Friday Book Whimsy: The Baker’s Daughter

Reba Adams is a journalist working for an El Paso magazine. She has been asked to write a feel-good Christmas piece featuring German immigrant Elsie Schmidt who runs a German bakery using the recipes she learned from her German parents. Thinking it will be a slam-dunk, Reba is surprised to find that she is entranced by the story of this immigrant who lived in Germany during World War II. She is so entranced, in fact, that she comes back again and again to the bakery where she is fed bodily and spiritually by the story of this strong woman.

Elsie’s story includes being engaged to a Nazi officer, while at the same time, rescuing a young Jewish boy who nearly brings disaster to Elsie and her family.

The Baker’s Daughter, by Sarah McCoy, is a wonderful account of what it was like to be a typical German family and business owner during the time of the Nazis. Being a baker’s daughter myself, I loved the stories of how the family offered the baked goods for the German people who often didn’t have enough to feed their families.

The main problem with the story, at least in this reader’s opinion, was the sideline story of Reba’s boyfriend who is a border agent in El Paso. I liked his character and his story at the beginning, as it seemed to show both sides of the issue. But it troubled me that the author tried to compare the immigrant issue to the Holocaust, and I found that distracting and offputting.

Still, the story was enjoyable and any book that ends with recipes captures my attention.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Dangerous Crossing

A murder mystery on a cruise ship just as the world is about to embark on another war appealed to me. After all, if Hercule Poirot could solve a murder mystery on the Orient Express, why couldn’t the same thing happen on a cruise ship?

It’s 1939, and Lily Shepherd is eager to leave her home and her difficult life in England for Australia, where she is promised a job as a domestic worker as part of a relocation program.

She boards a cruise ship where, despite the fact that she is a second-class passenger, there is still promise of romance and music and cocktails. It isn’t long before Lily and her two roommates meet a wealthy and mysterious couple with a rather twisted relationship. They don’t even seem to like one another, but they certainly know how to have fun. Lily becomes friends with some of the livelier passengers, and becomes smitten with one man that she hopes has similar feelings.

In a clever twist, the author — Rachel Rhys — opens up A Dangerous Crossing with a prologue in which the boat is already docked in Australia and a woman being led off of the boat in handcuffs, having been accused of a murder. The remainder of the book challenges readers to figure out who is murdered and who is the murderer.

Rachel Rhys is a pen name for a British author who has written a number of suspense novels, but this is her first attempt at an historical novel. I found the book quite readable, though the characters were a bit flat. The ending rather took me by surprise, though I had partially figured out what was going on.

If you don’t mind a bit of slogging along, and if you can suspend belief long enough to buy the notion that a second class cruise passenger could intermingle with first class passengers in 1939, you might enjoy the story. It is a relatively light read with lots of glamorous clothes and lifestyle descriptions.

Here is a link to the book.



Friday Book Whimsy: The Women in the Castle

I have read countless novels about World War II. I have read about the war from the Jewish perspective. I have read about the war from the French perspective and the British and the American perspectives. Books I have read have dealt with the war from the eyes of women, and soldiers, and children. But I, at least, have never read a novel that shows World War II from the eyes of regular Germans.

How could they have let this happen, we all wonder. I would never have stood for it, we all insist.

The Women in the Castle, a novel by Jessica Shattuck, presents World War II from the eyes of folks on the front line – the German citizens.  It is the story of three women – widows of resistence fighters who attempted – and  failed – to assassinate Hitler in 1944. One of the widows, Marianne von Lingenfels, returns to the castle that was the home of her husband’s family for generations with the other two widows and their children, fulfilling a promise she made to take care of these people should their plan fail. It, of course, failed, and the men were all put to death.

The women paid their price as well. One fell into the unfortunate hands of the Soviet army. Another had been placed in a camp with other German refugees, awaiting release by the Allies.  Now they are trying to put their lives back together.

Each of the women has her own story, and it isn’t always what the reader expects. But Shattuck paints a very clear picture of Europe – particularly Germany – following World War I, and presents background that makes the reader understand that things are not just black and white, as we all had hoped. She does this without even coming close to being a Nazi apologist.

I couldn’t put this novel down. The writing is exceptional and the story was fascinating. The characters were well developed and interesting, if not always likeable. The book would be perfect for a reading group or book club.

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Once you start reading books that take place during World War I and World War II, it’s hard to get away from it. Amazon and Goodreads both start feeding you recommendations based on what you’ve been reading and there are somewhere in the neighborhood of a million books that take place during the world wars. Most are terribly sad. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a glimpse of blue sky in the dark sadness of death and hatred that war brings.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a debut novel by writer Jennifer Ryan. Though certainly not a deep and meaningful literary look at WWII as, say Sophie’s Choice, I truly enjoyed the story and the characters.

When it becomes clear that England must become involved in World War II, the small English village of Chilbury isn’t immune. One at a time, the men of the village are called to serve their country, leaving the women to carry on. Though the vicar advises that the town disband its choir because there are no male singers, the women elect instead to continue, making the controversial choice to have a women’s-only choir. Egad! But the women’s choir not only provides an outlet for singing, but more important, it provides a support group for the women of this village.

The story is told primarily through letters, which give readers a look at five particular women and how they are impacted by the war. Among the five women, particularly meaningful to me was a timid young widow whose only child is called to serve. As the weeks and months go by, she becomes stronger and more independent. She eventually becomes a driving force in keeping the town together.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a gentle reminder that war not only affects those fighting the battles, but also those left behind.

I loved the book and give it a strong recommendation.

Here is a link to the book.