Italy, 1937. In a tiny village in rural Lombardy, Graziella Ponti is born into a loving family.
Though they are not rich and life is full of challenges, they are content and safe, surrounded by the tightly-knit community of Pieve Santa Clara.
But when the shadow of World War Two falls across the village with the arrival of Nazi soldiers, nothing in young Graziella’s life will ever be the same again.
Paradiso is Graziella’s story. It charts her loves, losses and triumphs as she grows up in post-war Italy, a country in transformation, freed from the shackles of dictatorship yet still gripped by the restraints of the Catholic church.
Paradiso is inspired by true stories told to Francesca Scanacapra by her Italian family and set in locations where she spent much of her childhood. It is a deeply affecting novel which sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Italy’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live in extraordinary times.
This stunning historical read is perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Rhys Bowen, Victoria Hislop, Angela Petch and Heather Morris.
Francesca Scanacapra was born in Italy to an English mother and Italian father, and her childhood was spent living between England and Italy. Her adult life has been somewhat nomadic and she has pursued an eclectic mixture of career paths, including working as a technical translator between Italian, English, Spanish and French, a gym owner in Spain, an estate agent in France, a property developer in France and Senegal, and a teacher. Francesca lives in Dorset and currently works as a builder with her husband. She has two children.
An enthralling story representing a side not often seen in WWII historical fiction novels: that of a child in Italy, evacuated to a convent and later returned to her family in a village much changed from the place she left.
Sworn to keep a secret about the death of a couple of German officers, Graziella protects her family … but at what cost? Life in post-war Lombardy has its ups and downs, and we see both sides through the young girl’s eyes as she grows up and into adulthood. For me, the story had a similar vibe to “Anne of Avonlea” (Green Gables) as the reader is drawn into life there, with all the family members and neighbours having their part to play.
I found it interesting how the mothers in the story changed after losing their husbands, how they stood up to be counted in their own very subtle way. Zia Mina’s story would make a great spin-off with the Marcesini family. I would gladly read more about Graziella and her family. Had she found her true love in Gianfrancesco? Would she go on to be a teacher?
A true family drama, both emotionally engaging and historically compelling. If there is to be a sequel, then count me in. More, please 🙂
Update: as I post my review on Amazon, I spy book 2 – Return to Paradiso!
When Izzie Dean’s beloved nan, Molly Blackshaw, passes away, Izzie returns to the Blackpool bungalow where she grew up, to say goodbye once and for all. When Izzie’s homecoming reunites her with her first love, Justin Swift, every emotion that Izzie has repressed since the day he broke her heart comes rushing to the surface. But then an unexpected discovery changes everything.
Between the pages of the battered secret diary Molly kept during WWII, Izzie discovers a story of love, heartbreak, and the incomparable hardship of life in a world at war. Reading her grandmother’s words soon puts her own story into perspective, and suddenly Izzie realises that the only thing holding her back from happiness, might be herself. Now she just has to convince Justin that they deserve a second chance at forever…
Lancashire born, I moved to Bedfordshire in the late seventies, married and started a family. I’m a past Hon Sec of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, have been a member since 1993 when I joined their New Writers’ Scheme as a probationer. That came about after winning a week’s historical writing course on the strength of the first chapter of my third Poldark-era romance. The tutor on the last day loved the story and handed me details of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – she said I absolutely must join as they would be able to help me towards publication.
Some four years later my first published book, Dark Canvas, won the RNA’s New Writer’s Award in 1997, the sixth, Illusions, won the RNA’s Romance Prize in 2003.
After working in the local library service for 18 years, during library cut-backs I took the leap to become self-employed as a writer and worked on releasing my backlist as eBooks for Kindle.
Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing Charlotte Ledger when she pulled me from the writing wilderness and have now signed a three-book deal with One More Chapter.
After her beloved grandmother Rozenn’s death, Morane is heartbroken to learn that her sister is the sole inheritor of the family home in Cornwall—while she herself has been written out of the will. With both her business and her relationship with her sister on the rocks, Morane becomes consumed by one question: what made Rozenn turn her back on her?
When she finds an old letter linking her grandmother to Brittany under German occupation, Morane escapes on the trail of her family’s past. In the coastal village where Rozenn lived in 1941, she uncovers a web of shameful secrets that haunted Rozenn to the end of her days. Was it to protect those she loved that a desperate Rozenn made a heartbreaking decision and changed the course of all their lives forever?
Morane goes in search of the truth but the truth can be painful. Can she make her peace with the past and repair her relationship with her sister?
Eliza Graham’s novels have been long-listed for the UK’s Richard & Judy Summer Book Club in the UK, and short-listed for World Book Day’s ‘Hidden Gem’ competition. She has also been nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
Her books have been bestsellers both in Europe and the US.
She is fascinated by the world of the 1930s and 1940s: the Second World War and its immediate aftermath and the trickle-down effect on future generations. Consequently she’s made trips to visit bunkers in Brittany, decoy harbours in Cornwall, wartime radio studios in Bedfordshire and cemeteries in Szczecin, Poland. And those are the less obscure research trips.
It was probably inevitable that Eliza would pursue a life of writing. She spent biology lessons reading Jean Plaidy novels behind the textbooks, sitting at the back of the classroom. In English and history lessons she sat right at the front, hanging on to every word. At home she read books while getting dressed and cleaning her teeth. During school holidays she visited the public library multiple times a day.
Eliza lives in an ancient village in the Oxfordshire countryside with her family. Not far from her house there is a large perforated sarsen stone that can apparently summon King Alfred if you blow into it correctly. Eliza has never managed to summon him. Her interests still mainly revolve around reading, but she also enjoys walking in the downland country around her home and travelling around the world to research her novels.
Giveaway to Win 3 x Paperback copies of You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham (Open to UK / USA only)
*Terms and Conditions –UK and USA entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
I know, it’s another book with a WWII connection. What can I say? I love this era, but don’t let my idiosyncrasies put you off. YOU LET ME GO is more than historical fiction, this is a dual timeline story that brings it bang up to date.
Admittedly, it’s a slow burner, but all of that background info only adds to the story as a whole. I guess it could be a little trimmer, but I’m not complaining because, for me, all those details really pay off once the second half gets going and Morane (Morie) heads off to Brittany to look into her grandmother’s past.
Morie had always been closer to her grandmother Rozenn, much more so than her sister, Gwen. It , therefore, came as no surprise to see her portray similar traits to Rozenn as the truth unravelled. This made Rozenn’s decision to leave her Cornwall home entirely to Gwen such a mystery. It made little sense, if any, and proved to be the catalyst for Morie’s trip to France. Was she peeved? You bet. Did she struggle to hide her feelings? Absolutely. Which is why putting some distance between herself and her sister seemed to be the right thing to do …before she could say something she might later regret.
Morie, you see, had had her own fair share of troubles up to that point – a horse riding accident, a failing business due to her partner’s gambling addiction. So this news from Rozenn’s will was the nail in the coffin. By going to France maybe she would be able to understand her grandmother’s decision.
Arriving in St Martin, the village from which her grandparents left France for Cornwall, Morie met up with ancestors of villagers who knew Rozenn and Luc. There was some initial reluctance to tell Morie anything, and the puzzle seemed to be missing more pieces than ever until she met with Madame O’Donnell, whose father remembered Rozenn’s family. It was during a conversation with him that Morie discovered her grandmother was not an only child – that she had a brother and a twin sister. So why had she kept their existence a secret all these years?
Piecing the past together, Morie encountered yet more surprises. Including one that would change her own life forever, and which proved her grandmother had made the decision about the Cornish house for a very good reason.
The second half of the book became compelling reading. The author paced the chapters perfectly, swapping point of view at critical times that meant I just had to read on. By the end, I had an inkling as to what was to come for Morie, and it was just as delightful and emotional as I expected.
Neither Morie nor Rozenn are the most instantly likeable of women, but their personalities grew on me and I thoroughly enjoyed how the story came to its conclusion. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves dual timelines and who can hang in through the slow start. It’s worth it. Trust me 😉
The Palazzo Colombina is home to the Uccello family: three generations of men, trapped together in the dusty palace on Venice’s Grand Canal. Awkward fifteen-year-old Nico. His distant, business-focused father. And his beloved grandfather, Paolo. Paolo is dying. But before he passes, he has secrets he’s waited his whole life to share.
When a Jewish classmate is attacked by bullies, Nico just watches – earning him a week’s suspension and a typed, yellowing manuscript from his frail Nonno Paolo. A history lesson, his grandfather says. A secret he must keep from his father. A tale of blood and madness . . .
Nico is transported back to the Venice of 1943, an occupied city seething under its Nazi overlords, and to the defining moment of his grandfather’s life: when Paolo’s support for a murdered Jewish woman brings him into the sights of the city’s underground resistance. Hooked and unsettled, Nico can’t stop reading – but he soon wonders if he ever knew his beloved grandfather at all.
David Hewson is a former journalist with The Times, The Sunday Times and the Independent.
He is the author of more than twenty-five novels, including his Rome-based Nic Costa series which has been published in fifteen languages, and his Amsterdam-based series featuring detective Pieter Vos.
He has also written three acclaimed adaptations of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
This story drew me in more and more as I kept reading, and I especially enjoyed Nonno Paolo’s story during the German occupation of Venice as told to his grandson through a series of written notes that he handed over one at a time from his hospital bed.
Nico, the grandson, has recently been suspended from school for a playground ruckus in which he stood back and allowed the school bully to attack another schoolboy. Nonno Paolo is furious that Nico did nothing and just allowed the bullying to go ahead and has second thoughts about handing his story over to Nico as a result, but is determined that Nico’s father is not the right person to read the contents of those envelopes. Persuaded by Nico to let him read the notes, Nonno Paolo hands them over and waits for his grandson to return to visit before continuing the process, checking how his story is coming across to the teenager but without giving away any details of what is to come.
Nico gets drawn into the story completely, learning how the Germans began rounding up Jews as Mussolini effectively became Hitler’s Italian puppet. The story deals with villagers who help the Germans, with clergy who refuse to do so, and with the harsh conditions people are forced to live in as the Germans enjoy the best of everything.
Nonno Paolo, barely an adult at the time, has recently lost his parents, both being shot by Germans as they sought new clients for their weaving business. His father’s last encounter left them with a job that has to be completed on a strict deadline, but now Paolo only has himself and Chiara to complete the delicate work required. To add to the tension, the delivery destination of the finished products leaves them in no doubt that the items are to be used as part of a German glorification effort.
Faced with what seems like an impossible task, he is then asked to hide two Resistance Jews – siblings, one of whom is injured – who are being hunted by the Germans. What follows is the struggle to get the job done (else face the dire consequences), and to keep the brother and sister hidden, which is no easy task when the sister has vengeance against the Germans in mind. Paolo is forced to grow up very quickly and he finds himself questioning himself and his developing friendships.
This is a hugely satisfying mystery, combining historical detail with almost a coming-of-age story for both Paolo and Nico. The question is raised about how soon history is forgotten and how easily people can be drawn into making the same mistakes. There is a magnificent twist and a poignant ending. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy historical fiction with an added mystery. It made a refreshing change to read a WWII story set in Italy, and in particular in Venice, and the author’s description of the city verged on poetic at times as he brought it to life in both the past and the present.
I am thrilled to share this extraordinary book with all of you today! Please read on for an excerpt from Clipped Wings by Molly Merryman and a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card!Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) of World War II
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Genre: History/ WWII/ Aviation/ Female Pilots In her exhilarating book Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, author Molly Merryman shines light on the critical and dangerous work of the daring female aviators who changed history. New York University Press classics series has just updated the book with Merryman’s reflections on the changes in women’s aviation in the past twenty years. A documentary based on Merryman’s work, Coming Home: Fight For A Legacy, is currently in production. The WASP directly challenged the assumptions of male supremacy in wartime culture. They flew the fastest fighter planes and heaviest bombers; they test-piloted experimental models and worked in the development of weapons systems. Yet the WASP were the only women’s auxiliary within the armed services of World War II that was not militarized. In Clipped Wings, Merryman draws upon finally-declassified military documents, congressional records, and interviews with the women who served as WASP during World War II to trace the history of the over one thousand pilots who served their country as the first women to fly military planes. She examines the social pressures that culminated in their disbandment in 1944—even though a wartime need for their services still existed—and documents their struggles and eventual success, in 1977, to gain military status and receive veterans’ benefits.
Airplane ferrying was the initial mission for which WASPs were created, and it would occupy nearly half of all active WASP graduates when the program ended in December 1944. Planes produced in the United States needed to be flown from the factories to air bases at home, in Canada, and overseas. To handle this transportation demand, the ATC hired thousands of male civilian pilots to ferry planes. These male pilots were later commissioned directly into the AAF if they met the requirement and desired commissioning. The WASPs were brought on as ferrying pilots, and by the time they were disbanded in December 1944, they had delivered 12,652 planes on domestic missions. By that time, 141 WASPs were assigned to the ATC. Although they comprised a small percentage of the total Ferrying Division pilots, WASPs had a significant impact. By 1944, WASPs were ferrying the majority of all pursuit planes and were so integrated into the Ferrying Division that their disbandment caused delays in pursuit deliveries.
The days of ferrying pilots were long and unpredictable. At bases that handled a range of planes, pilots did not know from one day to the next what planes they would be flying or how long of a flight to expect. In Minton’s words, “We usually reported to the flight line at seven o’clock in the morning and looked at the board to see what had been assigned us in the way of an airplane, where it went and what we would need in the way of equipment to take along, and then we would go out to find our airplane and sign it out at operations and check it over to be sure everything was okay with the airplane. And then we would take off to wherever the plane was supposed to go.”
Ferrying military aircraft during World War II was not an easy task. The majority of these planes were not equipped with radios, so pilots navigated by comparing air maps with physical cues (highways, mountains, rivers, etc.) or by flying the beam. (The “beam” was a radio transmission of Morse code signals. A grid of such beams was established across the United States. To follow the beam, a pilot would listen on her headphone for aural “blips” or tones to direct her. This required a great deal of concentration and was not always accurate.) Both navigational techniques were difficult, and this was compounded by the facts that many air bases and factories were camouflaged, blackouts were maintained in coastal areas, and the navigational beams were prone to breaking down. Problems sometimes arose with the planes themselves, which ha d been tested at the factories but never flown. Cross-continental flights often took several days, depending on the planes being flown and weather conditions.
In addition, planes equipped with top secret munitions or accessories had to be guarded while on the ground, and WASPs received orders to protect these planes at all cost. WASPs flying these planes were issued .45 caliber pistols and were trained to fire machine guns.
Molly Merryman, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and an Associate Professor at Kent State University. She is the Historical Research Producer on the upcoming Red Door Films documentary about the WASP, Coming Home: Fight For A Legacy. She has directed and produced nine documentaries that have been broadcast and screened in the United States and United Kingdom. She is the research director for the Queer Britain national LGBT+ museum and is a visiting professor and advisory board member for the Queer History Centre at Goldsmiths, University of London. Merryman is the vice president of the International Visual Sociology Association. Deborah Brosseau Communications
For a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card, click the link below!
When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why. Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.
Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.
Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels.
He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian cats, is mad on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and loving his Manchester-United-supporting wife.
Finally, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. A Wing and a Prayer will be his second published novel, and he is very proud to be welcomed into The Rose Garden.
Mick has kindly answered a few of my questions about his writing life.
Tell me about your book / series? What do you want readers to most remember after reading it/them?
The people, my characters. I try to make them all as human as possible, fallible, normal, everyday humans. Just like you and me, they each have a journey to take and I’d like readers to recall what they went through on that journey and how that changed them.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both, usually at the same time! Since a health scare a while back, I’ve never felt more alive than when I have my laptop in front of me and am tapping away. Being able to escape into a make-believe world takes me away from the problems of the real-one and I get a real buzz from that! I tend to get tired a little quicker than I used to, a hangover, but I don’t tend to let that stop me finishing a chapter.
Have you ever got reader’s block? What’s your favourite genre to read?
Sometimes. I’ll pick up a book I’ve been dying to read, and it’s down before I’ve barely started. I actually have to be in the mood to read and if I’m not, I simply can’t. As for a favourite genre, it’s a mix of three. I love Romantic fiction, including writing it; am newly into WW2 Historical Sagas and still love to read anything by Terry Pratchett.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start writing earlier! Simple.
Is there a famous novel you didn’t finish reading? Why?
I really Hope some of my author friends won’t hate me for saying this, but I’ve never finished Pride and Prejudice. I blame the BBC tv version for this as I’ve watched that so many times – my Lady Wife is a huge fan – I find it difficult to concentrate on it.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
How did you know I’m a huge fan of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman? It would have to be a Scottish Wildcat. I love how they’re such a bundle of energy for such a small creature.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I’ve got three unpublished books and maybe, three or four unfinished ones. A Wing an a Prayer was actually the fifth book I finished and the first in this genre.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
For this book, and the others in the series to come, once the idea came, I then spent probably only a few hours on the internet researching to see if anyone had written the same idea. I then tend to begin writing, researching for what I need as and when I need to.
How many hours a day do you write?
As long as I can get away with it. Once I start writing, I like to get a complete chapter done, no matter how long it turns out to be. I usually start writing in the afternoon, just after midday, so it can be into the wee small hours.
What did you edit out of this book that you really wanted to keep? Will you reuse it at a later stage?
I took out a scene where some male members of the ATA stalk out of the Flight Line Hut when they meet my lady pilots. I thought it slowed the pace down and as it was early in the book, I didn’t want it. Something along that may make an appearance in book 3, a Christmas one, I’m currently writing.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Often, they’re based on something I’m watching on tv, or a combination of names from books on the shelf, or my TBR pile. I do have a couple of books full of first and surnames next to where I write but, for some reason, I don’t reach for those as often as I should.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Only having had one book published before, I do recall reading the reviews. Is it a bit much to mention none were lower than a four star?
What comes first for you, character or plot?
Plot! Or, to be more precise, the idea for the first half dozen chapters. I’m not a planster, I’ve tried but it doesn’t seem to suit me, so I fly by the seat of my pants. My characters seem to write themselves in as the scene progresses. Sometimes, they’re not even thought of before that scene is begun
What was your hardest scene to write? Why?
The last, because it meant saying ‘goodbye’ to my characters at a time when I hadn’t sold the book. I didn’t know if I’d ever be writing them again.
Do you Google yourself? What did you find that pleased you most?
Heck no. 😉
What are you writing now?
Book 3 in the series. This is a Christmas one and seems to have become full of just as much mystery as the first. The second in the Broken Wings series, Wild Blue Yonder, is now with my editor and isn’t as much a mystery as the first, more of a story full of twists and turns for my characters as their relationships blossom.
Thanks so much for this, Mick. Looks like you’ve got your hands full. Lots of luck with A Wing & A Prayer and the Christmas story.
Sylvie Martone is the star of French cinema, and adored by fans. But as Nazi officers swarm the streets of Paris, she is spotted arm in arm with an SS Officer and her fellow Parisians begin to turn against her.
However, Sylvie has a secret – one she must protect with her life.
Juliana Chastain doesn’t know anything about her family history. While her mother was alive she remained very secretive about her past.
So when Juliana discovers a photograph of a glamorous French actress from World War Two amongst her mother’s possessions, she is in shock to find herself looking at her grandmother – especially as she is arm in arm with a Nazi Officer…
Desperate for answers, Juliana is determined to trace the journey of her grandmother. Surely there is more to the photograph than meets the eye?
But as she delves into Sylvie’s past, nothing can prepare Juliana for the tales of secrets, betrayal and sacrifice which she will uncover.
A heart-wrenching story of love and war, perfect for fans of Pam Jenoff and Suzanne Goldring.
Jina Bacarr is a US-based historical romance author of over 10 previous books. She has been a screenwriter, journalist and news reporter, but now writes full-time and lives in LA. Jina’s novels have been sold in 9 territories.
Guess what? It’s another book set in WWII. And, you know what else? I really enjoyed it. Quelle surprise! I guess I am a creature of habit.
When Juliana Chastain sorts through her late mother’s possessions, she finds an old photograph of her grandmother, arm in arm with a Nazi officer. Is this why her own mother never told her about her family’s past? Was her grandmother a Nazi collaborator? And who was her grandfather? The man in the photo? All these questions left Juliana with no other option than to find the answers, even if it meant going to France herself.
Told through the eyes of Sylvie Martone (grandmother) and Juliana (granddaughter) the story spans the generations and secrets hidden for decades finally come to the surface.
Sylvie always wanted to be an actress; it was her childhood dream. So when the chance came, so left the convent where she was raised and headed for the bright lights of silent movies. Her talents were recognised, and the “talkies” brought her even more success, making her the sweetheart of the French film industry with fans throughout the country.
When war broke out, Sylvie was noticed by the invading Nazis who loved how she was idolised by the nation. Having her on their arm, they believed, would give them a certain gravitas with the French citizens. Instead, it drove her fans away and left her labelled as a collaborator.
Yet, Sylvie was anything but. She used her position to help her fellow neighbours and colleagues, enabling them to escape the Nazi regime. Yet none of this was ever declared, for reasons Juliana has to discover for herself as she attempts to clear her grandmother’s name and restore her reputation as a much-loved filmstar.
The story plunged deep into Sylvie’s life, her necessary dalliances with the Nazi officer, as well as her one true chance for love. As Juliana learnt more about her grandmother, she became ever more determined to bring the truth to the fore. Following her grandmother’s films, notes, and recordings she was able to connect with her in so many ways, even as far as understanding who was important in her own life.
It was a captivating read, highlighting the realities of war with sensitivity and understanding. While Sylvie and Juliana got to tell their stories, and Juliana discovered the truth about her grandmother, it became ever more tragic that her own mother never took the chance to know that truth. Secrets certainly led to the three women having different takes on history.
I’d recommend this to fans of WWII historical fiction who enjoy the deep dive into believable and heart-wrenching stories.
My thanks go to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. This review is given voluntarily.
Based on the gripping true story of an unlikely Polish resistance fighter who helped save thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, bestselling author James D. Shipman’s Irena’s War is a heart-pounding novel of courage in action, helmed by an extraordinary and unforgettable protagonist.
September 1939: The conquering Nazis swarm through Warsaw as social worker Irena Sendler watches in dread from her apartment window. Already, the city’s poor go hungry. Irena wonders how she will continue to deliver food and supplies to those who need it most, including the forbidden Jews. The answer comes unexpectedly.
Dragged from her home in the night, Irena is brought before a Gestapo agent, Klaus Rein, who offers her a position running the city’s soup kitchens, all to maintain the illusion of order. Though loath to be working under the Germans, Irena learns there are ways to defy her new employer–including forging documents so that Jewish families receive food intended for Aryans. As Irena grows bolder, her interactions with Klaus become more fraught and perilous.
Klaus is unable to prove his suspicions against Irena–yet. But once Warsaw’s half-million Jews are confined to the ghetto, awaiting slow starvation or the death camps, Irena realizes that providing food is no longer enough. Recruited by the underground Polish resistance organization Zegota, she carries out an audacious scheme to rescue Jewish children. One by one, they are smuggled out in baskets and garbage carts, or led through dank sewers to safety–every success raising Klaus’s ire. Determined to quell the uprising, he draws Irena into a cat-and-mouse game that will test her in every way–and where the slightest misstep could mean not just her own death, but the slaughter of those innocents she is so desperate to save.
The fact that this is based on a true story only makes it more gripping and jaw-droppingly addictive.
Irena is a strong and determined woman, but she is not without her flaws. Her determination is often misconstrued (by her mother) as stubbornness and defiance, but always her intentions are the best. Her goal at the outset is to maintain the supply of food to her fellow Poles once the Germans invade. And she refuses to accept that Polish Jews are any less worthy, but she is fighting an uphill battle.
Her path regularly crosses with Klaus, an SS Officer, who is put in charge of the region, and for whom she is the eternal thorn in the side. Once the ghetto is built and her Jewish friends and fellow citizens are installed behind a solid wall, she pushes her boss, Jan, to get her a pass into the ghetto. The only way in is as a medical observer, to check on the infection rates within. Of course, Irena wins him over, using fair means and foul, but either way she now has access to the ghetto. It is there she finds her friends working in the hospital and orphanage. Seeing the conditions faced by the children, she has to get them out.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed by the local resistance who bring her in to discuss future plans to save as many as they can. As the situation deteriorates and residents of the ghetto are rounded up and relocated to Treblinka, the need to save the children becomes ever more critical.
By now, Irena is under pressure from all sides. Some consider her work in food distribution as being work for the Germans, even her Jewish friends come to that conclusion. The Germans – Klaus – see her as a potential pawn, to make it look as though they are treating the Poles well …until he realises she is working against him. Proving it, though, is a different matter and Irena comes close to arrest many times. None of that stops her though; she may fear for her life but she fears for the lives of others more. Remarkable!
Tense times lie ahead, and the story only gets stronger as Irena ploughs on through the machine that is the Nazi regime. She faces losses and wins but doesn’t stop – her resolve is breath-taking.
This is not an easy book to read at times, since the reality of war is not hidden away or glossed over. Being based on true events, it hits home with great impact. As a work of historical fiction, it feels very real and incredibly scary. We should be praising women like Irena more; she saved many more people than Schindler yet has gone unnoticed. Until now. This is a powerful story that bridges fact and fiction beautifully. I would highly recommend it to readers of WWII historical fiction.
My sincere thanks go to Kensington Books and NetGalley for this e-ARC. My review is given voluntarily and with absolute pleasure.
From the bestselling author of The German Midwife comes the heart-wrenching story of a country on the brink of war, a woman who puts herself in the line of fire, and a world about to be forever changed.
Berlin, 1938: It’s the height of summer, and Germany is on the brink of war. When fledgling reporter Georgie Young is posted to Berlin, alongside fellow Londoner Max Spender, she knows they are entering the eye of the storm.
Arriving to a city swathed in red flags and crawling with Nazis, Georgie feels helpless, witnessing innocent people being torn from their homes. As tensions rise, she realises she and Max have to act – even if it means putting their lives on the line.
But when she digs deeper, Georgie begins to uncover the unspeakable truth about Hitler’s Germany – and the pair are pulled into a world darker than she could ever have imagined…
Yes, I know … another WWII book. What can I say? I’m a fan. Besides, The Berlin Girl by Mandy Robotham is a gem of a story: super original, equally terrifying and exciting, and definitely one to play with your emotions.
The story begins in 1938 as Georgie Young, an up-and-coming reporter is assigned to work in Berlin. Having covered the Olympic Games of 1936, she’s excited to return to Berlin. Joined on the journey by another young reporter, Max Spender, she is quick to react at his assumption that “George Young” would be a man, and she assures him she has both the journalistic and language skills to do the job. Her ability to speak German soon puts Max in his place. Way to go, Georgie!
This original start to the story drew me in, and despite its relatively slow pace, it acted as the perfect precursor to a thrilling and exhilarating journey through the pre-war days and the subsequent declaration of war with Germany.
Georgie is determined to do things her way, even hiring a driver she knows from her prior visit at a time when Jews like Ruben are being met with one restriction after another. It is her involvement with him and his family that ultimately saves their lives, bringing food to the table early on and later by their escape. She is not alone in helping out families like Ruben’s; many of the reporters from other countries are just as active, though some of the more vocal are soon deported from Germany.
When it becomes apparent that a German officer shows an interest in Georgie because of her Englishness, she is quick to spot the opportunity to use him for information to help her friends. At this point, it’s not only Ruben who is in danger, but Georgie too. It’s a tense moment when they go to Sachsenhausen concentration camp to retrieve letters from those imprisoned there. The pages flew by as I hoped for a good result.
Kudos to the author for including the character of Elias, Ruben’s brother-in-law – not just a Jew, but a disabled one, a person for whom the Nazi regime and all its abominations was doubly prejudiced.
Of course, knowing of the atrocities carried out, not every plan has a happy outcome, and when Georgie is called back to England, she feels her Berlin years are over. But, luckily they aren’t, and she returns in a more senior role, ready and raring to go as tensions accelerate in the city. Daily briefings with senior Nazi officials only intensify her need to help those being arrested and sent away to certain death. Only now, she has Max on her side too. And their activities grow ever more daring until they have no option but to flee themselves.
This book has a wonderful mix of drama and tension, of hope and a need to defeat the oppressors. Georgie is a strong woman in a city that changes beyond her imagination; the act of reporting becomes harder as restrictions come into play and the journalists have to find innovative ways of passing on the news. While newspapers abroad are cautious about reporting all of the news in its gory and horrific details, Georgie cleverly sends in her “Postcards” from a Berlin correspondent with an anonymous, yet birds-eye view of what is really happening.
The post-war articles at the end of the story, chronicling Georgie’s career and personal life are a lovely touch and only makes me admire her more.
I really enjoyed The Berlin Girl and highly recommend it to fans of WWII historical novels. It will be available to order as an e-book October 29th, 2020.
Many thanks to #NetGalley and the publisher Avon Books UK for allowing me to read an advance copy of the book #TheBerlinGirl by #MandyRobotham. The views expressed in this review are mine and mine alone.
“This is a truly original novel that has earned its place among my favorite works of historical fiction.”–Jennifer Robson, USA Today bestselling author of The Gown
An exciting, dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II.
Milan, 1492: When a 16-year old beauty becomes the mistress of the Duke of Milan, she must fight for her place in the palace—and against those who want her out. Soon, she finds herself sitting before Leonardo da Vinci, who wants to ensure his own place in the ducal palace by painting his most ambitious portrait to date.
Munich, World War II: After a modest conservator unwittingly places a priceless Italian Renaissance portrait into the hands of a high-ranking Nazi leader, she risks her life to recover it, working with an American soldier, part of the famed Monuments Men team, to get it back.
Two women, separated by 500 years, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies.
Combining two of my favourite topics – WWII and art – I needed no persuasion to read this book.
It centres on Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, from the moment he is called upon to paint it in the 15th Century until its many journeys during WWII between Poland and Germany when the portrait was “saved” by the Nazis – read “stolen” – destined for Hitler’s project to have the best art collection in the world.
Told through four viewpoints, the story spans the centuries connecting the past with the present. Leonardo and Cecilia (the subject of the portrait and mistress of the Duke of Milan) are the 15th Century perspectives, while the modern day characters are Edith (the art conservator whose role it is – against her will – to list the art on behalf of the Nazi government) and Dominic (one of The Monuments Men tasked with tracking down the stolen art as the war comes to an end).
Their stories weave effortlessly across the timelines, and I particularly enjoyed how she ended a chapter with a certain line, only for the next chapter to start with that line. Though the characters were centuries apart, they shared a vocabulary and a mindset.
The scenes in Renaissance Italy between Leonardo and Cecilia showed two people, both wanting to make their mark. Leonardo yearned for his ideas on flying and weapon-building to be taken up by the Duke, and agreed to paint the portrait to keep in the Duke’s favour. Cecilia wanted to be more than a nun, after her brothers ruined her chance of marriage in her home village. Once she met the Duke, she had high hopes of being his wife. Needless to say, both Leonardo and Cecilia had unfulfilled dreams, yet their lives were nothing if not extraordinary even after their first encounter.
Edith objected to being sent to Poland, away from her ailing father who suffered dementia. She objected to the work she was forced to do. It was a moment of clarity that made her realise she had a duty to preserve the art she found, and some day return it to its rightful owners. Dominic, a talented artist himself, wanted at first to have a more proactive role in the war. He felt he had a cushy number, until he too had that moment of clarity and understood that saving the artwork was an important role not just to return it to its owners, but to secure it for future generations.
This is quite a different take on a WWII novel; refreshingly so. It doesn’t gloss over the atrocities at all, but nor are these events at the core of the story. Clearly a lot of research went into this book; its detail is sublime. Fans of historical fiction will be sure to enjoy this book. Highly recommended.
My thanks go to the publishers – One More Chapter – and Netgalley for the e-copy I received. To the author, Laura Morelli, my congratulations on a great idea, beautifully told.