Somehow, at the beginning of the year, I ended up reading four books about some aspect of World War II. There seems to be no end to the stories that can be told about the war, and I thought I had the formula down pat. But I’m glad to say that each of these novels gave light to different experiences. Some facets are similar, but I was glad to learn new things and hear a different perspective.
The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes
Last year, Moyes U.S publisher started to release more of Moyes work that had been released in the UK prior to the fame she gained with her recent titles. Since I loved all of them, I bought everything I could from her. This was one of them. During the war, many British men were stationed in Australia to help the Allies in the fight against Japanese forces. Many of these men met and married the local women. At the end of the war, there were ships that brought these women to Great Britain to be reunited with their husbands. This story follows one particular ship that was actually part of Britain’s naval fleet carrying both soldiers and these young brides on its farewell voyage. Through the eyes of three young women, the captain, and a Marine officer, we find out how this journey went. I liked the book and appreciated the way Moyes used different perspectives as she has in her other work, but this book was a slower read for me. I loved the ending. Moyes has such a talent for writing endings, and I found a few of the characters endearing, but it fell a little flat in the middle. 3/5
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Two of my blogging friends highly recommended this book, so I knew I had to try it out. Ursula is born to a wealthy family in 1910. Her life is interesting, because she dies and is reborn over and over in her life, as early as right after her birth. There’s no explanation, and no one else knows. Ursula is not even sure she knows, but she starts remembering things or having weird feelings around specific potentially difficult moments, so she lives it a different way than the first. Spanning the time from the Great War to the Second World War, we see the many ways Ursula’s life could have gone, from mundane differences to huge great world events. It felt like a British Forrest Gump of sorts. I really enjoyed the writing, but some of the repetition was a little too much to go through. I still really liked it and would recommend it. 4/5
China Dolls by Lisa See
I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by Lisa See, and when China Dolls was released, I put myself on the hold list and waited MONTHS to get my hands on it. See is from Los Angeles and has a great following, so it took a while. This novel follows the story of Grace, Helen, and Ruby who meet in San Francisco at the auditions for The Forbidden City nightclub. This nightclub was the first to open with only Chinese entertainers. Grace is a talented dancer who grew up in the Midwest with no idea of Chinese traditions or culture. Helen grew up in a wealthy, traditional Chinese family in Chinatown. And Ruby will do anything to achieve the fame and fortune she knows she deserves. The three ladies become instant friends, and their friendship is tested by ambition, jealousy, the war, and men. What struck me about this book was all the research See did to really capture the time period and paint a picture of the Asian American performers in this period. While the main characters are fictional, many characters mentioned were real, and she incorporates them so well! Some of the story is slow and the girls can get petty, but I am now so interested to find out more about this time in history. Her notes at the end of the book and her website provide great resources, so I’m excited to do a little digging. 3/5
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book was critically lauded last year, and landed on many “Best Books of 2014” lists, perhaps all of them. It deserved the praise. The story follows two young people through the majority of WWII in Europe. Marie-Laure is blind and lives in Paris with her father, who is the Head of Security for the National Museum, the keeper of the keys. He is a talented locksmith and woodworker. To help Marie-Laure become independent, he builds a model of their neighborhood in Paris and teaches her to use it to learn her surroundings. This works until they are forced to leave due to the German Occupation and they flee to a little seaside town to live with Marie-Laure’s great uncle and his housekeeper. In Germany, Werner is a bright orphan who learns to tinker and fix things early to entertain his sister and the younger children. He is recruited by the Hitler Youth and his skills take him many places as he helps find resistance fighters and Allied soldiers. Their paths will cross, but between these stories, there are several others: a museum caper, an unexpected group of resistance fighters, and other stories of hope and light. Every character is fully explored and no one feels limited. The writing is beautiful and I loved every minute of it. Every minute. 5/5
Phew! That’s a lot of WWII stories. Have you ever unintentionally gotten into a specific genre? I’m glad to have moved on to a few light-hearted contemporary reads that I’ll be happy to share with you soon!