World War II

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Blog Tour – The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (translated by Don Bartlett)

Published March 5, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The international bestselling godfather of Nordic Noir takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in a stunning standalone thriller…

‘A masterclass in plotting, atmosphere and character that finely balances shocking twists’ The Times

In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.
And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…
Written with Dahl’s trademark characterization and elegant plotting, The Courier sees the hugely respected godfather of Nordic Noir at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in a exceptional, shocking thriller.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Anne Cater, Karen Sullivan and all at Orenda Books for inviting me onto this blog tour and for providing a complimentary digital copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. I have to admit, I’m not familiar with the author’s work but I was instantly intrigued by the promise of a gritty thriller set within the period around the Second World War. It’s one of my favourite periods of history to read about and I’m always on the hunt for an author who can bring something fresh and unique to an era that we often see explored in multiple works of fiction. I’ve also found a new hunger as a reader for reading more translated novels and for me, Don Bartlett’s words felt seamless and effortless to read which is always a pleasure to experience.

Kjell Ola Dahl, author of the standalone thriller, The Courier.

I found The Courier to be quite a fascinating reading experience and it was certainly one that has left me still mulling over it a few days now after finishing. Set across multiple timelines from the early 1940’s to the 1960’s and then contemporary times we follow a number of different characters but primarily Ester, who delivered illegal newspapers during the war, making a stand against the harsh Nazi regime. However, the focus of this novel is ultimately directed towards the suspicious death of one of Ester’s friends Åse. The narrative follows Ester just prior to Åse’s death and additionally, Åse’s husband, Gerhard who becomes the primary suspect in his wife’s murder but until now, has been presumed to have died in a fire. Piece by piece and across the years, the truth about what happened is gradually revealed and the unravelling of a multitude of secrets has the potential to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Oslo, Norway 1940-1945

Image from: http://www.norvege-fr.com/norvege_photos.php?id_photo=36645642345&mots=winter+oslo&couleurs=all&sort=&page=1

In general, I have quite mixed feelings about this novel. It’s definitely what you would call a slow-burner and whilst it’s true that I usually gobble up stories that take their time to unfold, there were points where I couldn’t quite gel with the pacing. That is to say, at times I couldn’t get enough of where the author was taking the plot and then there were other times where it didn’t work as well, personally speaking. Kjell Ola Dahl has an undeniable talent and a genuine flair for the dramatic and there were moments where I was “thrilled,” on the edge of my seat and frantically turning the pages.

I honestly believe fans of espionage novels will devour this story, particularly the political relationships between the characters and the slow, considered reveals that have the reader questioning everything. Perhaps it wasn’t a stand out read for me because I’ve struggled so deeply with espionage in the past? Although this particular novel was not primarily espionage I hasten to add, it did read at points for me like an espionage thriller. In the hands of a different reader I’m certain this would be a hugely rewarding reading experience and I think the author has a clear, individual writing style all of his own that has already gained him a legion of loyal fans. I would certainly urge anyone with a love of history, intricate plotting and strong female leads to give it a try!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in
Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the
most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological
thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the
Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and
Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14
countries, and he lives in Oslo.

Find Kjell Ola Dahl on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/605240.Kjell_Ola_Dahl

or on his website at: http://www.salomonssonagency.se/php/author.php?lang=en&authid=17

Thank you so much once again to Anne Cater, Karen Sullivan and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Courier will be published on 21st March 2019 and will be available as a paperback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to The Courier on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42957863-the-courier

Link to The Courier on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Courier-Kjell-Ola-Dahl-ebook/dp/B07KGLHC5X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1551731622&sr=8-1&keywords=the+courier

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Talking About Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce with Chrissi Reads

Published March 2, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels for Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are gutsy and spirited, even in the face of a terrible blow. The irrepressible Emmy keeps writing letters in this hilarious and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: We all know now that you’re a cover judger. (Tee hee!) What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Sssh, that’s a secret! Oh well, you’re right, everyone probably knows by now. To be honest, with Dear Mrs Bird, I didn’t really have any impressions of the cover, positive or negative. I thought it was an okay cover, remarkably inoffensive but something that didn’t give away much about the contents of the novel (which can both a good and bad thing!) or stands out in any way. Luckily, I had heard good things about it from my fellow bloggers and had some vague idea about the arc of the story so I was looking forward to reading it.

BETH: Author AJ Pearce incorporates charmingly old-fashioned expressions to help convey a sense of the time period. What were some of your favourite terms? Did the language help your understanding of the era and the characters’ personalities?

CHRISSI: My impression of the book was indeed that it was charmingly old-fashioned. It was awfully British. I loved how Mrs Bird described anything ‘naughty’ in the letters as ‘unpleasantness.’ I also loved the use of the word ‘jolly’ too. We don’t use jolly enough. I’m going to make it my mission to bring it back. I liked it said someone was ‘awfully lucky.’ There was a lot of ‘awfully’! Two of my favourites were ‘Right-o!’ and ‘Crikey!’ It definitely gave me a sense of the era and of the characters’ personalities.

CHRISSI: One of the major themes of the novel is friendship. Discuss Emmy and Bunty’s relationship, and all the ways they support and encourage each other over the course of the novel.

BETH: I do love a strong female friendship in a novel, especially one like Emmy and Bunty’s where they are so close that they literally become part of each other’s family. I think both girls needed the other one in their lives for strong support, humour and to confide in during the tough and dangerous times that they are living in. This is particularly evident when a crack forms in the relationship and the two girls are almost lost without the other to lean on.

BETH: Did you have a favourite character in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I did have a favourite character. I did enjoy the friendship between Emmy and Bunty, but I have to say I liked Emmy more. I thought she was a very easy character to like. I was rooting for her throughout the story. I really wanted her to do well.

CHRISSI: Did you enjoy the pace of the story? Was it ever too slow/fast for you?

BETH: I did enjoy the pace. It wasn’t particularly action-packed and exciting but I don’t think that’s what the author intended it to be. It was about very ordinary characters doing extraordinary deeds and displaying huge amounts of resilience when placed in war-torn London and having their lives put at risk every single day. At some points it did feel slightly too “jolly hockey sticks,” and “British stiff upper lip,” but at the same time, I really enjoyed the quintessential and classic British-ness of it all.

BETH: Do you think Emmy was right to confront William after he rescued the two children? Was his reaction warranted?

CHRISSI: I could see it from both Emmy and William’s point of view. Emmy was worried about William losing his life and wondered how her good friend Bunty would deal with that if it happened. William was purely doing his job though so I can totally see why it got his back up.

CHRISSI: If you were to put this book into a genre, which one would you put it in?

BETH: I think I would put it in historical fiction, purely for the World War II aspect, the emotional accounts of the bombings and the brave efforts of so many volunteers to keep London and its inhabitants safe each night.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes, I liked the author’s rather gentle writing style!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2018 – NOVEMBER READ – Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Published December 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

What did I think?:

I had a sneaking suspicion before I suggested this title to Chrissi for our Kid-Lit list this year that I was going to enjoy it and I’ve got to say, I love it when my hunches about a novel are spot on! I’ve already read two books in Lowry’s infamous Giver series so I was aware of the power of her writing style and when reading the synopsis and discovering it was set during World War II (another of my favourite time periods to read about) I was quietly confident that I was on to a winner. I was anticipating an emotional and dramatic narrative considering the atrocities that were perpetuated against the Jewish people during the war but I wasn’t expecting such beautiful and understated characters that carried out unbelievable feats of bravery where it made for an astonishing and compelling read.

Lois Lowry, author of Number The Stars.

This is the story of ten year old Annemarie Johansen and her Jewish best friend, Ellen Rosen, two ordinary little girls living in Copenhagen, Denmark whose lives like everyone elses is turned upside down when Denmark surrenders to the Nazi’s and German soldiers enter their town, assuming control and terrifying everyone at any given opportunity. The brutality of the Nazi’s increases exponentially as they begin to carry out their twisted ideals in Copenhagen by slowly removing any Jewish members of the population. Desperate to help, Annemarie’s family takes Ellen into their home, pretending she is one of them and with the help of the Danish Resistance, make new plans to help all the other Jewish people in the town that haven’t already been “re-located” so they may escape almost inevitable death.

King Christian X of Denmark making his regular pilgrimage by horse through Copenhagen in 1940, as referenced in Number The Stars.

What a lovely and moving story this was! I’m always in two minds about how I feel after reading World War II narratives but I particularly enjoy reading stories set in different countries that I haven’t read about before so as to learn how they coped, especially if they had to suffer Nazi occupation. Part of me feels disgusted and devastated by the treatment shown, particularly to the Jewish contingent but another part of me is always compelled to keep reading and absorbing as much as I can about this terrible period of our worlds history, to ensure it is never forgotten and (fingers crossed) will hopefully never happen again.

The story felt remarkably authentic and it’s obvious the author did her research on Denmark at this troubled time. I adored the inclusion of King Christian X who defiantly continued to ride through the town on his horse and see his people despite the ominous presence of the Nazi soldiers who wondered at his audacity! The fact that this actually used to happen made me feel quite emotional and it made me consider the terrible decision he had to make about surrendering to the Germans. Denmark was a small country with a relatively small army in comparison to the German military and I completely understand why he made the decision he did – in order to save many more lives than if he had stood against them in war.

Number The Stars has an intriguing, very readable and gripping plot coupled with some fantastic characterisation in Annemarie and her family. Although Annemarie was perhaps the most developed of the characters (I would have liked to have known a bit more about the characters within the Danish Resistance), she was an instantly loveable and endearing part of the story and I appreciated her journey from a frightened ten year old girl to a brave, determined fighter who is put into the most horrific situations but takes it all in her stride in order to protect her friends and family.

This is a stunning story with an important message and I really hope it continues to be read by children all over the world for years to come.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP IN DECEMBER ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford.

Talking About The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris with Chrissi Reads

Published October 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

There have been many books about the Holocaust – and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov’s incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive – not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also – almost unbelievably – a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story – their story – will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: This book has sensitive content. We’ve both read books about WWII before. How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I think any book about World War II and the atrocities of The Holocaust is always going to be difficult to read but it’s actually one of my preferred periods of history to read about. I like hard-hitting topics that make me think and appreciate my own life a bit better and generally, whenever I read a book in this genre, I find out something brand new every single time. I thought it was a fascinating story that was all the more poignant for being based on real-life individuals. It was all the more unique for being told from the perspective of a character who was forced to tattoo those terrible numbers on the prisoners in Auschwitz. If I compared it to other books based around the same period like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Boyne but it’s still an excellent read in the genre.

BETH: Had Gita and Lale met in a more conventional way, would they have developed the same kind of relationship? How did their circumstances change the course of their romance?

CHRISSI: Hmm. A really interesting question there. I’m not so sure they would have developed such an intense relationship. I feel that the environment they were in pushed them together and made them feel deeper than they may have done if they had met in a conventional way. They pretty much felt a connection instantly and didn’t really have outside influences that could change the course of their relationship.

CHRISSI: Did this book make more of an impact on you because it was based on a true story from that time?

BETH: For sure. I hadn’t realised when I first read the synopsis that it was based on people that actually existed and when you realise this as a reader, it automatically makes the novel even more moving and impactful. However, I think I was touched most by the extra parts of the novel i.e. the afterwords written by the author after the story ends. In particular, she talks about how she met Lale and what his drive was for getting this story published. To meet the man behind the character was a touch of brilliance and very emotional to read.

BETH: In what ways was Lale a hero? In what ways was he an ordinary man?

CHRISSI: I personally think that any person that experienced the Holocaust is a pretty heroic individual to me. I think Lale’s story is impressive because he tried to help those in need even though he was in a high place compared to others in the camp. I do think that Lale was quite selfless and wanted to improve lives of others that were struggling, despite the fact that it could get him into trouble. As for being an ordinary man? I think he had inner strength like many of us do, it’s just hidden sometimes.

CHRISSI: How did you feel about Lale when he was first introduced, as he arrived in Auschwitz? How did your understanding of him change throughout the novel?

BETH: This sounds terrible to say but I didn’t really like Lale when he was first introduced in the novel. He seemed quite cocksure and I didn’t particularly gel with his attitude towards women. He didn’t have a bad attitude, I hasten to add. In fact, he loved all women unreservedly. However, it was the way in which he was keen to share this with the reader that I didn’t really buy into. As he progresses through the novel, we see how much he suffers, watch him falling in love (even though it was pretty instantaneous and I wasn’t too sure about this part) but it’s his selflessness and determination to make life better for all other prisoners that I really ending up admiring and respecting about his character in the end.

BETH: How does this novel change your perceptions about the Holocaust in particular, and war in general? What implications does this book hold for our own time?

CHRISSI: I’m not so sure that it’s changed my perceptions of the Holocaust. I still think it was an awful, awful time (even though I do like to read about it!) What I did like about this book was that it gave a different, more hopeful approach. The fact that Lale went above and beyond for those suffering really made my heart happy. I love acts of kindness. I certainly think we could all learn from those acts of kindness that were carried out in recent times.

CHRISSI: Discuss some of the small acts of humanity carried out by individuals in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. How did these small acts of kindness have greater implications?

BETH: I don’t think any of us in the present time can ever imagine what it was like to be in a Nazi concentration camp and how difficult and brutal the conditions were for the prisoners. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the risk certain individuals took, especially considering that they could have lost their own lives in the process just to make another person more comfortable or safe. The viciousness of the German guards never fails to shock and appal me but it’s through these tiny acts of kindness that you start to see hope for the human race in the future. It’s amazing how such tiny things can make a world of difference to someone suffering and it was truly heart-warming.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think so. I did enjoy the author’s writing style and I tore through it!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

The Woolgrower’s Companion – Joy Rhoades

Published September 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.

It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.

With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.

Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.

The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author, Joy Rhoades for getting in touch and asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing her novel and to Virago UK for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. I had already seen some very positive reviews of this book from my fellow bloggers and was really looking forward to getting stuck in. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, especially when based around the Second World War period and even more so when we get to hear about a country aside from Germany, France, Holland or Britain that was based so far away from the immediate troubles but you could still see the devastating effects that the war had on the communities. I particularly love reading about countries that I’ve never visited before and the landscape and culture were so vividly drawn in The Woolgrower’s Companion that I could almost imagine I was right there experiencing everything our characters are going through at that point in their lives.

Joy Rhoades, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Our female lead for the novel is Kate Dowds who lives on an estate, Amiens that farms primarily sheep, with her father in New South Wales. The year is 1945 and Kate soon finds out that the family are in dire financial straits with the terrifying possibility that Amiens will be re-claimed by the bank and that her and her father will be forced to leave and find a new home and livelihood. Kate’s father hasn’t been the same since he returned from the Great War, his memory decidedly unreliable and his moods changeable, prone to uncharacteristic outbursts. Additionally, two Italian prisoners of war have recently arrived at Amiens in order to help with the daily work, Luca and Vittorio but instead of being put at ease and relieved by their presence, Kate feels increasingly threatened and confused. Brought up as a lady and not accustomed to the hard work of running a farm, Kate must not only step up and take on more responsibility for running Amiens due to her fathers ill-health but she must also find a way to raise the money to save the family from an increasingly dire situation. However, as the money continues to trickle away, her father slowly deteriorates, the bank closes in and the tension between workers heightens on the estate, Kate begins to realise how desperate her life has really become and must draw on all her abilities to rescue them all.

New South Wales, Australia where The Woolgrower’s Companion is set.

Although it took me a little while to become fully invested in this story, by about halfway through I had become enraptured with both the plot and the characters, particularly our female lead, Kate, the struggles she goes through and the patience, strength and determination she displays to try and get herself and her father out of a very sticky situation. I’ve had personal experience with witnessing a person I know with PTSD and I fully understand how frightening, heart-breaking and frustrating it can be not only for the individual going through it but for the people around that it also affects and so my heart broke a little bit for Kate each time we saw a scene with her and her father. His reactions to his daughter were so familiar and reminiscent of my own experiences that at times, it was difficult to read but at the same time, highly rewarding as I felt even more connected to Kate than when I first began the novel.

Finally, I appreciated that the author didn’t make this novel a typical love story which it could quite easily have been. Perhaps the reader might realise where the narrative is heading eventually but I was delighted that it wasn’t all about the romance. It was much more about Kate as a character, her struggles and triumphs, the difficult relationship with her father, the treatment of the Aboriginal people and in effect, it was more a love story to Australia itself as the description of the land and the creatures within it was nothing short of magnificent and so visceral in the details. I would definitely be interested in reading more from Joy Rhoades in the future and was mesmerised by a truly captivating story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Summer Of Secrets – Nikola Scott

Published September 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Nikola Scott’s heart-breaking and unforgettable new novel tells the story of two women linked by a dark secret, in 1939 and the modern day. Not to be missed by readers of Dinah Jefferies and Kate Morton.

1939. Madeleine, an orphaned young woman, fears that life at her beautiful family home Summerhill will change for ever when her adored sister Georgina returns from London with a handsome and charming fiancé. Maddie fears that the man Georgina loves is not all he seems. And even idyllic Cornwall is falling under the shadow of war…

Today. Chloe is newly pregnant. This should be a joyful time, but she is fearful for the future despite her husband’s devotion. When her work takes her to Summerhill, she’s drawn into the mystery of what happened there decades before. And the past reaches out to touch her in ways that could change everything…

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Becky Hunter and the team at Headline publishers for providing a lovely surprise on my return home from work one day to find Nikola Scott’s second novel, Summer Of Secrets on my doormat. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s debut, My Mother’s Shadow and was delighted to be able to dive into a new half historical/half contemporary fiction from Nikola sooner than I could have anticipated. Also, happy publication day as the novel is published today, the 6th September 2018 so you can get your mitts on it RIGHT NOW! For me, if I love an author’s debut, I’m always slightly nervous about reading their follow-up. Would I enjoy it? Can I see myself becoming a fan of her work and look forward to whatever she writes? Well, yes, yes and YES on all counts here, I’m thrilled to report. Nikola Scott has a real gift for writing sumptuous, atmospheric fiction that has the heady advantage of pulling you into her world immediately, keeping you captivated throughout and making it very difficult for you to want to let go by the end.

Nikola Scott, author of Summer Of Secrets.

Like My Mother’s Shadow, Summer Of Secrets uses one of my favourite ways to create a narrative – a dual timeline and two endearing and compelling female leads in each separate time period. In contemporary times we follow Chloe, who has just recently found out she is pregnant but has misgivings for both her future and the future of her unborn child. Having previously worked as a photographer prior to getting married, she is sent to the old country estate of Summerhill to meet a person she has idolised since childhood. This person is Madeleine, whom we hear from in the alternate timeline, set just prior to the war in 1939. A talented artist, Maddy is awaiting the return of her older sister, Georgiana who has been away for a little while but when she returns she brings someone into their lives, her new beau Victor, who turns everything upside down.

The sisters have learned to be self-sufficient from a young age after tragically losing their mother and father but it has made them intensely vulnerable in very different ways and we start to see evidence of this as the story continues. However, back in the present time, how does Chloe’s story connect with that of Madeleine, Georgiana and Victor? Can both women use the links and the similarities between their lives to help themselves (and each other) in their current situation? Or are they both too terrified of the potential consequences to open up and let the other one in?

Although Summerhill itself is fictional, the story is set in beautiful Cornwall, South-West England. 

Curling up with Summer Of Secrets was like having a cup of tea with your oldest friend. Sounds comforting, right? Now imagine your friend brought some snacks along and they are slightly spicy but you weren’t expecting it? That’s what the reading experience felt like to me. The story flowed along languidly and effortlessly and, quite unusually for me, I adored both the historical and the contemporary part of the narrative. This was a surprise as I was expecting to favour the historical side of the story and I can only credit Nikola’s character creation with this sudden change in my normal habits! She has written two utterly fantastic female protagonists that I instantly fell in love with, wanted to root for from the beginning and was genuinely interested in their welfare, particularly when we learn of the harrowing things they have been through in their individual histories.

However, what really pulled me into this novel was the smidge of darkness the author placed delicately and subtly at first into each woman’s story but then became such an integral part of the narrative that it did make for tough, uncomfortable moments at points, particularly as I personally identified with certain parts. I think the personal connection that I developed, especially with Chloe, made me further invested in the novel as a whole, willing her on from behind the pages, determined that she should find happiness. My partner will also attest to the fact that I exclaimed a few “choice words” out loud by the end of the novel (which amused him greatly!) as I found myself completely engrossed, forgetting where and who I was with.

I’m overjoyed to have been given the opportunity to read a review copy of Summer Of Secrets by Nikola Scott and even happier to announce that it exceeded all my wildest expectations for her second novel. I’ll just wait here quietly, eagerly anticipating her third!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank

Published September 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.

What did I think?:

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of those pieces of non fiction that occupies a very special place in my heart. I’ve read it a few times now at different points in my life through my adolescence right through to adulthood and each time I’ve managed to get something unique out of each reading experience. It’s not a five star read for me and that’s only because, I have to be honest, I do find parts of Anne’s diary a bit slower than others but it earns a rightful place on my favourites shelf because of what it’s given me over the years. Over this past year, I’ve challenged myself to a little experiment where I have a current read, a work of non fiction and a favourite re-read on the go at the one time. I set this challenge for myself as I realised I have a host of non fiction books on my shelves that just aren’t getting read and that I need to get round to, whilst also realising that with all the exciting new releases coming in, I don’t get a chance to re-read the books on my favourite shelves. The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of my all-time favourites and after this latest re-read, definitely deserves to keep its spot on the shelf.

Anne Frank, the author of the diary entries put into a collection by her father, Otto Frank.

If you haven’t managed to get round to reading this book yet (and I feel like it should be required reading in ALL schools!), Anne Frank is a young girl from a Jewish family who is forced to go into hiding with her parents, sister and another family when the Nazis descend upon their town and begin to remove all people of the Jewish faith to camps and ghettos, basically sealing their fate to one of misery, poverty, disease and in far too many scenarios, death. Assisted by some friends, the two families are ensconced in a Secret Annex concealed from the world by means of a bookcase which opened onto their tiny living quarters where they were forced to hide for two years. Most of the time they had to exist in complete silence because of the workers in the office below or the proximity of the other houses to their own space. Discovery of the family would result in deportation and execution of all those that hid there and of those that helped them evade the authorities so playing by the rules of the house, being as quiet as possible and desperately awaiting the end of the war became normal life for the families that lived there.

Reconstruction of the bookcase that hid the doorway to The Secret Annex.

Image from: By Bungle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4132164

As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I’ve managed to extract something different from each experience I’ve had reading The Diary Of A Young Girl. Reading it as a teenager, I felt strangely close to Anne and I felt a well of emotions being stirred up regarding the horrific situation she finds herself in, her normal feelings as a young teenager herself (particularly about boys!) and those awkward adolescent moments where the hormones are raging and you feel yourself developing into a woman coupled with the confusion that often accompanies these thoughts and feelings. Having to cope with all of this whilst living in such close quarters with her family, another family and having no means of escape left me feeling so uncomfortable and sorry for Anne that at times, I had to silently applaud her for her tenacity, humour and bravery that is clearly apparent and so endearing throughout her diary entries.

On my latest reading of this book, I got even more than I ever could have expected from it emotionally speaking and that’s because I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam about eight years ago and more specifically, the house and Secret Annex where Anne Frank was hidden. It was an experience I will never, ever forget, especially when I saw how small their quarters actually were. It was frightening to think that eight people had to live in such a small space and I couldn’t stop saying to my partner how unbelievable it was that they could survive in those cramped, overcrowded conditions for so long and all parties managed to keep their sanity. However, there are two stand-out points that I take away from Diary Of A Young Girl that I find particularly heart-breaking. The first is that Anne’s story does NOT have a happy ending and it’s especially hard to read, knowing this and seeing her joyful optimism for the end of the war, having a normal life and realising her dreams of becoming a writer. This leads me onto the second point – Anne is quite obviously a hugely talented writer. Her diary entries are succinct, empowering, beautiful, raw and so very authentic and it’s devastating to think of what she could have done in her life if she had been given the chance to see the end of the war and become an adult. Even writing about it now makes me feel so emotional and it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-visiting in the future, it’s too important not to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0