Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Women of Valor Series by Elyse Larson

Book 1: For Such A Time

Storyline: Giselle Munier and Jean Thornton were like sisters from childhood. Now, Giselle is a Resistance worker in occupied France, and Jean works with the Red Cross in England. One day Jean hears that Giselle was captured by the Gestapo, tortured for information, then rescued and hidden in France by fellow resistants. Giselle's children, Angie and Jacquie, have been safely hidden on a farm—and no one knows where her husband Claude is.

Jean decides to undergo rigorous training by the British secret service, then head over to France and rescue her friend. But once she's over there, she discovers it's a difficult matter trying to get people out of occupied France. And even if she does succeed, will Giselle and the children be safe in England when there's a traitorous resistant shadowing them?

My Take:

On the technical side, this book wasn't all that well-written. For example, Jean tells her friend Marge her life history near the beginning of the book—even when Marge has known Jean for years. There were a few other technical mistakes, but none that are glaring.

The book dragged on and on between Giselle's rescue and the climax. I guessed the traitorous resistant at his first appearance. The women also have a slight feministic attitude, but that was typical for the time period I would think, since women had to take over the tasks that the men previously did.

But despite all that, it was a mildly satisfying read. I thought the section with Jean's training and rescuing Giselle was particularly well done. All the code words reminded me—it sounds bad to say it—of the old TV series Hogan's Heroes. But I know that it was very true of that time. That section, which comprised most of he middle of the book, was a good spy story.

I sympathized with both characters (though Giselle more). In a few short sections, I was very glad that the author didn't delve into the Nazis' brutality further. And Jean's short spurts of humor were pretty funny although her romance story felt a little thrown-in.

This book was, I think, a fairly accurate portrayal of the WWII times, and it was pretty enjoyable.

Rating: three out of five stars

Book 2: So Shall We Stand

Storyline: War widow Nella Killian, along with her friend Jean, discovered the body of a supposedly disturbed patient from a war hospital in the first book in the Women of Valor series, For Such A Time. It was ruled suicide. A few weeks later, Nella discovers a letter from the soldier in a book her father loaned to the hospital, hinting that the man was fully sane and had stumbled upon a Nazi plot that claimed his life.

Before too long, threats make their way into her hands. Nella decides to leave and go work as a Land Girl (women who took over men's farming jobs) on nearby Westmoreland manor. She's a day's journey from her parents and little girl, but her best friend Peggy Jones teaches the village school. While Nella tries to uncover the plot, she finds herself drawn to Bryan Westmoreland, the lord's son. Despite Peggy's precautions and her own uncertainty about Bryan's motives, she falls in love with him. Then she overhears him plotting with two men. It sounds like he's mixed up with Nazi spies. And one of Peggy's young students goes missing. In the final rush of everything, Nella realizes she should have listened to Peggy. Now she's put her family, Peggy and a young girl in danger.

My Take: This book was slightly more exciting than For Such a Time. Several red herrings are dropped in our way, but for an aware reader, they're not too difficult to figure out. The final twist about Bryan is the easiest one of the bunch. And there were also a lot of clich├ęs and gushing, poorly worded choices.

We're also treated to a subplot about Peggy's troubles with the lady of the manor complaining about the way she's conducting school, and her own little romance with one of Bryan's gentry friends.

It was interesting to realize the potential for Nazi spies in England as well as English spies in Nazi-occupied countries. It wasn't anything I'd given much thought about, which made it for an interesting read. But on the whole, the book didn't ring very true to me. I didn't feel particularly drawn to any of the characters, though I sympathized a little with Nella's bitterness at God because of the death of her first husband. It felt very fake, and without the mystery, we'd be left without any story.

Rating: three of five stars

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