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When Christmas Comes Again

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Dear America series. Well, it’s equally true that I shouldn’t be allowed to read war stories. Or real accounts, because I cry and cry and cry. And When Christmas Comes Again is certainly no exception. I’ve cried sad and happy tears with this one.

When Christmas Comes Again tells the story of privileged 18-year-old Simone Spencer during 1918. She has recently graduated, and the war in Europe is raging. She’s looking for a little bit of adventure and, more importantly, to help the war effort. Then, the perfect assignment comes along. General Pershing is looking for young women who are fluent in French to help translate messages . . . along the front lines! Simone is even more eager now to do her part.

In Europe, Simone’s story is one part fascinating and two parts tragic. She finds that her brother, Will, is at least temporarily safe and sound, which is relief in and of itself. But work as a Hello Girl is pressing. It’s imperative that every single word be translated correctly or the orders along the front lines will get confused. A lot rests on the shoulders of the Hello Girls. But hard work isn’t the extent of Simone’s tragedies. Her best friend Alice takes sick. Will and Sam Cates are sent to the front. And worse.

Simone isn’t over in Europe a year before the war is wrapping up, and though the Armistice should bring happiness to Simone’s life, she can’t help but remember those she lost. She returns home to find that Will has made it home safe and sound, but that life at home is, well, hard. But as Christmas does come again, life brings a sweet surprise to Simone. One too sweet to spoil.

Some people seemed to be confused by the title, thinking this was a Christmas story. But readers of Dear America should know that these stories often cover one or more years. In this case, the title refers to the common idea that the war would be over when Christmas comes again. We’ll be home and the War to End All Wars will be over. They thought that in 1914, and were wrong. By 1918, they were desperate for it to be over.

Is Simone’s story the most riveting story out there? Well, no. However, it was the first I had learned about Hello Girls. No one much acknowledged what they’d done until the 1970’s. So, Simone’s story is a little-known story of how young women played a vital role during the Great War.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s

Era: WWI

Goodreads: When Christmas Comes Again

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The Winter of Red Snow

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777

This is the first Dear America book I ever read, and the descriptions of the winter of 1777-78, of the snow stained blood red with the footprints of shoeless soldiers has stayed with me for 20 years. It’s a horrifying description, especially to readers of this age group. But it taught us something. That of the suffering of those soldiers. These men of the American Colonies who were fighting for their friends. And for our freedom.

In 1777, our military was basically a ragtag group of men with zero military experience. But that harsh winter in Valley Forge hardened our men into a tough military with the might to beat the Red Coats and gain independence. That winter, half the soldiers were without shoes, many without trousers, if you can believe that. They were starving, they were freezing. It sort of makes our complaints and discomforts seem . . . well, a bit insignificant, doesn’t it? What with our central heating, and whatnot.

The Winter of Red Snow, while maybe not as brutal as the following winter, helped to shape our army. That harsh winter in Valley Forge made them stronger; they’d spent those months drilling and training and suffering and by the spring, they were ready to face the Red Coats and win the war of Independence.

As with all of the Dear America books, Abigail’s diary feels like a real diary. You actually understand what it feels like to live in her home, to witness the soldiers’ suffering, and oh yeah, doing Mrs. Washington’s laundry – because both George and Martha Washington make appearances in this diary!

Abigail’s story is important because it reminds us of why America fought for independence in the first place. It reminds us of what sacrifice looks like; it’s not always pleasant to behold. But some would say that it’s well worth it. Freedom always is.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s

Era: Revolutionary War

Goodreads: The Winter of Red Snow

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Destiny of the Republic


I will be the first to admit that I knew next to nothing about the 20th President of the US: James A Garfield. But that’s probably the case for many of us.

Garfield was only in office for a mere 3 months. But did you know that Garfield never – not even once – campaigned for the role of the Republican nomination nor for the office of president? He was elected the Republican candidate against his will.

A civil war hero, he was beloved by his party and by his country. He was petitioning civil rights back during the war, and helped to create and pass laws that gave blacks more freedoms. Garfield truly was an amazing man, yet many people today probably don’t even know his name, despite his having held the highest office in the land.

We can make all the excuses we want, but there is no good excuse as to why this man’s name is probably never mentioned in the history classroom, aside from maybe in a list of assassinated presidents. But Destiny of the Republic gives us an inside view of the man. Born in Ohio, Garfield was one of the perfect examples of a man coming from absolute poverty, yet making it to the White House. He worked hard, studied hard, and served his country to the best of his ability.

Then, Garfield was gunned down by and shot twice, once in the arm and once in the back. Yet, surprisingly, Garfield should have survived the assault. The bullet in his back had missed all vital organs and was resting comfortably, where it could do no further damage. So, in fact, Garfield’s death was not the cause of an assassin, but of foolish doctors, who continuously poked and prodded him with unsterilized instruments – and without even washing their hands!

In fact, Destiny of the Republic goes into great detail about the medical beliefs, reasoning, discoveries, and foolishness of the era, giving readers a very clear idea of how Garfield’s life could have been spared if the attending doctors had just followed the advice of their colleagues.

But that’s not the least of it, Destiny of the Republic follows not just Garfield and then his doctors, but follows two other vital characters in the story: Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin; and Alexander Graham Bell, the man who would invent a primitive metal detector to help locate the bullet in Garfield’s back.

The story shifts between these three characters, building up the suspense without any actual explanations at the start as to why Charles J. Guiteau and Alexander Graham Bell are important to the story of James A. Garfield. But, then as the story continues to unfold, all becomes clear. And with it the importance of just why we needed background to all three men in order to understand the full story.

Along the way, we also meet Chester K. Arthur, a man whose life was changed by Garfield’s death. Arthur had the Vice Presidency thrust upon him and he in no way wanted the office of President for himself. And he had a lot of personal hurdles to overcome in order to fill Garfield’s shoes.

Destiny of the Republic is an incredible story about an amazing man whose life could have been spared. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about American Presidents and especially to those who want to know more about our lesser known presidents.

Genre: History

Era: 1880’s

Goodreads: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President.


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The Victory Garden

The Secret Garden for adults. That is exactly what The Victory Garden feels like. Set during WWI, The Victory Garden is full of mystery and intrigue with just enough of history thrown in for good measure.

Emily Bryce, to be perfectly honest, is probably feeling a bit bored. Following her mother to visit the wounded soldiers isn’t necessarily how she would like to spend the entire war. Especially not when her best friend is really serving. Then, just as they are planning a magnificent 21st birthday, she happens upon one of the invalid soldiers admiring her family’s gardens.

She and Robbie hit it off right away, and before long they are making plans to get married and join Robbie’s family in Australia. But if you think that this is merely a romance set in WWI (have no fear those will never appear here), wait!

Robbie is soon being sent back to the front, making Emily yearn all that much more to do her own part. So, despite threats of disownment from her parents, she joins the Land Girls. The work his hard, but Emily nonetheless finds herself enjoying the challenge. She particularly enjoys her assignment of keeping the gardens on a widow’s estate.

But before too much longer, more and more tragic news hits Emily. As the war wraps up, Emily finds that she has no place to go. Except, well, except maybe returning to the little cottage and to the widow’s gardens. With two dear friends from Land Girls with her, she heads out to make a life of her own, her Land Girls skills at the ready. And it’s here that Emily takes comfort in the old journal she has discovered. Through it she learns the story of not one, but two former tenants. Their stories are as tragic as her’s, and its because of this that she finds a sense of connection. She learns to cultivate the gardens and to use the many flowers and herbs as medicines, which comes to the aid of the villagers on more than one occasion. But as the past of the garden comes to haunt her, she also finds family in many different places.

The Victory Garden, yes, does have some romance. But it also tells the story of a privileged girl who is willing to throw everything away to serve her country, even when she thinks that means she has no family whatsoever to turn to in times of crises. It also tells the story of the garden. The Garden becomes a place of mystery and refuge and escape for Emily Bryce, much as it did for Mary Lennox.

Genre: Historical Mystery

Classification: Adult

Era: WWI

Goodreads: The Victory Garden


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Ike’s Bluff

Many people believed that despite his time serving as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Troops in Europe and later as the 1st to NATO, that President Eisenhower wasn’t actually fit to serve the highest office in the land. That he was something of a bumbling fool that was going to foolishly land us in the hands of Khrushchev. But Evan Thomas uses Ike’s Bluff to prove that this was precisely what Eisenhower wanted us to believe.

The great commander knew exactly what he was doing. After all, he was very experienced in the art of war. He knew war like no one else; he’d been there, he’d directed it, he’d sent 100’s of thousands of men to their deaths. So, if Eisenhower knew how to plan war, it’s safe to assume he also knew how to avoid war. And if that meant playing the bumbling the fool, then so be it.

Eisenhower was a superb poker player, and it was these very skills that got him out of a lot of tight situations: with Korea, the Soviet Union, China, just to name a few. But he was also a master at handing out jobs, letting those around him do the hard work and get the credit for it. After all, that’s how a good Commander-in-Chief should roll, right?

Throughout 8 years in office, Eisenhower managed to delicately straddle the fine line between defense build up and peaceful overtones. This would assure that should the Soviet Union threaten war, we were prepared, yet assured that we were not the threat itself.

Ike’s Bluff shows us that while serving as Supreme Allied Commander, Ike may have been the loneliest man on earth, but that now as he served as Commander-in-Chief of the greatest country in the world, he really was. It shows his greatest victories while in office and his darkest moments. And it reminds us that the Presidency is just maybe the hardest job on the planet; it is not a job for the faint of heart. But Dwight D. Eisenhower was as prepared as they come.

Genre: History

Era: 1950’s

Goodreads: Ike’s Bluff’s President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World



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Number the Stars


Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen lives in Nazi-occupied Denmark. She knows what a world is like with soldiers on every street corner. And she knows simple things about how to avoid detection, such as not running through the street. Nazi soldiers on every street corner is scary enough … but Nazi soldiers banging on the front door is much, much worse. See, it wasn’t until her parents took in her best friend, Ellen Rosen, that Annemarie realized just how scary Nazi soldiers could really be. But one night, they did come knocking, leaving the Johansen’s to pretend that Ellen wasn’t really Jewish, but another daughter. Then, the real danger began as the family has to risk everything to get Ellen’s family out of Nazi-occupied Denmark and into the safety of neutral Sweden.

Just as In My Hands was presented in the Polish Resistance post instead of the Poland in WWII post, so Number the Stars finds itself being presented in the Danish Resistance post. And, as mentioned in Danish Resistance post, for those of us who grew up in the 1990’s, Number the Stars was likely amongst our introduction to the horror known as the Holocaust.

But if that worries you some, don’t be. First off, this is a novel written for grade school children. And, it tells an important story about a very important period in history. Furthermore, teaching history at an early age if of supreme importance.

As touched on briefly in our One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping post, my first experience with historical fiction was way back in 1st grade, when my mom bought me a box set of the Meet book for each American Girl that was out at that time. Now, back then, American Girl/Pleasant Company was about teaching school-age girls what it was like to live in different time periods. The books were the center of the universe and the dolls just companions. Like those books, Number the Stars teaches us what it was like to be a little girl under Nazi (or Soviet in other cases) oppression.

It gave us, as young children, the understanding the Gestapo and SS – or Nazis in general – were to be feared, but there certainly was not the terror found in YA or adult novels.

Really, though, Number the Stars is a touching picture of one family who risks their lives to get a Jewish family out of Nazi-occupied Denmark and into free Sweden. It taught us that even little children can resist against oppression.

Number the Stars is a well-written novel about what it was like to live in Denmark in the 1940’s. If you want a novel about what it was like to live in Denmark without the horror you may find in books for older age groups, than Number the Stars is a good place to start.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s


Featured in Danish Resistance

Goodreads: Number the Stars


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In My Hands

Set in Poland during WWII, In My Hands is the memoir of Irene Gut Opdyke, who helped rescue Jews during German occupation of Poland.

Summary: Irena Gut is a normal Polish girl in 1939. She loves her family and four sisters. And she’s pretty sure she wants to be a sister – or maybe a nurse. In fact, she’s studying to be a nurse when the Nazi bombing of Poland begins. She barely escapes with her life. But, in fact, the next 6 years of her young life, are a constant of trying to avoid brutality from both the Germans and the Russians. After being brutally abused by the Soviets, she’s locked in a Soviet hospital as a prisoner. With the help a friendly Polish doctor, she manages to escape and hide out with his aunt. Eventually, she receives the blesséd news that the Soviets are kindly letting those Polish who were separated from their families when the country was divided to be reunited. But it seems to Irena that this is just another scheme to capture and torture her again. But she manages to escape their clutches once again, only to land in the hands of the Germans. Her time working for Nazis doesn’t seem quite as bad. She works for a rather friendly German cook and, it’s during this time, that she starts hiding away Jews from the nearby ghetto. When the Nazi, Major Rügemer, asks her to keep house for him, she finds the blessing of a basement with hidden rooms. Rügemer has just provided her with the perfect place to hide away Jews. And right under the Nazis’s noses. Of course, this is hardly the end of Irena’s problems. She finds herself again and again fighting for her life and for the lives of the Jews she has promised to protect. But, she has decided, she has been called on by God to protect these people and to fight both the Germans and the Soviets for the sake of her beloved Poland.


In My Hands is truly an amazing account of a real young women – only in her early 20’s – who was actually willing to sacrifice everything for someone else. And Irena experienced it from both ends. Remember that the invasion of Poland by Germany started WWII. But a mere 17 days later, the Soviet Union also invaded Poland; this beautiful country was divided in half. And Irena was one of the poor souls who was stuck on the Soviet side, working as a slave in a hospital. Because what else do you call someone who is forced to work with no pay?

Yes, Irena got lucky time and time again. A Polish doctor helped her escape from the hospital and she stayed with his aunt for a year. And the German cook she worked for, Herr Shultz, protected her. I guess we’ll never really know whether or not he knew what she was doing. If he did, he looked the other way. Not every German would have done that. And then Major Rügemer, without realizing it, provided her with the perfect hiding place for so many Jews. Even when he [spoilers!] found out himself, he saved her.

So, yes, she got lucky time and again. But she was also captured by the Soviets on several occasions and only managed to survive because she was able to escape. But the point to focus on is that she was willing to sacrifice everything for someone else – and for her country. How many people today are willing to do the same?

So, do you want a real-life story about self-sacrifice? About someone who hid the Jews from the Germans – right under their noses? Then this is definitely a book worth checking out.

Genre: History

Classification: Adult


Featured in: Polish Resistance

Goodreads: In My Hands: Memoirs of a Holocaust Rescuer

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The Love That I Have

Margot Baumann is sent to work in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. In the mail room. One of her main jobs is to collect letters being sent out by the inmates and destroying them.

But it doesn’t take long for Margot, who’s one brother is suffering in a Soviet camp, knows full-well the horror that families back home feel as they await news of their missing loved ones. This aching feeling prompts her to return a favor she hopes some girl near Stalingrad will do for her – allow some of the letters to be posted along so that she can learn the fate of her beloved Walther.

As she starts going through the smuggled letters, she finds one addressed to a Margot Lipsky. The coincidence of the shared name is just too much for Margot. Not only that, but the letter is by far the most beautiful thing she has ever read. She cannot stop herself from posing as Margot Lipsky and writing back.

But, of course, by writing back to this Dieter Kleinschmidt, she has bitten off more than she can chew, so to speak. Because suddenly, just writing to Dieter isn’t enough. Margot needs to keep Dieter alive – if not for the Margot she thinks she loves, but for herself. And then Dieter drops his own bombshell, he has known all along that the Margot responding to his letters is not his Margot. Now that Dieter and Margot both know the truth about the letters, Margot feels all the more determined to keep Dieter alive, no matter what it will cost her.

Then as the war draws to a close and the prisoners of Sachsenhausen are marched away from camp as the Allied approach grows nearer and nearer, the tables have suddenly turned. Sachsenhausen is still a death camp; one run by the Soviets and not the Germans. Now, Dieter must find a way to keep Margot alive.

The Love That I Have tells that horrors of the camp, but it also shows that even in the worst of circumstances, the best of humanity can still shine through. A German girl, despite her previous belief in Nazi propaganda, learns to see through it. She learns to love despite the divisions the Germans and Soviets have placed in society. Yet Margot pays an unspeakable price for her crime of working in the camp, meaning that not only must she learn to love others, but she must learn to forgive and love herself.

The Love That I Have is definitely one of the best Holocaust novels I’ve read. It tells of Sachsenhausen under German command and Soviet command. It tugs at the heartstrings while showing that love can present itself even in Nazi Germany.

Just a fair warning, The Love That I Have is an Australian novel, and not easily obtained in America. I found my copy on ebay.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: YA


Featured in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Goodreads: The Love That I Have

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An Irish Country Series

A series post, this one takes place in a tiny little Northern Ireland town called Ballybucklebo (fictional, of course) in the 1960s. The series tells the story of two country doctors. One, Dr. Fingal O’Reilly and Dr. Barry Laverty and their many exploits, not just as doctors, but as two men who feel that given their position, they should not just take care of their patients’ medical needs, but any crisis that may arise throughout the town. And with this eccentric group of residents, anything and everything is possible!

Covering 13 books (thus far), An Irish Country Series covers the vast majority of the chaotic ‘60s, reminding characters and readers alike the many great things about rural Ireland: The history, the beauty, the togetherness. And even as the Irish Civil Rights comes along, dividing people because of their religion, the people of Ballybucklebo promise themselves that they will never let their differing religions divide them. And they hold true to their promise. In every single novel, the people of Ballybucklebo band together to help each other, no problem is too big too small or too unusual for the residents of this small town.

Already hooked?

Well, Patrick Taylor decided not to limit himself to the goings-on of the residents of Ballybucklebo in the 1960s. No, he chose to take on the history of Fingal O’Reilly. And, as a result, readers enjoy a culmination of 1960’s & O’Reilly history in not just one but 5 stories: A Dublin Student Doctor (6); Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor (8); Home Is the Sailor (8.5); An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War (9); and The Wily O’Reilly (9.5). In these stories, you get to follow O’Reilly through medical school days and residency days during the Depression, his days in the Navy during WWII, as well as is early days in Ballybucklebo (aka Pre-Barry). These are probably the best in the series.

But that being said, An Irish Country Series is very likely one of my absolute favorite series. It makes one nostalgic for the easier days of times gone past and the nostalgic lifestyle of Ireland. One wants to live in Ballybucklebo with Fingal, Barry, and everyone else. Truly, I cannot say enough good things about this series. It hooks you. You celebrate and you mourn with every character. And better yet, you watch these characters grow as the series continues. Characters you may not like in the beginning, you grow to love as times go on. I cannot recommend it enough. It is a serious must read.

Note: There are descriptions of medical procedures as well as descriptions of slums and war.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Adult

Setting: Europe (Ireland)

Era: 1960s (predominately)

Goodreads: An Irish Country Series

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The Kennedy Debutante

The Kennedy Debutante (2018) tells the story of Kennedy’s younger sister, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, starting when the family moved to England when their father became ambassador in the late ‘30s.

While there, Kick gets the privilege of being presented into society. And this is just the beginning of her whirlwind tour of English society. She meets Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire and begins to fall in love. And what a coo that would be, her the daughter of an Irish-American father. But Kick’s family is so very Catholic and Billy’s very much Protestant, being of English nobility.

Kick thinks these are the worst of her problems, but every day the war draws closer and closer to England as Hitler crusades to take over all of Europe. (Well, him and Stalin).

All around her family, signs of war are drawing closer. Air raid shelters are being built and the talk everywhere is of whether England should come to the rescue of the Europeans or remain neutral. Then, all too soon, the news comes that Poland has been invaded. Kick’s cushy English life as the daughter of the American ambassador falls apart . She’s quickly torn away from everyone and everything in England as she and all of her siblings are shipped back to America and – in most cases – off to school.

But not Kick. After getting that taste of life in England, she’s not about to give it all up to fulfill her mother’s dream of her attending a Catholic college and falling in love with a good wealthy Catholic young man. So she heads off to Washington to become a reporter, instead. But her thoughts are constantly on England and Billy. She is bound and determined to find a way back, with or without her parents’ blessings.

Then, of course, the war hits America as well. Both Joe and Jack and long since enlisted in the Navy and both are anxious to head out and prove themselves by defending their country. Meanwhile, Billy is talking of life on the front lines. And, yet, she’s still stuck in America.

When all else seems to fail, Kick decides that she, too, can serve her country – even if it means donning a uniform, herself. Finally, after four long years, she finds herself back in England. But this time, not as the daughter of the American ambassador, but as part of the American Red Cross.

Yet absolutely nothing has really been settled with Billy Hartington, except for their love for each other. Billy is still Protestant and in line to be Duke. And is still very much an Irish-American Catholic. They certainly cannot marry without one of them breaking with their Church.

Eventually, Kick and Billy decide that they will not allow their different religions to stand in their way. But it’s too late for a happy marriage because, as always, the war gets in the way, first claiming Joe’s life, then Billy’s. The war has managed to take just about everything that was most important to her.

The Kennedy Debutante is definitely a fun novel if you want to more about President Kennedy’s family, or in particular his favorite sister, Kick. He and Joe do make a few appearances, but the novel is about Kick, predominately about her falling in love with Billy Hartington. Overall, it was an enjoyable read and it was actually easy to relate Kick and her hopes and dreams. I gave the novel 4 stars, mostly because of some glaring inaccuracies, mostly regarding her siblings. 

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Adult

Setting: England & America


Goodreads: The Kennedy Debutante


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