Book Review: The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

My contact at Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC of The Last Train To London by Meg Waite Clayton to read and review. I love reading historical fiction and this one centres on a little known story of the era pre-dating World War II.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication date: 10 September 2019

Blurb:

In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from Vienna’s streets to its intricate underground tunnels. Stephan’s best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. But the two adolescents’ carefree innocence is shattered when the Nazis’ take control.

There is hope in the darkness, though. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, risks her life smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to the nations that will take them. It is a mission that becomes even more dangerous after the Anschluss—Hitler’s annexation of Austria—as, across Europe, countries close their borders to the growing number of refugees desperate to escape.

Tante Truus, as she is known, is determined to save as many children as she can. After Britain passes a measure to take in at-risk child refugees from the German Reich, she dares to approach Adolf Eichmann, the man who would later help devise the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” in a race against time to bring children like Stephan, his young brother Walter, and Žofie-Helene on a perilous journey to an uncertain future abroad. 

My thoughts:

I absolutely LOVED this novel! I could not stop turning the pages and became so invested in the story and the characters that feature in it. Stephan’s story had me biting my nails; and Truus’ bravery left me astounded. As I read the descriptions of the way the Nazi treated the Jewish children, my heart burned with anger. Clayton’s writing encouraged me to feel a range of emotions: astonishment, anger, hope, surprise, disgust, and even gratitude.

The best thing about the novel The Last Train To London is that Clayton showcases the story of Geertruida Wijsmuller (known as Tante Truus), a woman in the Dutch Resistance who was among those involved in the kindertransport effort. This effort moved some ten thousand children (three quarters of whom were Jewish) through the Netherlands to London before the outbreak of the Second World War. The story of these men and women was unknown to me and I was stunned at the bravery and risks that these people took for these children who were in danger.

Clayton describes the danger that the children did experience – a danger that insidiously crept into Austria; a danger that many did not expect to experience. Her descriptions allow us to almost experience the dangers themselves, the fears, and the hopes of her characters. Reading this historical novel was not at all like reading dry history books. Instead, the pages are alive with the events of the past. Even though the characters of the children are fictional, the reader can imagine the experience of the children who did in fact live through this event.

I could not put this novel down and read it in two days. Yes, I was on vacation but I stopped all other activities in order to immerse myself in the story. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is one novel you need to read this year!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 84th in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

I was in the mood for a little history so I picked up the Advanced Reading Copy of The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning that had been sent to me by Harper Collins Canada.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Blurb:

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. 

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself. 

A compelling and gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

My thoughts:

Historical fiction is a genre that I enjoy and my interest in the history of China was captured many years ago. Manning’s novel reflects a part of Chinese history that is unknown to me so I was interested in reading about something new.

The something new was what interested me in this novel was the following: Jewish refugees in China; the different quarters in Shanghai showing an interesting snapshot into life at that time; the domination and oppression of the Japanese during this period in China. My husband (who is of Chinese descent) speaks often about the oppression of the Japanese over the Chinese. It was in this novel that I came across a piece of that history.

The modern story that is woven within the fabric of the history is written with compassion and understanding. Alexandra is determined to find out the past of her grandparents as she believes it will make her whole. With each uncovering of her family’s history, however, not only does she find out about the past and find out who her true parents were, but she also discovers a bit about who she is as a person. I enjoyed reading that both women in the two storylines described (Romy and Alexandra) are people that grow from their experience. Both these women are strong women even though their life experience is different.

My favourite character in this novel is Romy. From a young age at the start of the Second World War in Europe, she had to grow up fast. In her lifetime she adapted to two countries, learning new languages and customs. In addition, she learned quickly to behave as an adult even though she was still a child. Romy experiences so much pain and heartache in her life; yet she never loses her faith in others and her courage to move forward.

The Song of the Jade Lily is a perfect example of what historical fiction should be. A snippet of history is made available to us through a well-written story that includes both life experiences and some romance. I loved reading this book and if you are a fan of historical fiction, then you will too.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 49th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

I enjoy reading historical fiction as not only are you introduced to wonderful characters, but you are introduced to a segment of history. I had not read any books by Kate Quinn and was eager to read the ARC of The Huntress sent to me by Harper Collins Canada.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Blurb: 

A fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.

Bold, reckless Nina Markova grows up on the icy edge of Soviet Russia, dreaming of flight and fearing nothing. When the tide of war sweeps over her homeland, she gambles everything to join the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on Hitler’s eastern front. But when she is downed behind enemy lines and thrown across the path of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, Nina must use all her wits to survive.

British war correspondent Ian Graham has witnessed the horrors of war from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials. He abandons journalism after the war to become a Nazi hunter, yet one target eludes him: the Huntress. Fierce, disciplined Ian must join forces with brazen, cocksure Nina, the only witness to escape the Huntress alive. But a shared secret could derail their mission, unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride grows up in post WWII Boston, determined despite family opposition to become a photographer. At first delighted when her long-widowed father brings home a fiancée, Jordan grows increasingly disquieted by the soft-spoken German widow who seems to be hiding something. Armed only with her camera and her wits, Jordan delves into her new stepmother’s past and slowly realizes there are mysteries buried deep in her family. But Jordan’s search for the truth may threaten all she holds dear.

My thoughts: 

The novel is told from three points of view: Nina, Ian, and Jordan. Their experiences and thoughts are expertly woven to create a story that I enjoyed and raced through. An added bonus of the story is that the two women (Nina and Jordan) are both shown as being courageous: Nina fearlessly flies a night bomber during the war; and Jordan begins to believe in her own courage and perception.

Even though I learned a little snippet of history in this novel, I was not bored. Instead, the history is a necessary part of the novel that sets the scene for bravery, romance, and heartache. I loved that there was a little romance in the story; and that unexpected happiness could be found in spite of the War. Quinn realistically describes her characters and their experiences and, with the descriptions given, I was able to see in my mind the scenes that she had set. I could not help but turn the pages avidly to discover the next step in the characters’ experiences.

The Huntress was an excellent read. I have enjoyed the story so much I am convinced I need to pick up Quinn’s previous novel, The Alice Network (which is still on the bestseller list). If you enjoy historical fiction, this novel needs to be added to your TBR list.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 9th in my book pledge for 2019)

Remembrance Day

Today is a day that was set aside by King George V to remember those who had been killed in the line of duty during World War I. November 11, 1918 was the day on which the fighting in the First Great War ended; it is also the date that has been used to remember those who died while fighting for their country in World War II.

English: A remembrance poppy from Canada, worn...
A remembrance poppy from Canada worn on a lapel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up in South Africa, I did not realise the meaning of the red poppy that people wear on their lapels leading up to Remembrance Day. I have now learned that it is a symbol for the blood that was spilled during the World Wars. The poppy was chosen because of the poem, In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian soldier named Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. During the First World War, poppies bloomed on the fields in Flanders where the most bloody battles were fought – an experience that McCrae refers to in his verse:

The video clip, not only includes a reading of McCrae’s war poem, but also shows the hauntingly beautiful fields of poppies in which the trenches were dug.

Remembrance Day does not seem to have prevented war: World War II was fought 27 years after hostilities ceased for World War I. In our modern-day world, other wars are being fought: men and women are dying for a cause in countries far from home; a cause that has been deemed important by those who hold power.

Makes me wonder on the effectiveness of this day. Has the World War experience become too far removed from modern men and women? Does this day need to be reinvented so that the purpose of it may touch the hearts of the young who have had no personal experience of the heartache and butchery suffered during the “war to end all wars”?

What are your thoughts on Remembrance Day? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012