#Review: Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar #WWIIFitcion #HistoricalFiction

Today I am delighted to share the first of three WWII/ Holocaust reviews, this one for Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar. Translated from the original Portuguese, this edition maintains all of emotion and nuance of this harrowing and nearly hopeless tale. Get your tissues ready my friends – this book is amazing, heartbreaking, and an absolute must read.


lullabyTitle: Auschwitz Lullaby

AuthorMario Escobar

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Originally Published: January 1, 2016

Genre: Fiction, WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Holocaust, Auschwitz, Survival, Family

Features: Author’s Note


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In 1943 Germany, Helene is just about to wake up her children to go to school when a group of policemen break into her house. The policemen want to haul away her gypsy husband and their five children. The police tell Helene that as a German she does not have to go with them, but she decides to share the fate of her family. After convincing her children that they are going off to a vacation place, so as to calm them, the entire family is deported to Auschwitz.

For being German, they are settled in the first barracks of the Gypsy Camp. The living conditions are extremely harsh, but at least she is with her five children. A few days after their arrival, Doctor Mengele comes to pay her a visit, having noticed on her entry card that she is a nurse. He proposes that she direct the camp’s nursery. The facilities would be set up in Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one of which would be the nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old.

Helene, with the help of two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organizes the buildings. Though Mengele provides them with swings, Disney movies, school supplies, and food, the people are living in crowded conditions under extreme conditions. And less than 400 yards away, two gas chambers are exterminating thousands of people daily.

For sixteen months, Helene lives with this reality, desperately trying to find a way to save her children. Auschwitz Lullaby is a story of perseverance, of hope, and of strength in one of the most horrific times in history.


My Review

Once again, I am kicking myself for letting an incredible book languish too long on my TBR. It took me nearly two months to get around to starting this baby – and a single evening to finish it! We’ll ignore that moment when my fellow woke up at 2 AM to query why I was bawling my face off, but I simply couldn’t put it down.

I love how the story starts out like any other day, with a mother getting ready for work and looking after her family. There is just enough historical backstory to set the tone for understanding the trials and hardships the communities targeted by the Nazi regime were facing, but not so much information as to feel like a textbook. Instead, the frustration and encroaching restrictions were communicated in tender, yet highly emotive way, and amplified by the ways in which individuals reacted to circumstances.

I can only imagine the terror that would have accompanied a knock on the door, or footsteps coming up the stairs, and the constant fear that your neighbours were just waiting for a moment to report on you. And harder yet to imagine the difficult choice of saving yourself or accompanying your family to their assured destruction. I was heartened by Helene’s endless compassion, constantly cool head, and the ways in which she used her position as a German woman within the camps to benefit others and not just her immediately family.

My heart nearly broke in two the moment when Helene and the children were separated from her husband, and I genuinely felt the longing and unanswered questions that accompanied not knowing his fate. Conditions in the camp were as awful as is expected, but as someone with relatively little knowledge of the Gypsy camp within Auschwitz and the Nursery that was opened within, I was fascinated by this horrifying anomaly. I tried not to think too hard about how Barracks 29 and 31 became available for use, but appreciated how Helene worked tirelessly to ensure there was the smaller fragment of hope for the children in her area. Each little act of defiance felt like a hard-won victory, and each act of kindness an awe-inspiring sacrifice.

I enjoyed the spunk of Helene’s oldest son, and have to admit I cheered a little when he was throwing rocks at officers. Perhaps it’s because I found the Hannemann so endearing, and Helene’s compassion so encompassing, that Dr. Mengele’s experiments seemed that much worse. The juxtaposition of their actions created a high-drama, high-tension reading in the absence of constant abuse, violence, or other such war crimes. I hesitate to say more on the plot, as I don’t like handing out spoilers, but I will say that Helene’s character is faultless to end.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It’s one that I loved so much that once I finished the Galley I immediately went out and bought a print copy. It’s not a happy read, but it is power, moving, and based on true events that are entirely worth knowing. And as a translation, it is exceptional! The prose is seamless and flowing, with rich imagery and approachable language. This is the type of book that can be easily enjoyed by WWII enthusiasts and novices alike.


Many thanks to Mario Escobar, Thomas Nelson Fiction, and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Advertisements

#Review: Green Almonds: Letters From Palestine by Anaele & Delphine Hermans #GraphicNovel

Today I am delighted to be sharing a review for Anaele & Delphine Hermans’ graphic memoir Green Almonds: Letters From Palestine before I dive down the rabbit hole and share a series of WWII and Holocaust reviews. This autobiographical account of living and volunteering in Palestine is a much needed antidote to the oscillations between fake news and feigned ignorance found in the media when it comes to reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict.


green almondsTitle: Green Almonds: Letters From Palestine

Author: Anaele Hermans

Illustrator: Delphine Hermans

Publisher: Lion Forge

Publication Date: July 3, 2018

Genre: Comics, Graphic Novel, Memoir, Biography

Themes:  Family, Travel, Conflict

Features: Author’s note, Illustrator’s note


My Rating: 3.5 / 5


Synopsis

The graphic novel collaboration and true story of two sisters. Anaele, a writer, leaves for Palestine volunteering in an aid program, swinging between her Palestinian friends and her Israeli friends. Delphine is an artist, left behind in Liege, Belgium. From their different sides of the world, they exchange letters.

Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine is a personal look into a complex reality, through the prism of the experience of a young woman writing letters to her sister about her feelings and adventures in the occupied territories. Green Almonds is an intimate story with big implications.

A young woman discovers a country, works there, makes friends, lives a love story, and is confronted with the plight of the Palestinians, the violence on a daily basis that we see on our screens and read in our newspapers. Anaele’s story is brought to life by Delphine’s simple and evocative drawings, which give full force to the subject and evoke the complexity of this conflict, creating a journey to the everyday life of Palestinians.

Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine received the Doctors Without Borders Award for best travel diary highlighting the living conditions of populations in precarious situations when it was published in France in 2011.


My Review

First, lets get the uglies out of the way – 3.5 stars is a good review. In fact, it’s an above average review. I really liked Green Almonds, but know that I failed to connect with it on a personal/ aesthetic level. Now, this is the part where I expose my bias… you see, I cut my teeth on comics journalism/ conflict travelogues reading Joe Sacco (think Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza, and Safe Area Gorazde) and I find it difficult to read anything along these lines without drawing direct comparisons to the genre’s founder.

While Green Almonds has all of the deeply disturbing and emotional elements that I have come to appreciate and expect from works looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where this book feel just a little short for my tastes was in the art. The abstractions, while easily identifiable and unquestionably human, were just a little too cartoonish (if not a little childish) in relation to the subject matter at hand. I appreciated that the result was an emphasis that focused squarely on the personal narrative portrayed, ultimately I found the graphic element to be lacking in depth and emotion. The landscapes were simple with minimal detail and I was left wanting shading, texture, and a little realism. I know that this is entirely personal, but I had trouble with the overwhelming amount of white space!

But, and this is the important part, the panels and pages were meticulously blocked, the script expertly distributed, and the story fully supported and portrayed by the images at hand. There was an easily identifiable sense of time and place, with carefully controlled pacing that lent a realistic quality to the reading experience. There was ample variety in the panel sizes and arrangements which kept every pages feeling fresh and never boring, and the use of multiple transition types kept me on my toes. Additionally, enough action takes place in the gutter to allow the imagination enough agency to fill in the blanks based on assumptions or personal experience, with just enough imagery to keep everything on track.

Additionally, I really loved the alternation between the sisters with the comics/ postcard dichotomy. It really facilitated a difference in voice and character, even though Delphine is rarely portrayed, and highlights the ways in which siblings can be connected yet entirely opposite. I loved how Delphine was meticulous, succinct, and almost professional while Anaele embodied the type of free spirit that engages in voluntourism. I was most drawn to Anaele’s interactions with locals on either side of the conflict, and genuine appreciated how both Israelis and Palestinians were portrayed without bias or judgement. Every character had a story, a unique experience, and a lived reality that translated beautifully to the page.

It has always been difficult for me to conceptualize the spectrum of lifestyles lived within such a small geographical area, and yet Green Almonds portray’s beautifully how a wall and some checkpoints can separate opulence from poverty and oppressor from oppressed. As the pages progress it becomes increasingly clear how living in such conditions can wear a person down. The number of personal narratives relayed creates a critical mass highlighting a humanitarian crises, and really calls to question how we are able to sit by and turn away from this reality.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Although perhaps not to those who are new to the comics medium. Yet, the memoir and autobiographic elements are evocative, touching, and truly thought provoking. Green Almonds is most definitely a worthwhile and introspective read.


Many thanks to Diamond Book Distributors and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#BlogTour #Review: A Single Journey by Frankie McGowan @EndeavourQuill #asinglejourney

Single Journey Tour Banner2

Today I’m honoured to be taking part in the blog tour for Frankie McGowan’s latest novel A Single Journey. I was sold from the blurb – with all the escaping WWII, the touches of thrilling mystery, and a load of antique books and jewellery. Straight up, it sounded like all of my favourite things in a single novel, and once I got into the pages it only got better. McGowan’s latest creation is sure to land her another spot in the Amazon top 20, and it’s well worth every speck of my 5 star review!


Synopsis

journey With a failed relationship behind her, a business on the rocks and a flat that’s falling apart around her ears, she could really use some luck.

Elena Banbury, née Guseva, an elderly but imposing Russian woman who is Harriet’s neighbour and landlady, frequently entertains the punters at Harriet’s jewellery stall with tales of the palaces of St. Petersburg and the treasures of Fabergé. But Harriet sometimes feels, guiltily, that she could do without the endless errands that seem to fall to her as Elena’s friend.

Then, unexpectedly, when Elena dies, she leaves all her worldly goods to a grateful Harriet. In time, however, it becomes clear that others are shocked by Harriet’s good luck, too. Shocked… and very, very unhappy.

Challenged in court by Elena’s family who live in Berlin, Harriet is forced to give up her inheritance and long-dreamed-of plans for a new business, and start her life again. But with her reputation in tatters and the memory of Elena tainted, Harriet knows a great injustice has been done.

Against the advice of her friends, family and lawyers, Harriet sets off on her own, very singular journey to Berlin.

In the weeks that follow she meets rich and poor, the glamorous and the criminal, the honest and the secretive, and begins to see that perhaps she has something to learn from them all. Something to learn about herself, and something to learn about her priorities.

She knows she has to fight for justice. But, when she meets the scholarly, perceptive Neil, who generously tries to help Harriet in her mission, but who is struggling with a complicated marriage, she must also decide if she’ll fight for love, too.

A Single Journey is a compelling and lively story, combining colourful characters with a page-turning plot and romantic highs and lows.

Fans of Jojo Moyes and Lucinda Riley will be hooked.


My Rating: 5/ 5


Review 

Now, before I start this review there are some things you need to know about me. 1) I am a librarian, 2) my background is in rare and antiquarian books, and 3) prior to completing my MLIS I worked in high end vintage jewellery and watches. The result is that my partner and I have a small but carefully crafted collection of antiquarian books, furniture and jewellery – and in all of the things listed above provenance is absolutely key! So imagine my delight when the story opens with Elena regaling the provenance of a sumptuous peridot bracelet… Now, I might have been putting the cart before the horse, but I knew within the first few pages that this book and I were going to hit off and I loved every minute of Harriet’s journey thereafter.

With all my gushing about provenance and antiques aside, this baby touches on some really hard hitting and relevant issues that I hope will help to make A Single Journey both timely and popular. Namely the ways in which we treat and care for the isolated elderly, abusive relationships, and the toxic patterns we can fall into in our personal and romantic lives. With these themes featuring so strongly, it would have been easy to victim blame and laud Harriet as a self-absorbed fatalist thanks to the sheer awfulness of her initial behaviour. But this was balance by the realization and self-awareness of her errors, the desire to correct her actions, and the ultimate effectiveness of her amends.

It was important too, to see how Harriet’s friends supported her through her series of ordeals – even though she was absolutely horrible to them at times. Their care, empathy, and understanding really highlights the ways in which people can be supportive when loved ones are experiencing an ordeal. Conversely, those false friends showcase how to be deplorable individuals and make some rather excellent antagonists without being violent or aggressive. I can’t count the number of times I had to set my book down because I was seething with rage.

I loved how the story was as much Elena’s as it was Harriet’s, and really appreciated how their narratives were told in symbioses. If either element had been removed, this books would not have hit home in the same way. The elements of flashback and discovery were perfectly timed to advance the plot, and the weight of dealing with Elena’s death was balanced by Harriet’s burgeoning romance. Although Neil was as complicated character, his consistency and level headed approach was a subtle antidote to Harriet’s occasionally impulsive tendencies.

Ultimately, this is one of my favourite reads of the summer. It’s not too long, light when it needs to be, and it deals some emotionally heavy blows. It’s the type of book that starts out tugging at your heart strings, and before you know it, it’s playing you like a marionette. Evocative and heartwarming, I can’t recommend A Single Journey highly enough.


Author Information – Frankie McGowan

58327e_52b50e834e204f8f82a6ecc47dc33dfb~mv2_d_2592_1520_s_2

My career began on teenage magazines before joining Fleet Street writing features for among others, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Daily Mail, Sunday Mirror (where I was an assistant editor and columnist).

Later as a magazine editor and while bringing up Tom and Amy, my now grown up children I launched and edited New Woman and  Top Sante before switching to writing the first of my novels. My short stories have been published in a variety of magazines, including You, (Mail on Sunday) Women’s Own, Home and Life, Image (Ireland), Redbook (US) The Lady  and Woman’s Weekly.

More recently I was asked to adapt two of my novels, A Kept Woman and  A Better Life  into screenplays and my latest novel,  A Single Journey is available now. All my novels have reached the top twenty on Amazon which is the best feeling ever for any writer, but this year two of them, A Kept Woman and The Italian Lesson, both went to Number One in Australia for which I was thrilled and grateful to all those lovely people who bought them.

I am currently working on a new novel – well, I say working on it, what I mean is I’ve got a title for it, A Short Break – and the name of the heroine so all I need now is to try not to lose the plot.


Many thanks to Hannah Groves and Endeavour Media for inviting me on this tour, and to Frankie McGowan for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#ARC #Review: The Birthday by @carolewyer @Bookouture #CrimeFiction #Thriller

Look! Another series… but this time it’s a book one (and a fabulous one at that)! As a fan of the DI Robyn Carter series, I simply couldn’t resist checking out The Birthday from NetGalley and my impatience was duly rewarded. Quick paced and complex, the DI Natalie Ward series by Caro Wyer is shaping up to be an exciting new adventure.


birthdayTitle: The Birthday

AuthorCarol Wyer

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: 27 September 2018

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Police Procedural

Themes: Murder, Family, Serial Killers

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

One hot summer’s afternoon, five-year-old Ava Sawyer went to a party. She never came home…

When five-year-old Ava Sawyer goes missing from a birthday party at a local garden centre, the police are bewildered by the lack of leads. That is until two years later, when Ava’s body is found and another little girl, Audrey Briggs, goes missing. Audrey also attended that party …

Leading the investigation is Detective Natalie Ward . A mother of two teenagers, this case chills her to the bone, and is a disturbing reminder of the last job she worked on. One that ended very badly.

Natalie soon discovers that Ava’s mother has some worrying gaps in her alibi and as she digs deeper, she’s sure Ava’s father is not telling the full story. And what did the owner of the garden centre Elsa see that day? Something that she’s not telling Natalie …

Just as Natalie is facing up to the grim possibility that Ava and Audrey were killed by someone close to home, another little girl from the party doesn’t come home from her ballet lesson. Can Natalie find a way to stop this killer before more innocent lives are taken?


My Review

Whoa, what is this strange magic? Two reviews in less than a week? Don’t get too used to it my fellow book lovers, I’m moving at the end of the month and I seem to be having a bout of productivity as a direct result of avoiding my packing… needless to say things will change!

But enough about me, let’s talk about a book! Today’s review is for Carol Wyer’s latest creation, The Birthday. This beauty marks the start of the DI Natalie Ward series, and has all the promise of a rollicking rollercoaster ride as her story unfolds. As a hardworking mother, and breadwinner in the family, DI Ward is a character that I’m sure many will be able to relate to. She’s strong, dedicated, hella persistent and even a little fickle but she’s written in such a way that you can’t help but feel for her and her family.

I enjoyed the tension created through the juxtaposition of Natalie’s disastrous home life against a chilling cold case and obvious serial killer. Given the sacrifices that Natalie is making to keep her family together and children provided for, the fact that the killer is taking young girls only adds to the horror. Her fear and anxiety as both an officer and a mother is expertly transmitted, and as a result the plot moves along at a break-neck speed.

Surprisingly, I ended up really feeling for Elsa, the garden centre owner despite the outward appearances of avoiding the case. I couldn’t imagine living with the guilt of a child going missing while under your care. The damage to her business was realistic and expected, but in the aftermath of what happened at the hands of her friends and the community I couldn’t help but getting really angry. It simply goes to show how guilt can be misconstrued as guilty, and how fickle people can be.

The supporting cast of other officers and possible suspects was just as intriguing. Everyone from the dance teacher to the school staff, and from the forensics team to the pathologist was wonderfully balanced. There was a reasonable mix of personalities and character types, and their appearances were made in such a way that while these characters were familiar they never felt overly type-cast.

Finally, the writing was exceptional as well. While Wyer tackles some incredibly heavy subjects – adultery, missing and murdered children, addiction, etc. – the lexile used throughout remains realistic and approachable to the masses. While there are certainly some scientific terms bandied about, they are always accompanied by dialogue or description that translates though terms and concepts into the language of the lay-person. As a result, I found that the book was highly approachable.

Would I recommend it? All 4.5 stars of it, you bet! I can’t wait to see where this series will go next as Wyer has laid the foundation for some exciting storylines to develop. I can’t wait to see what case the team will take on next and how DI Ward will handle her husband’s gambling addictions. This book is dark, twisty, and wonderfully gripping – lovers of police procedurals and crime thrillers you won’t be disappointed!


Many thanks to Carol Wyer, Bookouture, and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#Review: Dark Waters by Mary-Jane Riley #CrimeFiction #Thriller

I’m delighted to be back in the saddle sharing a review for Dark Waters by Mary-Jane Riley. expertly crafted, this third instalment in the Alex Devlin series weaves together multiple story lines, intrigue, personal drama, and a substantial dosage of suspense. If you’re a fan of investigative mysteries and crime thrillers, this one is definitely for you!


dark .jpgTitle: Dark Waters

AuthorMary-Jane Riley

Publisher: Killer Reads

Publication Date: March 16, 2018

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Murder Mystery

Themes: Murder, Suicide, Family, Journalism

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

A darkly compelling psychological thriller, full of twists and turns, perfect for fans of Louise Jensen, Cass Green and Alex Lake.

Secrets lie beneath the surface…

Two men, seemingly unconnected, are discovered dead in a holiday boat on the Norfolk Broads, having apparently committed suicide together.

Local journalist Alex Devlin, planning an article on the dangers of internet suicide forums, starts digging into their backgrounds.

But Alex’s investigation soon leads her to a much darker mystery – one that will hit closer to home than she could possibly have imagined, and place the lives of those she loves in terrible danger.


My Review

I seem to be on a role when it comes to jumping into established series, and Dark Waters is was no exception. With two previous novels already on the table, I wasn’t certain what to expect. But once again I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to open the book on Alex’s life without once feeling lost in her personal storyline.

Picture this, a book opens with a journalistic expose on extreme couponing, and then within a few pages it magically morphs into an investigative mystery with some serious intensity. That, my friends, is exactly what you can expect from Dark Waters. What I enjoyed most about this book was that the protagonist is actually a reporter rather than an officer, which allows for a fresh perspective in an occasionally overdone genre. It facilitated a focus that rested entirely on the characters rather than the process, and genuinely made the minutiae come alive.

This shift in focus also allowed for a full exploration of the suicide forum story line, as well as for the motivations behind both the victims and assailants. It was fun though, to see the coppers popping up around every corner, working as a reminder that Alex’s actions bordered on criminal herself as at times they toed the line of obstructing justice rather than obtaining it.

I really enjoyed how Alex reared her head from doing fluff pieces to investigating a series of murders staged as suicides. But, more than anything I particularly appreciated how Alex not only recognized the constraints of the patriarchal system she was working within but used that system to her advantage. The interplay between Alex, her editor, and her cocky male colleague created enough tension in those character driven moments to keep the plot from ever feeling stagnant. Now add in her complicated love life, a lonely existence, and her son living away from home for the first time and you’ve got a recipe for excitement – forget the multiple murders!

The writing is fun, varied, and the dashes of outside perspective keep you on your toes. Alex is easy to empathize with, you feel her pain as a mother and how the paranoia of such a case can seep into every aspect of your life, and end up utterly wrapped up in the depths of the investigation. Would I recommend it? Oh hells yes! It punchy, complex, and one heck of a ride.

Read it mystery lovers – this one is hard to guess!


Many thanks to Mary-Jane Riley, Killer Reads, and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.