Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Wolfsangel" by Liza Perrat

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World War II and the French Resistance is not an area which I generally choose to read about, but when I heard that one of my favorite authors had published a new book that concerned just those areas I had to read it!

I read, and reviewed Liza Perrat's first book "The Spirit of Lost Angels" last year and it was at that time that I became hooked on Ms. Perrat's writing. In my opinion her work should be far more well known than it is. While I do not know Ms. Perrat,  I am a fan of her work!

"Wolfsangel' is a sequel of sorts, but not really. It is a perfect stand alone book. The story line revolves around a small French town during the German occupation of France during World War II. Celeste (Celestine) Roussel is the main character. Her mother runs the centuries old family farm. Aside from running the farm, her work involves assisting women who find themselves inconveniently pregnant, often due to being raped by members of the occupying German forces.  Celeste's father had volunteered to go and work in Germany, where the purported pay was good. They had received no word from him though in many months and they had no way of knowing if he was even still alive. 

Celeste's sister is nun based in a convent that takes in families at risk from the Germans, and her brothers are part of the Resistance movement, but do not allow Celeste to join them because they fear that she may not be able to withstand the rigors of questioning were she to be found out. The town itself is acknowledged to be a 'hotspot' for Resistance activity. The Germans 'requisition' the best food stuffs from the town has, they take what they want and blackmail those who they suspect may be Jews hiding under the pretext of false papers and new, more French sounding, names. Women are raped, people go hungry, and the German's loot at will.

After one Resistance expedition, Celeste's brothers and friends are arrested and imprisoned. The prison is a place from which most never return. The firing squads make short work of the inmates after they are questioned and severely tortured. We follow Celeste as she matures, becoming involved with the Resistance in her own way as she formulates a plan with other Resistance workers to free her brothers from prison. The brothers are provided with just enough of an infectious serum to make them ill enough to be transferred to a hospital where Celeste has been placed. In a gripping series of chapters their escape is effected and Celeste and her long time friends become well known as good Resistance operatives.

Meanwhile, Celeste becomes involved in a romantic diversion with an unlikely man. A German officer named Martin Diehl. Martin does not relish being in the Army and provides Celeste with a few small luxuries and the security of his protection. They fall in love and talk of a future after the war. This dalliance causes a lot of conflict for our heroine since any sort of relationships with the hated "Boche" is decried by all town members, other than the few who are profiting by the largesse that the Germans can provide.

In a moving chapter, after Celeste is raped by two German officers while Martin is away and cannot provide any protection,  her mother shares her own dark secret that had never been spoken of. She too was raped in her youth, perhaps explaining her seemingly cold and aloof manner. Celeste forms a plan as she quietly plans her revenge.

The last part of this book reveals Celeste's plan for revenge, but does her successful plan manage to backfire on the entire town? I just cannot say more without revealing too much of this intricate plot that would spoil it for your reading!

This book is simply wonderful, and I could not stop reading it. I finished it in a day because I could not put it down! The plotline is well constructed, they story is taut and gripping, and the characters are more than well fleshed out. I felt as though I too was a member of the Resistance. The only problem is that the book had an end, and I wanted to read more!

The book is factually based on a real village, true resistance heroes, and a massacre that remains a reminder of the brutality that war can bring. Ms. Perrat provides an excellent epilogue that was also spine chilling reading for me in which she presents the facts from which her story is based.

I learned a lot from this book, one thing is that perhaps I should read more about this brutal period of history. It's really quite amazing to me what the human spirit can survive.  

"Wolfsangel" is currently available as an e-book, but the paperback edition is soon to follow. 

This book will appeal, I think, to all readers of excellent general fiction as well as those who enjoy historical fiction, and fiction that revolves around World War II. I cannot imagine that reading this book will not move you, and perhaps, as it did for me, teach you a thing or two about what people can, and do, endure in the name of freedom. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The WInter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick

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  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks (October 3, 2002)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751529586

I'm not sure what it is about Elizabeth Chadwick's work, but it never fails to mesmerize me, and transport me back in time. When I purchased this book I was not aware that it was one that I had obviously had missed somewhere along the path of reading Ms. Chadwick's work. It was originally published in 2002. I can't imagine that I would have forgotten reading it when it was new!

This book follows the path of William of Normandy and begins with the year 1067 following the great Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror is establishing his rule over Britain, and in doing so retains custody of many captured nobles, Earl Waltheof Siwardsson of Huntingdon being one of them. Although he did not fight in the war, Earl Waltheof retains his title but fights to regain his pride of place and his lands from William. Waltheof falls in love with one of  Willaim's daughters, Judith. 

Reluctantly, after the threat of an uprising against him, William restores Waltheof's lands and grants him marriage to his daughter,Judith. In the years that follow, Judith  feels that Waltheof is engaged in some activities that are contrary to his fealty to William, and, through familial treachery, Waltheof is executed. His eldest daughter falls in love with the man who is sent by William to take control of Waltheof's earldom, one by the name of Simon de Senlis, who had been a long time friend, and former squire to, Waltheof. He is also a person for Judith, Matilda's mother, holds no love.  

Simon follows the Crusade, leaving Matilda behind to question his fate.  Simon;s first love had followed her husband on the Crusdae trail until he is drowns.A dire injury almost takes his life, and Simon is tended  to  by his first love, who he had taken under his wing. During his convalescence they have a one time resolution to the desire that was founded in their younger years.

After his return from the Crusade, his first love becomes a nun, and Simon returns to his lands and his family. Simon and Matilda long for peace, a commodity that is difficult to come by during this turbulent time. Tension builds in their marriage, but the truth of Simon's "one-night-stand" comes out due to the birth of his bastard child; a child that Matilda must accept and raise in their home after she meets with, and grudgingly accepts, the confession of Simon's early love. 

The epilogues for Ms. Chadwick's books are always one of my favorite parts. There she provides the history behind her stories. Much of what she writes is structured on solid historical facts, and I find it utterly fascinating the she "fills in the blanks" so convincingly. Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my favorite historical fiction writers and this book is a credit to her!

Anyone who loves historical fiction, British historical fiction, the history of William the Conqueror, or just a great read, will undoubtedly enjoy this excellent book!