Book Review: We’ve Come to Take You Home by Susan Gandar

I had the honour of receiving a copy of this book directly from the author (thanks for shipping all the way from Australia!), and was absolutely delighted. I don’t normally read WWI fiction but I am glad that I ended up stepping out of my comfort zone as this book had everything that I wanted – mystery, drama, historical context, and characters that form a vice-grip on your heart strings.


weve comeTitle: We’ve Come to Take You Home

Author: Susan Gandar

Publisher: Matador

Publication Date: March 28, 2016

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: Family, WWI, Romance, Time-slips

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

It is April 1916 and thousands of men have left home to fight in the war to end all wars. Jessica Brown’s father is about to be one of these men. A year later, he is still alive, but Jess has to steal to keep her family from starving. And then a telegram arrives – her father has been killed in action.

Four generations later, Sam Foster’s father is admitted to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage. A nurse asks if she would like to take her father’s hand. Sam refuses. All she wants is to get out of this place, stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a place with no hope and no future, as quickly as possible.

As Sam’s father’s condition worsens, her dreams become more frequent – and more frightening. She realises that what she is experiencing is not a dream, but someone else’s living nightmare…

We’ve Come to Take You Home is an emotionally-charged story of a friendship forged 100 years apart.


My Review

It took me a few chapters to get used to the alternating narration and Sam’s time-slips into Jess’ world, but once I did it was easy to see how beautifully detailed and carefully crafted this book is. There is no detail that can be overlooked from the descriptions of jewellery and clothing to places and feelings many of the elements are interchangeable and equally important to both characters. While my love for this book developed as a slow-burn, even after a few days the vivid descriptions and raw emotions have failed to fade.

While I enjoyed Sam’s narrative and her connection to Jess, it was Jess’ story and the depictions of life during WWI that kept me turning the pages. It is all too easy to forget the food and fuel shortages, rationing, the presence of a class stratified lifestyle, and the horrors trench warfare that persisted throughout this time. And yet, the minute details bring these circumstances and so much more to life. The level of research that went into crafting this text is undeniable – I had never thought so much about maid’s-of-all-work, but my heart goes out to all that endured long hours, harsh employers, and often deplorable conditions.

The writing is sophisticated and flows seamlessly between Sam and Jess. I can see how the transitions might be confusing to some, but if you focus on the details and the subtle repetitions the transitions are easier to follow. The pace is fast, and very rarely are there lulls in the action or so much explication that the narrative feels bogged down. I found Jess’ plot to be somewhat more engaging than Sam’s, but really enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern and historical tragedies being lived out by fifteen year old girls 100 years apart. I found the introspective elements to be subtle, but they certainly pack a punch.

Tragic, beautiful, and bittersweet We’ve Come to Take You Home is a poignant and emotional marriage between tragedy and immeasurable hope. The problems portrayed are realistic, with real responses to the situations portrayed, despite the other-worldly elements of Sam’s time-slips. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, and have no doubt that it will be enjoyed by lovers of drama, historical fiction, and emotional reads alike.


Many thanks to Susan Gandar and Matador Publishing for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Defiance by A. L. Sowards

This is one of those books I had to pause and catch my breath after reading. not only was it incredibly well written, but it was impossible not to feel for Lukas as he transformed from school boy to soldier then prisoner. If you love WWII lit, Defiance is well worth the read!


DefianceTitle: Defiance

Author: A. L. Sowards

Publisher: Covenant Communications

Publication Date: April 18, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: WWII, POW Camps, Bastogne, Resilience, Survival

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Eight years after immigrating to the United States, German-born Lukas Ley embodies the American dream: successful athlete, gorgeous girlfriend, loving family. But beneath the surface, eighteen-year-old Lukas is driven by ambition, resolved to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, a failed physical throws his plans for flight school off course. Unlike his war-hero older brother, Lukas’s purpose is unclear. He can’t fly, and in the eyes of the military, he’s good for only one thing—the front lines.

From the foxholes of war-ravaged Luxembourg to the devastation of an enormous German offensive, Lukas’s journey is fraught with peril. But when he’s taken as a prisoner of war, he realizes life is about to get much worse. In the enemy camp, Lukas is viewed as a German fighting for the wrong side. Ripped from the innocence of an idealistic youth, he becomes a man beaten by the horrors of war. Now his only hope of survival is to hold tightly to his faith in God and his love of family and home. But even if he manages to make it out alive, can he ever be whole again?

Sometimes survival is the ultimate act of Defiance.


My Review

I loved this book. Not because it was particularly happy, or because it had a hopeful ending, but because it focused on one character and told their story exceptionally well. Through all of the emotional ups and downs I was enraptured in Lukas’s experience and I was incredibly thankful that not too much time was dedicated to the explication of others. The result was that the narrative was personal, heartfelt, and impossible to look away from.

Another thing that worked incredibly well was the division of the narrative into distinct sections. This allowed for enough background to be established without waisting time and words moving from one major event to the next. At first I was a little surprised that the whole of basic training was left out, but ultimately everything worked amazingly well. The pacing was smooth and quick with enough action to keep me turning the pages well after midnight on more than one occasion.

Also, it was refreshing to read a fictional work about the events in Luxembourg that led up to Bastogne. With so much out there on the battle of the Bulge, especially Bastogne, it was refreshing to pick up a piece that focused on a single moment in an obscure town, and where success wasn’t imminent. Similarly, it was both heart-wrenching and fascinating to read about the work camps and conditions that POWs had to endure. Although somewhat lesser known in the greater dialogue of WWII, it is clear that the places and events discussed were well researched and grounded in fact. I never felt for one instance that I was reading a work of fiction, and my heart soared with ever escape attempt and broke with the loss of every friend.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not only is it well written, it is an emotional ride that will leave you rooting for the under-dog and always wanting more. Defiance is a wonderful work of historical fiction, and I am certain that I will be seeking out some of Sowards’ other titles. Buy it, borrow it, check it out from the library – this baby is well worth the time!


Many thanks to A. L. Sowards and Covenant Communications for providing a digital copy for review via Net Galley.

Early Review: The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

If there is  one book that you should read this summer, it should be The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wisemen. Filled with mystery, drama, unexpected plot twists, hope, and heartwarming moments of unconditional love this novel is sure to please lovers of historical fiction, family dramas, and mysteries alike.


life she was givenTitle: The Life She Was Given

Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman

Publisher: Kensington Publication Corporation

Expected Publication Date: July 25, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: Family, Sense of Self, Defiance, Discovery, Circus

Features: Author Q & A, Book Club Question Guide


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.


My Review

When the publisher and Net Galley granted my wish to review this book, the timing was almost perfect. That is, my wish was granted on the day that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus staged their final show in New York. So when I started reading The Life She Was Given I was already emotionally raw and nostalgic, which meant that this book got me right in the feels and then refused to let go.

The Life She Was Given is beautifully written, with the narration alternating between Lily in the 1930s and Julia in the 1950s. The pacing is quick, and those moments where context is being provided and character development is taking pace feel natural and not at all forced. The result is that The Life She Was Given has a beautiful balance between being a plot-driven and character-driven. Additionally, the descriptions of circus life are vivid and imaginative, and the depth of the feelings and mystery that surround Blackwood Manor are entirely captivating.

The depth of Wiseman’s research shines through as well, and I really appreciated the acknowledgement of some of her more important sources. As someone who spends a great deal of time educating others on Information Literacy and how to properly reference sources, to see this included in a work of fiction makes my heart go pitter-patter. Not only that, the truthfulness and factual basis of many of the big moments throughout the text – Lily being sold to the circus, the elephant execution, and the circus traditions and superstitions – means that these moments are entirely believable and easy to get wrapped up in.

I want so badly discuss those moments that absolutely ripped my heart out, but have to refrain as I don’t want to be a spoiler! All I can say is this book comes with the warning of read with tissues – especially the end. Holy crap, I never saw it coming. If you guessed it you must be psychic, or maybe I’m just too nice, but the depravity of some people never ceases to amaze me.

Would a recommend this book? An astounding YES! I can’t wait for this book to come out in July as there are so many people that I want to give it to. It is beautiful, emotionally demanding, heartbreaking, and shocking in the moments where you least expect it. The Life She Was Given is an absolute must-read!

If anyone is interested, Ringling’s final live performance is included below. It might be two hours, but it was an epic end to an institution older than hockey and baseball.


Many thanks to Ellen Marie Wiseman and the Kensington Publication Corporation for providing an advanced copy for review via Net Galley.

Book Review: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

This is the perfect book for teens that enjoy Harry Potter but refuse to pick up the books because they have already seen the movie. Filled with suspense, ample ups and downs, and mysterious creatures that you can’t help but want to know more about Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is sure to capture the hearts of kids and teens craving escape into a magical world.


ewan pendleTitle: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith

Author: Shaun Hume

Publisher: Popcorn & Rice Publishing

Publication Date: July 31, 2013

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Fantasy

Themes: Friendship, Adventure, Mystery, Magical Schools

Features: N/A


My Rating: 3.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Ewan Pendle was weird. Really weird. At least, that’s what everyone told him. Then again, being able to see monsters that no one else could wasn’t exactly normal …

Thinking he has been moved off to live with his eleventh foster family, Ewan is instead told he is a Lenitnes, one of an ancient race of peoples who can alone see the real ‘Creatures’ which inhabit the earth. He is taken in by Enola, the mysterious sword carrying Grand Master of Firedrake Lyceum, a labyrinth of halls and rooms in the middle of London where other children, just like Ewan, go to learn the ways of the Creatures.


My Review

I struggled reviewing this book, not because I didn’t enjoy it (as I did!), but because there are a number of stylistic personal preferences that I had to think hard about including. Ultimately though, this is a fun and engaging read, especially for those craving a world filled with magic, mystery, and a solid group of friends ready and willing to take on the world.

For those like myself who grew up on a steady diet of Harry Potter, the parallels between the texts are obvious – the weird boy plucked from obscurity at the age of 11, sent to a magical boarding school where he is picked on by a select group of students and one teacher in particular, and who works with his two closest friends to solve a mystery of national import that might get them kicked out of school. But, there is just enough Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones with a dash of something completely different that Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is a fun and fanciful read. And, although I was irked by the similarities, it was those elements that were completely different such as Ewan’s connection with the wraiths, the element of the animal sentinels, and the ghost train that kept me turning the pages.

Personally, I struggled with the stylistic choices and the language throughout. But, as I was humbly reminded by my friendly 11 year old stealer of books, while I personally may not appreciate the frequent repetition of descriptive phrases and flowery language the kids reading the books may (and do) enjoy it. There is no arguing that everything of import is well described, and that the imagery is clear and consistent throughout the text. It is easy to form a clear image of each character, right down to picturing their facial expressions and idiosyncratic ticks.

The story of Ewan Pendle holds much promise for the future, especially if it continues to diverge and develop those elements that are truly unique to it. I am excited to see where this series will go, and will be sure to check back in once the second instalment is available.

Would I recommend this book? Sure thing! I have already passed a copy along to a young man who has adamantly resisted reading Harry Potter because ‘the movies are good enough’ and he seems to be devouring Ewan Pendle and White Wraith quite happily.


Many thanks to Shaun Hume for providing a copy of his text in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

I know I said that my next review would be Shaun Hume’s Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith but when a friend asked me to read and recommend whether or not Friends with Boy’s was suitable for her 10 year old daughter my TBR pile ended up getting a little jumbled. I read this beauty when it first came out in 2012, and I am delighted to say that I think as much of it now as I did just over four years ago.


friendsTitle: Friends With Boys

Author: Faith Erin Hicks

Publisher: First Second

Publication Date: February 28, 2012

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Comics and Graphic Novels

Themes: Friendship, First Love, Family Dynamics, Divorce

Features: Early drawings and concept sketches


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It’s pretty terrifying.

Maggie’s big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left it just hasn’t been the same.

Besides her brothers, Maggie’s never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don’t have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures.

Missing mothers…distant brothers…high school…new friends… It’s a lot to deal with. But there’s just one more thing.

MAGGIE IS HAUNTED.


My Review

As many of you may have guessed by now, my heart belongs to teen graphic novels. I simply can’t resist them. And you want to know the funny part? I never read them as a teen growing up!

Friends with boys had just about everything – beautiful art work, an easy to follow flow, and just enough left up to the imagination in the gutter. And that’s not even mentioning the believable characters, beautiful haunted twist, and the acknowledgement and support of teens individuality and need to express themselves.

The dual plots of Maggie entering high school while dealing with her mom leaving their family, and the ‘Reaper’s’ widow worked really well together and came together in a way that didn’t seem tired and overdone. I think the only thing that I would want more of is a little bit more on what happened to the ghost after all of the action at the museum. But, with that being said the ambiguity works really well because when you’re a teen in high school who’s navigating the post-divorce landscape of a family you have no idea what’s coming down the pipe anyways, and that’s okay.

The exploration of the family dynamics amongst the different sets of siblings is both touching and genuine. As is the honest view of bullying in high school. The acknowledgement that some wounds cut so deep that no amount of apologizing can ever be enough is both painful and poignant. What’s more important though is that there are characters who stand up against such treatment throughout the text and without becoming bullies and tormentors themselves.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Innocence, romance, independence, emotion, and the supernatural are all entangled in this beautifully sweet coming of age tale. The emotions never feel forced, the actions stay true to the characters, and it is exactly the kind of story I think so many tweens and teens will resonate with.