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The Puzzle King

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  413 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
On a gray morning in 1936, Flora Phelps stands in line at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany.  She carries a gift for the consul, whom she will bribe in order to help her family get out of Hitler’s Germany.  This is the story of unlikely heroes, the lively, beautiful Flora and her husband, the brooding, studious Simon, two Jewish immigrants who were each sent to ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 18th 2009 by Algonquin Books
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Dec 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I picked up The Puzzle King hoping for a good read. I wasn't expecting it to make an impact on me, but it did. I was sorry when I saw I was near the end. I wanted the story to keep going; I wanted to read more about the characters. But the ending was just right. And some of the discussion questions at the back of the book ask the reader to suppose what happened to some of the characters after the story ended.

The real-life backstory is just as interesting as the fiction. The author grew up hearin
Terri Jacobson
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Simon Phelps is a Latvian Jew who comes to America at 9 years old to make his fortune. He meets and falls in love with Flora Grossman, a German Jewish immigrant. This book is the story of their union and her family from about 1892 to 1936. Simon is an artist who works in advertising and eventually invents the jigsaw puzzle and becomes quite rich. He and Flora are unable to have children. Flora's mother, one sister, her brother-in-law and a niece remain in Germany. Simon and Flora become quite co ...more
Oct 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Puzzle King is the story of a few of the fortunate who escaped from Germany to America before the start of World War II. Simon, and the sisters Flora, and Seema all are sent to America as young children, leaving their families behind in Germany. Their success as immigrants is extraordinary as their find their place in the new country, work hard, and prosper. Yet always hanging over them is the question of what happened to the families they left behind. This is a new perspective on WWII, that of ...more
Nov 16, 2009 rated it liked it
I was a bit disappointed in this book. Good subject, interesting characters...but the writing needed a bit more polishing for me. I wanted the author to go into much more depth, in particular about Simon's family left behind in Lithuania. I found it hard to believe that Simon, with so much wealth, wouldn't go back on his own, back to his roots in Europe. To try, on his own, to find some information about his see where he came from, what molded him into the man he had become. That one ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
We read this in book club and everyone loved it, which is rare. The comment everyone made was that although it is set in the time of Nazi Germany, this is not a book about the holocaust. So, do not let that theme dissuade you from reading this book.

It is a story of overcoming the odds, and it is heartwarming. It is also a page turner. One of my favorite things about some authors, Betsy is a great story teller. I often recommend this book.

**Partial spoiler alert** One criticism, this is based on
Danielle Montgomery
Good story

This was an Interesting story about Simon how he ended up in America getting discovered for his talent, making a wonderful life for him and his wife and feeling the need to do something more with all the money he has earned for the Jewish Community in the US and overseas than just keep it and using his fortune along with his lovely wife to help the German Jews during that desperate time flee to safer ground.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book from the beginning. It was so real and historical but the characters became friends to me and it was just a wonderful read. I savored it really and I'm not one to savor books.
Apr 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
NOTE: I actually gave this book 4 1/2 stars.

I ADORED this book. Those of you that read by review of Songbird Under A German Moon know that I unfortunately sort of missed out on World War II history. This is one of the many reasons for which I absolutely adore books that give me a glimpse of what it was like. In Betsy Carter's gripping tale of love and family and heartache, that is exactly what she does. She brings Jewish characters to life in the times leading up to war. She breathes life into f
Alyce (At Home With Books)
Jan 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
My impression of The Puzzle King was that it was going to be a story about the rescue of Jews from Germany during World War II. Surprisingly the description from the front flap of the book of Flora standing in line at the consulate in Germany appears very late in the book.

The character that the reader first encounters is a nine-year-old boy named Simon who is leaving his family in Vilna in order to immigrate to the United States. He is unaccompanied on his trip and has no one to meet him or take
he Puzzle King, by Betsy Carter is a well-written novel, based on Clark’s ancestors and family legends.

The novel opens in March 1936, in Stuttgart, Germany, where a woman named Flora stood in line waiting to see the consul. The story line then moves to 1892, and back and forth through the decades between 1892 and 1936. The main characters in The Puzzle King are Simon Phelps, and Flora Grossman.

Their lives have strange twists, as each one of them emigrates to America. Simon, a Jewish boy, is sen
Aug 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was a compelling read. The characters are wonderful; Edith is hope and life, Seema is vibrance and danger, Flora is sturdy and solid, Margot is beautiful and fragile and Simon is serious and haunted.

Told over the course of 30 years, the story chronicles the lives of Simon and Flora beginning when Simon's mother sent him to America to escape the ethnic cleansing in Lithuania. Flora and Seema, sent to America from Germany, enter the story gently and then become larger than life as their
Deon Stonehouse
The Puzzle King by Betsy Carter is a touching story about the courage to put oneself on the line to help in the face of overwhelming evil..Simon Phelps made sense of the world with his drawings.  His mother has a tough time raising her children in Eastern Europe. She scrapes together enough to send 9 year old Simon to the United States.  He is to work hard, become successful, and then send for his family.  The first part he achieves, but he never finds his family again.  Imagine a 9 year old chi ...more
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
I have mixed feelings about this book. It was a quick, easy read, with deep characters and a historical point of view I have not yet come across, despite my recent discovery of period novels and series such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. I feel disappointed because I expected some type of climactic Holocaust entanglement, and the story is a much more linear, emotional history of a diverted crisis. While it still doesn't fully explain the passion that prevents German Jews from racing ...more
Eva Popovich
Nov 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Betsy Carter's books have all been enjoyable, but this one is special, I think. It is historical fiction and the subject is a facet of the holocaust story that I was unfamiliar with, the Jewish families and groups in the United States who helped German jews to emigrate from Germany at the beginning of World War II. It is an emotional story of one of those families and the heartbreaks they experience, those family members on both sides of the ocean. The other reviews of this book have covered the ...more
Oct 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
A great love story, a great family story based on legends heard by the author from her relatives, and also a look at people in the US and Germany at the beginning of World War II.

Characters are not always what they seem and it is not until the end of the book that we see that. People who appear frivolous may not be so and may be capable of great courage. People who appear ungenerous may be the most generous of creatures who are unobtrusive in the ways that they help others.

At times the story se
Nice historical novel based on the author's relative revolving around the effort to get German Jews out of the country before Hitler really went nuts. The author spends a lot of time setting up familial relationships, and character establishment, and little on the actual efforts because she had very little factual evidence, but I think it works. It gives the reader an excellent picture of Hitler's rise to power and what American Jews and German Jews believed in the years leading up to WWII. The ...more
Glenda Lynne
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So far, it is absolutely spell binding. Carter's writing is so incredibly picturesque that I actually feel like I am there. I cried in the first five pages. That has never happened to me before. I sometimes cry, but not in the first few pages!

Now that I have finished the book I have to say that it was totally enjoyable and very engrossing. This was one of the best books I've read in years. Ms. Carter's language is rich in visual metaphor, and the plot is fascinating from beginning to end. I loo
Oct 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Great read but when the book ended I felt like it was just getting started. I wish the author would have expanded the story a bit more but I still very much enjoyed the story. It's a bit different than the other WWII holocaust stories I've read in that it partly/mostly takes place from the point of view of a jewish family in NYC who have relatives in Germany and you really only get sketchy information about the relatives in Germany when the story is switched to their point of view. This would be ...more
Judy Gehman
Dec 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this novel, which is actually based on real people and events that happened to the author's ancestors. The story is of Flora and Simon Phelps who both are Jewish and emigrated from Europe. The action goes back and forth between Europe and America from 1892 to 1936. Tension builds up as things get worse and worse for the Jews with the rise of Hitler. The title refers to Simon's idea and development of the first mass produced die-cut advertising jigsaw puzzles at the height of the depres ...more
Jackie Sanderson
Apr 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I've read another book about immigrants in the US!! And the characters also see the build-up to the Second World War and warning signs of the holocaust. I've got another book on my pile to read next that has Irish immigrants in it(---but a much earlier setting). I've gotta stop this.
The title, which attracted me to this novel, refers to the invention and use of stamped cardboard puzzles as advertising gimmicks. There are other aspects of art used for advertising in the dawn of the age of adverti
Maryellen Woodside
Oct 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Betsy Carter's previous two novels are among my favorites, especially since the setting in both novels was Florida. The Puzzle King is very different. It is historical, spanning the years from 1892 to 1936. It is based on Carter's family stories. Flora Grossman and Simon Phelps are immigrants to America, who fall in love and marry. Somon makes a fortune by inventing the jigsaw puzzle. Both have family members in Germany and want to get them out in the face of Hilter's rising power. The book is a ...more
Sep 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is my first book by Betsy Carter and I enjoyed it. It is a story of Jewish immigrants from Europe before World War II and their efforts to bring the rest of their families from Germany to America. Although it is not a memoir it does come from some of Ms. Carter's family history. I was confused by the actions of some of the characters and did not feel that they were realistic - but who knows how I would act in the same situations. Overall I enjoyed the book and would probably read more by he ...more
Nov 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub, fiction
Terrific! Glad I decided to give it a try before book club on Wednesday. Recommended to any who have interest in The Holocaust, ww2, Nazi Germany and family values.
Next Day: After going to bed last night and thinking about this book (always a good sign) I realized that I felt like there were loose ends not tied properly. I can appreciate books that leave frayed edges, but this one just needed a bit more closure in a few places for this reader. Still a good read.
Elyse Rudin
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
A Jewish 9 year old boy is sent alone to New York in 1892. When attending a dance in his mid teens, he meets his future wife. He becomes a very successful jigsaw puzzle maker and is also obsessed with bringing his family and his wife's to N.Y. before WWII breaks out. This story is predictable and yes you've read stories like this before but I enjoyed the book because the characters were engaging and the story moved at a good pace.
Sep 13, 2009 rated it liked it
If you don't know how much about the early immigrant scene and the early years of Hitler's restrictions on the Jews - you will probably find the book interesting. What endears the book - but also might weaken its tension - is that the author is related to the female character. The author has researched the situation and time period and created this novel - and - unfortunately - I think it feels that way. This would be a good novel for a high school reading list.
Oct 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
A story of some very fortunate immigrates to America. In fact, I would have said that the story was highly unlikely, had I not known it was based on actual people and events. I really enjoyed reading it and I loved the characters. The only complaint I had was, with out spoiling the end, there were some unresolved issues with Simons parents that left me wanting more. Other than that I enjoyed seeing the growth of the character as they learned just what they were capable of.
Dec 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was a "surprise" from the shelves of our local library. I don't know what attracted me, but I got it, and I'm glad I did. It tells the story of European immigrants to America in the late 1890's and continues through 1936, I believe. The story focuses on Flora and Simon, who are from Germany and Lithuania, respectively. So you see the rise of Hitler from an immigrant's standpoint. The prose is fluid and fun to read. Great book!
Nicole Klieff
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book. A fictional novel but also including some true hereditary facts, I found it compelling. Although the subject to some is understandably disturbing; however due to the relaxed style of the writing, I confess to finding this book as an easily digestible read. The book is written in easy comprehensivable language and in its sweetness, the naievity and innocence from the period filters through. Was far better than anticipated.
Freyja Vanadis
Jul 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book could have been so much better if Ms. Carter had been more detailed and realistic in her descriptions of her characters. Instead, she glossed over everyone so this book has no real substance. This is really nothing more than chick-lit set in the early 1900s through the beginning of Nazi Germany.
Nov 20, 2010 rated it liked it
This is actually quite a fascinating book, part family history and part fiction. It's a quick read, which is the unfortunate part, because the author could have drawn her characters more deeply. Instead, they tend to come off as "characters in a book" rather than the fascinating people they probably were. Still, well worth reading if your time is limited.
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I am the author of the novel, Swim to Me, which was published in August 2007 by Algonquin Books who also published, The Orange Blossom Special in 2005. My memoir Nothing to Fall Back On was a national bestseller. I write for O: The Oprah magazine, Good Housekeeping, New York, Glamour and Hallmark, among others.
I was a reporter at Newsweek for nine years, and then served as the Editorial Director
More about Betsy Carter

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