Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Karolina's Twins

Summary: She made a promise in desperation

Now it's time to keep it

Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.

Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?

Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.

Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes Karolina's Twins, a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond. -- St. Martin's Press

I am a sucker for historical fiction books that take place around World War II. A few years ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS by Ronald H. Balson -- you can read my review here. Somehow, I missed Mr. Balson's second novel SAVING SOPHIE (although I do have it somewhere). I decided to go ahead and read his latest release KAROLINA'S TWINS. Once again I was impressed with Mr. Balson's writing... and now I absolutely have to read SAVING SOPHIE! This man can really tell a story!

KAROLINA'S TWINS tells the story of Lena Woodward, a widow in her 80s who came to the U.S. from Poland after World War II. She has had a good life living with her husband and son in Chicago, but she made a promised years ago that she's compelled to fulfill. She wants to find the twin daughters of her friend Karolina who died in the Holocaust. However, her son doesn't want his mother drudging up all of these horrible memories. He wants control of her affairs (and her money) and is trying to have her deemed mentally incompetent.

And that's where the husband and wife team of Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart enter the picture. You might remember this couple from Mr. Balson's prior novels. Catherine is an attorney and Liam is a private investigator, and they have received some notoriety for solving difficult Holocaust cases. Lena hires these two to help her find Karolina's twins.

The novel unfolds as Lena incrementally reveals her story to Catherine. She describes her special friendship with Karolina as well as her unbelievable past in Nazi-occupied Poland. The reader learns that Lena and Karolina were sent to work in a clothing factory and that Karolina's German lover provided the girls with food that kept them alive. Eventually, the two girls are sent to a work camp (not without some intervention from Karolina's boyfriend). This camp isn't quite a bad as a concentration camp, but it's still horrific; and Karolina and Lena are told that the Nazis will take the twins and kill them. Together, they come up with a plan to save the twins that might cause them both to lose their lives in the process.

As Catherine learns more and more about Lena's past, she realizes that Lena doesn't seem to be suffering from dementia; however, she does feel as if Lena might not be telling her the entire story. Can Catherine and Liam piece together the truth and help Lena find the twins... and can they do it in time to save Lena from her son's attempt to have her declared mentally incompetent?

I found KAROLINA'S TWINS to be a riveting read, and I have to say that I'm a fan of Mr. Balson's storytelling abilities. I was definitely intrigued by Lena's story, and I feel as if the author did a remarkable job of bringing the horrors of the Holocaust to life. I will admit to appreciating Holocaust survival stories, and Lena's story was quite remarkable.

I also really liked the role that Catherine and Liam played in the novel. This couple is a fantastic team both personally and professionally; and I love how they work together to discover the truth. Catherine played a larger role in this novel because she was the one who spent hours listening to Lena's story, and I appreciated how the author drew parallels between her and Lena. Catherine is expecting her first child so she could definitely relate to Lena's desire to find the twins and keep her promise to Karolina.

I don't want to give too much away about this story, but I will admit that I figured out the "twist" or "twists" fairly early on in my reading. I don't think I'm especially perceptive, but I did suspect where the novel was going. That's not to say that figuring things out took away from my enjoyment of the novel or Lena's story; however, I wish I could have been more surprised.

I think KAROLINA'S TWINS would make an outstanding book club selection. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, friendship, sacrifices, guilt, grief, loss, pregnancy, motherhood, dementia, aging, religion, faith, war, memories, and secrets. I also think it would be interesting to discuss the various characters and the roles they played in Lena's story.

Overall, KAROLINA'S TWINS is a must-read novel for fans of World War II and Holocaust stories. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I'm not big on historical fiction but do love WWII books. I really like the sound of this one.

Dorothy N said...

Thanks so much for this terrific review. Like you, I also read Once We Were Brothers and loved it but somehow missed his second book. I will be putting books 2 & 3 on my TBR list!

Kim@Time2Read said...

I reviewed this one a couple of months ago and loved it! I'm glad you liked it too.
One thing I really appreciated about the book is that it worked as a 'stand-alone' so that I didn't have to go back and read the earlier 'Liam and Catherine' books before I read this one. Having read it though, I now WANT to go back and read them!