Beneath a Scarlet Sky

I’ve seen this title floating around for awhile and had heard it was great, but I really didn’t know much about it. I had added it to my “to-read” list at some point and when I saw it was available on Kindle Unlimited, I went ahead and downloaded it. I have read a great number of books about World War II, but I had never heard the story of Pino Lella. As told to the author, Mark Sullivan, Pino’s story is one of the most dramatic and craziest I’ve read, outside of Holocaust stories. And this one is sad, make no mistake, but it’s also really interesting and unique.

Pino is just an Italian kid trying to avoid being drafted into a war he doesn’t support. His family sends him and his younger brother to a church/school where Pino learns to climb the Alps to help persecuted Jews escape to freedom. Clearly, we see which side Pino is on and rooting for him is easy. Once he turns eighteen, he is expected to join the war, though. So he agrees to join voluntarily and gets assigned to be a diver for Hitler’s left-hand man, a German in Italy who must communicate with Mussolini, decide where “slaves” are deported, which weapons need to be delivered to which location, etc. Pino turns spy. He reports everything to the authorities, never forgetting where his allegiences lie.

There is a really beautiful love story woven in with the war. And knowing all this really happened and that Pino is a real person is just heartbreaking and amazing. I’ve learned that nothing is unfathomable when it comes to World War II and that I should never be surprised when I read another true account, but this was one I didn’t see coming. Once Pino starts driving for the general, I really couldn’t put the book down. I knew Pino lived (spoiler alert, he has to tell the author his story….) but I was constantly wondering where the main players in his story would end up. I really enjoyed this one and think it’s one of the highlights of my year.

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The Nightingale

Two birds with one stone here!! A friend recommended this one, and it is on the NY Times Bestseller list for the book challenge. And wow! What a fabulous read! Not necessarily the most uplifting of books, but absolutely beautiful.

Two sisters, one older and responsible, one younger and impetuous. But both strong in their own stubborn way. Set in France during WWII, the stories follows both of them, sometimes living together, oftentimes apart and you see their struggles for survival during the worst period of the last century. You get small glimpses of present day, learning that one of the sisters has survived, but which isn’t revealed until the end.

I have shed tears at three books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (ugly cried. twice.), the Book Thief (just a couple tears. twice) and now The Nightingale. I’m not a crier, so this should tell you something. I refuse to reveal whether they are happy tears or sad tears or a combination of both, but know that this book hit me hard.

I gave it 4 stars because I thought it could have been edited down a bit, but that’s just my personal preference. Overall, I loved the characters and felt their motivations were authentic. Even though WWII is always hard to read about, I feel it’s important to be frequently reminded of the time period, and books like this do an excellent job at doing so.