Silent Honor by Danielle Steel

Oriental-looking gold characters on red backgroundDanielle Steel’s Silent Honor is a romance played out during one of the ugliest episodes of American history: the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Hiroko Takashimaya’s father, a Japanese college professor, sends his 18-year-old daughter to study for one year in California. Hiroko has no desire to do anything other than be a good wife and mother, but she is a dutiful daughter and will do as her father wishes.

Hiroko finds her American-born cousins are totally American. Her uncle, a Stanford University political science professor, and her aunt, a nurse, regard her Japanese habits as quaint as her kimonos. Only Peter Jenkins, Uncle Tak’s assistant, seems to value her Hiroko’s Japanese heritage.

When the family is sent to Tule Lake detention center, Peter visits every day. Inevitably, he and Hiroko become lovers. When he’s posted overseas, Hiroko is carrying his child.

Steel makes Hiroko’s homesickness and her dedication to fulfilling what she regards as her obligations to her father and her American relatives totally believable. However, she fails to make Hiroko’s misery at college and at the detention center more personal than an encyclopedia entry.

Steel’s readers and Japanese Americans deserve better treatment.

Silent Honor by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1996. 353 p.
1996 bestseller #7; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Jewels, a Danielle Steel novel

golden jewel and gold letters suggest jewels
It’s all about wealth.

Danielle Steel presents Jewels as Sarah Whitfield’s 75th birthday retrospective.

As a Manhattan debutante, Sarah fell for the wrong man. The marriage ended in a divorce that humiliated her into seclusion. To get her out of her funk, her parents took her to Europe where she met and married the much older William, Duke of Whitfield.

As the Nazis mobilized, William was called to military service. With an infant son and another baby on the way, Sarah stayed in a rural French chateau occupied by Germans while he’s gone. Although believed dead, William survived the war.

The couple had three more children and built a business buying jewels from war survivors who need money to rebuild their lives.

After William’s death, Sarah ran the jewelry stores and tried to cope with the problems her adult children cause.

Steel would have readers believe that, Sarah, despite her lack of training for anything, could refinish woodwork, direct a multi-national business, and assist in the hospital when casualties are heavy.

The historical content is equally preposteous. In rural France under Nazi occupation, Sarah and her children never so much as miss a meal.

Jewel is a novel full of characters but no real people, glass passed off as a gem.

Jewels by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1992. 471 p.
1992 bestseller #5; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Kaleidoscope by Danielle Steel

image of kaleidoscope on cover of Kaleidoscope novelDanielle Steel’s Kaleidoscope is a series of stories within stories.

The outer story is about the friendship of Sam Walker and Arthur Patterson who meet in the trenches in Italy in 1943.

Sam falls for a French woman, brings her to the States. While Sam becomes a famous actor, Solange cares for their three daughters, maintains a friendship with Arthur, and tries to ignore Sam’s philandering.

One night Sam murders Solange.

After his conviction for murder, Sam commits suicide.

Unable to adopt Sam’s daughters himself—his wife hated Sam and loathes all children—Arthur finds separate adoptive parents for the two younger girls, Alexandra and Megan.

Unable to find someone to take 9-year-old Hilary, he leaves her with Sam’s sister, a drunken slut married to a drunken lout in a waterfront slum near Boston.

Thirty years later, with only a few months to live, Arthur hires a private investigator to find the three girls and give them the opportunity to be reunited.

The PI finds them, which allows Steel to tell their stories, and effect a happy ending that’s as preposterous as the “confession” Hilary says led her father to kill her mother.

Kaleidoscope by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1987. 395 p.
1987 bestseller #3; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

An Indecent Obsession

Black and gold type on the cover are symbolic of the fight between good and evil in Colleen McCullough’s An Indecent Obsession
That’s the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces  badge  at the top

Colleen McCullough’s novel An Indecent Obsession is emotionally raw tale told with restraint and respect.
The story begins as World War II is about to end for men in Australian military hospital “troppo” ward who broke under the stresses of jungle warfare.

Nurse Honour Lantry has just five men left in ward X: Neil, their leader, whom Honour thinks she might like to know better post-war; blind Matt; hypochondriac Nugget; sadistic Luce Daggett, who scares her; and severely withdrawn Ben Maynard, the only one Honour thinks really belongs in a mental hospital.

The men call her “Sis.”

All except Luce respect and adore her.

The group’s dynamic is upset when Sergeant Michael Wilson appears at the ward.  Compared to the others, Mike is obviously normal.

Honour can’t figure him out. His paperwork says he had a violent crisis; he says he tried to kill a man.

Honour, having served in the field for the entire war, is emotionally exhausted. She allows herself to feel unprofessional interest in Mike, which provokes a crisis.

McCullough relates the story from Honour’s perspective but with a degree of distance that refuses to let Honour be exonerated when she misinterprets what her senses perceive.

Indecent Obsession is an unforgettable story.

An Indecent Obsession
by Colleen McCullough
Harper & Row. ©1981. 317 p.
1981 bestseller #4. My grade: A

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Second Generation: A Fast read

Second Generation is the second volume of Howard Fast’s trilogy about an Italian immigrant, Dan Lavette.

Cover of Second Generation is collage of drawings of scenes of the novel
Cover collage echoes shifting focus of Fast’s novel “Second Generation.”

As the title suggests, Dan’s children are the focus of this novel, which opens in California during the Depression and ends after World War II.

Dan has two children, Barbara and Tom, by his first wife, Jean, from whom he is divorced; and Joseph, by his second wife, May Ling.

Barbara and Tom have enjoyed all the benefits of Jean’s wealth and social status. Barbara remains emotionally close to her father and to his second family; she’s antagonistic toward her stepfather and ambivalent toward her mother.

Tom is emotionally cold to both his parents. He values his stepfather’s money and connections.

Joseph has coped well with Dan’s Depression-triggered decent from wealthy entrepreneur to mackerel fisherman. Joseph is on course to become a doctor.

Fast provides a fast-reading story, constantly shifting from one character to another, as their divergent interests take them to cinematic situations: a labor strike, Berlin under the Nazis, Hawaii under Japanese attack, India during WWII rationing,

Fast doesn’t show his characters grow; he just shows them changed. History, too, is reduced to scenes; there’s no continuity.

Second Generation provides good entertainment.

If you want something more substantial, you need to go elsewhere.

Second Generation by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1978. 441 p.
1978 bestseller #9. My grade: B

Second Generation is the second volume of a trilogy. The first novel of the set, The Immigrants, published a year earlier, didn’t make the bestseller list, but the third volume, The Establishment, published in 1979 did.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

War and Remembrance

Night bombing is symbolic dust jacket cover for  Herman Wouk's"War and Remembrance."
Night time bombings are memorable part of WWII.

Herman Wouk called War and Remembrance a historical romance, a description that barely touches what’s packed into its 3.5 pounds and 1,039 pages.

Wouk picks up the story of an American naval family—Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three adult children—whom he introduced seven years earlier in The Winds of War.

This novel follows them from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the end of World War II. Wouk uses their stories to transport readers into the wake of war around the globe.

Pug wins promotions, but spends most of his time trying to unsnarl problems abroad at the behest of Roosevelt.

Pug and Rhoda’s eldest son is killed in action, leaving behind a wife and son.

While son Byron serves on submarines in the Pacific, his Jewish wife and their infant son become trapped in Poland.

Rhoda takes a lover, considers divorce.

Pug falls in love; the war continually pulls Pug and Pamela in different directions.

Wouk says frankly his purpose is to show that war must end. He’s too talented a writer to need to preach: His stories preach for him.

To understand War and Remembrance you need not have read Winds but you’ll appreciate both more if you read them as a set.

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown, ©1978. 1042 p.
1978 bestseller #2. My grade: A+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Storm Warning: heroism where none’s expected

Storm Warning is an implausible and irresistible tale of heroism in unlikely places.

A tattered Nazi flag rises above the words Storm Warning
This flag tops a 3-masted sailing ship, badly battered.

Novelist Jack Higgins weaves together several stories, each worthy of a novel on its own.

The book opens in  Brazil in August, 1944, as Captain Berger’s three-masted German sailing ship, disguised as a Swedish vessel, sets sail for Germany 5,000 miles away.

On board is a crew of 22 men and seven passengers, five of them nuns.

If his wooden vessel survives Atlantic storms, Captain Berger will have to sail along Scotland’s treacherous western coast which, as WWII winds down, is dominated by American and British ships and planes.

In London, American doctor Janet Munro has leave from patching up air raid victims to visit her severely wounded uncle, Rear Admiral Carey Reeve on Fhada Island off Scotland.

Crossing Scotland, Janet and her Navy escort Harry Jago cross paths with Paul Gericke, who had just pulled off a U-Boat attack on Falmouth.

All the characters converge on Fhada Island just as the storm of the century whips up.

Higgins presents a rousing adventure story supported by precisely-drawn characters captured in vivid verbal snapshots.

The story has too many coincidences to withstand scrutiny, but while you are reading, Higgins will make you believe every word.

Storm Warning by Jack Higgins
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976, 311 p.
1976 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

The Eagle Has Landed

German SS is central to The Eagle Has Landed.

The Eagle Has Landed is a World War II novel that manages to be both exciting and nuanced.

The novel is about a 1943 German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill in a commando operation, which Himmler thinks might make Hitler happy.

Himmler selects Colonel Max Radl, a terminally ill officer, to coordinate the top secret mission.

By coincidence, a spy living on a remote, unprotected stretch of English coastline reports that Churchill will be staying overnight nearby on November 6.

Radl pulls together an unlikely team led by Kurt Steiner, a German officer in disgrace for helping a Jew, with aid from Irish Republican Army operative Liam Devlin and hindrance from Harvey Preston, a captured English soldier who defected to the SS.

Steiner’s dozen commandos parachute in to join Devlin, who had already secured the necessary equipment for the snatch.

Then things start going wrong.

Novelist Jack Higgins’ characters are puzzling, contradictory personalities, not your typical war novel stereotypes. In fact, the Eagle’s battle-hardened German soldiers are too nice. Joseph Wambaugh’s Choirboys would be more believable. They’d fit in with American Colonel Shafto, who thinks nobody can run a war as well as he.

Despite that highly intriguing flaw, The Eagle lives up to his book jacket blurbs.

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
Pocket Books ©1975 [paper] 1st ed. 390 p.
1975 bestseller #6. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

August, 1914: Russia was doomed

Author's name and novel title set in yellow and orange respectively against camouflage backgound of dust jacket.
Author and title stand out against the camouflage.

August, 1914, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel about the first two weeks of World War I on the Eastern Front is not for the faint of heart.

Russian naming conventions are bewildering, the story jumps from one military unit to another, and the camouflage green liner-paper maps are hard to read.

Those who persevere will find the novel worth the effort.

The novel traces the events of the first two weeks of WWI. Russia had foolishly promised France they’d begin war operations 15 days after war was declared, long before the country was prepared to supply its frontline troops.

Russia’s generals were mainly old duffers whose skills consisted mainly of “being able to compose the right sort of dispatches…which can make inaction sound like hard fighting.”

Up against a German army armed with tanks and connected by telephone, the Russian horse soldiers with 19th century weaponry and hand-delivered battle orders were out of their league.

Against this backdrop of incompetence on a monumental scale, Solzhenitsyn shows the rugged endurance and bravery of ordinary soldiers.

If you read nothing more of August 1914, read chapter 50 in which eight soldiers carry their regimental commander’s body home for burial. Even in translation, it’s a great piece of writing that can stand alone.

August, 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Trans. Michael Glenny
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ©1972, 622 p.
1972 bestseller #2. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

QB VII asks: What would you have done?

Leon Uris’s QB VII tackles antisemitism the way a terrier tackles a rat.

QB VII has a no-nonsense look.
Dust jacket of this copy of QB VII has disappeared.

Uris introduces readers to Dr. Adam Kelno as he leaves Jadweiga Concentration Camp. Soviet-dominated Warsaw has no place for a Polish Nationalist.

Kelno lands in England where he spends two years in Brixton Prison while England decides whether to allow his extradition to Poland to face war-crimes charges.

Exonerated, Kelno and his family flee as far as possible from Europe. In Borneo he does medical work for which he is knighted.

Returning to England, Kelno settles into small clinic, doctoring longshoremen and immigrants.

One day an English medical student from Borneo shows Kelno a paragraph in Abraham Cady’s book The Holocaust . It says Kelno performed experimental operations for the SS without the use of anesthetic.

Kelno sues Cady for libel.

The suit is heard at QB VII: courtroom 7 of the Queen’s Bench.

Uris produces rounded pictures of both Kelno, a Polish Catholic, and Cady, an American Jew, both of whom have their share of flaws. Reader’s sympathies are pulled one way and then the other.

QB VII is a tense, fast-reading novel that leaves readers to ponder what they would have done in Jadweiga.

QB VII by Leon Uris
Doubleday 970 [1st ed]. 504 p.
1970 bestseller #6. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni