Book Review: Hidden Among the Stars

In Austria in 1938, Annika Knopf is the daughter of the caretaker of the Dornbach family’s castle in Hallstatt. She and the Dornbach’s only son, Max, have been friends since childhood. But now they are grown, and she has quietly loved him for a long time.

When Annika discovers Max is hiding treasures of their Jewish friends on the estate grounds, she wants to help. Max wants to protect her as much as possible, but the time comes when he must accept her offer.

Max has never seen Annika as anything but a good friend. He’s in love with Luzia Weiss, a beautiful and brilliant violinist with the local orchestra. The Dornbach and Weiss families have been friends for years. But as Hitler’s forces advance, it’s not healthy to associate with Jews like the Weiss family. Max loves Luzia still and looks for ways to avoid fighting for the Reich and to get Luzia and her family out of Austria before it’s too late. In the meantime, he brings Luzia to the family’s lake castle to hide and asks Annika to watch over Luzia.

In modern times, Callie Randall runs a book store with her sister. Her tumultuous early life, with rejection from both parents and and betrayal by her fiance, has turned her naturally introverted character into someone who enjoys hiding out and is afraid of . . . almost everything except her job and shop.

Callie’s sister gifts her an early edition copy of Bambi, and Callie finds within its pages a list of items in the same script as the book’s font. The name written in the front is Annika Knopf. Callie begins an Internet search, hoping to reunite the book with Annika or someone in her family. But Callie discovers Annika’s story may intersect with Charlotte, the woman who took Callie and her sister in and whom she loves like a mother. Callie yearns to find Annika and restore to Charlotte something of her lost history. But first she must find the courage to step outside her safe haven.

I had read several WWII-era books this year, and was determined to read something from a different time. I love stories from that era, but I was starting to get a little tired of it. However, when I read the description of Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson, I had to read it next. A main character with a personalty similar to mine, a bookstore owner, mention of several classic children’s books, a castle on a lake—all these drew me in. And I am glad. I think this might be my favorite of Melanie’s books so far—and that’s saying something, because I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read from her.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Nancy Peterson. Unfortunately, the audio version didn’t include any back matter that books sometimes have about the author’s inspiration for writing, historical research, etc. However, I did find that information on Melanie’s site here. There really is an abandoned castle in Hallstatt! I enjoyed hearing about Melanie’s trip there.

I’m pretty sure this will be one of my top ten books of the year. Highly recommended.

Memories of Glass

Memories of Glass by Melanie Dobson is a time-slip novel. One time line is modern day, and one begins in 1933 but quickly progresses to WWII.

In the older timeline, three childhood friends in Amsterdam are joined by a fourth when Anneliese Linden moves into their neighborhood. Just a few years later, the war has begun. Eliese’s father’s bank was closed because he was Jewish. Samuel works in another bank and sends his sister, Josie, on missions to deliver hidden correspondence in baskets of flowers and jam when she’s not taking classes at the teacher’s college. Klaas—well, no one knows quite where he stands, so they don’t trust him.

Eliese had moved to London for a time. Her friends don’t know that she’s back in Amsterdam with a young son. Her father has a position helping the Nazis, which he thinks will protect him and Eliese. Eliese feels conflicted registering the families that the Nazis round up, but she doesn’t know what she, as one young woman, can do. When she finds that Josie is working at a creche nearby, they form a plan to rescue some of the children.

In the modern timeline, Ava Drake helps her grandmother, Marcella Kingston, with her charitable foundation though the rest of the family disapproves. Ava’s mom had left the family years ago, but when she and Ava’s brother died in a fire, a case worker found Ava’s connections to the Kingstons. The Kingstons all view Ava as an outsider except Marcella, and since Marcella is the matriarch and holds the purse strings, they all go along—at least in public.

Part of Ava’s job is to vet the charities that apply to the Kingston Foundation for grants. In that capacity, she travels to Uganda to visit a man, Paul, who runs a coffee plantation as a means to help Ugandans. Later, Ava travels to the coffee company’s headquarters in Portland and meets Paul’s sister and grandmother, where she finds a surprising connection.

Ava determines that her family won’t heal until its past is brought to light. As she digs into her family history, she finds connections with the young friends from Amsterdam—connections that some of the Kingstons don’t want known.

The part about rescuing children away by deleting their names on the registration forms was a true one, and Melanie tells that story in her afterword. It’s a reminder that even thought it looks like someone is collaborating with the enemy, he or she might have another purpose in mind.

I felt for Eliese here—there were probably many who were in similar positions, stuck “helping” the Reich. If she resisted, she and possibly her father would have been killed. I was glad she found a way to help after all.

I found myself reading parts of this while also reading Women Heroes of World War II, mentioned yesterday. It was interesting seeing some of the activities there fleshed out in the novel.

There were a lot of details to keep up with, and I am not sure I caught all the threads in the end. But I enjoyed the stories of hope and redemption.

Catching the Wind

Melanie Dobson’s Catching the Wind made me want to lay everything else aside to read it. But I also wanted to slow down and savor it and hated to see it end

The story opens with two children playing in 1940 Germany. Brigette Berthold is ten and wants to play nothing but princesses and knights. Dietmar Roth is a few years older and tolerates the game because Brigette is his favorite playmate. Plus he promised her father that he would help take care of her.

When the children’s parents are attacked by the Nazis, Dietmar and Brigette run. If they can make it to the English Channel and get across, Hopefully Dietmar can find his aunt.

After a harrowing journey, they finally do make it to English soil. But then they are separated.

Over 70 years later, Dietmar is a wealthy old man who goes by the name Daniel Knight. He has hired several private investigators to try to find Brigette, with no luck. Now his hopes rest in a reporter, Quenby Vaughn. He has read her stories about refugee children and knows she searches with her heart.

Quenby is working on her own story about a wealthy English woman, Lady Ricker, rumored to have helped and secretly supported the Nazis in the 1940s. Understandably, the woman’s descendants don’t want the story to run and aren’t cooperating.

When Mr. Knight’s arrogant solicitor approaches Quenby with Mr. Knight’s proposal, he’s not forthcoming enough to interest her. But she agrees to meet with Mr. Knight. When she learns that Brigette’s story ties in with the Rickers, she’s hooked.

There are several layers to this story—what happened to Brigette and Daniel, what was going on with Lady Ricker, and Quenby’s family history of a mother who abandoned her, which has crippled her ability to trust.

As one character says, “I believe God uses our pasts, even our regrets to help us and other people find Him.”

I listened to the audiobook (winner of a 2018 Audie award) nicely read by Nancy Peterson. This is one of my favorites of Melanie Dobson’s.

Anne Askew, Reformation Martyr

Only Glory Awaits: The Story of Anne Askew, Reformation Martyr by Leslie S. Nuernberg is historical fiction. Anne Askew was a real person, but the book is written in story form with conversations imagined by the author based on what she knew of the people and situations involved.

Anne lived during the time of King Henry VIII and was even friends with one of his wives, Catherine Parr. Anne was bright and well-educated, especially for a women of her time.

The Reformation was sweeping across Great Britain, with Catholics strongly opposing it. Anne and two of her brothers, Francis and Edward, embraced the opportunity to read Scripture on their own, which Catholicism discouraged. Anne came to believe on the Lord alone for salvation at age eleven. Their father was tolerant but not interested himself. He didn’t want to change his way of life. Francis would bring Reformation literature home to Anne privately.

When Anne was fifteen, her sister was engaged to marry a local Catholic farmer, Thomas Kyme. But her sister, Martha, passed away before the wedding. Thomas and Anne’s father arranged that she should take her sister’s place. Anne pleaded and begged to be released from this obligation: not only did she have no love or interest in Kyme, she was Protestant and he was Catholic. She knew they would never agree about matters closest to her heart.

But Anne was married anyway. The book posits that Anne’s brother, Francis, persuaded her that she was to be subject to her parents and marry Thomas. He later came to regret his influence in this matter.

The marriage was a disaster from the start. Thomas and Anne were different in just about every way possible. If the book is correct, I felt Anne failed here. She treated Thomas as a heretic and argued with him instead of viewing him as a soul who needed Christ.

When Thomas was not home, Anne would meet with other women in the area to try to bring them to the Lord. Thomas forbade her “gospeling” and took her Bible away.

Anne wanted a divorce, and Thomas eventually sent her back home. But, according to the book, Thomas’s priest urged him to bring his wife home and convert her to Catholicism. Anne would not go.

Wikipedia says Anne had two children with Kyme, but the book doesn’t mention them.

She was eventually arrested and imprisoned. She was intelligent and well-versed in Scripture and stunned her questioners by her answers, especially about her views of transubstantiation (the idea that the bread and drink of communion actually become the body and blood of Christ. Catholics believe it does; Protestants believe the food and drink is merely symbolic). Her examiners also wanted her to give names of other women who believed as she did, but she refused.

She was one of only two women tortured in the Tower of London. When the torturer refused to continue and left to ask the king’s permission to stop, Anne’s questioners used the rack on her themselves, tearing muscle and pulling bones out of sockets. Anne was condemned to be burned at the stake at the age of 25. She was so broken and in such pain, she had to be carried in a chair to her execution.

This book doesn’t present Anne as a perfect heroine. She came across as proud and stubborn at times. But her loyalty to her Savior and to truth and her hunger for the Word of God are exemplary.

I thought the author did a fair job. Somehow the Kindle version’s editing fell through in the last 20% of the book, with several obvious mistakes. I hope this isn’t the case for the print version and can be corrected.

The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner opens with an elderly Elise Dove, who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Elise calls her disease “Agnes” and describes her as “a sticky-fingered houseguest who is slowly and sweetly taking everything of mine for her own.”

As Elise mourns the memories she will some day lose, she thinks of a long-ago friend she met in an internment camp during WWII.

Elise was a teenager then, living like any American teenager in Iowa. One day Elise came home from school to find strangers rifling through their belongings while her German parents were seated at the table. Elise thought they were being robbed. In a way, they were. A few statements and actions of her father’s had been misinterpreted, and he was suspected of being secretly involved in Nazi activities. The whole family was eventually shipped to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas.

There Elise met Mariko Inoue, a Japanese teen girl who sounded every bit as American as Elise. The two became friends for the eighteen months they were in the camp, and even beyond. But their families were repatriated to the parents’ home countries, and the girls lost touch for the next sixty years.

Now Elise’s housekeeper has taught her how to look people up on Google with her new iPad. Elise decides to fly out to the place where she thinks Mariko is, without telling her children about the trip or about “Agnes.”

The present-day Elise’s search is sprinkled with flashbacks of her family’s trials, time in the internment camp and then in Germany, and what happened to them after that.

I had known about internment camps, but didn’t realize German and Japanese Americans were interned together. I also thought of the camps like POW camps. But they were actually like small towns, with schools, stores, jobs, etc. However, there were also fences, barbed wire, and guards with guns.

Both the present and past narratives are compelling. Having had a mother-in-law with dementia, I was a little on edge during the older Elise’s travels, hoping she’d be okay. For that reason, the very end, the last couple of paragraphs, were disappointing. They fit in with a metaphor raised earlier in the book, but they left Elise hanging, which left me without a satisfying resolution. But the rest of the story was very good.

I’ve read Christian or inspirational fiction from Susan Meissner, but this is pretty much strictly historical fiction. The only mention of God I can recall is a passing statement. Sadly, there are a few bad words, which I was disappointed to see.

I very much enjoyed Kimberly Farr’s narration of the audiobook.

I’ve read lots of WWII fiction, but this is the first I’ve read that is partially set in an internment camp. How about you? Have you read anything about the camps?

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

In Kim Michele Richardson’s novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Cussy Mary Carter was one of the Pack Horse Librarians. A Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative by FDR during the Depression employed librarians to bring books to people in the Appalachian mountains. Books were donated, and the Pack Horse Librarians sorted, distributed them, and made scrapbooks for residents which included recipes and tips. The librarians, mostly women, rode hundreds of miles.

Many of the residents were eager for books and magazines. Some were suspicious.

Cussy Mary had to fight more than the usual amount of suspicion and superstition because she was colored: blue.

A family line in Kentucky produced people with a blue tint to their skin due to a recessive gene, though the cause wasn’t known at the time. Some people treated the “blues” like anyone else, but negative reactions ranged from a desire to keep a distance to fear of disease to superstitions to hatred. “Blues” were included in “No coloreds allowed” signs and laws.

Kim Michele Richardson ties together the blue people of Kentucky and the Pack Horse Librarian initiative to create unusual and interesting historical fiction.

The story begins with Cussy Mary’s father trying to arrange courtship for her, though she doesn’t want to be married. He has worked in the mines all his life, and his lungs are affected. He wants to make sure Mary is provided for before he dies. But no one is interested until he offers the deed to his land. A disastrous wedding night leaves Mary a widow.

We follow along with Mary on her travels, meet her patrons, hear their stories, see her interactions with townspeople, encounter the dangers on the trail.

The town doctor has always wanted to take blood samples and study Mary and her father, but they’ve resisted—until the father has a secret he needs the doctor to keep. The only way the doctor will agree is if Mary’s dad will let him take her to the hospital in Lexington for tests. Against Mary’s will, she’s subjected to all kinds of indignities. When the doctor finds a temporary “cure” for Mary’s blue skin, she enjoys being white at first. But the side effects and the lack of change in how people treat her leave her wondering if the change is worth it. The author says in her notes that the study and treatment she described didn’t actually occur until about thirty years later.

Mary’s courage and determination shine throughout. She remembered being read to by her mother, who passed away. That hunger for learning stayed with Mary, and she wants to help those with the same hunger.

I first became aware of this book through reviews by Susan and Susanne.

There is a smattering of bad words, and Mary’s wedding night is told with more detail than I’d like.

But otherwise, this was a fascinating story.

I listened to the audiobook, which I was pleased to get for free–it was included with either my Audible subscription or Amazon Prime, I forget which. Katie Schorr did a wonderful job with the narration. I checked out the book from the library to read back matter not included with the audiobook, including a nice interview with the author.

Had you heard of blue people or the Pack Horse Librarians? Would you be willing to brave mountainous trails in the back woods on a mule to get books to people?

Review and Giveaway: The House at the End of the Moor

Michelle Griep’s novel, The House at the End of the Moor, is set in England in 1861.

A woman known as Mrs. Dossett lives at the title house with only a sheepdog, mute maid, and a manservant. It’s obvious she’s in hiding, but we don’t know from whom at first.

So when she finds a severely wounded unconscious man on her property, she’s torn. It can only mean trouble to bring him home. But she can’t leave him to the elements.

As the man, Oliver, heals and his head becomes clearer he and the woman are wary of each other. He’d like to leave, but he’s too injured.

Just as the two are beginning to trust each other, Oliver opens the door to a room where a beautiful gown is displayed along with a gorgeous red jeweled necklace–the very necklace he was falsely accused of stealing and for which he was thrown in prison.

The mystery of who each of the characters are, where the jewels are from, and what the characters decide to do all make for an interesting read. The faith element is naturally woven into the characters’ makeup and thinking.

A secondary character, Barrow, is the constable seeking Oliver since his escape from prison. Barrow is similar to Javert in Les Miserables but is much more cruel. His motivation is seeking justice for righteousness’s sake. But he has to learn what justice truly is and who is supposed to mete it out.

Somehow I ended up with both a Kindle and paperback version of this book. So I’d love to give away the physical copy to one of you. I can only offer it to someone in the US due to mailing costs. If you’d like to enter the drawing for this book, just leave a comment on this post before Wednesday, June 30. I’ll draw a name then from among the entries. I’ll count all comments on this post as entries unless you mention that you’re not interested in winning the book. Also, I must have a way to contact you to let you know you have won. If I don’t hear back from the winner within a couple of days, I’ll draw another name. Best wishes to each of you!

(Update: I originally scheduled the contest to end Saturday, but decided to extend it to Wed., June 30.)

The giveaway is now closed. The winner is Paula! Congratulations!

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

The Orchard House

If you’re familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s life, you may know that one home where her family lived was called the Orchard House (though Louisa called it Apple Slump). Orchard House is beloved by Louisa’s fans not just because she lived there, but she wrote her most famous novel, Little Women, and several other books there. Orchard House is open to the public for tours and special events.

Heidi Chiavaroli wrote a time slip novel, The Orchard House, using Louisa’s time and town as the setting for one plot line.

Johanna Suhre had written to Louisa for more information about her brother, John, whom Louisa tended while a nurse during the Civil War. John had died, and Louisa featured him in her Hospital Sketches. Johanna and her mother and brother longed for any details Louisa could give them.

That’s as much as we know about the facts, but Heidi imagined Louisa’s and Johanna’s correspondence and friendship growing.

When Louisa needs someone to stay with her parents while she travels, she asks Johanna. Johanna is eager not only for something new and different, but delighted to meet her friend in person and visit the town so steeped in literary talent. Johanna had written some poems that she hoped to work up the courage to show Louisa.

While in Concord, Johanna meets the Alcott’s neighbor, Nathan Bancroft. Louisa cautions Johanna against Nathan, but she doesn’t have any specific details to warn against. After Nathan and Johanna marry, however, Johanna discovers another side to him.

The modern timeline also takes place in Concord. Taylor’s mother had abandoned her. The family of her best friend, Victoria, took Taylor in. Though Taylor appreciates the Bennetts’ kindness, she doesn’t quite fit in. Though she and Victoria rejoiced at becoming real sisters, the situation feels awkward.

Both girls enjoy writing and attending a young writer’s camp at The Orchard House. One of Taylor’s most treasured possessions, one of the few things she has left from her childhood, is a beat-up copy of Little Women.

Though Taylor never quite feels like family, she and Victoria work out their differences. At least, they had until Victoria unexpectedly betrays Taylor.

Taylor packs up her things and drives to the other side of the country. She becomes a famous author, writing under a pen name. She keeps her distance until eighteen years later, when she learns that her adoptive mother has cancer. She goes back to Concord, intending to stay for a short while. She and Victoria take tentative steps to at least be civil. Victoria would like to explain and make amends, but Taylor’s not sure she wants to hear it.

Victoria, who now works at the Orchard House, invites Taylor to speak at the young writer’s camp. Then she shares with Taylor some poems by a woman named Johanna Bancroft that were unearthed in the schoolroom. As the sisters try to unravel the mystery of who Johanna was and how Louisa knew her, they learn some things about themselves and each other as well.

I took a chance on this book when I saw it on a Kindle sale back in April. I had never heard of this author, but the story sounded intriguing. Plus the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge was coming up, and this would be a good choice for that.

I’m so delighted I took the chance. I enjoyed both timelines and felt for both Johanna and Taylor in their trials.

I also liked the quotes from Louisa at the beginning of every chapter. One favorite was, “All the philosophy in our house is not in the study; a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does good deeds while she cooks and scrubs.”

Though I wouldn’t call this book full-out Christian fiction, there were references to forgiveness, faith, and yielding to God.

I’m happy to recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Since this is the only book I am reading for Tarissa‘s LMA challenge, I’ll let this serve as my wrap-up post as well.

Daughters of Northern Shores

Daughters of Northern Shores is the sequel to Joanne Bischof’s Sons of Blackbird Mountain (linked to my review).

Picking up in 1894, four years after the first book, youngest Norgaard brother Haakon has fled his family and gone to sea after betraying his family’s trust. He wrote just a brief note to them when he left and has not written since. They don’t have an address for him. He has lived far from the morals he was raised with. One particular woman who was only a good friend makes him wonder if life could be different for him, if he could settle down with a family. But first he must go home and face those he wronged.

Back on Blackbird Mountain in Virginia, Thor and Aven had married and are expecting their first child. Business has gone well since Thor decided to quit making hard cider with his apple orchard produce after his grueling battle with alcoholism. Aven and her sister-in-law make apple pie fillings, applesauce, and other items for the local grocer. But Thor has a nagging pain in his side that is growing stronger. He had watched his father succumb to liver disease after years of alcoholism, so he knows the signs. But he has been sober four years—he thought he staved off affecting his liver.

To add to their troubles, their former neighbors, the Sorrels, cruel former Rebel soldiers and Klansmen, are back for revenge after the Norgaard brothers routed them in the last book. The sheriff has searched for them without success, but the Sorrel men know how to hide. Thor and oldest brother, Jorgan, try to attend to business while keeping their families safe and watching out for a Sorrel ambush.

I loved the first book so much, I was eager to continue on with the Norgaard family. I enjoyed this book just as much. Haakon was not my favorite of the brothers due to his personality and wrong choices in both books. But his desire to come back and apologize to his family starts him on the right path, and I warmed up to him as he slowly learned and changed.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

While words were potent, a man’s caring ran through deeper waters. It dwelled right there in what he was willing to do.

She moved as though wood being forced to bend to wind rushing in.

Both the major and minor characters are so well-drawn, and Joanne weaves together the various threads of the plot so well. Parts of the book were touching; other parts were edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. I also enjoyed the author’s afterword about how this book was not planned at first, and then didn’t go the way she expected. Originally she was going to have Haakon die at the end of the first book. I’m glad God led this way instead. I’m sorry to leave the Norgaards behind.

I listened to this via the audiobook nicely read by Amy Rubinate. I kept forgetting, while reading the first book, that Aven was Irish rather than Norwegian. So Amy’s adding an Irish lilt to Aven’s voice was pleasant in itself, plus a reminder of her heritage. Then, since audiobooks don’t usually contain the back matter of a book, I got the library edition to read Joanne’s comments about the story.

. (I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Sons of Blackbird Mountain

In Joanne Bischof’s novel, Sons of Blackbird Mountain, Aven Norgaard is newly widowed in 1890 Norway. She had long corresponded with her husband’s aunt in Virginia, who now invited her to come help keep house for “the boys,” Aven’s husband’s cousins.

But when Aven crosses the sea and arrives on Blackbird Mountain, she finds that Aunt Dorothe has died and “the boys” are grown men.

The three Norgaard brothers invite her to stay. Aven has no other prospects, so she does.

The oldest brother, Jorgan is steady and wise and soon to be married. The youngest, Haakon, is energetic and mischievous. The middle brother, Thor, is deaf. He’s also addicted to the alcohol the brothers produce with their apple orchard. His last attempt to wean himself off the hard cider ended in disaster. But he is kind and considerate.

Thor and Haakon both find themselves attracted to Aven. She had not come thinking about getting married again, she doesn’t want to come between the brothers.

There are so many layers to this story. Thor, Haakon, amd Aven each carry their own private pain. Then there are conflicts with their nearest neighbors, the Sorrels, who head up the local Klan and threaten the Norgaards’ longtime housekeeper and the youths they hire to help at harvest. The fact that the Sorrels own the deed to the Norgaard orchard creates extra pressure.

The author includes a brief preface where she explained a bit about ASL (American Sign Language). I had not realized that the deaf don’t sign every part of a sentence. But it makes sense that they’d streamline their words while signing. So when Thor jots a note (since Aven doesn’t know sign language yet), his sentences are mainly subject and verb with no articles, because that’s how he thinks. The author shared in her afterword how she became interested in sign language and the challenges of having a deaf character who can’t express himself in the usual ways.

All of the characters are nicely drawn, but Thor was the most intriguing. I don’t feel I am doing this book justice, but I enjoyed it very much. I had never read Bischof before, but I am eager to read more from her.

(Sharing with Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)