Hitler’s Daughter – Jackie French

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Some of you may have read this already but it was recommended to me by some year 8 girls so I thought I would give it a quick read. And quick it is, at 135 pages it’s very short.

The author of this book is Australian but it took me a while to realize that the  book is set in Australia! Anyway, it is. So, the main premise of the book is this; a bunch of kids who live out on farms get the bus to school together every day. One of them, Anna, is good at telling stories. Little Tracey (not to be confused with Big Tracey who lives down the road) was scared on her first day and Anna told her a story, they all realized that she was really good at it and got her to tell more. This one however, is different. The main narrator is a boy called Mark who lives with his parents on a farm. The weather seems to be permanently dreadful and they are all worried about flooding!

Anna tells the story of Heidi. Heidi is Hitler’s secret daughter. She is a secret because she has a strawberry birthmark on her face and a limp and is  not the perfect German daughter that Hitler wants. He still visits her sometimes though and she is looked after by Fraulein Gelber who does everything for her. She has never left the house that she lives in and has everything that she needs, even though there is a war on. She has only seen her father, or Duffi, a handful of times but she knows that he is her father and that he is important to Germany.   Duffi comes to see her one day and gives her a doll but she can sense that things are not going well. Fraulein Gelber and some other ladies that work in the house are starting to get bad news from the front about their family. The cook’s sister, who was disabled, has been taken away, Heidi is confused about Jewish people.

Towards the end of the war she is taken to another house in the country where she meets Frau Lieb. Fraulein Gelber is increasingly distracted by the loss of her family and so Heidi spends a lot of time with the farmer’s wife. This is an interesting bit as it gives you some insight into the way that the German people lived during the war. She doesn’t really have any contact with her father and but she starts to enjoy the simple life, adopting rabbits and getting involved with the farm.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Mark and his friends are anxious to learn more about Heidi. He asks his parents and his teachers various questions about whether children should just follow their parents blindly or whether they are to blame for their parents decisions. He gets increasingly caught up in Heidi’s world and is desperate to find out what happened. Anna seems more reluctant to tell this story, but it is more detailed than the others. Almost like it’s real.

The book is short and to the point and probably for younger readers but it does pose some interesting questions. Are you responsible for the actions of your parents, even when they are the biggest mass murderer in history? Are we what our parents make us or do we have a  choice about what sort of adult we become?

I had an enjoyable hour spent reading this, give it a go if you want to boost your reading lists and feel like something different.

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The Queen of the Tearling

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This is the first part of a three part series and definitely one for older readers as the swearing in it is necessary but bad! Kelsea Raleigh is a girl who has a destiny. The book begins with her living in a small house in the forest with her guardians Barty and Carlin. She knows that she is destined for greater things, and that she is the daughter of the Tearling Queen; when she reaches the age of 19 she will become the Queen herself but she has been hidden all these years because of fears that she will be killed. The Tearling is a land created by William Tear, and contains exiled people from England and America. They went there for a better life but things are pretty basic and there are few doctors and no technology. There is however, magic.

Kelsea’s mother Queen Elyssa was a weak queen and signed a treaty with the Red Queen to send people from Tearling to Mortmesne as slaves. Mortmesne is the neighbouring country to the Tearling and is ruled by the Red Queen, a magical figure who does not age. After Queen Elyssa’s death, her brother Thomas became the Regent until Kelsea was old enough to rule. He has left the country to ruin and is lazy and weak. There are also other factions like the Caden who are trying to kill Kelsea so that the Regent can stay on the throne and continue ruining the kingdom. All Kelsea has to do is get back the Keep in the main city of New London, and be crowned. This is easier said than done as so many people are trying to kill her. She is protected by the Queen’s Guard, a group of men loyal to the previous queen who will guard her until death. Their leader is a man called Lazurus, or the Mace. He is a huge man mountain who kills people with a mace!

When they arrive in New London, Kelsea begins to realize the extent to which the country has been ruined. She sees giant cages where people are herded in and taken to Mortmesne. They are chosen once a month through a lottery system run by a pretty nasty piece of work called Arlen Thorne. The decisions she makes will have a huge impact on whether the country will remain at peace or not, but she cannot sit by and watch such cruelty. The Mace can do little but advise her but she is governed by a mysterious jewel that hangs around her neck, given to her by Carlin when she was a baby and part of the proof that she is the real queen of the Tearling. It has magical powers that she had no idea existed. During her journey back to the New London she meets a mysterious figure called the Fetch who she kind of falls in love with, he takes the companion jewel from her. The two jewels together make her extremely powerful, she just needs to learn how to use that power.

As you can imagine, the book ends on a cliffhanger and I have already started the next one in the series. I was  getting a bit fed up of reading teen angst books where one kid has something wrong with them and it was all profoundly depressing. What happened to fun!? Anyway, so I thought I would read a fantasy fiction book to give my brain a rest from all the angst! This is a really enjoyable fantasy fiction book that transports you to another world. It is a little confusing as to whether the people who founded the Tearling left the present world or not but that seems a bit incidental and you will find out more about this in the next book anyway. The characters are interesting and you will enjoy seeing Kelsea grow from a bit of a geeky tomboy to a strong leader. She is constantly described as plain and a bit fat, she struggles with fitness and has to tell the cook to make her healthier meals, she is not the gorgeous heroine queen that you would expect, and I think that makes it a better book for that. She is a more realistic character. The others are good strong characters that  you will enjoy reading about. It is advertised as a Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games type book, although I can see some similarities this book is in a world all of it’s own. It is violent though and, if you don’t like swearing and violence then this is not for you.

further reading: Game of Thrones series (but only if you are prepared to invest some time and you don’t mind a bit of sex and violence!) The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman (and the rest of the series).

 

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Monica Hesse

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I have just finished reading a book about old people’s homes in Holland (for a book group before you ask!)  and decided to pick  this one up because it is about the German occupation of Holland during WW11. I didn’t know much about so it was an interesting read.

Hanneke Bakker is an 18 year old girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. When we first meet her she is on her way to make a delivery of black market goods for her employer, the local undertaker. She  goes around delivering hard-to-get items to the wealthy people of  Amsterdam. She is also mourning the loss of her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed in the short lived resistance of the Dutch Army before the they succumbed to the German invasion. This was two years previously and Hanneke feels a lot of guilt. She thinks that Bas, who joined up early, did so  because he wanted to impress her.

Hanneke is stopped by a young German soldier and flirts her way out of trouble. She then calls on her next customer, Mrs Janssen, who has several sons. One has  been killed and the others have fled to America and England. Her husband has also not been seen for a while. She asks Hanneke to do her a favour. She has been harbouring a  young Jewish girl who was a friend of the family. Her husband had  been hiding the family at his factory but they had been betrayed and all been killed, including her husband, except for the girl. The girl has since gone missing and Mrs Janssen wants Hanneke to find her, as she is the only family she has left.

Coincidently, the same day her dead boyfriends brother Ollie appears at her door and, although Hanneke does not want to become involved, she agrees to meet with a friend of Ollie and realizes that he is involved with the Dutch resistance movement. He knows someone that can help her find Mirjam (the Jewish girl in the blue coat) and bring her back to Mrs Janssen and safety. Judith is a member of Ollie’s supper club and is Jewish. She works at the local centre where Jews go after they have been rounded up by the Germans. Her sister Mina works in the crèche looking after the very young and both girls are active members of the resistance. We also meet Willem, who is Ollie’s roommate.

What follows is a roller coaster of missed connections and double dealing. Hanneke is unwittingly drawn in to helping the resistance and is nearly caught on a few occasions. All the time she is carrying this guilt about Bas and we learn some of their back story. Hanneke  is a strong character that makes you feel that, if you were in the same situation as her you would  hopefully be as brave. The people of all occupied countries suffered such fear and hardship during the years that the Germans invaded their countries and people must have been constantly afraid of doing anything wrong. The rounding up of the Jews is poignantly portrayed, a boy cries because two girls in his class have been deported to concentration camps because they are Jewish. Hanneke has no hope of a future because she cannot see past her grief. Her relationship with her parents also changes significantly during the course of the book.

Every time I read a book like this, and there are so many out there that I have read a few, it astonishes me. How can ordinary people cope with such an extraordinary situation? Would I be able to cope with it? Would you? People do all sorts of amazing things when they have to, and so many people fought the Germans in their own way, small items of resistance that showed the enemy that they won’t give up fighting for their country. Hanneke is an ordinary girl trying to get by in a world that she no longer recognizes, and this book is so well written that you feel sorry for her but, at the same time, you will wish that you were like her.

The book has also  been compared to the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I didn’t really see the connection, or rather I did but didn’t agree.  This book will make you sad, but it will also make you glad that you live in a society where this will never happen again. It’s a study of human endurance and bravery and it made me tingle.

Further Reading: The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas and The Boy at the Top of the mountain by John Boyne.

Battle Lines (Dept. 19 #3) – Will Hill

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Spoiler Alert – MAKE SURE YOU HAVE READ THE FIRST TWO BEFORE YOU READ THIS REVIEW

 

 

 

 

Read them?

Ok, so Larissa is in America with SP9, Kate has joined a special unit that is investigating all the operators to try and find out who the leak is, Jamie is still angry and Matt is still working on the Lazarus Project and fancying a Russian girl. They are all still friends though. Jamie’s Dad is still locked up in the base in America and Larissa starts to get curious about who the mystery man is that’s in the cell, she starts to do some investigating of her own, while fending off the advances of a chap called Tim who wants to go out with her (never mind the fact that already has a boyfriend). She is, however enjoying being in America where people are a little more accepting of the fact that she is a vampire. She has also made some great friends as well and is in two minds about whether she wants to return to the UK, despite the Jamie situation.

In the meantime, Kate and Matt’s dads have made friends and have started to investigate the possibility that Dept. 19 actually exists. Several high security facilities have been attacked and all the patients have been turned into vampires. The problem is that they are much more powerful then normal newborns and Matt has some ideas as to why that is.

Lots of things happen in this book, despite the fact that they are all only about 17 the four main characters have all been promoted to Lieutenant and take on loads of responsibility. The interesting thing about this one is that one of them is starting to question the need to just goes out and kill vampires because they’re vampires. It’s likened to ethnic cleansing, which I suppose in a way it is. The team are starting to struggle a little bit with the concept of what they are doing. This is setting the last book up to be really explosive.

This is also a big book. At 701 pages it took me a week to read. I love the way they are written and really like the characters but, time doesn’t seem to move on very much and you kind of get the feeling that a lot is happening in a really short space of time, which in turn becomes a little unbelievable. It’s also a bit unrealistic to accept that grown up people with years of battle hardened experience listen to a bunch of kids. There is also the relationship between Jamie and Larissa, which is all a bit intense but at the same time, not.

That said, this is a great series and I really like it. I think it appeals to both boys and girls and has the right amount of horror to not make it too gory and the right amount of romance to make it not too gushy.

Another great book by Will Hill and I cannot wait to read the last one. The conclusion should be fantastic and I really hope that Dracula gets his comeuppance. He really, really deserves it.

The French Impressionist – Rebecca Bischoff

the french impressionist

The release date for this book is 6th December 2016 and I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of it through Netgalley (get me eh?) I will be reading and reviewing some more advanced copies so look out for recommendations.

Rosemary is a 15 year old American girl who has some issues. The biggest of which is that she suffers from a form of anxiety which means that she is physically unable to speak in the presence of strangers, it’s like a crippling social phobia that means she can’t work her mouth properly. She lives with her mum (the term helicopter parent was invented for this woman), and her mum’s boyfriend Zander. She has a best friend called Jada who is also physically disabled and her life is controlled to the nth degree by her mum. Somehow (and this is never fully explained) Rosemary has managed to convince her mum that she is on an art retreat in Arizona where she is learning to paint like her favourite artists (The Impressionists). She is in fact in Nice, France where she has pitched up at the home of Sylvie and Emile. They run a shop and live above it where they paint and run a painters exchange type programme. Rosemary, so they think, is there because she loves painting and wants to improve.

But the thing is, Rosemary doesn’t like painting or The Impressionists, in fact she cannot paint at all. She faked the paintings that she sent Sylvie because she wants to be adopted by them and stay in France forever, basically to escape her crazy mum who locks her in her room. She has found Sylvie and Emile on the internet through Sylvie’s blog and has decided that they are the ones. She also thinks that they have lost their son, Ansel in a road accident in Paris and so will want to share the love with another child ie. her.

The other part of the story is that there is a secret apartment walled up next to Sylvie and Emile’s that has been locked up since the war. Rosemary finds a secret door to it in her bedroom and explores. She runs into her horrible neighbours (The Thackerays – they’re English so obviously they are the baddies) and thinks that they are trying to steal whatever is inside the apartment. She also meets another American family with a boy of her age called Gavin who she develops some weird relationship with. Even though she can’t speak….

You may be able to tell from my tone that I wasn’t too keen on this book! It started off ok but a little unbelievable and then got a bit worse. To be fair I did read it all the way to the end and did quite enjoy the sheer silliness of it but don’t think that that means that I thought it was a great book. Firstly, if this girl has this thing then how on earth did she manage to negotiate a trip all the way from America to Nice? Zander books the thing but he thinks she is just going to Paris so, she basically lies to everyone in the book. Sylvie and Emile are lovely but a little bit too trusting and how do they understand each other if Rosemary can’t even order a sandwich in French? She has done some lessons but is no way fluent. I just found Rosemary thoroughly unpleasant. and manipulative and, even though I guess I was supposed to feel sorry for her because of her disability and her horrible home life, I just couldn’t.  There is no way her mum would let her organise a trip to Arizona without researching it all so how does she get away with it all? I wanted the author to develop the story about the locked up apartment but that was almost an aside. A whole book about that would be good.

It does give you a really nice impression of the French though, and the descriptions of Nice and the French way of life is good. Having spent a lot of time in France I thought it was pretty accurate. The book just had too many lose ends and plot holes for me to really enjoy it. You might though, especially if you like art….. or cats.

The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew

the big lie

This book is long listed for the Hounslow Teen Read 2017 and is well worth a read.

Jessika Keller lives in England after the second world war. Except we didn’t win the war, we won a negotiated peace with the Germans and now live under their rule like the rest of Europe. Jessika lives in a quiet street with her parents and her sister, except her sister is slightly different to her and her father seems to have a very important job that makes everyone scared of him. She also has an older sister who has already started her training and lives away from home. They don’t get on and she only appears briefly in the book. When Jessika is young, new neighbours move in next door and her father encourages her to make friends with the girl who is the same age; her name is Clementine and she is beautiful.

As they grow older Clem seems to have different ideas about the way the world works. She isn’t an obedient servant of the Reich and decides not to attend Deutsch Madel meetings anymore, and the two girls begin to lose touch after an awkward incident where Jess tries to kiss Clem. Jess then becomes friends with another girl in the group who she initially didn’t like and they begin a secret relationship. Both are aware that they are strictly forbidden from having a love affair as men and women must do their duty to the Fuhrer and produce children (you get a medal if you have five! that was an actual thing in Nazi Germany) and Jess tries to encourage a boy at the youth group to cover it up. In the meantime things are not going well for Clem and Jess needs to make some harsh decisions. She is an accomplished Ice Skater and trains every day; when the girls reach 18 they go away to finish off their skills (not sure where Jess is supposed to be going – some kind of training camp I think) and she only has a few days to save Clem before she goes.

This book is an interesting take on what it may have been like for young people living in Germany between the wars and why so many of them were sucked into the Hitler ideal. The idea that we have a path mapped out for us by the state is pretty scary but, if you are so indoctrinated you may just go along with it like Jess does. She’s not a very strong character and she irritated me, I wanted to shake her sometimes! But, having said that, she is going against everything she has been brought up to believe. The book has a menacing quality about it which, I suppose is what it must have been like then. Who do you trust not to betray you; and Jess suffers the worst betrayal of all. It has some similarities to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in that, if you didn’t know a bit of the history some bits might pass you by.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

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Thanks to Jodie Lee for recommending this one; it was a little weird! This is also, coincidentally, the second book I have read this summer that has a story and random photos in it. Both books use photographs that the authors have found and  intertwined them with the story. At first the technique is a bit strange because how could the author have found photographs that exactly match the story?! But, I read an interview with Ransom Riggs and he explained that he had hunted through thousands of photos to find the ones that would exactly fit the story: clever huh?

So, Jacob lives in America with his mum and dad. His mum is part of a family that have a chain of stores and are incredibly rich. His dad is a part time author and all round not very successful person. He also lives near his Grandad, Abe. When Jacob was little his Grandad used to tell him stories about when he was young. His family were Polish and Abe was sent from Poland to a small island in Wales as an evacuee. He goes to a ‘children’s’ home run by Miss Peregrine. He has some photos of the friends that he made in the children’s home who all have special abilities. Some of the photos are pretty strange but Jacob believes his Grandad and thinks its pretty cool. But as he gets older he starts to realise that the stories Abe told him can’t possibly be true and starts to distance himself from his Grandad and everyone else. He is not exactly Mr Popular and, although he has a job in one of the family stores, his life is not going too well. One day he gets a call from Abe saying that he is being attacked and, thinking that Abe is going crazy but not wanting to be at work, he calls his one and only friend Ricky and they head over to Abe’s house. They find Abe dying in the woods behind the house, and Jacob sees a creature that he cannot explain.

Several trips to the psychiatrist later and Jacob convinces his parents to let him go to the island to investigate the children’s home and get some closure (as the Americans like to call it!). His dad insists on accompanying him and off they go. At first it all seems pretty crazy but the further he investigates to more he finds, including a matching set of photos in an old trunk in the now derelict Home. Then he hears whispering voices and running feet and his adventure begins…

I really liked this book. I made the mistake of watching the trailer for the film and they trying to compare the storyline but I think the film will be really different. Jacob is a bit of a lost soul, which kind of influences his decision making process at the end of the book, but I loved the characters. Emma can create fire, Olive can fly, Enoch can bring things back to life and Bronwyn is the strongest girl at the fair. And Miss Peregrine? Well she’s a shapeshifter of course! The clue is in the name!

This is the first in a series and I will get round to reading the next one at some point. The trick with the photographs really made the story come alive and I’m guessing the film will be spectacular. This also a debut novel and the author works in films so really gets the connection between visual and words spot on. I’d hate to see what his attic is like though, what with all those photographs just waiting to be written about!

Further reading: Sweet Caress by William Boyd (This is the other book and although anything by William Boyd is good, this is really good!)