Book Review: A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose

A Good Place to Hide
Peter Grose
Pegasus Books, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-68177-124-3
Trade Paperback

The period between 1939 and 1944 in Europe was not smooth and elegant. Relative calm settled over France as the Vichy Government moved to solidify itself and accommodate German occupation in the Northern Zone. As author Peter Grose notes, the central figures were Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Winston Churchill. War was the order of the day and as competing armies surged across the land, residents of a small, almost unnoticed group of farm villages found themselves responsible for a large humanitarian effort.

It didn’t seem to matter that for a thousand years the Huguenots had been persecuted for their religious and social beliefs. They were prepared to hide Jewish refugees at the drop of a trigger. And because of Haute-Loire’s proximity to Switzerland, they became a conduit for protection and saving of thousands of Jewish refugees from all over Europe, hiding them and moving them on to safety in neutral Switzerland.

The book is at times mesmerizing with it’s incredible tales of seventeen-year-old Piton, a guide who made the perilous journey perhaps a hundred times, to Virginia Hall, an American woman who asserted herself into the fabric of Resistance command and directed dozens of parachute drops, movement of large amounts of cash, rescue of prisoners and destruction of key transportation links to disrupt German military operations.

The book is over-long in some details and in places needs trimming to increase its impact. But it is a strong inspiring tale of man’s humanity toward man and a detailing of some clever and scary maneuvers by those same humans. It was hard to put down and is a grand testament to the women and men of Haute-Loire villages who refused to bow to the fascist German fist, who saved almost a generation of Jews.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Third Knife by Pamela Boles Eglinski

the-third-knifeThe Third Knife
Catalina & Bonhomme Series #1
Pamela Boles Eglinski
LWF Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-0692549087
Trade Paperback

Catalina’s parents send her away from their vineyard farmhouse into the night with a guide to escape the advance of the Germans into Italy. She is sent to find her mother’s relatives in France who can help hide the family’s fortune, a blue diamond necklace that’s been in the family since the French Revolution. Germans are on the trails, however, and the journey doesn’t go as planned. Catalina ends up as a young maquis, a French Resistance fighter.

This World War II tale is three narratives in one. First, it’s the story of a young Italian signorina who escapes from the Germans to France with her family’s fortune around her waist and finds her first love in the process. Next is a passionate story about a group of young French resistance members, the maquis, and their dangerous campaigns against the Nazis. Finally, there’s a tale of French and Italian wines and the vintners who produce the grapes.

We are educated about the period, the land, and the war even as the story pulls at our heartstrings, horrifies us, pulls us into the plot, and leaves us with a lasting impression of characters we learn to love and admire. There are maps and explanations at the end of the book and an introduction to the book, Return of the French Blue, to which The Third Knife is the prequel.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

A Train in WinterA Train In Winter
Caroline Moorehead
HarperCollins, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-165070-3
Hardcover

This is one of the most difficult, mesmerizing, and amazing books I have ever had the priviledge of reading. I do regret that I have an advance reading copy which does not contain all the photographs intended for the finished edition. This is, as the cover states, “an extraordinary story of women, friendship and resistance in occupied France.”

In mid-June, 1940, the German army occupied Paris and France fell. At first, relations between the occupiers and the subjugated French were almost cordial. During the next two years many of France’s second-class citizens, it’s women, took up the battle and became foundations and facilitators of the much celebrated French Resistance. It’s noteworthy that French women were denied the priviledge of voting until 1944. Ironically, French dismissive attitudes toward women worked to their advantage as they became top organizers and couriers in the resistance movements all over the country.

Gradually, informers and collaborators working with the Gestapo amassed evidence of women’s activities, arresting and gathering women into prisons.  In January, 1943, 230 women, the youngest 15, the oldest in her sixties, were loaded into cattle cars and shipped east, to Auschwitz. Only 49 survived to the end of the war. This is the well-documented story of those women.

The author has, through extensive archival research, personal interviews with survivors, and family members, and the development of original sources, pieced together the individual and collective stories of these ordinary yet incredible women. The stories are set against the political and the social turmoil of the times. The women, from all classes of society across the political and social spectrums, bonded together to support one another in fighting for their survival. They had no weapons save their wits, their intelligence and their essential humanity, against a huge and terrible effort to obliterate them. Only a few were Jews. That any survived is testament to their grit, their determination and their mutual support.

This work is meticulously documented with an extensive bibliography, source notes by chapter, and short biographies of the women who live again in these pages. Moorehead’s tone is straightforward; no hysteria, no loud condemnations, there are no exclamation points. But the book, in the weight of its facts here illuminated, is condemnatory.  It condemns Nazis, the Gestapo, and French collaborators as well as the post-war government of France which preferred to forget much of the pestilence that came with the occupying German army.

This is a book that should be read by anyone with the slightest interest in human rights and human history. It throws a bright light on an aspect of World War II in Europe little known or studied. And the book is a reminder that we who ignore the lessons of history will inevitably suffer repetition of those devastations.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart—and a Giveaway

Escape from ParisEscape From Paris
Carolyn Hart
Seventh Street Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-793-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Romantic suspense amid the chaos of a world at war. The year is 1940. As England braces for invasion and the German army overruns Europe, two American sisters in Paris risk their lives to save a downed British airman from Nazi arrest. Linda Rossiter and Eleanor Masson soon realize the price they may pay when they read this ominous public notice: “All persons harbouring English soldiers must deliver same to the nearest Kommandantur not later than 20 October 1940. Those persons who continue to harbour Englishmen after this date without having notified the authorities will be shot.” On Christmas Eve, the Gestapo sets a trap, and death is only a step behind the two American women.

“Carolyn Hart’s riveting and realistic portrayal of German-occupied Paris keeps the suspense high. Set just before Germany declared war on America and just as the French Resistance started to emerge, Escape from Paris is a compelling page-turner.”—Robin Burcell, bestselling author of The Black List

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This book threw me for a loop a little.  I didn’t get into it right away, but it grew on me and I found myself wanting to finish it to see how the story ended.  There’s some good writing, but then there are a few sections that don’t seem to fit.  Overall, I’d say this was a solid book.

To be fair, this is not the sort of book I read, so I’m wondering if I was fighting it a bit too much to give a fair shot.  I do feel the characters were fairly well developed and the plot was interesting.

I would recommend Escape from Paris to folks looking for romance, suspense and books about Paris during the 1940’s.

Reviewed by Chris Swinney, August 2013.
Author of Gray Ghost.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart, leave a
comment below. The winning name will be
drawn Tuesday evening, October 1st.
Open to US and Canadian residents.

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, May 2012
ISBN 978-1-4231-5219-4
Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-4231-5325-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

 

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

 

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Queenie, daughter of an upper-crust family, is a wireless operator captured as an Allied spy and facing execution if she survives six weeks of medical experimentation in a Nazi camp. In an odd twist of fate, she is being interrogated in Ormaie, France, where she used to visit her grandmother and where her great-aunt still lives and is a part of the French Resistance. Maddie is a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying planes and pilots but never allowed in a combat zone until the fateful flight that ended in disaster. Maddie is Jewish. In any circumstances other than war, these two women would almost certainly never have known each other and yet they have become the best of friends and trust each other completely. That trust will lead to a moment of devastation and sheer love.

KISS ME , HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!

To say this is an engrossing story is to put it mildly. Much has been written fictionally about World War II but there is always room for more because we’re so fascinated with that piece of history. Having the horrors and the everyday routines of wartime built into the friendship of two women who find themselves in unbearable circumstances is nearly too much and I literally could not stop reading until I’d finished and then I wished for more.

Ms. Wein tells a great tale and she does so by making the reader feel that these two women are much like most of us, willing to do our part in a bad time but still just ordinary people. Little things make the story come alive, such as the detail of the first successful ballpoint pen, licensed to the RAF in 1943 and manufactured for pilots who needed a way to write at high altitudes where increased pressure frequently caused fountain pens to leak. There are also the women’s lists of top ten fears which, not surprisingly, change as they learn what is really important to them. Above all, this is the story of what one person can mean to another and the sacrifices they’re willing to make for each other. Even Verity’s Nazi interrogator has shades of humanity, something the author didn’t have to do but still a touch that lifts this book above many other World War II novels.

Is the ending of this tale a happy one? Most would say “no” but it’s an appropriate ending, one which will remain with me for a very long time. I’ll be including Code Name Verity in my top 5 books of 2012.

KISS ME , HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2012.