Prague Counterpoint

Our rating: ****

Hitler’s invasion of Austria is sudden and complete, and the beautiful city of Vienna is transformed overnight. Everything has changed, just like in Berlin. And now those who refuse to shut their eyes to the truth fear that Czechoslovakia will be next. John Murphy continues his efforts to alert the world to the reality of the danger. Leah, separated from her husband, helps hide two little boys who are destined for destruction if found. Elisa, safe for the time being, struggles with feelings of uselessness. Then she’s given the opportunity to help the Jewish Underground like never before. But if she chooses this, she will have to turn her back on all of the people she cares about.

Prague Counterpoint picks up almost directly where Vienna Prelude leaves off, and it proceeds in much the same style—following multiple threads of story in different locations and with different characters, a technique that works well for giving the reader a broad picture of the many events that led to the war. I do think this second installment is better written than the previous book, which is a plus, but I also have to issue the same warning about it. There are some very cruel, painful scenes to read, and I would caution everyone to consider before trying this book. It’s a worthwhile read, but only if you’re certain you can handle the darker content.

Vienna Prelude

Our rating: ***½

Europe, 1936, and Nazi darkness is beginning to descend. Elisa Lindheim is a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra, and while she is half Jewish, she is protected by both her German Aryan looks and the stage name Elisa Linder. Though situations are worsening in both Germany and Austria, Elisa refuses to believe that Hitler’s Third Reich will gain as much power as it claims. But her family has to escape, and her father goes missing, and so many of her friends are in danger. Before she knows it, Elisa is involved with something much bigger, along with members of the orchestra and an American news-reporter, John Murphy.

This is overall a worthwhile book, providing a good look at what life was like for so many during the events that led to World War II. It also covers some of the bigger picture views involving the politics and problems that leaders in England and America were dealing with at the time. I do have a few complaints about Vienna Prelude, though, the primary one being that Elisa’s romance occasionally bogged down the main story to the point of frustration. Also, I cannot at all recommend this book to young readers, as the sheer brutality of the Gestapo and the concentration camps are not watered down. That said, it was still a fairly good read, and I will likely look into the rest of the series.

Sam Small Flies Again

Our rating: ****½

Sam Small is the most extraordinary man in Yorkshire, which, of course, means the whole world. Throughout the book, Sam manages to get into several absurd situations, such as splitting his personality so that there are two Sams, finding a talking dog, learning how to fly, and turning into a German officer and planning an attack on Britain by accident.

Sam Small is in an episodic format, so each of the ten stories can stand alone. Some of the stories contain material that is unsuitable for younger readers, similar to James Herriot’s books, and much of the humor may not be understood by a younger reader. Older readers will find Sam Small to be enjoyable and hilarious. Do not skip author’s note as it explains the origins of the main character and includes a beautiful piece about writing in general. The Yorkshire dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but the book is well worth it. Despite the title, Sam Small Flies Again is Eric Knight’s only book about Sam.