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The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner | ARC Book Review

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The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Published: March 19, 2019

Publisher: Berkley

Pages: 400 

Genres: historical fiction

Rating: 5 stars 

Recommend to fans of: WWII, historical fiction, reading about history from an alternate person’s point of view 

Foodie Vibes: a meager meal of stale bread, soup and coffee as food is scarce during the war 

 

Synopsis: 

Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943–aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.

The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.

 

Review:

I won this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. Thank you to Goodreads, Berkley, and Susan Meissner for an ARC copy. As always, an honest review from me. 

Like:

  • Alternates between present day and WWII featuring the same characters helps to enhance the story
  • The shared friendship between Elise and Mariko – seamlessly ties the whole story together, even when they’re living on different continents
  • The parents caring for their children during very difficult times

Love:

  • The realism and beauty of the writing
  • We get a more personal complete perspective of the war from the view of a teenager
  • The main characters: Elise, her family, Mariko, and the Dove family
  • Even though it’s fiction I learned more about WWII, especially the experiences of average citizens in the U.S. and Germany 
  • Completely transports me to a different time and place

Dislike: 

  • The sadness, violence and mistreatment of people, even though its realistic to the events in history

Wish that:

  • The character of Max was mentioned more and also more likable 

 

Overall, a wonderful historical fiction novel that tells the tale of two American teenagers who met due to fear an assumptions from the government and changed each others’ lives forever. Definitely, definitely recommend!

 

Bookish Question:

What’s your favorite time period/country to read about in historical fiction novels?

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4.5 Star Books · biography · Book Reviews · True Crime

The Crate: A Story of War, Murder and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

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The Crate: A Story of War, Murder and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

Published: May 11, 2018

Publisher: WildBlue Press

Pages: 358

Genres: true crime, biography

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: true crime, books that honor and tell the stories of Holocaust survivors, justice being done, anyone with a conscience 

Read with food: a homemade Hungarian dish to appreciate the author’s roots . . . which I recently found out that the author has listed on her website! So cool! Hungarian Recipes

 

Synopsis:

After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust – in ghettos, on death marches, and in concentration camps – a young couple seeks refuge in Canada. They settle into a new life, certain that the terrors of their past are behind them. They build themselves a cozy little cottage on a lake in Muskoka, a cottage that becomes emblematic of their victory over the Nazis. The charming retreat is a safe haven, a refuge from haunted memories.

That is, until a single act of unspeakable violence defiles their sanctuary. Poking around the dark crawl space beneath their cottage, they discover a wooden crate, nailed tightly shut and almost hidden from view. Nothing could have prepared them for the horror of the crate’s contents – or how the peace and tranquility of their lives would be shattered.

Now, their daughter, Deborah Vadas Levison, an award-winning journalist, tells the extraordinary account of her parents’ ordeals, both in one of the darkest times in world history and their present-day lives. Written in searing, lyrical prose, THE CRATE: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice examines man’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil… but also, his capacity for good.

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for a copy of the book. As always an honest review.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about the book. I’ve already recommended it to people, even before I had finished reading it. I will try my best to do the book and the people the justice it deserves in my review.

From the beginning I was blown away by the gorgeous poetic writing. I was captivated from beginning to end, as the author tells the story of her parents’ survival of the Holocaust, move to Canada, and eventual discovery of a woman murdered on their cottage property. The Crate is more than just the telling of crimes across history and their impact on people. It’s so impactful it’s almost intangible.

The author shares with us the stories of her childhood growing up in Canada with Jewish Hungarian parents who had survived the Holocaust. Through their stories we get a first hand look at the atrocities committed during the war, the strength of survivors, and effects these experiences had on their lives and their children’s lives. Her appreciation of her parents and their experiences is wonderful. She’s doing them a great justice by putting their stories down on paper. It is absolutely important that these stories, these individual human experiences are shared with the world before they are lost forever.

The book also tells the story of Samantha, the woman who was murdered and body was found hidden under the family’s cottage. The author related Samantha’s life experiences to some of the atrocities her parents experienced. After all, they’re all just human beings. The book honors Samantha’s memory. The chapters about Samantha didn’t pull me in as much as the rest. Possible because while they’re well researched, some aspects are not the author’s personal life experiences.

The book is incredibly insightful and does a great justice by telling the stories of her parents, the other Jewish people in the Holocaust, Samantha, and her family.
It shows humanity at its best and at its worst.
The Crate by Deborah Vadas Levison is on my unofficial must read book list of the year.

 

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Book Reviews

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

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Love and Ruin by Paula McLain 

Published by Ballantine Books on May 1, 2018

Pages: 352

Genres: fiction, historical fiction

Rating: 4 stars

 

Synopsis: 

The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn—a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century

In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in devastating conflict. She also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man already on his way to becoming a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the tumultuous backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, Key West, and especially Cuba, where Martha and Ernest make their home, their relationship and professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart, and her own.

Review: 

I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. As always, an honest review.

Love and Ruin centers around Martha Gellhorn, a spunky, ambitious, intelligent and confident journalist. She wants to travel the world in order to write about the significant events, especially the wars encompassing the world. The character of Martha is the fictionalized version of Martha Gellhorn, a real journalist during the 1930s and 40s. She was also the mistress and eventual wife of Ernest Hemingway.

The story is beautifully told. I really appreciated that the tale of these real life people was incredibly readable and not at all dull. The writing style flows well and makes for an easy seamless read that I absolutely flew through. The book portrays what it feels like to travel to a war zone to share the experiences with others through journalism. I truly felt as if I were hunkered down in the hotel, hearing the gunfire in the not so far away distance. The reader also understands Martha’s desperation to share these experiences with the world, do them justice, and continue pursuing her journalism career.

Love and Ruin also tells the love story of Ernest and Martha, starting with their affair. Obviously these events were loosely based on real life, but I didn’t really enjoy reading about their affair. Affairs in general have the potential to hurt a lot of people, so it’s not exactly my favorite topic. Her relationship with Ernest Hemingway, a world renowned author, brings up a lot of things to think about. These topics include why do women get compared to men’s work, but not the other way around? Why are women expected to change after marriage to suit their husbands, not mutual compromise? Topics that were relevant back then, and still now. I really enjoyed the character of Martha. She makes the story work.

 

Recommend to fans of: historical fiction, Ernest Hemingway, complex love stories, books that make you think 

Read with food: Scones and French press black coffee with a pinch of sugar

Scones are simple yet when baked perfectly are wonderful, just like the writing in this novel.

The coffee matches the intensity of the story with just a hint of sweetness throughout.