Second World War

All posts tagged Second World War

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.

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Nonfiction November Week 2: Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairings

Published November 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the second week of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post last week where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. and my post for Week 1 where I talked briefly about my year in nonfiction so far.

This week as the title suggests, it’s all about Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairings and is hosted by Sarah from Sarah’s Bookshelves – check out her post HERE.

“It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

Today I’ve decided to choose three pairings with three very different themes, hopefully one of these pairings will be intriguing to you!

Here we go!

PAIRING ONE – Historical fiction/historical nonfiction

Fiction – The Tattooist Of Auschwitz (based on a real story) by Heather Morris

This is the tale of Lale Sokolov who is transported to Auschwitz in the 1940’s and employed as the Tätowierer, marking the prisoners with their infamous numbers, falling in love with a fellow prisoner, Gita as he tattoos her with her personal number. I read this book with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads recently and we both really enjoyed it. Check out our review HERE.

PAIRED WITH

Nonfiction – The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: A True Story Of World War II by Denis Avey

This book has been on my TBR for the longest time! I’m intrigued by the synopsis which follows a British soldier who willingly breaks into Auschwitz and swaps places with a Jewish inmate for the purposes of witnessing and then telling others on the outside of the brutality that he saw.

PAIRING TWO – historical fiction/fantasy and biography

Fiction – The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait

This story, told by the real-life grand-daughter of the Alice who inspired Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland investigates what may have happened BEFORE Alice fell down the rabbit hole through the eyes of a naive and deceived governess. I received this gorgeous book through my regular Book And A Brew monthly subscription box and mean to get to at at some point in the near future!

PAIRED WITH

Nonfiction – The Story Of Alice: Lewis Carroll And The Secret History Of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

This does what it says on the tin really, need I say more? This is the story of Charles Dodgson and his alter ego or other self, Lewis Carroll and the history of what made Wonderland and Alice so special to him. I’m a big fan of the classic children’s tale and looking forward to diving into this after The Looking Glass House.

PAIRING THREE – historical fiction/romance and psychology/popular science

Fiction – The Ballroom by Anna Hope

I adored this novel when I read it in winter last year! It’s the story of Ella, a woman committed to an asylum in Yorkshire in the early part of the twentieth century for a “slight misdemeanour” at work in her own words. She meets a young man called John (in the asylum on the men’s side) whilst she is there so there is some romance but what I found most fascinating was how it touched on mental health and the apparent fragility of women at this period in our history. Check out my review HERE.

PAIRED WITH

Nonfiction – Mad, Bad and Sad: A History Of Women And The Mind Doctors From 1800 To The Present – Lisa Appignanesi

What better way to explore how “madness” in women has been approached historically speaking than to read a giant nonfiction tome about it? This is the story of how we have understood extreme states of mind over the last two hundred years and how we conceive of them today, from the depression suffered by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath to the mental anguish and addictions of iconic beauties Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. It looks like an absolutely fantastic and illuminating read and I can’t believe I keep putting off reading it!

 

So there you have it, my fiction/nonfiction pairings for the second week of Nonfiction November, I really hope you enjoyed these and found something that interests you!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 3 – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (hosted by Julie @ JulzReads)

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

 

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

Atonement – Ian McEwan

Published August 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

What did I think?:

I’m so, so glad I made the decision to go back and re-read the books on my favourites shelves alongside a non fiction read and a “main,” read. Atonement is one of my all time favourites and it definitely deserved every single one of its five stars and a spot on the shelf. I don’t keep every single book that I rate five stars – ha, I just don’t have the room sadly! So how does a book end up on this shelf? It has to move me, be memorable and stay with me long after finishing it and finally, it has to be a book I can see myself re-reading again in the future. It’s also a great way of seeing if re-visiting a book after a period of time away from it will lead me to rating it differently and potentially getting rid of it from the shelves – something I was very nervous about! Luckily, Atonement remains both a firm favourite, maintaining its illustrious position and making me consider if I might re-read it again in a few years once again.

Ian McEwan, author of Atonement.

Set just before the outbreak of the Second World War, we are initially following the Tallis family – Briony the youngest, Cecilia the eldest girl and their brother, Leon who is returning with a friend for a rather swanky dinner party at home that same night. The family also have their cousins staying with them under quite unhappy circumstances as their parents marriage is going through severe difficulties. So in order to cheer them up and distract them from the rumours surrounding their parents, Briony (an inspiring and precocious writer) is determined to put on a play she wrote herself. For childish reasons, she might also be clamouring for attention, desperate that her family especially her mother and beloved older siblings, would take pleasure in her talent.

A scene from the movie adaptation of Atonement with Keira Knightly and James McAvoy.

As you may have suspected, Briony’s grand plan doesn’t end up going off to plan and she becomes sulky, distant and incredibly vulnerable. It’s at this particular point of her mood that she witnesses an altercation between her sister, Cecilia and her childhood friend Robbie Turner that she doesn’t help matters by deploying her vivid imagination to mistakenly think of what “might” have been happened. The situation is only exacerbated when Briony comes across a note from Robbie to Cecilia that shocks her to her core and then once more happens upon them in the library alone together. All these little happenstances and coincidences leads Briony to make the most life-changing accusation she has ever perpetuated in her life and permanently alters one man’s dreams and wishes into something a whole lot different. Briony must atone for what she has done but the problem is, can she ever be forgiven?

Okay, I’ll admit….when this book started at first I wasn’t into it at all. I found myself confused as to why this book was so highly rated (by myself as well!) and this was mainly because of the extra slow speed and occasional complexity of the narrative. It is literary fiction at its most beautiful and moments, characters, situations are described so picture postcard perfectly, you might wonder why I hesitated. I DO love all of these things and much more besides, but I felt like if McEwan had threw more weight behind to what was going on with his lesser characters, like the elusive Mrs Emily Tallis and the suffering of cousin Lola Quincey, I would have become invested in the story at an earlier point.

Then THE EVENT occurs. This is when Atonement really starts to hit its stride and I could breathe a sense of relief and wipe an anxious drop of sweat from my brow. One of our main characters ends up in quite a difficult, dangerous situation, fighting overseas as a soldier in France and the things he sees and has to deal with on a daily basis as well as trying to remain alive himself are nothing short of horrific. Briony is back home herself working as a student nurse and attempting to do her part for the war effort but she still cannot stop thinking about the awful things she did when she was a child and begs her estranged sister, Cecilia for contact and a forgiving ear.

I’ve read a few other things by Ian McEwan, some I’ve enjoyed, others I haven’t liked at all sadly, but I honestly think this is his most wonderful piece of writing yet. The betrayal, the secrets, the lives they have had to lead and the guilt and turmoil that follows every single character round is hugely fascinating and occasionally emotional to read about. Short-listed for The Man Booker Prize back in 2001, it was a worthy contender for such a prestigious prize and I really hope, because of this accolade you will be interested to give it a shot if you’ve never read any of the author before. I truly believe this is the most perfect place you could start with his writing but I beg, please push through the slow parts, it becomes an undeniably stupendous novel that I will continue to treasure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Block 46 (Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1) – Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

Published July 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In Hampstead Heath, London, the body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

What did I think?:

All my favourite bloggers have been telling me to read this novel from the Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson and I’ve been putting it off for goodness knows how long but there came a time when I could no longer delay the inevitable and I finally succumbed, gave in, folded, (however else you want to describe it) and all I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE. This debut novel and the first in a new series is the most excited I’ve been about a debut since Cara Hunter’s Close To Home and I devoured it within a couple of days, reluctant to return to ordinary life each time I picked it up, it was that compelling and had me thoroughly enraptured by the power of both the subject matter and the extraordinary writing.

Johana Gustawsson, author of Block 46, the first novel in the Roy and Castells series.

Like many of my other preferred narrative styles, Block 46 takes place across two time periods. The first is the present day and follows two women, crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy who team up when a series of gruesome murders plague both London and Sweden. Are the murders committed by the same people? Is it a single serial killer or a duo? Why in particular has the killer(s) chosen to focus on these geographical areas? Then the author takes us back to the past, the 1940’s to be exact where we follow a man, Erich Hebner who is incarcerated in the brutal Buchenwald concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Roy and Castells must discover how these two time-lines are connected and attempt to stop a crazed killer who will stop at nothing in order to carry out his convoluted, incredibly twisted little mission.

Prisoners during a roll call at Buchenwald concentration camp.

I don’t know how eloquent I’m going to be at convincing you that if you haven’t read this book yet and you enjoy a gritty, shocking piece of crime fiction, you should pick this book up immediately. I feel a bit cross with myself for not picking this book up earlier myself as I was completely engrossed as soon as I had got to the end of the first page! I don’t often do one-off Tweets about a book I’m currently reading unless I have very strong opinions about the novel either way but with Block 46, I just couldn’t help myself. Part of it is set during one of my favourite periods of history to read about, Nazi Germany but I felt this author found brand new ways to tell me about the suffering of prisoners in the camps that opened my eyes as if I had been reading about the horrors for the very first time. It was intense, it was horrific, it was emotional and grotesque all at the same time. There were some events that occurred where I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it but even through this, I prevailed because I literally couldn’t put this book down.

I couldn’t help but think as I was reading about how the treatment of the prisoners in concentration camps actually happened. It was this cold, it was this cruel, it was this malicious. The author’s grandfather was actually liberated from Buchenwald camp in 1945 so it’s plain that she has not only a very personal connection to the atrocities perpetuated in that place but has carried out her research diligently and sensitively. On another note and credit to the translator, at no point did it feel like I was reading a translated work, it felt just as raw, sharp and honest in English as I’m sure it does in the author’s native French. Let me just take a moment and mention the characters also, particularly Roy and Castells who I immediately warmed to and who definitely have mysterious depths that I’m hoping get probed a bit further in future books in the series. I especially loved the enigmatic Emily Roy, a no nonsense, blunt, independent woman who is quite the closed book when we first meet her and doesn’t always behave in a socially acceptable way (I can relate to this, I’m incredibly awkward at times!) but there are reasons behind her “poker face” demeanour that we start to discover near the end of the novel and personally, it was really affecting for me.

Finally, can we PLEASE talk about that ending. This is actually when I tweeted my message, it made me gasp out loud whilst waiting in a coffee shop for a hospital appointment and I got quite a few odd looks in return when customers saw the *gasp* was about a book. I know you bookworms would understand though?! All I can say about it is that it was pure and utter brilliance. I didn’t see it coming, I don’t think you could ever predict it and it elevated the author and her talent to even greater heights in my eyes. Now that I’m thinking about the way I delayed reading this book, I’m actually pretty glad I did. It meant I could immediately order the second book from Johana Gustawsson, called Keeper straight after I had finished reading Block 46, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I can already tell that this author has the potential to become a firm favourite where I buy/pre-order her books the second I get the chance to and Block 46 has certainly earned its place on my favourites shelf where I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Blog Tour – Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro

Published May 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised. My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.

What did I think?:

When Anne Cater first got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in reading this book, I read the synopsis (as you do!) and immediately jumped at the chance. Thank you so much to her and to Unbound Books for allowing me to read an advanced review copy of this intriguing memoir in return for an honest review. If you’re new to my blog, you might not realise I’m not only a big fan of periods in our history like World War I and II, but I’m also a very curious soul regarding the culture and history of China. So imagine my delight when I saw that two of my favourite things were beautifully entwined in a biography of such a fascinating and brave man, told by one of the closest members of his family, his daughter.

Poster from artist Martha Sawyers ca. 1944 depicting a Chinese soldier with his wounded wife and daughter.

The subject of this memoir, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro was a considerably quiet, private and stoic man and the author of this book, his daughter Mary, knew surprisingly little about his struggles and the danger he faced as a soldier during the Second World War. It is only after he passes away that Mary makes a real effort to dig into his past, reading his diary entries from Hong Kong, marvelling at his escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and admiring his bravery as he faced a long trek through China, just to get to a place of safety. Moved by her father’s experiences, Mary takes it upon herself to attempt to carry out the exact same trip as her father, despite many place names in China having changed in the last seventy years. As she walks in her father’s footsteps, Mary feels that she connects with her father in a deeper manner and has such memorable encounters with people and places that can only be described as life-changing.

The Situation In China, 1944 – sourced from The US Army Center Of Military History.

Stranger In My Heart feels like the reader is given access to a detailed account of the struggles of a very unassuming soldier by means of his diary entries. It was an honour to be a voyeur into John Monro’s life and the incredible journey he made through China, all the while in danger of losing his life. The memoir was all the more touching and authentic for the inclusion of the diaries and for Mary’s own individual trip, many years later. I particularly enjoyed her quiet humour of the author as she described a sign posted at a hotel she stayed at briefly:

“Lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden.”

Like Mary, I had to have a little chortle to myself. Wrestling?? This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. As I mentioned, the diary entries are incredibly thorough and so intriguing to read – straight from “the horse’s mouth,” so as to speak. Moreover, we also get a brief history of China (which I particularly loved as a Chinese history enthusiast!) and finally, snatches from the author’s own trip to try and recreate her father’s journey which read remarkably like a great travel book. I had great fun reading it and really appreciate the efforts Mary Munro made in researching her father’s life and recounting it for the interested outsider. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t help but think that it’s almost as if this journey/book has given Mary peace with both her father’s life and his death and it was a pleasure to be taken along for the ride.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see http://www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and http://www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.

Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.

Find Mary on her website at: http://www.strangerinmyheart.co.uk

or on Twitter at: @monro_m276

Thank you once again to Anne Cater and Unbound Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Stranger In My Heart is due to be published in June 2018 and will be available as an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046559-stranger-in-my-heart?ac=1&from_search=true

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-My-Heart-Mary-Monro-ebook/dp/B07CVKMBL3/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525977789&sr=8-1&keywords=stranger+in+my+heart