Cover Image: The Willow Wren

The Willow Wren

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Member Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley & ECW Press for the opportunity to read and review this book before it's publication date! This in no way affected my review, opinions are my own.

This was a stunningly beautiful book, even as it described in great detail the horrors of war. I often found myself getting lost in the language and the phrasing that Philipp Schott used, going back over sentences and paragraphs; reading them out loud to my husband just so I could share them with someone.

This isn't your typical WWII novel, and whereas I don't think the synopsis does the reader a disservice, necessarily, it is worth mentioning that the novel is a lot less of the thrilling escape that it seems it will be. It's more of an intricate look into the depths of human nature that coincides with a family leaving Germany (past the 90% mark). 

There is a lot of introspection and descriptive writing in this book (including almost an entire chapter on the particulars of mushroom foraging in wartime, which I found fascinating but which admittedly will not be everyone's cup of tea). I found it incredibly well written and loved the author's note at the end - while it's not the type of WWII novel I normally find myself reading, I think it was all the better for it. 

I would definitely recommend this to other readers of WWII Historical Fiction, especially if you like learning more about the historical aspects.
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This one is a bit of memoir mixed with historical fiction and is set during one of my favorite book settings -- WWII. This time from the perspective of a young German boy, with a father who is a senior German official. Ludwig would much rather be out in nature enjoying the trees and the birds and reading. Forced to flee Leipzig due to bombing, the family eventually separates, with the two older boys at a youth camp and two other siblings with a farmer. The parents are able to pull some strings and eventually get an apartment in Colditz and work to reunite the family. Ludwig’s parents are nearly opposite with his father following strict adherence to the German ideology and his mother seems to know it is all propaganda. Ludwig doesn’t see his father for most of the war and much falls on his mother’s shoulders.

As the war drags on and with several younger siblings at home, Ludwig becomes their unofficial caretaker when his mother suffers with depression and the whole family struggles with trying to get enough to eat. Six children require a lot of food! At 14, his older brother is dragged from the camp into fighting the war.

This part of Germany eventually falls under first American control and then Russian control. Ration coupons don’t provide nearly enough for the family and they scrounge the farmer’s fields and the forest for anything edible. Money is complicated and bartering becomes critical. Travel between the zones is forbidden, but Ludwig tries convincing his mother to flee to the west where they have a better shot at a good life.

Philipp Schott pens this tale from stories he heard from his father Ludwig and we get a glimpse of the hardships that one family endured. It was insightful to see the perspective of a child for the times before, through, and after the war.
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Rounded to 4 stars.
It’s well written and I was hooked during the first 30%, but after that I did loose interest. I don’t know what happened. I felt that something was lost on the retelling. I missed that heartbeat that I have always found between the lines of books with this topic, which is one of my favourite topics. 
The storyline is really good and interesting but I wasn’t wowed.
Still, it is worth a read,
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The Willow Wren by Philipp Schott 

From stories told by his father, Ludwig, Philipp Schott has written this fascinating book that allows us to see WWII from a viewpoint that I've rarely read. From the beginning, I'm drawn to introverted Ludwig, who feels so connected to birds and trees before, during, and after the horrors of WWII. Ludwig and his siblings are born to two people who are very different from each other. The imbalance between the lives of his German mother and father is highlighted by his mother's constant devotion to her children while his father seems a distant, cold, devotee of Hitler's regime. Father is a senior Nazi while it's obvious that Ludwig's mother believes that true believers are fools and throughout the book you can see that Ludwig and his older brother's doubt increase toward the propaganda that is forced on them through teachers, their father, and Hitler Youth camp.

As Germany suffers more and more defeats during WWII, shortages grow and the people suffer. While hearing of Germany's great wins and advances, it's impossible to ignore that food, supplies, electricity, and things that had been every day features of prewar life are dwindling and disappearing. Eventually Ludwig's mother and siblings must flee the city and split up to survive, with ten year old Ludwig and his older brother living in a Hitler Youth camp, where they are (reluctantly) prepared to do their duty to Hitler and their country. Ludwig's fourteen year old brother, Theodur, is finally sent to the front lines where children and old men alike become the latest cannon fodder for the ego of the leaders of Germany. If they can't win, they want every man, woman, and child to die for the lost cause. 

During the years of Germany's increasing losses in the war and after their defeat, I'm amazed at the strength of Ludwig's mother. She is suffering from depression, malnutrition, pregnancy, nursing a baby while starving, and a constantly philandering husband but she still ekes out an existence for her six children. Both Ludwig and his older brother must grow up way too quickly and do not seem inclined to believe the party line that their father allows to rule his life. Possibly through hindsight, Ludwig's memories seem to be those of an older person, even when he's remembering things from his very early years. This is a boy who is obviously an old soul but also a boy who has lost his childhood along with so many other children of a war that destroys humans on all sides. 

At the end of the book, the author lets us know what happens to Ludwig and his family, when they are reunited with their father, and up to the present day. I enjoyed knowing that although Ludwig didn't become a forest ranger like he dreamed of being, he did plant trees and grow food on his own place in Canada, where he raised a family. It's hard to believe there could be a life after the brutalities of war, but in this case, Ludwig carried his memories with him and shared them with his family, allowing them to now be shared with us. 

Thank you to the author, ECW Press, and NetGalley for this digital and print ARC.
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I read a lot of WWII books and this one stands out because I haven't read many books set in Germany, with non-Nazis, and then continuing after the war with the Russian occupation. I love that it's based on a real family and rooted in facts. It was a bit slow, maybe because it wasn't written on the front lines of the war, but it held my attention enough that I looked forward to reading more.
Thanks to NetGalley and ECW Press for the advance copy.
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Wow, what a magnificent novel this is! All of you (like me) who are beginning to tire of WWII stories, dust yourselves off and make room for this one. This is a “historical fiction memoir,” if you will. The author, Philipp Schott, is the son of the real-life protagonist, Ludwig Schott. The frame of the story is Ludwig’s, the details are Philipp’s. Ludwig narrates all the way up to the epilogue. Philipp gives us the last chapter/epilogue. 

This is unlike any other WWII book I have read, and I have read a lot of them. The story takes place from the mid 1930s through 1949. Ludwig was born in 1934 and was only 15 at the end of the book. Thus, we see the buildup, the actual war years, and the difficult aftermath through the eyes of an East German boy. His father, Wilhelm, is a hard-core Nazi and a philanderer. His mother, Luise, does not fall for Nazi propaganda and is more concerned about keeping her five children safe. Ludwig is an introverted soul, most comfortable in the forest with the birds (especially the wrens), animals, and trees. But times are bad; suffering is paramount. Ludwig must grow up fast. From his pre-teen years he is forced to skip childhood and begin making adult decisions and doing what he can to help his family and himself survive. Through the eyes of a young boy we see it all: The inevitable removal of nine-year-old Ludwig and his 13 year-old brother Theodur from their home and their forced participation in the militaristic Hitler Youth camp. The constant threat of death—by war or by starvation. The bullying. The absent father. The mother’s struggles. The challenges just to survive. As the war finally winds down, many of these challenges remain as the family, sans father, lives under Russian rule. Ultimately, at age 14, Ludwig realizes the only possible way to freedom and a good life lies within the dangerous attempt to escape from East Germany to the West. 

It is a real eye opener to read a war novel through perspective of a young German. We see that the Germans during that time were just like us. Some were gaslighted by Nazi propaganda (Hitler actually won a democratic election) and fought for the rise of fascism. Others could see clearly and were frightened by what they could see happening. Countryman was pitted against countryman. What a jolt to see the rise of fascism from a situation very similar to what we have seen in America the last few years. Thankfully, so far, we have remained out of a world (and civil) war, but we are not out of the woods yet. When I first began reading WWII books, I wondered why the people did not rise up against the fascist leaders. Now I understand much better why they did not. A charismatic (in some eyes) leader, gaslighting and fake news. 

Despite the horrors of the war, it was so inspiring to see how young Ludwig handled the overwhelming odds of all that confronted him. He was courageous, resourceful, resilient, and never gave up. You know that question about if you could have dinner with 5 people who would they be? Ludwig would be one of my guests. He was a phenomenal young man, and I’m glad his brother made sure he would not be forgotten by writing his story. I highly recommend The Willow Wren for all readers of historical fiction. 

Many thanks to Net Galley, Alex and the ECW Press, and Philipp Schott for the gift of an ARC. Opinions stated are mine alone and are not biased in any way.
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The Willow Wren is the story of Nazi German, World War II and beyond, as seen through the eyes of a child.  He and his family suffer greatly.  Through Ludwig’s revelations the reader feels every nuance of his experiences.  The Willow Wren is an enlightening read.
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The Willow Wren is a based on memories about Germany seen through the eyes of a young German boy, during the Second World War and for a few years after, in East Germany.

The story began in 1944, with a memory from ten-year-old Ludwig; he and his mother looked on at the partly bombed house that was once their home in Leipzig. They’d returned to the city for Ludwig’s birthday and hoped to meet with his father.

The story then went back, and built up through the early years of Ludwig’s life. We were introduced to a young bookish boy who preferred the peace and quiet of a forest with birds and trees. When war broke out, much of it was far away from Ludwig’s life and was meaningless to him, until the bombs began to fall. While his father stayed in the city the family were split up; Ludwig and his older brother Theodore were sent to a camp, where they were ‘encouraged’ to join the Hitler Youth. Those were terrifying years for two small boys who didn’t like war games and preferred books, made worse when teenager Theodore was sent to the Russian front.

After the war they both found their way back to live in Colditz with their mother and younger siblings. It was now part of the Russian ruled East Germany and Ludwig’s memories of those years were very enlightening.
This book was such a pleasure to read, the writing flowed smoothly and I was engrossed by Ludwig’s life and his perceptions of all that went on around him. I thought that seeing the war years through an adult’s memories of his childhood worked really well; children notice different things and their understanding of events can be different from an adults. I also liked how the author interspersed parts of the narrative with what Ludwig knew later, comparing it to a current event.

Although I can recommend the whole book, two parts stood out for me; I was quite shocked to read that near the end of the war desperate German leaders kept lowering the age limit of Hitler Youth needed in the fighting fronts and children were sent to face the enemy. The other part of the book which I found very interesting was life in East Germany, especially the first few years after the end of the war, when the adjustments to living under Soviet rule were difficult. 

I loved the ending and the author’s notes at the end were very enlightening and worth reading to add perspective to the narrative; I found them quite emotional after the final chapter. Definitely a book to read for fans of historical fiction and the war years.
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This is a fictionalized memoir of the author’s father, Ludwig Schott.  The focus is Ludwig’s life when he is between 6 and 15 years of age in the 1940s in Germany.  

Ludwig’s father Wilhelm is a senior Nazi leader.  His position means that initially the family does not suffer unduly when compared to other Germans.  However, once fighting comes to Germany, Wilhelm is not able to protect his family and their situation becomes more challenging.  Leaving her husband in Leipzig to continue his duties for the Reich, Luise takes her children to Colditz, a town deemed safe from bombing because it is home to a POW camp for officers.  Once the war is lost, Colditz is controlled by the Soviets.  The Schott family faces harsh conditions, including food shortages.  Ludwig, as the second-eldest child, helps however he can to ensure that he, his mother, and his five siblings survive.  

The book provides an interesting perspective of World War II, that of a German child living through the war and its aftermath.  The book shows the situation in Germany during the war but also after the war.  Civilians suffered greatly.   The Americans entered Colditz, but they were replaced by Soviet occupation forces when Germany was divided into four occupied zones.  It is this latter period that I found most interesting, since I have encountered little written from a first person perspective about the Soviet occupation of Germany.  

As a child, Ludwig is exposed to differing political views.  Ludwig’s father Wilhelm is devoted to Hitler; Luise tells her son that, “’If the Party said do not breathe on Sundays, [your father] would hold his breath until he passed out.’”  Even when the war does not go well for the Germans, Wilhelm has no doubts:  “The situation for our beloved Fatherland may appear to be difficult, but we must trust in the Fuehrer.  He has knowledge that we do not have, and he has wisdom that we do not have.”  Ludwig’s mother, on the other hand, is skeptical.  She calls Goebbels an idiot and the Nazis clowns.  Because of his parents’ differing views, his closeness to his mother, and his father’s emotional and physical distance, Ludwig questions what he is told.    

Ludwig is an interesting child.  He tends to be a loner who prefers his own company.  He is bothered by excessive noise and finds solace in nature in the company of birds.  He is an intelligent and observant boy.  Though he is not able to always fully understand what is happening around him, he recognizes propaganda and “lethal fanaticism.”  He is also a loving child who supports his mother as best he can even though he does not completely understand the burden she has of looking after six children.  Though his life is very much at the mercy of forces beyond his control, he doesn’t give up.  He certainly shows that he possesses the resourcefulness of the little wren, his favourite bird.

The story I would love to know more about is that of Wilhelm and Luise.  How did two people with such opposite personalities come to marry?  Luise seems not to wear blinders when it comes to her husband.  When Ludwig asks about what his father does, she begins with “’When he is not combing his hair or smiling at pretty young women . . .” before explaining his duties.  She emerges as an admirable person who looks after her children alone during very difficult circumstances.  Wilhelm, on the other hand, as one of his sons points out, “’doesn’t accept personal responsibility.  Not really anyway.  Not in an honest emotional sense.’”  Instead, he spouts, “‘Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.’”   Wilhelm seems a stereotypical German:  emotionally cold, inflexible, and extremely disciplined. 

I enjoyed the book.  It provides a look at a historical time period from an original perspective.  It also offers advice on how to overcome obstacles.  

Note:  I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.
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Ludwig was ten years old when Germany’s war impacted him and his family. His father was an important member of the Nazi Party and after their home was bombed in Liepzig, his mother and siblings fled to his aunt’s home. But she was unable to house Ludwig’s mother and five siblings, so the children were sent to separate places. Ludwig and his older brother Theodor were sent to a Hitler Youth camp where they spent the majority of the war, under the guise of schooling, when in fact it was bullying, cruelty and extremism.

Ludwig had always been a little different. A small child, his mind was his greatest asset. But because of his stature, he was always the butt of jokes and torment. His greatest love was the forests and birds, especially the willow wren. His love of books kept him centred, while his most read book was Winnetou by the German author Karl May. So, Ludwig’s time at the Youth Camp was something of a shock to him.

When the war was finally over, Ludwig returned to his mother’s home in Colditz where they continued to live, often with little to no food. The Russians had taken over and were cruel and heartless. But Ludwig wanted better for his mother and siblings. Would they be able to escape to the West?

The Willow Wren by Philipp Schott is based on the true story of his father, Ludwig, and right until the epilogue it is told in Ludwig’s voice. To start with, I thought this must have been nonfiction, but as Philipp explains, it is in small part fact, and in large part, his imagination. The intrigue and emotional rendition in the voice of a boy, with his views, horrors and utter disbelief, blended with his love of nature and love of his family, is beautifully done. The resilience of the young, especially in extreme circumstances, is amazing. Highly recommended.

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
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3.5 stars

Many readers of historical fiction are well-versed in some elements of life in WW2-era Germany. The Willow Wren, based on the memories of the author’s father, Ludwig, presents a part of the story that is not told as often, that of the end of the war and life under Soviet occupation in East Germany. The characterizations, descriptive detail, and pacing are all executed effectively to convey terror, destitution, and resilience. The strength of Ludwig’s mother in keeping herself and six children alive is nothing short of heroic. 

Ludwig told these stories for the remainder of his life, and his son has used them as the basis for The Willow Wren. The choice to tell it from the first person point of view is problematic. The voice is painfully inconsistent, moving from younger than makes sense at the moment to language that sounds more like a high school history text than a 11 year-old’s reckoning. Were it not for this distraction, the book would be a real stand-out in the genre.

Thank you to Philipp Schott, ECW Press, and NetGalley for an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Schott was born in Germany, but emigrated to Canada while still a baby.  He is a veterinarian and his only previous book is entitles "The Accidental Veterinarian".  This novel is an historical fiction and is based on the memories of his grandfather Ludwig Schott.  Ludwig was a child living in Germany during World War II and the book recounts his memories of both the war years and the few years after the war under the rule of communist Russia.  His dad was a member of the Nazi party and he was not home much.  He lived with his mom, older brother and younger siblings.  Ludwig loves being in the woods watching the birds, which does not help in making friends.  The story details the downfall of the family from living in relative privilege through harder and harder times as the war progresses and is no longer something happening far away. He is eventually sent to a Hitler Youth Camp, where life gets even harder.  After Germany is defeated, the deprivation continues and every day is a struggle for survival.  This is a fabulous read for fans of the genre and although classified as fiction, much of it is based on actual events.  I found it to be very entertaining and educational.
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Don't turn away from this story of strength and resilience based in fact.  Ludwig's father was a Nazi who sent him to a Nazi education camp when he was just a child.  Then the war ended and with it, the life that Ludwig had known.  His father missing (he was sent for reeducation), his mother and siblings starving in Colditz he took command of the family at age 11.  Age 11.  He manages to move his mother Sarah, mired in darkness, and the others, out and into a brighter future.  Schott has taken his grandfather's story and made a novel which hits an unusual niche in WWII fiction.  It's well written and if times things are glossed over a bit, that's ok.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  Might be a good one for the YA crowd.
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The Willow Wren is a wonderful book based on the stories of the author’s father, Ludwig, growing up in Germany before, during, and after WWII. It’s the story of an introverted boy who is more interested in walking in the forest and listening to birds than he is participating in sports or other Hitler youth activities. This is the story of a child watching his world crumble around him. We see everything from Ludwig’s point of view, a ten year old boy watching as Germany starts to crumble and he witnesses people loosing their minds. He watches the Americans occupy his home, then turn it over to the Russians. Through it all, Ludwig and his family carry on. They take care of each other and persevere. It’s a story of survival.

This is not an action packed drama, not a spy thriller. It is an honest and at times heart wrenching story of a young boy caught in a crazy world and how he survives. 

Thank you to NetGalley, the publishers, and the author for an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I absolutely adored this book.  I enjoyed the child’s prospective of what it was like growing up as German child during WW2 and more so, his innocent opinions and feelings of what was going on around him.  His views were interesting given that his father’s views were that of a Nazi and his mother, a Nazi’s wife, had her own views and opinions.

As soon as I started reading the book, I could not put it down.  It was even better that this book was written by Philipp Schott, the son of Ludwig Schott, the young boy in the book.
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Philipp Schott has crafted a wonderful novel based on the recollections of his father and his family of growing up in Germany before, during and after WW2. Philipp's father Ludwig was born in 1934 in Leipzig where his father Wilhelm was a lawyer and a member of the Nazi party. The second of six children Ludwig was a small, skinny boy, more interested in reading and nature than sport. He loved the books of Karl May that told the tale of the young Apache chief Winnetou and the American West. A favourite Grimms fairytale was that of the willow wren, a small, quiet bird that outsmarted all the others and his favourite pastime was to escape to the woods where he could soak up the tranquility and listen to the songs of the birds.

Through accounts told to him by his father, mother and siblings, Philipp has put together the story of the family's survival through the war and under occupation by Russia. Ludwig's father Wilhelm would eventually become the local Nazi group leader (Ortsgruppenleiter) for the Leipzig area, although his mother Sarah would remain resolutely against the party and anti-war. The war would remain somewhat remote for young Ludwig until 1941 when British bombing of German cities resulted in blackouts and rationing and the escalating bombing of Leipzig in 1943 would eventually lead to separation of the family with Ludwig and his older brother Theodor sent to a boy's evacuation camp near Colditz. Ludwig and Theodor's accounts of life in the militaristic camp were pretty grim, especially for the small and bookish Ludwig, and would culminate with Theodor being sent to fight at the front at the age of fifteen. 

The description of the family's plight after the war also makes for grim reading. With her husband Wilhelm presumed dead, Sarah and the children settle in Colditz, now in the zone occupied by Russia and experience real hardship and near starvation for three years, while Ludwig dreams of convincing his mother and siblings to escape to the west.

Philipp Schott is a marvellous story teller and writer and this was a fascinating account of what it was like to be a German child, and son of a Nazi Party leader during WW2. It's a tale of the courage, resourcefulness and resilience of ordinary people. The descriptions of post war deprivation in what would become East Germany were no doubt typical of what the rest of the population experienced at the time, but were definitely eye-opening.
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Beautiful insight from the author about his father's life from memories of surviving WWII in Nazi Germany. Ludwig is enchanting, innocent and then engaging and determined to help save his mother and siblings from the depths into which they sink as their father falls deeper and deeper under the influence of Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Set initially in Leipzig the story moves to Colditz as the family (without their father) have to re settle into a country now facing defeat in war.  
This was fascinating to read - Colditz is of course iconic from the story of the POW castle - but the town around and those who work within it brought the whole changing climate of war defeat to life. Also the amazing world into which Ludwig escapes with nature - the woods and forests and of course the birds (after which the book is called) remain integral to Ludwig's view and ability to take on board the serious adult problems that surround him.
Dealing with death, starvation, his father's rejection of them all at times and then to have to resolve finding themselves in Russian occupied East Germany are all well written.
Sometimes the author is keen to transplant factual information as within Ludwig's mind but of course the contextual part of the story needed to be set against the real family saga in some way.
So glad to read the ending and of the author's immersion into his father's memories and stories. I loved so many of the characters/often forgetting they were real and then of course despairing of their pain at times.
This is a superb book for young people as well as adults. A real life insight into how war can affect families. Children have always suffered the greatest (alongside women too) in the eye of the soldier's aim and that politics turns the very fabric of family life inside out is a lesson from history which sadly we never seem to learn,
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The Willow Wren is based on the true story.  It is a fictionalized account of the author's grandfather and his life during the Nazi regime.  Ludwig, a young boy with a father that believes in and is devoted to Hitler and the Nazi cause,, is different than other boys his age..  Ludwig is shy and introverted, he doesn't like sports and he likes to be in the forest watching birds, whom he thinks he can understand what they are saying.  His mother is the opposite of his father, she is not for the Nazi regime and makes this known to her husband.  As the war comes nearer to home, Ludwig and his brother are sent to a boy's camp, a Hitler Youth Camp.  Ludwig, being different, is tormented by the boy leaders in the camp, he hates the military maneuvers and training he is forced to participate in.  Ludwig would rather spend time in the forest with the trees and the birds the wrens.
   When the tide turns and the Germans lose the war, it is not over for Ludwig and his family.  With his father gone, Ludwig must assume the role of man of the house and become responsible for his family at times as they face the new difficulties of a Russian occupation, which at times is as bad as  the war itself. 
   This is a great memoir-style novel told from an adult perspective of a child's remembrance of events.  Ludwig's naivete and innocence in the face of the terrible experiences of living through war shine through.
   I found this a very unique and refreshing account of WWII, especially being told from the side of a German family, part of whom sympathizes with the Nazis.  We don't read about this side as often.  I really enjoyed this well-written tale of Ludwig and his little willow wrens. 
   Thank you to NetGalley and ECW Press for the free ARC of the e-book version of this novel.  I am leaving my honest review in return.
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Based on a true story, this book is a must read. Told by a young German boy who grew up during the rise and fall of Nazism. He was from a family where his father is a senior Nazi leader.
Ludwig the young boy lives through all the detestable things that Germany went through. His mother was not a Nazi and seems like she wasn't invested in those politics.
Ludwig hides in books and nature during the bombings and loses of his previous life. He helps his mother through her depressions and with his younger siblings. They go through starvation and cold. Their determination to survive is exceptional. 
I was given this book to read and review by the publisher through Netgalley.
A wonderful story of determination, hardship, loss and courage.
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The Willow Wren - 
I usually read a handful of historical fiction books each year and this one stands out. It is different than the usual WWII fiction - part of the reason being that it is told from the point of view of a young boy, Ludwig. I really enjoyed a fresh perspective of the tough themes in most WWII centered pieces, I also enjoyed the imagery used as Ludwig grows up.  This is a fictionalized memoir of the author's Grandfather.  Phillipp Schott has created a well-written engaging story that I will continue to recommend to friends and family once it is released.
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