Broken Angels, a WWII historical novel, released Tuesday

Recommended, with reservations

Broken AngelsBroken Angels is an ambitious, and somewhat successful, attempt to capture the pathos of a man, a woman and a child whose lives and souls are battered against the backdrop of World War II and the ruthless regime that swept across Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Ambitious, because Gemma Liviero defies convention to tell the story in the present tense with alternating points of view.  Somewhat successful, because this device feels contrived – and because none of the characters develop a distinctive voice.  The point of view alternates with the chapters, each character narrating in turn, but the style of speech, of thought, of description remains too constant, to unchanging, to reflect the change of perspectives that each character could, and ideally would, provide.

Most readers will have to work a bit to stay in the story.  Those who never tire of reading about the men, women and children whose lives were broken but whose spirits were never destroyed by the evil of this era won’t object and should be willing to follow these lives in their search for redemption.  Those who demand much more may not be so satisfied.

NOTE:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an independent and unbiased review.  She asserts that not only has no one influenced her opinions, no one has even attempted to do so.

From the publisher:  A Nazi doctor. A Jewish rebel. A little girl. Each one will fight for freedom—or die trying.

Imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto, Elsi discovers her mother’s desperate attempt to end her pregnancy and comes face-to-face with the impossibility of their situation. Risking her own life, Elsi joins a resistance group to sabotage the regime.

Blonde, blue-eyed Matilda is wrenched from her family in Romania and taken to Germany, where her captors attempt to mold her into the perfect Aryan child. Spirited and brave, she must inspire hope in the other stolen children to make her dreams of escape a reality.

Willem, a high-ranking Nazi doctor, plans to save lives when he takes posts in both the ghetto and Auschwitz. After witnessing unimaginable cruelties, he begins to question his role and the future of those he is ordered to destroy.

While Hitler ransacks Europe in pursuit of a pure German race, the lives of three broken souls—thrown together by chance—intertwine. Only love and sacrifice might make them whole again.

About the author:  Gemma Liviero holds an advanced diploma of arts in professional writing, and she has worked as a copywriter, a corporate writer, and a magazine feature writer and editor. She is the author of the historical fiction novel Pastel Orphans, a coming-of-age story set in 1930s Berlin, as well as two gothic fantasies, Lilah and Marek. Broken Angels is her second historical novel. She now lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband and two children.

Available in paperback, $14.95 (USD), and Kindle ebook, $5.99 (USD) — add Audible narration for $1.99. Also available with Kindle Unlimited.


Written in Red, an Oxford Dogwalkers Mystery by Annie Dalton

Recommended:

Slated for release 15 June 2016
Slated for release 15 June 2016

Neither headaches nor hurricanes are powerful enough to pull me from the pages of a good mystery, yet I set aside Written in Red on my own accord somewhere in the fifth chapter – but only to add the first book of Annie Dalton’s Oxford Dogwalkers Mystery series to my TBR list. As soon as I had done so, I picked up where I’d left off and read straight through–despite a growing headache and, so I’m told, violent thunderstorms outside (a factor, no doubt, in the headache).  This award-winning YA author has created a multi-layered mystery with story lines that twist and wrap like a leash attached to a capricious canine.

From the publisher:  Shortly before Christmas, Professor James Lowell is found brutally attacked in his rooms at Walsingham College, where Anna Hopkins works as an administrator. Baffled as to why anyone would wish to harm such a gentle, scholarly man, Anna discovers that Lowell had a connection with her fellow dogwalker, Isadora Salzman, who knew him as an undergraduate in the 1960s, a co-member of the so-called Oxford Six. It turns out that Isadora has been keeping a surprising secret all these years. But someone else knows about Isadora’s secret: someone who has sent her a threatening, frightening letter.  Could the attack on Professor Lowell have its roots in a 50-year-old murder? And who is targeting Isadora and the surviving members of the Oxford Six? Anna, Isadora and Tansy, the dogwalking detectives, make it their business to find out. 

For me, the novel has two flaws:  Too little restraint with “four-lettered” words that became tiresome, rather than effective, by the middle of the mystery and an over-tidiness in a late and otherwise dramatic scene that left me somewhat, just a tiny bit, less eager to read the next one.

I still have Book One – The White Shepherd – on my To-Be-Read list and I still look forward to a third book in this series, but less is very much more when it comes to salty speech for readers like me who don’t encounter these words in our everyday lives and don’t care to add them to our everyday vocabularies.  Less can be more when it comes to tension, too.  If you pull too tightly, even a strong strap of leather will snap and you may be left holding a broken leash in one hand while watching a four-legged friend rush toward potential dangers.

Dalton shows she has the talent, though, to stitch the pieces back together, and I expect nothing less when Anna, Isadora, and Tansy return to Oxford’s Port Meadow to walk Bonnie (the beautiful White Shepherd with a past as traumatic as Anna’s own) and Hero (Isadora’s half-spaniel, half-terrier puppy) for a third time.

These delightful dogs are among the many pleasures to be found within the pages of Written in Red, and dog lovers in particular will want to devour this series.  The dogs are characters in their own right, as beautifully drawn as the portraits Anna’s grandfather paints of them, as well as devices Dalton uses to breathe life into her two-legged characters.  For example, consider one of the benefits Anna derives from sharing her home and her life with Bonnie:

“When you have a dog, you can say, ‘I need to go out and walk Fido now,’ and nobody thinks you’re strange.  Whereas saying ‘I urgently need to be by myself . . .’ made you sound as if you were somewhere along the spectrum.”

Anna herself is a mystery, a mystery that begins to unfold in the first book in the series and continues in the second, a mystery that Dalton holds out as a reward for following her further and further into the series.  The relationships between the continuing characters provide further enticement to keep reading.  And the writing is good enough to be its own reward.

Note:  In obedience of federal regulations, Sis must disclose that she received an advanced reading copy courtesy of Severn House, the publisher, through NetGalley in exchange for an independent and unbiased review of the novel.  The biases here are Sis’s and Sis’s alone – no one has attempted to influence her review or her writing . . . except her reliable editor, who serves as a faithful watchdog against errors without attempting to affect Sis’s views.

What’s cooking?

cookbook shelfie
Five favorites . . . in no particular order

In response to a recent comment, Sis mentioned that Mary Capone’s GF cookbook is one of her five all-time favorite cookbooks.  It’s not easy to limit the list to five, since she has two, fully stocked bookcases in her kitchen as well as cookbooks which have strayed to other bookshelves due to lack of space . . . and a few on her Kindles.  (Sis really prefers the written page, though, for cookbooks.  Yes, the pages do get splattered since she’s often too impatient to slot the books into those protective stands, but the pages don’t have to be “refreshed” by fingers that first need to be washed . . . and electronic devices are just as prone to splatters and kitchen disasters.)  So, what else is on her list? Here they are, in the order in which Sis acquired them:

See the list, and Sis’s explanations for her picks, on Cooking & Cookbooks:

Classic Italian Cooking — without gluten!

The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook:  Classic Cuisine from the Italian Countryside 

Recommended without reservation to anyone who needs or wants to cook classic Italian food that just so happens to be gluten- (and wheat-) free.
by Mary Capone, from $24(USD)
by Mary Capone, from $24(USD)

by Mary Capone, 224 pgs., 2nd edition published by The Wheat-Free Gourmet Press in paperback; from $24.00 (USD) at Amazon.com

Mary Capone knows Italian food, and she uses both her heritage as an Italian-American and her training as a professional chef to craft recipes for gluten-free fare that you can easily prepare and serve, to yourself or others, no apologies necessary. She doesn’t make you choose between good food and food that is good for you or your gluten-intolerant family and friends.  Whether you cook without gluten some of the time or all of the time, this is one cookbook that should be in your kitchen.

I purchased the first edition soon after it was released, having sampled some of Mary Capone’s recipes — specifically her oh-so-tender Italian thumbprint cookies — from a free holiday download made available several years ago by the publishers of the magazine formerly known as Living Without.  I’d love to see the newer edition because my family was thrilled from the first recipe I tried to the last.  If my husband had his way, I’d have worked straight through the cookbook from beginning to end, serving him each and every one of the offerings inside.  One day, I promise, I will.  He thought several of the recipes were worth the price of the whole book, and I wholeheartedly agree.

We had been disappointed by so many poor excuses for gluten-free cookbooks, from celiacs who had never cooked (and perhaps never should?) to celiacs who had been on gluten-free diets so long they just didn’t know how food could and should taste.  But, with The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook, no one has to compromise.  Not on taste, nor on texture. You can prepare any, and every, recipe in the book and serve the result with the certainty that no one has to know that these delightful dishes are gluten-free . . . unless you choose to tell them.

“My desire was, and still is, to invite the gluten-free palate to sing with flavor,” Mary Capone wrote in the introduction to her first edition.

This is one invitation every gluten-intolerant palate should accept.

The book includes a recipe for gluten-free pasta which I am eager to try — my husband bought me a pasta machine so I can. In the first edition, Mary Capone also listed her preferred brand of prepared gluten-free pasta — the same that an Italian-American friend with celiac siblings had recommended to me — for those who are daunted by the idea of making fresh pasta.  In the years since the first edition was published, newer and even better pastas are available for those who cannot tolerate gluten.  We especially enjoy Barilla’s gluten-free pastasAncient Harvest (quinoa) pastas and, when we can find it, DeLallo’s gluten-free pastas.

Aside from the opportunity to add to any cook’s gluten-free repertoire, this cookbook is also a joy to read and an expert primer for gluten-free cooking of any kind.  Read the introduction.   Read about her struggles to create a gluten-free pasta dough worthy of her late Aunt Carmel . . . and how her aunt, dead some 10 years, provided the inspiration that led to what she considers one of her crowning successes.  Enjoy the photographs, whether they showcase the dishes, illustrate the procedures or introduce you to her Aunt Carmel and other relatives.

This is a book to be savoured, whether you’re reading it in the kitchen or in your favorite book nook.

About the Author:  Growing up in an Italian household filled with restaurateurs and great cooks, Mary Capone learned the foundations of classic Italian cuisine from her family’s boisterous kitchens. As a celiac, she has since reinvented this scrumptious cuisine to meet the needs of gluten-free dieters in her popular book, The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook: Classic Cuisine from the Italian Countryside. Her articles and recipes have appeared in The Herb Quarterly, Energy for Women, Eatingwell.com, Living Without Magazine, Livingwithout.com, Delicious Living Magazine and Delight Gluten-Free. She is currently the director of The Wheat Free Gourmet Cooking School and has taught over 1500 students from around the world. She lives in Boulder Colorado with her loving family.

 Find the author’s products at Bella Gluten Free.

mjbreviewers

Karen B won a free cozy & a gift — but the fun’s not over yet . . .

Sis’s friend at mjbreviewers has paired her review of the first in a new cozy mystery series by Kathi Daley with gifts from the author — a copy of the book and either a tote bag or an Amazon gift card (depending on the winner’s locale) on her site.  Readers must comment on the site to register for a chance to win the gifts — Sis can only redirect you:

Read the review, along with a synopsis of the book, and enter at Review and Contest.  Good luck . . . although you’ll be competing with Sis!

Update 5 April 2016:  Congratulations to Karen B., who won the gift package from Kathi Daley and mjbreviewers!  And, to all who are still interested?  Goodreads also has a giveaway of the book running:

Enter on Goodreads

Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz

Highly Recommended

Five ChimneysIf you decide to read one and only one Holocaust memoir, you must consider Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story Of Auschwitz [Illustrated Edition] by Olga Lengyel, the wife of a Transylvanian physician who ended up in the Nazis’ most notorious death camp only because she could not believe, even as late as May of 1944, how treacherous they could be.

She learned quickly — starting with her first step on the platform of the train station at Cluj. Her husband, Dr. Miklos Lengyel, director of a 72-bed hospital and a Berlin-trained surgeon, had been detained and was to be deported to Germany. An S.S. officer graciously assured her that she was welcome to join him if she wished. She, their two sons, and her parents realized her mistake when the entire station was surrounded by armed sentries and they were forced with 90 others into a railcar designed to hold eight horses. It was the first, and perhaps the easiest, of the many lessons she would learn at the hands of the Nazis.

Mrs. Lengyel’s painfully poignant memoir — “Mea culpa,” she begins, “my fault, mea maxima culpa!” — was published within two years of the end of World War II. It has been on my Wish List since I read that Albert Einstein praised it as the best Holocaust memoir. Indeed, he wrote her personally to thank her for her “very frank, very well written book. You have done a great service by letting the ones who are now silent and most forgotten speak,” he wrote.

That, she tells us, is exactly why she wrote it. The few who survived carried a burden to tell the world what had happened there, to ensure the justice was served, and, more, to work to see that this should never happen again. It can be hard for us to realize now how successfully the Nazi regime concealed the atrocities that were carried out so blatantly behind the battle lines . . . even as similar atrocities happen again and again elsewhere around the globe.

“The Germans sinned grievously, but so did the rest of the nations, if only through refusing to believe and to toil day and night to save the wretched and the dispossessed by every possible means,” she wrote.

I have read many, many such memoirs, including in the last year those of two women who also survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of which I would recommend to anyone (see my review of Here There Is No Why) and one of which I would not recommend. Each woman has a different perspective. Mrs. Lengyel’s is both as personal and intimate as either and more comprehensive. Hers is a story of deeply painful, personal tragedy, yet she also saw and observed what went on throughout the camps and ensured that she survived to record it so that those who suffered it should not suffer in vain. Her account is detailed, and damning, and it includes lessons that cost more than anyone should ever be forced to pay.

“Perhaps the greatest crime the ‘supermen’ committed against us was their campaign, often successful, to turn us into monstrous beasts ourselves,” she writes in the final pages. Earlier chapters detail exactly how they did this, and how those of once unimpeachable integrity could be, and were, reduced to the lowest moral level. But that wasn’t all she saw, or all she learned. She also wrote of those who resisted on every level. “Because of these few, I have not entirely lost my faith in mankind. If, even in the jungle of Birkenau, all were not necessarily inhuman to their fellow men, then there is hope indeed. It is that hope which keeps me alive.”

That faith is one of the reasons her memoir is indispensable. If she, who witnessed and suffered all of this, could hold on to hope for us, we can’t be entirely lost. Yet.

Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story Of Auschwitz [Illustrated Edition] by Olga Lengyel, 234 pgs., biography & memoir, Holocaust, WWII history.  Hardcover and paperback editions also available.