November is a busy, busy month for many of us. One day in this month is set aside as a remembrance to honor American veterans, both living and dead. It was originally known as Armistice Day. Now most of us know it as Veterans Day. The following three books all are set during war times with women as the leading characters. The women are not on the battlefields but their courage and strength to face life made all the difference in someone’s world. Not just one someone, but many someones.
United States – Let us begin with Lilac Girls (2017) by Martha Hall Kelly. This novel opens in 1939 with the introduction of socialite Caroline Ferriday. Caroline, who comes from old money, has many connections through her family. She is also a Broadway actress. Miss Ferriday is doing her part by working in the French Consulate in NYC. In her volunteer position Caroline works at putting together comfort boxes for French orphans who have been displaced by the war. She is also lending aid to those who are trying to escape France or those who are trying to return to their country to aid their family.
Poland – 18-year-old Kasia, who lives in Lublin, Poland, a town where according to her nothing exciting ever happened. If only, Lublin could have stayed that way, Kasia could have continued enjoying time with best friends, Nadia and Pietrik. When bombs were dropped in the city, the lives of those she knew and loved changed. That moment in time opened the door to young Kasia to become a resistance worker.
Germany – Now that 25-year-old Herta has graduated from medical school. She is looking for a job as a physician, not an easy thing for a woman, whose place was to be in the home, at least according to Party rhetoric. She learned of a need for doctors at a reeducation camp for women located north of Berlin. She would miss her mother, but Fritz, a former classmate, worked there. Plus, the camp had a pleasant-sounding name—Ravensbruck.
Each of these women have their stand-alone story to tell. The author has chosen to tell each story a little at a time. And even more interesting is that each chapter ends in a cliffhanger for that particular character. I came close to skipping past chapters just to find out what was about to happen to the character. I managed to rein myself in and read the book as the author intended. Although now I could go back and read each woman’s story on its own. I just may do that.
Some chapters in Lilac Girls are very difficult to read. You wonder how anyone could survive such cruelty. You MUST read the author’s notes and everything that follows. You will be even more amazed by these ladies.
Letters from Skye (2013) by Jessica Brockmole connects those whose lives were touched by World War I and again during World War II.
This debut novel opens in 1912 when David Graham, college student in Urbana IL, writes a fan letter to Elspeth Dunn who lives on Isle of Skye in Scotland. She is thrilled to receive her first fan mail ever for one of her books of poetry.
From that point on the entire story is told in letters. You will get to know both likeable David and Elspeth, who has never ventured from her life on Isle of Skye. This is a tale of love, war, family, secrets, and how circumstances sometime drive our decisions and our destinies. It may be difficult to put down once you begin reading their letters.
And last and far from least is The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir (2017) by Jennifer Ryan. Ryan’s debut novel is set in the small rural village in England in 1940. Life in Chilbury when most able-bodied men are off doing their part for England’s war effort is told through many different narrators. Diary entries, letters, journals belonging to the residents, along with notices, and telegrams tell the story of those on the Homefront.
Miss Primrose Trent, music teacher, is the newest resident of Chilbury. Through her efforts, the church choir is reborn even though the Vicar, and one Mrs. B, think a choir without men is akin to blaspheming. Prim, often seen in her sweeping black cape, has managed not only to recruit ladies to participate, she has also rewritten the music for women’s voices. The idea of the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is met with excitement.
Friendship grows between the choir members. Joy begins to overcome the sadness that has filled many of their lives. Hearts are still broken but the women’s spirits are lifted and life continues in Chilbury.
Quiet Mrs. Tilling, a nurse, has sent her only son off to war. 18-year-old flirtatious Venetia, is fascinated by the mysterious Mr. Slater. Venetia’s sister Kitty who is 13 loves to sing and has a crush on Henry. Edwina Paltry is a midwife whose secret plot may lead to more pain for others. Colonel Mallard has been assigned to Chilbury. And the Brigadier is not winning folks over with his sour disposition.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is not really about the war. Bombs and Nazi invasions are always foremost in the minds of the residents. That being said, this is a tale set on the Homefront during the time of war, not the actual fighting of the battles.
Any one of these three novels is worth the reading. I enjoyed each one for very different reasons. Place each of these titles on your reading lists. If unavailable in Tanglewood’s library, do not give up. You can try the public library or download on your device. All three are based on real characters or events that happened during war time.