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Lady Clementine–frustrated power

Lady Clementine

by Marie Benedict

Lady ClementineI had to work hard as I read Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict to differentiate my feelings about Clementine Churchill as the wife of a historical figure, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England during World War II, and Clementine, a character of historical fiction fleshed out by the author based on background information. In this book, which was both interesting and informative, I struggled because I just didn’t like Clementine. The story of her fight to be a changing force in a time when women had no power seems genuine, but I just could not identify with her inner turmoils. Part of her stress is a result of the “poor little rich girl” syndrome. For example, she complains multiple times of the difficulties of trying to live the rich life style her husband’s rank and tastes demand while on a limited budget and with an inadequate number of domestic servants. My biggest moment of disgust was when, for her nerves, she has to get away from it all for an extended retreat by herself at a facility in France and bemoans the fact that she can only afford to take her personal maid with her to care for her needs. She has to leave the rest of the domestics at home to care for the house, Winston, and the children. I realize that as I am not part of the aristocracy, understanding her dilemma is a reach for me, but I find it ironic that Clementine focuses much of her time and energy on helping women who can’t take fifteen minutes to themselves much less several months. The part I can empathize with is her struggle to balance efforts to promote and aid her husband with her own self-efficacy and the responsibilities of her family. Her family, except for her youngest daughter Mary, turn out to be the losers in this battle.

Although not a page turner, Lady Clementine  is well written and prompts me to want to read some nonfiction about the Churchills. There is no doubt that they played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. If I don’t find them very likable, despite the more intimate conversations between them as “Pug” and “Cat,” the fault may be that they are both politicians, but in different ways. Politicians, in general, are self-concerned, and Winston and Clementine live that out in the pages of this book. They do good works but are always concerned about how those works reflect back on them.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 7, 2020—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

“Since I was a young boy, I’ve had the unerring sense that my future and that of Great Britain were inextricably intertwined. That I would be called upon to rescue our nation in a time of tremendous turmoil.”

My husband’s discerning eye perceives all but the threats standing right in front of him, and it seems that I may have to serve as the sentinel of his personal landscape and the gatekeeper of our shared ideals and our marriage.

If he had slapped me, I could not have been more wounded. He only thinks about my identity and my worth in terms of the possessive, in terms of what I mean and what I do for him. I realize for the first time how dependent I’ve been on Winston for his admiration and how reliant I am for his permission to assume my own power, even if it is power derived from his own. No longer.

The Orphan Sisters–bonded forever

The Orphan Sisters

by Shirley Dickson

the orphan sistersIn between the Great War and World War II, two sisters are dropped off by their widowed mother at the austere orphanage Blakely. Etty, the younger girl, has no warning or understanding of what had started out to be a fun family adventure on the train. Dorothy, the older of the two, is able to deal with the circumstances somewhat better. The girls remain there until they reach their fifteenth year. At that time each undergoes an adjustment to a world so different from the institution that had become an uncomfortable and regimented “home.” 

In The Orphan Sisters, we trace the girls’ lives as they become adults, never willing to be far apart from each other. They have hopes and dreams and make choices that are life altering. As they move towards maturity, Great Britain is thrust into the war which affects every area of their lives with rationing, young men being called up for duty, relationships with the  awareness that each day may be their last, and women being encouraged to support the war effort by taking on jobs.

The most dramatic parts of the book depict the physical and emotional effects of the bombings. There was great fear as people huddled in shelters and bombs exploded around them.

Shirley Dickson is a great storyteller. She weaves a tale that grips your heart and puts you in Geordie land with the accent and dialect particular to Tyneside. You will want everything to go well for Etty and Dorothy in the midst of the pain and chaos that surrounds them and invades their lives. You will hope for them to finally find peace in their search for their mother’s love.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:  January 22, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The Mistress’s smile was more of a grimace—it didn’t look at all welcoming. Her eyes held no warmth in them, and dull and glazed, they reminded Esther of dead fish eyes.

Thankful for being saved, she breathed in the acrid air. But the world now seemed a more frightening place, and even the moon, soaring high in a clear sky, appeared to have a malevolent face.

The nation was at war; an aerial attack might happen any minute, but if your nappies weren’t blindingly white as they flapped on the line—then, according to the housewife law, you’d failed as a mother.

Hedy, What a woman

Blogger friend Wendy has long been an admirer of Hedy Lamarr. When she read my review of The Only Woman in the Room, she took the information and ran with it. Thank you, Wendy, for adding to my appreciation of the remarkable Hedy Lamarr!

The Only Woman in the Room–beauty, talent, and brains

The Only Woman in the Room

by Marie Benedict

the only woman in the roomWe meet Hedy Kiesler as a young actress in Vienna, Austria, in 1933 just as munitions manufacturer Friedrich (Fritz) Mandl begins courting her. Europe is on the cusp of war, and Hitler has started his attack on Jews. Under other circumstances, Hedy’s parents might have refused permission for the courtship, but they could see the benefit of a marriage to the rich, powerful, and well connected man.

Unfortunately, Mandl’s character changes after their marriage, and he becomes abusive and controlling. Hedy’s father had encouraged her as a child in studying many subjects, especially the sciences. Hedy teams her interest in science with her position as an ornament at dinner parties to listen in on the conversations of dangerous and powerful guests in the Mandl home. Later, after escaping from Fritz, she tries to use that knowledge to save lives as Hitler continues his military advances.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Hedy, her marriage, and the entrance of the United States into the war. The second focuses on her two careers after her escape from Fritz: one as the famous Hedy Lamarr (her new, non-German sounding, stage name) and the other as an inventor. Her talents as an actress and her incredible beauty outweigh her potential contributions to the war effort in the eyes of the men in power at that time.

In The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict has created a historical novel about a very complex woman living in times that were difficult for everyone, but especially for women. It is important to remember that even though the book is well researched, Benedict is basically filling in the skeleton of a plot with details, some of which are true and others that only  might have occurred. In this book Hedy is overcome with guilt over hearing Hitler’s plans but not doing anything about them. She doesn’t believe in God, but she is dogged by a fear that she has not done enough to make up for her silence and inaction. Of course, as she finds out later, as a woman there was little she could contribute that would be valued. During the last part of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder whose scales she was concerned about—her own sense of morality, public opinion, or judgement by a higher being. That was never clarified and yet it appeared to be a driving force for her.

I liked this book but not as much as Benedict’s two prior books, The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. All three novels address the hidden contributions of women. All three ladies are women of talent and intellect operating under difficult circumstances. All deserve respect, but I think I can empathize more with Mileva, Einstein’s first wife, and with Clara, a lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household. Hedy was born into privilege and by virtue of her beauty moved in important social circles. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, that background erects a barrier for me.

The Only Woman in the Room is a well-written and well-researched historical novel. Benedict specializes in drawing out the stories of women whose intellectual abilities have been overlooked. It will be interesting to see whose story she will discover and share in her next historical novel.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 8, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

I’d become like one of the Rembrandts on the wall or the antique Meissen porcelain on the sideboard. Simply another priceless, inanimate decoration for Fritz to display, a symbol of his wealth and prowess.

It seemed that my best chance of undermining the Third Reich—and ensuring that a German submarine or ship never again harmed a ship full of refugee children—might be to somehow use the knowledge I’d gathered to capitalize on the weakness in the German torpedo systems.

“I must admit it would be hard for us to sell our soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman. And we’re not going to try.”

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

by Laura Hillenbrand

UnbrokenHow much can the human body, the human spirit, endure? Unbroken is the story of Olympic track contender Louie Zamperini as he is tested past the limits of endurance during World War II.  His running career is cut short as he becomes a bombardier. The characteristics that made him a difficult child, always testing the limits, become the foundation of an unrelenting resilience in the face of life challenging circumstances. He endured horrors, but he was miraculously saved from death several times. Did God have a plan for Louie’s life? Could he be saved from his own destructive behaviors and the hatred dwelling in his heart?

Unbroken is a biography and so much more. It reads like a fascinating work of fiction. In fact, if more nonfiction maintained the interest level of Unbroken, there would be a lot more readers of nonfiction. This book is engaging and fast paced. Unbroken was thoroughly researched over seven years using archives and many interviews including seventy-five interviews with Louie himself. Very importantly, author Laura Hillenbrand found few discrepancies among the various reports. 

I read and review a lot of books. I mentally gauge my review comparing each book within its genre. A five star cozy mystery is not compared to a five star book of poetry, for example. I must state, however, that Unbroken rises above a star rating system. Although emotionally difficult in places, it is a book that everyone should read.

Rating: 5/5

Category: History, Biography

Notes: Thanks to my brother Don Lyons who insisted I borrow his copy of Unbroken. It was every bit as powerful as you said it would be!

Publication:   November 16, 2010—Random House

Memorable Lines:

In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.

“The other pilots act as though nothing has happened and speak of sending the other fellow’s clothes home as though it were an everyday occurrence. That’s the way it has to be played because that’s the way it is—it’s an everyday occurrence!”

This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind…Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.

In Farleigh Field–World War II spy novel

In Farleigh Field

by Rhys Bowen

In Farleigh FieldI was late coming to the TV series Downton Abbey, but it is now a fait accompli, and I enjoyed it very much. I found In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen to be reminiscent of Downton Abbey in its focus on the titled upper class during the hardships and upheavals of World War II. The plot is not highly complex, but it is interesting as characters of various social ranks use their skills to help England survive the Nazi onslaught.

I have two criticisms of the book. The character of Lady Diana (Dido) repeatedly whines about the war’s hampering her coming of age social season. I suppose a young woman could be that self-centered, but I kept wanting to tell her to grow up and look at the devastation surrounding her. Even her younger sister, Lady Phoebe (Feebs), seems  mature, especially in times of crisis, at age twelve compared to her eighteen year old sibling. My other issue with In Farleigh Field is the ambivalence over secrets that are crucial to national security. The rules were emphasized over and over again and then broken on several occasions. At the same time, it seemed that more would be accomplished if branches of government cooperated.

The book does give insight into what it must have been like during World War II in England to work as a civilian for the government. Women were assumed to have secretarial jobs and men were thought to have bravery issues because they were not in the military.

I enjoyed the book, including the spy intrigue. There were surprises that kept the reader engaged, the setting was interesting, and the characters were appropriately either agreeable or unlikable.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lake Union Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: World War II era

Publication:  March 1. 2017–Lake Union Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“Nasty Americanism, the word ‘weekend,’ ” Lord Westerham remarked. Although he had known Clementine Churchill for many years, he still hadn’t quite forgiven her for being American.

“I said she should have Margot’s bedroom, since she’s not likely to need it, but Pah said that standards had to be kept up, and it was not right for the staff to sleep on the same floor as the family, even if there was a war on.”

It was such a typical thing for someone like Lord Westerham to say. Not admitting that anything was allowed to change, even when the whole world was disintegrating around him.

Interested in World War II ? Dobryd is a good read!

dobrydThe period known as the Holocaust is a frequent topic of books for both adults and young adults. The book Dobryd is different in that it does not focus on characters who are arrested or imprisoned. In fact most of the story occurs in the years following the war. Told in the first person, this story details the struggles of a five year old girl as she emerges from over two years of hiding in a space too small for a standing adult. Most of her family is dead, but she still has her mother and an aunt. The reader is soon absorbed by their relationships as they begin to integrate into a Poland that is very different from the one they hid from. Their rescuer is Yuri, a Russian soldier who plays a pivotal role in helping young Ann relate to her new world and provides stability for her. Dobryd shows us the best and the worst of people and how they have a long lasting impact on Ann and her family.

Dobryd is classified as an autobiographical novel as the author was very young when the story begins and much is retold from the memories of others. It reads like fiction, but has the authenticity of history. Dobryd would be an excellent addition to a unit on the Holocaust or World War II. It invites comparisons to books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank that are typically enjoyed by students in learning about this period. Dobryd offers opportunities to feel with Ann the discrimination she experienced based on religion and her family’s former social standing. We get to learn of her rapidly disappearing Polish heritage and of the geographical struggles Poland underwent as a nation being divided by its neighbors as one of the spoils of war.

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