Home Front by Kristen Hannah

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In this timely and touching novel, Kristen Hannah tells the story of families and soldiers and how each are affected by deployments to war zones overseas.
18 year old Jolene joins the Army and finds a family and life-long friendships among it’s ranks after her alcoholic parents are killed in a car accident . She becomes a Blackhawk pilot and after marrying and having children, joins the National Guard. Her marriage to Michael, a defense attorney and workaholic, is a distant one and when Jolene receives orders to deploy to Iraq, neither can discuss their fears about the war. Jolene leaves for Iraq with her best friend and co-pilot Tami, leaving behind husbands and children who are filled with anger and anxiety. Michael is left to build relationships with his children and manage their home, as well as continuing his law practice. A murder case forces him to re-evaluate his opinions about war and the military, and tragedy forces him to adapt to changes in his marriage and his family.
Home Front conveys the hardships and tragedies of going to war and the affects of war on both soldiers and families. Hannah’s extensive research into PTSD and it’s traumatic effects on soldiers and their families is described through the experiences of several characters. This is an intense and emotional story, with well developed characters, offering insights into the experiences our military families endure when a family member is deployed.

The Girl in the Blue Beret

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Occasionally I find myself in a reading rut.  Usually it is because I have read something so wonderful that I want the story to go on and on.  After finishing just such a book, The House at Tyneford, I found myself in this situation.  Consequently another historical fiction novel about World War II found its way into my hands, The Girl in the Blue Beret.  
This story is told from the perspective of a retired airline pilot reliving his past as a downed  B-17 bomber pilot rescued by the French Resistance.
Marshall has lost his wife and now he has reached retirement age for the airlines.  As he tries to fit into this new world his past rises up to prominence and he decides to return to the crash site in Belgium and see what can be remembered and rediscovered of such a significant time in his youth.  His search leads him to discover several of the people who risked their lives for him, including the sweet young girl with the blue beret.  Their stories of courage as they struggled with hopelessness and loss bring new meaning and change to Marshall’s world.  This story was inspired by the real history of the author’s late father-in-saw.

The House at Tyneford

>The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons is one of those atmospheric novels that transports one to another age and creates a desire for the story to never end as we are caught up in another time.  Elise Rosa Landau is one of the privileged Jews in Vienna.  Her Mother is a famous opera singer and her father an accomplished writer.  Hitler is coming to power and life as they have known it is on the brink of disaster.  Her parents are hoping for a visa to escape to America, but Elise must get out of Vienna some other way.
Elise posts a refugee advertisement in the London Times:
Viennese Jewess, 19, seeks position as domestic servant.  Speaks fluid English.  I will cook your goose.  Elise Landau. Vienna 4, Dorotheegasse, 30/5.
She receives a letter in return from the housekeeper of Tyneford House who has been instructed by Mr. Rivers to offer Elise a position of house parlor maid,  He will sign the necessary visa application statements, providing that she stay at Tyneford House for a minimum of a twelvemonth.
This is the beginning of a new life for Elise and her family.  A life of tragedy and grief but also love.
The emotions of the characters, rich descriptive details of the beautiful coast of England and captivating story of life struggles for all classes during World War II create a wonderful novel. 

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

>Just after World War II, Jean Paget is contacted by an attorney and learns she has inherited some money. Her plan to use some of the funds is to go to Malaysia in order to build a well in a village. As she explains to the attorney her reasons for her wish , she tells the story of her forced march across Malaysia as a Japanese prisoner of war. The men are taken to a POW camp, but there are no accommodations for women and children. They are marched through jungles and across the country, their numbers dwindling due to disease and starvation. Eventually their Japanese guard dies, and they are accepted in a village, earning their way by working in the rice paddies. The women are helped by an Australian prisoner, Joe Harmon, who steals food and medicine for them and eventually is brutally punished for his actions. Jean believes Joe died from his brutal treatment and Joe believes Jean, like the rest of the British women, is married . After the war and after learning the truth about each other, they travel to opposite sides of the world to find each other, eventually establishing a new life in Australia.
A Town Like Alice illustrates the best of the human spirit, showing resilience, caring and hope in the face of unbearable suffering and brutality–a compelling story of war, survival and love.

The Colonel’s Lady by Laura Frantz

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With the death of her mother, spinster Roxanna Rowan finds herself alone in Revolutionary War Virginia without prospects, suitors, or a home.  She escapes to her beloved father, a soldier on the Kentucky frontier, arriving just in time to hear of his death.  When the dashing but cold Colonel Cassius McLinn offers her a position as his scrivener, she has little choice but to take it.  Rumors circulate of McLinn’s questionable family and past, but Roxanna begins to learn of his true character as a man with many regrets, but a steadfast and caring nature.  In the midst of the desolate and cruel landscape of war, Roxanna provides Cassius with light, hope, and a reason to reexamine his faith. 

Based loosely on the life of George Rogers Clark, The Colonel’s Lady is a fascinating look at the Kentucky frontier, military life during the Revolutionary period, and the work lives of women.  Frantz has created a story that touches both the heart and the mind.

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

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Michael Zuckoff, a former writer for the Boston Globe and currently a professor of journalism, has uncovered a World War II story unlike most. Rather than one of battles this story is of a rescue mission for three sightseeing soldiers to the valley of Shangri La. While soldiers were fighting for their lives in Europe and Asia some were waiting in bases with nothing to do. An extremely remote valley in New Guinea surrounded by mountains was discovered to have stone-aged villagers. This remote valley was so interesting that soldiers were allowed to fly over it purely for entertainment.
When one of these excursions ended in a terrible crash the three survivors, a woman and two men, were the objects of a dramatic rescue from this land of cannibalistic tribes. Lost in Shangri-La is a riveting true story that inspires and reveals yet another reason to call World War II soldiers part of the Greatest generation.

Finding Jack by Gareth Crocker

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Fletcher Carson, deeply depressed after losing his family in an accident, volunteers to go to fight in Viet Nam at a time when the war seems to be a lost cause for the US. His unit is close-knit and is sent on dangerous reconnaissance missions, searching tunnels and the jungle for the Viet Cong. During one mission, a badly injured Labrador Retriever crawls out of the jungle. The officer in charge, fearing a trap, orders Fletcher to shoot and kill it but Fletcher defies the order, carrying the dog back to their base for medical treatment. This begins the relationship between the dog they name Jack and Fletcher. With his mastery of commands, Jack appears to be a lost canine unit dog, and after he heals he accompanies the unit on patrol. He locates trip wires and booby traps, saving the lives of the men in the unit and working his way into the hearts of war-weary soldiers. As the war comes to a close, Fletcher is shocked to learn that the Army dogs will be left behind to fend for themselves. Jack has become Fletcher’s reason to live and he defies orders to leave Jack behind, thus beginning their journey to survive together. Finding Jack is a story of friendship, love and hope in the darkest of situations. Author Crocker tells the story of thousands of Army dogs that were left behind in Viet Nam through Jack’s story–dogs who saved thousands of American soldiers lives and were abandoned to survive on their own or were killed. This is a story that will touch your heart–a story of the bonds forged in war between both men and dogs.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon

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Kamila Sidiqui is an Afghani teacher whose life was changed drastically in the 1990′s when Taliban forces took over the city of Kabul. Kamila’s family was forced to separate–her parents leave for the northern provinces in fear for their lives, as her father had supported a previous government. Her older brother flees to Pakistan to avoid being forced to join the Taliban army, leaving Kamila, her sisters and younger brother in Kabul, as it is too dangerous for women to travel. With strict rules enforced by the Taliban, women who previously held positions in government or jobs teaching or in hospitals, were no longer allowed to be outside in public without a male escort, and were forced to live their lives indoors. When outside their homes, they were forced to wear chadris, which covered them head to toe. As the violence in Kabul increases and the Taliban regime imposes more and more rules upon the citizens, Kamila realizes that they will not survive without an income with which to purchase the basic necessities. She learns to sew from her older sister, and they begin a dress making business in their home. As the word spreads about their business, more women ask to participate, wanting the opportunity to learn a trade and to support their families. Under the ever-present threat of discovery, Kamila and her family continue to build a business that helps to support and empower the women of her neighborhood.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a fascinating look into the lives of women in war time, responsible for the support of their families, who have the courage and creativity to build a business under the watchful eye of the Taliban regime–an inspiring story of courage and resourcefulness.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

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A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried is unique in it’s ability both to evoke emotional response and empathy for its characters and to reveal the complex, awful and terrifying experience that is war. O’Brien tells the story of his unit in Viet Nam, blending stories of before, during and after their time in the war zone into a gripping and realistic account of how war affects those involved. O’Brien is a Viet Nam veteran and by inserting himself into the story, he blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. The author challenges the reader to think about what is real and not real, how stories are altered and passed on based on the tellers perception of truth and reality and how stories can help heal souls wounded in times of trauma.
This is a thought-provoking, creative, elegantly written work–infused with realism and truth about the nature of war and its effects on those we call upon to fight–revealing that the things they carry are sometimes carried only during war and sometimes carried with them for forever. A powerful, unforgettable story, The Things They Carried will remain with you long after finishing the final sentence.

Broken Jewel

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In his novel Broken Jewel, David Robbins tells the story of Los Banos prison, a camp near Manila that held civilian internees during World War II. Remy Tuck and his son Talbot are forced to march from Manila and build their own prison camp, along with 2,000 others from all walks of life. The story follows their lives and the hardships and abuse they are forced to endure at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. Finally, after 2 years, American planes fly overhead and the prisoners begin to hope that they will survive their ordeal. Remy and Tal risk their lives to become involved with the operation by American forces to rescue those in the camp before they are executed by the Japanese. Author Robbins has created a multi-faceted novel–a love story, a suspenseful war story and a story of family, hardship, hope and the will to survive. Carmen is one of the “comfort women”, a Filipina teen kidnapped by the Japanese and forced into relations with the Japanese soldiers, suffering brutality and degradation at their hands. Her character offers insight into the Japanese attitudes towards the war and her compassion and hope, even after the suffering she has encountered, is uplifting. The book is based on fact and the author’s thorough research is evident in his annotations, which give names and dates of the actual people and events involved. The rescue of the prisoners at Los Banos by the American military was an operation that included Philippine guerilla units, and the description of the daring operation is based on factual accounts. This is a book that, although at times is difficult to read, conveys through it’s characters the spirit that helped them to survive unbelievable hardships but still retain the hope that allowed them to survive and move forward with their lives.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

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Here we sit in our relatively safe and secure towns in America while conflicts and wars are being fought and families torn apart in a number of countries across the world. Seventy years ago during World War II our relatives were experiencing the insecurity and devastation of war. Fathers and brothers were fighting in Europe and the Pacific while wives and children suffered through the unknown waiting for a letter; some tangible piece of news from their loved ones.

The Postmistress is an historical World War II novel that immerses one in the feelings experienced by those left behind. I appreciate the thought-provoking storylines of three women who dealt with the difficult times in their own ways. We see the war from the sidelines through the postmistress and a doctor’s wife who live on Cape Cod and listen to the radio broadcasts from Europe. We are thrown into the European front through Frankie Bard, one of the first female war radio broadcasters living in London. She travels by train interviewing refugees to give Americans a feel for the need to be involved and see what is really happening to the Jews.

The connection between these three women becomes entangled on the home front and we experience the emotions of loss and feel the support that characterized life during the war years that many of our parents and grandparents lived through.

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

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In All Other Nights, Dara Horn asks the traditional Passover question “How is tonight different from all other nights?” Jacob Rappaport, the son of a wealthy Jewish businessmann leaves home to avoid a marriage arranged by his father in a business deal. He rushes off to join the Union army in the Civil War, quickly coming to the attention of officers that see his potential as a spy. His assignments, including murdering his uncle and marrying a Confederate spy, change his life and his world view irrevocably. His assignment, however, may turn out to be his redemption. This is a beautiful story about the moral ambiguity of wartime and the conflicts between loyalty and love.

World War Z: an oral history of the zombie war

>Ever since George Romero brought us the film “Night of the Living Dead”, people have been fascinated with zombies. Whether in film, such as the “Return of the Living Dead” series, or more recently “Shaun of the Dead”, or in books such as “The Zombie Survival Guide”, our culture cannot seem to get enough of the “walking undead”.

World War Z: an oral history of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is the latest addition to the Zombie Lexicon. While a lot of the typical zombie stuff is in here, such as moaning zombies with a thirst for fresh humans, what sets this book apart is the style in which the book is told.
For fans of the books “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters or “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson, you will instantly recognize the particular method Brooks uses to tell this story.

Instead of a linear retelling of the events surrounding the Zombie War, in which humanity must save itself from the unstoppable moaning hoards, we are told of the events through the first person stories of the war’s survivors.

Gripping, tragic, and at times humorous, World War Z is not only a must read for zombies, but for fans of good literature as well.