After I’ve Gone by Linda Green

after i'VE GONE.jpgTitle: After I’ve Gone
Author: Linda Green
Genre: Thriller/Crime
Publisher: Quercus/Hachette
Published: 25th July 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 440
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: You have 18 months left to live . . . On a wet Monday in January, Jess Mount checks Facebook and discovers her timeline appears to have skipped forward 18 months, to a day when shocked family and friends are posting heart-breaking tributes to her following her death in an accident. Jess is left scared and confused: is she the target of a cruel online prank or is this a terrifying glimpse of her true fate?
Amongst the posts are photos of a gorgeous son she has not yet conceived. But when new posts suggest her death was deliberate, Jess realises that if she changes the future to save her own life, the baby boy she has fallen in love with may never exist.

~*~

After abrasively brushing off someone who gropes her on public transport, Jess Mount has a chance encounter with someone who seems too good to be true: too good-looking, too polite – he seems too perfect, and at the time, Jess is in no mood to be hit on whilst she heads to work with her best friend Sadie as a cinema hostess. After encountering this man – Lee – she begins seeing strange posts and messages on her Facebook, eighteen months into the future, hinting at her death, and a child she hasn’t even imagined having yet. Only she can see these posts though, and the people around her begin to question her state of mind as the novel goes on, delving into past events that have had an effect on her since she was fifteen. As she enters a relationship with Lee, she ignores warning signs and threats, until the messages begin to make sense, and she makes moves to change her fate, including how she refers to her unborn child.

Using first person narrative, and told through the eyes of Jess and Lee’s mother, Angela, the novel moves through the months that lead up to the birth of the child the future posts hint at, the courtship, a wedding and Lee’s changing attitudes towards her. The world is shown through the eyes of Jess and Angela, both not wanting to see the bad side to Lee, both trying to cover up what is really happening, but with one looking for an ending that will not be what her Facebook feed determines it will be.

It is a thriller that has a twisted romance within it, and it was a rather strange storyline – for example, the if, why and how the future and messages appear are not dealt with, and perhaps this works best. Perhaps what has been hinted at from Jess’s past is what has her seeing them. However, as we are not given an answer, the reader is left to speculate and fill in any gaps in the alternating chapters themselves.

Whilst not my usual genre to read, I gave this a decent try, and read it with an open mind. At first, I felt it was slow but the last half or so I read quickly to find out what happened. I did find it a strange, creepy and perhaps interesting premise given how much people live their lives on social media these days, and it did work for the novel. I may pass this on, as I don’t think it is my cup of tea. I am confident that Linda’s fan base and readers of this genre will enjoy it though, and I hope that they do.

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The Boy Made From Snow by Chloë Mayer

boy made from snow.jpgTitle: The Boy Made From Snow

Author: Chloë Mayer

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 328

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘THE BOY MADE OF SNOW had me compulsively turning the pages to find out the fate of Daniel and his mother. A haunting and thrilling read. I absolutely loved it’ Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT
An evocative and stunning debut‘ Jane Harris, author of GILLESPIE AND I
‘Original and unsettling – and just a little bit heartbreaking’ Rachel Rhys, author of DANGEROUS CROSSING
‘A beautiful and evocative debut’ STYLIST
‘Affecting’ DAILY MAIL

In a sleepy English village in 1944, Annabel and her son Daniel live in the shadow of war. With her husband away, an increasingly isolated Annabel begins to lose her grip on reality.

When mother and son befriend Hans, a German PoW consigned to a nearby farm, their lives are suddenly filled with thrilling secrets.

To Annabel, Hans is an awakening from the darkness that has engulfed her since Daniel’s birth. To her son, a solitary boy caught up in the magical world of fairy tales, he is perhaps a prince in disguise. But Hans has plans of his own and will soon set them into motion with devastating consequences.

~*~

Daniel has grown up during a war.  In 1944, World War Two is nearing the end, and German Prisoners of War have been brought into the village of Bambury to work on the farms. His mother, Annabel, watches as they are marched in, catching a glance of one of them. Hans has been unlucky, captured by the British and Allied armies, and sent to a camp until the end of the war. As he works at Mr Dawson’s farm, chopping firewood to sell to the villagers, Annabel and Daniel befriend him. To Daniel, he is the woodcutter hero of the fairy tales Daniel loves, and lives in in his day to day life, a way of escape from the war. To his mother, he is unknown, mysterious and a force that will rekindle her desire for life, and bring light into a darkness she has felt since Daniel’s birth – a darkness that she has tried to fight against for many years. It is through this friendship she begins to find a way back to who she was before he was born. But Hans has his own plans that he uses them for, and sets in motion a series of events that have devastating consequences.

Told in alternating chapters for Annabel and Daniel, Daniel’s chapters are told in first person, Annabel’s in third person. In this novel, it has been done effectively, and evocatively. Through Annabel, we see the pain she is in, and the indifference she feels at times, and he struggle to cope with much in her life. Through Daniel, there is an innocence and a resilience – he knows more than he lets on, and must learn to find a way to cope in a world of war with a mother who he does most things for. Through his friendship with Hans, or Hansel, as he calls him, Daniel learns that the world is much more complicated than it is in fairy tales, and a devastating day will have adverse effects on his life and all those in Bambury. It is a story steeped in tragedy – tragedy of life, tragedy of war and the tragedy of humanity and how people cope, or don’t cope with horrific or traumatising events. The fairy tale aspect of the novel comes through in Daniel and how he views the world, especially through stories such as The Snow Queen, which is quoted before each chapter, hinting at what is to come. It is a haunting novel, set during a turbulent time in history, looking at how people cope when their worlds collide, and things seem like they’ll never be the same again.

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Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Rubies and Runaways (Rose Raventhorpe #2) by Janine Beacham

raventhorpe 2Title: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Rubies and Runaways (Rose Raventhorpe #2)

Author: Janine Beacham

Genre: Children/Mystery/Crime

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 245

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The Clockwork Sparrow meets Downton Abbey

It’s a bitterly cold winter in Yorke and Rose Raventhorpe and her butler Heddsworth are stuck with Rose’s unpleasant cousin Herbert, and his equally horrible butler, Bixby.

When an orphan boy named Orpheus interrupts the Cathedral’s Mistletoe Service, saying that his sister has been kidnapped, Rose vows to help. Solving the mystery will be a lot better than accompanying ghastly Herbert! But the investigation is more complicated than Rose has anticipated and will lead her and her butler friends through fancy tea-rooms, horrible factories, secret underground passages and more…

Fireplace pokers are much more dangerous than you might imagine . . .

~*~

Christmas is coming, and Rose is excited: apart from the presence of her annoying cousin, Ghastly Herbert, and his butler, Bixby, both of whom seem determined to ruin the cheer and suck the joy out of Rose. When Herbert starts speaking about firing Heddsworth, Rose’s loyal butler, and marrying her early on, Rose is infuriated. But the arrival of Orpheus at the Mistletoe Service at Yorke’s Cathedral sets in motion a series of events that result in murder and disappearances. Combined with Ghastly Herbert’s determination to buy her a ring, and get her fitted for a dress (both scenes where Rose’s disdain ensures a comedic outcome), Rose is determined to find a way out of the marriage that Herbert claims her mother would celebrate and that her father assures her may never happen, it is a mystery where the suspect is not who Rose or the Silvercrest Hall Butlers expect – and where little hints are dropped along the way, the subtlety of these hints allowing the reader to discover the secrets along with Rose.

aww2017-badgeThis is the second book in a series, and the characters are just as awesome as in the first. Rose is wonderfully written, the perfect balance of a young woman who knows her responsibilities but strives to use her standing in society to advocate for others and who would rather fence and be part of a butler secret society than sit for portraits and attend dress fittings.

Rose’s father plays a much larger role in this book, and I enjoyed getting to know him. Unlike Lady Constance, Lord Frederick is friendlier and calmer, and much less rigid in what he expects from Rose. He is rather lax in enforcing these rigid ideals, and when Ghastly Herbert insists on marrying Rose throughout the book, it is her father and Heddsworth who reassure her it may not happen – and it is the conniving and deception that Herbert and Bixby bring into the household that lead to events that force Herbert to thankfully call off the wedding.

I enjoyed this, the mystery and humour combined nicely, and Rose’s Yorke evokes what could be a parallel world to the real York, with a touch of magic in the air surrounding the cat statues of Yorke that are supposed to come to life, an inventive system of communication between butlers and sweeps, mixed in with Victorian history and settings. It is an immersive story and setting, and as a reader, I felt like I was there with Rose much of the time, and was on her side about Herbert and his attitude – Herbert is the kind of character I think people will love to hate, and I was rather pleased whenever he was humiliated or received his comeuppance, as it seemed to illustrate he wasn’t as superior as he thought he was.

Each character in this series is well written and I love that the head of the butler secret society is a woman, and one of the top butlers, Bronson, is too. It breaks with the tradition many books set in this era would use, and this break with tradition is a shock to the rather traditional and uppity Herbert too – illustrating that what some people thought was proper was something to be questioned and turned on its head. I think this is a series that will continue to turn Victorian traditions on their heads, in a fun and informative way for the reader.

The mystery of Orpheus’s missing sister and a murderer who has disappeared twice without a trace, and the tension between the formerly allied butlers and chimney sweeps is the meat of the story, and of course, Ghastly Herbert is caught up in it all, driving Rose batty, and with Orpheus by her side as a new friend, Rose can face anything – even her Ghastly cousin and his demands of how she behaves before their wedding in several years. She is only twelve, after all, and has much more important things to handle. Being an honorary member of Silvercrest with her own Infinity Key comes with responsibilities that trump marrying cousins.

 

Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

~*~

 

Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

the red ribbonTitle: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Addlington

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hotkey/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might all have been friends together. This was Birchwood. For readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as readers may recognise it. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive? Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose? One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

~*~

Set during the final months and years of the Second World War, Ella has been whisked away off the streets to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, known in the novel as Birchwood. Here, she is set to working, making clothes for the guards and the Commandant and his family. Here, she learns to make patterns, to choose the right colours for people, and together with Rose, the storyteller, whose fairy-tale optimism keeps the girls going during the darkest of days, dreams of the dress shop they will own one day in the City of Lights – Paris. Ella’s way of describing her world Them, Guards – Nazis, and Stripeys – those in the concentration camp – is both innocent and sobering. It is a child’s view of this world she now inhabits, a world where she is not immune to the brutality surrounding her. It is Ella’s perspective that gives the novel the powerful impact it needs to have, to remind us of what has happened in the past, and to prevent the same thing happening again.

To escape the horrors of the camp, Ella finds her solace in sewing and designing clothes, a skill that she knows she will use when she gets out – but in a place where it seems nobody will ever leave, she begins to wonder if she will ever achieve her dream, or if it’s just a way to comfort herself through the long, dark days. It is not a comfortable novel to read, and nor should it be. Any novel that delves into the darker depths of human history and humanity should not be a comfortable or easy read. What this novel shows is that we should never forget, but also that the human spirit’s capacity to push on through adversity and survive, even when we think we can’t go on.

The Red Ribbon is one of those novels that stays with you and haunts you. It is not one to shy away from the gritty reality that Ella lives in. Instead, the gritty reality is shown, and the horrors communicated through Ella’s eyes as she fights to stay alive and then fights to find freedom. It is a novel to be read alongside the history books, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and stories of resistance against the regime, as portrayed in The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, Reading these books together will give a more human view of the Holocaust than we get from history books – a human face put to those affected, to those caught up in what was going and to those actively trying to resist. Lucy has captured the history and experiences eloquently, and sensitively, ensuring that the careful research she did has been communicated in an effective and informative way to readers, and giving them a chance to explore the history behind the story in her notes at the end of the novel. it is one that I hope to read again at some stage, because it is important that we keep reading these stories to never forget, and to prevent it happening again during our own lifetimes.

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Tales from the Bush by May Gibbs and Jane Massam

TALES-BUSHTitle: Tales from the Bush
Author: May Gibbs and Jane Massam
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Picture Book
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 6th February 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 24
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Available now from Scholastic Australia, Tales from the Bush is the next book available in the ‘Tales from’ series of stories inspired by May Gibbs lovable Australian bush characters, celebrating 100 years of Gumnut Babies.
Join Snugglepot and Cuddlepie for some wonderful adventures in the Australian bush. Fall in love with May Gibbs’ classic characters as they go camping in search of treasure, garden with Little Ragged Blossom and deal with mischievous Mrs Snake!
This beautifully illustrated storybook is perfect for shared reading before bedtime and introduces children to the beauty and diversity of the Australian bush.
All royalties from the sale of May Gibbs products support the work of The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance in providing services to Australian children living with disability and their families.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn the third book of the series, Tales from the Bush, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie search for treasure, left behind by a Banksia man (who are big in this book, but the ones they encounter are not bad), on the riverbank, following footprints to find the gold of years past, and instead, find a much more valuable treasure that they will always have. Then, they plant a garden with Little Ragged Blossom, their new friend, from a necklace of what they thought had been berries, and create a world of beauty for her.
When the Bush Dance is about to be held, they encounter Mrs Snake, whose mischievous ways have caused everyone to abandon her, and Mr Lizard to revoke her invitation to the Bush Dance. These charming stories are full of friendship, and the undying kindness and curiosity of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that generations of Australian children have come to adore. They are a delightful bedtime read, and great tool to help children learn to read and gain confidence whilst learning about the Australian bush, and its flora and fauna. The fantastical elements that these stories and the originals have brought to the wildlife and wild flowers of Australia, in a world that many have written about over the years, and a world that is as much a part of the Australian identity as other parts of our history and literature.
I enjoyed reading this book – for me it was a quick read and I think it is an ideal book for children learning to read. This series captures the original magic of May Gibbs for a new audience and readership with text by Jane Massam in a new century where technological toys compete with books for our attention.

 

Buy the books here:

https://www.maygibbs.org/

or here:

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

the last namsara.jpgTitle: The Last Namsara

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gripping YA crossover series from a spectacular new voice in the genre Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things

Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she’s sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the wicked deed she committed as a child – one that almost destroyed her city, and left her with a terrible scar.

But protecting her father’s kingdom is a lonely destiny: no matter how many dragons she kills, her people still think she’s wicked.

Even worse, to unite the fractured kingdom she must marry Jarek, the cruel commandant. As the wedding day approaches, Asha longs for freedom.

Just when it seems her fate is sealed, the king offers her a way out: her freedom in exchange for the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard.

And the only person standing in her way is a defiant slave boy . . .

THE LAST NAMSARA is an extraordinary story about courage, loyalty and star-crossed love, set in a kingdom that trembles on the edge of war.

~*~

Asha’s story begins on a dragon hunt, where the identity she has been given her whole life is made obvious from the beginning of the novel. The Old Stories that have been outlawed draw the dragons to her, and, following the name she has ben given, Iskari, she kills them in an attempt to atone for a crime she committed as a child. Asha’s scars tell her story, and cause the people of her city to fear her. Asha has been the stories of her destiny and what killed her mother for years and believed them – without anyone to tell her otherwise, she believes them. Until the day a young dragon prevents her from killing the First Dragon, Kozu, and awakens questions within that will lead her to do wicked and dangerous things to prevent more tragedy from befalling her family, and to prevent events that she has been desperately trying to avoid with the help of someone she never thought she would become close to. As what I hope is the beginning of an intriguing series, it has a little bit of everything, including a touch of romance that does not overtake the rest of the story and overshadow what Asha and those who gather around her eventually to help uncover the truth will have to do.

First and foremost, this fantasy novel is about Asha finding her identity, and uncovering secrets that have been kept from her so that those who wish to harm her can control her and ensure she does what they want, when they want it, and without question. Along the way, Asha’s worldview is shattered, and she befriends a slave, a skral, and learns his name: Torwin, going against centuries of tradition, and connecting with him in a way that puts them both at risk, and that mirrors the Old Stories, told in between sections of the first half of the novel, showing how they have shaped the world and how people like Asha’s father and Jarek, the man her father wants her to wed, fear what does not need to be feared – including the dragons that Asha has been made to hunt and must now protect.

The Last Namsara explores trust, family and identity, and illustrates how those we least expect can become the only ones we can trust. Asha is scarred – and has a paralysed arm from the events at the beginning of the novel, but she does not let this stop her, especially when everything comes to a head and she does what she never thought she would do, and puts herself in danger. It is these dangerous events that lead to the final events of the novel, and presents the reader with more questions than answers during the final chapters, that will hopefully be answered in a future novel, to wrap up the strands that felt they had more of a story to be told.

It is a gripping story that didn’t take me long to read, as it had a decent pace, not too fast or too slow, and intrigue that had me wanting to know what was going to happen next. A great read for fans of Young Adult, and Fantasy Literature.

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