I'm sitting here with the windows open, enjoying what can only be described as a cool, fall breeze. It's already September! I don't know that we've ever summered so successfully, visiting family on both sides and seeing so much of the country, and now it's the start of my favorite time of year.
These three books were perfect summer reads for me, but everything, in my opinion, is better in the fall. I highly recommend reading them somewhere with a blanket where you can see the leaves changing color.
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
This is my second attempt at this book. The first time around, I wasn't a proficient nonfiction reader, and I started the book thinking it was a novel. I'm glad I gave it another try! It is beautifully written and offers insight into WWII that I was completely unfamiliar with. I've finished the book with a newfound respect and admiration for the Polish people and their courage and resilience. Woven throughout the story of the zookeepers and their family are the powerful stories of many Poles and Jewish Poles who stood up to the Nazis and risked their lives for their country and their countrymen. Author Diane Ackerman also uses her background as a naturalist to show a side of the Nazis I knew little about- in addition to their philosophies of eugenics, they also sought to create superior breeds of plants and animals. And then there are the Żabińskas- The zookeeper and his wife. These are two incredible people whose story needed to be told. Their work with animals was inspiring, and their work with the Polish resistance is beyond admirable.
Belgravia By Julian Fellowes
You can certainly imagine my excitement when I heard an interview on NPR with Julian Fellows one morning discussing his new book, Belgravia. In what I can only assume is true Fellowes fashion, the book was released in the style of the great, old authors (i.e. Charles Dickens), one chapter at a time, but with a modern twist: Fellowes used a website to allow his readers additional access to research about the time period as well as true people and events detailed in the book. Nice move, Julian!
My gut reaction was, of course, to sign up. But admittedly, this exciting new format still couldn't beat a free book from the library, so I bid my time.
The book itself is a fun read- It really does read like a mini series, each chapter the perfect subplot of an episode. The time period feels like a mix of Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey- you can't go wrong with that!
While Julian Fellowes is no Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, he does know how to do drama. The interwoven storylines creates a sense of irony and urgency. Although I often felt that I knew what was coming, this compelled me to see events and characters to their conclusion. The ending was a little too conveniently wrapped up, like any good series finale. But all literary criticism aside, Belgravia is a natural fix for any bored Downton Abbey fan.
I regretted not reading the online format several times throughout the book as the nonfiction lover in me wanted to know more about some of the details of the era. I this style catches on, don't be surprised if I bite the bullet next time!
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
I was hesitant to read Lilac Girls so soon after finishing The Zookeeper's Wife because of their similarities in genre and story, but this book is quite popular right now. Essentially, my library hold list ultimately dictates what I read when.
Unlike many WWII books, Lilac Girls thoroughly focuses on life before, after, and during the war from the perspectives of three women who experienced the war very differently- a Polish political prisoner, a Nazi doctor, and an American charity worker. Their stories were based in truth, and the author did a beautiful job bringing the story to life.
I ended up loving reading a fiction and nonfiction book back-to-back on the same topics. I felt an emotional connection with the characters who were humanized by the reality surrounding their stories.