The Baker’s Secret (2017)
Stephen P. Kiernan
Set in a small town in Normandy, France in the time before the D-Day Invasion, The Baker’s Secret is a little gem of a novel about courage and resiliency.
Emma has lived in Vergers all her life and has suffered under the Nazis for the last two years. Phillippe, the young man she loves, is conscripted into the military. Her father is part of the Resistance, and is arrested. Emma, who years before had been apprenticed to the town’s master baker, Ezra Kuchen, is a master baker herself now. Ezra, along with the other Jews in the village is arrested by the occupying Nazis and it is Emma who now fulfills the daily demand for loaves of bread for the Kommandant’s office. Shrewdly, she bakes a few more loaves in secret and sustains a system of bartering among the townspeople. The bartering of survival. The circle of want. A candle. A sliver of soap. Tobacco. Bread taken to the farmer is exchanged for milk. Eggs are traded for the opportunity to siphon gas out of a German motorcycle. The fuel lets the town fisherman take a last run and bring fish into harbor for the townspeople after the Germans have taken all of the day’s catch. And on it goes. And during this time, as Emma becomes more and more the center of the survival of the town she must still care for her cantankerous grandmother, the local boy who climbs trees and spies on everyone, and the pig man, whose tear-inducing odor gives him the cover to hide hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the sty at Emma’s farm. And when the horrid and cruel German Captain Thalheim, who is forcibly housed in Emma’s farmhouse, begins to catch on to Emma’s secrets, her world starts to unravel.
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Review by Mary Ellen Wilson, Interlibrary Loan Coordinator
The Essex Serpent (2017)
In Essex, England, during the winter of 1893, there is anxious speculation regarding persons and animals reported missing in the swirling waters of the River Blackwater. Some locals are certain it’s the return of a monstrous, legendary sea beast, but amateur naturalist Cora Seaborne believes it to be a “living fossil” – a dinosaur that somehow survived extinction.
The Essex Serpent is Cora’s story; her “shameful happiness,” at the death of her abusive husband and excitement in her newfound life as a free-spirited woman and budding scientist. Her friends, and would-be lovers, dispute her beliefs yet find themselves swept up in the passion of her quest. Readers, too, begin questioning the serpent’s existence feeling the tension anytime characters walk the shore.
The novel interlaces Victorian mores, vivid characters, and gothic mystery within a beguiling and satisfying story. It’s historical fiction at its finest.
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Review by Pam Barry, Reference and Young Adult Librarian