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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Graevale (Medoran Chronicles #4) by Lynette Noni

Transparent_3D_Cover_Noni_Graevale.pngTitle: Graevale (Medoran Chronicles #4)

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Light of dark, only one can win. This world cannot survive in shades of grey.’

Now that Aven Dalmarta sits upon the throne of Meya, Alex must race against the clock to save the rest of Medora from the Rebel Prince’s wrath.

Haunted by an unspeakable vision of the future, Alex and her friends set out to warn the mortal races. But making allies out of ancient enemies proves difficult.

With her nights spend deep in the Library under the guidance of a mysterious new mentor, Alex is desperate to strengthen her gift and keep all those she loves safe. Because in a world where nothing is certain, she is sure of only one thing:

Aven is coming.

PP-banner_graevale.jpg

The Medoran Chronicles by Lynette Noni have been described as ‘a game changer’ in YA fiction. A page-turning fantasy series about friendship, finding yourself and the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The Medoran Chronicles are perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Rick Riordan.

The eagerly anticipated fourth book in the series builds to a stunning climax with shock twists and devastating losses. Graevale is an unforgettable read.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseI have been following Alexandra Jennings and her journey since Akarnae was first published, jumping at the chance to review it during an internship at the publisher, Pantera Press. And so, not only did my book blogging grow from there, I fell in love with a series that has me eagerly awaiting each new instalment from Raelia onwards. The early arrival of Graevale as a pre-order meant I got stuck into it right away, keen to know what happened next. Picking up soon after her return from the past and Draekora, Alex is in the midst of telling her friends, Bear, Jordan and Dix what unfolded during that time, and what is to come. Together, they hatch a daring plan to talk to Akarnae’s teachers and the king and queen, and the defences, before heading to speak with the other mortal races of Medora to warn them about the impending war and threat that Aven will bring with him.

Alex is driven to do this and protect those she cares about, and train harder to unlock her gift by a haunting vision of the future she saw in book three – Draekora. With Aven coming, Alex soon finds she has few people she can rely on: Dix, Bear, Jordan, Bear’s father, and the Meyarins, Niyx, Kyia and Zain, whom she trusts fully and who trust her to let them know what is coming and the dangers they will all eventually face at the hands of Aven. What is to come is nothing short of devastating for so many, and painful in so many ways for Alex, least of all being the additional training she receives with a new mentor and mystery classmate in late night sessions in the Library.

Because each novel has started soon after the events of the previous novel, this has a decent pace for the series, and although they all end on rather emotionally wrought cliff-hangers, these work well to keep the reader wanting more and eager for the next book. With book five to follow soon, this September will see We Three Heroes, a collection of novellas told from Bear, Jordan and Dix’s point of views to take place in between Graevale and the last book of the series.

Alex’s journey has been filled with ups and downs, triumphs and failures, but her stubborn nature has seen her through it all, her determination to stop Aven and save Medora and those she cares about driving her towards a goal that seems unattainable, but knowing Alex, she’ll get there, with the help of those she trusts to guide her and assist her where necessary. The darker covers and the smaller the figure of Alex gets demonstrates before you even begin reading how dark and dangerous things are going to be getting.

I enjoyed Graevale, despite the always present Aven and the tragic ending – expected in a war that has been hinted at but no less painful and haunting, and it sits nicely on my shelf with the others, each spine getting progressively darker. So I hope fans of the series enjoy it as much as I have, and I look forward to we Three Heroes and book five when they are released, although I wish they would come out sooner rather than later.

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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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Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women by Kate Forsyth and Illustrated by Lorena Carrington

Vasilisa the wise.jpgTitle: Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women

Author:  Kate Forsyth and Illustrated by Lorena Carrington

Genre: Fairy tales, children’s literature

Publisher: Serenity Press

Published: 14th December 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 100

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: For many young women, the only fairy-tales they know are the ones that have been retold by Walt Disney Studios.

Once upon a time, these stories of magical transformation were meant for young women as they grew away from childhood and towards adulthood. They were told by their mothers and grandmothers and the wise women of the clan as they spun and wove and stirred their pots and made their potions. The heroines of these old tales set out on a difficult road of trials to discover their true destiny. And, contrary to popular opinion, marrying a prince was not the only goal. These ancient tales of wonder and adventure are about learning to be strong, brave, kind and true-hearted, and trusting in yourself to change the world for the better.

Meet the brave young women from tales of yore …

Vasilisa who must try to outwit the fearsome witch Baba-Yaga.

Katie Crackernuts who sets out to save her sister from dark magic.

Flora, the gardener’s daughter, who marries a giant serpent to save a prince.

Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, a princess who is kidnapped by an evil one-eyed enchantress.

Lullala, in love with a prince cursed to be a lion by day and a man by night.

Rosemary, a Scottish lass whose baby is stolen by the wicked faery folk of the Sidhe.

Ursula, a princess replaced by a walking, talking automaton.

These are not your usual passive princesses, waiting forlornly for their prince to come …

~*~

aww2017-badgeWhat a joy to read another new Kate Forsyth book this year. Of the three she published – Beauty in Thorns, Vasilisa the Wise with illustrator Lorena Carrington, and The Silver Well, I have bought them all and read two – with The Silver Well having to wait until the New Year. Like me, Kate has a fascination with fairy tales. As children, the first fairy tales we are exposed to are Disney retellings, or sanitised versions that have the names of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen stamped on them. If we are lucky, we get to read the dark, original versions, often more terrifying and much darker than the originals. However, it is rare to see female characters with as much power as some modern retellings give them. There are examples, such as Hansel and Gretel, where Gretel saves her brother, yet it is often through the actions of being saved by the prince that the princess can finally exert her power. In Vasilisa the Wise, Kate Forsyth has retold traditional fairy tales by Andrew Lang, The Brothers Grimm, and from Scandinavia with the strong female characters at the forefront, who take charge of their own fate using what is available to them within their worlds.

It was a pleasure to see Kate’s version of The Singing, Springing Lark included, as I enjoyed the original and her fairy tale infused historical fiction, The Beast’s Garden. I think it was my favourite of all the tales, however, as they were all filled with amazing characters who took charge of their own fates, it was very hard to come to this decision. I also enjoyed the Pre-Raphaelite tale, The Toy Princess by Mary de Morgan – it would be lovely to read some more fairy tales by women, and to have studied these tales would have been amazing too.

Kate’s stories are accompanied by amazing artwork by Lorena Carrington, comprised of photographs, items from nature and layered to create evocative images that sing the song of the words they sit next to, and carry the heart of the story within their simplicity and beauty. Alone they tell a story as well, showing the reader what is to come, and what has come before, capturing the essence of characters and the tragedy of consequences of the actions of others, contrasted with the happier outcomes for the main characters of Kate’s tales. These exquisite silhouetted illustrations suit these stories perfectly.

As a lover of fairy tales, I can always find something to enjoy about oral tales recorded by figures like Jacob and Wilhelm, the literary fairy tales of Charlotte Rose de la Force, Mary de Morgan, Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde, and their various reincarnations and retellings throughout time. Kate’s retellings are special, and words that evoke the same magic of the tales they were inspired by, and keep the integrity of the original whilst giving it wings and a new voice through the courageous and loving women she has focussed on. These stories will endure, and become part of fairy tale canon and the wonderful library of Kate Forsyth stories. It is an amazing book that can be read alone or out loud to younger people and shared with young women of all ages to show them how to be courageous and brave.

This is my final read for the 2017 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and I don’t think I could have finished on a better note.

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Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

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

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

~*~

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

the red ribbonTitle: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Addlington

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hotkey/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $19.99

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

letters to the lost.jpg

Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

~*~

When Declan Murphy finds a letter on a grave during community service in the graveyard, he is compelled by an invisible force to read it, and respond to the person who wrote the letter.

When Juliet Young finds Delcan’s response to the letter she placed on her mother’s grave, she s incensed that someone has dared to read the words and respond to them as if they know her, as though they had the right to intrude. To Juliet, her privacy has been violated.

And yet, Juliet and Declan find a connection through this anonymous communication. They tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, and reveal their true selves and feelings throughout the letters and later anonymous emails and messages that they move to. As they grow fond of each other through this method of communication, real life begins to throw them together: at school, at Homecoming, one the dark road with a broken down car, and they begin to form a friendship separate from the letters, not knowing that they are corresponding anonymously online when they face off in person.

Soon, they are thrown together more and more as real life and the letters start to blur together, and a fateful discussion threatens to throw them apart, and secrets are uncovered that Juliet is fearful to share with anyone – except those who helped her find the courage to look at her mother’s cameras, and find out what really happened the day she died.

Letters to the Lost is more than a love story. It is a story of loss, and how everyone deals with it differently, and a story of how the most unlikely friendships can develop in unusual places and come from a similar place and understanding, and slowly, develops into something more. Declan and Juliet have people they can talk to, teachers, friends, but not parents, and those who do try are not always able to understand them the way they understand each other.

I enjoyed Declan and Juliet’s story. It was heartbreaking in many ways, and illustrated the frustrations people feel that come with grief and change, and the shock of truths that lead to what happened, and the burdens that children shouldn’t have to shoulder. They are two people from different walks of life who find a way to understand the world, and the letters and emails interspersed with the prose and the dual perspective – where Declan’s chapters are indicated by him reading Juliet’s letters, and vice versa for Juliet – works well and establishes the characters for the reader, giving them both sides to the story, not just one.

Another interesting read from Bloomsbury for the Young Adult audience.

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