Book Review: The Way to London by Alix Rickoff

the way to london

The Way to London: A Novel of World War II by Alix Rickoff

Lucy Stanhope is a spoiled debutante living the good life in Singapore in the early years of WWII. Her mother is a selfish narcissist, and her step-father is a lecherous creep, and Lucy has no problems defying them or society to live the way she wants. However, when the weight of scandal becomes too much, Lucy finds herself packed up and shipped off to Nanreath Hall in England. Going from the tropical luxury of Singapore to the dreariness of war-time Britain is a kick in the teeth for Lucy. When she befriends a young war orphan, the two make plans to escape the drudgery of the country for London. The perilous journey across a war zone will force Lucy to face her priorities in life, and to confront her mistakes.

This is a beautiful, vividly written book. Rickoff has put an enormous amount of effort into packing every page with an incredible amount of historical detail. You can almost smell the tropical flowers on the breezes of Singapore, and feel the clammy touch of the fog in England. The story is slowly paced, allowing plenty of time to take in the story and get to know the characters.

That being said, this book wasn’t really up my alley. I’m not really one for romances (though if I were going to pick a romance genre it would likely be historical romance). It also kind of irked me that as rich in detail as most of the book was, the author is still relying on the “spoiled brat of a woman is made pure and whole by the love of a noble man” trope, which is nearly as bad as “the pure and virtuous woman finds the strength to tame the wild, uncouth man” trope. For all the detail and time spent on the setting and getting to know our main characters, the interaction between Lucy and her foil/savior, Michael, is uncomplicated and a bit flat. You know through all the sniping that they’re going to wind up together in the end, though I have to admit there were other contenders I was rooting for, and one (from her time in Singapore) whose story would (in my opinion) have been a bit more interesting.

So in all, this is a well written book in a genre I don’t have a lot of patience for. If you’re generally a fan of romance novels, or are into the WWII setting, this might be a good title for you to try.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

bridge-across-the-ocean

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

There are three narratives in play in this book. The first is Brette Caslake, a woman living in modern-day San Diego. Brette can see and talk with ghosts, though she has been trying to supress this aspect of herself since she was a little girl. The second is Simone Deveraux, a French Resistance fighter. The third is Annaliese Lange,a former ballerina fleeing from her Nazi husband.

Simone and Annaliese are thrown together on the RMS Queen Mary as it steams across the Atlantic in 1946 to reunite European war brides with their American husbands. But the secrets both women must keep simmer under the surface, and only one woman will get off the ship in New York. Meanwhile in the present day, Brette is investigating the Queen Mary as a favor to an old friend. She encounters a spirit on the ship which points her towards the half-century-old mystery . . .

I’m of two minds regarding this book. The stories of Simone and Annaliese are very well done. Each woman is given a unique voice, and their histories are compelling; the mystery surrounding their fatal voyage is engaging. You wind up caring deeply about the fate of both these women.

In contrast, Brette’s modern day storyline feels flat and tacked on. Her story feels like it exists solely as a tool to push the 1940s narrative along, and even then it feels unnecessary; Simone and Annaliese’s story could have been told entirely without the present-day narrative. The idea of a woman who can speak with ghosts is intriguing, but the end result here is unsatisfying. Brette allows herself to be bullied into investigating the haunted ship, all the while dealing with a husband who may or may not think she’s insane, but is trying to push her into having children anyway. Brette’s fears about motherhood, and passing on her unwanted ability onto her children are summarily brushed aside by her husband, and his acceptance (or lack thereof) of her abilities are never really resolved. I found the entire thing to be aggravating, and I found myself flipping past the chapters which featured Brette in favor of finding out what happened to the women in 1946.

In all, this is not a bad book, but I can’t help feel that the modern day narrative detracts from the overall story. Still, the book is worth checking out for Simone and Annaliese’s stories, and other readers may not find Brette’s storyline so off-putting.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. A Bridge Across the Ocean will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

The Orphans Tale.jpg

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

When we first meet Noa, she is cleaning a German train station in exchange for scraps of bread. Kicked out of her parents’ home at sixteen for becoming pregnant to a Nazi soldier, and later forced to give up her baby in service to the Reich, Noa is cast adrift, keeping herself to the background and speaking with no one. On the fateful night, an odd sound draws her outside the station, and to a boxcar filled with dead and dying infants; Jewish babies whose parents have been sent off to concentration camps, their children left to die of exposure in the German winter.Seeing movement, she snatches a still-living infant from the pile. As the enormity of what she has just done overcomes her, she flees into the winter night.

Astrid is a trapeze artist from an old Jewish circus family. Returning from Berlin after her Nazi-official husband divorces her, she finds her family home abandoned, her parents and siblings vanished. She seeks out Herr Neuhoff, owner of a rival circus for answers, but no one knows what has become of her family. Neuhoff makes her an astonishing offer: to hide her from the Nazis by giving her a new identity as a performer in his circus. Astrid accepts the offer, and, one snowy night, the circus finds a half-frozen teenager and a baby in the woods.

Noa, fearful of retaliation by the Nazis, and desperate to keep safe the Jewish baby she rescued, accepts a similar offer to hide within the circus as a performer. She is placed under Astrid’s tutelage to learn the flying trapeze. Rivals at first, the two women form a bond as everything crumbles down around them.

The Orphan’s Tale is incredibly well written. Both Noa and Astrid are brought sharply to life through the power of their dueling narratives. Each woman is broken but resilient, each vividly wrought and believably fashioned. The horrors brought on by the Nazis are contrasted with the small braveries of those who resist them.What emerges is a tale of love and humanity against one of the bleakest backgrounds imaginable. The story is made all the more amazing once you learn it is based (loosely) on real people and events.

This book is a good fit for those who enjoyed books like The Orphan Mother or The Light Between Oceans. Anyone with a fascination for World War II will also enjoy this book. I would also recommend this book for anyone looking for a reaffirmation of humanity; for the knowledge that even small acts of resistance in the face of fascism can make a difference.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Orphan’s Tale will be available for purchase on February 21st, 2017.

Book Review: Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre

rogue-heroes

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre

This book is utterly fascinating. In 1942, in the deserts of Northern Africa, a brutal war was being waged. The victor of this front would gain a great advantage in the overall scheme of World War II.

Enter a rather peculiar soldier. David Stirling was an aristocratic Scot with many Scarlet Pimpernel-esque traits. He hated discipline, could often be found enjoying the local alcohol or women, and was generally regarded as something of a dandy. But Stirling envisioned an entirely new way to wage war. Rather than the more conventional warfare practiced in WWI, where two large armies threw themselves at one another until a victor emerged, Stirling wanted to create a small, highly trained unit which could operate secretly behind enemy lines and cause maximum disruption to the Axis war machine. Old-school higher-ups viewed this as a unsporting, but with a combination of charm and family connections, Stirling was able to put together his very own squadron of rogues and misfits. Thus the SAS was born.

Macintyre used the war diary of the SAS, a compilation of primary documents about the unit from its founding in 1942 through 1946, for his source material for this book. This recently unclassified document has provided Macintyre with a rich canvas to write this history of the SAS, which he does with wry humor and masterful storytelling. The story of the origins of the SAS rightly belongs in the realm of legend, and Macintyre does their story justice. The primary players in forming the unit are realized as actual people, and vividly brought into focus by the author.

While this is a history book, the fast pacing and accessible narrative makes this a good choice even for those who normally don’t read the genre. Any one with an interest in military or WWII history will find this book fascinating.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Rogue Heroes is currently available for purchase.