Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: 'Breadcrumbs and Bombs' by Susan Finlay

Arizona author Susan Finlay began her career with a degree in Business and used that background for being a Bank Auditor and later under the Bank Secrecy Act performed suspicious activities investigations. She now is committed to writing as a career: her successful publication of nine books to date is evidence of a wise decision. Her elected arena – mysteries, and now that includes the great mystery of discovering or past.

With this new turn of emphasis in her series she calls TAGLED ROOTS, of which BREADCRUMBS AND BOMBS is the initial volume, Susan offers a note to her readers before the story begins – ‘Although this is a work of fiction, the historical figures and the war itself are real and I’ve tried to make this story as realistic as possible. I’ve read many nonfiction and fiction books about World War II and how it affected everyone, on all sides. I’m particularly interested in the lesser known stories of the ethnic Germans living in the former Sudetenland and their expulsion from their homeland at the end of the war. My American father and one of his sisters worked on their family tree many years ago. On one side of the family, they were able to trace back to early 1800’s. On the other side, they were able to trace back to the 1600’s. My mother, who came from the former Sudetenland and Germany, was able to also provide some history for her family tree, but only back a couple generations. Years later, after she’d passed away, one of her brothers obtained some old WWII-era Identity Cards that his grandparents had carried. He made copies for me and for one of his sisters. From those, I was able to fill in some missing information from that side of my family’s tree. I tell you this, because I understand why people have an interest in genealogy. As I worked on this book, I got out those old records and photos and dug deeper around my family tree, in a similar way to what my protagonist does in this book. My historical research, and the story I wrote, helped me better understand what my German relatives may have endured.’ Adding this information before the series opens secures the trust of the reader!

A beguiling opening secures or attention: ‘Lucas Landry, June 2017, East Sacramento, California— Lucas Landry pulled his Jeep into the driveway of his father’s pale blue Victorian house. Sucking in a deep breath, he turned off the engine and sat there, brooding, staring at the house fraught with painful memories. For five of his teen years, he’d lived with his family in this house his father had inherited, but when he’d left home for college ten years ago, he’d never looked back. Not once. Back then, he couldn’t wait to move out of the house where his mother had died, where everything was a constant painful reminder of her suffering. Leaving also meant he’d get away from his father’s incessant complaining about the house. Lucas had once asked him, “You grew up in this house. Why did you move us here if you hated the house?” His reply: “Because I got it for free, that’s why. I can suffer it because it doesn’t cost me anything but what I spend on repairs and property taxes. Someday you’ll understand.”
Susan has established the ‘now’ and has readied us for the excellent historical fiction that follows.

The synopsis distills the series’ beginning well – ‘Twenty-eight year old Lucas Landry, a Sacramento, California native, is a counseling psychologist specializing in drug abuse treatment, yet couldn’t save his own opioid-addicted father. His feelings about his father and his death get complicated when he discovers his father hid many secrets about their ancestry from Lucas and his brother. Lucas embarks on a journey to find answers: What secrets had his father hidden, who are the Landrys, and where did they come from? Are Lucas and his estranged brother destined to repeat their ancestors’ mistakes? A hidden attic in Lucas’s father’s old Victorian house is a goldmine of memorabilia and clues from the past, clues which seem to lead to Nazi Germany and the former Sudetenland, breadcrumbs to other lives. Ten year old Christa Nagel is an ethnic German living in the Sudetenland near the Polish border in 1943 with her parents and five younger siblings. When her father is conscripted into the Wehrmacht, leaving Christa and family alone to fend for themselves, she is horrified and worried for him. After a while, though, she’s not sure which is worse, fighting in the war or trying to keep their family together and safe. When the war ends, she and her family, as well as millions of other ethnic Germans face expulsion from their home, marched away into the unknown. Fifteen year old Ilse Seidel, a German girl living in a small Bavarian city, knows more about danger than anyone her age should know. She’s survived bombings, lost loved ones, and witnessed Jewish friends being carted away from their homes. She wants nothing to do with the war or with soldiers. Her life takes a dramatic turn when she finds a wounded soldier in need of help. Lucas is determined to assemble these breadcrumbs, find out how their stories intertwine, and reveal his ancestry. Will what he learns make him feel better about himself and his family, or worse? Breadcrumbs and Bombs is about secrets, lies, prejudice, betrayal, guilt, love, genealogy, and what it means to be a family.’

Welcome to a fascinating version of history woven into a fine novel. Though it is unfair to compare this book to other authors, the sensitivity with which Susan has shared this story is clearly comparable to the fine cadre of important historical fiction writers. Screenplay please….Grady Harp, February 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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