Some of My Favorite World War II Historical Fiction Books

As we enter the third month of self-isolation here in upstate New York, I’ve tried to find some balance between working from home and doing some of the things I enjoy. As a teacher, I’m working fairly long hours as we do distance learning, mostly online. It hasn’t been the easiest adjustment going from being in a classroom all day long with my students to teaching them from home. It’s also been hard to separate work from home life, since I’m home all day, every day. With that said, I’ve started to read some more in the past few weeks. Reading has always been a great escape for me. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child, and there is little I enjoy more than spending a full day reading and getting into a book. My reading repertoire largely revolves around historical fiction, in particular World War II historical fiction. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share some books that I enjoyed reading, starting with my favorite topic: Fictional World War II novels. Perhaps you’ll find a new book to help you whittle away the time you are spending at home.

The following books are some that I’ve read over the past few years that stuck with me. I won’t try to claim they are “the best” World War II novels, but I enjoyed them a lot. They are in no particular order.

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healy

“A novel of love, courage, and danger unfolds as World War II’s brightest heroines—the best of friends—take on the front lines. 1944: Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. She’ll work in city hall, marry her fiancé when he returns from the war, and settle down in the Boston suburbs. But when her fiancé is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona’s long-held plans are shattered. Determined to learn her fiancé’s fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to come along… Chosen for their inner strength and outer charm, the trio isn’t prepared for the daunting challenges of war. But through it all come new friendships and romances, unforeseen dangers, and unexpected dreams. As the three friends begin to understand the real reasons they all came to the front, their courage and camaraderie will see them through some of the best and worst times of their lives.” (Goodreads)

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

“Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold… Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows… As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.” (Goodreads)

The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy

“Heartbroken and hoping for a new start, Abi Howes takes a summer job in rural France at the Château Bellevue. The old château echoes with voices from the past, and soon Abi finds herself drawn to one remarkable woman’s story, a story that could change the course of her summer—and her life. In 1938, Eliane Martin tends beehives in the garden of the beautiful Château Bellevue. In its shadow she meets Mathieu Dubosq and falls in love for the first time, daring to hope that a happy future awaits. But France’s eastern border is darkening under the clouds of war, and history has other plans for Eliane…When she is separated from Mathieu in the chaos of German occupation, Eliane makes the dangerous decision to join the Resistance and fight for France’s liberty. But with no end to the war in sight, her loyalty to Mathieu is severely tested. From the bestselling author of, Sea of Memories comes the story of two remarkable women, generations apart, who must use adversity to their advantage and find the resilience deep within.” (Goodreads)

Code Name Verity  by Elizabeth Wein

“Oct. 11th, 1943 – A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun. When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?” (Goodreads)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer; Annie Barrows

“It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realizes that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.” (Goodreads)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.” (Goodreads)

The Lost Vintage  by Ann Mah

“To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations… At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation. As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?” (Goodreads)

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

“World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility. As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?” (Goodreads)

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

“In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal. Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation. Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…” (Goodreads)

Happy reading! If you have any suggestions for other great World War II historical fiction books, I’d love to hear them. I’ll be doing a separate post of Holocaust-related World War II books, as I believe those deserve a post of their own.

Christmas in Scotland

Last fall, I spent about 10 days in Scotland on my first solo trip overseas. I thoroughly enjoyed that trip (you can read all about it here), so I was thrilled when my sister suggested that our family spend Christmas there this year. We emphatically said, “yes!”.

This trip was different from my first in several ways, primarily that we were going there for Christmas in order for our family to be together, so we didn’t plan as much out ahead of time. We flew into Edinburgh, and spent a few hours that first afternoon and evening checking out the large Christmas market located at the Princes Street Gardens. We then headed to Ayr, which is along the western coast of Scotland, where we spent three days relaxing, exploring, and celebrating the holiday. From there, we headed to Edinburgh. We took a day trip into the lower highlands, and another day was spent exploring Edinburgh before we headed out. Below are some things we did in each location.

Ayr:

Lang Scots Mile & Robert Burns

Ayr is located along the western coastline, and is a small city/large town. We spent 3 full days here. Our first full day in Ayr, we walked along the Lang Scots Mile, which goes along the beach, and then to the Robert Burns Path. Robert Burns was a famous and beloved Scottish poet, who lived in Ayr and nearby Alloway. We visited the Auld Kirk, which is the scene of the witches’ dance in Burns’ poem “Tam O’Shanter”. My sister, who had previously visited the church, told us the story that is outlined in “Tam O’Shanter” (you can read the poem here).

The story goes that Robert Burns was out drinking at the pub Tam O’Shanter (which still stands in Ayr). After a night of drinking with some friends, he jumped on his horse to make his way home to Alloway. As he was riding, he passed the Auld Kirk (the Old Church), where he noticed a glow and decided to inspect the scene closer. He saw a bunch of witches dancing around the fire, but they noticed him and chased after him. He jumped back on his horse and steered her toward the Brig O’ Doon (a bridge), as he knew that witches can’t cross over water. One of the witches grabbed hold of his horse’s tail but she pulled the tail right off, allowing Burns to escape over the Brig O’Doon and to safety. His poem is supposedly about the events of that night.

After visiting the Auld Kirk, we walked over to the Brig O’ Doon, walking past the Robert Burns memorial on the way (unfortunately, it was closed, but we got a view of it from the bridge). We then walked back toward the Robert Burns Museum, where we walked along the Poet’s Path, which outlines the story with artwork. From there, we headed down the road to Robert Burns Cottage, which is where he was born, then walked back to Ayr. The entire walk was about 5 miles, but the weather was great and it was mostly flat.

Christmas Walk & Traditional English Christmas Dinner

On Christmas day, we relaxed at our Airbnb, then took a short walk along the beach in Ayr. In the evening, my sister made us a traditional English (not Scottish) dinner. Her boyfriend and his mom joined us, and they had helped plan the meal. We had a roast chicken, roasted carrots, green beans, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Before the meal, we opened Christmas crackers (they’re filled with small presents, and you and another person pull on the handles to break it open) and put on our Christmas hats. After the meal, we tried traditional English desserts, such as Christmas pudding, Christmas cake (a kind of fruit cake), and mince pies.

Lang Scots Mile & Walk to Greenan Castle

Our final day in Ayr, we walked the Lang Scots Mile again, this time staying right on the beach and walking along until we reached Greenan Castle, some ruins on top of a steep cliff. We climbed up to the castle and enjoyed the view before heading back to our Airbnb. This walk was also about 5 miles. That evening, we celebrated my birthday at The Treehouse restaurant in the center of Ayr. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very beautiful.

Day Trip to Lower Highlands:

After spending some time in Ayr, we headed to Edinburgh. Train service was down between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so we arrived much later than planned and walked around the Old Town a bit the first night, after dark. The next day, we took a day trip through Rabbie’s Tours. I had been on the same tour last fall, but it was the only one available at late notice. It was a different tour guide, with different stories, so it was still an excellent trip.

The Kelpies

Our first stop on the tour was to see The Kelpies, huge metal statues of two draft horses. I wrote more about my first visit here.

Loch Lomond

Our next stop was along the shore of Loch Lomond. It was a rainy day, but our family decided to do the 20-30 minute walk along the shore that our guide suggested. I wrote more about my first visit to Loch Lomond here.

Stirling Castle

We visited Stirling Castle in the afternoon. Last year, I explored the castle on my own, but this time I joined one of the free guided tours, which was very informative. I would recommend doing the tour, as it really provided some extra information about the castle and it’s inhabitants over the years.

Edinburgh:

We had one full day in Edinburgh, so we spent a lot of time walking around and visiting the main sights. We walked over 8 miles this day!

Dean Village

We started our morning walking from our Airbnb in the New Town to Dean Village, a picturesque neighborhood in the middle of New Town. We walked along the Water of Leith, passing by St. Bernard’s Well and walking under St. Bernard’s Bridge. We spent some time walking around Dean Village and taking in the beautiful buildings.

The New Town

In the mid-1700s, Edinburgh was a dirty, smelly, and unsanitary city with closely crowded buildings. The wealthy wanted to escape this disgust, so plans began for what is now called the “New Town”,  which was built in stages in the mid- to late-1700s. The New Town was carefully planned, with wide roads, spacious Georgian buildings, and lots of green space. We walked from Dean Village back to Stockbridge Market, where we grabbed some sandwiches for lunch and we stopped at Golden Hare Books for my brother. We then walked towards the Old Town, walking through some beautiful neighborhoods of New Town.

The Old Town

We had scheduled a free walking tour through Sandeman’s tours. The tour wound through the Royal Mile and connecting streets and closes (alleyways). Our guide told us about the history of St. Giles Cathedral, some of the statues that line the Royal Mile (including the statue of David Hume, who is a relative of ours!), Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket, and Greyfriar’s Cemetery. After the tour, we went in St. Giles Cathedral, walked up to see the castle up close, went along Victoria Street (rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter) and then headed back over to the New Town.

Calton Hill

Just off of Princes Street in the New Town is a small hill called Calton Hill. You can walk up the hill to visit several unique monuments, as well as stunning views of the city below. We walked up just before dusk, allowing us to experience the views at night. We spent a while up on the hill as daylight turned to darkness. Afterwards, we walked back over to the Old Town and got some tea and treats before heading back to our Airbnb for our final night.

I’m so glad we got to spend some time together in this beautiful country, and can’t wait to come back someday to explore more of it (namely, the islands that I haven’t been able to see on either trip so far!).

Exploring Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pedestrian bridge overlooking the Tennessee River and Coolidge Park

A few weeks ago, my family traveled to Tennessee to celebrate my cousin’s marriage. It was a beautiful wedding and so much fun to be together with extended family that, despite our best efforts, we see far too little of.

Coolidge Park Carousel Ticket Booth
Coolidge Park Carousel

It was a quick trip- just 3 1/2 days- but we had a free day on a cold but sunny Friday, so we headed to downtown Chattanooga to see some of the sights, along with some of our extended family. My aunt and uncle moved to Tennessee about 28 years ago. We’ve visited them many times, and I remember going to the Chattanooga Aquarium (we didn’t stop there this time, but it is a phenomenal aquarium!) several times as a kid, but I’m not sure I’d ever walked around downtown before.

Coolidge Park Carousel
Coolidge Park Carousel

We started off at Coolidge Park, which is right next to the Tennessee River. We walked around a bit, then stopped at the Carousel. This indoors carousel is a restored 1894 Dentzel carousel, with 52 hand-carved animals and a calliope band organ. Despite being a group of adults, we payed $1 per person to ride the carousel. It is really stunning!

Coolidge Park
Me- at Coolidge Park
My mom- at Coolidge Park

We then walked across the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, built in 1891, to the Bluff View Art District. We saw some of the outdoor sculptures at the Hunter Museum of Art, then walked through part of the art district, including a sculpture garden.

Coolidge Park with Walnut Street pedestrian bridge in the background
View of Tennessee River from the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge

There was a crew competition, with thousands of participants and teams, taking place on the Tennessee River. It was really cool to be able to watch as the teams rowed, and before heading back to my aunt and uncle’s farm, we walked along the riverfront to see them up close.

There’s plenty more to see in Chattanooga, but this was a perfect way to spend a few hours on a Friday afternoon!

Going Home (to Moldova)

 

I recently returned from a fairly short trip back to Moldova to visit my host family. I spent about a week in my village. I arrived just over a year after I left Moldova at the end of my 2-year Peace Corps service there. I was blessed with cooler-than-normal summer temperatures (so thankful! a few weeks before I went, it was hovering around 100 degrees), and my host family made sure I ate lots of ice cream.

My three oldest host nieces joined me in the village so we could spend time together. The week was mostly spent at “home”- reading, drawing, playing, and talking. We also walked around my village and visited the public library, the park/playground, and school. It’s summer vacation in Moldova, so I didn’t see many students (just a couple who I passed on the street) or either of the partner teachers I worked with when I lived there. This was a bit disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I did get to enjoy some tea and cookies with a small group of teachers from the school I worked at one morning.

I spent my last evening in the capital with my host sister and her family. We took a very brief trip to the city center, where we walked around Cathedral Park for a short while. Some day, I’d like to go back for a longer amount of time and visit some of the attractions and wineries I never visited when I lived there, but it was a nice, short trip spent with some of my favorite people!

Organizing Digital Photos

One of the biggest benefits of digital photography is the ability to take lots (thousands) of photos for essentially no money beyond the original purchase of the camera or phone. But while this is great, it can also be a pain to organize and back up those photos in a way that makes them easy to find. I have a pretty easy but efficient system for organizing and backing up my photos, so I thought I’d share how I do it.

Uploading the Photos.

Of course, before you can sort, organize, and back up your photos, you first have to get them off your devices. I upload my photos from both my phone and camera at least once a month. If I’ve been taking a lot of photos or have been traveling, I’ll often upload them more than that. It only takes a few minutes usually, so I’ll plug my phone or camera into my computer while I’m doing something else. If I haven’t taken as many photos, I upload them at the end of every month. I upload them directly to Dropbox, which makes things really easy later on because Dropbox automatically gives the photos a file name with the date and time the photo was taken. This means all photos are organized chronologically in order even when my phone and camera photos are all bunched together, plus I can very easily see when each photo was taken!

Organizing the Photos.

Because I upload my photos each month directly to Dropbox, the organizing step is actually very easy! At the beginning of each year, I create a folder in Dropbox with the year as the folder name. For example, this year’s folder name is “2019”. Inside that folder, I create 12 additional folders, one for each month of the year. These are labeled with the month. In order to keep them in the calendar order, each month name is preceded by the numerical for that month. So “1. January” for January or “9. September” for September. Once I’ve uploaded the photos to Dropbox, they can be found in the “Camera Uploads” folder on Dropbox. I just have to select them and drag them into the “2019” folder and then into the correct month folder. Since the file names are already by date, I’m all done!

Exception: When I’m traveling, I often take thousands of photos and because I often make photo books or upload the photos to Facebook and my blog, I do create a separate folder for just the travel photos and place it either in the month folder or, if the trip spanned days in more than one month, in the year folder. For these, I label them with the destination(s) and year. For example, when I traveled to Scotland and Ireland this fall, I created a folder named “Scotland & Ireland 2018”.

If you’re thinking that your Dropbox will fill up really quickly using this method, you’re right! That’s why I only leave the photos for the current and previous month in Dropbox. I don’t want to pay for extra storage, so I back up all my photos elsewhere (see next section). I create an additional “2019” folder in the “Pictures” folder on my computer. After I’ve backed the photos up, I simply drag the month’s folder to this other “2019” folder, where it will reside for all eternity.

Backing Up the Photos.

I back up my photos is two additional places. First, I upload all photos (I do usually go through them first and delete any blurry or mistake photos) to Google Photos at the end of each month. I simply select all of the photos from that month, upload them, then add them to a new album On Google Photos, I simply label the album with the month and year. For example, “January 2019”.  I create a separate folder for any long trips (especially if I took a lot of photos) and label it with the destination(s) and year.

I also back up my photos on an external hard-drive. I have one from Seagate that holds 1 terabyte. I create a folder with the year on my hard-drive, then at the end of each month, drag the month folder into this, which automatically copies it. Super simple!

And that’s it!