‘Pony’ by R. J. Palacio is a superb new novel about devotion

Pony by R.J. Palacio

While the plot of “Pony” by R. J. Palacio reminded me a bit of another middle grade book about a pony, “Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinhart, the stories are quite different apart from being historical fiction with both boys having a horse that they love dearly. Each story is beautiful in its own right, and “Pony” is one that will not be quickly forgotten. In “Pony,” Palacio forces us to think about love, loss, and the connections that bind us to each other.

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‘Defending Britta Stein’ by Ronald H. Balson: thrilling courtroom drama and history about how the Danish saved the Jews in WWII

Defending Britta Stein by Ronald H. Balson

In “Defending Britta Stein” by Ronald H. Balson, attorney Catherine Lockhart and her husband, private investigator Liam Taggert, are the actors whose actions bring about justice in an unlikely manner. Through these two characters, both well known to Balson fans, we are privy to the history of a family of Danish Jews during WWII. As is standard in Balson’s novels, there is a story-within-a-story, and Lockhart and Taggert are the vehicles through which the Holocaust story is told. The storytelling is gripping, and this courtroom drama showcases the unity and bravery of the Danish people in saving most of their population of Jews during WWII when the Germans decided to implement their final solution on the Jews of Denmark.

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‘Island Queen’ by Vanessa Riley is historical fiction based on the life of a rags-to-riches story that was really slave-to-riches

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Those who start life with nothing and eventually become wealthy have nothing on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who started with less than nothing but became an extremely rich, powerful woman in her own right. How does one start with less than nothing, you might wonder? In “Island Queen,” by Vanessa Riley, we meet Dolly, as she was known, who was born a slave. Her father, the Irish plantation owner, taught her numbers and the value of money. She was determined to earn enough money to free herself, her mother, and her sister. Dolly ended up accomplishing that and much, much more.

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‘Blind Tiger’ by Sandra Brown is an action-packed historical fiction with a fascinating female main character

Blind Tiger by Sandra Brown

Exploring the bleak times during Prohibition becomes a thrill-ride in Sandra Brown’s “Blind Tiger.” The story is set right after the “Great War,” and is filled with nonstop action as we meet Laurel Plummer, who ends up in small-town Foley, Texas, after her husband abandons her in his father’s one-room shack. Laurel is left with her sickly, premature newborn, Pearl, in a drafty cabin with no running water or electricity. Laurel, as we come to find out, is a tough character and not one to let a desperate situation keep her down.

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‘Sisters of the Resistance’ WWII fiction by Christine Wells is fascinating and engrossing from the first page

Sisters of the Resistance by Christine Wells

“Sisters of the Resistance” is an apt title for this historical fiction that’s partly based on real events and real people and in which women are the main characters. What is unusual about how Christine Wells, the author, chooses to share the events is that the story is told in two different timelines, which is not so unusual, but they are only three years apart. We meet Yvette, the main character, in 1947, as she returns to Paris after the war to testify in the trial of a movie star accused of collaboration with the Nazis and treason. She has not been to Paris nor communicated with her mother and sister since she was smuggled out of France in the final days of the war. Then the action changes to 1944, in the final days of the war.

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‘Rescue’ by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a riveting middle grade historical fiction set during the Holocaust

Rescue by
Jennifer A. Nielsen

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s middle grade historical fiction novels are wonderful examples of books that teach kids about history while sandwiching that information in thrilling, emotional stories that will hook them. “Rescue,” her newest release, is no different. In this story we meet Meg, whose father is British and her mother French. Meg grew up speaking both languages and when the Germans, before WWII, became aggressive, they began to teach her German as well.

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‘The Paris Apartment’ by Kelly Bowen is a gripping historical fiction that has it all: suspense, sacrifice, loss, and ultimately, love

The Paris Apartment
by Kelly Bowen

Ready for a thrilling trip into the heart of Europe during WWII to see, vicariously, how two daring women best the Nazis in the name of freedom and justice? “The Paris Apartment” by Kelly Bowen will grip you from the first page, the first sentence, even. “The woman was nude.” Pretty gripping, right? It’s actually a painting that is in the titular Paris apartment that Lia Leclaire inherits from her grandmother. What we learn immediately is that Lia is confused. As far as she knew, Estelle Allard, her grandmother, had never lived in Paris, but rather spent her whole life in Marseille. But here is a Paris apartment, untouched for almost 75 years, filled with exquisite furniture, couture clothing, and paintings by the masters. Who was her grandmother and why was this secret?

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‘The Woman with the Blue Star’ by Pam Jenoff is a story of survival, compassion, and friendship

The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is known for her meticulously researched historical fiction, and “The Woman with the Blue Star” is no different. In it, we read a fictionalized account of an historical occurrence. In at least one town in Poland, Jews descended into the sewers to live in hiding when the Nazis began emptying the ghettos and implementing their “final solution.” As difficult as living in a sewer must have been—and Jenoff describes it in such detail we can see it, feel it, and smell it—that horrible existence was still better than the alternative.

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‘Band of Sisters’ by Lauren Willig is a stunning story, based on real history, of a group of intrepid women during WWI

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

One of the hallmarks of good literature is a story in which things — and people — are not as they appear. In “Band of Sisters,” author Lauren Willig effectively accomplishes this and more: she writes about women who are not as they appear, but she additionally writes about the horrors of war using real history about a group of women alumni from Smith College. In other words, the devastation we see in the pages of the book is exactly as it appears, and her gripping historical novel is filled with incredible real tales of heroism and valor alongside examples of the worst behavior of which humans are capable — all carefully researched. The totality of her work is a story that is fascinating and inspiring as it makes us consider not only a global war, with its allies and enemies, but smaller bonds as well, such as friendship and family.

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‘Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel in Recipes’ by Jenny Colgan is as sweet as candy

Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Most of Jenny Colgan’s novels have a few things in common: feisty, determined women who need a change of scenery, a business in need of help, fabulous out-of-the way locations in UK or Scotland or the islands north of UK, and men who aren’t typical romance heroes. “Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel in Recipes” doesn’t disappoint.

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‘While Paris Slept’ by Ruth Druart is a powerful story of war and what we sacrifice in the name of love

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart

Parents often passionately and truthfully declare that they would give their lives for their children. We’d sacrifice our lives and exchange them gladly to make sure that our children survive. In “While Paris Slept” by Ruth Druart, during the French occupation of Paris, a woman on her way to a concentration camp gives her newborn infant to a stranger, hoping against hope that the act will save the life of her son. Sometimes such decisions lead to unintended consequences.

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‘Yellow Wife’ by Sadeqa Johnson: a beautiful historical fiction about love and sacrifice

yellow

“Yellow Wife” takes us into America’s dark past, where we meet Pheby Delores Brown, a woman of valor. A woman who loved deeply and fiercely. A woman who was a slave yet managed to keep her dignity. But no matter Pheby’s relatively privileged upbringing in the plantation house where she grew up, being taught to read and play the piano by her master’s sister who was also her aunt; in the end, there was no one left to protect her. Pheby reverted to being nothing more than a possession, a belonging, to be sold at the whim of her owner.

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