Bookworm: ‘Blue Star’ will put you on the edge of your seat

‘Blood and Treasure’ for anyone who loves the adventurous side of American history

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The Woman with the Blue Star”

  • By Pam Jenoff
  • c. 2021, Park Row Books
  • $17.99, $22.99 Canada; 336 pages

Unthinkable. That’s what this situation is: unthinkable, with a line you won’t cross no matter what. You’ve thought about it, considered all possible solutions, studied this whole thing from many angles and in the end, there’s just no way. But as in the new novel, “The Woman with the Blue Star” by Pam Jenoff, never say “never.”

“The Woman with the Blue Star” by Pam Jenoff.

At eighteen years old, Sadie Gault was hardly a child anymore.

Still, as her mother argued, Sadie was small and looked years younger than she was. She was small enough to hide in the attic from the German soldiers, small enough to fit into a clothing trunk. Sadie’s Papa said that it was better not to hide, better that she gets registered, that the Germans weren’t taking Jewish workers, but there was always that danger ...

And when that danger arrived, it came swiftly: Sadie had just moments to pack a small bag before she and her parents disappeared beneath their building’s toilet, under the floor and into the sewer, where they hoped the Germans would never think to look for them.

From the moment her father brought Ana Lucia home, nineteen-year-old Ella Stepanek knew she’d never get along with her new stepmother. She sensed that Ana Lucia couldn’t be trusted, a sentiment that was proven when Ella’s father went missing-presumed-dead and Ana Lucia began entertaining German soldiers in her home soon afterwards.

“The Woman with the Blue Star” by Pam Jenoff.

That was something Ella couldn’t tolerate, but she had no one to discuss it with. Everybody knew that Ana Lucia was a collaborator, and they scattered when they saw Ella. Ella’s lover, Krys, had broken up with her before leaving for battle. She had no one – and so, to escape her home, Ella went on long walks, keeping her eyes cast downward.

But one day, her eyes met another pair through the sewer grate, and Ella was moved to help the girl named Sadie. She brought Sadie food and hope, but Kraków was becoming a perilous place, both above ground and below...

When you read the word “sewer” in a story, you know that’s not going to be a good thing, right? And that’s true here: while “The Woman with the Blue Star” is based on real events, that won’t stop your imagination from running free.

Still, author Pam Jenoff asks readers to ignore a little novelish contrivednes, to forget about the things their modern minds leap at, and to focus on the tale here. It’s a big request – let’s face the Ick Factor – but it’s not a hard one for you to grant since Jenoff’s characters are very solid, the situation is authentic – Jenoff, in fact, explains in her acknowledgments how she researched this book, to ensure that the basic facts are true – and the story’s tension is in the stratosphere.

Get familiar with the edge of your seat because that’s where you’ll be for much of this novel. Wait for the twists inside here, because they’re coming. If you’re a fan of historical novels or Pam Jenoff, missing “The Woman with the Blue Star” is unthinkable.

More:Bookworm: ‘Music of Bees’ sweet, with no big sting

“Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier” co-author Bob Drury.

“Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier”

  • By Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
  • c. 2021, St. Martin’s Press
  • $29.99, $39.99 Canada; 400 pages

You’re never going to find it. Not easily, anyhow. You’ll have to look in places where you wouldn’t think it’d be, beneath, behind, and beyond, left, right, and in front of you. Don’t give up, or you’ll never discover what you’re looking for. As in the new book “Blood and Treasure” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, what you seek is waiting.

“Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.
“Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

While today’s pre-teen is often still closely watched by his parents when he leaves the house, nine-year-old Daniel Boone made his own weapon.

Tasked with watching his father’s cattle, Boone would sneak off into the woods that ringed the animals’ pasture, where he hunted small game with a rifle and the “war club” he’d made himself. Before he was a teenager, he’d learned that observing his prey could determine its habits, a skill that allowed him to regularly contribute to the Boone family’s meals and supplies.

He was also a keen observer of the area’s indigenous people who lived near the family farm in Pennsylvania. By watching them, he learned how to use plants as “potions and salves,” how to make a waterproof raft, and how to tan the hides of the game he killed. These skills whetted Boone’s wanderlust; that his entire family uprooted and moved to North Carolina underscored it further. By age nineteen, Boone had a “thirst for the ‘long hunt’,” an odious and dangerous live-off-the-land hunt that could last months; over time, his abilities gained him a reputation as an unbeatable marksman and, though not formally educated, possessor of a keen mind.

He also had a good imagination.

It was during his service in the French and Indian War that Boone learned about a place “the Shawnee called Kanta-ke and the Iroquois Ken-tah-ten,” a place that became a “magical kingdom” in his head. Its existence was only hinted-at, its location unknown but, for Boone, Kanta-ke and the “mysterious” Cumberland Gap that led to it became an obsession...

Here’s something you’ll want to know about “Blood and Treasure”: the first word in the title should be in neon. Yes, the mid-1700s weren’t all tea-and-crumpets but still, there’s a lot of blood shed inside these pages and it most often comes with wincing descriptions of horrible torture and death.

The other thing you’ll want to know is that authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin dive canyon-deep into their subject, which means that readers who lack at least a nodding acquaintance with eighteenth-century territories and pre-Revolution wars may be lost in quick order.

And yet, possessing a willingness to search for it, those who come to this book for Boone will be delighted. Drury and Clavin depict Daniel Boone as a charming rapscallion who gains awe from his friends and begruding admiration from his foes; he’s an easy-going man, quick with a grin, resourceful, and a joy to read about.

For that, for anyone who loves the adventurous side of American history, “Blood and Treasure” is a gem. It’s full of action, thorough and wide. Look for it. You’ll find it.

More:Bookworm: ‘World Travel’ is more of a celebration

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.