Tag: world war II

Nazi War Criminals & Night Witches: THE HUNTRESS (2019) by Kate Quinn

The Huntress by Kate Quinn
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on February 26, 2019
Pages: 560

Are you looking for an intriguing historical novel set at the end of WWII, featuring a plethora of fascinating characters including a Nazi war criminal hiding out in America and one of the Night Witches—an all female regiment of bomber pilots who flew during WWII in opposition to Hitler? Then THE HUNTRESS by Kate Quinn is the choice for you!

I was so excited when I saw that Kate Quinn had a new book coming out. THE ALICE NETWORK is one of my absolutely favorite historical novels!

Thanks to William Morrow Publishing, I read an advanced copy and was immediately hooked by the multiple POVs. I also appreciated that the bulk of the story didn’t just take place during WWII, but after it. The narrative gives attention to the challenge of how Nazi war criminals were brought to justice after the war. This was something that was actually very complex and challenging.


If you have followed my blog in the past, you’ll remember that I’m interested in how spirituality can be illuminated in fiction. There is definitely an in-depth dimension to explore here in terms of the spiritual dimensions of life–when people or groups of people act in inhumane ways towards other people, how do we hold them accountable? This is one question that surfaces in THE HUNTRESS.


One of the central character is Jordan, whose father meets and falls in love with a German widow in Boston. I loved following Jordan’s journey, as she harbored dreams to become a photographer, but was also affected by the cultural constraints at the time. She is suspicious of her new stepmother’s history, and struggles with how to reconcile her love for her father and her anxiety about what this German widow might be hiding. I think that Kate adeptly navigated the different POVs and the conflicts among and within the different characters.

I highly recommend any book in which I become so invested in the characters. And that definitely happened with this one. In fact, I wish we were going to get a sequel as I would love to know what lies in store for each of the characters at the end of the story.

And the Night Witches! I don’t see how anyone can not be fascinated with this all-female group of bomber pilots who fought against Hitler during the war in the air. These Russian women were so courageous and braved the harsh elements in order to fight. Whereas other countries held their women back from taking part in the war effort, the Soviet Union put them in the sky. Following Nina’s journey in the story was a treat—she is not a character you will easily forget.


One of my favorite parts of this book, and many other books like it: THE AUTHOR’S NOTE! I absolutely adore when authors share their research journey for a novel, and they illuminate the truth behind what they wrote. Kate’s author’s note is no exception—this girl did her research! And as someone greatly interested in WWII history, this was a real reward for me.

Needless to say, I think you can tell that I loved THE HUNTRESS and give it all the stars. Like THE ALICE NETWORK, I’ll be recommending this one a lot in the near future and beyond! I hope you’ll check this one out. Please tell me what you think!

What Katie Read

The Unquenchable Faith that Saved Thousands of Children: Irena’s Children

The Unquenchable Faith that Saved Thousands of Children: Irena’s ChildrenIrena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J. Mazzeo
on September 26, 2017
Pages: 317

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings. But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish. In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.

“Heroes,” she said, “do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.” (262-263)

I arrived in Orlando at ALA Annual last year, with a nonfiction book on my list to pick up, Irena’s Children. I secured an ARC, and recently finished the book during a flight from Boston to Atlanta for ALA Midwinter. I can tell you that this book is fantastic!

The story of Irena and her group of courageous individuals working to save the lives of children during an incredibly dark time in world history was intense, inspiring, beautiful, heartrending, and miraculous!

I don’t often post reviews of nonfiction titles, but this is one book I would recommend that EVERYONE read. Sometimes the truth is as wondrous and as strange as fiction. In the case of Tilar J. Mazzeo’s text, that notion is incredibly true.

The book is set up in chronological order, and charts Irena’s journey as a young woman first becoming concerned with the plight of Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Poland, and eventually moving to become a major player in the Polish resistance. Many different characters are introduced as they relate to the vast and courageous network of individuals who worked with Irena to smuggle children out of the Warsaw ghetto. This collaboration had Irena at its head, but around twenty to twenty-five other individuals played important roles. Mazzeo points out as well, that the actual number of people who took part to help save these children are actually “dozens upon dozens.”

The pacing of the story is perfect–including details and scenes of what took place as Irena and her network worked through truly terrifying and high pressure situations in order to thwart the Nazis and rescue Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Mazzeo provides plenty of relevant and interesting information about Irena, born in 1910, and continues to strengthen the narrative by also describing the people with whom Irena connected earlier in her life, that would later play a role in her work to save children.

Can you imagine facing the pressure of separating hundreds of children from their parents, and somehow keeping a secret record of where those children were hidden and their real names so that they could be later connected with their parents after the war?!? I can only begin to imagine what a monumental and perhaps stressful task this must have been. Sadly, the vast majority of parents ended up perishing by the end of the war. The book does refer to the emotional pain that Irena experienced at forcing, out of necessity, a child to leave his/her mother and father. How could you explain to a two year old that he/she has no choice but to leave a beloved parent? It’s almost unthinkable.

Irena is basically considered the female “Oskar Schindler” but, as this book attests, her identity as a resilient and brave woman who achieved the extraordinary can stand on its own. Irena isn’t the only “hero” in this book, however. Mazzeo portrays many other figures who assisted Irena in her courageous attempt to save children from a terrible fate.


This book was both gripping and difficult to read. It depicted a timeline of events I sometimes didn’t want to think about, and yet, it was a timeline of events I had an obligation to read about. And to encourage others to read about. What Irena and her network accomplished should be honored and remembered. The children who perished during the Holocaust should be remembered. The children who endured the most difficult of circumstances during this period in history should be remembered. For all these reasons and more, read Irena’s Children.

For here is an important book. A necessary book. A book you must read, even if it is the only book you read all year.

What Katie Read

Interview with Anne Blankman—Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke Countdown

I’m excited and honored to host one of my favorite YA authors to work with–Anne Blankman–again on the blog for an Exclusive Interview featuring the NINE MOST INTERESTING FACTS she uncovered during her research for her books that you won’t find anywhere else. Enjoy! (Warning: Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my review of CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE and I’ll be giving away one copy of the book!!)

conspiracy of blood and smoke

From Anne: One of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction is doing research. Sometimes, though, it’s the most frustrating—especially when I find a fascinating detail I can’t use. Maybe my character wouldn’t know the information, or it’s an event that occurs after my story’s time frame. I ran into this problem a lot while working on Prisoner of Night and Fog and its sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (out on April 21st!). So today I’ve decided to share the top nine most interesting facts I uncovered that didn’t make it into the books.

  1. In Prisoner of Night and Fog, Gretchen, the main character, learns that Adolf Hitler lived in Vienna when he was a teenager, but she can’t find out anything about his time there. The reason Hitler shrouded his Vienna years in secrecy? For part of them, he was homeless.

  2. Hitler’s father was born Alois Schicklgruber. When he was forty, he took on his adoptive father’s last name, Hiedler, which somehow ended up as Hitler.

  3. Hitler’s half-nephew, Patrick, loathed his uncle and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. During World War Two, he fought for the U.S. Navy.

  4. Patrick’s younger half-brother was Hans Hitler (they had the same father, Hitler’s older half-brother, Alois, Jr.) Hans fought for Germany. He was captured by Russian forces and allegedly tortured to death.

  5. Currently, Patrick’s sons live under new names in the United States. As young men, they vowed not to have children, believing the Hitler line should die out with them.

  6. During the 1920s, Germany suddenly experienced a surge in serial killers. Infamous examples include Carl Grossmann, Fritz Haarmann, aka the “Butcher of Hanover,” and Peter Kürten, the “Vampire of Düsseldorf.”

  7. A minor character in Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is “Iron Fist” Friedrich Walter, the head of a Ringverein, the gangs in Berlin’s organized criminal underworld. Iron Fist may be fictitious, but he was inspired by a real-life gangster, “Muscle Adolf” Lieb. Muscle Adolf spent about a decade in various concentration camps and, amazingly, managed to survive the war. By the 1950s, he was once again committing crimes, such as robbery and fraud schemes.

  8. Hitler’s favorite movie was King Kong.

  9. This isn’t a historical fact, but it is a secret that was never revealed in either Prisoner or Conspiracy: In both of these books, there’s a hidden meaning behind each of the fictional characters’ names. For example, remember Gretchen’s sadistic Nazi brother, Reinhard? His name means “fox.” And Adolf means “sacred wolf.” I wanted to tie these two predatory characters together. Think you can figure out the secrets behind the other fictional characters’ names?

Did any of you know that Hitler’s favorite movie was King Kong?

And imagine that the sons of Hiter’s nephews live in the U.S. under new names?!? Fascinating!

So we have some of our own “research” we can dive into with the names of the characters. I love that Anne infused such significance into the character names.

Thank you for sharing these interesting facts you uncovered, Anne! As usual, it’s a pleasure to host you on the blog.

If you missed the first time Anne visited Bookish Illuminations, you can see that post here.

You can also read my review of Prisoner of Night and Fog here.

anne blankman

BIO: Anne Blankman may have been meant to be a writer because her parents named her for Anne of Green Gables. She grew up in an old house with gables (gray, unfortunately) in upstate New York. When she wasn’t writing or reading, she was rowing on the crew team, taking ballet lessons, fencing and swimming. She graduated from Union College with degrees in English and history, which comes in handy when she writes historical fiction.

After earning a master’s degree in information science, Anne began working as a youth services librarian. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her family. When she’s not writing young adult fiction, she’s playing with her daughter, training for races with her husband, working at her amazing library branch, learning to knit (badly), and reading.

Anne Blankman is the author of PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, the first in a three-book deal slated for publication on April 22, 2014 from Balzer + Bray | HarperCollins. The sequel, CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE, comes out on April 21, 2015, and a standalone novel will be released in 2016. Anne is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

You can visit Anne’s website here.

What Katie Read
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