So...I think for the An Open Book link-up this month, I'll just post a some lovely pictures of the covers of these books, and hopefully they will speak the 1,000 words that I don't have the time or energy to write at this time. (But I'll try to at least write a few words.)
First up, The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli, a well-researched historical novel set in Germany during WWII (if you know me at all, are you surprised?).
This story goes back and forth in time, from Milan in 1492 to Germany in the 1940's. A young German art conservator named Edith Becker has been commandeered by high-ranking Nazis to catalog priceless works of art that they've stolen from all over Europe, but at the same time, she is smuggling information about these stolen treasures to the Resistance. If you are at all familiar with the Monuments Men (did you see the movie? It was wonderful!), you will eat this book up--because Edith ends up meeting them and helping them in their efforts to save these priceless works and get them back to their rightful owners (often Jews who have been sent to the camps and had their homes ransacked). One of the paintings that Edith is particularly fond of is Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine. When the novel goes back in time to the 15th century, we get to meet the young girl who was the model for this painting and we learn some fascinating history about Italy in Da Vinci's day.
This is a well-written book—informative and thoroughly engrossing. The characters are real and likable. As a Catholic, I enjoyed the descriptions of the great masterpieces that many brave people worked tirelessly to find and save. So many of these works depicted sacred religious images such as the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints, or were paintings and sculptures that had graced the altars of spectacular Catholic churches. If you are a sucker for good fiction, beautiful art, and history in general (WWII history in particular!), I guarantee you'll love this book. Five stars.
Second up: another WWII-era historical fiction winner, The Secret Messenger, by Mandy Robotham.
I think the reason I gravitate towards WWII-era fiction is that it tells the most unbelievable stories about seemingly average individuals who exhibited heroic courage, risking their lives and against all odds finding ways to thwart the enemy. And these stories are based on actual people and true events, which makes them even more moving and inspiring.
This one is set in Venice, which apparently was spared much of the devastation of the Allied bombings, but whose citizens nonetheless suffered greatly under Mussolini's Fascist oppression and then the Nazi occupation. Young Venetian Stella Jilani is given a job as a typist at the Reich headquarters, because of her knowledge of the German language. While working right under the nose of the most powerful Nazi in the city, she finds ways to sneak information gleaned at the office out to the Resistance. She is one of the women known at the time as "Staffettas," secret messengers who played an integral part in the war effort. Stella also writes for an underground Resistance newspaper--a crime that would be punishable by death if she gets caught.
The Secret messenger goes back and forth in time, from WWII Venice to 21st century London, where Stella's granddaughter Luisa stumbles upon a trove of vintage treasures in her late mother’s attic—including an antique typewriter with a slightly damaged E key and a never-before-seen box of old photos and letters. (Who doesn’t love an attic filled with family history?!) These clues to her grandmother’s mysterious past inspire Luisa to go on a journey to uncover her family’s secrets. .
This book has it all! There's a satisfying love story. There are twists and turns and edge-of-your-seat moments of near-discovery that could end in imprisonment or death for those who dare to resist the occupiers. And that typewriter, with a tell-tale dropped E key, is the very thing that might spell disaster for Stella, because if the Nazis find its owner, they find the culprit who has been writing the forbidden stories that are giving the Venetians hope but filling their enemies with rage. This is a riveting tale, one based on extraordinary women such as Stella who really did play a huge part in the Allied victory. Highly recommend. Five stars.
Up third, a suspense-filled whodunit by popular murder mystery writer Lisa Scottoline, titled Don't Go.
I know what you must be thinking: what, not historical fiction? Not WWII-themed? Crazy, right? This novel is set partly in a war zone, but in the recent Middle East conflict. (See, sometimes I actually do go outside my normal comfort zone and try new things!)
Mike Scanlon, an orthopedic surgeon, is called to serve as an Army doctor in Afghanistan, leaving his wife Chloe and their infant daughter behind stateside. While deployed, Mike receives the devastating news that Chloe has died in what appears to be an unfortunate household accident. When he comes home to bury her, however, he discovers that she had some dark secrets. While he’s been away, she has had an affair. And it becomes more and more apparent, as he does his own investigative work, that her death might not have been accidental after all.