Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2) by Kelly Gardiner

phoenix-coverTitle: Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2)
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: May 1941.
The German bombing campaign is reaching its fiery climax, and Christopher and the firewatchers battle against the flames and huge bombs through the worst night of the Blitz.
Christopher tries to go back to 1666; to find his new friends and learn more about the power of his phoenix ring.
Instead, he finds himself in a deserted city, overlooking a smaller, older river port town known as Lundenwic, where the Anglo-Saxon community faces an invasion by the dreaded Vikings.
Christopher must discover why the ring has brought him here, and how to get back to his own time. But there are Viking ships on the Thames, and their warriors threaten to burn the city and conquer the whole of England.
~*~

As the Blitz rages on, and Christopher’s father arrives home, injured and discharged, London will never be the same. As the war rages on and his mother volunteers to help fight fires instead of watching for the bombers, Christopher finds himself mourning friends and neighbours, in between attending school, watching for bombs and looking for treasures with his friends by the Thames. During one of these hunts, Christopher finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer, that transports him back to the ninth century, where Vikings are threatening to invade the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic. Whilst here, he encounters the Vikings, a girl named Elda and is thrust back and forth between their conflict, and German destruction of London. Christopher can’t stop the German bombs coming but he can find a way to stop the Vikings attacking an empty town.

As the novel moves back and forth between 1941 and at least a thousand years in the past, and hints at London’s history, and the layers of history that lie beneath the streets of modern London are hinted at in an accessible and exciting way for young readers, aged eight and older. Aimed at middle grade readers, it combines history, time travel, action, mystery and adventure, the second book in this trilogy alludes to what came before, and the role fire has played many times in shaping London and its history.

AWW2020I waited a long time for this book to come out, and I ordered it into my local bookstore and waited for it to arrive – and managed to read it within two days.
This is a trilogy worth reading – filled to the brim with amazing diverse characters – with disabilities, who aren’t white and the women in history – the Vikings, and Elda, Molly and Christopher’s mother and teacher – who are exceptional in many ways and do not fit the supposed gender norms or expectations of their times, or what history assumes they did. I loved this aspect of the book, and the hints at history we don’t know about – it opens it up for readers and leads them – hopefully – to researching it further. Because, how can we know what is out there if we don’t look and if there isn’t anything like this fabulous series to guide us? It certainly led me to looking up Saxon women, Lundenwic and Vikings – leading me down many research rabbit holes whilst writing this review.

This is one of my favourite middle grade trilogies – we have some fantastic authors in Australia writing for all age groups, and we should be supporting them as often as we can, if not all the time. When a novel like this combines history and time travel, and adventure, it makes history fun for kids, and can introduce concepts, ideas and knowledge that they may not get elsewhere or that become facts that are picked up because they are there. At the same time, this novel confronts ideas about gender and race in the 1940s, but briefly and is shown to illustrate that these ideas existed, but that they can be challenged and people can change their perceptions and attitudes, and prove that history is more complex than previously thought and even more complex than the way we are taught at school.

This is another reason these historical fiction novels when learning about history – they introduce a new side to history that is hidden in a variety of ways, and doing so through fiction makes it exciting and relatable. With the third book out later this year, I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.

The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam

the 900Title: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz

Author: Heather Dune McAdam

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 438

Price: $34.99

Synopsis: The untold story of the 999 young, unmarried Jewish women who were tricked into boarding a train in Poprad, Slovakia on March 25, 1942 that became the first official transport to Auschwitz.

‘Books such as this are essential: they remind modern readers of events that should never be forgotten’ – Caroline Moorehead

On March 25, 1942, nearly a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women boarded a train in Poprad, Slovakia. Filled with a sense of adventure and national pride, they left their parents’ homes wearing their best clothes and confidently waving good-bye. Believing they were going to work in a factory for a few months, they were eager to report for government service. Instead, the young women-many of them teenagers-were sent to Auschwitz. Their government paid 500 Reichsmarks (about 160) apiece for the Nazis to take them as slave labour. Of those 999 innocent deportees, only a few would survive.

The facts of the first official Jewish transport to Auschwitz are little known, yet profoundly relevant today. These were not resistance fighters or prisoners of war. There were no men among them. Sent to almost certain death, the young women were powerless and insignificant not only because they were Jewish-but also because they were female. Now, acclaimed author Heather Dune Macadam reveals their poignant stories, drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses, and relatives of those first deportees to create an important addition to Holocaust literature and women’s history.

~*~

War had just broken out, and the Nazis were steadily marching across Europe, taking over towns, cities and countries, and rounding up Jews. Jews were being sent away to work or rounded up and sent to ghettos in their countries. They lost jobs, homes and education as the Nazis and the governments of each nation rolled out laws over the late nineteen thirties and early nineteen forties to limit the rights of Jews.

In March of 1942, just short of a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women were made to board a train in Poprad, Slovakia. They were told they were headed for a three-month work order – which turned into three years. The original 999 or 997 – taking into account one girl who died on the train and the discrepancies and spaces in the hastily typed and written records of all the girls by the SS (as uncovered by the author in her extensive research with survivors of this transport, such as Edith Grosman (#1970), and her work to fight against Holocaust denial) girls and women were at Auschwitz before the iconic railway tracks and gates proclaiming Arbeit macht frei – work makes you free- ever existed at the camp. These days, some of the buildings have been destroyed, and some of the survivors have led talks at the camp.

In the three years the original women were at the camp, they saw every other transport come, they watched as children, men and women were herded into the gas chambers, and they watched people they knew die from illness, on the fences or when they were shot. This transport is interesting, and as Heather Dune McAdam notes, despite the precise records kept by the Nazis, it has been absent in other Holocaust literature – the stories of the women untold, and not every name or number properly recorded at times, so information has been lost. It is the hidden story of the women that the Slovakian government paid the Nazis to take away, and of the original nine hundred, only a handful survived, and it is to these women, and their families that Heather Dune McAdam respectfully reached out to in the course of her research, as well as utilising various Holocaust and Jewish institutions across the world.

In her introduction, Heather outlines her research process both primary and secondary, and how when she spoke to Edith, Edith told her that she should tell everyone’s story – and that is what Heather has done with what she has found and been given. She acknowledges gaps, and tells us why she changed names, and gives us a list of the real names with their pseudonyms in the front of the book. What she is doing with this story is giving more of a human face to the Holocaust – a bigger truth as well, and letting the girls speak for themselves, despite having to imagine what some of those conversations might have been based on descriptions – she indicates these imagined voices using a dash, and quotation marks for actual conversations and testimony.

The book is a companion to the film of the same name, currently in post-production. Combined, it is hoped that they will contribute to education about the Holocaust, and add something to the #MeToo debate, showing that the issues around consent have always been an issue and shouldn’t be ignored simply because of the passage of time or accepted norms of the time. Heather’s other goal in writing this was so that these stories are told, and the Holocaust remains in our memories – not only in those affected and their families. It is an essential book that reminds us events like this should never be forgotten – and ideally, should never happen again. As intriguing as this book was, as interesting as I am in reading about and hearing the untold stories in history – this is a difficult read and rightly so. We should be made to feel uncomfortable with what happened to these girls, and what they went through. Those of us who do not have family who suffered like this, in an inhuman way can never fully understand what these girls and millions of other people like them from groups that the Nazis saw as a threat to Aryan purity went through, but books like this go a long way in highlighting what it was like for them. A dark, yet necessary book, highlighting themes of inequality, war, and the human need to survive beyond the worst imaginable prospects – and how those remaining managed to survive the years in camp, the death march and the final days at Bergen-Belsen, where many, including Anne Frank, died only fifteen days before the camp was liberated by the allied forces, and what happened to them in the days, weeks, months and years after they were freed, and where they all ended up in the years after the war.

Books and Bites Bingo – Intro and square one marked off

Just for fun, I am picking up another bingo challenge. Like all challenges this year, I have chosen them based on the openness of the categories, to fiction and non-fiction and to Australian and non-Australian authors. I feel this will give me a better chance of filling in all or as many of the categories as I can in each.

 

books and bites clean

Found in the Books and Bites Online Bookclub I am in, started by Monique Mulligan, who works at Serenity Press, this one has a few categories the others do not, but I will easily find books – either one or multiple – that slot into each once easily and nicely. My aim here, as in all others, is to mark off the ones I can do easily first, and work towards the others as I go through the year. Hopefully, many will be checked off by work and review books as well as my own reads, and I have already checked off one in this book bingo, which is published on the 28th of January.

 

books and bites game card

 

I’ll add that to this post, and then aim to post an update every couple of weeks. My first square checked off for this one is a title longer than five words: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam.The review will go live in a few weeks, and I hope to link it to this post then. From there, as with my other book bingo, I will post in fortnightly increments, whilst aiming to post monthly updates in relation to all challenges and reading in general.

Books and Bites Bingo

 

Set in Europe

Debut Novel

Travel Memoir

Published More than 100 Years Ago

Written in the First Person

 

Fairy Tale Collection

A Book with a door on the cover

Written by someone called Jane

An Australian crime or thriller

Wherever you go

 

Eco-themes

A Neil Gaiman book

Short story collection

Published the year you were born

Makes you blush

 

That Book you keep putting off

A book with lots of hype

Has “Girl in the title

A book with bad reviews

Book to movie

 

Scary

Someone you love’s fave book

Made into a TV Series

A title longer than five words: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam

Fave childhood book

Book Bingo Twenty-Four – A Prize Winner and BINGO – A book by an author with the same initials

20181124_140447

Hello, and welcome to my third last book bingo for the year with Amanda and Theresa. After this one, I have to check off a book over 500 pages, and a book by an author with the same initials – the latter of which I think I have chosen. This week, I am marking off the prize winner square with two books and getting a BINGO for Row Five Down. Specific details of the awards can be found in the reviews and in associated links in the reviews.

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Somewhere around the cornerMy first prize winner book won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Book, and this is Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French. Set during 1932 and the Great Depression in Sydney, it centres around a young girl called Barbara, who slips around a corner from 1994 to 1932 – and finds herself in the middle of a demonstration during the 1930s. Taken back to Poverty Gully by Young Jim, Barbara finds out what being part of a family is like, and what it means to stick together through good and bad times, such as the Depression. It is based on people Jackie knows and stories she has heard

My second prize winner won a Notable Book award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail is another historical fiction story seen through the eyes of a child and based on true stories. Like Somewhere Around the Corner, Suzy’s novel explores a time of horror and darkness, and the unknown, though the eyes of a child, and the hope that that child has to survive and things to get better.

 

 

Alexabder altmann A10567

Both of these books were inspired by real people, stories and events, and are deserving of their awards because they are told so simply, yet are so powerful, that the emotions in them will affect readers of all ages. A great two finds to tick off this category.

 

Rows Across:

Row One:

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019
Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018
A novel that has more than 500 pages:
A novella no more than 150 pages: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019
Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019

 

BINGO!

Row Five: BINGO

Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019
Book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)
Themes of fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019
Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019
Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019
Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

 

In this post, I am also including a Book with the same initials as my name. This one was tricky, but I settled on The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus. This fits, as their first names make up my initials, and this was one that I was able to twist to suit my needs, as it wasn’t easy to find a book that I hadn’t read before or could easily access to fit here. What I loved about this book was its celebration of books and bookstores, and the love of literature that so many people enjoy, but that is often shown as a nerdy exploit rather than something to be treasured.

Row Two: BINGO

 

A book by an author with the same initials as you: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – #AWW2019

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

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Book written by an Australian woman more than 10 years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

 

Rows Down:

 

Row One:  – BINGO

 

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019

Book by an author with the same initials as you: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – #AWW2019,

Themes of science fiction: Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

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

Written by an Australian man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

the-book-ninja-9781925640298_lg

 

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.

The Sisters of Auschwitz by Roxane van Iperen

sisters of auschwitzTitle: The Sisters of Auschwitz

Author: Roxane van Iperen

Genre: History, Biography

Publisher: Hachette/Seven Dials

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 305

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The life-affirming story of female bravery, Jewish Nazi resistance and surviving the horrors of Auschwitz

WINNER of the Opzij Literature Prize 2019!

During the Second World War two Jewish sisters – Janny and Lien Brilleslijper – run one of the largest hideaways in The Netherlands: The High Nest, a villa in The Gooi area. While the last remaining Jews are being hunted in The Netherlands, the lives of dozens of hideaways kept going for better or for worse, right under the noses of their National Socialist neighbours. Eventually, the nest is exposed and the Brilleslijper family put on one of the last transports to Auschwitz, along with the (Anne) Frank family.

Roxane’s novelistic eye combined with her rigorous research result in a hugely compelling portrayal of courage, treason and human resilience. THE HIGH NEST is a truly unforgettable book.

After Roxane and her family moved into The High Nest in 2012 she spent six years writing and piecing together its story. Fundamental elements of Roxane’s research into The High Nest are the personal, unpublished memoirs Janny Brilleslijper wrote for their close friends and family members. Roxane gained access to historic interviews with Janny, Lien, Eberhard and others, as well as many personal conversations with Janny and Lien’s children. The book will contain many photographs from the Brilleslijper family archive.

It is 1940 and the Final Solution is about to begin. The Nazis have occupied the Netherlands, but resistance is growing and two Jewish sisters – Janny and Lien Brilleslijper – are risking their lives to save those being hunted, through their clandestine safe house ‘The High Nest’. It becomes one of the most important safehouses in the country, but when The High Nest and its occupants are betrayed, the most terrifying time of the sisters’ lives begins. This is the beginning of the end.

With German defeat in sight, Janny and Lien are put on the last train to Auschwitz, along with Anne Frank and her family. What comes next challenges the sisters beyond human imagination as they are stripped of everything but their courage, resilience and love for each other.

~*~

There are many stories around about the Holocaust that explore as many facets as possible, but usually through the stories that have been allowed to be told in non-fiction, such as this one, or in historical fiction. As the description says, Roxane had permission and access to the archives of the Brillespijer family to tell the story. In the back of the book, she provides a list of the sources she accessed. This book has been translated from Dutch, so most of the sources are presumably, in Dutch. It is important that Roxane received permission to write this story and did it so carefully, as it is such a horrific part of history and needs to be dealt with sensitively.

In this powerful story of Janny and Lien starts just as the Nazi’s are encroaching on The Netherlands, and grabbing land for their use, so Janny and Lien find a way to get their families to safety and help as many Jews as possible. Yet there is still uncertainty prowling around, and though they spend four years helping as many Jews as possible escape the transports to concentration camps, a betrayal brings it to an end, and they find themselves on the way to Westeros and Auschwitz, and finally, Bergen-Belsen with the Frank family – at first, all of them. At the end, they are alone at Bergen-Belsen when they find out Anne and Margot are there. Janny and Lien are amongst the last to see Anne and Margot alive.

Roxane’s biography is filled with horror and uncertainty – as it should. Reading and learning about things like the Holocaust shouldn’t be sugarcoated or comfortable – it was awful. The story of Lien and Janny doesn’t shy away from the fear and the horror felt over the years of Nazism and war. It shows the steps taken as Hitler and the Nazis marched across Europe, taking land and segregating sections of society to ensure land for what Hitler hoped would be an Aryan world. As Janny and Lien do what they can to protect their family from harm, and keep each other going, their story is one of the powerful stories of the Holocaust, and shows what people went through without shying away from the gritty reality that people faced during the war.

 

Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner

Fire watcher BrimstoneTitle: Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone

Author: Kelly Gardiner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time slip

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: December 1940, London: Christopher Larkham finds an ancient Roman ring inscribed with a phoenix on the banks of the Thames. As he takes shelter from the firestorm of the Blitz, the ring glows, and pushing open a door, he finds himself in 1666 and facing the Great Fire of London. Fire-and-brimstone preacher, Brother Blowbladder, and his men of the Righteous Temple have prayed for the ancient gods of fire to bring flames down upon London, a city of sin. Could Christopher be their messenger? Or was it the strange girl on the quay who drew him back in time? Why do the Righteous men wear the same phoenix symbol as the engraving on Christopher’s ring?

The Firewatchertrilogy blends time-travel, history, mystery and action into adventure as Christopher and his new friends race to untangle the truth of the phoenix ring, and face the greatest fires in the city’s history.

~*~

In 1940, Britain is in the grip of World War Two, and the Blitz has started to hound London day and night. Everyone has gas marks, is always ready to rush into the bomb shelters, and those serving on the home front spend their nights as fire watchers, watching the night skies for German bombers coming to destroy the city of London. One afternoon, Christopher discovers an old Roman ring whilst exploring the docks with his friend, Ginger.

2019 Badge

One night. whilst hiding out in the neighbourhood bomb shelter, Christopher opens a door into a world engulfed by fire. Watching London burning, Christopher thinks that at first, Hitler has won, and London is finished – yet a few differences to the skyline, and his meeting with Molly at the quay, make him realise he has fallen almost three hundred years into the past, into the year of the Great Fire of London – 1666. As he finds himself going back and forth 1940 and 1666, Christopher finds himself facing the threat of two evil leaders: Hitler in 1940, and Brother Halleluiah Blowbladder and his cult-like followers in 1666, who believe that fire is the only way to purge the city of sin. But why has Christopher been brought back? Well, like me, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I love a good historical fiction and time travel story, especially one that is the start of a very engrossing trilogy from a renowned Australian publisher and a fabulous author I have recently discovered, and now want to read more by Kelly Gardiner, as well as find out what happens to Christopher in the next two books. The fire burns through each page, crackling and smoking as you read, and feel the fear and uncertainty of both events, even though today, in 2019, we know the outcomes of each event.

For Christopher, living through the Blitz and witnessing the Great Fire of London, the two events could start to bleed together, as he travels back and forth, and has to check where he is each time. Christopher is a great character – he’s smart, and not wholly perfect – which is what makes it all work so well, as does seeing two of the most terrifying events in London’s history through the eyes of children and the realities that they had to face. In an exciting new trilogy, history and time travel collide with mystery as Christopher is pulled into a mystery involving Brother Blowbladder.