The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller

republic of birdsTitle: The Republic of Birds
Author: Jessica Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: 3rd March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Olga loves the stories of the old cartographers and pores over their ancient books and maps, trying to unlock their secrets. Sometimes, she thinks she can even feel through the maps— almost see into them—as if by magic.
But magic is banned in Tsaretsvo, ever since the war with the birds that divided the kingdom, and the powerful magic wielding yagas have long been banished. Now, any young girl who shows signs of being a yaga is whisked away to Bleak Steppe—to a life, so the story goes, of unspeakable punishment.
When the bird army kidnaps Olga’s sister in a surprise attack on the human kingdom, Olga realises she has to venture into the Republic of Birds to bring her back. But first, she must learn to unlock her magical ability. As her journey takes her into the hidden world of the yagas and the wilds of the Unmappable Blank, Olga discovers the truth about the war with the birds—and learns just how much is at stake.
Inspired by Russian folklore, The Republic of Birds is a rich middle-grade fantasy adventure for readers of Karen Foxlee, Jessica Townsend and Philip Pullman.
~*~

Set in a fantasy world with Russian influences, The Republic of Birds revolves around Olga and her family. Olga is twelve, and on the verge of turning thirteen – the year she will take part in the Spring Blossom festival. Yet Olga fears what will happen if and when she starts showing signs of magic – of being a yaga. With magic banned in Stolitsa, Olga knows that once she starts exhibiting signs of magic she will be sent away to a place known as Bleak Steppe – where stories of girls being punished abound.

Yet as Olga prepares for the Spring Blossom celebration, she inadvertently sends something dear to her away with the birds – and must summon all her talents – innate and magical – to reunite her family.

AWW2020Wow, what a book! This was very different to what I have read in the past, yet using fantasy, fairy tale, and folk tale elements combined with elements of real world Russia, and feels like its set in the early decades of the twentieth century, but in a fantasy setting, the events and technology that exist in this world could be vastly different to what we know. This is what makes it even more inviting and intriguing and allows the reader to be immersed within a fantastical world that has elements of darkness yet also is a story of female empowerment and courage. And of course, maps.

Maps marry magic and birds, and feminine power to create a world that is exciting and highly driven by women’s stories and lives – which is thoroughly enjoyable. I loved that the beginning had a slower feel to the latter half of the book and reflected those days of innocence before everything started to become real and dangerous for Olga and her family. Once the action got going, I found that the pages that flew by – and I think that Jessica got a really good balance between the slow bits and the fast bits to make an exciting and engaging story for all readers aged nine and over to enjoy.

Rich with folklore, it is a great next read for fans of His Dark Materials, Nevermoor and many other books that have been influenced by folklore and fairy tales within their plots. It is a captivating story that evokes many emotions – courage, love and fear, as well as wonder as you explore the world with Olga as she navigates the reality of her world, and discovers the truth behind the lies that she has been told throughout her life about yagas and Bleak Steppe.

Books that read like a folktale are always a favourite of mine – they allow the reader to uncover familiar tropes and characters, but wearing different outfits and within a different context, and this is what makes it magical. These sorts of novels expand on the traditional fairy and folk tales that are known aroind the world, and in doing so, bring them to life in a new and fantastic way. These are books that I would have loved as a kid, and continue to enjoy reading to this day.

With many thanks to Text publishing for the review copy I received this week.

Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Australia Day.jpgTitle: Australia Day

Author: Melanie Cheng

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 3rd July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: Australia Day is a collection of stories by debut author Melanie Cheng. The people she writes about are young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Chinese, Lebanese, Christian, Muslim. What they have in common—no matter where they come from—is the desire we all share to feel that we belong. The stories explore universal themes of love, loss, family and identity, while at the same time asking crucial questions about the possibility of human connection in a globalised world.

Melanie Cheng is an important new voice, offering a fresh perspective on contemporary Australia. Her effortless, unpretentious realism balances an insider’s sensitivity and understanding with an outsider’s clear-eyed objectivity, showing us a version of ourselves richer and more multifaceted than anything we’ve seen before.

Prizes won:

  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, Dobbie Literary Award for a first time published author, 2018
  • Shortlisted, Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, 2017
  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, 2016

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAustralia Day by Melanie Cheng contains fourteen unique, and individual stories about Australians – those born here, immigrants, and from all walks of life, moving through a society and country that has various expectations, and where those they encounter respond to them in a variety of ways, from ignorance to trying to help, to saying the wrong thing and sometimes, misunderstandings that could happen to anyone, as well as clashes of cultural and generational expectations that illustrate the differences in everyone’s lives.

They are simple, yet complex – stories where identities and sense of self are sometimes at war internally, and sometimes externally, and where the flaws of humanity are exposed – no character is perfect, no character knows everything, and no character has ultimate control.

I wasn’t sure what story was my favourite because they were all so different and diverse. Melanie allowed the characters to speak for themselves, revealing their true natures, how they thought and went through their lives. Since publication, Australia Day has won two awards in 2016 and 2018, and been longlisted for four awards this year and shortlisted for one last year – a remarkable achievement for a new book, and very much deserved.

It is filled with various experiences of Australia and Australia Day – the first and last story – both taking place on Australia Day – bookend the book, with the in between stories taking place, around the day, before, or after, but still capturing something of what it means to be Australian, and how this differs for many people, regardless of your race or gender – that being Australian and living in Australia is not the same for everyone. It is a multicultural book, where cultures clash or come together, and where some people try to embrace the multicultural world, and accept it, or where some look upon the differences with disdain or disappointment that things are not what they always expect them to be – perhaps a key factor in Australia, with the ever-changing world we live in. I found this aspect to be the most interesting – to see how different people responded to and accepted difference, or perhaps, struggled to. How people tried but failed to be inclusive or perhaps said the wrong thing or felt trapped by what was going on around them and just tried to fit in with it all. The diversity these stories show give a snapshot into modern Australian life and how everyone is trying to find a way to live together.

An intriguing book, and one I enjoyed, as I don’t often read short stories but thoroughly enjoyed the way these were written and opened my eyes to the different way people approach living in Australia and Australia Day.

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The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

the war I finally won.jpgTitle: The War I Finally Won

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Children’s/YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 2nd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Like the classic heroines of literature, Ada wins our hearts as she continues her World War II adventures after the Newbery Honor–winning The War that Saved My Life.

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—crippled in her mind as well as in her body. But who is she, she wonders?

Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their guardian, Susan, in a cottage in the English countryside, on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie, Ada’s dearest friend. Life in the crowded cottage is tense. Then Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? Everyone is horrified. Ada must decide—where do her loyalties lie?

The War I Finally Won is the marvellous conclusion to Ada’s powerful, uplifting story.

~*~

Ada’s life has changed since she ran away from home, where her mother kept her locked up and punished her for being born with a club-foot. Living as an evacuee with her brother, Jamie, and their guardian, Susan, Ada’s journey is not yet complete. Though she has had her foot fixed, and she now knows she is not what her mother said she was, she must find a way to discover who she is. As the war comes closer to British shores, Ada and Jamie’s lives alter significantly, and many changes uproot their lives. When Lady Thorton moves in with them because her home is commandeered for the war effort, Ada feels the safety and comfort she has begun to get used to feel threatened. Only Maggie’s presence and Susan’s understanding seems to calm her through times of turmoil and worrying about Jamie and feeling like she still has to take care of everyone. Soon, Ada becomes accustomed to having Maggie’s mother around, because it means Maggie gets to visit for school holidays. But when Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany arrives, Ada is caught between loyalty to those she loves and fiercely protects and welcoming another young girl who has been forced out of her home and away from all she loves. Soon, Ada discovers a way to be who she is and help Ruth adjust. It is a war she must fight within herself, whilst another war rages on outside – discovering who she is and overcoming the horrors of her past to find peace.

In the wonderful and touching conclusion to Ada’s story, The War I Finally Won, has Ada still struggling with her mother’s words, but finding ways to cope with her anxiety around events she is unfamiliar with. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has taken a devastating war and used it as the backdrop to personal wars – Ada, Mrs Thorton and Susan – and tenderly dealt with disability, both physical and mental, wars, death, love and loss, all through the eyes of an orphaned child during World War Two, and her brother, who can see and accept love for what it is – though Ada’s struggle to love easily is part of the story, and her vulnerability and confusion are ever-present.

Each character in the story is fighting a war. They are all involved and connected to World War Two – as evacuees, as hosts, as a mother and wife to a husband and son who are fighting in the war, a war of loss and of love, and identity wars, to find who they are in a new and frightening world. When the safety Ada is getting used to is threatened, she feels the war anew, and it is Lady Thorton who steps in to help her through it. Ada finds that in this new place in Kent, she has people who care about her: the Thortons, Maggie, Ruth, and Susan – she has always had Jamie, who does what he can to help his big sister throughout both books.

Like the first book, this one dealt with what are difficult themes in an eloquent and thoughtful way, approaching it so that readers of all ages can understand what is going on at their level and through their experiences. Through these characters, the personal and physical war is experienced in different ways, and learning to love and understand others is a key theme in the book.

With a satisfying yet realistic ending, The War I Finally Won is a great way to end Ada’s battle.

Booktopia

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war saved life.jpgTitle: The War that Saved My Life

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s and YA

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 16th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: · Winner, Newbery Honor Book, United States, 2016 

  • Winner, Schneider Family Book Award, United States, 2016 
  • Shortlisted, West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award, 2017

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds, set during World War II.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room flat. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Miss Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take in the two children. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

~*~

For nine years, Ada has lived in a tiny, one room flat with her mother and younger brother, Jamie, in London. For years she has been confined in this dreary place because of a birth deformity – clubfoot. She receives little care and love from her mother, and all her affection comes from her younger brother, whom she has raised. When war is announced in 1939, all the children of London are evacuated to less populous areas to save them from being bombed by the Germans. For Ada, this is her chance to leave home for good, to escape the horrors of her young life and get out of the dim home she lives in. On her bad foot, she hobbles towards the school, receiving assistance from Stephen White, a neighbour also being evacuated. Unaware of what the outside world is like, both on the journey and arrival in Kent, where they are placed with Susan Smith, and their lives begin to change. Jamie gets to go to school, Ada learns to ride, and they learn what it is to be kept safe, though throughout, Ada feels that there will always be something that will take them away, that this cannot last. The war is present, though never at the forefront of the book, just a threat that lingers as Ada fights her own war against everything her mother has told her she is and breaking down her own barriers to let people in, to learn to read and to find her place in the world. But can Ada’s sanctuary last?

The War that Saved My Life is more than a story of survival in war, it is survival of who Ada is and who she can become, survival of spirit and the land. It is a unique experience of war told through the eyes of a disabled child, who has always been the carer, and never cared for, fearful of a mother who has never loved or wanted her and struggling with a disability that she has been told can never been helped. In this story, there is a harsh reality shown of disability and the way it is seen and treated – the unwillingness of Ada’s mother to help or care for her versus Susan’s desire to keep Ada safe, wanting to help her and wanting to care for her, and the repercussions of nine years of being treated poorly, of being abused, set against the backdrop of a war that killed millions and wounded many more.

Each character has layers that need to be peeled back slowly, and they are. Even though Ada’s PTSD isn’t explained explicitly, it is shown in a way that readers can understand, and that people can relate to, giving people a character that they can see themselves in and representation of what they might have gone through or be feeling. The War that Saved My Life is told in first person format, through Ada’s eyes. The reader can feel and experience what she goes through: feeling trapped, feeling unable to articulate what she is feeling or find the right words, and the way her mind gives her conflicting messages, that she feels she cannot unravel properly.

It is more than a story about World War Two, it a story about the war that Ada fights within herself every day, trying to trust someone who cares for her after all she has been through. It is touching and shows the reality of Ada’s life with her mother. It shows the strength of love between siblings and the love that another can have for someone they aren’t related to.

In a story where the protagonist feels at war with herself and those around her constantly, she copes in the only way she knows how – detaching from a situation and letting herself go into her own world. She learns that there are many ways to love and care for people, and that sometimes, a lie to protect someone is okay, but lying to hurt and humiliate is not. With Susan, Ada learns that there are no absolutes in life, and that she can be helped, that her club foot can be fixed so she can at walk. Ada’s constant disbelief is coloured by the way Mam treated her for so long. It is a war that Ada is determined to win.

A touching story that can be read by all ages, The War that Saved My Life is deserving of the awards it has won and been nominated for. It is a book that shows a different side to the war, and will hopefully become a much-loved classic in years to come.

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