The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: November 7th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, World War II, Romance, Historical, Adult Fiction, Holocaust, Germany, War, Relationships

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An epic story of love, betrayal, and art that spans decades, through the horrors of World War II to 21st century America, inspired by an actual porcelain factory in Dachau.

Two lovers caught at the crossroads of history.

A daughter’s search for the truth.

Germany, 1929. At a festive gathering of young bohemians in Weimar, two young artists, Max, a skilled Jewish architect, and Bettina, a celebrated avant-garde painter, are drawn to each other and begin a whirlwind romance. Their respective talents transport them to the dazzling lights of Berlin, but this bright beginning is quickly dimmed by the rising threat of Nazism. Max is arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau where only his talent at making exquisite porcelain figures stands between him and seemingly certain death. Desperate to save her lover, Bettina risks everything to rescue him and escape Germany.

America, 1993. Clara, Bettina’s daughter, embarks on a journey to trace her roots and determine the identity of her father, a secret her mother has kept from her for reasons she’s never understood. Clara’s quest to piece together the puzzle of her origins transports us back in time to the darkness of Nazi Germany, where life is lived on a razor’s edge and deception and death lurk around every corner. Survival depends on strength, loyalty, and knowing true friend from hidden foe. And as Clara digs further, she begins to question why her mother was so determined to leave the truth of her harrowing past behind…

The Porcelain Maker is a powerful novel of enduring love and courage in the face of appalling brutality as a daughter seeks to unlock the mystery of her past.

First Line

In a tall cabinet, on a glass shelf, lies a white porcelain rabbit.

The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pace of The Porcelain Maker was medium throughout most of the book. It did speed up towards the end (when Bettina tried to flee Germany with Max).

Trigger/Content Warning: The Porcelain Maker contains content and trigger warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Antisemitism (graphic)
  • War and War themes (graphic)
  • Violence (graphic)
  • Classism (moderate)
  • Dementia (moderate)
  • Depression (moderate)
  • PTSD (moderate)
  • Alcohol Consumption (moderate)
  • Dead Bodies (moderate)
  • Suicide (minor)
  • Starvation (moderate)
  • Grief (graphic)
  • Confinement (graphic)
  • Gun violence (moderate)
  • Murder (graphic)
  • Concentration Camp (moderate)
  • Genocide (moderate)
  • Mass Murder (moderate)
  • Abusive Relationship (minor)
  • Mental Health Hospitalization (minor)

Sexual Content:  There is sexual content in The Porcelain Maker. It was not graphic.

Language: There is moderate swearing in The Porcelain Maker. But there is offensive language used (slurs against Jewish people).

Setting: The Porcelain Maker is set in several locations. In Bettina and Max’s section of the book, the locations were various parts of Germany. In Clara’s book sections, the settings were Cincinnati, London, and Germany.

Tropes: War, Combining Real and Fiction Events, Including Historical Figures as Characters, Dual Timeline, What Life was Like, Survivor’s Guilt, Death Used as Catalyst, Bittersweet Ending, Alternation POV, Trauma

Age Range: I recommend The Porcelain Maker to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Max and Bettina fall in love in the golden years between World War I and World War II. But, with the rise of Nazism, Max is soon captured and thrown into Dachau. What saves him from manual labor is an unexpected friend he had made at Allach’s famous porcelain factory and his talent for creating porcelain figures. Desperate to save Max, Bettina will do anything to save him. That includes planning a daring escape from Allach with Max. Will that escape happen?

Desperate to find out her father’s identity, Clara starts on a journey tracing her roots with the sparse clues her mother left her. But, what Clara discovers will shake her to her core and make her question everything she knew about her mother. Will Clara find out who her father is? And why didn’t her mother tell her?

Main Characters

Max Erlich: I liked Max. He truly loved Bettina and was willing to step back to let her shine. I was enraged with how he was captured (I was yelling at my Kindle). Then, I knew his plotline would go two ways: a happy ending way or the way that would shatter me (and Bettina). So, I wasn’t surprised by how it ended.

Bettina Vogel: This woman was strong. She knew her mind from the beginning and wasn’t about letting anyone tell her what to do. She had a plan to get out of Germany before Max was captured. But, when he was arrested, her plan had to be adjusted a bit. I disagreed with her marrying the SS guy, but I understood why she did it. What I didn’t understand was her after World War II. What was done to her messed her head up, but willingly not telling her child something that important made me scratch my head. Still, regardless of her choices, I liked her a lot.

Clara Vogel: I felt terrible for Clara. At times, she was chasing shadows and rumors about her father. I liked that her doggedness got her answers. That scene at Dachau, talking to a Holocaust survivor and looking at records, gave me chills.

My review:

When I started to read The Porcelain Maker, I was expecting it to be like other World War II/Nazi Germany books. The main character is captured by the Nazis, forced into concentration camps, and either done to them or seen horrendous things. But not in this case. In this case, while the horror of Dachau was there, it was muted and kept in the background. Which is what made the violence and racist remarks that Max endured at the porcelain factory even more shocking.

This book was an emotional read for me. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish community in Massachusetts. Several of my neighbors, friends, grandparents, and teachers survived concentration camps during World War II. Nothing was talked about, and seeing those inked, blue numbers wasn’t out of the ordinary for us. It wasn’t until a local woman started talking to the middle and high school about the Holocaust and what she endured that I truly got a sense of what happened.

The Porcelain Maker has three separate storylines. Those storylines follow Max, Bettina, and Clara. Max and Bettina’s storylines merge at the beginning of the book, but they separate once they move to Allach. Each storyline was well-written, and each had its twist that surprised me.

The storyline with Max affected me the most. I genuinely liked him and wanted everything to turn out well. But, after he moved to Allach with Bettina, I felt that everything that happened to him (and to her) was predestined. I wanted to change how the author wrapped up his storyline. I wasn’t surprised, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to happen.

The storyline with Bettina also affected me. As I said in her character section, I thought she was strong. Once the Nazis put Max into Dachau, everything she did was to protect her baby and, ultimately, to work towards seeing Max again. Did I agree or like everything she did? No, but I did understand. I also understood why she was so broken in Clara’s recollections. Living through something like that and with what was done to her would scar anyone.

The storyline with Clara intrigued me. I liked seeing her journey to finding out who her father was. What I liked even more was that the author set the storyline in 1993. There were few computers or internet access back then (I remember using dial-up in 1994 or 1995 for the first time). Clara had actually to do the research. I liked how she got one tiny breadcrumb after another, eventually leading to someone who knew her father. I won’t lie; I did get emotional while reading her storyline. I got all the emotions and then some.

The end of The Porcelain Maker was perfect. I won’t say anything about what was written except that I liked it. And the epilogue was just as good. Talk about a tribute!!!!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Sarah Freethy for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Porcelain Maker. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Porcelain Maker, then you will enjoy these books:

A Traitor in Whitehall (Parisian Orphan: Book 1) by Julia Kelly

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fiction, Historical, Mystery Thriller, Adult Fiction, World War II, Historical Mystery, Thriller, Cozy Mystery

Series: Parisian Orphan

A Traitor in Whitehall—Book 1

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

From Julia Kelly, internationally bestselling author of The Last Dance of the Debutante, comes the first in the mysterious and immersive Parisian Orphan series, A Traitor in Whitehall.

1940, England: Evelyne Redfern, known as “The Parisian Orphan” as a child, is working on the line at a munitions factory in wartime London. When Mr. Fletcher, one of her father’s old friends, spots Evelyne on a night out, Evelyne finds herself plunged into the world of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s cabinet war rooms.

However, shortly after she settles into her new role as a secretary, one of the girls at work is murdered, and Evelyne must use all of her amateur sleuthing expertise to find the killer. But doing so puts her right in the path of David Poole, a cagey minister’s aide who seems determined to thwart her investigations. That is, until Evelyne finds out David’s real mission is to root out a mole selling government secrets to Britain’s enemies, and the pair begrudgingly team up.

With her quick wit, sharp eyes, and determination, will Evelyne be able to find out who’s been selling England’s secrets and catch a killer, all while battling her growing attraction to David?

First Line:

“Miss Redfern!” snapped Miss Wilkes, causing me to jerk up and my pencil to skitter across the page of my notebook.

A Traitor in Whitehall by Julia Kelly

Important things you need to know about the book:

A Traitor in Whitehall is the first book in the Parisian Orphan series. Since it is the first book in the series, you don’t have previous books to read. You can dive into this without worrying about previous storylines or characters appearing and throwing the main storylines off.

A Traitor in Whitehall was a medium-paced book for me. There were some areas (mainly towards the end) where the pacing did speed up. But it was consistently medium-paced throughout the book. There was some lag in the middle of the book (during Evelyne and David’s investigation). It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

There are trigger warnings in A Traitor in Whitehall. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  1. Bullying: While Evelyne didn’t experience Jean’s bullying tactics, the other women in the typing pool did. Jean caused one woman to quit her job because she threatened to expose her secrets—several other women experienced blackmail by Jean.
  2. Death: Besides the obvious (Evelyne finding Jean’s body), the book details the questionable death of Evelyne’s mother.
  3. Divorce: Evelyne remembers her parents’ contentious divorce and custody battle over her. It had made the papers, and the newspapers painted her mother badly.
  4. Murder: Evelyne and David are investigating Jean’s murder. Evelyne suspects that her mother was murdered.
  5. Sexism: Evelyne experiences era-appropriate sexism.
  6. War: A Traitor in Whitehall takes place in World War II. Evelyne experiences drills, blackouts, rations, and bombing throughout the book.

Sexual Content: There is no on-page sexual content in A Traitor in Whitehall. It is alluded that Jean is having affairs with some ministers and their staff.

Language:  There is no graphic language in A Traitor in Whitehall.

Setting: A Traitor in Whitehall is set in World War II in London, England.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Evelyne Redfern is working in a munitions factory in World War II-era London. A chance meeting with a childhood friend of her absent father, Evelyne finds her working as a secretary in a top-secret location for Winston Churchhill’s war department. Soon after her arrival, Evelyne stumbles upon the body of one of the secretaries (Jean). That starts Evelyne’s investigation into Jean’s murder and puts her in the path of the mysterious David Poole. When David reveals that he is undercover investigating a possible mole and that Jean could be a link, Evelyne and he team up. Can they discover who the mole is? Can they figure out who killed Jean? And lastly, can they connect the mole and Jean?

Main Characters

Evelyne Redfern: I liked Evelyne. She was bright, loved reading mysteries (Agatha Christie was her favorite), and didn’t miss a thing. She was also straightforward to talk to, which was helpful when she and David were interrogating people. Evelyne used her real-life contacts and what she learned from the mysteries she loved to read to figure out parts of Jean’s murder that otherwise would have gone missing. I also enjoyed that Evelyne liked looking at David (he was good-looking) and wasn’t ashamed about it. She did have faults, though. She tended to go off alone (surprising David at the gambling hall was one) and pushed boundaries (Charlotte and Patricia’s stories come to mind).

David Poole: I initially didn’t know what to make of him. He was very mysterious and was often abrupt with Evelyne. But the more he appeared in the book, the more I liked him. He let Evelyne take the lead in Jean’s murder investigation. I liked how he low-key put people in their place so they would answer her questions. I also liked how David asked for and listened to her input about the mole. He was always there, backing her up, and was instrumental in helping catch Jean’s murderer and the mole. I also liked how the author slyly brought him into Mr. Fletcher’s work.

Secondary characters: There were numerous secondary characters mentioned throughout the book. Each character added their nuance and depth to the storyline. The characters that stood out the most to me were: Mr. Fletcher, Mrs. White, Moira, Irene, Patricia, Aunt Amelia, Mr. Pearson, Inspectors Maxwell and Plaice, Caroline, Mr. Faylen, and Charlotte.

My review:

I enjoyed reading A Traitor in Whitehall. I have a weakness for World War II-era books, and when I read the blurb for this one, I knew I wanted to read it. I am glad I did because this book was a good read.

The storyline centering around Jean’s murder and Evelyne’s investigation was well written. I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was. The author had so many red herrings that I thought it was someone other than who it was. I was shocked at who was revealed and the motive behind the person killing Jean.

The storyline centering around the mole was interesting. Later in the book, it is introduced and intertwined with Jean’s murder. I did figure out half of this storyline reasonably early. But I was surprised at who else was involved. Again, it took me by surprise.

Both storylines merge at the end of the book. I won’t talk about what happened, but I will say this: the murderer and the mole are the same person. There is someone else involved, too.

As I stated above, the mystery/thriller angle was well written. The author kept me on my toes for the entire book. It isn’t very often that I can’t figure out who the killer is.

I may be imagining this, but I saw a possible romance between Evelyne and David. Their chemistry was beautiful in the book, and I can’t wait to see how they work together in upcoming books.

The end of A Traitor in Whitehall was great. I liked how the author united and solved Jean’s murder and who the mole was. But it was after that mystery was solved that I loved it. I can’t wait to see Evelyne and David work together again!!!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Julia Kelly for allowing me to read and review this ARC of A Traitor in Whitehall. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to A Traitor in Whitehall, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Julia Kelly

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of Publication: September 19th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fiction, Thriller, Historical, Crime, Mystery Thriller, Adult, World War II, Historical Mystery

Publication Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Amy Chua’s debut novel, The Golden Gate, is a sweeping, evocative, and compelling historical thriller that paints a vibrant portrait of a California buffeted by the turbulent crosswinds of a world at war and a society about to undergo massive change.

In Berkeley, California, in 1944, Homicide Detective Al Sullivan has just left the swanky Claremont Hotel after a drink in the bar when a presidential candidate is assassinated in one of the rooms upstairs. A rich industrialist with enemies among the anarchist factions on the far left, Walter Wilkinson could have been targeted by any number of groups. But strangely, Sullivan’s investigation brings up the specter of another tragedy at the Claremont, ten years the death of seven-year-old Iris Stafford, a member of the Bainbridge family, one of the wealthiest in all of San Francisco. Some say she haunts the Claremont still.

The many threads of the case keep leading Sullivan back to the three remaining Bainbridge heiresses, now Iris’s sister, Isabella, and her cousins Cassie and Nicole. Determined not to let anything distract him from the truth―not the powerful influence of Bainbridges’ grandmother, or the political aspirations of Berkeley’s district attorney, or the interest of China’s First Lady Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in his findings―Sullivan follows his investigation to its devastating conclusion.

Chua’s page-turning debut brings to life a historical era rife with turbulent social forces and groundbreaking forensic advances, when race and class defined the very essence of power, sex, and justice, and introduces a fascinating character in Detective Sullivan, a mixed race former Army officer who is still reckoning with his own history.

First Line:

Inside an alabaster palace one January afternoon in 1930, a six year old girl hiding inside a closed armoire felt truly alone for the first time in her life.

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Detective Al Sullivan is at the elegant and luxurious Claremont Hotel when one of the staff informs him that one of the guests, a former presidential candidate, Walter Wilkinson, has been the target of an assassination attempt. Moving his room and posting police outside, Al heads home, only to be called back because Wilkinson has been killed. While investigating that murder, Al finds links to another death ten years earlier—Iris Stafford, the granddaughter of the hotel owner. He also finds ties to a local Communist party and an underground railroad hiding Japanese citizens from internment. How does everything fit together? Who killed Walter and why? The answers he uncovers could send a ripple effect across Berkely.

Before I get into the review, I want to let you know there are trigger warnings. They are racism (explicit and on page), bigotry (explicit and on page), poverty (explicit and on page), mental illness (on and off page), and child abandonment (on page).

I love reading good historical fiction. I also like reading mysteries and books in the World War 2 era. So, when St. Martin’s Press sent me the widget, I decided to download the book after I read the blurb. I was curious how the author would meld everything together and keep my attention.

There are two storylines that The Golden Gate is centered around. I liked how the author intertwined these storylines. She did so gradually by letting hints about Iris’s death appear in the investigation of Walter’s murder. By the end of the book, both storylines are entangled together.

The storyline centering around Iris and her death was heartbreaking. From flashbacks to the written testimony of Mrs. Bainbridge, you get to see how Iris’s life was up to her death. The author also showed how Iris’s death affected everyone around her. But the author did something clever. She held off telling exactly how Iris died until the end of the book. And you know, even then, I doubted whether her death was an accident or not. The confession at the end of the book, tied to Walter’s murder, didn’t sit right with me.

The storyline centering around Al and his investigation into Walter’s murder was a ride. The twisty plotline made me guess who could have killed him. Every so often, I forget that this book was set in 1944, so when Al just entered a house to get information or threatened a Hispanic worker with deportation and taking her kids, I was shocked. But, it did go right with how things were in that era. I did like that Al wouldn’t let go of this case and kept looking for a motive. As I mentioned above, this was a very twisty plotline, and the author didn’t give up the murderer until the very end of the book.

I liked Al and felt terrible that he had to hide the fact that he was mixed race (Mexican and white). But, in that era, you couldn’t get ahead in life if you were anything but lily-white. So, he did what he thought was right. That meant changing his last name to his mother’s maiden name and passing himself as white. What I also liked about Al is that he is flawed. He said and did things in the book that he regretted later on (the scene where he told Miriam he wasn’t her father broke my heart). He was also a good detective and determined to solve Walter’s murder and Iris’s death. By the end of the book, I felt that Al had matured. He was steps closer to accepting who he was. He also did something that I didn’t see coming.

The secondary characters truly made this book pop. From accurate historical figures (and the author has a very cool connection to one of them) to fiction, they added depth to this book.

The historical fiction angle was terrific. You could tell that the author did her research. I could picture myself standing among these people and not having an issue believing what she wrote.

The mystery angle was just as good as the historical fiction angle. The author did something that happens next to never: she stumped me on Iris’s death and Walter’s murder. Not only was it not who I thought it was, but it ended up being the last person I would have expected. I loved it. I was a little disappointed that Walter’s murderer wouldn’t face justice.

The end of The Golden Gate was terrific. The author brought together Iris’s death and Walter’s murder (see what I wrote above). I liked how she ended it with something very positive. But how she ended made me wonder if another book might be written in this universe. If so, I would love to read it. Also, the afterword was wonderful and detailed all the research she put into the book.

I would recommend The Golden Gate to anyone over 16. There is language, violence, and very mild sexual situations. Also see my trigger warnings above.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Amy Chua for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Golden Gate. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Golden Gate, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Amy Chua:

Hotel Laguna by Nicola Harrison

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of Publication: June 20th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Historical, Romance, Adult, Adult Fiction, World War II

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

In 1942, Hazel Francis left Wichita, Kansas for California, determined to do her part for the war effort. At Douglas Aircraft, she became one of many “Rosie the Riveters,” helping construct bombers for the U. S. military. But now the war is over, men have returned to their factory jobs, and women like Hazel have been dismissed, expected to return home to become wives and mothers.

Unwilling to be forced into a traditional woman’s role in the Midwest, Hazel remains on the west coast, and finds herself in the bohemian town of Laguna Beach. Desperate for work, she accepts a job as an assistant to famous artist Hanson Radcliff. Beloved by the locals for his contributions to the art scene and respected by the critics, Radcliff lives under the shadow of a decades old scandal that haunts him.

Working hard to stay on her cantankerous employer’s good side, Hazel becomes a valued member of the community. She never expected to fall in love with the rhythms of life in Laguna, nor did she expect to find a kindred spirit in Jimmy, the hotel bartender whose friendship promises something more. But Hazel still wants to work with airplanes—maybe even learn to fly one someday. Torn between pursuing her dream and the dream life she has been granted, she is unsure if giving herself over to Laguna is what her heart truly wants.

First Line:

I stepped off the coach, directly in front of the boardwalk, and was immediately struck by the colors.

Hotel Laguna by Nicola Harrison

Having just been let go from her riveting job, Hazel has nowhere to go. Unwilling and unable to go home to Kansas to conform to the life of a housewife and mother, Hazel decides to stay in California. Landing in Laguna, Hazel becomes the assistant to the reclusive artist Hanson Radcliff. Hazel didn’t expect to fall in love with the free spirit of Laguna, and she most definitely didn’t expect to become a vital member of the community. Laguna was only supposed to be a temporary place for Hazel to regroup and refocus on her plans- working on airplanes and eventually flying them. Will Hazel put down roots in Laguna? Or will she drift onto the next town, looking for her dream?

I have mentioned this before, but I am fascinated with anything World War II. I read anything that I can get my hands on it. But I rarely have read anything about what happened after World War II. So, when I read the Hotel Laguna blurb, I knew I needed to read it. Also, I am a massive fan of anything that Nicola Harrison writes. I am glad that I read this book because it was excellent!!

Hotel Laguna is a fast-paced book that is primarily set in the town of Laguna, California. The pacing of this book fits the storyline. But the book lagged a tiny bit toward the middle of the book. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

The main storyline in Hotel Laguna centers around Hazel. This was a well-written storyline that kept my attention on the book. Not only did I enjoy reading about Hazel’s past (and found her riveting experience fascinating), but I also liked seeing how her relationships with several of the characters in the book shaped her.

Several secondary storylines fed in and bolstered the main storyline. The main secondary storylines that stood out to me were the storyline about Hanson, Isabella Rose, the painting, and the scandal. The other storyline that stood out was the one with Jimmy, the hotel, and the Laguna community. Both storylines were well-written, and they added depth to the main storyline.

Hazel was an interesting character, and I liked that she didn’t always make the best choices. But she was a good person, and she did try for a long time to stay in a situation that didn’t make her happy. Hazel also did try to let her fiance down lightly when she couldn’t make things work anymore. And after that nasty letter from her fiance’s mother, she continued sending them money (for his funeral expenses). And in the present day (aka 1946), Hazel still didn’t make the best choices, but her heart was in the right place.

Hanson Radcliff was a compelling character, also. He was much older than Hazel, and I thought he didn’t care for her for most of the book. It wasn’t until the last half of the book that I saw that he cared for her like a daughter. I was slightly irritated that the author dragged out his story with Isabella Rose and the painting

There was a slight mystery angle in Hotel Laguna. It centered around the missing painting that Hanson did of Isabella Rose and where he hid it. There was a neat twist toward the end that I saw coming. Even though I saw the twist coming, it was still interesting to read.

The end of Hotel Laguna was bittersweet. But I don’t think that I would have written it any differently.

I recommend Hotel Laguna to anyone over 16. There is mild language, mild violence, and nongraphic sexual situations.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Nicola Harrison for allowing me to read and review Hotel Laguna. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Hotel Laguna, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Nicola Harrison

Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure by Christina Lynch

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: June 13th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Italy, Fiction, World War II, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

What if you found yourself in the middle of a war armed only with lipstick and a sense of humor? Abandoned as a child in Los Angeles in 1931, dust bowl refugee Sally Brady convinces a Hollywood movie star to adopt her, and grows up to be an effervescent gossip columnist secretly satirizing Europe’s upper crust. By 1940 saucy Sally is conquering Fascist-era Rome with cheek and charm.

A good deed leaves Sally stranded in wartime Italy, brandishing a biting wit, a fake passport, and an elastic sense of right and wrong. To save her friends and find her way home through a land of besieged castles and villas, Sally must combat tragedy with comedy, tie up pompous bureaucrats in their own red tape, force the cruel to be kind, and unravel the mystery, weight, and meaning of family.

First Line:

“Don’t talk to strangers,” Daddy said when he hoisted me onto the train that moonless night back in Iowa.

Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure by Christina Lynch

Sally Brady is used to overcoming the odds. Her parents, having five children, sent Sally to California in 1931. After living on the streets for a while, Sally happens to jump into the car of a Hollywood movie star. That movie star decides to adopt Sally. When the movie star gets divorced, about five years after adopting Sally, she moves to Europe and takes Sally along. That is how Sally ended up in Italy when it closed its borders and detained any press/foreigners that remained. After helping a young Jewish girl escape, Sally is stranded in Italy. Will Sally be able to escape?

I am a sucker for a good World War II story and usually read everything I can about that war. So, when I saw that Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure was up for review, I knew I wanted to read it. And I am glad I did. This book was terrific.

Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure is a fast-paced book. The pacing of the storyline was perfect for this book. There was some lag towards the middle of the book (around when Sally was in prison), but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book.

Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure takes place mainly in Italy. But there are excursions to Prague, Switzerland, and the United States.

The main storyline of Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure is centered around Sally Brady and, you guessed it, her adventures in Italy (and in life). Sally was a larger-than-life character who could think fast and use her wits to keep herself alive in wartime Italy. This storyline captured and kept my attention.

The author featured two other storylines in Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure. They centered around Lapo, an Italian writer and farmer, and Alessandro, Lapo’s son and a soldier. These were the more serious of storylines, and they were the storylines that I enjoyed reading the most. The writer had Lapo and Alessandro witness the horrors of an unstable dictator and a war neither wanted to be involved in. Those two storylines were as well written as Sally’s.

The author told Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure through the 1st person POV of Sally and the 3rd person POV of Lapo and Alessandro. Usually, I’m not too fond of it when there is more than one POV and more than one storyline. But, in this case, I liked it.

I liked Sally. The author did write her, at first, as a silly young girl who didn’t take life seriously. But, as the book went on, I saw glimpses of a more serious Sally. It wasn’t until she met Clio and helped Clio’s granddaughter escape that Sally’s true nature showed through. She was one of the bravest characters in the book.

I liked Lapo. As a parent, I understood why he did what he did. I would do anything to ensure the safety of my children too. I felt awful every time I read his chapters because I could see his prison being more and more constricted by Mussolini.

Alessandro had the most exciting storyline, in my eyes. He was anti-Fascist but had to swallow his beliefs while in the military. Alessandro couldn’t understand, at first, why Lapo was kissing Mussolini’s butt, which made him angry (I would have been too). His time in the military almost destroyed him. The scene where he finally meets Sally is pivotal because it shows how low he was.

The end of Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure was interesting. I felt awful for Sally when she finally went home to her family. Her father was a piece of freaking work, that’s for sure. There was a twist at the end of the book that surprised me. I was with Sally when I thought a certain someone had died. To have him pop up like that had me react as Sally did.

I recommend Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure to anyone over 16. There is mild language, fade to black sexual situations, and moderate to graphic violence.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Christina Lynch for allowing me to read and review Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Christina Lynch

The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: June 6th, 2023

Trigger Warnings: confinement, death, genocide, racism, sexual violence, xenophobia, trafficking, grief, death of parent(s), murder, forced abandonment, deportation, war, child abuse, child death, pedophilia, stalking

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical, Contemporary, Family, Holocaust, World War II, Adult Fiction, Adult

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

This powerful and moving novel from the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Petal of the Sea weaves together past and present, tracing the ripple effects of war and immigration on one child in Europe in 1938 and another in the United States in 2019.

Vienna, 1938. Samuel Adler was six years old when his father disappeared during Kristallnacht—the night their family lost everything. Samuel’s mother secured a spot for him on the last Kindertransport train out of Nazi-occupied Austria to the United Kingdom, which he boarded alone, carrying nothing but a change of clothes and his violin.

Arizona, 2019. Eight decades later, Anita Diaz, a blind seven-year-old girl, and her mother board another train, fleeing looming danger in El Salvador and seeking refuge in the United States. However, their arrival coincides with the new family separation policy, and Anita finds herself alone at a camp in Nogales. She escapes through her trips to Azabahar, a magical world of the imagination she created with her sister back home.

Anita’s case is assigned to Selena Duran, a young social worker who enlists the help of a promising lawyer from one of San Francisco’s top law firms. Together they discover that Anita has another family member in the United States: Leticia Cordero, who is employed at the home of now eighty-six-year-old Samuel Adler, linking these two lives.

Spanning time and place, The Wind Knows My Name is both a testament to the sacrifices that parents make and a love letter to the children who survive the most unfathomable dangers—and never stop dreaming.

First Line:

A sense of misfortune hung in the air. From the early morning hours, a menacing breeze had swept through the streets, whistling between the buildings, forcing its way in through the cracks under doors and windows.

The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende

Samuel was six years old when his father, a doctor, disappeared during Vienna’s infamous Kristallnacht. Saved by a veteran neighbor, Samuel’s mother secured passage for him on the Kinderstransport, a train taking Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Austria. Samuel was delivered to England and, after being bounced between a couple of foster homes, was adopted by a Quaker couple. Eighty years later, Anna Diaz, a blind seven-year-old, was captured with her mother trying to cross the border into the United States illegally. She is separated from her mother and put into a detainment camp for unaccompanied minors. Her way of dealing with the trauma of being separated from her mother and the horrors of abusive foster homes is to escape to an imaginary place called Azabahar. Samuel and Anna’s paths cross when a social worker and lawyer do pro-bono work and find that Anna has a relative in the San Fransisco area. That relative is Samuel’s housekeeper, and she has been living with Samuel since Covid shut the country down. While Anna gets settled with Samuel and Leticia, the lawyer and the social worker continue their search for Anna’s mother. Will Anna and her mother be reunited?

What attracted me to The Wind Knows My Name was the cover. That is why I wished for it to begin with. What also attracted me to this book was the plotline (which I did try to summarize in the paragraph above). I usually don’t read books that closely follow recent (think within the last 3-4 years) events but something about this book and how the blurb was written made me want to read it. I am glad I did because this book was a great read.

There are numerous trigger warnings in The Wind Knows My Name. I won’t lie and say they weren’t graphic; some triggers were. But, and I stress this, the ones that involved children, the author only did the bare bones. She explained enough for me to get the gist of what was happening and then left it. The triggers are:

  1. Confinement (non-graphic, on page): Anna was confined to a center where the border patrol agents took unaccompanied minors after they were captured crossing the border. Samuel and Leticia were limited to the house during the pandemic.
  2. Death (mostly non-graphic, on page): Death was a running theme throughout the book.
  3. Genocide (slightly graphic, on page): Samuel escaped Nazi Austria and discovers his mother and father died in concentration camps. Leticia and her father, by pure luck, escape their village in El Salvador, being decimated by rebels.
  4. Racism (graphic, on page): Samuel and Anna experience racism during the book.
  5. Sexual Violence (non-graphic, on page): Both Anna and her mother experience sexual violence towards them during the book.
  6. Xenophobia (mostly non-graphic, on page): Anna and her mother experience xenophobia while trying to cross the border. Anna experiences it while living in foster homes. Leticia experienced it growing up in the United States.
  7. Trafficking (mentioned, off-page): One of the villains worked for a human trafficker.
  8. Grief (graphic, on page): Samuel experiences grief over his parents’ deaths and when he is forced to leave his mother. He also grieves over his wife’s death. Anna mourns the death of her sister, her mother leaving, and leaving her grandmother in El Salvador. Leticia grieves the death of her mother, siblings, and grandmother. Leticia’s father grieves for his lost family.
  9. Death of parent (s) (non-graphic, on page): Samuel’s mother and father were killed in concentration camps. Anna’s father was killed when she was very young. Leticia’s mother, grandmother, and siblings were killed.
  10. Forced Abandonment (graphic, on page): Samuels’ mother sent him away to England. Anna’s mother was forced to leave Anna at the detention center.
  11. Deportation (graphic, on page): There are several scenes where immigrants were forcibly deported. Anna’s mother was deported to Mexico without her.
  12. War (semi-graphic, on page): Samuel survived World War II. Leticia’s village was decimated during a civil war in El Salvador.
  13. Child Abuse (semi-graphic, on page): Anna is forced to do her foster mother’s chores. She was verbally abused when she wet the bed. In one scene, she was locked in a closet for hours, only to be taken out by her social worker. A foster father attempted to abuse Anna sexually.
  14. Child Death (nongraphic, off-page): Anna’s younger sister was killed in an accident that caused Anna to go blind.
  15. Pedophilia (semi-graphic, on and off page): Anna and her mother were chased by a man who wanted to molest Anna. He had forced Anna to touch him once. Anna’s foster father attempted to molest her.
  16. Stalking (non-graphic and off page): A corrupt ex-police officer stalked Anna and her mother in El Salvador. He stalked them to the United States border.

If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book.

There are four plotlines in The Wind Knows My Name. When I figured that out, I was a little wary. In my experience, books with more than one plotline confuse the everliving out of me. I am happy to say that this book did not. The author marked the chapters, stating whose plotline it was and, in some cases, where in time that person was.

The first plotline centered around Samuel. It starts when he is six, and his world implodes during Kristallnacht. The plotline isn’t linear; it does jump around from past to present quite a bit. But, and I stress this, I was not confused or couldn’t figure out where in time it was. Samuel’s singular plotline ends when Leticia and then Anna move in.

The second plotline centers around Leticia. Now, this was a linear plotline, and it follows Leticia from a young girl recovering from ulcer surgery to her growing up in the United States. It details her rebellious youth and how that shaped her into the woman she grew into. Her singular storyline ends when she moves in with Samuel.

The third plotline centers around Selina and Frank. This plotline starts in the middle of the book. But it goes into Selina’s immigrant background and Frank’s white privilege background. This storyline intermingles with Samuel, Leticia, and Anna throughout the book.

The fourth storyline centers around Anna. This is a linear storyline and is told through Anna’s POV. Anna’s storyline details her horrific journey to the United States border and her horrible experiences in foster care/detention. I do want to note that her storyline is also in 2nd person. She is talking to her dead sister through her doll, and it is freaking heartbreaking.

Several secondary storylines flow throughout the book. The main secondary storyline was about Anna’s mother and where she could be. I was heartbroken by the way it ended. I did expect it to end the way it did, but at the same time, I was hoping it wouldn’t.

The characters in The Wind Knows My Name was well-written and well-fleshed out. Even the secondary characters had depth to them. The characters, along with the storyline, made this book.

When I realized that this book would take place during the pandemic (and I realized it fairly early in the book), I did almost DNF it. I did not want to read about the pandemic because I lived it. But the pandemic took a backseat to Anna’s story. But Anna’s storyline was so compelling that I chose to overlook that. I am glad that I did because this book was fantastic.

Immigration was a massive point in this book. The author didn’t sugarcoat what the border was like in 2019/2020 or how overwhelmed the agents were. Instead, she gave a good look into the chaos. And when Covid hit, the chaos just grew. There were some references to the political atmosphere during that time, and you know what? I agreed with what the author wrote. I never agreed with separating families; the author’s details were chilling when she wrote about that.

I liked Samuel, but he did not have it easy in life. I thought his being raised by Quakers was fascinating and wished that more detail had gone into his life with them. His traumatic past was why he was so attracted to Nadine and kept returning to her. Their relationship was exciting and different. The author could have written a whole book could have been written about that alone. Samuel, later on in life, was a better person than when he was younger. He was willing to do whatever it took to help Anna overcome her traumatic past. He was a gem, and I enjoyed his character.

I only got to know Leticia once the author explored her background. It was then that I started to understand her. She was like Anna in a way. She had lost her entire family in a rebel attack that wiped out her village, and she crossed the border illegally (with her father). Her reaction to being Anna’s only relative in America was spot on. But she had a big heart and couldn’t let that little girl stay in foster care. She was one of my favorite people in this book.

I loved Anna and was so mad for her throughout the book. Time and time again, she was let down by the adults in her life. I wanted to reach through the book, hug her, and tell her it would be alright. By the time she arrived at Leticia and Samuel’s house, she wasn’t the same girl she was at the beginning of the book. But, her time with Leticia and Samuel did heal her. She acted like a normal child instead of the withdrawn fearful child she was when she arrived.

The end of The Wind Knows My Name didn’t shock me. I figured it would end the way it did. I did like that Anna got her HEA, though. She deserved it after everything she had been through.

I recommend The Wind Knows My Name to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and mild sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warning list.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books, NetGalley, and Isabel Allende for allowing me to read and review The Wind Knows My Name. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of The Wind Knows My Name, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Isabel Allende:

The One Man by Andrew Gross

The One Man: The Riveting and Intense Bestselling WWII Thriller by [Gross, Andrew]

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Date of publication: August 23, 2016

Genre: Historical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Thriller, War, World War II, Holocaust, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | IndieBound | Indigo | Kobo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

1944. Physics professor Alfred Mendl is separated from his family and sent to the men’s camp, where all of his belongings are tossed on a roaring fire. His books, his papers, his life’s work. The Nazis have no idea what they have just destroyed. And without that physical record, Alfred is one of only two people in the world with his particular knowledge. Knowledge that could start a war, or end it.

Nathan Blum works behind a desk at an intelligence office in Washington, DC, but he longs to contribute to the war effort in a more meaningful way, and he has a particular skill set the U.S. suddenly needs. Nathan is fluent in German and Polish, he is Semitic looking, and he proved his scrappiness at a young age when he escaped from the Polish ghetto. Now, the government wants him to take on the most dangerous assignment of his life: Nathan must sneak into Auschwitz, on a mission to find and escape with one man.

This historical thriller from New York Times bestseller Andrew Gross is a deeply affecting, unputdownable series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely compelling.

I am going to start this review with a dedication. I found out that Elie Wiesel died today at the age of 87. He dedicated his whole life to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. I read Night in 9th grade as part of an English assignment. So, to say I was (and still am) very interested in the Holocaust is an understatement. I read everything and anything about the Holocaust (from fiction to nonfiction) that I get my hands on. So RIP Elie Wiesel.

This was one of the best books that I have read to date. From the beginning, when an old man in a nursing home decides to open up to his daughter, it takes off. It is a whirlwind ride that left me breathless (and in tears) at the end of the book.

I was taken back to Nazi-occupied Germany and Roosevelt-era USA. The atrocities committed against the Jewish people in the book were vividly written. I had to put my book down at some points because I was crying so hard. Introduced in the book, in no particular order: Nathan Blum, Alfred Mendl, Leo Wolciek, and Greta Ackerman. All their lives become intertwined at Auschwitz.

This book is fast-paced, and I did not want to put it down in case I missed something. There are several twists to the plot, but the two biggest were saved for the end, and they took me by surprise.

3 things I liked about The One Man:

  1. Nathan Blum
  2. The storyline
  3. Leo Wolciek

3 Things I disliked about The One Man:

  1. Auschwitz
  2. Kurt Ackerman
  3. The scene right before the ending

I would recommend The One Man to anyone over 21. There is brutal violence, language, and sex.

If you enjoyed reading The One Man, you will enjoy reading these books: