way in a new country and builds his own family, but eventually, he is reunited with some of his kin as they follow him to the new world.  Vidal does an excellent job of demonstrating the lifeline that the Catholic faith becomes for the O’Connor family and how it binds them together in the toughest of circumstances.

The Paradise Tree by Elena Marie Vidal is about the perseverance of family and faith in the face of a number of struggles, though at times the prose is a bit too dry.  The O’Connor family not only faces hardships in Ireland, but in Ontario as they literally cut out a life for themselves from the wilderness.  They must battle against prejudices toward Catholics in both settings and strive to be their own guidance in their faith, as there are few churches close enough to them to tend to their religious needs.

About the Author:

Elena Maria Vidal grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels.

Elena graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, she joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children’s etiquette classes. During a trip to Austria in 1995 she visited the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. Afterwords she decided to finish a novel about Marie-Antoinette she had started writing ten years before but had put aside. In 1997 her first historical novel TRIANON was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel MADAME ROYALE was published, as well as the second edition of TRIANON, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day. In 2010, the third edition of TRIANON and the second edition of MADAME ROYALE were released.

In November 2009, THE NIGHT’S DARK SHADE: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine, Touchstone Magazine, The National Observer, and The American Conservative. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. In August 2010 Elena spoke at The Catholc Writers Conference in Valley Forge, PA. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She currently lives in Maryland with her family.  For more information please visit Elena’s website and blog.  You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.






23rd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Ireland)



33rd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





65th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.





3rd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff

Source: NetGalley/Kindle
ebook, 21 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff is a complementary story to her new novel, The Winter Guest (my review), in which Maria finds herself married and estranged from her father in rural Biekowice, Poland, during WWII.  Maria, who is married to Piotr, finds that she is an outsider at her in-laws home, and is unable to share even her sense of loss with them after he was conscripted by the Germans.  She fills her days avoiding the scrutiny of her mother-in-law, and dreaming about what life will be like when her husband returns.  She feels alone now that she’s severed herself from her father, whom she caught selling information to the Nazis.  However, her father’s betrayal is the least of the secrets she will uncover.

“War had nipped at the edges of their tiny village, Biekowice, changing little things first, like the requirement of registration cards.  Later had come the food requisitioning that left the market so bare.  Piotr’s family had not been affected as badly as most — the farm produced enough simple fare to keep their stomachs full.”

While she lives in relative comfort, Maria must remain strong for herself and a young Jewish girls she discovers hiding in the family barn.  Maria is a young wife who is still finding her place in her new family, while at the same time trying to make sense of the families around her who turn in their neighbors or make other deals with the Nazis to survive.  When she is faced with the dilemma of a little Jewish girl, it is clear that her father’s betrayal propels her to take a different action.  The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff expounds upon a minor character in her novel, The Winter Guest, giving readers a glimpse into how much the paranoia and fear had begun to permeate even the smallest villages as Nazis traipsed through the city squares and fought through the countryside.  It’s too bad that this story is so short; it would make a good novel.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.  Visit her Website and Facebook page.

22nd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland)




32nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





27th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Source: Diary of an Eccentric
Paperback, 352 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff explores the bonds between sisters, particularly twins, and how those bonds can be tested and crack beneath the pressures of war and persecution.  The Nowak twins live in a small fictitious town in Poland, Biekowice, and are charged with raising their two younger sisters and brother after the death of their father.  Ruth is considered the more feminine and nurturing of the sisters, while Helena was adventurous, gathering wood and setting animal traps with their father from a young age.  Ruth was the first to fall in love and have her heart broken, and this heartbreak helped to define her views on family and loyalty, while Helena has yet to fall in love and does the best she can to provide for the family as the Nazis move across Poland and take over not only Krakow, but smaller villages along the way.

“As I stroll beneath the timeless canopy of clouds, the noises of the highway and the planes overhead fade.  I am no longer shuffling and bent, but a young woman striding upward through the woods, surrounded by those who once walked with me.”  (page 8 ARC)

Jenoff is a talented story-teller and her ability to transport readers into the harsh conditions of a rural town in Poland during WWII is nothing short of miraculous.  Readers will feel the biting cold, the harsh stares of neighbors looking for information to sell to the Nazis to get ahead, and feel the warmth of the Nowak family even as it struggles to stay together.  Ruth weighs loyalty above everything, while Helena places her family’s happiness above her own for so long that when she sees happiness for herself within her grasp, she wants to hold it close and not have to share it.  Like all sisters, Ruth and Helena share the burdens of bringing up their siblings alone, keeping food on the table and checking on their mother who is in a Krakow hospital.

Helena stumbles upon an American paratrooper in the woods and the Nowak family’s trajectory becomes skewed.  Jenoff has created twin sisters who are connected but seeking their own individuality while keeping their family together.  These dynamic women must face their own fears, as well as the reality of the WWII knocks on their door, literally.  The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff demonstrates how the unexpected can be a blessing and a curse, how families can pull together even when they don’t really like one another at that moment, and how guilt can compel us forward to make things right.

This book was phenomenal, well told, and would be a great pick for book clubs — also it is likely to make the 2014 Best of list.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.  Visit her Website and Facebook page.

21st book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland)





31st book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.






26th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

This Is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 320 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

This Is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods is a WWI novel set in 1917 that demonstrates the power of the written word.  New York Times columnist Sacha Dench, who graciously agrees to be a pen-pal and chess opponent to Charles Reid, is forced to resign from his position as sentiment in the United States leans more toward entering the war than remaining isolated from it.  He and his daughter, Hensley, leave quickly for Hillsboro, New Mexico, to take up the residence of a former mine supervisor.  Dench’s letters to Reid are philosophical debates about the justice of the war and its final outcome, but they are also a test of wills on a chess board that mirror those tensions.  Hensley is intrigued by the letter and utterly infatuated with a play director in New York City, but when she’s forced to decide between staying in New York with her brother or go to New Mexico, she chooses to leave.  Like the notes in the margins of her father’s letters, her life is lived on the outskirts of the proper role she is meant to play as a young 17-year-old woman without a mother.

“Mr. Dench has taken one of Charles’s pawns in the third move of the game, their bishops facing one another and the next move of utter importance.  Charles must be wary of the temptation to play too aggressively, putting his own pieces at risk in the next turn, which, he senses, is probably his opponent’s strategy.  A classic lure.  But playing like this, without body language or eye contact, is a new challenge.” (page 5 ARC)

It is striking how Woods uses the game of chase to depict the art of war on many levels, from the war between Dench and Reid’s competing philosophies to the difficulties in playing chess without the social cues to guide him as they would in hand-to-hand combat.  Reid is not so much a soldier as an ambulance driver from the United States who signed up to make something of his life, rather than live the life expected of him by his rich parents.  While he finds his actions independent, he is also aware as the war goes on just how foolhardy the decision may have been.  Feeling adrift on foreign fronts, Reid holds onto Dench’s letters and later the secret correspondence he has with Hensley as a lifeline.  But her life is far from as simple as she would like him to believe in their forced exile.

“By the end, the lead had become so dull that his signature is hardly more than a thick looping smudge.  Even so, Hennie moves her index finger across the page, mimicking the script, slowing especially over his name, until she can trace his signature perfectly.  Inhabiting his body, exiting her own, she crouches down under the table, imaging the cramped feel of the cellar, the roughness of chapped lips, the stale smell of urine on her clothes, the sound of artillery just outside.”  (page 71 ARC)

Hensley is living in the world of their letters as much as he is, but soon she is forced to make a choice — not once, but twice — that could change the course of her life forever.  This Is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods explores the power of letters, the devastation of war and grief, and the societal pressures to which we can succumb or fight against.  Woods has made WWI vivid and gruesome as it must have been, demonstrating the irreparable harm that soldiers may face but also the inner strength it requires for them to move forward and to continue doing so even when they return home.  Expectations should be their own and not imposed upon by others, and only through compassion and love can these men soldier onward.

About the Author:

HAZEL WOODS lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children.

30th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.






20th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in France)





25th book (WWI) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.






63rd book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

G.I. Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

tlc tour host

Source: TLC Book Tours and William Morrow
Paperback, 368 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

G.I. Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi is a biography-memoir hybrid in which the stories of four women who married American soldiers, known as G.I. brides, during WWII are told.  Sylvia Bradley is a bit young and naive but an optimist, while Gwendolyn Rowe is a determined woman.  Rae Brewer is the tomboy to Margaret Boyle’s beauty.  These stories are romantic as these ladies decide to leave the only home and family they have known to marry an American, only to find themselves facing more than just marital challenges.  Culture shock is just one aspect that is well depicted in these stories, especially as the women marry into not only American families, but families that still maintain their old world cultures and traditions — like the Italians big family dinners to the rowdy Irish parties.  As different as their lives had been from each other during WWII, they are vastly different when they reach America.

“During the day, Margaret did her best to get up on deck as much as possible to assuage her seasickness.  Starting out across the endless miles of ocean, she was reminded how cut adrift she had always felt in her life.  Some brides might feel the ache of homesickness, but she had never had a real home to miss.”  (page 98)

“As she packed her bag, she heard a chugging noise coming from outside and looked out of the window.  There in the distance was the menacing outline of a doodlebug passing over hoses opposite.  Then suddenly the noise stopped.  Rae knew what that meant — the flying bomb was about to fall.” (page 114)

Through extensive interviews with these women and their families, Barrett and Calvi have brought to life the home front in England, as these women struggled with rationing and the fear of bombs killing them on the way to work or in their sleep.  As their families struggled, brothers were sent off to fight the Germans, and they found work to support the war effort, these women were introduced to a whole new world outside the cocoon of their family units.  They went to dances with Yanks and volunteered in Red Cross-sponsored facilities, only to find that these Americans were not as crass as they were told by brothers and parents.

“For months Lyn had felt desperate to return home to England, but now she realized that the thing she had been looking for no longer existed.  It was her younger self — that confident, carefree girl who hadn’t had any knocks in life, who could stand on her own two feet …” (page 340)

Once in American, these women must fight another war — a war within themselves.  They feel like outsiders, they struggle to find their place with their new families, and many times they are met with failure.  But even though they long to return to England and walk away, they also realize that they must first stand on their own and learn what they want for themselves.  G.I. Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi may only breathe life into the lives of four G.I. brides from WWII, but it stands to reason that many of those 70,000 brides experienced similar hesitations, failures, and triumphs in their new lives.  Wonderfully told and executed.

About the Authors:

Duncan Barrett studied English at Cambridge and now works as writer and editor, specialising in biography and memoir. He most recently edited The Reluctant Tommy (Macmillan, 2010) a First World War memoir.


Nuala Calvi also studied English and has been a journalist for eight years with a strong interest in community history pieces. She took part in the Streatham Stories project to document the lives and memories of people in South London. They live in South London.

Connect with them through their website.

61st book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.




24th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.





19th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in England)

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick and Giveaway

Source: Penguin Random House
Paperback, 180 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick is inspired by the real-life story of Franciszka and Helena Halamajowa who in Nazi-occupied Poland were able to save several families and a German soldier from being killed by the Nazis.  Told in understated, spare prose, the novel travels through the perspectives of Helena who grows up in Poland with her mother and brother without a father; Bronek, the head of one of the Jewish families; Mikolaj, the son of a premiere Jewish doctor before the Nazi occupation; and Vilheim, the German soldier who is vegetarian and does not want to kill.

“In all of us, there is a child that exists while we have our parents.

With my mother gone, I feel a sadness for the loss of the child within myself.” (page 68)

Helena’s perspective is the most developed of the four, in that readers garner a deeper understanding of her family and the losses they endure. Despite those hardships, she admires her mother’s commitment to doing the right thing. Her relationship with her brother is heart-warming from the beginning as they struggle to keep their stomachs full and steer clear of their father’s rage. Her mother’s secret is not so much that she begins hiding families from the Nazis but that she has the strength and conviction to do so no matter how much it could cost her personally. And while Helena sees herself differently, she carries with her that same strength, especially when her way of life changes drastically under Nazi occupation.

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick covers the range of reasons people were in hiding during WWII, and examines the perseverance of those hiding them. But it also takes a look at how keeping up appearances and going unnoticed can be the key to survival, as is showing love to fellow man with no expectation of getting anything in return.

About the Author:

Originally from Taiwan, J.L. Witterick has been living in Canada since her family’s arrival in 1968. She attended the University of Western Ontario, graduating from the Richard Ivey School of Business. My Mother’s Secret is her debut novel. It is a bestseller in Canada and has been published in several countries around the world. Witterick lives in Toronto with her husband and son.


U.S./Canada residents 18+ can leave a comment below to be entered; list a WWII book that you’ve loved. Deadline to enter is Sept. 22, 2014, 11:59 PM EST.

58th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.





18th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Germany/Poland)




29th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





23rd book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.