Saturday, April 26, 2014

Book Review [Daisies Are Forever]

Daisies Are Forever
Liz Tolsma

Publisher:  Thomas Nelson
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Released:  2014

[Goodreads]
Gisela must hold on to hope and love despite all odds in the midst of a war-torn country.

Gisela Cramer is an American living in eastern Germany with her cousin Ella Reinhardt. When the Red Army invades, they must leave their home to escape to safety in Berlin.

However, Ella is a nurse and refuses to leave, sending her young daughters with Gisela. During their journey, Gisela meets Mitch Edwards, an escaped British POW. She pretends she is his wife in order to preserve his safety among other Germans, especially one wounded German soldier, Kurt, who has suspicions about Mitch's identity. Kurt also has feelings for Gisela and tries to uncover the truth about her "marriage."

Their journey to Gisela's mother in Berlin is riddled with tragedy and hardship, but they strive to keep Ella's daughters safe so they can reunite with their mother. During the journey Gisela and Mitch begin to develop feelings for one another beyond friendship. They reach Berlin, but their struggles are far from over. Gisela and Mitch must learn to live for the day and find hope in the darkest of circumstances.

In this moving, historically accurate portrayal of WWII Germany, the characters learn that, even with destruction all around them, some things last forever.


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WARNING: Possible Spoilers

If you enjoy reading the history and times of the World War II era, you will love this book.  But know firsthand, it is set in a time of war.  There is terrible suffering, death, gore, and evil written into the pages of hope, love, and yes, even joy.  

[The Basics]
Usually, in tales of WWII, we see the side of America and how we helped to win the war, right?.  But in this novel, we experience the trials and troubles of the German people.  What was that quote from Dr. Erskine, in Captain America?


Our story begins the 8th of February, 1945, in the middle of bombings where "explosions lit the dark, deep-winter evening."  Gisela Cramer, a young woman in her early twenties, trembles with each rumble that jars her relatives' house.  When an elderly neighbor shows up at the door and explains that he and his sisters are leaving before the Russians arrive, Gisela and her cousin Ella take it as the cue to leave as well.  But it turns out that Ella, a nurse, means to stay with their grandfather, and offer her services to the local hospital, leaving Gisela to care for Ella's two young daughters.  At first, Gisela refuses, but at the urging of her dear opa (grandfather),  she relents, though reluctantly, knowing full well she may never see them again.

And so begins a long and treacherous journey.

[Positives]
Throughout the whole of this book, Gisela shows her love and compassion in caring for others.  She sacrifices much, leading her little band across countries, over frozen lakes, and providing what she can regarding food rations, sometimes going without to make sure her people are fed.

Sacrifice plays a huge part in these pages.  Characters do all in their power to help those around them, whether it be in sharing a portion of precious sausage or giving an outfit of clothing to one who is in desperate need.

One man falls into a frozen lake and is rescued, though he loses the cart he was pulling, laden with valuables.  The cart's owner dismisses the lost items, realizing that a man's life is far more precious than earthly things.

[Negatives]
While she does so in order to save a man's life, Gisela outright lies in claiming a strange man as her husband.  Because others heard her declaration, they are forced to travel together to keep up appearances, which all turned out for the best, but still.  Lying is wrong, and there are usually consequences.

[Spiritual Content]
Before she leaves, Gisela's opa gives her a Bible-pressed daisy flowers, and instructs her to keep it in her Bible in the passage of Isaiah 43, as a reminder that no matter the circumstances God is in control.

Characters pray to God for deliverance and protection.  

My absolute favorite scene in this book is with the character Mitch, a British POW (prisoner of war).  He, Gisela, and the rest of their little band are huddled in the basement of their current refuge when a bomb's approaching whistle screams into the home's once beautiful garden.  But doesn't go off.  After waiting several heart-pounding moments, which seemed ages, he ventures outside.  There, he finds a crater with the familiar figure of a rusty bomb that did not explode.  It was a dud.  He falls to his knees and praises his God for their deliverance.  When Gisela joins him, she finds him singing the words of "Amazing Grace" in a beautiful tenor of praise.  Her own alto blends in to finish the last verses and they are comforted by the presence of God.

So beautiful.  I could have cried.  (And I don't ever cry in books, rarely in movies, even.)

[Violence]
Remember.  This is war.  Gunfire from planes kill and ravage families, tearing their worlds in two.  Men (and their families), labeled as cowards and deserters, are hung from lamp-posts as a sign to others that the German army will not tolerate fear to fight.

People are killed by gunfire while traversing the length of a frozen lake.

Gisela finds a bundle thrown aside of the makeshift road and goes to it, thinking there may be items her party could use, only to find it is the frozen corpse of an infant.  

During plane raids, characters throw themselves on top of others many times in an attempt to save them.  

A train's engine is destroyed by gunfire from Russian planes, forcing passengers to walk to nearby farms.  

The winter itself is a wicked pawn in the game of war.  Just as many people succumb to the cold as others to gunfire and bombings.

A man's hand is grazed by a bullet.  A woman is beaten and bruised.

Russian and German soldiers rape and kill women.  Brutal does not cover it.  We don't ever experience this with any of the main characters, but we do see the results, briefly.

Blood and gore in general is mentioned often.

[Language, Drugs & Alcohol]
Not much that I can think of. . . 

Drunken soldiers attempt to rape a woman (SPOILER: she is saved!).  

[Love-y Content]
A relationship develops between Gisela and Mitch.  They come to care for each other deeply and kiss many times, some rather passionately.  

Kurt, a wounded soldier who lost an arm for his country, and German all the way through, is attracted to Gisela and tries to win her over, unsuccessfully.

Another character we see often, Audra, in partnering with Kurt to help him woo Gisela, attempts to sway Mitch to her side.  She kisses him, against his wishes, and starts a love triangle between him and Gisela.

This is a romance novel, too.  Did I mention that?  :]

[Conclusion]
Overall, I was well pleased with this novel and may someday read it again.  The characters are well-developed, in my opinion; the story intense.  I couldn't put it down!  A few phrases threw me off at times, due to how they are worded and written.  I had to go back and still, at times, it didn't make sense, but other than that, a wonderful book!

The author did her research and even based the tale off of two actual ladies and their true stories, as explained in an afterword: The Story Behind the Story.  Again, if you love the WWII era, you may well enjoy this tale of hope in the midst of suffering and joy that can be found in the unlikeliest of places, be it in the cellar of a war-torn house with your loved ones, or a dried daisy in the pages of your worn Bible.

Isaiah 43:1-2
" '. . .Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.  You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.' "

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Recommended ages:  16-18+
(due to violence and gory scenes)


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