Elsi, daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, is living in the Lodz ghetto during WWII in constant fear of deportation. Risking her own life, she joins a resistance group in the ghetto. Nine-year-old blonde and blue-eyed Matilda is taken by the Nazis from her family in Romania. It is her mom who signs her over to the Germans for more food and to save her sons from being commissioned into the army. Matilda's German captors attempt to turn her into the perfect Aryan child. The third character, Willem, a high-ranking Nazi doctor, is called to Auschwitz to be part of the horrific experiments on women prisoners. The lives of these three characters become interconnected in ways that the reader does not expect.

Throughout the years I've spent a fair amount of time reading books set during or in World War II. This is a new favorite for me. Rating: 5/5


Alessandra Cecchi is a fourteen-year-old living in Renaissance Florence—not too pretty, not a good dancer, but good at Latin and Greek, and into art rather than romance. She doesn't have too many options for her future—get married or join a convent. When a young painter is hired to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo, Alessandra becomes infatuated by him and his abilities. Their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man.

The majority of the book takes place during the turbulent years of the fall of the Medicis in the late 15th century. The fundamentalist monk Savonarola is seizing religious and political control. Florence is caught between the luxury loving Medici state that supported learning and art, and the preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola’s reactionary followers who are burning books, art, and anything else that can be considered a distraction to religion.

It is a stunning and intelligent portrayal of this dramatic period by the renowned British author. Part thriller, part historical fiction, it is an absorbing novel and a joy to read. Rating 5/5


Single mom Amy Byler is overworked and under-appreciated. She desperately needs a break and the break comes unexpectedly when her ex-husband offers to take care of their kids for the summer. Amy accepts his offer and escapes rural Amish Pennsylvania for New York City.

Amy, who is usually grounded and mild mannered, lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She is meeting new people, trying new things, and discovers a life filled with culture and sophistication.  Also, with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes her heart beat, she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

Witty dialogue and well-drawn characters, it is a fun and quirky read. Rating 4/5


While out driving, and taking a break from her over-scheduled life, Suzanne comes across a teenage girl. A girl who emerges from the woods. She looks starved, ill, and she collapses. While the girl, Iris, is in the hospital, she reveals that she has been living on her own in the wilderness and has not experienced civilization. Suzanne offers to care for Iris while the authorities try to locate her relatives.

Suzanne has no idea how much the girl will change her privileged life. She has the perfect house, a successful husband and family. But beneath the perfect façade, her daughter is rebelling, her son is withdrawing, her husband is oblivious to it all, and Suzanne is increasingly unsure of her place in the world. Iris with her independent spirit, love of solitude, and a discomfort with materialism, is a contrast to everything Suzanne's family stands for.

The story is mostly predictable but the writing is exquisite with mesmerizing descriptions, beautiful imagery, and well-drawn characters. Rating 4.5/5


It is 1944 and Fiona Denning, living in Boston, learns that her fiancé is reported missing after being shot down in Germany. Determined to learn his fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross ClubMobile girl. Her two best friends join her—the outspoken Viviana and the shy and talented music teacher Dottie.

The trio isn’t quite prepared for the daunting challenges of war. Their job is to bring comfort to the soldiers at the frontline of the war, making them donuts and coffee... and boosting morale even when scared and exhausted themselves. The girls have to learn to drive and maintain heavy vehicles, learn first aid, and keep a smiling and happy demeanor for the worn-out soldiers. They encounter unforeseen dangers, experience loss,  but they also find new friendships and romances.

It is a wonderfully written account of friendship, love and bravery, and a beautiful portrayal of the women who wanted to make a difference in war that brought so much loss and heartache. Rating 5/5