#Review: Alone at War by A. M. Brussel #HistoricalFiction #WWIFiction

Today I am delighted to share my review for A. M. Brussel’s WWI novel Alone at War. While I normally lean towards WWII fiction, this one hit me in the heartstrings and simply wouldn’t let go. It’s dark, real, and sure to please lovers of historical fiction and war fiction alike.


aloneTitle: Alone at War

AuthorA. M. Brussel

Publisher: Gatekeeper Press

Publication Date: December 16, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction WWI Fiction

Themes: Family, WWI, Survival, Discrimination, Trench Warfare

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Sara, a religious fourteen-year old Jewish girl, is orphaned in a small town on the Western Front in 1914, and is left alone to take care of her nine-year-old sister. They live above a cafe and the ex-prostitutes who work there become their new family. She feigns madness after abuse, and struggles to maintain her sanity and the religious values of her sister during the First World War. Together with a Jewish medic who she idealizes and comes to love, she befriends a young volunteer who is traumatized by battle and is found barking like a dog on a train station bench. Thoroughly researched, Alone at War depicts the struggle to maintain spiritual integrity during one of the darkest epochs of European history.


My Review

This book ain’t pretty, it isn’t clean cut, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. But guess what? It’s utterly fantastic.

This is the kind of gritty, visceral read that leaves little room for doubt when it comes the realities of war. Given the anti-Semitic focus it could have easily been set in WWII, but in taking it back to WWI and the trenches near Passchendaele everything slows down. The challenges for all parties become painfully clear – for the families of those left behind, for the soldiers in the trenches, and for the officers trying to make do with undertrained men and too few resources. But more anything else, it depicts the polarized depths of humanity and the lengths that people will go through to maintain their convictions in the most trying of circumstances.

While there is a central group of characters the majority of Alone at War revolves around, and is told through the eyes of, a the young and devoutly religious Sara. I found her to be a highly sympathetic character, especially since she not only had to grow up fast after the loss of her parents but also managed to maintain an innocence and naivety that can be too easily lost in the face of conflict. I loved how her dedication to her sister never wained, even when Anna begin to reject both Sara and their religion, and how Sara’s generous heart found room for the all of the other traumatized and ostracized souls she encountered along the way.

It seemed fitting that she found employment and refuge at both the chateau and the hospital, as both places provided a sort of refuge for those in need of healing. In each location we get to see a different side to her character, and with every chapter we get to see her grow as her eyes are opened wider and wider to the atrocities of the war. I understood completely her choice to appear mentally unstable and unattractive to the soldiers, however I did question as to whether or not that would have been enough to prevent assaults for two whole years as war causes desperate men to take desperate measures. While the topics of prostitution and rape were addressed through Alice, I was left with the feeling that it didn’t quite receive as much attention as it should have. But, this is also a love story and given that Isaac spends all of his time on the front rescuing others it was refreshing that he didn’t have to rescue Sara as well.

Isaac, or the Jew as he’s referred to throughout the book, is another character that I  instantly loved. As a Hacksaw Ridge style conscientious objector, idealist, and constant support it seemed only fitting that he would be the man that caught Sara’s eye. The care and effort that he put into protecting Henry, combing no-man’s land for survivors, and to visiting all of his patients when off the front made him a compassionate and easy to like fellow. I respected how he at first refused Sara’s advances, but treated the situation with a wholistic approach that saw beyond the war and their immediate circumstances. It was because of all of this that his final actions left me absolutely aghast – and because of them I ended up respecting him even more.

And despite Antoinette’s prickly exterior, she was another one that I found myself drawn too. Sure, she’s crass, she talks too much, and she was truly out of her depth when she took the girls in, but she was another character that put on an incredible display of integrity. Despite the frequent protests that she wasn’t a mother, she was perhaps the most maternal figure presented throughout the entire book. There are so many who would have taken advantage of the sisters and the young women working in the chateau, but Antoinette goes out of her way to ensure that these women don’t have to debase themselves in order to survive. She’s unpredictable, taciturn, and constantly self deprecating but at the end I felt that she was more courageous and heroic than many of the men shown fighting in the trenches.

Finally, the writing itself is absolutely exquisite. Brussel presents an emotive blend of imagery and historical fact that creates a tapestry so expertly woven that it’s difficult to determine where history ends and fiction begins. The characters are not only believable but also relatable, the mood is expertly set, and there is no shying away from the cruel atrocities that war provokes. I could feel the constant dampness and frustration that pervaded the trenches, the blistering of gas blowing back after improper deployment, and the despair that must have been experienced when shell shock was initially denied. I cried (often) and I had to put the book down and walk away because it was too overwhelming, but I couldn’t leave it unfinished. Despite the dark and almost awful nature of the story it was one that commanded competition.

Would I recommend this book? I think you already know the answer to that! It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s absolutely worth the read. Just don’t go in expecting a tidy and uplifting romance, Alone at War is for more gritty and much more real. Get out your tissues baby, this one will make you ugly cry.


Many thanks to A. M. Brussel and Gatekeeper Press for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

Advertisements

#Review: Beetlebrow by Ben Parker #YA #Fantasy

Today I am delighted to share a review for Ben Parker’s LGBTQ YA novel, Beetlebrow. This little adventure is jam packed with action, has just enough romance to pull at the heart strings, and that hint of magic to blur the lines between fiction and fantasy.


beetlebrowTitle: Beetlebrow

AuthorBen Parker

Publisher: The Conrad Press

Publication Date: April 27, 2016

Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Adventure

Themes: Family, Friendship, Abuse, Poverty, Class Stratified Society, Survival, Epic Quests

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Two sixteen-year-old girls are struggling to survive in the poverty-stricken streets of Stellingkorr. Beetlebrow – devastated by the death of her mother – meets Pook – newly escaped from her drunken parents.

The two girls scale the walls of the royal palace in search of work. King Ancissus – impressed with their ingenuity and skill – tasks them with delivering a cryptic message to the distant eastern city of Dalcratty. Success could save Stellingkorr; failure could mean starvation for its people.

Beetlebrow and Pook are forced to lie, fight and steal to keep heading east. Through the violence and squalor of towns and arid plains, army camps and prisons, they have only each other to depend upon.

“Beetlebrow”, the first book of “The Beetlebrow Trilogy”, is the gritty debut novel from Ben Parker. In this epic coming-of-age fantasy, two bold and fearless young women find a love they could never have imagined.


My Review

I’ll begin this review with a huge shout out to Ben Parker, for not only getting in touch with me through MiniMac Reviews but also sending a paperback all the way to Canada. You see, Canada post is reeeeaaaalllyyy slow, so most of my book love comes in the ePub and Mobi format (which is love as well), so it was a special treat to get a nice, crisp, new book in the mail! Thank you Mr. Parker, your generosity and patience has been greatly appreciated!

And after all of that effort, I am ashamed to say that this baby languished a little longed than  I had anticipated on the TBR pile. Now, I love me some fantasy and adventure books, but I have to be in the right frame of mind to truly enjoy certain themes and genres. As a result, the first two times I picked Beetlebrow up I had that ‘not yet’ feeling and placed it back on the TBR for when the timing was right. But the third time I picked it up, everything just seemed to click and I simply couldn’t stop reading!

Beetlebrow is the kind of character that you can’t help but feel for. Not only is she young, impoverished, and later homeless but her family circumstances and societal restrictions made her predicament exponentially worse. But despite these setbacks, I was drawn to her kind heart, quick wit, and even her street urchin tendencies. I really expected her to be the kingdom’s underdog hero because she had all the right stuff for it, but the ways in which she lived up to that title were completely unexpected and left me cheering out loud.

The premise of the quest isn’t all together new, but the benefit to that was that I knew that I would enjoy the book from the outset. And let’s face it, it’s a tale as old as time and yet it’s still relevant – the elite of a kingdom are bleeding it’s people dry, the common folk are in revolt and have engaged in a full scale rebellion, and two orphan children have set out to change their lives and end up changing the world. If that isn’t the foundation for a modern fairy tale I don’t know what is! Now add in a healthy dose of adventure, a love that has to be hidden from the world, and evil half brother, and a nearly impossible task and you’ve really got something.

I had a much harder time connecting to Pook as I found her to be a rather passive character. But as this story revolves around Beetlebrow I was willing to let her have a damsel in distress without too much complaining, especially since Pook’s character ending up getting me in the feels when her back story finally came out of the woodwork. Once I understood a little about her history, Pook’s decisions and reactions were a lot easier to understand. I look forward to seeing how her character will grow and develop in books two ad three of the trilogy as I think there are a lot of interesting places she can go!

I really appreciated how it wasn’t an easy process for the girls to complete there quest. The faced censure, stigma, and some serious repercussions from their families and law along the way. And I would have to say this applies equally to delivering their message and their romance. While we have come a long way in terms of acceptance, I am sure that the fear of repercussion is something that will resonate with young readers who are facing, or have faced, similar situations in their own lives. And for those that haven’t, I hope it helps to open their eyes to some of the challenges faced every day by young people in the LGBTQ community.

I enjoy that the girls enjoyed a happy ending, but that their relationship wasn’t without trials and tribulations. I appreciated too, how some of the drama stemmed from the fact that one of the girls was more experienced than the other, which is often an issue in many relationships regardless of age. And as a cis reader, this really made their story relatable and easy to engage with. And that fairytale feeling is bolstered by the fact that the girls ran away with one another after a chance encounter. Like all good fairytales there isn’t any time for a proper courtship, and the details of the love story get hammered out after the adventure is well under way.

Finally, I really loved the variety of villains in Beetlebrow. From Alder and Joe for being entitled manipulators, Prince Tyvan for locking away his wife rather than divorcing her, the King for being greedy and disinterested in his people, and Gregory who pursues the girls across the land but turns out to be something else all together. I was constantly surprised by little twists that I never saw coming and absolutely loved being kept on my toes.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It’s well written, engaging, and offers plenty of adventure. I know that it won’t appeal to everyone, but if you like adventure and plucky heroines you should definitely give this one a try! And while Beetlebrow stands nicely on it’s own, I can’t wait for the next to books in the trilogy to be released!


Many thanks to Ben Parker for providing a hard copy in exchange for an honest review, and also for his unending patience in getting that review posted when my life got a little crazy!

#Review: A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena #YA #ContemporaryFiction

I’m not going to lie, when I was at a recent United Library Services book talk I picked this beauty based on the cover alone. It’s pretty, and pink, and striking as heck. And with a title that alluded to social stigma and gender roles, I immediately skipped the blurb and went straight to reading. Get ready for rollercoaster my friends, because this is one hell of a read!


girl like thatTitle: A Girl Like That

AuthorTanaz Bhathena

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: March 19, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, YA, Contemporary Fiction

Themes: Family, Friendship, Child Abuse, Bullying, Rape Culture

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.


My Review

Can you say heart breaking? Gut wrenching? Soul Crushing? Oooft! All of these apply!

A Girl Like That opens with an almost cinematic aerial overview of Zarin and Porus’ car wreck, their death, and how they perceive everyone’s reaction to their tragedy. It’s a jarring start, but I’ve always been partial to books that put the end at the beginning and then fill in the blanks from there. We meet Zarin, jaded and cynical, with a chip on her shoulder deeper than the Grand Canyon. She is fierce and fiery when those around her would prefer that she were meek and compliant – let’s just say she’s my kind of girl! And then we have Porus, who is kind and patient in a way that makes you love him from the very first moment you meet him. Their lives are picked apart from a multitude of perspectives until we finally have a more complete picture of Zarin and the people that shaped her life.

While this story is set in Jeddah many of the elements such as teen life, social media, and rape culture are universal. However, the added challenges of highly stigmatized gender roles and the presence of the religious police serve to amplify the injustices and challenges often encountered by young women. Jeddah itself is not written about in any sort of damning way – sure, there are abandoned warehouses, poverty is present in abundance, and there are some obvious social issues at play – but the city itself is written about with nostalgia and romanticism. The way in which the geography and architecture was described left me wanted to go for a drive down to the Corniche, walk the malls, watch the set over the ocean, and find some of that BBQ chicken!

I loved that while the story itself is modern, it has a timeless quality to it, almost like a modern Scarlet Letter. It’s important too, how social media is woven into the very fabric of the drama. It highlights the pervasive, inescapable quality that such tools have, and how they make the bullying and torment that young people experience extend into the home. For this fact alone, I think that so many parents out there would benefit from reading this sucker, because lets face it – school is nothing like it was twenty years ago! In a way, I was happy that Zarin didn’t have a smartphone or access to the internet because it limited her exposure to just how horrible her classmates were.

Now, lets talk about the boys in this book. They really bring to light the pervasive doubt standard that exists between boys and girls, often regardless of religion and culture – although those factors certain amplified Zarin’s situation. But more than gender inequality, the male characters in A Girl Like That bring to light not only the question of consent, but also the ways in which women who report assaults are treated. In light of current events, the #MeToo moment, and the negative way in which many of these reports are received A Girl Like That is the perfect antidote for cynics and naysayers.

And I must say, the writing is incredible! The way that every chapter jumps to a different character, but at an adjacent time, creates an effect kind of like a kaleidoscope with events constantly converging on one another. Bhathena’s short story background genuinely shines through as well, with each chapter operating as a self contained story that simultaneously fits in as another facet in the gem that is Zarin Wadia. Bit by bit we come learn why she is a prickly, taciturn, troublesome girl who smoke and rides around in cars with boys. We see how her reputation came to be, and why she works so hard to live up to the expectations that precede her, and yet simultaneously tries so hard to maintain dignity, virginity, and get good grades at school. By the end, instead of a hard and defiant rebel we are instead presented with fragile and broken girl seeking the comfort and acceptance she has never once been afforded.

A Girl Like That is like watching a beautiful train wreck in slow motion, the kind you can’t take your eyes away from, and that leaves you emotionally wrecked and in disbelief. Also, I loved it. I can absolutely understand why it was one of the most anticipated YA releases this spring, and I am blown away with the knowledge that this is Bhathena’s debut novel. Not only is this book timely and disturbingly relevant, it is deeply emotional and incredibly eye-opening. This book will be huge, it should be huge, and it is just the kind of thing that I would go out of my way to make sure was included in junior high and high school libraries.

Poignant and beautiful, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The writing is exquisite, the story heartfelt, and the characters are so complete you van almost touch them. Buy it, borrow it, hit that button for download – this baby is an absolute must read!


Many thanks to United Library Services for providing a hard copy with no expectations of a review – it’s always nice to get a little book love!

I’m baaaack… ish

 

Fellow booknerds and bloggers, I am so sorry for my prolonged time away!

I wasn’t planning on a blogging break, but it seems that life demanded it. Sometimes life gets crazy (painting the house, husband was having kidney issues, family events, and the list goes on) and then, and Murphy’s law dictates, even more gets thrown at you! You see, in the past 5 weeks I was offered a position as a university librarian, couldn’t nail down a start date, almost gave up on starting this amazing new contract, and then the best thing ever happened – the University came back after weeks of radio silence and offered a full time position. My friends, we are going from three jobs down to one! SO much excitement, but my brain has been a little far from books and blogging while all of this was going on.

I managed to read a pile of books while I was away on holibobs, and now have a few weeks of scheduled fun. I promise it will be an eclectic mix of YA, fantasy, crime, historical fiction, and graphic novels. Plus, I came home from holidays to a pile of book post and an absolute TON of approvals on NetGalley – my TBR has never been more loaded.

I might be a little flakier than normal with a month of rapid changes, but I am sure as I settle back into academia and a regular schedule I’ll soon figure out a new normal for regular posts and a pace on the blog.

Thank you again to everyone who shared, liked, mentioned and retweeted my posts while I’ve been away – the book love is greatly appreciated!

Love you my nerds, and I’ll be back at it tomorrow!

-J

#BlogTour #Review: The Tin God by Chris Nickson @Annebonnybook @ChrisNickson2 #HistoricalFiction

I might be sitting on a beach in Mexico, but today I have the pleasure in taking part in the blog tour for Chris Nickson’s latest novel The Tin God. Pulling together a good old-fashion police procedural and a heavy dose of women’s suffrage this baby is sure to please lover’s of historical fiction and women’s fiction alike!

For those that read and share this post, please accept my thanks in advance – I will be sure to share the book love when I return to the land of snow and unpredictable weather. ❤

BANNER


Synopsis

2018 marks the centenary of women receiving the Parliamentary vote. Some women, at least. But well before that time, many women of all classes could take part in local elections. Not only casting their vote, but standing for office as members of the School Board or Poor Law Guardians.

In The Tin God, the seventh Tom Harper novel, that’s exactly what Annabelle Harper does. Already a speaker for the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society, she’s one of seven females selected to run for election as a Poor Law Guardian.

It’s progress, but not always well received. Several of the Leeds newspapers keep running editorials, urging their readers to support the male candidates. But one man goes even further. He believes that women have no place in politics, and he’ll do everything to stop them. His campaign begins with anonymous letters, and quickly escalates to threats, bombs, and murder. The only clues are fragments of folk songs that he leaves at the scene.

For Detective Superintendent Tom Harper, the political has become terrifyingly personal.

‘It all began when a friend suggested that Annabelle should run for office,’ Nickson says. ‘With that, a lightbulb seemed to click on. In an age where female politicians are regularly abused online, where an MP can be shot in broad daylight, where the harassment of women by men stands as an everyday occurrence, this felt like a book that I needed to write. What’s happening now is nothing new. The march towards votes for women really began in 1832. We need to celebrate every victory they fought to have.’

The Tin God will be published by Severn House on March 29, 2018. It will be launched on May 5, as part of The Vote Before The Vote exhibition at Leeds Central Library.


Review 

I absolutely adored this book, right from the very first chapter. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, and I loved the gritty feel of Victorian police work. But more than anything, I was in love with the plucky and persistent Annabelle Harper, and with all the women like her who moved mountains with regards to women’s rights today.

I mean sure, Tom Harper was working a pretty intense bombing/ murder case with a seriously twisted unsub that kept leaving these strange little clues. And sure, there was this whole sub-story wrapped up in traditional folk songs that had me listening to hours and hours of music online. And sure, there was this whole other story about smuggling and booze-running, but the show was definitely stollen by one, little, pub-owning woman who had the nerve to run in an election. That’s all I can say without dropping too many spoilers, but seriously, The Tin God was absolutely amazing!

And let’s not forget to talk about the fashion my friends. So much of period fiction is driven by the details, and Nickson did not disappoint. So much detail was paid to the clothing, especially Annabelle’s dresses, that I could close my eyes and envision every scene without effort. From the thickness of the wool to the cut of one’s lace, the details were absolutely complete. And this attention to detail extended to all areas of the book, including the landscape and architecture of the communities in which the narrative took place. I could almost breathe the heavy industrial air and feel the grit on the bricks, and for that I loved it even more.

I really enjoyed Nickson’s decision to incorporate the suffrage movement into the Harper’s lives, rather than just the victims. What was even better, was that Nickson portrayed not only a woman seeking to create a better life for her daughter, but also the men who actively supported these women and their fight. I did question, a little, whether or not this was a realistic element of Tom’s character, but it really did make for enjoyable reading so I was happy to see it! It was also refreshing to the number of businesses owned and run by women, and how vital they were to society in a time when most sought to sweep their agency under the rug.

What I found disturbingly interesting though, was that even though this novel was set in 1897, so much of the commentary on social attitudes still rings true today. It’s frightening how one resistor to change can cause so much fear in a community, even when that community is openly change. The fear mongering, the panic, and the social atmosphere all rang true to current events, and I think that really helped to maker this feel real.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I loved the Leeds and the Whitby storylines, both of which were clearly well researched, and I really enjoyed the diversity found within the characters. This might be a quick read, but it certainly packs a punch, and it is sure to please lovers of historical fiction, police procedurals, and those interested in the history of women’s suffrage alike.


Author Information 

cn021Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.

Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.

Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.

He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.

Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.

The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.

A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.

Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.

Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.

Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.

Authors Links:

Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/

Twitter: @ChrisNickson2

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12044.Chris_Nickson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chrisnicksonwriter/


Many thanks to Abby at Anne Bonny Books for organizing this tour, and to Tim Hicks for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.