Anyway, to compensate we will be speeding up the frequency of our awards to at least two posts a day, for the next few days.
I'm so excited to bring you these four nominees today, so let's get right to it.
I had been wanting to read a Christoph Fischer for quite some time, as I was aware of the positive buzz his books had received in Social Media. I was thrilled to have the chance to read his latest offering; Ludwika.
Based on the true life of a Polish woman struggling to survive in Nazi Germany, Ludwika is touching and at times heart-rending. Although there is little doubt that Ludwika had a much easier war than many other refugees or internees of the Nazi war machine, it was certainly not a walk in the park surviving the detention camps and the betrayals by Germans she considered to be her friends or allies.
Ludwika's motivation, it seemed, was always about what was best for her family, left behind in Poland and especially her young daughter. What kept her going was that burning desire to be reunited with them once this madness was over. During the course of her journey, it seemed Ludwika's choices would always be dogged by "bad luck". Very beautiful and headstrong, she was prone to rush in; "where Angels fear to tread".
I absolutely adore Fischer's style and was totally invested in the outcome of Ludwika's painful journey; always the sign of a good writer. Fischer also did an excellent job at the end of the story, relating his fictionalised tale to the true Ludwika and her family today. The bonus at the end of the book - a good, solid, extract from another of his books The Luck of the Weissentheiners, ensured that I have no doubt which Fischer book will be next on my to read list. I am already invested in this fascinating tale.
It was early in 2016 when I read Ludwika, but this book was already at the top of my "awards" list consideration for December. This is a superb piece of fiction/fact. I loved it.
Firstly, I want to say what a sheer pleasure it was to read a full-length, weighty novel again. It seems sometimes that the pleasure of reading a good story has been subverted, these days, by the publishing industry that has arbitrarily decided that us dumb readers can only concentrate for a few hours and any novel over 80,000 words is too big. What a load of poppycock! I love a good long read that allows the characters to develop and the author to describes events over a long period of time. The Guardian of Secrets is such a novel and its author Jana Petken has done her usual superb job in presenting this monumental tale of love, loss, war and drama to us.
At almost 700 pages The Guardian of Secrets is a weighty book, but it is never difficult to read or in any way slow or boring. I took my time over it, picking up in between other books. I was always happy to return to the Spanish Civil War and the trials and tribulations of the Martinez family. It was an absolute joy to read.
The story actually covers almost a Century, but most of the focus in the book is of the time leading up to and during the bloody Spanish Civil War. The Martinez family is Spanish aristocracy and landowners and quite naturally expected to support and fight for the "old guard" led by the fascists and General Franco. Ernesto, the Patriarch is less inclined to see the rightest views and believes Spain must change to embrace the changes sweeping Europe.
Petken's wonderful story takes us from Merill Farm in England to La Glorietta in Valencia, Spain as we watch Cecilia and Ernesto bring up their children and suffer the anguish of loss and pain that the war brought to Spain during the late 1930's and for many years following the Fascist victory.
As a treatise against the folly of war, especially Civil War, one comes away from this book with a much greater understanding of how entrenched political ideals can lead to everyday citizens becoming just cannon fodder for the Generals. This book is ultimately about love, but it allows us to explore the most basest of human emotions and desires.
Petken is a true master of the historical romance and is now at the top of my favorite author list. She has combined careful research and deep personal knowledge of the setting of the book to create a wonderful tale that can sweep us away from our everyday, humdrum lives. Jan Petken is one of the true stars of the Indie writing scene. I have no doubt I will be devouring many more of her offerings in the future.
I like to think that I have been greatly blessed recently.
As a history buff and someone who adores historical fiction, I have read some of the most amazing, diverse and exciting historical fiction in recent times. In the last few months alone, I have read three books set during the Nazi reign of terror, each one of them very different and each one of them equally superb. From Christoph Fischer's Ludwika to Ellie Midwood's Standartenfuhrer's Wife and Gruppenfuhrer's Mistress, I have been a happy little camper. Well, add now to that impressive list, The Seven Year Dress by Paulette Mahurin.
Each of these three authors has produced books on the same time period, but each from their own unique perspective and viewpoint. In Ludwika, we saw a young Slavic girl trying to survive amongst the Nazi invaders. In Ellie Midwood's two stories, we followed young Jewess Annalise as she not only married a man high up in the Nazi Intelligence Service but then used that position to spy on the Nazis for the Americans. Fantastic books all of them.
In the Seven Year Dress, we confront the very worst of the Nazi atrocities and Mahurin confronts it head on, through the eyes of Helen, a survivor of the infamous death camp that was Auschwitz.
We first meet Helen, as an old lady, who needs to tell her story to her new boarder. Traveling back in time to Berlin in the mid-1930's we see a young Jewish girl, about to flourish into womanhood, as the Nazi's come to power in Germany and the atrocities against the Jewish people and other "undesirables" begin.
After four years of hiding in an abandoned farmhouse basement, with only her brother Ben for company, the pair is finally arrested, by the dreaded Gestapo and transported to Auschwitz, where somehow Helen manages to stay alive through the hell that was the "Death Camp".
This book will make you cry, it will make you scream at the sheer brutality and inhumanity of the German soldiers but it will also fill you with wonder and hope and faith in the indomitability of the human spirit. Reading this book you will traverse the entire gamut of human emotions - it is that good.
It isn't necessarily an easy read. The violence and hatred are brutal and Mahurin pulls no punches in describing it, but the strength, the humanity and the sheer determination to survive shown by Helen and some of the other inmates will shine through like a beacon.
I can say easily, few books have touched me emotionally as much as this one has. Paulette Mahurin, in my book you are a superstar author who deserves mass publication.
As an aside and not taking away from the book in any way, it is fascinating to draw parallels between the behavior of the Nazis in the 1930's and by association, most average German citizens, and the events we see currently happening in parts of the world today. We should learn from history, not repeat it. (No need to elucidate on that!)
Thank you for a book that will live long in my memory.
As this is the third book in the series and I am confident that few people could read book one and not go on and read the second and third, I will concentrate, in this review, more on the series as a whole, than specifically on War Criminal's Widow. Simply put, War Criminal's Widow, was a wonderful story and I loved it, as I did Standartenfuhrer's Wife and Gruppenfuhrer's Mistress.
Firstly, the style of Midwood in taking on the principal character of Annalise, and telling the story in the first-person, almost like a diary, was an inspired choice. We, as readers, may not always have agreed with Annalise's decisions and I certainly questioned her thought processes, from time to time, but because it was so intimately told, from her perspective, it was easy to forgive her, her sins, as indeed Heinrich seemed always willing to do.
There were times, perhaps, when suspension of belief was necessary when we considered her actions and ability to get away with them, but we know, from history, that counter-espionage was rife on all sides of World War Two and that double-agents and even triple agents were very common within the intelligence communities of all the powers. I didn't have too much difficulty coming to terms with such goings-on right at the top of the Nazi party. I can easily imagine the scramble Midwood described amongst senior Nazi officials to pass off blame and to paint themselves as being just "following orders". It was fascinating to look at the Nuremberg Trial from the perspective of the loved one of an accused, desperately trying to mitigate their actions during the war.
So, all in all, a fabulous conclusion to a fabulous Series from Ellie Midwood. Where to now? Well, for me, as a reader, I'm excited to look at the next series on WWII, The Austrian, where I assume Midwood looks at this story from the perspective of the main anti-hero, Ernst Kaltenbrunner. I was fascinated by this character in The Girl from Berlin and I have no doubt I will enjoy a closer examination of OberGruppenfuhrer Kaltenbrunner's rise to power.
I have found an historical fiction novelist worth following in Ellie Midwood and will continue to read her books, with interest and enjoyment.
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CHANGING THE WORLD – ONE READER AT A TIME