#BookReview: The Secret Midwife by Soraya M. Lane

Soraya Lane Takes On Auschwitz. How can you be a historical fiction writer who mostly focuses on the European theater of WWII… and *not*, at some point, do a story about Auschwitz? Well, the answer here is… you can’t, and this is Lane’s take on it.

Now, how can you be an amateur historian, with large amounts of knowledge about large amounts of things – and familial ties to the liberation of concentration camps during WWII to boot – and *want* to read a story about Auschwitz, knowing all too well the very real horrors there, among the worst humanity has ever inflicted upon humanity? (Arguably worse than the Imperial Japanese military’s Unit 731 in overall scale, though it seems that Unit 731 may have been even more horrific – if such a thing is possible.) My answer is… I didn’t and don’t, but I’ve read many of Lane’s books and trust *her*.

As it turns out, my trust is well placed. Lane manages to craft an Auschwitz tale that never shirks from discussing the horrors of that facility – while never showing them in brutal, sadistic detail the way an author with a more horror-genre nature might. Instead, Lane takes a page from Titanic (and a school assignment I once had that I’m fairly certain predates that movie, and which I’m coming to realize ever more that I had really done the way I want to now as an adult when it was possible as a child) in creating a dual timeline (shocker, I know, for long time fans of Lane) tale of hope and survival against the most brutal and desolate backdrop possible in Europe during that particular period. Taking inspiration from a variety of real life people who really did a lot of the things Lane has her characters doing to help people survive, Lane manages to show the goodness of some people and the willingness to risk their own lives in order to do the right thing, even in the very heart of the place doing so many very wrong things. Indeed, even the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele is a recurring character throughout the tale – though to be clear, while always being clear about the horrors he was responsible for while never directly showing them “on screen”.

Longtime fans of Lane will note her usual stylings are completely in play here, as is her usual historical accuracy to a relatively high degree, while still taking the occasional artistic liberty where necessary to tell the story she is telling in the manner in which she wanted to tell it. Even here, the liberties are more subtle than jarring, almost to the point of being indetectable.

The horrors of Auschwitz in particular are some of the most well known brutalities of the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, at least in the West. (I’m told they still aren’t as well known in certain Eastern circles? But I have no real way of knowing, having never lived outside the southern US.) At on that level, perhaps some might argue that an author like Lane should instead pursue her “normal” focus and tell the *other*, far lesser known, stories. To that, I point out that among the first books I read from her was about perhaps *the* most famous event of WWII in the American zeitgeist at minimum (*arguably* more famous than even the events of D-Day nearly three years later), the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In between these two well known events, Lane *has* been writing about lesser known events, indeed some that even this amateur historian had never heard of and had to learn about in more detail after reading one of Lane’s books. (Which I absolutely encourage all of her readers to do.) I also point out that just because a particular thing is well known, doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t continue to be explored – even as I readily encourage exploration of the lesser known topics as well, which again = Lane also does.

Overall, this is an appropriately sober and stark tale about one of the darkest stories in all of WWII, while still shining a light on the very real lives women lived in the period and events in question and still showing the goodness of humanity and the light of hope even in the darkest of situations, as Lane tries to do in all of her tales. Very much recommended.

This review of The Secret Midwife by Soraya M. Lane was originally written on July 27, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a truly remarkable WWII historical spy novel. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Powerful Multi-Timeline Story Weaves Multiple Threads Into Amazing Tapestry. You know those centuries old tapestries where when you look at them, you’re almost *positive* they *had* to have been painted *after* being woven – and then you see the details and realize that, no, the threads really were placed together to the level of precision required to produce the scene you see from further away? This book is the literary equivalent of one of those types of tapestries.

Yes, particularly early in the tale it is somewhat hard to distinguish who is who in the alternating chapters, as while each chapter is headed by the lady’s real name, more often the story is told (particularly of the actual spies during the war) using their code names. So it can take a while to piece together who is who, which is perhaps the only glaring weakness of this particular tapestry. (We’ll detail a more minor one, that only some will have problems with, momentarily.)

But the piece overall is truly stunning in both its breadth and its attention to minutia level details, all while weaving together a story that while the reader *knows* it is fiction… almost seems all *too* real. Particularly in certain sequences… it gets quite uncomfortable. (Though, to be clear and to alleviate some concerns, never in a sexual way. More along the lines of V for Vendetta’s more uncomfortable sequences… and then these get even worse.)

Indeed, the quibble level issues are that perhaps, given the story told, things are wrapped up a little *too* neatly in the end. If you like every possible string fully tied off, you’re going to like this one. If you prefer more open ended sequences when those are called for… well, I just told you everything gets tied off into nice little bows. The other quibble that some might argue – and would usually argue is more than a quibble, but I’m actively downplaying it here because it *is* a minor issue in the grand scheme of this story and how it is told – is the presence of an LGBT character that could have been, so the argument goes, written with almost any other backstory to achieve the same result, resulting in a character that has that particular background for no other reason than, again going with how others are likely to present this argument, 2000s era sensibilities that perhaps would not have been period accurate.

Still, even accounting for the “inclusions”, to draw from the term for a diamond’s imperfections, this really is one of the stronger WWII historical fiction stories out there, and I’ve read a fair amount within that space. Yes, this is yet again France and in particular D-Day, but those tend to be the stories that get the most attention, both in the historical record and the overall zeitgeist. Overall, truly one of the better and stronger WWII historical fiction tales I’ve ever come across. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details”, including an excerpt from the book, the book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer”

#BookReview: The Battle of the Bulge by Martin King

Excellent Look at Famous Battle. Volumes upon volumes upon volumes have been written about the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most famous land battles in American history. And one this reader has a personal connection to, as recently received records show that both of his grandfathers were there (though there is no indication they met each other there, despite originating from neighboring counties). It was because of this personal connection that I wanted to read this book, as I’ve never really studied the battle in depth. And while the particular event I had hoped to find in the tale – a minor clearing of an apparently booby trapped hotel just as the battle was wrapping up in mid January 1045 – was not covered, the entire main battle sequence and its general mopup are and are covered superbly. I may not know exactly where my grandfathers were from reading this tale, but I absolutely got a very good sense of what the land and the time were like and the horrors and atrocities they saw. Which is more than I had known before reading this book. I suspect that if you already know quite a bit about this battle, there will be little new information here for you – but the author’s writing style and specific points rebutting commonly held misconceptions or even offering alternate theories on other events of the battle are great and likely things others may not be aware of. An excellent book, and an important one to note, particularly in going into the 75th anniversary of this battle later this year.

This review of The Battle of the Bulge by Martin King was originally published on May 19, 2019.