I Am Sasha by Anita Selzer

I am Sasha.jpgTitle: I Am Sasha

Author: Anita Selzer

Genre: Historical Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published:  2nd April, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 325

Price: $17.99

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

book bingo 2018.jpg

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

Row #1 – – BINGO

 

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

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

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

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

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

And Row Two down.

Row #2 – BINGO

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

AWW-2018-badge-rose

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

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

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Munmun by Jesse Andrews

Munmun.jpgTitle: Munmun

Author: Jesse Andrews

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th March, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A pointed, amusing and highly-original story set in an alternate reality wherein every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth, by the best-selling author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers. Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute – and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter – there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small.

Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?

From the bestselling author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl comes a brilliant, warm, skewering social novel for our times in the tradition of Great Expectations, 1984 and Invisible Man.

~*~

Munmun is a satirical, tongue in cheek story about wealth, and the privileges that come with it. As littlepoors – the smallest on the scale of wealth, Warner and his sister (consistently referred to as sis throughout). Prayer, have no power. They’ve got no way of working their way to a higher scale. But when an opportunity arises for them to leave where they have lived their whole lives, and start a journey to scale up, they take the chance, and traverse the strange country that is the Yewess, with places with names like Wet Almanac, and two different worlds – LifeandDeath World – Day and Dreamworld -Night. It is a world where wealth, education and opportunity is proportionate to size, an alternate world much like our own, but also a bit of a dystopia, where no matter how much some people have, it will never be enough, mirroring some of the attitudes in the world today, and where the bigrich look down on the littlepoors for not trying harder, even though those higher up on the scale don’t try to help them, but rather, blame them for the situation life has put them in.

it is narrated by Warner, and we see the world of each scale level through his eyes, from the littlepoor to the highest rich scale and beyond – and his journey to getting Scaled Up so he can make something of himself, but he thwarts every opportunity those in the middle present him with – or so it seems, on his quest to better the lives of those like him.

At times reading this, I wondered where the story was, and where the character growth – other than physically Scaling Up was. The mashed together words and the way Warner spoke worked at first, but once everyone, even those who had more education in the book than him did it, I began to wonder if that was the way Warner heard them, or whether the entire fictional nation spoke like that. For Warner, it worked, as it was him telling the story – though having everyone else speak exactly like him left little room for character growth and development, which would have added to the novel – which has the promise of being amusing whilst still being an allegory for the greed in the world today.

It is definitely a satirical allegory of society today – and that aspect worked really well, showing how greed affects people and what some people are willing to do to have it all, and the lengths they will go to. I did find the consistently mashed together words distracting if I put the book down, so I read whole chunks in a single sitting because that ensured the flow of the way the characters spoke and spoke about their world – putting it aside meant I needed a few pages to get used to it again, however, I feel for the purposes of the satire, it has worked – even the misspellings worked and were mostly understandable, as most of them were related to cities or countries, and it was as though we were reading Warner’s thought patterns and the way he understood spoken words as opposed to written words.

At times, the mashed together words worked, and at times, they didn’t – perhaps allowing other characters to not do this would also have been an effective way to show the differences in speech patterns for classes in society.

Overall, it was a rather strange book, not quite what I usually read. The premise is interesting, and the plot seemed to be rushed in places, especially the end. Whether this was intentional or not, I’m not sure – but in a way it worked because whilst the first few parts related Warner’s struggles, the last part was focussed on how munmun had made him greedy – and the implications of this in a society where it’s okay to Scale Up, but shh, don’t Scale Up too much, that’s too greedy, which felt reminiscent of some of the things said today by politicians, which is why this works as a political allegory because it shows there is no perfect life and no perfect ending, which for a dystopian novel that also reads as a satirical allegory, works well.

It’s marketed towards the higher end of the YA market, and can be a little dark. Not my favourite read of the year, however it is an interesting one that might provoke some interesting discussions.

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Winners of the Indie Book Awards Announcement.

Congratulations to the following books and their fabulous home-grown authors for winning in the following categories for the Indie Book Awards, especially Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend, which won in two categories! These winners were announced today and what a wonderful surprise to get home to!

nevermoor

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend: Children’s Book of the Year and Book of the Year

The Choke by Sophie Laguna: Fiction Winner

Wimmera by Michael Brandi: Debut Fiction Winner

Native: Art & Design with Australian Plants by Kate Herd & Jela Ivankovic-Waters: Illustrated Non-Fiction Winner

Wilder Country by Mark Smith: Young Adult Winner

2018 is the first year that a children’s book – Nevermoor – has won overall, and it is even more special as this is the tenth year the Indie Awards have been running!

I’ve read Nevermoor and can say it’s well deserving of all the nominations, shortlists and prizes it has been winning as it is an engaging story and full of wonder and magic. Much like some other prize winners I have read, it captures the reader and their imagination, and opens up a world of possibilities to them. Of the others, I have Wimmera on my reading pile, as well as several of the long listed and shortlisted works, some of which I have also read.

Seeing such amazing books and many Australian authors getting the recognition they deserve is amazing, and shows that the love of books is still around.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Young Adult

Publisher: Gollancz/Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Looking for the next big ground-breaking event in YA? This is it.’ Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series Welcome to the dark decadence of Dhonielle Clayton’s sharp tale of beauty, obsession and magic. . . 
I AM A BELLE. I CONTROL BEAUTY.
In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

‘Sumptuous and original world-building, heart-pounding plot and gorgeous prose.’ Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season ‘A whip-smart writer with grand, grand talents.’ Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist ‘Breathtakingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.’ Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author

~*~

In the magical world of Orléans, beauty is everything, and people will do anything to attain it and hide the drab features they are all born with. But there is a select group of girls who are born into this world with the power of beauty, who have the power to control beauty, and give people the look that they want” The Belles. Each generation has its own set of Belles, going back as far as Orléans does, an isle-like nation where the Belles are placed either in the palace as the favourite, or in the island tea houses to assist clients and make them beautiful, in the image that they desire, though they must adhere to rules set forth by the queen. In the generation in the books, it is Camellia and her sisters, Ambrosia, Hana, Padma, Edelweiss and Valerie who are competing for the role of the favourite. They’ve been training their whole lives for this chance, and when it comes, the result is not what they expected, nor what each of them desired.

Within the walls of the palace are dark secrets, secrets that nobody is privy to, and that the newsies and tatters can merely speculate at and send hushed whispers throughout the kingdom. The only people who truly know what is going on are at the palace – and unable to leave or disobey an order that they are given by the queen or her daughter, Princess Sophia. What Camellia will see, hear and have to do will be dark, and dangerous, hinting at a much darker power than any of the Belles could ever have imagined existing, and resulting in a climax that hints that there might be a sequel to come, as there are quite a few unanswered questions.

The world of the Belles is lavish and shows the darker side of beauty and fashion obsession and what it can drive people to, how desperate they might become. In a world where changing ones skin tone and entire look can be paid for, the racial tensions we experience in our world do not seem to be there, and relationships between the same sex and opposite sexes appeared to me to be the norm – where people are paired up based on alliances and the desires of a princess at times, and at other times, their own, but where a Belle is forbidden to fall in love with anyone. she must remain loyal to her sisters and the tea house she serves.

On the surface of Orléans, things appear perfect: because people seem free to choose their look – skin tone, features, hair colour, eye colour, and clothing (for a price and only if you can afford it), and be with someone you love, the dark, underbelly seems that much more sinister – it is hidden beneath a layer of perfection, and desire for what one cannot be. In a world where loyalty can be bought, Camellia and her sisters will learn the price they must pay for loyalty and their own safety.

As the favourite, Camellia finds an ally in the Queen, her guard, Rémy, and the various former Belles who mentor her, including Arabella, the favourite from a former generation. As the story goes on, secrets are slowly revealed – ensuring that the interest of the reader is held throughout, even in darker areas where characters are forced into situations that where they fear for their lives. In a few scenes, the tension is raised, and the pacing in these scenes works well for what they portray – the darker side of the world the Belles live in and what they must do to survive Sophia.

It is a novel of many layers and facets that were peeled back slowly, and where things were hinted at that perhaps mean future books – the ending felt more like the climax of a to be continued storyline, where there is more to come about the Belles and their origins, secrets and powers.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I went into it not really knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Dhonielle Clayton has created a wonderfully complex world, and I hope we get to find out more about this world and its characters.

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Smile: The Story of the original Mona Lisa by Mary Hoffman

smile.jpgTitle: Smile: The Story of the original Mona Lisa

Author: Mary Hoffman

Genre: Children’s/Teen/Educational/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Faber Factory/Barrington Stoke/Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 88

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A gorgeous historical novel following the fictional life of the young woman who would become Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest work

Renaissance Italy is a world of riches open to any man who dares to conquer it. In the life of young Lisa the doors to this world remain closed. Promised in her youth to a widower as a loving wife and mother, she is resigned to an unremarkable existence clinging only to the memory of being “Lovely Lisa” to the now great Leonardo Da Vinci. But when their paths cross again her portrait will become his masterpiece and her smile will capture the imagination of the world.

Information for Adults: This book has a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paper stock so that even more readers can enjoy it. It has been edited to a reading age of 8. It features a removable ‘super-readable’ sticker.

 

Reading Age: 8 Interest age: 14

 

~*~

 

One of the most famous Italian Renaissance paintings known today is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, hanging in the Musée de Louvre in Paris, and attracting millions of visitors a year. In Smile, Mary Hoffman has ficitonalised the story of Lisa Gheradini, the subject of da Vinci’s most famous and most visited painting, in a book aimed at children of all ages, but with those whose reading level and interest level don’t always align in mind. In Hoffman’s story, Lisa is first drawn by da Vinci at the age of three, and it is a portrait she has always treasured, however this likely didn’t happen in reality, but for the purposes of this story, makes for an interesting beginning and way to link the two figures together as the novel progresses.

 

Lisa is the oldest child in her family, and is aware that she must make a good marriage, something drummed into her by her mother since birth. Discouraged from her dreams of falling in love, Lisa is married to Francesco del Giocondo, and bears him several children over the years of their marriage. Leonardo da Vinci comes in and out of the novel, and the historical background of religious and political turmoil of Renaissance Italy and Florence weaves in and out of the novel, giving just enough context for readers to have an idea of what is going on, but also enough so that curious readers of any age and ability can explore the historical background beyond the page on their own.

 

 

It is a story that does not shy away from the difficulties Lisa faced in her marriage and society, but writes about them at an appropriate reading and interest level, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story without feeling like they can’t understand it or like it is too simple for them. For eager readers, it might be a quick read, and for those who might struggle, a good way to build on their reading skills whilst learning something new or about something they are interested in. Books like this give all children at all reading and interest levels something to read and enjoy, a good move in the book industry to encourage a love of reading, and help children find something they love to do.

 

A great read for any age, and a great initiative for children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities to access books they can read and will be interested in, and for others in their lives to share with them too.

Rain Fall by Ella West

rain fall.jpgTitle: Rain Fall

Author: Ella West

Genre: YA Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A tense, engaging read that will have you racing through the pages.

I’m not running late like I usually am. Maybe that’s why I look in the river, maybe that’s why I stop when I see it. A dark-coloured raincoat, the arms spread wide, floating, hood-first down the river. 

And then it starts to rain.

Fifteen-year-old Annie needs to get to her basketball match, but the police have cordoned off her road. Is her neighbour, who she grew up with, still alive? What has he done to have the police after him?

A murder investigation brings new people to Annie’s wild West Coast town, including a dark-haired boy riding the most amazing horse she has ever seen. But Annie is wary of strangers, especially as her world is beginning to crumble around her. In setting out to discover the truth Annie uncovers secrets that could rip the small community apart.

~*~

Ella West’s new novel, Rain Fall, takes place in a small town in New Zealand – Westport, where the coal mines have long been a source of employment for many there, until recent closures and lay-offs start to gnaw at everyone. Annie, the main character and narrator, is on her way to school, prepared for an important basketball game when she is turned back, with a street blockade preventing her from leaving home as they wait for her neighbour, in trouble with the police, to emerge from his home. Pete is alone, and accused of theft and possibly murder. When his house explodes, the police are propelled into action to try and find him, or find out what happened to him under the shadow of the loss of one thousand jobs at the local coal mine.

As Annie’s life gets back to normal, or as normal as possible with big city police in the town, she encounters a new friend with a love of riding just as she has – and the mystery of what happened to Pete grows throughout the novel, and Jack, Annie’s new friend, soon turns to her for help with something she never thought she’d ever be helping with. In a small town where everyone talks, it seems not many people are very chatty about a potential murderer hiding in their midst.

Rain Fall is an intriguing novel, and a good introduction to the mystery genre to teenage readers who might be encountering it for the first time. Annie is an interesting character, and following her love for horses, basketball and the rain gives insight into her and what to look for in the story. The rain throughout the novel, right from page one sets the scene and foreshadows the mysteries and events to come as the novel picks up pace right from page one, and keeps the action going as you turn the pages.

The mystery and the loss of jobs in the town form the backbone of the story, with Annie and Jack’s relationship evolving as the story goes on, allowing character development and the plot to happen nicely. It is a fairly quick read, and teenagers should enjoy it as a refreshing break from romance driven YA, allowing characters to exist without having to change who they are to be accepted.

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