There are many famous kisses but one of my favorites was immortalized on film by Alfred Eisenstaedt. It’s titled VJ Day in Times Square – the famous portrait of a sailor kissing a young nurse. To me, this picture brings an amazing glamour and romance to a momentous occasion. There is something about the triumph of many nations united in a just cause that attracts me more than any other period in history. Which is why I am always on the hunt for a good WWII romance – and why I was delighted to find this one.
There are actually several stories going on in this book. Penny Goodrich has been in love with her neighbor, Eddie Shaffer, for as long as she can remember. She lost all hope of romance when he married, but his wife’s death has given her a second opportunity to win his love. When he volunteers for the army, Penny volunteers to care for his two children, hoping to prove to Eddie how wonderful an addition she will be to his life. But she and the kids are virtually strangers, with more than a little hostility thrown in on the offspring’s part. Can she win the man of her dreams by loving two youngsters who hold her in contempt? Is that even an honorable thing to try and do?
Jacob Mendel is surprised when a strange young woman moves into tenant Eddie Shaffer’s apartment and begins caring for his kids. He gives it little thought, though, as he has more than enough problems of his own. His son Avraham, daughter in law Sarah, and granddaughter Fredeleh are in Hungary, with Hitler marching across Europe. Jacob lost his wife recently and can hardly stand the strain of the knowledge that the rest of his small family may be killed in the war. As Jacob deals with his grief and worry, he finds himself bonding with Esther Shaffer, Eddie’s young daughter who lost her mother at the same time Jacob lost his wife. Esther knows all too well what Jacob is going through as she worries about her father at war and her brother Peter, who seems to slowly be disintegrating before her eyes. Esther, Penny and young Peter begin to form fragile bonds with Jacob. But can those bonds withstand the strain of the times?
Roy Fuller thinks he has his life planned out, securing his future (and his country’s!) by enlisting in the army with a beautiful fiancé waiting for him when this war ends. But the frustration mounts as he finds himself guarding boats in a New York harbor rather than fighting the enemy in Europe or the Pacific. To add to his troubles, the letters he writes to his lovely bride to be are stilted and dull, not the kind of thing to get the heart racing of a gal who is receiving letters from three other service men. Then he meets Penny Goodrich on the crosstown bus. Can this shy stranger, rapidly becoming a friend and confidant, really give him the words to express his devotion? And just who is he really expressing it to – the girl far away or the one he has just met, who just so happens to be in love with another man?
Eddie Shaffer knows that leaving his two young children with a stranger can hardly be the best thing to do after the traumatic loss of their mother. But his own grief has him so thoroughly in its hold he can’t bear to be anywhere near the life he used to share with his wife. When his mother fails him and Penny steps into the breach, he knows he is taking advantage. But maybe this will be as good an opportunity for Penny to get away from problems at home as it is for him. But can this new girl he is getting to know really be the same, shy girl next door he has always ignored?
There are so many things I loved about this novel I am not sure I will be able to list them all. It combined many of my favorite elements: I adore watching down trodden, mousy women become confident beauties, and Penny certainly fits that bill. I love watching children awaken to the world around them, which was also here. I loved the gentle – and sometimes harsh – look the author took of the prejudice both here and abroad that Jewish people faced at this time. I enjoyed the historical aspect and how the author worked around what was typical of the time to show us both what was wrong and right with it without ever resorting to preaching.
I also loved how the author weaved religion naturally into the characters’ lives. Jacob is understandably bitter at all that is happening to him and his struggles with his faith are portrayed in a clear, compassionate manner. The other characters are all at various levels of self discovery, each at a different place with their spirituality. Religion is a strong theme throughout, but the author winds it gracefully into the lives of her characters rather than taking time out to lecture the reader. I’ve encountered that problem fairly often in Inspirational Romance and was grateful for the skillful handling here.
The characters are wonderful, fully drawn and terrific to get to know. The children are realistic, a mix of immature and mature, bratty and great that lets you know that the author has indeed encountered the species before. Penny blossoms slowly but surely, each step she takes in keeping with the times in which she lives and the pace of the novel. I really loved getting to watch her become the strong, caring person she was always meant to be.
My quibbles with the novel lay in the subtlety (to the point of you could blink and miss a key feature) of the romance and in the rough start. We begin from young Esther Shaffer’s viewpoint, and honestly the two adults came across as so obnoxious that I almost didn’t read beyond that first chapter. The viewpoint does change, which helps tremendously. I am glad I kept reading – I saved myself from missing out on a fantastic read. I can heartily recommend this novel to anyone who reads within the inspirational market.
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