Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men

In the novel Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men by Cara Putman, Captain Rachel Justice is a photojournalist during WWII. Her mother is dying of tuberculosis, and Rachel takes an overseas assignment to Italy to try to find the father she never knew to see if he can help provide for her mother’s treatment. All Rachel has to go on is a sketchbook given by her father to her mother with the initials RMA on some of the pages. Her mother refuses to say any more about her father and does not want Rachel to find him.

Lieutenant Scott Lindstrom is an officer with the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Division, and stationed in Naples. He had arts degrees from Harvard and was a curator of a museum in Philadelphia. But he felt he could use his expertise to do something meaningful, to save history, to salvage beauty and meaning to sustain people after the war. He says, “We are defined by what we love and respect” (p. 28, Kindle version).

The problem was, his superiors and many soldiers didn’t take his job seriously. When lives were at stake, what did art matter to them? He had trouble getting the men and resources he needed.

When he did get a chance to talk to local people who might know where art was hidden, they didn’t trust him. The Germans had said they’d protect art, too—but they stole or destroyed much of it.

And now he was assigned to babysit a woman photojournalist who shouldn’t be so close to the danger.

So Scott and Rachel get off to a rocky start. But as they get to know each other, they appreciate each other’s mission and characters.

When Rachel shows Scott the sketchbook, hoping his knowledge of art and Italy may help her identify the artist, she doesn’t say the artist is her father. Scott thinks he recognizes the early work of an artist friend and mentor in the sketches, but he’s suspicious about why Rachel would have such a prize.

Scott is a Christian. Rachel isn’t sure she believes or trusts God. Her own father’s disinterest in her colors her view of God.

There is historical fiction that contains a romance, and romances that occur in a historical setting. I prefer the former, but this story is the latter. Still, the peek into the Monuments Men work, art history, photojournalism, the problems women in the military faced, the refugee situations in Europe all made for an interesting story.

One thing that jarred me just a bit was a major betrayal in the story that seemed to blow over much more quickly and easily than I would have expected.

But all in all, this was an enjoyable book.

Cara shares some of the influences that went into the book in an afterword and in the video below.

Were you familiar with the “Monuments Men” and their work?

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.

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?

Book Review: The Medallion

In The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke, Sophie Kumiega is a Brit living in her husband’s city of Warsaw, Poland, in 1939. He’s a fighter pilot, in the air during the German attack on Warsaw. He can’t get back into the country after Germany’s occupation. Sophie first tries to work, until the library where she is employed is bombed and taken over. Then she helps the underground in various ways, still unsure whether her husband lives.

In the same city, Rosa and Itzhak Dunovich are a Jewish couple dealing with the increasing encroachment of German occupation. They welcome their first child into the Jewish ghetto. Itzhak worries about his family in another town. He devises a way to go to them to see if they’re safe or bring them back to Warsaw if they’re not.

But Itzhak doesn’t return. Food becomes even more scarce, atrocities increase. Rosa makes a heart-wrenching decision. The only way to protect her daughter is to send her with an underground nurse who finds places to hide Jewish children. Rosa cuts in half the tree of life medallion Itzhak gave her on her wedding day and places it on a chain around her daughter’s neck. When the war is over, hopefully she will be able to match her half of the medallion to her child’s and reclaim her.

I can’t imagine living through what either Sophie or Rosa did. Both saw loved ones die and conditions grow worse. Sophie had to constantly be aware of who was around and who might see and report her. Rosa dealt with the effects of deprivation and starvation.

I had an idea how the plot might end, but it took quite a different route there than I had guessed.

In the afterword. Cathy told how she became intrigued with two different true stories—one of a woman who posed as a nurse and hid Jewish children in convent schools or with Gentile helpers, and another involving searching for a child with half a medallion given up during the war. She wove them together in this story.

Somehow I happened to have both the Kindle and Audible versions of this book. It was nice to be able to pick up either one where I left off from the other. Normally the audiobook narration enhances the story, but this one felt a little overdone to me.

But all in all, an excellent, touching book.

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

Book Review: Sandhill Dreams

Sandhill Dreams: A WWII Homefront Romance by Cara Putnam is the second in her Cornhusker Dreams series. The first book, Canteen Dreams, was a fictional retelling of Cara’s grandparents’ love story. Sandhill Dreams features a friend from the first book, Lainie Gardner.

Lainie’s dream was to be a nurse and serve her country. She began her training but then contracted rheumatic fever. She recovered, but still experienced residual symptoms. She had to be careful about overdoing, stress, or anything else that might trigger a relapse.

Still, she wanted to do something to help during WWII. She traveled to Fort Robinson in Nebraska without any prior arrangements, figuring surely they’d find some use for her there.

Tom Hamilton had a serious accident involving a dog bite as a boy, and he’d been afraid of dogs ever since. He joined the Army hoping to work with horses, but the Army assigned him to the canine unit. He hopes he can successfully battle both his disappointment and his fear without any officers or soldiers noticing.

Lainie and Tom get off on the wrong foot. They both have issues to deal with. But perhaps they can help each other recover from their broken dreams and find new ones.

I like stories that aren’t just romance, but have the characters grow, overcome obstacles, etc. This book fit the bill. I thought it ended just a touch abruptly, but perhaps that’s because it’s the middle of a series, and the story is ongoing.

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