Book Review: The Storm Over Paris by William Ian Grubman

The Storm Over Paris
William Ian Grubman
Dupapier Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-732-61000-2
Trade paperback

A prologue and an epilogue that take place in 2000 in New York City bookends what is an exciting addition to the literature of the Holocaust. The rest of the story is set in Paris, beginning in April of 1942 where the Rothstein family has run a prestigious art gallery for several generations. They’ve handled the Rembrandts, the DaVincis, the Caravaggios. The very best of which the invading Nazis are looting for their own.

Mori Rothstein’s life, and that of his family are in jeopardy because they are Jewish. The only thing saving them, for a while at least, is because Hermann Goering is collecting (stealing) the most precious paintings for Hitler’s art museum and he needs Mori’s expertise. For a time, Mori’s connections and knowledge will keep him and his family alive, but time is running out. He and his sons must be not only brave, but clever if they are to save any of the paintings as well as their lives.

The writing is excellent, the setting of 1942 Paris well depicted, and as the pacing picks up to an exciting conclusion, the tension swells exponentially. The characters are well-fleshed out, including those you are sure to hate. A fascinating read for those who like historical adventure set in that time and under those circumstances.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin

Almost Autumn
Marianne Kaurin
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-88965-0
Hardcover

The world we live in today is so ‘moment-to-moment’ in terms of information, we feel saturated and overwhelmed when evil things happen. It was markedly different for fifteen year old Ilse Stern, a Norwegian Jew. When the Nazis occupied her country in 1942, one of the first things they did was force everyone to turn in their wireless receivers (radios), effectively shutting off the most available information flow.

Ilse lives in a cramped fourth floor apartment with her parents and two sisters. Sonja is older and over-responsible, trying to keep the household running as well as do what she can to help her father keep his tailor shop afloat. Miriam, age five, is quiet and loves to draw pictures with her trademark sun featured in each. Mother is somewhat dour and constantly finds fault with Ilse, who’s a dreamer and avid reader with a big crush on teen neighbor Hermann Rod.

The Nazi occupiers’ squeeze on Jewish citizens begins gradually with a requirement that they have new registration papers stamped with a red J. Overly frequent requirements that Jewish men report to authorities coincides with a spike in verbal attacks and defacing of property. It becomes so bad, Mr. Stern leaves an hour early to remove the words written on his shop windows so Ilse and Sonja won’t see them when they arrive to help out.

Meanwhile, Hermann has gotten involved in the resistance, but must cover this activity by pretending he’s apprenticing to a painter across town. His involvement causes him to stand Ilse up for their first date, a night at the local cinema. For the next month, neither quite knows how to break the chill that follows this.

At the same time as the two teens are dancing around their feelings for each other, the campaign of terror has been ramped up by the occupation forces and in short order, the tailor shop is forced to close, all savings accounts and safe deposit boxes owned by Jewish citizens are ordered closed and all adult Jewish males are arrested and taken to a secret location.

Ilse and Hermann run off for a day of skiing and reconciliation. While gone, her family is taken into custody as are most other Jewish citizens. After a horrific sea voyage and a frigid train ride, with all packed tighter than cattle, they end up at Aushwitz. The description of what happened during these trips, as well as their reception at the prison camp, are low key, but still leave the reader feeling chilled.

If you want to learn what happened to Ilse, read the book. It’s an excellently understated story of how a large number of innocent human beings were terrified before being carted off to be executed simply because of their ethnicity. We need books like this to remind those who have forgotten and make aware those who never knew. Highly suggested for any school or public library collection.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, November 2017.

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: Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis

hidden-like-anne-frankHidden Like Anne Frank
14 True Stories of Survival
Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-54362-0
Hardcover

Anne Frank was the most memorable child of the Holocaust, but there were many, many others. In this extremely vivid and moving collection of fourteen personal narratives by survivors of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, readers will find themselves experiencing a range of emotions.

These survivors were separated from parents, siblings, cousins and other relatives, found themselves moved more times that they could count, experienced despair the day after hope and came out of the experience forever changed. They had to adopt new names, new religions, learn different customs and even undergo eyebrow shaping and a change of hair color. Readers will discover how entire communities were herded like cattle, lost everything they had accumulated, were forced to ignore siblings in public, live under inhumane conditions, endure beatings by people who had supposedly befriended them, go hungry for extended periods of time and often had to remain in unlit cold and cramped places for hours while being terrified that the knock on the door meant exposure and a trip to a concentration camp.

Each story is different, each survivor knew great loss and deprivation, but all endured. What comes across clearly in each story is how the experience forever changed not only the narrator, but their relationships with surviving family members. Each reader will have unique reactions to every story. There are some that inspire admiration, some that evoke pity, sympathy or empathy and even one that might strike one as annoying, but none of us were there to live the terror and fear, so who’s to say how our story might come across under similar circumstances.

This is a book that should be read by as many people as possible, particularly in a time (like now) where ethnocentricity and racial intolerance are once more on the rise. It’s well worth having in any school or public library.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Reviews: A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson, Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, and The Wild Beasts of Wuhan by Ian Hamilton

A Serpent's ToothA Serpent’s Tooth
Craig Johnson
Viking, April  2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-02645-6
Trade Paperback

Now in his ninth appearance, Walt Longmire is confronted by dual adversaries when a homeless boy shows up on his doorstep.  The youth, Cord Lynear, has been cast out of a Mormon cult enclave searching for his mother.  Walt discovers that his mother approached the sheriff of an adjoining county, looking for her son.  In attempting to reunite the two, Walt is unable to find the mother, leading him into investigating an interstate polygamy group, well-armed and with something to hide.

It is an intricate plot, one fraught with danger for Walt, his pal Standing Bear (also known as “Cheyenne Nation”) and his deputy (and lover), Victoria Moretti.  I felt Walt’s overdone bravado, and the resulting violent confrontations, were a bit overdone.  But that is Walt.  And TV.

This entry in the Walt Longmire series, now also in a popular TV dramatic form about to enter its second season, appears to be expressly written to provide another episode.  That is not to say it isn’t another well-written novel with all the elements of the Wyoming sheriff’s customary literary observations and acts of derring-do.  It just seems to me that it’s a bit too much of a manufactured plot with an overtone of a popular protagonist and his sidekicks.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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Once We Were BrothersOnce We Were Brothers
Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-04639-0
Trade Paperback

There have been many books about the holocaust and the travails of people under Nazi occupation during World War II, but this novel touches the heart of the reader because essentially it is a love story surrounded by the atrocities and miseries inflicted on the populations of the occupied territories.  It is essentially the story of Ben Solomon and his wife and family.  But, more important, it is the telling of the horrors endured by the Jews in Poland and the beasts that perpetrated them.

The plot begins when Ben, now 82 years old, sees a TV broadcast of a Chicago event and recognizes the person receiving a civic honor, apparently a pillar of society who is well-known as a philanthropist, as a former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek.  The reason Ben recognizes him is because the Solomon family gave Otto a home and Ben grew up with him until Otto’s parents took him away and he embraced his new-found status in the National Socialist Party.  Ben is introduced to Catherine Lockhart, an attorney, who comes to embrace Ben’s desire to uncover Otto, now going by the name of Elliot Rosenzweig, a billionaire Chicago insurance magnate, for what he really is, while listening to his story in relation to a lawsuit she is preparing to bring to reclaim jewelry and cash Otto stole from Ben’s family.

Written simply, the book, a first effort by a Chicago lawyer, moves forward steadily, as Catherine attempts to formulate a lawsuit for replevin, while Ben insists on telling her in great detail the trials and tribulations of life under the Nazis.  And it all comes together at the end.  (Parenthetically, I believe the novel would make a great screenplay.)

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

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The Wild Beasts of WuhanThe Wild Beasts of Wuhan
An Ava Lee Novel
Ian Hamilton
Picador, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-03229-4
Trade Paperback

Ava Lee undertakes a most formidable task in this, the second in the series about the forensic accountant who specializes in recovering money for a sizable commission in partnership with her mentor, referred to simply as “Uncle,” a rather mysterious man apparently with triad connections, headquartered in Hong Kong and with deep roots in China.  It seems that Uncle’s boyhood friend, Wong Changxing, a powerful and impressive industrialist, bought about $100 million worth of paintings, 15 out of the 20 being elaborate forgeries, and upon discovering the fact seeks Uncle’s and Ava’s assistance in recovering the money and saving him from embarrassment should the facts become known.

The problem is that the Hong Kong dealer from whom the paintings were purchased ten years before is dead and there are no clues or paperwork to guide Ava in her efforts.  But that hardly is a problem for her, as she pursues tracing the transactions, traveling to Denmark, London, Dublin, the Faroe Islands and New York City and learning a lot about the art world in the process.

Ava Lee is on a par with the best of the female protagonists like Kinsey Milhone and others, while an accountant, but exhibiting all the talents and attributes of a private eye.   She is tough and bold and confident, as she shows us in this latest caper.  We are told that the next novel in the series, expected in January 2014, has her pulling her half-brother’s chestnuts out of the fire.  Looking forward to reading it!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.

Book Review: Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Prisoner B-3087Prisoner B-3087
Alan Gratz
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-45901-3
Hardcover

 

Prisoner B-3087 is a novel, based on the true story of Jack Gruener’s formative years in concentration camps.  Anyone vaguely familiar with the Holocaust will find it remarkably difficult to determine where Mr. Gratz took liberties.  At a blush, this may seem like a heavy topic for the intended audience of younger students (Middle and Jr. High); however, in its simplicity, I believe that the story is perfectly presented.

The horror unfolds through the eyes of Yanek (later to be known as Jack Gruener).  He is only 10 years old when Hitler’s armies began to invade Europe.  As he listens to the adults “talk politics”, he can’t possibly conceive of how his world will change over the next 6 years.

Because Yanek is such a kind-hearted and optimistic boy, his matter-of-fact delivery allows the reader to experience his own emotions.  The simple and basic presentation of the deplorable treatment of Jews is no less than heart-wrenching—for the reader.  It is impossible to ignore the young boy’s strength and resolution as he first deals with years of being held prisoner in his own town, to finding the perfect hiding place for his family as mass exodus occurs—who but a young boy would see an abandoned pigeon coop as a home?  As he loses family and friends while being shuffled from camp to camp, he relies on inner strength to survive.

I hope that this book becomes wildly popular.  Based on my (very limited) time in the school systems, I believe our kids need a true hero.  It seems that so many of us have become wrapped up in our own little cocoons that we allow inconveniences to become tragedies.  I certainly relished the jolt back to reality—where people truly know suffering and pain.  The fresh perspective was welcome.  I will definitely be donating copies of this book to school and public libraries, with the hope that someone else will open his eyes as well.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2012.

Book Reviews: The Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne, Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane and Reapers by Frederick Ramsay

The Final Reckoning
Sam Bourne
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-187574-8
Hardcover

Truth and fiction merge in this thriller about survivors of the holocaust taking justice into their own hands, seeking out Nazis and murdering them.  It comes to light when the last survivor of DIN, the secret group of Jewish resistance fighters (yes, there were some) and concentration camp inmates after the war, travels to the UN in New York from London on his last mission and is shot by a security guard.

Tom Byrne, a former UN attorney now in private practice, is retained to go to London, visit the victim’s daughter, and attempt to smooth over any claim she might have.  Instead, he becomes both romantically involved with her and involved in a scheme that eventually has severe repercussions.

Written based on actual people and events of the past, the novel provides emotional ups and downs almost equal in intensity to the horrors of “the final solution.”  It concludes with a suspense that is equally gripping, with solid prose and excellent pacing, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-183692-3
Hardcover

There is no denying that Dennis Lehane writes unusual and well-plotted novels.  Yet Moonlight Mile is a difficult book to read, confusing and inconsistent.  It may be the last of the Patrick and Angie series, since they seem to be tired of the PI business, and he is leaning toward leaving the business to undertake a new endeavor.

The plot is relatively simple.  Patrick promises to look for a missing 16-year-old girl, one he had found many years before her present disappearance.  Angie, who was a full-time mommy to three-year-old Gabby, turns the child over to a neighbor to assist Patrick in the endeavor. Along the way, they encounter a bunch of psycho Russian mobsters to enliven the caper.

The characters seem like cardboard cutouts, and a lot of the dialog appears stilted.  These characteristics are unusual in a Lehane novel. Oh well, on to the next one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Reapers
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59508-806-2
Hardcover

There are some excellent South African novels.  Frederick Ramsay has a particular interest in Botswana, and this is the second novel in what appears to be a burgeoning series featuring an up-and-coming Inspector, Modise, and Ranger, Sanderson.  With the World Cup about to begin in South Africa, various unsavory sorts are spread all over the landscape and Botswana’s officials are up to their eyeballs trying to establish security for visiting dignitaries like a secret meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and North Koreans, as well as Russian Mafia types seeking to move into the territory, especially a world class casino-hotel being buily by an American in the Chobe river.

To complicate matters, there are some environmental fanatics seeking to spread Orgonite, an ostensible source of energy, to the area, a couple of ne’er-do-wells seeking to cash in on a rare earth shipment, and some murders to occupy the protagonists, not to mention local bribery, smuggling and other side issues.

This highly readable series reflects the author’s deep knowledge of the country, perhaps derived from his son who is an official there. Ramsay authored the popular Ike Schwartz mysteries, which this reviewer also thoroughly enjoyed [and hope he hasn’t forgotten the sheriff].

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.