Book Review

Book Review: Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Published April 2016 by Little, Brown.

26030682Goodreads Synopsis: Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days finding and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the German army invaded. Her illegal work keeps her family afloat, and Hanneke also likes to think of it as a small act of rebellion against the Nazis.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person: a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such a dangerous task but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations—where the only way out is through.

My review: Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I do not shut up about Monica Hesse’s début YA books, STRAY and BURN, which are two of my all-time favourite books, ever. My excitement went through the roof when I found out that Hesse had written another YA book – and I was very interested to see her genre choice jump from Sci-Fi to historical fiction. I was delighted to have the chance to read it.

Girl in the Blue Coat is set in wartime Amsterdam. Hanneke is secretly running illegal errands, delivering extra rations of food to local people, and staying under the radar. But when one of her clients asks her to help search for a missing Jewish girl that she’d been hiding, her life is turned upside down as she is catapulted into a complex mystery, and begins to unravel dark secrets about the what is happening to Jewish people being captured in Amsterdam.

Story time: I visited Amsterdam last year, and had the chance to also visit Anne Frank Huis. It was really heartbreaking and moving to walk around the tiny place the Frank family had to hide in for years – it’s incredibly eye-opening, and hard to believe that this was a reality for many Jewish people during the second world war. Monica Hesse’s attention to detail is admirable; her extensive research is evident in her meticulous descriptions – from the streets of Amsterdam, to the place Jewish people were inhumanely held, to the hiding spaces in Dutch households.

The plot gripped me from the start and hasn’t really let me go, even after closing the book. I’m still thinking about the story weeks later. It’s rare to find something so incredibly raw as this is – the emotion in this book is so intense and it can be quite hard to read the brutal nature of events at points. Admittedly, I don’t take history, but I’m sure the level of detail Monica Hesse explores in Girl in the Blue Coat can exceed what people learn in schools. This has really opened my eyes to what happened in Amsterdam, and I’m eager to learn more.

Hanneke is one of those characters I couldn’t help but adore. From the opening pages, I admired her daring nature, and her realistic inner conflict about searching for a Jewish girl in a dangerous world. I was rooting for her all of the way through, and loved the unlikely community she finds in the book, during her search. All of these characters will definitely stay with me for a long time – many scenes where their backgrounds are explored really moved me.

Overall, Girl in the Blue Coat was an incredible read. Monica Hesse has transcended into the historical fiction genre beautifully, with a powerful and mesmerising novel about the brutality of wartime events in Amsterdam, highlighting the bravery and selflessness of those who resisted Nazi efforts. The story is hard to fault, and was hard to put down; I was desperate to unravel the truth about this mysterious girl for myself. The ending was incredibly unpredictable, and the final events of the story brought me to tears! Highly recommended if you’re looking for a thought-provoking read.

My Review:

four and a half

I received a copy of Girl in the Blue Coat.

 

 

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THE CURIOUS TALE OF THE LADY CARABOO BLOG TOUR: Catherine Johnson’s Diverse Book Recs

I haven’t helped on a blog tour for a while, so this post is pretty exciting! 🙂

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The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo is a YA historical romance by Catherine Johnson, author of Sawbones. It’s out on July 2nd, and for this blog tour Catherine is here on the blog to give some diverse book recommendations!

Catherine Johnson on Diverse Books:

Hello and thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog to share some books.

There are honestly more books with diverse characters than you might imagine. It really is a question of looking for them.  There are even more where the sidekick or the love interest is a POC or LGBT or ‘different’, even though we all are. Different, that is.

So I’ve decided to rule those out – who wants to be the sidekick?  Most of us have been fed up with being the sidekick since primary school.  What we love about books is the chance to be swept away to stand in the shoes of someone else and see where that takes us. That was one of the reasons I started writing historical stories. I wanted the person in the front, in the swooshy frock to be someone who looked like me.

Anyway. The following are all favourites of mine – even though there is one I haven’t read yet….

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1 Liccle Bit, Alex Wheatle

This is a fantastic book. It’s set on a council estate in South London as Liccle Bit –  real name Lemar, he’s small for his age  – attempts to ask the girl of his dreams out and not fall foul of the local bad guys. But there is so much more to it than that. This is how a lot of London looks and sounds and the writing sizzles with life. This is Alex Wheatles’ first YA book – he’s written lots for adults – and I hope it’s the first of many.

2 Running Girl,  Simon Mason

My favourite book of last year and my favourite YA lead character in a million years. Garvie Smith’s IQ is off the scale, but he is also pathologically lazy, a stoner and (from my adult pov) entirely annoying. I could slap him SO many times! But he’s also charismatic and brilliant and he’s going to find out what happened to the girl in question whether the police – in the shape of DI  Singh- get in his way or not.

3 Noughts and Crosses Graphic Novel,  illus. John Aggs, written by Malorie Blackman

I haven’t read this yet but I have pre-ordered the hell out of it. Blackman’s book was truly a blockbuster in every sense of the word. Using reversals to give white readers a sense of what it might be like to be in the minority as well as deliver a cracking story, Blackman builds an utterly believable brand new world and has us willing her characters to win through on every page. I cannot wait to see this as a Graphic novel.

4 Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson

This is one I use in teaching. Look at the first chapter. No, just look at the first line. If you don’t read the whole book after that then I don’t believe you have any kind of a heart. At all. Halse Anderson is a brilliant writer and in this book she takes us back to the American War of Independence and shows us events though the eyes of young Isabel, born a slave.  Fabulous.

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5 Web of Darkness, Bali Rai

A chilling psychological thriller. Why Bali Rai is such  woefully under appreciated UK writer is a massive mystery to me. In this novel, set in a school in modern day Leicester, our protagonist Lily, seems like an ordinary girl,  she’s a little bit insecure and her and her mates spend a lot of time on social media. But the story soon twists as Lily’s life takes a  series of dark turns. This novel handles modern themes, suicide, the internet, and how much we give away about ourselves. It’s one of his best I think.

6 The House You Pass on the Way, Jacqueline Woodson

I have to be honest here, I picked this one up just because the heroine was called Staggerlee – like in the song. She chose the name herself because she felt her given name Evangeline wasn’t fierce enough. That was enough to set me off. And then there’s the writing. Woodson, winner of The Newbery Medal, is an utter genius and this is a coming of age story –  with a lesbian protagonist – that will knock your socks off.

7 If You Were Me,  Sam Hepburn

Another almost brand new book and another one that shows us what London is really like from the point of view of new Londoner Aliyah and her family – resettled from Afghanistan. When her brother is arrested as a terrorist she’s going to fight to clear his name. She finds an unlikely ally in local boy Dan, who has his own secrets. This is a brilliant modern thriller, I can’t recommend it enough.

8 This is Not A Love Story, Keren David

Keren David’s book is unusual for UKYA in being set overseas in Amsterdam and in having a cast of young Jewish teens. It’s about love and identity and dark secrets, but there’s a total and utter freshness and modernity to these young people, to their actions and their choices. It’s like seeing characters come of age as you read.

A couple more very recent books that I LOVE are Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, and Carnegie listed Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman, and can I say I am dying to read For Holly from Tanya Byrne? And I am going to stop now or I will go on forever (and ever).

Catherine is the author of The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo out July 2 from Penguin Random House.

Thanks Catherine for an awesome post, it was an honour to host it! I better go check out some of these titles now – This is Not a Love Story by Keren David has been on my radar for a while and that’s at the top of my shopping list! 

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Book Review: The Beloved by Alison Rattle

Published 5th March 2015 by Hot Key Books.

23524576Goodreads Synopsis: Escape from a bullying mother takes one young woman to an even more dangerous place.

Alice Angel has known only a life of rules, restriction and punishments as she strays from the rigid path of Victorian proprietary that her mother has set out for her. A constant disappointment to all but her doting father, she longs for the day that she might break free from the stifling atmosphere of her mother’s rule.

After a chance encounter with a charming stranger, and a final incident with her family that sees her condemned to the madhouse, Alice sees her opportunity to run and grasps it with both hands. She escapes to join the Agapemonites in their Abode of Love, where ex-Reverend Henry Prince rules his isolated colony of women as their Beloved. Prince ignites a passion in Alice that she never knew existed, and she dares to think she might be free at last.

But as Alice becomes more deeply drawn into the life of Prince’s strange religious sect, secrets are revealed that seem to hint at a darker nature lurking behind the man’s charm. Instead of freedom, is Alice in fact more trapped, alone and in danger than ever before?

My Review: loved Alison Rattle’s previous YA novels –The Quietness and The Madnessso when I heard of her latest title coming out, I was ecstatic! From the synopsis, The Beloved looked like it was going to be just as haunting.

I knew from the opening pages that I was going to like Alice, the protagonist: In the first chapters she’s described as mad and insane and hysterical by her mother – but when reading from Alice’s perspective, you get to understand her and realise she’s not what everyone thinks she is.

I loved the first person narrative to the story as Alice’s outlook on the world was really interesting. What I found strange at first, though, was that every few chapters, there’s a third person chapter. It took me a while to get used to that but it was pretty effective, actually, as after being sucked into Alice’s story, you get to see the impact of her escaping on her family.

I actually thought this was going to be some kind of dark, runaway romance book – because when Alice first sees Henry Prince, preaching on a street, she is captivated; and soon after she escapes to find him, in hopes of finding a new way of life. From the moment Alice steps through the gate to his ‘Abode of Love,’ there’s suddenly a strange, sinister undercurrent running through the book.

The plot spirals quickly into really creepy territory. It was much more haunting than the first half of the story: And that was chilling! The final pivotal event in the book was completely terrifying, but I didn’t want to stop reading. The last chapter was very unexpected, but I found myself liking that outcome of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Beloved. It was yet another brilliantly chilling tale from Alison Rattle and I can’t wait to read even more from her in the future. Alice was a realistic and vulnerable main character, and I really felt for her. The plot is pretty alarming at points but it’s a riveting story. I was in disbelief when I read that it was based on a true story (Details in the author’s note at the end!). Highly recommended!

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of The Beloved from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

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Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Published 3rd October 2014 by MIRA ink.

22710376Goodreads Synopsis: It’s 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it’s Sarah Dunbar’s first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they’ve never felt before. Something they’re both determined ignore. Because it’s one thing to be frightened by the world around you – and another thing altogether when you’re terrified of what you feel inside.

My Review: I hadn’t heard about Lies We Tell Ourselves until I’d received an email from the publisher, but as soon as I’d read the synopsis I knew it was going to be a really great book! I haven’t really seen much, and definitely not read much YA fiction based around the civil rights movement in the 50s & 60s… And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any YA books centered around LGBT characters in that era.

Needless to say I delved straight into the story very excitedly, as I was sure this would be an amazing, original début. I was certainly awed by the story. It was moving and powerful, and I’m sure I’ll be recommending it to lots of people. However, after finishing it, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something… Though I can’t completely work out what!

The narration was really memorable. Roughly, the first third of the book is from Sarah’s perspective, then after the first pivotal moment, the second third is Linda’s – and finally the last third is quickly alternating chapters. Both girls’ voices were really amazing. I felt really familiar with both of them and was rooting for them, for the entire story! Both of them develop so much, especially Linda, who’s grown up with a segregationist father, but realises what mistakes she’s made as she grows closer to Sarah.

I think it was admirable how Lies We Tell Ourselves dealt racism. It wasn’t sugar coated or toned down – it was alarmingly real. I didn’t actually realise how hard-hitting and brutally honest the topic of racism would be tackled in Lies We Tell Ourselves – I was actually tearing up within the first chapters, reading the all-too-vivid scenes where Sarah is at the receiving end of some awful abuse at Jefferson High.

The main thing that I struggled with in the story is hard to explain, because I really want to keep this review spoiler free! By the ending, a lot of the story was resolved, but there were certain key elements to the story that I was expecting more elaboration on… The ending left me really wanting a sequel, or some kind of follow up, to say the least. I felt there was a lot more to tell about Sarah and Linda!

Overall, Lies We Tell Ourselves was, without doubt, a really stunning and original début. I really fell in love with the main characters; their chemistry, and the narration. Lies We Tell Ourselves really stands out in the YA market as it’s completely unique, and deals with two topics (LGBT and race equality) that I really want to read more of in fiction in the future. Lies We Tell Ourselves, though I am unsure of a few things, definitely deserves a lot of attention upon publication!

My Rating:

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I received a copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Unrelated note! Sorry for having not written a blog post in just over a week now – I usually aim to get at least one or two published every week. Last week was the first full week back at school and it was even more chaotic that I’d assumed it would be! I also found out I’ll be doing most of my GCSE coursework and some GCSE exams a year early, which I wasn’t expecting, over the next year… so sadly I think I’ll be blogging less often, though trying to schedule more!

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Book Review: My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith

Published May 2014 by Chicken House books.

20554182Goodreads Synopsis: Germany, 1941. 12-year-old Karl Engel is looking forward to joining the Hitler Youth, like all boys his age.

But when his father is killed, his rebellious older brother Stefan shows him things that leave his faith in the Führer shaken. Who is the real enemy? What is the meaning of the flower sewn inside his brother’s jacket? Karl soon finds out, as he becomes involved in a dangerous rebellion.

My Review: I really got into Historical YA Fiction last year, but this year I haven’t really gotten the chance to read that much! That’s a big reason why I was really excited to read My Brother’s Secret. I really wasn’t let down; it was a really enjoyable book, with lots of twists, and packed with emotion.

My Brother’s Secret reminded me a lot of The Book Thief: if you’re a fan of Markus Zuzak I definitely recommend this. It’s got similar themes of friendship, and rebellion, and is set in World War Two Germany. The story follows Karl Friedmann, a boy who is passionate about the Hitler Youth and serving his country. But after his father is killed in action, his thoughts about and pride in his country start to change, and he begins to discover that Germany has its rebels, and that he might be becoming one of them.

Right from the beginning I was really stuck into the story. I loved how the setting was described. Dan Smith’s writing is really likeable. I could almost feel like I was there, in Karl’s underground bomb shelter, riding across the fields with Karl’s best friend. The writing is really captivating and brought a lot of imagery.

The characters were all well developed. Karl’s personality changes a lot over the course of the story and I found it really interesting, to see him transition from being so passionate about Germany and the Fuhrer to committing rebellious acts. One character I would have liked to hear more about, though, definitely would be Karl’s brother. The story is centered around Karl’s discovery of his sibling’s rebel Edelweiss Pirates group, but for some reason I don’t think I saw… enough of him? The plot is mainly centered around Karl discovering the ‘other side’ of his village. I think I would’ve liked to hear how his brother joined the Edelweiss Pirates (The really interesting, real life group of rebels).

Overall, My Brother’s Secret was a really well written novel! I really loved Dan Smith’s writing. The plot was pretty unpredictable, and the last few chapters were so action-packed and shocking, I couldn’t put the book down. Karl was a really great main protagonist. I really loved how much he developed over the course of the plot. My Brother’s Secret really captures the impacts on German people in WW2. I’ll definitely be looking out for Dan Smith”s other title, My Friend the Enemy, now!

My Rating:

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I received a copy of My Brother’s Secret from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

 

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Daughters of Time: blog tour!

Today on the blog I have an author’s guest post; one of the writers contributing to the Daughters of Time anthology! It’s a really great book written by the History Girls (http://www.the-history-girls.blogspot.com). I’m currently reading it and enjoying it. I did want to read it in time to put a review up with this post… But I wasn’t able to 😦 Review should be up next week! Here’s Dianne Hofmeyr on why she chose her historical figure in the anthology:

Why I Chose Elizabeth Stuart

20409955I grew up in a country without a king or queen, so the life of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of a king, who was to become a queen herself, seemed like something out of a fairy tale.
I was fascinated by Elizabeth’s lack of pretence – that she refused to dress formally for her portrait for Frederick, and left her hair wild and untamed. For her wedding she adopted the same fresh approach and despite the custom of the time and her mother’s rigid adherence to formal dress, she wore her hair long and dishevelled down her back.
I like her playfulness and boldness – she was prepared to dress as a boy to be allowed access into her brother’s rooms when he was ill. And I like her determination. It was unusual for a young princess to marry someone she truly loved.
Elizabeth almost followed the true fairytale princess format story in that, after her marriage, she went to live in a beautiful castle in Heidelberg, where Frederick built her a monkey house, an aviary, a menagerie and an Italian Renaissance garden. I visited Heidelberg Castle some years ago and wandered around those same gardens without knowing that one day I would write the story of a young girl who lived there nearly four hundred years earlier.
-Dianne Hofmeyr

I hope you enjoyed the guest post! Daughters of Time is out this month from Templar Books; make sure to get a copy- it’s brilliant! (: