Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Genre: YA historical
Rep: Ownvoices, Black
Format: audiobook

I’ve had this book on my TBR for ages, but didn’t realize it was about a POC main character until I was looking for books for my reading challenge and it came up on a Goodreads list. Flygirl follows a young, light skinned, female pilot who has to give up flying at the start of WWII, as resources like fuel are redirected to the military. When a program to recruit female transport pilots (to deliver supplies and planes for the military to free up their male pilots for combat), Ida is quick to sign up, even though they don’t take black pilots. Forging her license, she doesn’t tell the recruiter that she’s not white; simply allows the woman to draw her own conclusions. Impressed by Ida’s manner, she offers her a position in training.

If the military finds out about the ruse, however, a court martial could be the least of her worries. Though she loves flying, staying in the military means denying her family and her heritage, but going back home to the Jim Crow south means denying every part of herself as an individual.

I loved this book from beginning to end. Ida is beautifully human in her choices, both good and bad; her mistakes, and her efforts to help others and improve the lot of Blacks who can’t pass the way she does. She risks life and limb every day she wakes up on base.

If you’re a fan of WWII narratives or books about women breaking glass ceilings, this is definitely a good book to pick up.

The Diary of Mary Berg by Mary Berg

Genre: Nonfiction, diary
Secondary Genre: History
CW: Holocaust, violence, illness, starvation
Rep: Jewish, Polish

This book is extremely hard to read. It is the account of a young woman living in the Warsaw Ghetto over a 2 year period, and doesn’t shy away from the horrors residents faced. My 4 star rating isn’t a measure of how “good” this book is, or how “well written” it is; I reserve my 5 star ratings for books I know I will read over and over again, but this book was hard enough to get through once because of the subject matter; it’s not something I can see myself re-reading, though it impacted me greatly.

I was reading this book when George Floyd was killed. That night, I read the account of a starving Jewish man beaten to death by Nazis.

The world has not changed.

Mary and her family managed to escape the Ghetto and get to America just in time. While they were on their long journey out of Poland, the Ghetto was emptied and most of the residents murdered. The Berg’s were saved by the fact that Mary’s mother was an American citizen; through a combination of red tape and extensive bribes, she managed to get passports for her two daughters and her husband, and the four of them managed to get to the US, where Mary published her diary in the hopes that it would draw attention to what the Jews were facing in Nazi territory. Prior to Germany’s surrender, the extent of their torture was unknown to the outside world. Mary hoped her diary would save lives, but it’s publication went largely unnoticed.

This is not a book to be picked up lightly. But I highly recommend that you do. It’s not a book to reread. But it is one that should be read at least once.

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

Genre: historical fiction
Secondary genre: military
Format read: hard copy
Rep: Russian, women in combat, synethesia
CW: violence
Rating: planchet-4

Another book that was on my TBR for far too long, I finally got a chance to read this one during the move. It follows Valka, a young pilot in Russia at the start of WWII. When the government decides to form a women’s air corps, she rushes to sign up, taking her cousin and navigator, Iskra, with her.

Instead of joining the elite ranks of the fighter pilots, however, the girls are sent to the lowliest posting, that of the night bombers. Assigned the least amount of support, the worst planes, and some of the most dangerous missions, the women of the 588th must prevent the Germans from crossing further into Russian territory.

Told through first person prose and letters to and from her best friends, Pasha (drafted and stationed at the front), Among the Red Stars is a detailed, highly researched look at a seldom recognized view of the war. Not only does it show the Russian side of things (which doesn’t usually make it to American markets), but it also shows the role of women in combat.

If you are a fan of WWII narratives that focus more on action and less on romance, then this is a good one to pick up.

Code Talker by Chester Nez & Judith Schiess Avila

Genre: modern history
Secondary genre: war
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: violence, racism, cruelty to animals
Rep: Native American (Navajo)
Rating: planchet-4

Navajo is a very tricky language. It’s said that one has to be born into it to speak it fluently because there are so many subtleties in pronunciation and meaning that an outsider just can’t pick them all up.

This is why the US government selected Navajo as the basis for it’s code during WWII.

Code Talkers is the story of Chester Nez, one of the original Code Talkers, from his upbringing just outside the Navajo reservation in New Mexico through his service in the Pacific theater, to his life after the war. It covers the many hardships and abuses visited on his family and his people by the government, and the fierce sense of patriotism that still lived in him. It is told in his own words, recorded by journalist Judith Schiess Avila.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve learned how bad things are for Native peoples in the US and Canada, even today. I was unprepared for the events at the beginning of this book, and that fact that Chester and his compatriots remained fiercely loyal to the US, despite everything, I think shows a strength that I would not have.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about life for Native Americans or the hidden history of WWII.

For more information on conditions in American reservations, I highly encourage you to look at the Navajo Water Project, which the readers of my main blog voted to sponsor as our 2019 charity.

Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

Genre: mystery
Secondary genre: historical, political
Format read: hard copy
CW: violence
Rep: Little person
Series: Aimée Leduc, vol 16
Rating: planchet-4

Sometimes, there are happy accidents.

Like when you accidentally start with volume 16 in a series, thinking it’s volume 1, and it turns out to be a prequel.

I found book 9 in this series at a flea market a few months ago and earmarked the series for later. When I happened to see this book on display at my local library, I snapped it up. Somehow, I missed the bitty line at the top of the cover marking it as a prequel.

It’s the 1980s, and the Berlin wall has just come down. Amid the news, med student Aimée  Deluc is struggling with her finals, which are continually sabotaged by jealous classmates. Expecting help or at least commiseration from her father, she’s surprised to find him halfway out the door on his way to Berlin on a secret business trip he won’t tell her anything about.

At the same time, a distant cousin shows up on their doorstep, begging for Mr. Deluc’s help to solve her father’s murder. Aimée helps her PI father on his way, promising to meet up with him on a job when he returns, and volunteers to do a little digging for the mystery cousin, thinking it’s a simple matter of tracking down a woman he spoke to on the night he died.

But her simple open-and-shut research case turns up a second dead body killed the same way, and the links between the old men lead right back to a crate of Nazi gold and a series of murders in 1943. Then someone starts shooting at her and attempting to mow her down with a cab.

This book was a bit slow to start, in my opinion, but around halfway through things really pick up. I will warn you that there is a very sudden even on the last page that makes this something of a cliff-hanger ending, and I was not happy with the twist it added to the plot. I’m not sure if I want to go back and read the rest of the series now.

I do really like Aimée, however, and the little dog she and her grandfather adopt.

If you’ve read this series, what’s your opinion?