In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

4.5 stars Middle School

Once I got onboard with the story, I enjoyed the journey that these two sisters took. I was having a hard time understanding some of the choices that their father made but I wasn’t walking in his shoes so perhaps I didn’t know the complete story.  I knew that he was trying to provide the best life for his daughters and money was key to this success but still, money can’t always be your driving force.  His daughters were wonderful and considering everything that they endured, their relationship emerged stronger than before. 

Papa accepts a new position in Tokyo, Japan, leaving his mother-in-law and the grandma to his two small children behind in Italy.  With a bump in salary, a 1–2-year commitment in Italy (that Papa feels will be sufficient), and other benefits for his children, Papa feels this is a great opportunity.  Enrolling 8-year-old Simona in public school, was a great financial decision until he realizes how important the private schools are, for helping foreign children learn the Japanese language.  Little Carolina is brought to work with him each day as she will have someone there, about the same age as her, that she can play with. 

It’s not all perfect in the beginning but over time, things change and the girls begin to love Japan.  It’s hard to believe but time passes so quickly and although Papa’s “sufficient time period” is over, Papa and the girls aren’t ready to go back home to Italy. I’m wondering now, should Papa stick with his 1–2-year time period?  Just because his children are not ready to return home, does that matter? Papa wasn’t doing anything fantastic besides what he was doing from Day #1 so basically life was just going on smoothly and the girls were settling in. Do you stay based on their opinion or go back?  Time to do more reading.

There had been talk of war but now, the realities of it were hitting home.  Papa is worried about Italy; will it be taken over? What will happen to their family and friends back home?  Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese and tension is mounting, elsewhere.  Hostility against foreigners is intensifying as the officials begin to gather them for relocation.  As Papa and his girls are rounded up, the girls get separated from their father. Now what?  They’re too young to be by themselves and I visualize Papa digging ditches or I don’t want to think where else Papa could end up at.  The girls never give up hope of being reunited with their Papa as they take on different roles to survive as the world, enters WWII.

Wow, I really enjoyed this book but I thought it was sad.  I liked how the sisters kept trying to find their father and how they accepted life.  I liked how they took on a variety of identities to survive and they didn’t let their emotions control their lives.  Their curiosity, bravery and support from each other helped them get through another day.  A very eventful book that gave me a different view of this time period.

All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

5 stars Historical Fiction

What a fun novel to listen to.  It took a few chapters for things to get situated but then, I really enjoyed the history, the relationships and the idea behind this book.  I liked that the female relationships inside the book took more precedence than the male/female relationships, which was what I was hoping would happen. I didn’t want a romance to spoil this drama.  This was a great package:  a historical fiction story, centered around a cooking competition consisting of diverse characters with an uplifting ending.

It’s the popular BBC broadcasting of the British Show, The Kitchen Front with Ambrose as the show’s host.  The show has decided that they need a female co-host and has launched a cooking competition to find her.  Located in Finley Village, England, are four women who are supposedly using their war rations to make the winning entries and to prove to Ambrose that they should be his co-host.  Here are four women who desperately need this position. These four women come from such different situations and circumstances in their lives.  These four women give this competition everything that they have. And who do I think should win it?   Nell? The kitchen maid at Finley Hall who started the competition so timid that she can hardly talk but she can cook.  Lady Gwendoline?  She married into money but does money buy happiness?  Audrey?  Lady Gwendoline sister, a war widow with 3 children who is trying to keep her head above water.  Zelda? A previous London chef who is now pregnant (and unmarried).

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I enjoyed listening to these ladies’ stories.  How their lives were before the war and how their lives have changed since the war began.  It was fascinating how they created their recipes using their war rations and how some of them used nature to help them spread their rations even further.  Their resourcefulness really shined.  What started out as a competition for these ladies, as they lifted up their dome lids and everyone marveled at their creation hidden underneath, ends in another type of celebration as the winner is selected.   I highly recommend this novel.  

They Call Us Enemy by George Takei

5 stars Graphic Novel

This book is a true account of George Takei’s experience in internment camps during WWII.  I read a lot of WWII books and it was shocking to read about these camps here in the U.S. 

When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941, the President signed a proclamation stating that every adult Japanese citizen in the United States was now an Alien Enemy.  This meant that George’s father, after living 23 years in the U.S., was now an Alien Enemy and under strict rules.  Speaking to Congress, the President declares War not long after that.  California’s Attorney General decides that he’s going to start excluding Japanese individuals around certain areas.  He begins to round them up and house them together.  This made me angry as I read about his agenda, as there was no reason behind his actions, besides his own agenda. Many individuals were stripped of their own possessions and they were left with nothing. How was he able to do this?  The restrictions became tighter and tighter as he pulled on their reigns.

As George’s family was moved around, the illustrations in this graphic novel did an excellent job portraying the author’s attitude at what was happening in his life. Just looking at the illustrations, you can sense how things are with the family as they try to adjust.  Mother carried with her hope, as she made her way to the camps.  Her forbidden item had to be heavy as she lugged it around but she was determined to bring it.  She did, “not want to leave it behind” and she was also looking out for her children.  I liked how his father stepped up and made the best of his situation at the camps also.  His family was definitely a bright spot in the camp.  I found this graphic novel very interesting and educational. It one that you should look into if you like this type of book.  I appreciate George sharing his story with others.  

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

5 stars Historical

The year is 1939, WWII is on everyone’s mind as the war is moving closer to home.  Impressed with the American’s Dewey Decimal System, Odile decides that an American library is where she wants to works and lands a position at the American Library in Paris. Odile loves her new position: being surrounded by individuals who care and enjoy reading.  This truly becomes her second home and her refuge.  

We move to the year 1983.  Lily has heard that this woman in her neighborhood was a war bride yet to Lily, she didn’t match what Lily envisioned.  For school, Lily interviews this neighbor and discovers what a treasure Odile really is.  While Lily feels like her own life is crumbling apart, she finds a true friend in Odile and someone that she can confine in. Although they are generations apart, Odile finds that being with Lily, she’s able to share the story of her life and her talents, which brings her tremendous joy.  

I enjoyed how the author alternated the stories throughout the book. As I read, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a true account, that this story actually took place.  Although at times, I didn’t want one story to end, I was excited to get back into the lives of all the characters.  I had a hard time in the beginning chapters getting settled into the book but after those few chapters, I enjoyed it. I loved how everyone who was a part of the library tried so desperately to make sure their subscribers had access to the materials that they wanted. It wasn’t just making sure that the books were safe during the war but getting them out and into the hands of the individuals who really needed them, during this difficult time.  Doesn’t this sound like what we are going through now, to a point?  Is your own library meeting the needs of the people that it serves during this uncertain period in our history?  

By Plemasson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36874402

Odile’s relationships had me up at 3:30 in the morning as I couldn’t sleep thinking how things were going to work out.  Between her father, her brother, her girlfriends and her romance, it’s a wonder I slept at all the past couple nights.  I appreciate the author’s research in putting this book together as it was a fantastic read and one that I highly enjoyed.

Thank you Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.      

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

5 stars Historical Fiction

Ben, who is this woman, that you call Mother?  Perhaps you know her as an honest individual, one that you could always count on or maybe she was quiet, listening to you as you questioned the world around you.  Perhaps your mom was both.  Maybe you found her to be that sweet woman who worked at the local library, helping those who asked for assistance. Ben, what you say if I told you you’re your mother had an alias?  That your mother committed crimes when she was younger?  That because of these crimes, your mother saved many individuals including children from being killed. 

I loved this book!  I can just imagine Ben’s reaction when he gets his mother’s phone call asking him, if he’ll take her to the airport for her flight to Germany.  The questions running through his head as he tries to make sense of what she’s telling him happened in 1942 when she lived there with her parents.

It was a good thing that Eva saw the NY Times when she was working or she would have missed the article.  The book that the man was holding in the newspaper was hers, a book that she hadn’t seen in 60 years. She’d thought of Remy over the years and she believed that the book was long gone but now, there it was. 

As we time traveled back to 1942, Eva was a young girl whose father had just been taken by soldiers as she steps into the role as the adult.  Her goal: getting herself and her mother to safety. Stopping for the night, Eva is approached and questioned about their travel documents. Eva isn’t sure how to respond but later discovers it’s not what she had feared.  The man was from the Resistance and they’d like Eva’s assistance. They have many individuals who need forged documents and they were impressed with the quality of Eva’s documents, so they’d like her to work with them.  Mother though, would prefer that they continue on with their journey but Eva has other things on her mind.  What started with Eva taking names off of a list turns into an emotional account of a resourceful and dedicated woman who had her purpose. 

Eva’s mom makes various appearances in the book but to me, they weren’t outstanding. She was seen as a voice, someone who expressed their opinion, and someone who gave us something to think about. I thought she was negative, opinionated, and scared but that’s okay. She was in a strange environment, alone, and I had to consider her age.  As she pressed Eva on the men in her life, just listening to her you knew exactly what she wanted and expected from her daughter.   

What a great story about the Resistance.  Eva had to grow-up suddenly when her mother didn’t step up and she continued to lead throughout the book. Using her talent, she forged travel documents to help many individuals but she didn’t stop there.  I found myself holding my breath at the end of this book, boy that ending was amazing!   

Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz

5 stars Middle School Book

Every book I read from Alan, I think he can’t write any better and then, he does it again.  In Project 1065, I time-traveled back to Berlin, where I met Michael and his parents who were spies.  Michael’s father is an Irish Ambassador so there is plenty of opportunity for the family to interact with high-raking officials.  Michael is 13, he attends an all-boy school and he does his part in the resistance.  Michael is also part of Hitler’s Youth Army where he can obtain information for the Allies.  One of the hardest parts of being a spy for Michael is, when he has to fake being a Nazi. 

When a British spy plane is shot down, Hitler’s Youth Army is called in to help search for him.  Michael wants to save the man yet his team is needed to turn him in.  The original search comes up empty but he’s found later and they’re able to safety hide him for the time being.  He’ll need to get out of the country soon and that’s when Michael’s family comes into play.

Michael meets a new boy at school, Fritz whose father is on the design team for a new aircraft w/o propellers.  This aircraft will help win the war.  At Fritz’s house, Michael steals the blueprint but later realizes, he only has a small section of the blueprints.  He’ll need to find the rest of the pages and get the information to the proper authorities BUT Fritz is quickly moving up the ranks in Hitler’s Youth and he’s leaving Michael behind.  This friendship is falling by the wayside yet Michael needs those blueprints soon but how can he get them? 

I’m sitting on the edge on my chair, the stories are running simultaneously, each one just as important as the others.  It’s war, there’s some violence but that’s expected, as that’s what these individuals experienced.  I enjoyed how all these stories were all tied in to one another, they’re full of energy and how enticing they were.  Alan’s book are phenomenal, I need to breathe now!  

The Assignment by Lisa M. Wiemer

5 stars YA

Really? Logan’s taken her seat in history class, as Mr. Bartley addresses the class to explain their next assignment. This graded project is top-secret so nothing is to be discussed outside of class. Top-secret? Why is that, I’m wondering. Each student will be assigned either a 1 or a 2 and that, will direct them on which position they will defend in their paper. So, the students aren’t defending their own position on this topic? No, it’s random. What’s the topic, you ask? The students will need to pretend it’s 1942, and that they’re part of Hitler’s Elite Nazi’s Leadership Group. The concern is over the growing Jewish community: what should they do with the over 11 million Jews that are in Europe? Are they on the pro (1) or con (2) side of this problem? Pro: they exterminate them or Con: they put them in work camps/ghettos and sterilize them. I think I understand why it is top-secret. Did their teacher really only give them these 2 options for this required assignment?

I couldn’t believe a teacher would actually give their students this assignment and feel good about it. When Logan and her best friend Cede, who is also in the class, question Mr. Bartley about it, he justifies the paper. While some students are taking this assignment seriously, there are those who are pushing the subject, by adding in physical displays of Nazism in the classroom. Frustrated, the two friends keep reaching out to people to stop the assignment while they also try to create an alternate assignment that they hope the teacher will approve. I liked their persistence in this matter and how the author showed this process. The friends kept looking for solutions even though things weren’t working out for them.

Romance does fly in the book, as Logan and Cede’s friendship changes. They were great friends but this turns into something serious as they try to get the assignment terminated. They each had felt attracted to each other but neither of them had acted on their feelings until this project gave them a deeper connection to one another. They were great friends who just took it to the next level.

I liked how the teens discovered more about themselves and their families during this process. I enjoyed how they tried to stop the assignment and what finally happened in the end. The book made me think about what I would have done if I was standing in their shoes.

Allies by Alan Gratz

5 stars YA

I have to thank Alan again for the trip.  It was a short trip but it was definitely worth it, as I was walked along beside a handful of young individuals who were out to make a difference in the world in 1944.  They each had their own agenda for how they were about to beat the Nazi’s, their own energy, and their own history which powered them. I was only there because Alan allowed me to be.  This book, along with many others that he has written, put me on the front lines with these individuals and let me see firsthand, the amazing journey that these individuals experienced, that I myself, only felt.

If I haven’t said this before, I will say it now, you need to read one of Alan Gratz’s books.  Geared towards young readers, Alan is an amazing writer that has won numerous awards and has been on the NY Times best sellers list.  I, as a grandmother, love his books and can testify that from the beginning pages, I’m hooked.  Alan stories includes topics such as honor, love, and family, just to name a few and once you read one, you’ll want to binge read the rest.

In this book, each of these individuals are fighting the Nazi’s with their own personal agenda.   Every few chapters we are introduced to a new individual until we meet them all and then, during the rest of the book, we follow their involvement in the war.   There were many times, I couldn’t wait to get back to a certain character but I enjoyed every character in this book.   I enjoyed their different perspectives and motives for their involvement. 

I can’t tell you how many times, I caught myself holding my breath or I found myself sitting at the edge of the couch, while reading this book.   This is not a relaxing read.   The intensity, the emotions, and the images that went on inside my head were intense.  Struggling to stay afloat in the water as the floating dead bodies hit up against them, their heavy gear weighing them down, where do they go from here?  The bullets hitting the water and the boats, they’re all around them.  Dang, I was shouting at the book by this time and my heart was racing.  Then, we had the medic who made light of the discrimination some soldiers threw at him while later, we really saw how he really felt about it and what he did when faced with these individuals again.   The author includes some notes in the back of this book and you really need to read them.  This book, what else can I say besides, read it.  Take the journey and see 1944 through the eyes of these individuals.    5 stars!

The Home for the Friendless: Finding Hope, Love, and Family by Betty Auchard

5 stars Memoir

I read this book for bookclub otherwise I think I would have missed reading this gem.  What a great memoir!  I enjoyed many things about this book and although, I live in the area that the author talks about, that is not what makes this book so special.  This book is about the stories, the memories, and how those made me feel.

I could go on forever about the stories that are included in this book but some of my favorites were the name confusion story, Spike the dog, how her family lived through WWII, and her relationships with her family.   The pictures that she included in the book were great, as I like looking at old photographs and they helped with the stories. 

Pearl, Elizabeth, Betty, Betty Bop, Lizzie, whatever name you want to call her and that also depends upon who you were and what age she was (name confusion story) shares some great personal stories that left me smiling, shaking my head, and some almost left me in tears.   Each chapter is a separate story and boy, does she have the stories. 

When Spike got stuck in the toilet, I couldn’t quit laughing.  In my mind, I imagined exactly what that scene must have looked like, as I read the words that were printed on the page. What a sight that must have been!  When she wrote about WWII, as the family condensed themselves into 2 rooms, how cozy and scared everyone must have felt living side-by-side.   Each story felt as if she was telling it to me personally, the details and emotions she wrote about were vivid.   The story about eating the sandwiches during this time period and the free liver.   I just cannot imagine.

I’m so glad that I read this for bookclub.  I told our librarian that I appreciated her picking out this book for us.  I will be recommending this book to others as it’s definitely one that others need to read. 5 stars