Friday Book Whimsy: The Godmothers

You probably remember the movie Godfather II in which Michael Corleone tells his brother Fredo, “Nobody goes against the family,” and then has him killed because he had gone against the family. Now imagine four godmothers instead of a godfather, and you are ready to sit down and enjoy The Godmothers, a novel by Camille Aubray.

Filomena, Amie, and Lucy are three very different women with secrets of their own. The three women are strangers to one another, but fall in love with three brothers who, unbeknownst to them, have ties to the New York City mob. Throw in Petrina, their sister-in-law, and you have what amounts to a fearless foursome. They become friends and are godmothers to one another’s children. They live in the same house together, cook meals, take care of each others’ kids, and try to find their place in their new opulent and powerful world.

And just when things are going pretty well, World War II hits America. It becomes incumbent upon the four women to handle mobsters like Lucky Luciano and other real-life mafia bosses, keeping their families safe and trying to successfully get out of a business that most people are unable to escape.

I loved these feisty women, who, despite the wealth and power held by their families, are determined to hold everything together by themselves, and figure out a way to become free of mafia ties. In a world where the word feminism had never been heard, these four women were feminists of sorts.

While I’m not familiar with the ways of the Mob, I’m pretty sure that in real life, these women wouldn’t have survived some of the situations in which they found themselves. However, those situations, and the women’s responses, made for a fun and exciting read. The author threw in some real-life NYC mobsters, and that made the book even more interesting.

This book gets a thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Lilac Girls

It’s not difficult these days to find a novel that takes place during World War II. But it’s refreshing to read a WWII novel with a bit of a different twist. Though fiction, The Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly, features real-life New York philanthropist Caroline Ferriday, whose heroic story needs to be told.

Caroline Ferriday was a fledgling actress who found her niche working at the French Embassy in New York City. Her work took an important turn as Hitler’s armies became more powerful, and it looked as if France was going to fall. Her role was to assist the French people who had fled to the United States to either return to their families in France or bring their loved ones to the United States. Her work became even more important when the Germans overthrew Poland and the war escalated.

Kasia Kuzmerick was a young Polish girl who watched her country fall into pieces around her. Feeling helpless, she became involved in the resistance movement, couriering messages back and forth. She was eventually caught in the act, and she, along with her family, is captured and sent to Ravensbruck, an all-women concentration camp in northern Germany. Ravensbruck is notorious for the medical experiments conducted on many of the women. Referred to as the Ravensbruck rabbits, they were mutilated and purposely infected with bacteria so that the new antibacterial drugs called sulfonamides could be tested on them. They were mostly refused subsequent medical care, leaving many permanently disfigured.

One of the German doctors working on these experiments was young Herta Oberheuser, who became involved as a means of using her medical degree and making something of herself in the new Reich. Oberheuser is not a fictional character. She routinely performed horrific surgeries on young women as part of the experiments.

The story of strength and optimism and ability to overcome horrific circumstances is as compelling as a story can get. At the same time, the contrast between good and evil (Ferriday and Oberheuser) takes your breath away, especially knowing the the circumstances and the stories are all too true.

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Nightingale

imgresWhen a reader picks up a book about World War II, you pretty much know that it’s going to be difficult reading. Sometimes I wonder why we read such stories when they are so hard to comprehend and so utterly impossible to imagine. I guess the answer is that we read them so that we never forget what must be considered one of the most horrific periods in history.

So I knew when I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah that it wouldn’t be a light and breezy read. But it offered (and delivered) a look at the war from a new perspective – not the Jews who were persecuted and killed in or barely survived concentration camps but the rest of the European population who suffered immensely as a result of the Nazi regime.

What’s more, The Nightingale also offered a look at the war from the women’s perspective. Not nurses or others who participated directly in the war effort but those who were left behind to try and keep the world turning and their families safe.

Vianne and Isabelle are sisters who live in the Loire region of France. They haven’t had an easy time of it because their mother died shortly after their father returned from serving in WWI. The war changed him forever and he turned his back on his daughters.

The two took different paths in life – Vianne falling in love, marrying and having a daughter; Isabelle not able to find peace at one boarding school after another. When the Nazis invade France, both women experience the war in very different – but equally important – ways.

Hannah’s descriptions of the lives of the two women is vivid and graphic – and horrifying. The book took me by storm. I couldn’t put it down, but I found it hard to bear as I read.

The book is told from three perspectives – Isabelle’s (who becomes a resistance fighter), and Vivianne (who nearly loses everything trying to keep her family (and others) alive. The third perspective is contemporary and the reader isn’t sure whether it’s Vianne or Isabelle who is narrating that perspective.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It is a story I will long remember.

Here is a link to the book.