Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M. Owen

egyptian enigma.jpgTitle: Egyptian Enigma

Author: L.J.M Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 370

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Dr Elizabeth Pimms, enthusiastic archaeologist and reluctant librarian, has returned to Egypt. Among the treasures of the Cairo museum she spies cryptic symbols in the corner of an ancient papyrus. Decoding them leads Elizabeth and her newly formed gang of sleuths to a tomb of mummies whose identities must be uncovered.

What is the connection between the mummies and Twosret, female Pharaoh and last ruler of Egypt’s nineteenth dynasty? How did their bodies end up scattered across the globe? And is the investigation related to the attacks on Elizabeth’s family and friends back in Australia? Between grave robbers, cannibals, sexist historians and jealous Pharaohs, can Dr Pimms solve her latest archaeological mystery?

~*~

The third in the fabulous Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth Series sees Elizabeth on a sojourn with New York philologist, Henry, to Egypt. Here, she gets to visit the ancient sites she has read about, and write about her travels, whilst exploring the history that inspired her love of archaeology and ancient history. When her journal is stolen, and the holiday ends, Elizabeth returns to work at the library, and university. Her tutoring job is due to start, and she must contend with two students who are disruptive and talk over people, and disregard what she has to say, she has to edit the Olmec and Maya papers with Alice, and a new investigation into The Golden Tomb of Egypt begins, involving 3D printouts of skeletons to help identify the victims and establish what happened long ago during the New Kingdom and the erasure of female Pharaohs, such as Tausret, from the records, as people had tried to erase Akhenaten and his family in earlier generations. At the same time, she is still attending family therapy sessions with Matty and Sam, and their relationship is much nicer in this book, and Elizabeth is baffled by an attack on her beloved Taid, and the distanced Mai, who seems to have cut herself off from many around her as she struggles with the revelations of Mayan Mendacity.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe ancient and modern mysteries that Elizabeth faces are diverse and unique – but will she solve all of them, and find out who stole her journal? And what has her work colleague, Judy, been hiding about William Pimms death for the past few years? Elizabeth seeks answers to these questions as well, balancing work and family life as she gathers together a snoop of sleuths -herself, Alice, Nathan, Rhoz and Llew, working in Taid’s library during weekends.

As each mystery – the murder, Taid’s attack, Judy’s behaviour and disappearance, and the antagonistic students in her class progresses and thickens, Elizabeth finds herself caught up in her work – something quite admirable about her, that she has such hyper focus that it takes a sit down with her beloved Taid to work things out and pull her out of it at times – he’s one of my favourite characters, but many of the characters are pretty cool.

I absolutely adored this book, as it reminded me of how much I love Egyptian history, and it explored the period of the New Kingdom – 18th-20th Dynasty – that I am most familiar with, so reading about Akhenaten and Tutankhamen, and the Ramesses Pharaohs was thrilling. Nathan is also a favourite – he’s the kind of friend everyone needs, so caring, and delightful, but still, as with all the characters, with his own flaws that make him the person he is.

Mai grew on me in this book – and I loved how the family cared for her so much when they found out she was sick, and brought her into their lives to help her, and give her the family she should have had growing up. I love the way the family just comes together in a tragedy and has an understanding of each other that ensures nobody is ever forgotten.

There were of course two unsolved mysteries – one that appeared at the end of the novel, and that readers will need to wait for the next book, advertised in the back as Mongolian Mayhem. I can’t wait to see what other Intermillennial crimes Elizabeth and her snoop of sleuths get to solve next.

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Book Bingo Seven – A Book that everyone is talking about, and a book with non-human characters.

book bingo 2018

Week seven of the 2018 Book Bingo, and I’ve managed to mark off 20 of the 25 squares already! This week there are two squares to include in this post: a book that everyone is talking about, and a book with non-human characters.

monty the sad puppyFirst, my book with non-human characters is Monty the Sad Puppy, where the two key characters are dogs – 5 month old Labrador puppy, Monty, and the eight year old dachshund, Daisy. Sad and lonely, Monty feels cast aside with Daisy’s arrival, and both must adjust to being together. It is a charming story, full of cute dogs and funny moments, as well as moments that had me shaking my head at Monty, because he reminded me of the puppy we had years ago.

And my second book, a book that everyone is talking about – The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a powerful story of what the human spirit can endure, and how love came out of one of the darkest places in recent history. It is a story of triumph and pain, and what people in the camps had to do, and were forced into doing to survive one day at a time, and avoid the death carts, mass graves and gas chambers at all costs. It is moving and haunting, and as I said many times in my review, a book that should be read be all.The-Tattooist_FCR_Final

So there are now twenty squares marked off on my bingo card. I have five left, and I know there might be one or two that might be a little tricky to fill but there are some that shouldn’t be too hard to do, especially if there are lots of choices for me for that category.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The-Tattooist_FCR_Final.jpgTitle: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo/Bonnier

Published: 1st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 278

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved. 

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of tätowierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1942, Slovakia is slowly falling into the grip of the Nazis as they march across Europe during war time, invading towns and countries, and rounding up Jews, and other groups seen as undesirable in their quest for German victory. Lale Solokov, born Ludwig Eisenberg, volunteers himself at 24 for what they are told is a work detail, to save his family. Lale prepares for a life away from his family, with clothes and books, though none of them know what lies ahead for Lale, or what the future holds in store for any of them as the Nazis continue their rampage. Instead of the promised job, Lale finds himself dumped at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. Here, he will have everything taken from him, his head shaved, and a number inked into his skin, marking him for life as 32407, stripped of any other identity for three years. In Auschwitz, he is given the job of Tätowierer – and must tattoo numbers onto each new arrival – the ones not immediately sent to the gas chambers. It is here he will meet the woman he falls in love with – Gita – and soon finds himself find ways to get contraband to her and spend time with her, all at risk to his own life as well as hers.

In a moving fictionalised account of Lale’s life, Heather Morris, who spent three years interviewing Lale, has recreated the atmosphere of the camp, a dank, smothering atmosphere where the air is thick with ash and the screams of the dying that Lale and other prisoners are forced to listen to as they work in fields, in administration, as Lale tattoos new prisoners every day. Some events Heather imagined, to fill in the gaps, such as a scene where Lale and Gita were together when the American planes flew over Auschwitz, but most of it is true, based on Lale’s recollections.

It is a dark story, because the Holocaust was one of the darkest times in world history. But it is one of those events, and there are many – that we should never forget, never let happen again. Through the dark, colourless life of Auschwitz, and the torturous conditions Lale and Gita had to live in, their love endured, and they never gave up hope of finding each other when the camp finally closed down and the prisoners were sent on death marches or simply ran away, with the hope of finding people who could help them. The shadows that Lale and Gita fought were real, and this is a story that everyone should read, another Holocaust story that reminds us what complacency and allowing evil to manipulate an entire nation can result in.

The language is simple and accessible, yet it deals with the complexities of life, of love and the Holocaust in a way that shocks the reader but at the same time, gives them hope that Lale and Gita will find a way out of the camp. Through the darkness of war and death, it is their love for each other, and determination to live, that brought this story to life so that people reading it now will never forget what happened.

A moving, dark story that must be read, and learnt from so that something like this stays where it should: in the shadows and smoke of history, never to be repeated but to serve as a reminder of what humans are capable of at their very worst.

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I Am Sasha by Anita Selzer

I am Sasha.jpgTitle: I Am Sasha

Author: Anita Selzer

Genre: Historical Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published:  2nd April, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 325

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: One boy’s extraordinary experience of wartime survival. One mother’s incredible courage. Based on an astounding true story.  It is German-occupied Poland in 1942, and Jewish lives are at risk. Nazi soldiers order young boys to pull down their trousers to see if they are circumcised. Many are summarily shot or sent to the camps.
A devoted mother takes an ingenious step. To avoid suspicion, she trains her teenage son the be a girl: his clothing, voice, hair, manners and more. Together, mother and son face incredible odds as their story sweeps backwards and forwards across occupied Europe.

~*~

Based on a true story, I am Sasha is the story of the author’s father, who spent his teenage years from 1942-1944, after the Soviet liberation of Poland, hiding as a girl, under false papers that also hid his, and his mother’s Jewish identity from the Nazis as they marched and invaded their way across Europe. Larissa, Sasha’s mother, ensures his safety as they move back and forth between Polish towns, avoiding the ghettos and transports to camp. After seeing what happens to boys from their hiding place in a barn, Larissa concocts a plan to turn Sasha into a girl – Sala – to keep him safe. Their lives are constantly under threat though, and they’re always moving finding new places to live and settle, until they find somewhere they are able to stay until the Soviets liberate Poland, and a place where Sasha’s mother begins work for the Zegota, a Jewish underground resistance that helps Jewish people escape the Nazis.

At the end of the war, their story is followed until their arrival in Australia, and their reconnections with their family, friends and the new friends they make in the displacement and refugee camps as they journey to their new home in Melbourne.

AWW-2018-badge-roseI am Sasha was inspired by a family’s history, a grandmother’s memoir and a father’s short story, given to a daughter and granddaughter to retell for the world. In 1994, Larissa gave Anita the manuscript, written in English – because she wanted to reach as many people as possible with her story, explaining to Anita that she wrote it in English to reach a wide audience – an audience that would include those affected and those not affected, and those all over the world who wanted to know more.

It is a story of sacrifice and the drive to do whatever one can to survive, whilst witnessing the depravity of humanity, and what humans are capable of at their worst, but also, what people will risk to save themselves, and keep others safe – what they will sacrifice or potentially lose just to keep friends safe – as Bella, Larissa’s gentile friend did for Larissa and Sasha throughout the years, before disappearing to Warsaw shortly before the end of the war.

Larissa and Sasha showed great resilience through their years of hiding and Sasha pretending to be a girl – Sala – under false papers, in a regime where you never knew who you could trust and where your landlady, or neighbours could turn you into the Gestapo at any time, on the mere suspicion of being Jewish, or a Communist or anyone who was against the Nazi regime. It is just one of many stories about the Holocaust and the horrors of World War Two around today.

Never forget are the final two words in the author’s note, and the horrors of the Holocaust, of stories like Sasha’s, Anne Frank and many more are a part of history we should never forget, and never let happen again. We should never forget the millions of people the Nazi’s persecuted based on religion, race, politics, sexuality or anyone who simply tried to resist them, and the brutality that these people faced, and the survival stories as well as the tragic ends. None of this should be forgotten. This is why Sasha’s story is an important one, and why it was important for Anita, his daughter, to tell.

Stories like this remind us of why we must resist regimes and abuse, and why we must speak out and stand up for what we believe in, because otherwise, the people who commit these atrocities and who support them win. I found this story to be powerful and moving, and as such, I read it very quickly. Whilst it is aimed at a Young Adult audience, I feel anyone interested will be able to read this and understand it.

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Book Bingo Six: A Book With a One-word title, a book published more than ten years ago. 

book bingo 2018.jpg

Only two books for today’s book bingo post – both of which fit into one of the categories I am filling today, and two more rows have a bingo – Row One Across:

Row #1 – – BINGO

 

A book set more than 100 years ago: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham – AWW2018

A book written more than ten years ago: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

A memoir: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

A book more than 500 pages: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

A Foreign translated novel: Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner (translated by Niall Seller)

And Row Two down.

Row #2 – BINGO

 

A book written more than ten years ago: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

A book with a one-word title:Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018, Munmun by Jesse Andrews

A book based on a true story: Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The first square that I filled for this week is a book with a one-word title, and there happened to be two books that filled this square, with one of them filling the other completed square. First, Munmun by American author, Jesse Andrews, a new release book where, in a satirical world based on America, your height is related to your wealth, and where littlepoors struggle to climb up the wealth ladder whilst being blamed for their standing in the society – a reflection on how society treats the vulnerable today. I reviewed it several weeks ago on the blog, and wasn’t overwhelmed by it, though the premise was interesting and there were times that the execution worked well, though I still found some aspects could have been reworked to have a similar effect.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Second is an old favourite, Thunderwith, which fits two squares this week. I first encountered this book in 1998 and still have the same copy that has been sitting on my shelf for twenty years. I’ve been trying to fill each square with at least one book, but this square had so many options, I felt that at least two would work. I also entered Thunderwith into the published more than ten years ago square – it was published twenty-eight years ago in 1990. Lara’s story has layers of emotion that many can relate to, and is set in the Australian bush, in an area a few hours north of me, so reading the familiar names of places I have visited is always enjoyable. I’ve reviewed it here.

So that’s my sixth book bingo of the year, and I’m off to see how Mrs B and Theresa Smith are doing with theirs!

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Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn

thunderwith 2Title: Thunderwith

Author: Libby Hathorn

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian Children’s Books

Published: First published in 1990, current edition published 2015.

Format: Paperback

Pages: 217

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A modern Australian classic from bestselling author Libby Hathorn, now with a new, contemporary jacket in celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary.

Lara feels completely alone after her mother’s death. She moves to the bush to live with her father, but his new family make her feel like an intruder, and a bully makes school just as unwelcoming. With the appearance of the mysterious dog Thunderwith, Lara begins to feel a connection to this harsh place. Will it ever feel like home – and will her stepmother and half-siblings ever feel like family?

THUNDERWITH has won numerous awards, including the Children’s Book Council Honour Book Award (1990), the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults (1991) and was also adapted into the classic TV movie THE ECHO OF THUNDER, starring Judy Davis, who was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Gladwyn.

THUNDERWITH was directly inspired by Libby’s family holidays in the Wallingat rainforest: ‘One night there was a huge storm and when I looked out of the window, this big black dog ran across the clearing, a very proud and wonderful-looking animal. Afterwards, when I climbed back into the bunk where I had been sleeping, there seemed to be this chanting thing going on between the thunder and the rain on the roof, “Thunderwith, Thunderwith.” By morning, I had a story.’

~*~

thunderwith 1Following the death of her mother, Cheryl, Lara moves to the Wallingat with her father, and his new family – Gladwyn, and four children: Pearl, Garnet, Opal and Jasper. She feels completely alone: Gladwyn and eldest daughter Pearl seem to hate her, her father, Larry is so often away, and school presents more problems in the face of school bully, Gowd Gadrey. When exploring the bushland behind the property one day during a storm, a dog appears. As he appears, Lara chants “With thunder you’ll come, and with thunder you’ll go,” – and names the dog Thunderwith. As she battles bullying at school and indifference from her new family, Lara finds solace in Thunderwith as she searches for her mother’s spirit, feeling as though she has been abandoned. Her only refuge is the library, and the Aboriginal story teller, Neil, who seems to understand Lara and the way she feels and becomes a great source of comfort to her. When tragedy strikes, Lara is faced with a tough decision, and the sense that this tragedy could tear the family apart or bring them closer together.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe first time I encountered Thunderwith, was in my year six class, where we read it as a group. There was something magical about it, and twenty years later, after having read it multiple times, it is still there. I loved it in class so much, I wanted my own copy – I wanted to read it on my own as well, and have done so many times over the years, that my book is creased, with yellowed pages, but still intact, and still ready to be read again. It was the first Young Adult book I ever read – though I didn’t know that was the category it fitted into at the time. I fell in love with Thunderwith, the book and the dog – an amazing dog, and filled with amazing, diverse and complex characters whose secrets are slowly revealed.

It is a story of love – the love for family, mostly. Lara’s love for her mother drives her, and the love she received as a child is so easily shared with her new siblings. Lara’s courage and love shines through, as she adjusts to her new home, new life and new school across several months, and a single school term. It is one I have loved and enjoyed for a long time, and that will always be a favourite.

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Little Gods by Jenny Ackland

little gods.jpgTitle: Little Gods

Author: Jenny Ackland

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 346

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A rare, original and stunning novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free – with echoes of Jasper JonesSeven Little Australians and Cloudstreet.

As a child, trapped in the savage act of growing up, Olive had sensed she was at the middle of something, so close to the nucleus she could almost touch it with her tongue. But like looking at her own nose for too long, everything became blurry and she had to pull away. She’d reached for happiness as a child not yet knowing that the memories she was concocting would become deceptive. That memories get you where they want you not the other way around. 

The setting is the Mallee, wide flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life.

She knows that adults aren’t very good at keeping secrets and makes it her mission to uncover as many as she can. When she learns that she once had a baby sister who died – a child unacknowledged by her close but challenging family – Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery and relentless quest to find out what happened have seismic repercussions for the rest of her family and their community. As everything starts to change, it is Olive herself who has the most to lose as the secrets she unearths multiply and take on complicated lives of their own.

Little Gods is a novel about the mess of family, about vengeance and innocence lost. It explores resilience and girlhood and questions how families live with all of their complexities and contradictions. Resonating with echoes of great Australian novels like Seven Little AustraliansCloudstreet, and Jasper JonesLittle Gods is told with similar idiosyncrasy, insight and style. Funny and heartbreaking, this is a rare and original novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free.

~*~

Olive Lovelock’s family has been touched by tragedy – tragedies that nobody in the family wants to talk about, to Olive or to each other. They are secrets that are closely guarded by those that hold them, though Olive longs to uncover them, much like the child detectives she reads about. Her mother is the middle of three sisters –  Thistle, Audra and Rue. Audra and Rue married brothers William and Bruce, and the lives of these sisters, brothers and their children weave in and out of Olive’s narrative as she goes through her final year of primary school, and the summer before she becomes a teenager. Closer to her aunts than her mother, as she participates in plays with her cousins that Thistle encourages them to put on, Olive uncovers family secrets about a dead sister, and things that Thistle went through as a young woman by listening, and from a bully at school – one of the Sands brothers, a secret child her family refuses to acknowledge.

AWW-2018-badge-roseUpon hearing about this sister, Aster, Olive becomes obsessed with finding out what happened, and goes to Aunt Thistle, whose openness with Olive is a stark contrast to that of her mother Audra, or other aunt, Rue, and hints at a sadness in Thistle, a secret that she has been dealing with for many years, and something in her past that she has never recovered from. Jenny Ackland deals with the complexities of familial relationships, and mental illness – where the unsaid amongst the many has a more profound affect upon the few who yearn to talk about it.

Olive is on the cusp of childhood and becoming a teenager –  a place where she feels she doesn’t quite fit in with anyone, and where the misery and tragedy her family has experienced seems to permeate everything they do and how they deal with it – and Jenny Ackland has dealt with this in a sensitive manner, and yet, I felt Olive’s frustration at her parents and family members who wouldn’t talk about Aster, who wouldn’t answer questions and acted as though certain things weren’t appropriate to discuss at all, or appropriate for Olive herself to be talking about, such as when Olive was helping her uncle Cleg with records. Yet, it is Olive’s spirit that encourages her to pursue the truth and find answers to the mystery of her sister. She wants to help her family heal and answer the questions that play on her mind all the time.

It is a uniquely Australian story, set in Mallee and Victoria, in the country, and with mentions of Vegemite, and hints at events of the early 1980s that have become embedded in the Australian psyche. It is very character driven, and seeing the world through Olive’s eyes illustrates how different people in the same family can see the world and their lives in vastly different ways.

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