Elephant company : the inspiring story of an unlikely hero and the animals who helped him save lives in World War II

From Margaret  Mezzacapo

Author:  Vicki Croke

Title:  Elephant company : the inspiring story of an unlikely hero and the animals who helped him save lives in World War II 

Here’s the engrossing, true story of Billy Williams, elephants and World War II. Williams goes to Burma as a young man. A lifelong fondness for animals blossoms into a deep love for elephants, which are used as beasts of burden in logging operations in the jungle. Williams fights for – and achieves – humane treatment of these magnificent animals. Then, war breaks out. The elephants, known collectively as “Elephant Company,” become an integral part of the war effort, helping rescue refugees and saving many human lives in the process. Both Williams and his elephants overcome formidable obstacles to achieve this. The story is an illustration of how the tenacity of the human spirit can greatly diminish the horrors of war.

My Mother’s Secret

From Ginny Pisciotta
Author:  J.L. Witterick
Title:  My Mother’s Secret 
My mother’s secret is a gripping story of a Polish woman and her daughter during the Nazi invasion of Poland.  Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, live in a tiny 2 room house but somehow manage to simultaneously hide 2 Jewish families, and a defecting German soldier. One family is hidden in the loft above the pigsty,the other  in a makeshift cellar,and the soldier in a tiny attic where he must lay down to fit.  Franciszka and Helena need to be extremely careful and clever to outsmart their neighbors and the Germans. One mistake or misfortune would cost all of them their lives.

The writing is simple and concise. The chapters are very short. The story is  told from 4 perspectives – Helena’s, one of the Jewish fathers, one of the Jewish sons, and the defecting soldier.  The account was both horrifying because of the circumstances and the cruelty of some people, and heartwarming because of the kindness and bravery of others.

This novel is based on a true story.

The girl in the blue beret : a novel

From Eileen Effrat
Author: Bobbie Ann Mason
Title: The girl in the blue beret : a novel
A sixty year old World War II bomber pilot returns to France forty years later. His forced retirement as an airline pilot and the death of his wife lead Marshall Stone to embark on a new journey. Relocating to Paris, he intends to locate the men, women, and the girl in the blue beret who hid him and led him to safety over the Pyrenees after his plane crashed in occupied France. Inspired by the true experience of the author’s father-in-law, this is historical fiction at its best. The setting is authentic for both time and place. Mason’s knowledge of World War II is extensive. This is a story about war, survival, and courage.

Light in the Ruins

From Eileen Effrat
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Title: Light in the Ruins
Shifting in time between the German occupation of Italy (1943-1944) and the year 1955, this is an historical mystery that focuses on the Rosati family, a Tuscan family of noble lineage. The story begins in 1955 with the brutal murder of Francesca Rosati, daughter-in-law of the marchese. When the marchese meets a similar fate, it becomes clear someone bears a great deal of hatred for the family. Is this a vendetta for past or present deeds? I enjoyed this as much as Bohjalian’s earlier book, Skeleton’s at the Feast, that also explores events from World War II.

Katyn Order

From  Eileen Effrat
Author:  Douglas Jacobsen
Katyn Order
This is a fast paced spy thriller set in Warsaw during August 1944. Polish resistance fighters rise up against the Germans, only to face the more ominous danger of a Soviet occupation and the NKVD. The plot surrounds Adam Nowak, a Polish American dropped into Poland by British intelligence as an assassin and resistance fighter, and Natalia, a covert Polish operative. They join forces to uncover a Soviet document from 1940, the Katyn Order, authorizing the murder of 20,000 Polish army officers and civilians. The British plan to use this document at the Potsdam Conference to prevent the Russians from taking over Poland. To stop this, the Soviet NKVD is ruthless in its attempt to eliminate all evidence regarding this document. This is historical fiction at its best as the story moves from Warsaw to London to Berlin.

Sarah’s Key

From Susan Martin
author: de Rosnay, Tatiana
Sarah’s Key
This is a very moving story about a part of World War II history which is unknown to many.  The Vel d’Hiv in France showed the part played by the French during this time.  Sarah and her family are arrested by the French police, and years later, another character and her family have become intertwined with Sarah’s past, which changes their future.

The Postmistress

From Judy Schroback
author: Blake, Susan
The Postmistress
The Postmistress is set in 1941 when our nation was not yet at war. Susan Blake takes us back there and uses a female journalist to capture the  horror that was overtaking Europe.  At the same time a small town near Cape Cod is having its own struggles dealing with the radio reports of this journalist ( a protge of Ed Murrow) and how it affects their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  It brings the realism of the war and the drastic steps many families (particularly Jews)  took to get themselves or at least their children to safer places.  It also focuses on the personal toll it took on the townsfolk who , each in their own way, wanted to do the right thing.  I highly recommend it.

The King’s speech [videorecording]

From Jackie Cantwell
The King’s speech [videorecording]
Based on the true story of Albert, Duke of York (played by Colin Firth), the second son of King George V and Queen Mary.  His wife, Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is the woman we knew as The Queen Mother.

Albert became King George VI.  The film opens with Albert stuttering his way through a speech at Wembley Stadium.  When doctors fail to cure him of his stutter, Elizabeth finds an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), in London.  When Lionel meets Albert, he has the audacity to treat the man who would be king as an equal, calling him “Bertie”.  Albert doesn’t want to continue treatment, but he is desperate. They continue their unconventional sessions, including rolling on the floor, loosening the jaw muscles and limbs, and reciting tongue twisters.  Lionel notices that Bertie doesn’t stutter when he’s angry, so he’s encouraged to curse and to rage. Lionel knows that stuttering has an emotional basis, so he questions Albert about his childhood, which Albert finds impertinent. The scenes between Elizabeth and Albert are very touching, as she is very loving and supportive.  The scenes between Lionel and Albert are sometimes funny, but often filled with tension. More dramatic tension is supplied as Albert has to make a speech when he is crowned king, after his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best).  The titular speech is the one that Albert must give over the radio on Sept. 3, 1939, that leads England to declare war on Germany. The performances are fantastic all around; Colin Firth won the Oscar for Best Actor. The film also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Directing, and Best Original Screenplay.

Song of the Exile

From Susan Hirschmann
author: Davenport, Kiana
Song of the Exile
This novel of compelling stories of members of a Hawaiian family takes place through the turbulent years of WWII up until statehood in 1959, and sweeps across Europe, Asia and the Pacific.  Kiana is a native Hawaiian author who has thoroughly researched the geography and history of the events of the era to provide a rich landscape for her novel that includes the sexual enslavement of women during WWII by the Japanese military.  I really enjoyed the book, and wondered why it wasn’t given more press. (copyright 1999).
Gloria Steinem weighed in with the following comment: “reveals the emotional truths hidden beneath the WWII euphemism ‘comfort women’. A half century later, this important and powerful novel gives these women a way out of the  perpetual exile of the forgotten”.