Book Review: Anchor in the Storm

AnchorIn Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin, Lillian Avery looks forward to her first job as a professional pharmacist in Boston in 1941. Her new boss had not wanted to hire a woman, but a male pharmacist wasn’t available. He’s also aggravated about employing a “cripple,” though Lillian’s wooden leg doesn’t hinder her work in the least.

While Lillian sets out to prove her value at work, she fends off attention from her brother’s best friend, Arch Vandenberg. Arch is rich and good-looking, but Lillian feels these attributes are hindrances rather than attractions. Besides, for reasons of her own, she doesn’t trust any man and will never allow herself to be weak.

Arch is an Ensign recently assigned to a destroyer along with Jim Avery, Lillian’s brother. Jim and Arch had survived an attack on their previous destroyer, but Arch has been battling flashbacks, shaking hands, and a fear of being trapped below decks. He can’t tell anyone, though, both because he is an officer, and because he might be ejected from the Navy.

Arch hates his family’s wealth and plans to give his inheritance away when he gets it. He’s tired of girls who only show interest because of his family’s money. Lillian seems different, but they get off to a wrong start. Arch decides to just befriend her with the hopes that eventually she’ll be open to him as more than a friend.

While Lillian notices some odd prescriptions at the pharmacy, Arch notices odd behavior on the ship: men acting groggy, almost drunk, and not performing their duties well. Lillian tries to alert a detective to her suspicions, but he doesn’t believe she has enough evidence. Lillian and Arch decide to investigate together and compare notes. But their findings might be just as dangerous as the war.

My thoughts:

I don’t like to read romance just for the sake of romance, especially giddy, silly romances.  Sarah’s stories have much more to them, and I love that. They are neither silly nor giddy. Lillian and Arch have much to work through, mentally as well as spiritually, and the plot line involves more than their romance. I always love the way Sarah includes a lot of historical data about WWII but without becoming stuffy or didactic. The mystery plot line was well-done and the faith element was natural and realistic. I enjoyed the book very much.

This book is the second in the Waves of Freedom series, the first being Through Waters Deep. Though some characters from the first book appear in the second, and it’s enjoyable to read both, the second can be understood well as a stand-alone book.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: A Sparrow in Terezin

sparrow-in-terezinKristy Cambron’s The Butterfly and the Violin was one of my favorite books read last year, so I was delighted when its sequel, A Sparrow in Terezin, came through on a Kindle sale.

As with her first book, this one follows two timelines. The contemporary one picks up where it left off in the last one, with William and Sera getting married, only to have him get arrested shortly afterward. In trying to sell off some of his family’s assets, he unwittingly sold some things that he didn’t realize were no longer his, and now he is being investigated for fraud. To try to clear his name, Sera delves into a past that he’s unwilling to reveal.

The other timeline begins with a young woman, Kaja, heading to a Prague train station with her family in 1939. Her father is Jewish and her mother a Christian, but being even half Jewish is enough to get one in trouble at that time in Eastern Europe. Kaja had thought her whole family was going and is stunned to learn at the train depot that only she and her sister and brother-in-law are leaving: her parents are staying behind. Kaja protests, but it has already been decided. After spending a year with her sister in Palestine, she travels to London to work at a newspaper. There she meets Liam, a reporter who is kind and helpful to her. She suspects he is involved in something covert. Just as their relationship grows to the point of commitment, Kaja learns that her parents are in danger and travels undercover to Prague to help. But she’s caught and sent with her family to the Terezin prison camp.

The two timelines intersect with a little girl named Sophie, whom Adele helped in the last book and whom Sera met at the end. Kaja’s path also crosses Sophie’s and eventually impacts William’s family.

I mentioned in my review of Butterfly that there were a few awkward places in the writing, but I felt the story superseded them. I wished I had made note of them now, because there were some here as well. There were a few things that didn’t make sense to me at first, though they were a little more clear when I looked at them again just now.

One of my pet peeves in movies in when there is some kind of calamity, and the couple involved decide that’s a good time to kiss. That happened in this book. I seriously doubt that if I’m outside with bombs falling in London, I’m going to choose that moment to kiss. No, I’m going to be running for cover, and fast.

I didn’t end up loving this one as much as I did the first one, but it’s still a good story, Kaja’s especially. I always wonder how people could not only survive, but extend grace and love in a situation as awful as a prison camp. I thought the faith element was woven in naturally.

Genre: Christian fiction
My rating: 8 out of 10
Potential objectionable elements: None that I can recall unless one is very sensitive to descriptions of war.
Recommendation: Yes.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday and Carol‘s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: Chateau of Secrets

ChateauMelanie Dobson first came to my attention through Carrie. If you read Carrie much at all, you know that she does not like Christian fiction, yet she likes Melanie. Since I do like Christian fiction, I figured I would probably enjoy Melanie all the more. So when I saw her Chateau of Secrets come through on a Kindle sale last year, I snapped it up.

And indeed, I enjoyed it very much. Normally I read Kindle books on my iPad mini as I am getting ready to fall asleep and then when I have any waiting time away from home. But this one had me pulling my phone out several times during the day to read a few more paragraphs.

Gisèle Duchant lives with her father in their ancient chateau on Normandy before the onset of WWII. As Hitler’s forces come ever closer, they decide to leave. But Gisèle’s father is killed, and she then decides to stay. Her brother, Michel, is a leader in the underground resistance, and she has been helping him by secretly bringing food and supplies where he is hiding in the tunnels beneath their property.

Eventually the Nazis come to their area and take over the chateau for their local headquarters. They commandeer Gisèle to cook and keep house for them, so she’s walking a tightrope between doing what is required of her there yet still helping her brother and trying to keep the tunnels a secret.

The chapters alternate between her story in the 1940s and her granddaughter Chloe’s story in modern times. Chloe is a teacher engaged to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Austin Vale. Being the fiancee of a high-profile politician has its drawbacks, but their times alone convinces her that it’s worth it. Just a few weeks before her wedding, her parents ask her to go to France. A filmmaker is doing a documentary on the chateau and its role in the war, and Chloe seems to be the best person to go and be interviewed by him. Chloe doesn’t know much about the chateau, and her grandmother Gisèle’s dementia confuses or hides much of her memory, so she’s not able to give her much information. But when she tells her grandmother that she’s going to the chateau in Normandy, Gisèle urgently insists that she must find Adeline. Chloe has never heard of Adeline before. As she travels to France, stays in the chateau, and delves into her grandmother’s history, she uncovers a multitude of secrets, some of which will have an impact on her family now.

I enjoyed both Gisèle’s and Chloe’s story lines. I liked the way the author wove in much detail about France in that era without making it too heavy or encyclopedic. I had not known that Jews served in the German Wehrmacht. Some probably did so to hide their Jewishness, but some did so out of coercion to protect loved ones. I loved the mystery of the story and thought the author did an expert job at unfolding it.

The story is loosely based on the life of Genevieve Marie Josephe de Saint Pern Menke. She lived in a chateau in France during WWII which was taken over by the Germans, and “risked her life to hide downed Allied airmen and members of the French resistance in this tunnel underneath the chateau,” among many other things.

Gisèle is Catholic, and, not being Catholic myself, there were a few points here and there that I would disagree with, namely praying to Mary, St. Michel, and ever her dead mother (that’s not the biggest problem I have with Catholicism, but it’s the biggest one in this book, because nowhere in Scripture are we instructed or encouraged to pray to anyone but God Himself. Jesus said, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven….” After all He did to create access for us to God, why would we try to go to Him through anyone else?) I don’t share what I disagree with in books just to be critical or contentious, but sometimes people tell me they read things I recommend, so I want to be careful that I don’t promote error. I would assume that Gisèle’s Catholicism is accurate to the time, place, and person her character is based on. And I did find much good spiritual truth in the book otherwise.

Overall I loved the book and will keep my eyes peeled for more of Melanie’s books in the future.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

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Book Review: Through Waters Deep

Through-Waters-DeepThrough Waters Deep is the first in the the Waves of Freedom series by Sarah Sundin. All of Sarah’s books so far have been set in the WWII era, and this one is no exception. I love how she weaves historical detail into the story.

It’s the time when Europe is involved heavily in combat but America has yet to join the fray. Strong feelings among the isolationists, who don’t want the US to get involved, and the interventionists, who do, run high and cause conflicts, especially at the Navy shipyard in Boston where Mary Stirling is a secretary. Minor problems increase until some people begin to suspect that they are deliberate acts of sabotage, but is it an isolationist or an interventionist, or one trying to frame the other in order to get sympathy for his side? Mary’s work takes her all over the premises and into various offices, and she hears a lot of talk. She decides to make notes in shorthand (which no one would suspect) in case she overhears anything useful. But when she shows her notes to the FBI, they dismiss them as gossip and hearsay.

At a ship’s christening, Mary runs into an old high school friend, Jim Avery, now an ensign in the Navy. They are both changed from what they remember: they had been the quiet ones of their group and Jim had pined away for someone who was in love with someone else, so they had not really known each other well, but as Mary shows him around Boston, they each realize there is more to the other than they thought. When a definite and dangerous act of sabotage is found aboard Jim’s ship, tensions and suspicions escalate.

One underlying issue Mary has to deal with is that she has a strong aversion to being the object of attention. She wants to avoid being prideful and self-promoting, but it is more than humility. As the story unfolds we find the reason for her reluctance and panic, and she wrestles with what it means to “let your light shine” yet not put yourself forward, along with not missing opportunities God would have her take due to her wanting to stay in the background. I found this aspect of her character fascinating because I have wrestled with some of the same issues, and I have never seen this addressed anywhere except just a bit in C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

Jim describes himself as a “floater.” His two brothers who went into the Navy before him have ambitions to move up the ladder. Jim does not have that goal and just wants to float where the current of life takes him. He’s a hard worker and a caring person, yet has to realize his tendency to “float” looks like laziness and a lack of initiative. A good captain sees his potential and helps draw out his good points. That and the potential of missing opportunities in his relationship with Mary help him see that sometimes he needs to direct his steps, under God’s leadership and direction, rather than “floating.”

I’m not usually interested in romances just for the sake of romance, and Sarah’s books always go beyond just the romance to the deeper character issues as well as fleshing out what it might have been like to live in the setting. I love what Jim and Mary both had to learn and go through on their journey as well as the underlying mystery of the saboteur. Sarah does a great job conveying the feel of the times in the conversations and interactions of the various characters.

I loved this book, and I am looking forward to the next one in the series!

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: Where Treetops Glisten

Where-Treetops-GlistenI wanted to read Where Treetops Glisten: Three Stories of Heartwarming Courage and Christmas Romance During World War II by Cara Putnam, Sarah Sundin, and Tricia Goyer since I first heard of it because I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Sarah Sundin‘s books. So far everything she has written has been set during WWII, and I enjoy the period backdrop as well as her well-drawn characters. I had never read Cara before and had read only one of Tricia’s books.

This book opens in the Turner home Lafayette, Indiana on Christmas Eve 1941. Abigail Turner’s boyfriend was killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Meredith’s had broken her heart. For all of these reasons, no one was in much of a mood to celebrate Christmas. But Grandma Louise felt that celebrating Christ’s birth was especially necessary in such times, so she gets up early to start decorating.

The book then divides into three sections, each focusing on one of the Turner siblings during subsequent Christmas seasons and written by a different author. Each section is also headed by well known Christmas songs which debuted during the WWII era.

Almost a year after Pearl Harbor, Abigail is a college student and has decided that, for the duration of the war at least, her heart is closed to romance. There’s just no sense in getting involved with someone during uncertain times. She works part-time at the unique Glatz Candies (a real store, now known as McCord Candies), and on her way to catch the bus for work collides with a young man. He boards her bus as well, and she notices he has a limp plus seems to be under a heavy weight. She reaches out to see if she can be of help.

Pete Turner for years considered himself the black sheep of the family. His childhood bullying and prankish sense of humor hurt, angered, or aggravated every one subjected to it, until he finally gave his life to Christ. But old reputations are hard to escape, so he centers his life and work in a different town. On leave in Lafayette, he encounters a lost child and helps her home only to find that her widowed mother is the younger sister of a friend and the target of some of his worst bullying. She’s in need of some help, which he offers, but she has never forgiven him. Yet her daughter seems taken by him, and he seems to understand her daughter more than anyone else.

Meredith had met a young musician in college who was German born but seemed very Americanized. Just as their relationship was growing serious, she learns he has fled, and paraphernalia left behind indicates he was probably a spy. Hurt and betrayed, she joins the service as a nurse, and her unit is following the front lines to attend to the wounded. Christmas Day is also her birthday, and being so far from home weighs on her. But the last thing she expects is having to deal with her betrayal head on.

Grandma Louise’s influence is a running thread connecting all the stories, and an epilogue brings them all to a satisfying close.

At the end is a chat with the authors about their research and how they worked together on the project.

I very much enjoyed this book. The characters and situations were realistic and the element of faith was genuine. I enjoyed each character’s journey and what they learned along the way.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

 

Book Review: Number the Stars

Number the StarsI had never heard of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry until seeing it listed on Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club for November. It was published in 1989 and awarded a Newberry medal in 1990. Its name is taken from Psalm 147, read in a moment of need:

Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.

The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.

He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.

It’s the story of WWII in Denmark through the eyes of a ten year old girl, Annemarie. At the opening of the story, the Nazis have been in Denmark for two years. Their beloved king had surrendered because they were a small country without much of an army, and they would only lose people in a war. Soldiers with guns are on almost all the street corners. One of them scared Annemarie and her friend, Ellen, by stopping them when they were racing down the street. Different items have been rationed or are no longer available.

Ellen’s family, the Rosens, are Jewish and good friends with Annemarie’s family, the Johansens. When the Rosens receive word that the Jews are about to be “relocated,” some members of the Resistance help many of them to escape. Mr. and Mrs. Rosen depart while leaving Ellen with the Johansens for a while, everyone pretending that Ellen is another daughter.

Annemarie’s mother takes the girls to her uncle’s house for a visit, and Annemarie perceives it has something to do with helping the Jews. When her mother and uncle begin talking of a Great Aunt Birte who has died and whose casket will be brought to his house. Annemarie knows there is no such person as Great-Aunt Birte and she is offended that they lied to her, but her uncle explains the situation as much as he can. He explains that not even he knows everything about the operation and that “it is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything.”

Annemarie and Ellen are delighted to find that the Rosens are among those whom Uncle Henrik and others are helping, but sad that that means Ellen will have to go away. There are several scares before they can actually leave, however, and Annemarie finds herself in a position of being the only one who can carry out a vital part.

Early in the story Annemarie wonders if she would be brave enough to die to protect her friends and comforts herself that she is only an “ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage.” I really liked how the bravery and courage of “ordinary people” were woven into the story. For some it was being part of an underground plot to help the Jews escape, for some it was facing their fear of an ocean to enable their family to get to freedom, for others it was pretending life is normal when it is anything but. When Annemarie’s protests her uncle calling her brave, because she had actually been terribly frightened, her uncle tells her, “That’s all being brave means – not thinking about the dangers. Just thinking about what you must do. Of course you were frightened. I was too, today. But you kept your mind on what you had to do” (pp. 122-123).

I have heard that sentiment in many a story of  real-life heroes. They didn’t think themselves brave or heroic. They just did what needed to be done.

I really enjoyed the afterword, too, in which the author explains which parts of the story are real and which are fictional. Some of the characters are fictional, though some are based on real ones, but the historical facts are accurate. Denmark helped almost its entire Jewish population (nearly 7,000 people) by smuggling them into Sweden.

This story has the same vibe to me as another favorite children’s book, Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter Roop. Though the plot and setting are different, it has the same theme of being able to do and face something you didn’t think you could. I enjoyed this story very much and am thankful to Heather for choosing it for us.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: In Perfect Time

Perfect TimeIn Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin is the third in her Wings of the Nightingale series about three friends who were flight nurses during WWII (The first was With Every Letter, the second was On Distant Shores, both linked to my reviews).

They didn’t start out as friends: they had their differences. Kay Jobson was probably the hardest to get to know for the other girls. They were Christians and she was not. She liked to flirt, to have half a dozen boyfriends at a time, was decidedly unchristian, and liked to run around with other girls who felt the same way she did. But circumstances in the previous two books have led to something of a friendship between Kay, Mellie, and Georgie.

Someone in the book called Kay a floozy, and honestly, that’s what I thought of her in the other books. But I was convicted of being judgmental. She doesn’t get physical with her boyfriends – in fact, that’s one reason she keeps so many, so that none will get too serious. When he does, she drops him. Finding out her back story and mindset was eye-opening. Girls who are flirtatious and even promiscuous are souls Jesus died for with stories and heartaches of their own.

I won’t unfold her story here except to say that part of it involved a father who only preached condemnation and who condemned her about things that weren’t her fault and were beyond her ability to change. Her life now is all about control. Her view of Christians has been shaped by her father.

Guys seem to melt like around her, except for pilot Roger Cooper. He keeps his distance and is known not to date. He has his reasons, noble to him, as we soon discover. He is a Christian anyway, which Kay doesn’t like. But one encounter opens both of their eyes a bit to the other, with a glimpse that there may be more to the other than each had thought.

Roger is a great pilot, courageous, daring, thinking outside the box, but he is not good with details like filling out forms and being on time, and he loves to pull pranks on the other guys. His father told him he would never amount to anything, which becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Both Roger and Kay have to learn that other people’s expectations and misjudgments and even past failures don’t define us. When Kay learns that she is, in fact, redeemable, for the first time she begins to want to be redeemed. They also have to learn that though it is okay to dream, ultimately we have to give our dreams and desires over to God. If He fulfills them, it will be better than anything we could have done. If He redirects them, it will be better than going our own way would have been.

I loved Kay and Roger’s story on several levels. I will forewarn some that this book is perhaps a little more physical than Sarah’s others, but nothing is explicit. One of the characters wrestles with sexual temptation, but that is a common temptation, and I thought Sarah handled it well.

Though characters from the other two books are in this one, I think this one can be enjoyed alone (though I’d encourage you to read the others as well. 🙂 )

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)