The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Publisher: Park Row
Published: January 2019
Genre: historical fiction
Summary: Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station. She learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Mini Review: I adored Grace and Eleanor’s characters, and I felt Marie was…lacking. This also wasn’t at all what I was expecting, which was great––but on the other hand, all of that suspense and build-up to what really happened fell flat for me. Though the end is tied neatly together, I would’ve given higher stars if all those questions and the tension didn’t build up to what ended up happening. If you love WWII hist fic, definitely read this. It’s exciting, it’s a neat little puzzle, but in many ways the true action of the story was kept hidden from the reader, all behind-the-scenes, which was meant to build tension I’m sure but left it feeling loose and frustrating. I’d recommend other WWII female agent or French Resistance stories above this one, but still good to add to the general collection.
This qualifies as book 5 of 10 in my library books challenge.
In Another Time by Jillian Cantor
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Published: March 2019
Genre: historical fiction
Summary: 1931, Germany. Bookshop owner Max Beissinger meets Hanna Ginsberg, a budding concert violinist, and immediately he feels a powerful chemistry between them. It isn’t long before they fall in love and begin making plans for the future. As their love affair unfolds over the next five years, the climate drastically changes in Germany as Hitler comes to power. Their love is tested with the new landscape and the realities of war, not the least of which is that Hanna is Jewish and Max is not. But unbeknownst to Hanna is the fact that Max has a secret, which causes him to leave for months at a time—a secret that Max is convinced will help him save Hanna if Germany becomes too dangerous for her because of her religion.
In 1946, Hanna Ginsberg awakens in a field outside of Berlin. Disoriented and afraid, she has no memory of the past ten years and no idea what has happened to Max. With no information as to Max’s whereabouts—or if he is even still alive—she decides to move to London to live with her sister while she gets her bearings. Even without an orchestra to play in, she throws herself completely into her music to keep alive her lifelong dream of becoming a concert violinist. But the music also serves as a balm to heal her deeply wounded heart and she eventually gets the opening she long hoped for. Even so, as the days, months, and years pass, taking her from London to Paris to Vienna to America, she continues to be haunted by her forgotten past, and the fate of the only man she has ever loved and cannot forget.
Mini Review: I picked up this book because it was a pre- and post-WWII novel about a bookseller and a violinist, both professions tapping into my biggest life passions. But something about the premise initially kept me at a distance—dissociative memory loss, or amnesia, as a plot device. One of my least favorite. But fairly early on we learn it’s not quite that—it’s wormholes. Time travel. At first I wished I’d known about that up front. But then perhaps I wouldn’t have picked this book up. I fell in love with Hanna’s story, felt deeply her passion for music, for playing, for always being attached to her violin. Cantor is an excellent writer—I felt immersed in Europe, lost in time, along with Hanna and Max. I enjoyed this book, and I was eager to see how they found each other again, if ever. Moving and impactful, even with the time-travel-as-science element.
This qualifies as book 6 of 10 in my library books challenge.
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Published: June 2013
Genre: historical and contemporary fiction
Summary: Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable. Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.
Mini Review: I highly recommend listening to this on audio. The narrator does an excellent job not only when men and women are speaking, but also English, Scottish, Irish, French, and Russian accents. It was an absolute pleasure to listen to this! As to the book itself, it’s a long and quiet book, meant to be savored. The narrative storytelling is incredibly immersive, drawing you in with each of Nicola’s ESP experiences. Nicola wars between wanting to master her gift like her friend Rob, who utilizes his abilities to read minds and see the ghosts/spirits of history in his daily life, and keeping it suppressed like her grandfather wishes her to do. It’s an excellent commentary on what’s considered “normal” and what’s considered “a gift,” and drawing upon those strengths to navigate through life. I especially enjoyed Anna’s narrative too — she had to learn at a very young age how to distinguish between honest and distrustful people during a very turbulent time in European history. The combination of these two narratives with the help of Nicola’s ESP abilities made for a magical read (or listen)!
This qualifies as book 7 of 10 in my library books challenge.