The God Child by Nana Oforiatta Ayim

the god childTitle: The God Child

Author: Nana Oforiatta Ayim

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 4th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $26.99

Synopsis: Maya grows up in Germany knowing that her parents are different: from one another, and from the rest of the world. Her reserved, studious father is distant; and her beautiful, volatile mother is a whirlwind, with a penchant for lavish shopping sprees and a mesmerising power for spinning stories of the family’s former glory – of what was had, and what was lost.

And then Kojo arrives one Christmas, like an annunciation: Maya’s cousin, and her mother’s godson. Kojo has a way with words – a way of talking about Ghana, and empire, and what happens when a country’s treasures are spirited away by colonialists. For the first time, Maya has someone who can help her understand why exile has made her parents the way they are. But then Maya and Kojo are separated, shuttled off to school in England, where they come face to face with the maddening rituals of Empire.

Returning to Ghana as a young woman, Maya is reunited with her powerful but increasingly troubled cousin. Her homecoming will set off an exorcism of their family and country’s strangest, darkest demons. It is in this destruction’s wake that Maya realises her own purpose: to tell the story of her mother, her cousin, their land and their loss, on her own terms, in her own voice.

~*~

Moving between Ghana, England and Germany across five parts, and told through Maya’s eyes, The God Child is a debut novel from Ghanaian author, Nana Oforiatta Ayim. Maya has grown up in Germany. She knows her parents are different, on many levels. They make her aware of it, in their own ways, and society does. Her mother is a spinner of stories of former glory that those around them do not believe yet Maya lives with these stories and it would seem, doesn’t always actively question them, though she may want to, as I felt she was quite a practical character in some ways, but like her mother in other ways. She is still a child when her cousin, Kojo comes to live with them one Christmas. Soon, the family is split – it seems Maya’s parents separate, though like many things, this is not spelled out so readers have to infer and guess what happened, and Kojo and Maya are sent to school in England.

In England, Maya and Kojo attend school – until a turning point send the family back to Ghana, and years later, Maya returns – and this is the turning point – where everything changes and comes full circle to the opening chapter.

From the first few pages, we know that something big happens in Maya’s family – something that tears them apart and changes Maya forever. From there, she flicks back to her childhood, moving through it in what feels like a chronological way, and the story feels as though it is set in the eighties or nineties at least – based on the presence of cars but the lack of technology we are familiar with are not present, giving it a sense of class as well as race – and perhaps hints at ideas of what matters on a human level that we can recognise in many people – for a variety of reasons. Maya’s journey is interesting as she grapples with her three identities – Ghanaian, German and English – and how she navigates this between the expectations of her mother and her mother’s stories and traditions, as well as those of her Ghanaian family that come through in later parts, and who she is within the context of how she has grown up and what she has been exposed to. It shows that identity is complicated in a myriad of ways, and for some people, caught between two very different cultures and nations, can be fraught or confusing.

Categorising this for my tags and blog was difficult – it didn’t have a feel of any genre – other than what is called Literary Fiction – which is often seen as better than genre fiction, but can also be a lot more conceptual or character driven – so it’s not something I read a lot of. However, this one definitely had a clear plot, even though at times I felt like it jumped a bit or didn’t state things clearly – the inferring between the lines seems to be a characteristic of literary fiction.

What I did find interesting about this book was the way it dealt with diversity and navigating life across three different countries whilst discovering your identity. Maya was an intriguing character to follow, and I wanted to know more – about the gaps that weren’t always filled in but at the same time, I can see why some bits were left out and it will work for those who want to read this and enjoy literary fiction. It had some really good and insightful points, and I hope there are many out there who will enjoy it.

Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes

tiger heart.jpgTitle: Tiger Heart

Author: Penny Chrimes

Genre: Fantasy/Time slip/Historical

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 14th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 260

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: One magical friendship. One roaring adventure.

The magical tale of a bold young chimney sweep and a remarkable tiger, a dangerously hypnotic ruby and a mystical land that’s found across an ocean and through a storm. Perfect for fans of THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS and PAX.

One magical friendship. One roaring adventure.

The magical tale of a bold young chimney sweep and a remarkable tiger, a dangerously hypnotic ruby and a mystical land found across an ocean and through a storm. Perfect for fans of The Girl of Ink and Stars and Pax.

Fly never meant to end up in a cage with a man-eating tiger. And though she’s sure she’s no princess, when the tiger addresses her as ‘your majesty’, she can’t help but vow to free him and return him home.

But the bird-filled jungles and cloud-topped mountains of the tiger’s homeland are an ocean away. And not everyone wants the tiger – or Fly – to get there alive.

With dark and dangerous forces working against them, will Fly be able to fulfil her promise and maybe – just maybe – become the queen her tiger knows her to be?

~*~

Gutterling and chimney-sweep Fly lives in a world that is partially Georgian, and partially Victorian – combing inventiveness of one with rumble-tumble of another to create a unique yet familiar London. It is here that she has lived her entire life after being found outside an orphanage with a strange box with strange symbols. Brought up in a tough world where she’s given little education little clothing and taught to steal, Fly soon finds herself face-to-face with a tiger, and this is where her journey begins as she escapes the life she’s known for a faraway land where, the tiger tells her, she is a princess. Here, she must find her family and save the animals who are destined to be sold by those trying to stop Fly gain her throne back.

Along her journey to Barithea, the mystical country she is trying to get to, Fly meets a boy called Jack, who looks remarkably like her. Reaching Barithea is their first challenge: surviving what is to come is their next challenge, and Fly and Jack must work together to defeat the forces that wish to destroy their family and place of birth.

This was a unique story, combining a historical setting with magical realism and a touch of fantasy to create a world that is believable – Barithea could be a real country, one that is undiscovered, yet it also fits the fantasy country bill. As a result, it is perfectly constructed and perfectly fits in with the feel and tone of the novel. This is one that had a great start, a great middle and wonderful ending for all ages nine and older – great to read alone or with someone and share your thoughts.

In Penny Chrimes’ first novel, an exquisite world has been created that readers can lose themselves to, and it captures danger, childlike wonder and a faraway world of royalty, talking tigers and cursed jewels that threaten to ruin entire families and kingdoms if action to protect them and preserve the traditions of the culture and land is not taken by Fly, Jack, and her tiger.

This was a lovely novel, and one I highly recommend. I hope others enjoy it as much as I did.

 

A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Secret Game that Won the War by Simon Parkin

birds and wolves.jpgTitle: A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Secret Game that Won the War

Author: Simon Parkin

Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Sceptre

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Find out what is happening in the Atlantic, find ways of getting the convoys through, and sink the U-boats!’ Prime Minster, Winston Churchill

  1. The Battle of the Atlantic is a disaster. Thousands of supply ships ferrying vital food and fuel from North America to Britain are being torpedoed by German U-boats.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill is lying to the country about the number of British ships sunk. He is lying about the number of British men killed. And worst of all, unless something changes, he knows that Britain is weeks away from being starved into surrender to the Nazis.

This is the story of the game of battleships that won the Second World War. In the first week of 1942 a group of unlikely heroes – a retired naval captain and a clutch of brilliant young women, the youngest only seventeen-years-old – gather to form a secret strategy unit. On the top floor of a bomb-bruised HQ in Liverpool, the Western Approaches Tactical Unit spends days and nights designing and playing wargames in an effort to crack the U-boat tactics.

A GAME OF BIRDS AND WOLVES takes us from the sweltering fug of a U-boat as the German aces coordinate their wolfpack, to the tense atmosphere of the operation room as the British team plot battles at sea on the map.

The story of Operation Raspberry and its unsung heroines has never been told before. Investigative journalist Simon Parkin brings these hidden figures into the light and shows the ingenuity, perseverance and love needed to defeat the Nazis in this gripping tale of war at sea.

~*~

In 1941, the Battle of the Atlantic is raging between Britain and Germany, months before Pearl Harbour is bombed and the Americans finally enter the war. Following the sinking of a ship taking evacuees to America for safety, where only thirty-three of all the children aboard survived, Churchill decides it is time to take more action. With each sunken ship, Britain is receiving fewer supplies to keep the country going. In 1942, a retired naval captain and a group of Wrens begin to plot a strategy to defeat the U-Boats, using maps and small ships to build a game to plan warfare – a game that would come to be known as Battleship. Parkin weaves between this and what was happening with Germany, and peppers it with personal stories of what happened, and in the events leading up to the creation of the game, showing just how close things came to ending up a different way, and how a simple game of secrecy became one of the biggest and most significant strategies in the war that would end in 1945 with the defeat of Germany.

Had Operation Raspberry not gone ahead and had these people whose stories have never been told not risked their lives to plot the naval battles of the Atlantic, World War Two might have had a very different outcome for many people in Europe and indeed, the rest of the world. This is another story from the war that has previously been untold and was shrouded in secrecy until Simon Parkin discovered it. It is an important story, because it adds to the historical record of how the trajectory of World War Two was changed, and ultimately, changed the outcome of the war.

Knowing these stories adds to our understanding of the war – some facts may have been known – the general facts, the basics, but not the intricacies of how the game came about, who was involved and what they spent their days doing, as well as the dangers they faced even just planning and executing the game, which led to safety measures being put in place after a few incidents.

Like other aspects and figures in history who have long been hidden, silenced or ignored for one reason or another, including issues around secrecy like this war game, these stories coming to light expands on what we already know, and gives us a new understanding for what happened and how it happened, and what it took to get there. With carefully researched books like this, these stories are told in engaging and intriguing ways, and should perhaps become recommended reading for students of history, especially when studying this area of history, so they can gain a better understanding beyond what we already know.

An intriguing read for anyone studying or interested in history.

Book Bingo Nineteen: Themes of Culture

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It’s September, and time for book bingo again with Theresa and Amanda. This means I have six to seven books left on my card to fill in, some of which I am unsure of what to do. Science Fiction is always a tricky, because there are times it crosses over with fantasy. I initially had the book I’m using for this square under science fiction but decided to change it to this square.

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When it came to Themes of Culture, there were many ways to go – made up, national, historical and all the arms that splinter off from each of those areas and many more. As I had assigned a more obvious book for this category, I stretched culture out to post-war culture based on this book. So, I assigned a new book – The Lost Magician by Piers Torday here.

lost magician

Set in 1945, World War Two is over, and Patricia, Simon, Evie and Larry are sent to the country while their parents search for a new house. Hints of their lives during war time come through, illustrating that the life and culture of a post-war England had some differences to what had come before and would evolve in the decades to come. It also shows the clash of cultures in the book world, of the various factions of books and their characters who have and have not been read – the past, and the future, and the finished and the unfinished stories, and how they grapple with their own cultural differences in another world unfamiliar to the four children.

This made this book a good choice for this round – it showed the different ways culture can be explored and the cultural impact stories have on us. With the next book out later this year, I hope to return to the world of Folio for more adventures.

Row Three:

Themes of Science Fiction:

Themes of Culture:The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

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

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

Themes of Fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

 

Row Two:

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Themes of culture: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Book set in the Australian outback:

Written by an Australian woman: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

See you next time!

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll

when we were warriors.jpgTitle: When We Were Warriors

Author: Emma Carroll

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Faber

Published: 3rd June 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: An irresistible return to World War Two for the Queen of Historical Fiction.

A body washed up on the beach…
Evacuation to an old house with forbidden rooms and dark secrets…
An animal rescue service…

Set in World War Two, Emma Carroll explores the resilience, resourcefulness and inventiveness of children when their lives fall to pieces. Introducing some compelling new characters, as well as revisiting some familiar settings, these adventures are sure to win over new readers, as well as fans of old favourites such as Letters from the Lighthouse and Frost Hollow Hall.

Air raids, rationing, the threat of invasion: everyday life in wartime Britain is pretty grim, and often pretty dull.

That’s what Stanley thinks, anyway – until his home is bombed and he’s evacuated to a remote old house with the mysterious name Frost Hollow Hall…

It’s what Olive thinks too – until she finds a body washed up at Budmouth Point…

Velvet just wishes she could be useful – and when the air-raid warden brings in a ban that puts all the pets in peril. she grabs her chance.

Three thrilling stories about three different children, who find adventure, courage, untrainable dogs and an impossibly tall American GI where they least expect it.

~*~

Literature and stories set in World War Two for children don’t shy away from the fear and horrors of the war years. Instead, they tell the stories through the eyes of the children, and in a way that younger readers can grasp and relate to without going too far into the darkness of the war or making it too happy. They have a really good balance, and Emma Carroll’s latest, When We Were Warriors does not disappoint.

Here are three separate novellas, about three different children during the war, connected by displacement, air raids and places of isolation, and the presence of Americans in Britain during the days of the war following America’s entry in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbour.

In The Night Visitors, Stanley and his sisters are evacuated to Frost Hollow Hall, and are told not to go near the lake. And not to disturb the mistress of the house. There seems to be a mystery surrounding everything there, and when an American GI turns up, secrets start to come out with revelations that change them all. Here, Emma shows what the reality of evacuees was, and how they adapted to their surroundings in days when fear drove so many things.

In the second story, Olive’s Army, the children and young people of Budmouth Point discover a body on the beach – the body of a German soldier, whose identity becomes confused with Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper. Ephraim is arrested, and the children must prove he is innocent and stop a German invasion. Also present in this novel, is the shadow of the Nazi concentration camps, and the Kindertransport that one character, Esther, was on. Carroll relays this part of the war simply, within a few sentences but still conveys the reality of what Jewish people went through during the war. Again, the American GI shows up to help solve the mystery.

Finally, in Operation Velvet, Velvet sets out to save the animals of her friends and family, after an air raid warden puts forward rules that put them in danger. when she discovers a dog with puppies, together with her friends and the help of an American GI, she saves all the pets and finds homes for the puppies.

With several things connecting these stories, this is a great book, and I really enjoyed the way the connections were at first, surface: the war, seen through the eyes of children, invasion, evacuation and threats. Astute readers will notice the less obvious, or at least more subtle link as they read, and get to the end where things become clearer. It is cleverly put together and shows how war affected people differently through three very unique experiences.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

esther durrantTitle: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant

Author: Kayte Nunns

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn

  1. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.
  2. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmothera renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is a deeply atmospheric, resonant novel that charts the heart’s wild places, choices and consequences. If you love Elizabeth Gilbert and Kate Morton you will devour this book.

Praise for the bestselling The Botanist’s Daughter:

‘Two incredibly likeable, headstrong heroines . . . watching them flourish is captivating. With these dynamic women at the helm, Kayte weaves a clever tale of plant treachery involving exotic and perilous encounters in Chile, plus lashings of gentle romance. Compelling storytelling’ The Australian Women’s Weekly

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping read’ JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant opens with a cleverly deceptive scene with Esther and her husband supposedly headed off on holiday on an island off the coast of England. Esther is under the impression he will be staying with her in the little stone house – until she wakes up in the morning to discover he is gone, and she’s surrounded by a doctor and nurse. It is 1951, and Esther has what will become known as post-partum depression, though the 1950s did not see it this way. Sent to Little Embers to recover, Esther soon finds comfort in the others there – soldiers returned from war, struggling to fit back into a society that demands they do.

2019 Badge

In 2018, Rachel, a researcher, discovers a suitcase in a place called Little Embers after she is rescued by Leah, and spends several days recuperating until a friend comes to find her, and she takes the letters and suitcase she discovers with her. Also in 2018, Eve is helping her ninety-year-old grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs, when Rachel tracks them down. Eve’s gran is Esther Durrant, and the letters reveal a sixty-six-year-old secret that slowly evolves through the novel.

By dipping back and forth between 2018 and 1952, and the perspectives of Rachel, Eve and Esther, Kayte Nunn tells the whole story, and only reveals things when they need to be revealed. This gives the novel an air of mystery that remains throughout the novel. Dual timeline stories like this are effective when worked well, and Kayte Nunn has done so in this one, much like her previous novel, The Botanist’s Daughter, also reviewed on this blog. What a dual timeline does is take the reader back into the past from the present as a character reads letters, a dairy or speaks with the person from the past storyline, and sometimes it is a combination of all three that allows for this to happen. At other times, a different approach is taken but in all the dual timelines I have read, each has been very effective.

In this case, the secrets that are hinted at are cleverly dealt with throughout. Each character could have a potential link to the secret, which makes it more mysterious and intriguing, and an enjoyable mystery to read and try to solve.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous

the au pair.jpgTitle: The Au Pair

Author: Emma Rous

Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th December 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A tautly plotted mystery of dark family secrets, perfect for fans of Kate Morton. ‘Entrancing, compelling, atmospheric, reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier. A beautiful read that delivers a shocking and satisfying ending’ Liv Constantinebestselling author of THE LAST MRS PARRISH

Seraphine Mayes and her brother Danny are known as the summer-born Summerbournes: the first set of summer twins to be born at Summerbourne House. But on the day they were born their mother threw herself to her death, their au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark-cloaked figures and a stolen baby.

Now twenty-five, and mourning the recent death of her father, Seraphine uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born featuring both parents posing with just one baby. Seraphine soon becomes fixated with the notion that she and Danny might not be twins after all, that she wasn’t the baby born that day and that there was more to her mother’s death than she has ever been told…

Why did their beloved au pair flee that day? 
Where is she now? 
Does she hold the key to what really happened? 

~*~

Seraphine Mayes and her brother Danny are known as the summer-born Summerbournes, or the Summerbourne sprites – whispers from people in the village and school children have followed them their whole lives. But after her father’s death so close to their twenty-fifth birthday, during a search through photos, Seraphine discovers a photo of her mother with one baby, minutes before her mother was found dead. From here, Seraphine starts to wonder if she is really her mother’s daughter – Danny and Edwin, her older brother, look so alike, yet she has stark differences that have always made her stand out, and spurred on the rumours that Danny and Seraphine had a sprite-like quality about them, based on stories of witches’ cloaks and stolen babies in the night. In Seraphine’s mind, she is not that baby, not any relation to her brothers. In an effort to find out who she is, Seraphine embarks on a journey to track down the au pair from that day and will discover many more secrets that will affect more people than her and Danny and threaten to break the family apart – and that maybe there is more to her mother’s death than she has been told. The secrets she is about to uncover will change their lives forever.

Family mysteries with a dual storyline as the main focus always make intriguing books – with the focus on family and identity rather than romance, which there is some of, though it is not always the overall goal of the character, but rather, a nice side story alongside the main pot as a nice addition, that is woven in and out neatly. Seraphine’s mystery is tightly plotted and thought out, with each bit of evidence presented at just the right time, slipping back and forth from 2017 to 1991 and 1992 seamlessly, where Seraphine and Laura – the au pair – get to tell their stories – and the clues slowly start to fall into place. Who Seraphine is, and where the au pair, Laura fits in, as well as who Alex is, and information that Seraphine never thought she would uncover in the course of her investigations and asking questions around the village, specifically with the village doctor. The reader discovers the secrets and facts along with Seraphine, and though one can try and guess at the outcome, it is not as clear cut as it is first thought to be, but the execution of this is so well done, it suits the story and entire plot so well.

Overall, this was a well-written book, with an intriguing plot that held my interest and will appeal to fans of Kate Morton and other authors who work in dual or multiple timelines. The dual timeline is a tool that works well here to tell the story, because we need to hear from both Seraphine and Laura to get the full story, and understand what happened that fateful year at Summerbourne, and how the mystery of Seraphine and her brother came into being.

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