The Wolf and The Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

wolf and watchman.jpgTitle: The Wolf and The Watchman

Author: Niklas Natt och Dag

Genre: Crime/Scandi Noir

Publisher: Hachette/John Murray

Published: 12th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 407

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Best Debut, The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award 2017

‘Thrilling, unnerving, clever and beautiful’ Fredrik Backman

The year is 1793, Stockholm. King Gustav of Sweden has been assassinated, years of foreign wars have emptied the treasuries, and the realm is governed by a self-interested elite, leaving its citizens to suffer. On the streets, malcontent and paranoia abound.

A body is found in the city’s swamp by a watchman, Mickel Cardell, and the case is handed over to investigator Cecil Winge, who is dying of consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell become embroiled in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams, and one death will expose a city rotten with corruption beneath its powdered and painted veneer.

THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN depicts the capacity for cruelty in the name of survival or greed – but also the capacity for love, friendship, and the desire for a better world.

~*~

The mystery that The Wolf the Watchman follows is both complex and strange – it follows Mickel Cardell and Winge after Mickel finds a torso in the river, Anna Stina, a young woman trying to find her way out of poverty and who finds herself in a position she never imagined she’d be in, and Kristofer Blix, whose path will eventually cross with Anna’s, and their lives will be changed forever.

They all have goals and dreams that are changed over the course of the novel, and each part weaves back and forth between their perspectives – creating a dense and complicated story where anxiety seems to be lurking around every corner. In 1793, things feel less stable following the assassination of the king of Sweden, and threats abound, and people will do whatever they can to survive whatever existence they might be living. It took me a while to read this one, only because there was so much to take in and absorb to get to the end and what felt like the solving of the mystery, but at the same time, maybe not quite. It’s the kind of book one needs to dedicate time and attention to because of the density of the plot and characters, and the way everything connects together.

The mystery of the body in the river is the impetus for the story, and it is woven through as each character and their story becomes clearer throughout the book. As I said before, it is dense and very involved, and needs quite a bit of attention to get through this meandering, and thrilling story as the characters travel across an eighteenth century Sweden during a time when people are trying to survive, and when people’s capacity for cruelty or love is shown through the actions and sacrifices they are willing to make for people they barely know, taking advantage of the law and others.

I enjoyed this mystery, a very different story to what I usually read. Translations into English can often be denser, depending on the story, and in this case, it benefits the story and enhances the characters and their actions. Be sure to pay attention as best you can to absorb everything you need to know.

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Zebra and Other Short Stories by Debra Adelaide

Zebra.jpgTitle: Zebra and Other Short Stories

Author: Debra Adelaide

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 326

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A body buried in a suburban backyard.

A suicide pact worthy of Chekhov.

A love affair born in a bookshop.

The last days of Bennelong.

And a very strange gift for a most unusual Prime Minister…

Tantalising, poignant, wry, and just a little fantastical, this subversive collection of short fiction – and one singular novella – from bestselling author Debra Adelaide reminds us what twists of fate may be lurking just beneath the surface of the everyday.

~*~

In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of humanity and the human condition, from a dream about a murder, and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, and suicide pacts, and an interesting story about the last days of Bennelong – a man who was captured and served the governor of New South Wales and travelled back to England, told from the perspective of Governor Phillips’ wife. Finally, the novella-length story Zebra is about an unnamed female Prime Minister in Australia who is gifted a zebra – and how this changes her and her life, and her relationships with those around her in government and her neighbours.

Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition, and how we respond to the world and people around us, and how we handle ourselves. They are subversive, touching on the things we do not speak about, or the things about ourselves that we have to hide from the public, or the public persona versus the private persona and how we reconcile these. Or, the lengths humans go to in order to ensure their quirkier, fantastical aspects of their lives are kept private, and hopefully not released. This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each perspective has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To make this connection, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – that represent which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave, and unique – it is something I have never seen before and where some might think it takes away, I think it makes each story, each section and finally, the entire anthology more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives, you always find yourself engrossed wholly in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.

If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra – about a female PM. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, and varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Zebra was my favourite because I enjoyed the way the PM dealt with her neighbour, her staff members and everything in her life – too many to quote, I think. I liked that she was allowed to be human in her own world – we were allowed to see the vulnerabilities of politicians we never see in the media, such as when she was contemplating whether she should call Malcolm on a work pretence, but really, she just wanted to tell him how she felt.

Each character can represent people at different stages of life, or at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The subtlety in each story is excellent and enjoyable. It allows the reader to imagine some of what happened without completely explaining it, and this is the power of the stories in this anthology – that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they might handle things, and what happens in the story.

Debra Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.

Short story collections are often hard to review, because they don’t always necessarily always link through a theme. In Zebra, the only discernible link is the subversiveness of the stories and characters, and the fantastical elements and quirkiness that feels uniquely Australian that connects these stories. I found this to be very effective, and it allows for the stories to be read in isolation, or as whole, seeing the progression of human nature and tearing ourselves away from our normal, everyday lives that might feel suffocating or claustrophobic. Debra Adelaide allows readers to feel like they were in that enclosed space with the characters until that final release of what constrains the characters, the narrators of the stories, and this release is like a weight lifting off the reader’s chest.

I quite enjoyed these stories and their uniqueness that showed another side of human life. Each story is tightly plotted and tells the whole story succinctly in a way that feels like a novel or epic story.

An excellent read if you enjoy short stories.

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52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor

52 Mondays.jpgTitle: 52 Mondays

Author: Anna Ciddor

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A new historical novel from Anna Ciddor, in the same beautiful, classic storytelling tradition as The Family With Two Front Doors.

We’re going to look everywhere,’ said Anna. 

And they did.

When Anna sets out to find the doll of her dreams, her two younger sisters are eager to help. But it’s not easy. This is 1960s Australia and there’s no computer or internet yet. This is a time when teachers still write with chalk, cars have no seatbelts, and Mr Whippy sells ice-cream cones for half a penny.

Anna and her sisters fill their days with fun, mischief and adventure – like the time Anna glues a block of wood to her middle sister’s foot, then worries it will be stuck there forever! They celebrate birthdays and Passover together, cope with friends being mean, and feed peanuts to the bears at the zoo.

But through it all, Anna never loses sight of her dream.

Inspired by the author’s real childhood, this is a warm, funny and fascinating family story from the author of The Family with Two Front Doors.

~*~

Anna loves dolls, but she longs for a special doll, an antique doll that stands out from her others after reading a book called Hitty, about a doll unlike any of the ones she has in her own collection. But Anna’s life is also filled with school, friends and family traditions brought over from Europe. Anna’s family is Jewish, and traditions are important to them, though Anna and her cousins and siblings don’t always understand. It is woven through easily, as Anna continues her search for the perfect doll. Set in the 1960s, during a time of no Internet and no computer, and cheap ice creams. It is a time when seatbelts don’t exist, and teachers still write in chalk.

It is a simpler world, at least for Anna, as we see everything through her eyes. The world of a child, who doesn’t see that ice cream will melt, who doesn’t always understand how important family traditions are, but still knows to respect them, and who also has the desires of a young girl of her time and keeps wishing it will happen. Threaded throughout, is Anna’s quest for a doll as she visits the auction house week after week with her mother and sisters, looking for the perfect doll.

Based on author Anna Ciddor’s own life, 52 Mondays looks at a post-war Australia through the eyes of the child and takes away the complexities of adult life. It is a charming story about childhood, and the desires and mistakes made in childhood, such as putting an ice cream in your bag, not knowing it would melt, and finding that one thing that you want more than anything in the world.

2019 BadgeThis was a very enjoyable book, and even though the story seemed simple and straightforward, there were aspects of it that hinted at more happening behind the scenes of Anna’s life. I liked the realism of Anna’s life: school, family, friends and illness as she searched and searched for her doll. Throughout the book, her goal is to get the doll, but there are always things in her day to day life that take her away from her search, and instances where she doesn’t think about the doll at all, or so it seems. It allows the children to be children, and shows a 1960s Melbourne through the eyes of a child, in a way that this generation may not have experienced before and shows them a world they may only have heard about from older family members.

In the few instances where the family’s Jewish heritage is touched on, I heard the echoes of the 1930s and 1940s, though it wasn’t clear when Anna’s family started living in Australia, the shadows of those decades felt like they were there in some way. It doesn’t directly reference this, but it is possible that the family made their way to Australia before things got bad. As this is seen through Anna’s eyes, we’re not privy to the family history, though now i want to go back and read Anna’s other book, The Family with Two Front Doors to see how the family ended up in Australia.

It is a period of history not often touched on, perhaps because even though it was a time of change – in the 1960s, Australia changed from imperial to metric, and pounds to decimal currency, and there were many other social changes, and in the later 1960s, the Vietnam War. Often, it is the key instances in history that are touched on: the wars, the Depression, and other key moments in Australian history such as the Anzacs. So it was nice to read about a quieter period of time seen through the eyes of a child and her family, and what the world is like to them.  It shows a post-war Australia, a relaxed sort of story, where there are no threats mentioned. It is the story of a childhood and the things that Anna enjoyed and the mischief she got up to with her sisters.

Challenge Check-In: February

In February, I didn’t read or review as many books as I did in January. I managed to read twelve books this month, bringing my yearly total to twenty-six, and have made some progress on my challenges. Some reviews are yet to go up, but this will wrap up what I have done:

#Dymocks52Challenge

General and #Dymocks52Challenge

  1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  2. What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson
  3. The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble
  4. The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion
  5. The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  6. The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers
  7. The French Photographer by Natasha Lester
  8. Harry Potter: A History of Magic, The Exhibition Guide by British Library, JK Rowling
  9. D-Bot #8: Dino Corp by Mac Park
  10. Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  12. 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor

pb history of magic

2019 Badge

#AWW2019 Challenge

  1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth – Reviewed/Revisited post
  2. What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – Reviewed
  3. The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – Reviewed
  4. The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – Reviewed
  5. The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – Reviewed
  6. The French Photographer by Natasha Lester – Reviewed and Q&A
  7. Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey – Reviewed
  8. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – Reviewed
  9. 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor – Reviewed

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Book bingo:

Themes of Justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Themes of Inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Some of these have posts up, and some don’t – this is based on my reading log.

February Round Up

 

Book Author Challenges
Beauty in Thorns Kate Forsyth AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General
What Lies Beneath Us Kirsty Ferguson #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The Dog Runner Bren MacDibble #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The House of Second Chances Esther Campion #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The Familiars Stacey Halls #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General
The Orchardist’s Daughter Karen Viggers #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, General, Book Bingo
The French Photographer Natasha Lester #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, General, Book Bingo
Harry Potter: A History of Magic, The Exhibition Guide (paperback) British Library, JK Rowling #Dymocks52Challenge, General
D-Bot #8: Dino Corp Mac Park #Dymocks52Challenge, General
Kensy and Max: Undercover  Jacqueline Harvey #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General,
The Things We Cannot Say Kelly Rimmer general, #AWW2019, #Dymcoks52Challenge, PopSugar
52 Mondays Anna Ciddor general, #AWW2019, #Dymcoks52Challenge

 

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The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

the things we cannot say.jpgTitle: The Things We Cannot Say

Author: Kelly Rimmer

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A searing page-turner of family secrets and the legacy of war by the Top 10 bestselling Australian author of BEFORE I LET YOU GO
2019 
Life changed beyond recognition for Alice when her son, Eddie, was born with autism spectrum disorder. She must do everything to support him, but at what cost to her family? When her cherished grandmother is hospitalised, a hidden box of mementoes reveals a tattered photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe and a letter. Her grandmother begs Alice to return to Poland to see what became of those she held dearest.

WWII Alina and Tomasz are childhood sweethearts. The night before he leaves for college, Tomasz proposes marriage. But when their village falls to the Nazis, Alina doesn’t know if Tomasz is alive or dead.

2019 In Poland, separated from her family, Alice begins to uncover the story her grandmother is so desperate to tell, and discovers a love that bloomed in the winter of 1942. As a painful family history comes to light, will the struggles of the past and present finally reach a heartbreaking resolution?

Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Things We Cannot Say unearths a tragic love story and a family secret whose far-reaching effects will alter lives forever.

~*~

There is always something powerful about novels set in times of war or tragedy – they reveal something about who we really are, and the lengths people will go to so they can protect those they love, their family, their friends, and in Poland during the war, those they might not even know. The Things We Cannot Say is a dual storyline, told from the perspective of two generations – Alina, in the early 1940s, and her granddaughter, Alice, in 2019.

2019 Badge

We meet Alina and Tomasz first, at a wedding in the Soviet Union, and then we slip into 2019, where Alice is with her son Eddie, who has autism, and is doing all she can to support him and her family when her beloved babcia,her grandmother, Hanna, becomes ill and is rushed to hospital. From here, Alice’s journey begins as her routine with Eddie is suddenly her routine is thrown into jeopardy, but when she discovers the app she uses to communicate with Eddie works for Hanna, and is sent on a quest to Poland to uncover Hanna’s past, and the secrets of a family she never knew.

In 1941, Alina and her family watch as the German invasion of Poland, which started in 1939, slowly round up Jews, take over farm houses and turn Polish families out, and send Polish citizens off to work for the Reich in camps. From her farmyards, she can see the black smoke billowing from what he learns later is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the smell unlike any other. She helps her friend, Tomasz, after his father is killed, and her family helps him further, until it becomes too dangerous, and Alina must leave Poland – and never look back.

Alice and Alina alternate on average, one to three chapters at a time, depending on what aspects of the story need attention, and in each perspective, family plays a large role: Alina and her family, and their attempts to defy the Nazis will sacrifice so much for the freedom and safety of some. Whilst in 2019, Alice is grappling with helping Eddie, and being there for her daughter and husband as well. When herbabcia sends her off to Poland, she can only hope that her family won’t implode while she is gone.

Woven throughout, is the love story of Tomasz and Alina, which at first, didn’t feel as obvious as some, and i liked this – I liked that it wasn’t the focus and developed and some things just happened spontaneously. In the time of war for Alina, her family and Tomasz, there are words that cannot be spoken, because of fear, and in the future for Hanna and Eddie, words that cannot physically be spoken – which makes the title very fitting, and shows the different ways that people find to communicate when they cannot physically speak – whatever the reason.

Much World War Two literature focuses on the Holocaust – in this one, it is present, and has an impact on the reader and characters, but it is the story of how one Catholic family is willing to sacrifice everything to help those being discriminated against by people who are brutal and will go at any lengths to achieve their own means as well.

Kelly Rimmer created a very realistic world – I could smell the burning bodies, see the woods, and even though I haven’t been, imagine a post-war and wartime Poland, a country that after the war, was under Soviet Control until 1991, and having visited another country that had been in the Communist Bloc, the Czech Republic, I could imagine the contrast of older buildings, versus the Communist buildings and the more modern ones – a mixture of various times in history and a contrast of the bleak Communist era, and the old, historical buildings, as well as hints of modernity creeping in. I imagine it is similar in Poland.

The power of this story is in the characters, and what they do to protect and care for their families, and because it was inspired by the author’s own family history, it is a very meaningful and personal story – the characters are alive and vibrant, and the world that they inhabit is one that history will never forget, that these people and their families will never forget. There are many events in history we need to remember, many things that should never be forgotten. That is why novels like this are powerful and needed: so we don’t forget the human cost is more than just numbers on a page.

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Book Bingo Four – Historical

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And just like that, it is Book Bingo Saturday again, and I’m crossing off my next square. This is a blogging activity I do with Theresa Smith and Mrs B, and we’re aiming to fill thirty squares this year instead of twenty-five. There are couple that I have filled but as the review posts are not ready to go yet, I am unable to use them. I am able to fill historical this week, and there are many books I have that would fulfil this square, so it was a tough call to make, but I am filling it with a new book, The Familiars by Stacey Halls.

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The Familiars was reviewed on this blog here, and is set in 1612, against the backdrop of the notorious Pendle Witch Trials during the reign of King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots. Here, the witch trials and attitudes to witches are shown through the eyes of women and those who were caught up in the trials and those who benefitted from the services of midwives, some of whom were convicted and executed as witches. it is an intriguing story, with themes and characters that aren’t often explored in literature about this period.

the familiars

At this stage, I am now one-sixth of my way through this challenge – five squares out of thirty have been completed, and the rest will hopefully fill up easily, though some may be a challenge, such as romance – I may have to settle for one that touches on romance. Given these categories are rather quite open, many books should be able to be stretched to fit each one.

Look out for Book Bingo Five around the second of March!

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The Familiars by Stacey Halls

the familiars.jpgTitle: The Familiars

Author: Stacey Halls

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Zaffre

Published: 4th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘Assured and alluring, this beautiful tale of women and witchcraft and the fight against power was a delight from start to finish’ – Jessie Burton, bestselling author of The Miniaturist.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.

As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

~*~

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is four years into a marriage that has thus far, produced no heir for her husband, and she is enduring yet another pregnancy when she takes on a young midwife named Alice amidst the Jacobean ear witch-trials under James I and VI of England and Scotland. The book sees Fleetwood struggle through a difficult pregnancy as Alice helps her as best she can, and as Fleetwood works to decipher a letter from her husband that indicates she will not survive the current pregnancy – but is there more to this letter than Fleetwood can tell, and will she confront her husband about it?

Simmering in the background are fears of witches, and accusations against entire families of women, and some midwives, The Familiars explores the stories and legends behind the Pendle witch trials – taking place in 1612, when this book is set, and accounted for about 2% of all witches who were executed. Taking on this historical period in fiction is very interesting – it is not one I usually see, and when it is, it is focussed on royalty, or the actual witch trials, rather than the people at the peripheral, and how the absence of a midwife accused of witchcraft affects a life. Also, I felt the term witch hunt was never more accurate, as these people were accused of something they never did, and where accusations between families and against people were dealt with swiftly and without much consideration based on the testimony of a child. Eerily, the case of Louisa Collins, discussed in an earlier blog post, rested upon the same kind of testimony. This resulted in twelve people being executed during the summer of 1612.

Where many witch trial stories and  novels focus on the actual trials, and the polarising sides of the accused versus the accusers, and who is right based on the evidence left behind recorded by the victors and winners in history, The Familiars takes real people – Alice and Fleetwood and those they know – into a realm where the women involved and affected directly and indirectly tell the story.

Primarily told through Fleetwood’s eyes, and where secrets are slowly revealed throughout the novel at the right time, and that makes for an intriguing plot and mystery that is woven throughout the story. The strength of the story is the very feminine and female driven character and plot – where the men – Roger and Robert, are only there on the side. in fact, for much of the novel, they are absent or travelling, allowing Fleetwood and Alice to take charge of the story. The simmering fear of witches felt primarily male in this story – Fleetwood, though concerned, was not as convinced as the men in her life.

Based on real people, it is interesting to wonder if the real Fleetwood was like her fictional counterpart, and how she definitely did react to what was going on around her. Historical fiction is always a favourite of mine, especially when it explores eras not often explored or perspectives we don’t often hear from.

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