Historical Fiction Reviews: Wartime Settings

Hey everyone!  Hope you all had a nice weekend and that this week is off to a good start for you.  In a departure from the rom-com spree I have been on for most of the pandemic, I actually found myself craving some good historical fiction last week so I was excited to find that I actually had a couple of March ARCs on my TBR that fit the bill.  Both feature wartime settings with World War II for the first one and the Civil War for the second, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on both of them with you.

 

Historical Fiction Reviews:  Wartime SettingsThe Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz Goodreads

Author: Ellie Midwood

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Publisher:  Bookouture

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Ellie Midwood’s new novel The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz tells the inspiring yet tragic true story of Mala Zimetbaum, a young Jewish woman sent to Auschwitz and is known as the first woman to escape, and Edek Galinski, a long-time Polish political prisoner who also happens to be a member of the underground Resistance. Imprisoned in absolutely inhumane and hellish conditions, surrounded by cruelty and death, Mala and Edek somehow manage to find each other and fall in love.  They make a promise to each other – that they will either escape the camp together or will die trying…

As with most accounts of Nazi atrocities, this is such a hard story to read, just knowing that the awful things described within the pages actually happened to real people, and that these monsters slaughtered so many innocent people. I found myself in tears often as I read the graphic and horrific accounts of the gas chambers and the crematoriums, and the story also had me furious as I read about how the Nazis were so easily able to fool the Red Cross into thinking they were treating their prisoners well.

What makes the story such a beautiful one in spite of everything, is the love story of Mala and Edek and just the overall selfless way they lived their lives in the camp.  Although she was a prisoner, when it was learned that she was fluent in several languages, Mala was given a job as an interpreter and camp runner.  She uses her position of privilege to help better the lives of as many fellow prisoners as she can, finding them jobs that are suited to their skills, slipping them extra rations whenever possible, etc.  Edek, as a member of the Resistance, lives his life in much the same way.  When the two of them meet and fall in love, they become a symbol of hope to those around them.  A light in the dark.

I don’t want to spoil their story so I’m going to stop here so you can experience it for yourself.  I’ll just conclude by saying that The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz is a powerful but heartbreaking story of strength, courage, hope and love against all odds. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys WWII historical fiction. 4.5 STARS

 

Historical Fiction Reviews:  Wartime SettingsSunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3) Goodreads

Author: Martha Hall Kelly

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Sunflower Sisters is the third and final book in Martha Hall Kelly’s historical fiction series, The Lilac Girls.  For those unfamiliar with the series, the first two books introduce us first to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who does all she can to help young girls released from concentration camps during WWII, and then to Caroline’s mother, Eliza Woolsey, who, a generation earlier, helped displaced Russian families who made their way to America during the Russian Revolution and WWI.

The final book in the series, Sunflower Sisters, takes us back yet another generation to the Civil War to meet another Woolsey ancestor, Georgeanna (Georgy) Woolsey. Raised by an abolitionist mother, Georgy is determined to do her part to bring slavery to an end and so she trains to be an Army nurse.   From New York City to Washington D.C. to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Sunflower Sisters follows Georgy everywhere her passion for nursing takes her.

One of my favorite things about all three books in the series is the way Martha Hall Kelly crafts her stories so that the events unfold from the perspectives of three very different characters, gradually pulling the threads of their stories together until their lives intersect.  In Sunflower Sisters, we follow not only Georgy, but also a slave girl name Jemma who is sold off and then somehow ends up conscripted into the Union Army, and we follow a woman named Anne-May Wilson, a plantation owner in Maryland who also happens to be Jemma’s owner.

The story itself started off a little slow for me as each of these characters were introduced, but I quickly became invested in both Georgy and Jemma and just wanted to see Anne-May, as a cruel slave owner among other things, get what was coming to her.  I loved Georgy’s determination and tenacity, especially as she was constantly being told by men that women should not be helping on the battlefront. She never let their blatant sexism deter her.  As much as I loved getting to know Georgy, Jemma was the character who ultimately stole my heart.  Jemma’s strength and determination in the face of endless cruelty from Anne-May and her nasty overseer was incredible to witness and I was wishing with every fiber of my being for her to find a way to safely escape to freedom.  Where I loved Georgy and Jemma, Anne-May, on the other hand, was a character I loved to hate.  She is a desperate, evil, manipulative woman and I was wishing for her to fail just as hard as I was wishing for Georgy and Jemma to thrive.  The story became quite riveting as I was waiting for the lives of these three women to come together in what was shaping up to be an epic clash between slave, abolitionist, and slave owner.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the clash does not disappoint!

Sunflower Sisters was a bittersweet read for me, just because I’m sad this wonderful series is ending, but the Ferriday/Woolsey family is filled with extraordinary women and I’m grateful to this series for introducing me to them. 4 STARS

16 replies
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      It’s a really good series. I’m finding that I like these series that take us back a generation at a time to trace a family. Reminds me of Hoffman’s Practical Magic series. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Angela
    Angela says:

    You know I love a wartime setting, so both of these really appeal to me! The Civil War setting, especially, as that one is actually kind of new to me.

    Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I haven’t read much Civil War era historical fiction either. This one really intrigued me though, especially since she mentions so many battles that were fought in Virginia literally right down the road from me.

      Reply

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