Tag Archives: London

Review – Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

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This is a fictionalized story based on the very real kindertransport trains and ferries taking Jewish children out of Nazi Europe. The real woman who convinced Eichmann to allow the first 600 children to be transported to London, when England agreed to provide visas for them, was named Geertruida Wijsmuller. She saved a large number of Jewish children’s lives, first by taking two and three, and sometimes as many as ten, out of Germany and into the Netherlands. She started doing this in the mid-1930s. The situation became more urgent after Hitler invaded Austria. Many countries closed their borders and refused to allow Jewish people entry visas. Tante Truus, as she had the children call her, worked with some highly placed people in England to pressure their parliament to allow children to be evacuated and held in two summer camps until foster families could take them in. After the war, she was granted Righteous Among the Nations status.

The story in this book centers on two families. One a wealthy Jewish chocolatier who has a wife suffering from cancer. They have two sons, Stephan and Walter. The other, a barber, a Christian grandfather who has a widowed daughter-in-law with two daughters. One is Zofie-Helene and the other Johanna. Their mother is a journalist who is very outspoken against the Nazis.

The story starts with both families living their normal lives and Zofie and Stephan becoming close friends. She’s mathematically gifted and he’s interested in being a playwright.

The chapters alternate between their stories and the story of Tante Truus and her rescues of small groups of children and the dangers she faces in that endeavor.

With Truus in the Netherlands and the others in Vienna, I wondered in the early parts of the book how she was going to help them being as they are quite a ways apart.

When Germany annexes Austria with not so much as a shot fired and seemingly overnight, Stephan’s family’s life undergoes a massive change. His father is taken to a camp and he goes into hiding as he is of an age where the Nazis want to inter him in a camp as well. His brother is only five and, at this time, they were not taking children that young to the camps.

Zofie’s mother, a Christian, eventually gets taken by the Nazis due to her unwelcome stories pointing out their conduct which she won’t stop writing even though she is pressured to do so. The two girls are left with their grandfather.

The story unfolded at a good pace. Some of the parts were very hard to read. The author depicted the utterly senseless cruelty of the Nazis and their adherents very well. It always amazes me how terribly awful these people could be to other people. And how the population turned on people who had been their friends and fellow citizens just days prior.

The author also did a good job showing the fear and terror of the ordinary citizen and why so many didn’t speak up to try to stop the atrocities they witnessed. A great part of the population was cowed and if they spoke up, they would be punished severely as well. Some of them tortured and murdered merely for voicing an opinion—or for nothing at all, even an imagined slight.

It was a harrowing read but one I recommend for several reasons. One, the story of the main characters in Vienna seems to be a reflection of what a lot of families went through during this time. Two, the story of Geertruida Wijsmuller is a story of how one person can make a massive difference in the lives of so many. One voice, one brave soul, she saved so many and gave them a chance at life and that is amazing. And third, with the seeming resurgence of some of the awful ideas the Nazi’s had, this is an important read. We must never, ever, let these things happen again and the author of this book makes what happened to Jewish people, as well as anyone who disagreed with the Nazi ideals in that time, all very real and relatable with the characters she created.

This one is well worth a read.

Dolly Pleasance by CW Lovatt, a Review

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“My name is Dolly Pleasance, sir, which is short for Delores, which, in Spanish, means sorrow.”

The main character in this novel always introduces herself this way. It was a cute character quirk that recurred over the entire book. She definitely had sorrow in her life, but she also had some wonderful times as well.

The main character in this story was old beyond her years after a rough start to her life. Her father and mother were drunks and her mother killed herself when the protagonist was quite young. The story opens with Dolly and her father Archie leaving the workhouse (a horrible place that I’ve read about before and watched documentaries about). If the poor child living in those conditions didn’t break her spirit, I felt like this was going to be a good story about a plucky girl who refused to be defeated by the hand she was dealt by fate.  The author didn’t disappoint. His Dolly was smart, clever and streetwise. She also had some flaws which made her tale even more interesting—no one likes a perfect protagonist.

She worked her way up in the theater from scrubbing floors to appearing on stage. Along the way, she did what she needed to in order to survive. The streets of London were rough and it had to be hard for a girl on her own. She had a mentor, Ben, who her father left her with, but she had been raised pretty feral and couldn’t adapt to living in his home with his wife and children.

Some parts of the story were gruesome and violent. The villain was a bit unbelievable—his motivation, I mean. It seemed like such a minor thing for someone to react the way he did. Mental illness could have been the root of it, I presume.  It stretched credulity to me. The other thing that seemed rushed and a bit off was how quickly and deeply Dolly was affected by the young man, Charlie Smithers. A few moments of interaction with him resulted in some life decisions that just seemed precipitous and rash.

There were a few usages of the wrong word—one was plane for plain and the other is a real pet peeve for me—taught for taut. They threw me out of the story.

Having not read the stories by this author about Charlie Smithers, (There was an author note about Charlie at the beginning of the book, but I didn’t have enough knowledge to know who he was) I had questions about him and how he was able to head off to foreign parts for months or years at a time when he is a valet. I plan to check those tales out as I enjoyed the writing in this book and think I’d like the adventures of Charlie.

Overall, I liked this story a lot. Dolly was a strong character with some weaknesses that made her vulnerable and she was very well-rounded. The style of the author’s prose was entertaining (except the few places the story got bogged down with recitations of various plays) and I also liked that he included real people of the theater/London scene as characters in his work. It gave a touch of realism to the tale.

This story had some flaws—in this reader’s opinion—but, for the most part, it was an enjoyable read.

Double Identity- by Alison Morton- a Review

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I received a copy in exchange for a fair review. I give this one 3.5 stars for being readable and having a good plot. It’s clear the writer knows London, France and the military and she used that knowledge well.

Melisande, nicknamed Mel, is an unlikeable heroine. She’s a poor judge of character, quick to overreact and attack people (including slapping a colleague across the face in a moment of uncontrolled rage), and thoroughly annoying.

Despite that, I found myself drawn into the tale. It was a good story with a compelling plot.

The heroine is also a mass of contradictions. Some were hard for this reader to reconcile such as her compassion for the domestic partner of one of the villain’s while she was undercover living in the same home as the villain and his mate, all while scheming to bring down the villain and destroy the life of this man she seemed drawn to and befriended on a visit to the market. I know she was undercover and had to lie, but the way the author wrote the villain in the beginning and how she wrote him while the heroine was living with him (as well as his partner) was also a big contradiction. The man seemed like two different characters in places. Kind when he was in his apartment or car and ruthless and cruel when he was at his office or in the street. It was a little off-putting and odd. On the one hand, he seemed like he could kill the heroine without a thought and then, on the other, he was chatting with her as if they were cordial colleagues.

The heroine was also a contradiction in her dealings with her colleagues and other law enforcement members. Disrespectful to orders even though her actions ended up saving lives and just overall, someone who rubbed me the wrong way. I liked her partner, Jack McCracken as he reminded me of heroes who grow on the reader during the course of the story. He was unkind and annoying at the beginning, but he had motivation as he was investigating a murder where the heroine was a potential suspect. He eventually changed and softened.

I liked the intricacy of the plot, starting with the death of Mel’s fiancé and heading into the adventure of her working with the agency to solve not only his death, but an international intrigue involving a large cast of characters. The ultimate villain was easy to figure out as the author seemed to bang the reader in the head with his behavior.

This book made me angry in parts—mostly due to the heroine’s behaviors and attitudes—but ultimately, she seemed to have a straight moral compass and I liked that. She was adept at her job, a great shot, and savvy when it came to her military training, but she didn’t offer much in the way of interpersonal skills. She also didn’t appear to have any character growth at all during the course of the story. And I guess that was all right as I kept reading…

The Blitz Bus by Glen Blackwell

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I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

This middle grade book is a good one for children to learn about the London Blitz and WWII days of 1940. The main characters, Jack and Emmie are in modern day London and Jack is assigned to write an essay about the London Blitz and how a lot of children were evacuated to the countryside during that time. Meanwhile, in Emmie’s drama class, they are acting out the children leaving their parents.

Jack has a hard time envisioning the city at that time and is kept back at school that afternoon to finish his paper,, making him almost late to meet his friend Emmie. 

When they are finally on the bus headed home, they look out and see a shop they haven’t seen before.  In the window is a mannequin who has a gas mask.

Exiting the bus, there is a large unexplained bang. It’s raining and they take shelter at a tube station. Everyone is dressed differently than Emmie and Jack. There are cots set up in the station. The two children think they’ve stumbled onto a film set. Until very real bombs start falling and they find themselves in the middle of an air raid.

They make friends with a boy in the shelter, but don’t tell him they have somehow come from another time period.

The adventure really begins here. Jack and Emmie discover food lines, cratered buildings, rationing, bombs, anti-aircraft balloons, air raid shelters in yards, and, as well, have to hide from authorities. They fear spies are around and being taken for spies themselves with their modern items like Jack’s calculator. They find some help from their new friend, Jan, a boy from Poland.  

Even though I am nowhere near the age for middle grade stories, I enjoy them and this one was particularly good. The fact that the children were studying this era in school and couldn’t imagine how people were living and then were transported there is very educational—yet done in a fun way—A lot of interesting historical facts came through in a way that entertains and would have a younger reader on the edge of their seat worried about the two protagonists and how they would solve their problems as well as how they would be able to get back to their own time period.

The only thing I would have liked to be added to the story would be an epilogue of the children finding the friends they made in the 21st century when the friends were elderly. That would have been a fun ending. Overall, I was happy with the story and would recommend it to the middle grade age group as a history lesson full of interesting reading that will hold their interest.