Book Review: The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

I’ve read a great many augmented literary classics, but this was my first adventure in augmented history. And I must say, the adventure was truly enjoyable! The Book of Whispers is a delicious blend of history, mythology, adventure and imagination.


whispersTitle: The Book of Whispers

Author: Kimberley Starr

Publisher: Text Publishing Company

Publication Date: October 3, 2016; US/ Canada Release Date: September 2017

Genre: Historical Fiction, Augmented History, YA Fiction, Literary Fiction, YA Romance

Themes: Adventure, Crusades, Demons, Friendship, Romance


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Tuscany, 1096 AD. Luca, young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi, sees demons. Since no one else can see them, Luca must keep quiet about what he sees.

Luca also has dreams—dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca sees his father murdered in one such dream and vows to stop it coming true. Even if he has to go against his father’s wishes and follow him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands.

When Luca is given an ancient book that holds some inscrutable power, he knows he’s been thrown into an adventure that will lead to places beyond his understanding. But with the help of Suzan, the beautiful girl he rescues from the desert, he will realise his true quest: to defeat the forces of man and demon that wish to destroy the world.


My Review

First things first, can we please get a huge Hells Yes! for a YA book that deals with sexual consent without overtly stating that it is a lesson in consent? Narlo is a shady enough character that it’s pretty easy to pick up on that fact that his actions are wrong in an obvious sort of way, but just because someone gave you permission once before doesn’t entitle a person to continual access. It was great to see a character too, that stood up against such actions even when the dominant group discourse was to engage in such behaviours and deem it as acceptable. I think those moments where Luca defended informed consent (for his sister, his own betrothed, and Bianca) absolutely made this book for me.

Now, into the nitty-gritty. I really enjoyed this book, especially the seamless interweaving of religion, mythology, and documented history. I particularly loved those elements of Greek mythology such as the Graeae, the Arthurian element of the fail-not bow of Tristan, and the Egyptian usage of mirrors to reflect and part the veil between the worlds. I felt like I was immersed in a cross-over episode where a Medieval English Romance meets up with Wrath of the Titans and Constantine. The smorgasbord of beliefs and how they interacted with one another was wonderful to see in a work of historical fiction, as too often this time period assumes unwavering belief and wholesale conversion. Through omitting the names and origins of such objects Starr encourages not only the independent exploration of the origins of such objects, but also empathy and awareness of varied beliefs and a better understanding of how current representations have evolved over time.

Another element that I found particularly noteworthy, especially in a YA book, was that all actions had consequences! Even with the aid of magical objects, there was no such thing as an easy fix or a free ride. But, much like how the scenes depicting a violation of consent are depicted, these moments inspire introspection, self evaluation, and a critical view of the actions of each character.

The split narration between Luca and Suzan worked really, especially since their stories came together relatively quickly. The alternation between the two points of view, and the relatively short chapters, kept the pace quick and helped to create tension and drama even in the simplest of moments. Although, I must say that the romance between Luca and Suzan was the main reason why this book stayed at a 4 star instead of a 5, as I found that element of the book could have used a little spicing up.

Regardless, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, fantasy, or the blending of both. The writing is captivating, the characters engaging and believable, and the imagination that The Book of Whispers inspires in wonderful. And, at a time where dominant ideologies are being aggressively pushed in public forum, this book is as timely as it is entertaining.


Up Next: Patchwork by Karsten Knight

Early Review: The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish

If there is one thing that gets an immediate advance up the TBR pile it’s YA Graphic Novels. I simply can’t resist them, no matter what real-world obligations I have going on at the time. Beyond any shadow of a doubt The Wendy Project was worth the express pass and the guilt that comes with not reading books that have been waiting longer. This hauntingly beautiful retelling of Peter Pan, with it’s enigmatic artwork and colouring, had me hooked within the first five pages and then I was reading like there was no tomorrow…


wendyTitle: The Wendy Project

Author: Melissa Jane Osborne

Illustrator: Veronica Fish

Publisher: Super Genius 

Expected Publication Date: July 18, 2017

Genre: Literary Fiction, YA Fiction, Comics, Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Themes: Peter Pan, Loss, Overcoming Grief, Fantasy Worlds, Friendship, Siblings


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Amazon

16-year-old Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy ― a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds?


My Review

I don’t know where to begin when it comes to expressing my love for this graphic novel, and my wish that there were more like it out there. Not only does The Wendy Project take on big ticket topics like grief, responsibility, teen romance, bullying and rejection it is done with sensitivity and emotion that I don’t think a traditional text could have come close to the same effect.

To start with, the artwork is absolutely out of this world. The juxtaposition of the pen-line sketches against the whimsy of the watercolours creates a beautiful effect. It clearly delineates what is reality and what is fantasy and lends so much meaning to the reading experience. It allows for connections to be made, life to be infused, and really drew me in and left me wanting so badly for the beauty of this softer and more vibrant world to be Wendy’s reality.

I loved the snarky comments in the margins too. They made me feel as though I was reading the drawing journal that Wendy’s therapist asked her to draw in a very meta way. There was so much happening in the gutters that these little quips caught me off guard, and offered some much needed comic relief for some very heavy material.

Finally, I am absolutely in love with the intertextual nature of The Wendy Project. The reworked J. M. Barrie quotes throughout the text, as well as the rich visual imagery, really works to bring this adaptation to life. Sometimes, escaping into a fantasy world is the only way that we can deal with reality, and the essence of growing up/ coming of age is maintained beautifully in Osborne’s retelling. My heart broke all over again for Wendy, Michael and John and I wanted to linger with them just a little longer by the Lagoon.

Etherial, enigmatic, and absolutely mesmerizing this modern twist on a classic story is a gripping and hauntingly beautiful read. Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I’d even go so far as to tag it as a must read for teens (and maybe even adults) dealing with loss.


Up Next: The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

Book Review: Internet Famous by Danika Stone

It seems that we have come to the last of the ARCs that I received at SALC2017 earlier this year, and Internet Famous was sure not to disappoint. It was another one of those captivating reads that I devoured in a single sitting, and then had to go back and read it again just make sure that I hadn’t missed any of the details.


internet famous

Title: Internet Famous 

Author: Danika Stone

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Expected Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Genre: Fiction, YA Fiction, YA Romance

Themes: Internet Bullying, Coming of Age, Fame

Features: The MadLibbers Dictionary


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

High school senior and internet sensation Madison Nakama seems to have it all: a happy family, good grades, and a massive online following for her pop-culture blog. But when her mother suddenly abandons the family, Madi finds herself struggling to keep up with all of her commitments.

Fandom to the rescue! As her online fans band together to help, an online/offline flirtation sparks with Laurent, a French exchange student. Their internet romance—played out in the comments section of her MadLibs blog—attracts the attention of an internet troll who threatens the separation of Madi’s real and online personas. With her carefully constructed life unraveling, Madi must uncover the hacker’s identity before he can do any more damage, or risk losing the people she loves the most… Laurent included.


My Review

This is another one of those books that I sat down to read a few chapters of and then suddenly I had read the whole thing. I loved it. A lot. It was fun, light hearted, and really demonstrated the strength that can be found in community. Not to mention the fact that it tackles first loves, internet bullies, and the potential dangers of meeting people over the Internet in one fell swoop.

One of my favourite aspects of this book lies in that it taps into the myriad of ways in which people (especially teens) are communicating with one another and acknowledges that multiple conversations in multiple mediums are the norm. Everything from traditional writing to texting, snapchat to twitter, blog posts to memes is utilized throughout the text, and the language and topics of conversation are authentic to the ages that they are representing. I mean seriously, there is nothing that annoys me more than a YA book where juvenile characters think, act, and speak like adults – how is that in any way relatable or engaging?! The multimodal approach really captured the ways in which communication is taking place around us, and the implications that engaging in such technologies can have. Plus, I really loved the photographs and memes that we included as they really worked to enhance the moment.

I really enjoyed Stone’s writing, and felt that the characters were real and believable. Okay, a few stood out as so very stereotypical, but they played their roles well and worked to advance the plot in some new and interesting directions so all is forgiven. I enjoyed the twists and turns in the story line, and found myself cheering for Maddie and Laurent despite my firm resolutions not to get as emotionally invested in the books that I have been reading. Also, can someone please please please take me on a snapchat date as cute and romantic as Laurent’s?

Would I recommend this book? Heck yes! I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys teen romances, mysteries, and some detective sleuthing. It is also particularly relevant to those who are just stepping out into, or are already actively engaged with, any form of social media. Parents, this means you too!

Oh, and for those of you living in and around Southern Alberta I would highly recommend the lovely Danika Stone for an author talk (she has no idea that I am shamelessly promoting her, so please be gentle). I have now seen her speak at both a library conference and at a local book club and she is an incredibly engaging speaker that really goes beyond the words on the page.


Up Next: The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish

Book Review: Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant by Linda Ellen

I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of this book from the author herself, and am really glad that I set aside my normal reading tastes when it comes to this book. Typically, I don’t read romances and had never paid attention to the term ‘clean romance’, so I had no idea what to expect going in. It turned out to be the perfect sunshine and lemonade read one afternoon, and I would definitely consider taking the rest of the series to the beach when we head off for our winter pick me up later in the year.


 

sergeantTitle: Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant

Author: Linda Ellen

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2016

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance

Themes: WWII, USO Clubs


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

He has his life all planned out – until one night at a dance at the USO in town, he meets her…

A secret blurted out in a moment of anger had turned Staff Sergeant Eugene Banks’ life upside down, but he moved on and made a good life for himself. At the moment, he’s concentrating on solving a mystery he had stumbled onto at his job over the motor pool at Fort Knox.

Vivian Powell is contented with her life; she has family, friends, and a good job as a bank teller. Although she was nursing a broken heart, she has since moved forward and isn’t looking for love. At the urging of a friend, she decides to join the war effort by becoming a junior hostess at the local USO…
These two people meet one fateful night at a dance, and their lives are everlastingly changed. What follows is a beautiful courtship, while dodging the fact that she signed an agreement to be available every Saturday night to dance with dozens of soldiers, and in spite of two confusing mysteries that refuse to be solved. Beautiful, that is, until Vivian catches Gene doing the very thing that he swore he would never do, and it nearly rips their romance in two!
If you love stories about WWII and the “Greatest Generation” that read like you’re watching a classic movie, with handsome soldiers and beautiful girls-next-door, then Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant is for you!


My Review

I’m not normally one to read romances, let alone clean romances (I must admit this was my first time ever encountering the term), so I didn’t really know what to expect when I started on reading this book. And I have to admit, despite my initial misgivings, I actually had a wonderful time getting caught up in the romance and drama of Gene and Viv.

What’s more than that though, is that I got really caught up in the music mentioned throughout the text. I grew up with swing always playing in my grandmother’s kitchen and as a result always had a tune running in the back of my head while reading. I have since endeavoured to create a playlist of all the amazing music mentioned throughout the book and may have been listening to it non-stop since – having The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B playing in the background really brought the USO club dances and NCO parties to life.

While I really enjoyed this book, I struggled with whether or not I was going to rate it a 3.5 or a 4. Because Goodreads only allows whole numbers I opted to round up as I did I have good giggle. Ultimately, my struggle to rate this text lies predominantly in stylistic choices and because I am neither a writer not overly familiar with the genre I decided that Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant deserved the benefit of the doubt. My main complaint was the foreshadowing at the end of each chapter – the first few times I thought it was cute, but I quickly grew tired as the premise had already been established. But, even then I was completely unprepared for the mystery of Gene’s past and was completely caught of guard!

Additionally, I was really impressed with how the local history was over throughout the book. Often times I get irritated with background and context appearing as disjointed plugs throughout a text. And I didn’t even get close to feeling that way with the histories of the various buildings, Fort Knox, and Louisville throughout this text. The comments were very much in passing, and it felt like I was being told about the locations by someone who had lived their their entire lives which I really appreciated.

This was the perfect book to read on a sunny day with a glass of ice cold lemonade. It had me dreaming of soldiers, tapping my toes, and imagining the night that my grandmother met my grandfather at a servicemen’s ball.


Up Next: Internet Famous by Danika Stone

Book Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

I had the pleasure of receiving an ARC of this lovely middle-grade graphic novel when I was at SALC2017 earlier this year. Now, while I love me some graphic novels, I’m not normally a fan of materials aimed at children and Tweens, but Real Friends caught me by the heart strings and completely knocked my socks off. I’d even go so far as to say that this is a must read for every young girl!


 

real friendsTitle: Real Friends

Author: Shannon Hale

Illustrator: LeUyen Pham

Publisher: First Second Books

Publication Date: May 2, 1017

Genre: Children’s FictionMiddle-grade Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Comics

Themes: Friendship, Bullying, Growing Up

Features: Personal photographs


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From FirstSecond

Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it’s worth the journey.

When best friends are not forever . . .

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?


My Review

I can’t even begin to express how much I LOVED this book. It showed up in a conference goody-bag after attending an upcoming book talk and quickly became the highlight of my weekend. Admittedly, my ARC only had the first few pages in colour and the majority of the pages in shading but it was easy to see that the artwork would be beautiful and the colours highly engaging for audiences young and old. The imagery speaks volumes, and the visual metaphors are easily identifiable and incredibly impactful. As someone who often seeks out and recommends texts for reluctant readers, this book now sits at the top of my list as the minimal text and visual interplay creates an experience that can be enjoyed by readers of almost any level.

Let’s face it, girls can be cruel, even when they don’t intend to. And navigating friendships and group dynamics at any age can be tricky, even more so when youths are developing emotionally at vastly different rates than one another. This touching tale follows an outsider through her tricky friendships, emotional ups and downs, and heartbreaking encounters with the cruelty of her peers.

What I love most though, is that little Shannon shows incredible growth throughout the book, and displays both forgiveness and understanding in moments that matter. This is a book that encourages creativity, imagination, and comfort in discovering individuality. It highlights how people are perceived is often vastly different than their lived reality, and really encourages it’s readers to consider the outside influences that might be shaping one’s behaviour.

Would I recommend this book? A million times yes! For kids going through ‘stuff’ and parents looking to understand and support them, this book is an absolute must! That being said, I would recommend Real Friends to just about anyone as it’s one of those books that hits you right in the feels.

Also, there might be a slight possibility that I have gone and acquired several other Shannon Hale titles – because anyone that works on Squirrel Girl has got to be pretty darned awesome in my books…


Up Next: Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant by Linda Ellen

Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is the last book in my mini collection of WWII books that I picked up at Costco recently, and after this tear-jerker I really don’t think that I could make it through another one right now. I loved, loved, loved this book but it comes with the warning of ‘read with tissues at hand’.


sarah's key

Title: Sarah’s Key

Author: Tatiana de Rosnay

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: June 12, 2007

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Occupied France, Holocaust

Features: Author Q&A, Book Club Guide, Teaser for A Secret Kept


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.


My Review

I made the mistake of giving myself room to breathe after finishing this book instead of hammering out some thoughts right off the bat, and as a result the emotional gut-punch that was my reading experience quickly got swept up in he chaos of having an offer for the house that my partner and I were trying to buy falling through.  The result is that I am coming back to this text more than a week and three novels later, with a nagging fear that I won’t give it the incredible review that it deserves.

Tatiana de Rosnay’s writing is beautiful and poignant, and I was immediately wrapped up in the worlds of Sarah and Julia and found myself equally invested in the outcomes of both. As someone who normally attaches to one character more than others, I found it amazing that I wasn’t rushing through one section in order to get to another. Instead, I was enthralled and found myself constantly pausing to consider the meaning of each passing event and what exactly it might mean in the grand scheme of things.

The split narration of Sarah and Julia worked beautifully in this novel. Right form the get-go it was clear that their stories were inextricably intertwined and that the decisions and events of the past can, and do, have ramifications for many generations. I felt too, that the apartment played as much of a role as Bertrand or Rachel. Although silent, it served as a cautious reminder that the objects and places around us bear witness to events that society has collectively elected to not remember. I found it shocking that so many of the locals encountered during Julia’s research knew so little about the events that had taken place in their towns, and that people rarely took the time to read the monuments and placards that they passed every day. It says a lot about how we ‘close our eyes’ to the parts of people and history that we would prefer not to remember or acknowledge, and I think that Sarah’s Key is so very effective in suggesting that those things we prefer to avoid are the very things that we should be looking at more closely.

The imagery in Sarah’s Key is absolutely breath taking. Everything from the streets of Paris to the horrors of Pithiviers, and from Sarah hiding in the potatoes to the moment when she unlocks the cupboard is fraught with emotion and clarity. I could picture every event as it unfolded, felt alongside the Sarah and Julia through their triumphs and heartbreaks, and found myself bawling uncontrollably on more than one occasion. I was surprised at how often beauty was found in the simplest of things through the eyes of child, and was thankful that not every moment was and foreboding. The moments of respite created a fast paced and engaging experience, and provided a beacon of hope in those moments where I thought I was might slam the book shut and put it in the freezer.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but you’d think when the inside cover states outright that Sarah locked her younger brother in closet in the midst of the Vel d’Hiv roundup that I would have had some sort of subconscious understanding that terrible things were inevitable. Seriously, we’re talking about genocide, concentration camps, and occupied France here – the good and positive things that came out of these occurrences were few and far between. And yet, de Rosnay’s writing was so engaging and her characters belief’s were so strong that I found myself hoping against hope for little Michel, rooting for Sarah, and ready to throw down with Bertrand to defend Julia.

The minute I finished reading, I immediately checked de Rosnay’s other novels to see if she’d followed up with a piece written from the point of view of a French police officer and their role in the events of the summer of 1942, as I thought there may have been a hint about a sequel. But, alas, it seems that no such book exists. Just saying though, I will be first in line on launch day to buy my copy if it ever gets written.

Would I recommend this book? Heck Yes! Not only is this a captivating and truly engaging read, the research and attention to detail really brings this story to life. Fair warning though, read with tissues close at hand… and probably not on public transit.


Up Next: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Book Review: Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent

I’ve been reading a lot of WWII fiction lately, and decided to take a break and read something from the pile of ARCs that I picked up at SALC2017 courtesy of United Library Services. From the top of the pile I grabbed Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent and IT WAS AMAZING! Seriously. If you love YA novels and the familiar ground of dystopian settings then you don’t want to miss out on this book this summer.


Brave new girl

Title: Brave New Girl

Author: Rachel Vincent

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books/ Delacorte Press

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

Genre: Literary Fiction, YA Fiction

Themes: Dystopian Future, Alternate Reality, Clones, Class Stratified Societies

Features: Teaser for Strange New World


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Rachelvincent.com 

Dahlia 16 is just one of five thousand girls created from a single genome to work for the greater good of the city. Meeting Trigger 17 changes everything for her, and when she can’t resist looking for him, even though that means breaking the rules, she realizes she’s flawed. And any genome found to be flawed will be recalled.

Destroyed.

Getting caught with Trigger would seal not only Dahlia’s fate, but that of all five thousand girls who share her face. But what if Trigger is right? What if Dahlia is different? Suddenly the girl who always follows the rules is breaking them, one by one by one. . . .


My Review

I tired to do the recommended professional thing where you take notes whist reading a book that you intend to review. Pretty sure I didn’t do it right, but the notes I remembered to take are below:

  • SO GOOD
  • Amazeballs

Yeah – that’s it (I will work on this note taking thing). And, the best part is that even after sleeping on it I still feel the same! I can’t say how much I loved this novel, and how well I hope it does.

The only reason that I didn’t give this baby a 5 star review is because it covers a whole lot of familiar territory. The whole pretty girl has conflicting emotions, knows she is a danger to society, challenges the norms anyways and falls in love with a soldier thing has been done before. But, Vincent’s execution is playful, engaging, and different enough that in the end I really didn’t care. I can’t wait for the follow up novel, given the awesome plot twist and giant cliff hanger in the final pages there is so much room for this series to break away from the pack.

The writing was simple and engaging, and the characters were realistic personalities that I found easy to relate to. Not going to lie, I was rooting for Dahlia and Trigger before I realized what the implications would be! I enjoyed the focus on Dahlia’s internal conflict throughout the text and it was refreshing to see exploration and confusion without the heroine drowning in angst. A girl that can be beautiful, smart, compassionate and strong without having to first hate the world.

Given that this is a YA book I do think that there are some interesting lessons throughout such as an examination of class stratified societies, the commodification of human life, the existence and unfairness of double standards, the ethical and moral issues of cloning, and the need to logically question authority and versions of ‘truth’. I think that there could be some really great class and book club discussions as a result of this text. But, with deeper themes aside, you can focus on the surface level and enjoy a fun, face paced and gripping read.

The biggest challenge with reading this book as an ARC was that my copy didn’t have the teaser for Strange New World at the end, only a page saying ‘teaser to come’, . Which I need in my life. Like… now. I haven’t been this enthused about a YA series in a while and I think it’s going to make an amazing summer read for so, so many people regardless of age.

Would I recommend this book? Oh, heck yes! And you can be guaranteed that I will be lined up to get my hands on Strange New World when that comes out too!


Up Next: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Book Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

I seem to be on a bit of role with WWII fiction, and have to admit that I was wholly unprepared for the experience of this novel and the horrors of history repeating itself once again in our current global climate. Another amazing read that I hope will lend a human touch to the current refugee crisis.


german girl

Title: The German Girl

Author: Armando Lucas Correa

Publisher: Atria Paperback/ Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 16, 2016

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Nazi Germany, Holocaust, Refugee Settlement, Religious Persecution

Features: Bibliography, Historical photographs and documents


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Simon & Schuster, Inc. 

A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel, perfect for fans of The Nightingale, Schindler’s List, and All the Light We Cannot See, about twelve-year-old Hannah Rosenthal’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.

Before everything changed, young Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.

Hope appears in the form of the SS St. Louis, a transatlantic liner offering Jews safe passage out of Germany. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for the refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba undermine the passengers’ fragile sense of safety. From one day to the next, impossible choices are offered, unthinkable sacrifices are made, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their doom.

Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a strange package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents will inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past, a quest that will help Anna understand her place and her purpose in the world.

The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.


My Review

Initially, I made note that this book was slow to start and it was only after getting well through Part 2 that I realized that it wasn’t the book that was slow – it was me. There is no way around it, but dealing with several wars and multiple instances of religious subjugation in a single novel is some pretty heavy reading. It was taking me a lot longer to digest the information that I anticipated and I was getting frustrated with my unusually slow reading pace. However, once I adjusted to the tone and tempo of Correa’s writing, I quickly discovered that it was nearly impossible to set The German Girl Down.

Correa’s attention to every little detail, from research and historical accuracy to make up and architecture, establishes an unshakable sense of time, place, and public atmosphere. I couldn’t help but feel the fear, hopelessness, and ever closing oppression experienced by the Rosenthal family, and Hannah’s overwhelming confusion as to why her family was being treated in such a way.

Seeing these events through the eyes of a child served to soften the mood, added snippets of humour, and offered glimpses of hope for the future when it seemed like all hope was irrecoverably lost. I loved the infusion of childish imagination, the labeling of various oppressors as Ogres, and (most importantly) the love and adoration with which Hannah and Anna view their parents. Seriously though, I have some of my grandmother’s gowns from 40s and Correa’s elegant descriptions of The Goddess really made me want to go and play some serious adult dress up! I could picture each person, their clothing, and every detail of the setting so clearly with every scene. His writing was some beautiful food for the imagination, and I was happy to let mine run wild.

 

It took some time for the alternating narration and jumping through eras to come together, but the effect was that of continual threads spanning across generations to create a single, unified story. The continuous repetition of key details, events and behaviours helped to pull the two girls stories together, and left me hungry to see what each minute detail would mean in the future. This is not a book that can be read casually, or with a movie running in the background, it demands your attention (and all of it) because missing the littlest of details will leave you lost and wondering in the future.

Some have argued that ending is too melodramatic, and in my first draft of this review I even agreed. But, in letting the book as a whole sink in, I actually rather like it – every detail has a meaning and purpose, and the drama befits history and essence of the Rosenthal/ Strauss family. The only complaint that I have with how this book ends is that I NEED to know the stories of those who remained on the St. Louis.

 

The most important part of this experience, however, is that I learned something new. As a Canadian, I never knew that our government had been one of the many that turned the St. Louis away. Interestingly enough, I was taught in school about Cuba and U.S.A. refusing the ship, but never about Canada’s contribution in returning over 900 souls to a nation on the brink of genocide. The German Girl, while fiction, served as a necessary reminder that true History isn’t just the official version written in text books, but that is those memories and experiences that our leaders and governments would specifically like us to forget.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. But there is some real grit between the pages,  so I might not suggest it to someone looking for a quick and happy read. The German Girl is beautiful, haunting, and devastatingly realistic. Wrapped up in nostalgia, enduring friendships and heartbreak Correa’s debut novel is a not-so-subtle remained that we have to pay attention to the past in order to avoid repeating it – and it is definitely worth a read!


Up Next: Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent

Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenhoff

I love this book, so much, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to start off the posting for this book blog!


Orphan's Tale

Title: The Orphan’s Tale

Author: Pam Jenhoff

Publisher: Mira

Original Release Date: February 21, 2017

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Nazi Germany, Circuses, Courage

Features: Reader’s Guide included, Excerpt from The Kommandant’s Daughter included

 


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads.

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.


My Review…

I was walking through Costco, yes Costco, looking for something to treat myself with once I had completed my MLIS and I came across a number of novels that made a nice little WWII collection and I couldn’t resist. Having a) volunteered as a palaeographer deciphering cursive for war-time immigration records and b) also having performed in a circus for a number of years (German Wheel and Lyra if you care to know) The Orphan’s Tale immediately caught my eye.

I was immediately drawn in from the first few pages as the tone was so approachable and the voice so personal that I found it difficult to put the book down. I never once felt  like there was a lull in the action, or that too much time was spent setting up for major events as the typical slow spots were replaced by gut wrenching memories. The prose is simple, accessible, and easy to engage with and the narration alternating between Noa and Astrid keeps the tempo quick (and me on the edge of my seat).

Jenhoff’s intimate knowledge of the Holocaust and the depth of her research into the circus industry really shines through. She has created a narrative that is not only captivating but also genuine and authentic. Drawing on the real stories of the Unknown Children and Circus Althoff, this narrative feels almost too real. The effective is beautiful, haunting, heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time. Also, Noa’s emotions and pain when she hits the safety net, spot-freaking-on.

Finally, without giving too much away, I would like to take a moment to appreciate that there is no neat-and-tidy happy ending. The losses and questions left looming beget the time and circumstances of the setting and really help to drive home the magnitude of simply surviving. I was touched by the redemption to be found in a most despised character and the acknowledgement that some experiences will continue to haunt us regardless of how hard we try to leave those parts of us behind. Too often a good story is lost when all loose ends are tied up, sometimes in the most awkward ways, and thank goodness The Orphan’s Tale didn’t fall into that trap!

Would I recommend reading this book? Heck yes! Go buy it, borrow it from a friend, check it out from the library or hit that trusty download button. I don’t care how you do it, this is one book that you don’t want to miss!

 


Up Next: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

 

Out of the frying pan… and into the fire

So, this is it. After years of reading book blogs, slogging through an MLIS, and constantly passing my precious books out amongst friends I have finally taken the plunge and decided to give my own book blog an honest try. Sure, I know that there are tons of book blogs out there and endless internet famous reviewers bot sometimes it’s worth it to do things anyways.

The idea is this – read books (lots of them), maybe even watch a few movie adaptations, and then attempt to write reviews that balance those dry professional assessments with my personal interpretations to put forward something a little bit more useful than my own aesthetic. It sounds simple enough, but I know that I have my work cut out for me!

As for the type of books that I’ll be reviewing, I love everything. Seriously. Fiction, non-fiction, crime, thrillers, classical literature, YA, dystopian futures, and the list goes on. I basically stay away from children’s and picture books, as well as harlequin romance and other works that could be classed in the same categories. Perhaps over time we will find that a direction develops for the genre of books that I review, but for now I am keeping the spectrum broad.

I’m not perfect, this I know. I type fast, make mistakes, and sometimes I’m too lazy to edit and review. But I’m trying. And for now I’m going to say that’s all that counts. But, I will also say that I thrive off constructive criticism (no flaming please!), am always open to suggestions (for both book recommendations and content adjustments), and will strive to create blog that can genuinely be enjoyed by whatever audience I manage to attract.

And so… It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for me!

– J.M.

Up Next: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenhoff