#BlogTour The Evacuee Christmas by Katie King

The Evacuee Christmas Blog Tour[6]

It’s my turn on the Blog-Tour for The Evacuee Christmas by Katie King and I’m delighted to be able to offer you the chance to read Chapter One of this tearjerker of a read. Enjoy! Oh, and at the bottom of this post is my review.

About the Author

Katie King is a new voice to the saga market. She lives in Kent, and has worked in publishing. She has a keen interest in twentieth-century history and was inspired by a period spent living in South East London.

Follow @KatieKingWrite @HQDigitalUK @HQstories on Twitter

Follow @KatieKingSagaAuthor on Facebook

Buy The Evacuee Christmas

About the book

Autumn 1939 and London prepares to evacuate its young. In No 5 Jubilee Street, Bermondsey, ten-year-old Connie is determined to show her parents that she’s a brave girl and can look after her twin brother, Jessie. She won’t cry, not while anyone’s watching.

In the crisp Yorkshire Dales, Connie and Jessie are billeted to a rambling vicarage. Kindly but chaotic, Reverend Braithwaite is determined to keep his London charges on the straight and narrow, but the twins soon find adventures of their own.

As autumn turns to winter, Connie’s dearest wish is that war will end and they will be home for Christmas. But this Christmas Eve there will be an unexpected arrival…

Extract – Chapter One of The Evacuee Christmas

The shadows were starting to lengthen as twins Connie and Jessie made their way back home. They felt quite grown up these days as a week earlier it had been their tenth birthday, and their mother Barbara had iced a cake and there’d been a raucous tea party at home for family and their close friends, with party games and paper hats. The party had ended in the parlour with Barbara bashing out songs on the old piano and everyone having a good old sing-song.

What a lot of fun it had been, even though by bedtime Connie felt queasy from eating too much cake, and Jessie had a sore throat the following morning from yelling out the words to ‘The Lambeth Walk’ with far too much vigour.

On the twins’ iced Victoria sponge Barbara had carefully piped Connie’s name in cerise icing with loopy lettering and delicately traced small yellow and baby-pink flowers above it. Then Barbara had thoroughly washed out her metal icing gun and got to work writing Jessie’s name below his sister’s on the lower half of the cake.

This time Barbara chose to work in boxy dark blue capitals, with a sailboat on some choppy turquoise and deep-blue waves carefully worked in contrasting-coloured icing as the decoration below his name, Jessie being very sensitive about his name and the all-too-common assumption, for people who hadn’t met him but only knew him by the name ‘Jessie’, that he was a girl.

If she cared to think about it, which she tried not to, Barbara heartily regretted that Ted had talked her into giving their only son as his Christian name the Ross family name of Jessie which, as tradition would have it, was passed down to the firstborn male in each new generation of Rosses.

It wasn’t even spelt Jesse, as it usually was if naming a boy, because – Ross family tradition again – Jessie was on the earlier birth certificates of those other Jessies and in the family Bible that lay on the sideboard in the parlour at Ted’s elder brother’s house, and so Jessie was how it had to be for all the future Ross generations to come.

Ted had told Barbara what an honour it was to be called Jessie, and Barbara, still weak from the exertions of the birth, had allowed herself to be talked into believing her husband. She must have still looked a little dubious, though, as then Ted pointed out that his own elder brother Jessie was a gruff-looking giant with huge arms and legs, and nobody had ever dared tease him about his name. It was going to be just the same for their newborn son, Ted promised.

Big Jessie (as Ted’s brother had become known since the birth of his nephew) was in charge of the maintenance of several riverboats on the River Thames, Ted working alongside him, and Big Jessie, with his massive bulk, could single-handedly fill virtually all of the kitchen hearth in his and his wife Val’s modest terraced house that backed on to the Bermondsey street where Ted and Barbara raised their children in their own, almost identical red-brick house.

Barbara could see why nobody in their right mind would mess with Big Jessie, even though those who knew him soon discovered that his bruiser looks belied his gentle nature as he was always mild of manner and slow to anger, with a surprisingly soft voice.

Sadly, it had proved to be a whole different story for young Jessie, who had turned out exactly as Barbara had suspected he would all those years ago when she lovingly gazed down at her newborn twins, with the hale and hearty Connie (named after Barbara’s mother Constance) dwarfing her more delicate-framed brother as they lay length to length with their toes almost touching and their heads away from each other in the beautifully crafted wooden crib Ted had made for the babies to sleep in.

These days, Barbara could hardly bear to see how cruelly it all played out on the grubby streets on which the Ross family lived. To say it fair broke Barbara’s heart was no exaggeration. While Connie was tall, tomboyish and could easily pass for twelve, and very possibly older, Jessie was smaller and more introverted, often looking a lot younger than he was.

Barbara hated the way Jessie would shrink away from the bigger south-east London lads when they tussled him to the ground in their rough-house games. All the boys had their faces rubbed in the dirt by the other lads at one time or another – Barbara knew and readily accepted that that was part and parcel of a child’s life in the tangle of narrow and dingy streets they knew so well – but very few people had to endure quite the punishing that Jessie did with such depressing regularity.

Connie would confront the vindictive lads on her brother’s behalf, her chin stuck out defiantly as she dared them to take her on instead. If the boys didn’t immediately back away from Jessie, she blasted in their direction an impressive slew of swear words that she’d learnt by dint of hanging around on the docks when she took Ted his lunch in the school holidays. (It was universally agreed amongst all the local boys that when Connie was in a strop, it was wisest to do what she wanted, or else it was simply asking for trouble.)

Meanwhile, as Connie berated all and sundry, Jessie would freeze with a cowed expression on his face, and look as if he wished he were anywhere else but there. Needless to say, it was with a ferocious regularity that he found himself at the mercy of these bigger, stronger rowdies.

Usually this duffing-up happened out of sight of any grown-ups and, ideally, Connie. But the times Barbara spied what was going on all she wanted to do was to run over and take Jessie in her arms to comfort him and promise him it would be all right, and then keep him close to her as she led him back inside their home at number five Jubilee Street. However, she knew that if she even once gave into this impulse, then kind and placid Jessie would never live it down, and he would remain the butt of everyone’s poor behaviour for the rest of his childhood.

Barbara loved Connie, of course, as what mother wouldn’t be proud of such a lively, proud, strong-minded daughter, with her distinctive and lustrous tawny hair, clear blue eyes and strawberry-coloured lips, and her constant stream of chatter? (Connie was well known in the Ross family for being rarely, if ever, caught short of something to say.)

Nevertheless, it was Jessie who seemed connected to the essence of Barbara’s inner being, right to the very centre of her. If Barbara felt tired or anxious, it wouldn’t be long before Jessie was at her side, shyly smiling up to comfort his mother with his warm, endearingly lopsided grin.

Barbara never really worried about Connie, who seemed pretty much to have been born with a slightly defiant jib to her chin, as if she already knew how to look after herself or how to get the best from just about any situation. But right from the start Jessie had been much slower to thrive and to walk, although he’d always been good with his sums and with reading, and he was very quick to pick up card games and puzzles.

If Barbara had to describe the twins, she would say that Connie was smart as a whip, but that Jessie was the real thinker of the family, with a curious mind underneath which still waters almost certainly ran very deep.

Unfortunately in Bermondsey during that dog-end of summer in 1939, the characteristics the other local children rated in one another were all to do with strength and cunning and stamina. For the boys, being able to run faster than the girls when playing kiss chase was A Very Good Thing. Jessie had never beaten any of the boys at running, and most of the girls could hare about faster than him too.

It was no surprise therefore, thought Barbara, that Jessie had these days to be more or less pushed out of the front door to go and play with the other children, while Connie would race to be the first of the gang outside and then she’d be amongst the last to return home in the evening.

Although only born five minutes apart, they were chalk and cheese, with Connie by far and away the best of any of the children at kiss chase, whether it be the hunting down of a likely target or the hurtling away from anyone brave enough to risk her wrath. Connie was also brilliant at two-ball, skipping, knock down ginger and hopscotch, and in fact just about any playground game anyone could suggest they play.

Jessie was better than Connie in one area – he excelled at conkers, he and Connie getting theirs from a special tree in Burgess Park that they had sworn each other to secrecy over and sealed with a blood pact, with the glossy brown conkers then being seasoned over a whole winter and spring above the kitchen range. Sadly, quite often Jessie would have to yield to bigger children who would demand with menace that his conkers be simply handed over to them, with or without the benefit of any sham game.

Ted never tried to stop Barbara being especially kind to Jessie within the privacy of their own home, provided the rest of the world had been firmly shut outside. But if – and this didn’t happen very often, as Barbara already knew what would be said – she wanted to talk to her husband about Jessie and his woes, and how difficult it was for him to make proper friends, Ted would reply that he felt differently about their son than she.

‘Barbara, love, it’s doing ’im no favours if yer try to fight ’is battles for ’im. I was little at ’is age, an’ yer jus’ look a’ me now’ – Ted was well over six foot with tightly corded muscles on his arms and torso, and Barbara never tired of running her hands over his well-sculpted body when they were tucked up in their bed at night with the curtains drawn tight and the twins asleep – ‘an’ our Jessie’ll be fine if we jus’ ’elp ’im deal with the bullies. Connie’s got the right idea, and in time ’e’ll learn from ’er too. An’ there’ll be a time when our Jessie’ll come into his own, jus’ yer see if I’m not proved correct, love.’

Barbara really hoped that her husband was right. But she doubted it was going to happen any time soon. And until then she knew that inevitably sweet and open-hearted Jessie would be enduring a pretty torrid time of it.

Review

I think there is a general misconception about the evacuations during the war, and King does go into that in the book. There seems to be this overall consensus that the majority of people or people in general were happy to accommodate complete strangers for there country. A sense of community spirit throughout the entire country, when in fact the opposite was the truth. Evacuation was forced upon both those being evacuated and those taking them in, obviously there were exceptions to the rule.

The government had been planning a mass evacuation since the early 1920s and the process, or first round of evacuations was started during 1939. This period is often referred to as the Phoney War, because the expected destruction and loss of life didn’t take place till later and not to the extent they expected. The man in charge of the evacuation, Sir John Anderson, had little foresight about the potential emotional distress and trauma the upheavals would cause, especially in the case of the evacuated children.

Many of the children ended up in the wrong place with insufficient rations and no homes to go to. The children were often lined up like cattle at a market place and people were asked to select them, hence the infamous phrase ‘I’ll take that one’ which already implies a lack of organisation.

Jesse and Connie are evacuated with their fellow school mates, the evacuation of whole schools was quite common, which meant any pre-existing problems automatically went with them. In this case the school bully, who has to deal with his own difficult issues at home, ends up on the receiving end of some of his own medicine. On a more serious note, Larry’s situation was a common fault of the operation. He ends up being neglected and mistreated, and although there is an adult to oversee and rectify the situation in this fictional scenario, that wasn’t the case for the majority of children.

The Evacuee Christmas is about family and friendship, and about sticking together and supporting each other in times of difficulty. Strangers and enemies can become friends in the direst of situations. When push comes to shove we are all capable of showing each other kindness.

Buy The Evacuee Christmas at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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#BlogTour East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman

east3

Today is my stop on the Blog-Tour for East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman. It is a contemporary novel, a sign of the times, and an attempt to understand the complex thought process of men and women who choose to view their own society and fellow humans as the enemy. Of course there is an amusing story wrapped around the more serious twist.

About the Author

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1975 Khurrum moved to England when he was one. He is a west London boy and now lives in Wraysbury with his wife and two children. Khurrum graduated with BSc Honours and has been working in IT for a Local Authority for over 18 years.

His keen interest in fiction initially drove him to write screenplays and write for an independent film maker. However, his true passion lies in reading crime thrillers which have inspired his current work. He has employed his unique perspective and careful study of great writers to develop a fresh voice that crackles with originality.

Follow @KhurrumRahman @HQStories

Buy East of Hounslow

About the book

East of Hounslow (HQ), is Khurrum Rahman’s debut novel, it is part one of a gripping spy thriller trilogy that centres on Javid Qasim, a happy-go-lucky small scale dope dealer in West London. When the Security Service identifies him as a potential recruit and the hardliners at his Mosque start thinking he may be useful to them his happy quiet life begins to implode. To complicate matters further, his best friend is now a Detective Inspector in the local police and, rather carelessly, Javid has also managed to lose his new BMW and £10k he owes his psychopathic drug supplier…

Review

It is gritty, witty and a breath of fresh air. It is relevant to our day and age, and the problems we face in our society. Javid is the boy next door, the last person you would suspect of planning a terror attack, and of course that is the actual problem. The reality is that the world is filled with vulnerable young men and women, who are easy to persuade and lead towards the dark side of life.

Javid Qasim accidentally falls into the role of double-agent, when he is forced to pretend to become a jihadi. If he actually had a choice in the matter he certainly wouldn’t even be entertaining the idea, but when you’re a small time drug dealer with a price on your head you just have to go with the flow, even if it means putting yourself in the middle of a dangerous situation.

Javid can either face his supplier, to whom he owes quite a lot of money and drugs, or infiltrate an terrorist cell supposedly operating out of his local mosque. Seems like a double-edged sword, which of course it is because it’s a lose-lose situation. His decision is swayed by the fact his neighbour and friend Parvez appears to be caught up in the group.

Throughout the book there is this sense of uncertainty when it comes to Javid. Will he be sucked in and enjoy the brotherhood? Is it possible that he believes the mantra of the jihadi and has finally found a way to vent his frustrations against society?

Rahman does a fantastic job of introducing readers to a basic understanding of the religious setting. It is done in an explanatory way, as opposed to a ‘come hither and partake of this field of gold’ way. I found that particular element of the story quite informative. The most important point Rahman makes is that just because Muslims pray at the local mosque and adhere to the rules of their religion, it does not mean they are also planning to wipe out every infidel they can find.

He also portrays the antipathy of the general public towards the Muslim population. Open hostility and a large helping of side-eye has become a daily occurrence. Unfortunately the terrorists, and right-wing groups, use this imbalance between the two groups to incite more hatred, recruit more members and create more chaos.

Although the topic of the plot is a serious one, Rahman still manages to evoke a sense of empathy for his characters, especially the crooked yet charming Javid. Camaraderie and friendship play a pivotal role in this contemporary novel which also has a subtle layer of humour. It’s a read you won’t want to miss.

Buy East of Hounslow at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Blog-Tour: Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi

Today I have the pleasure to host the Blog-Tour for Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi. Featuring a fantastic Q&A with Alex Christofi and my review. The answers to the Q&A are just as captivating as the novel itself. The last four questions contain some spoilers, so for anyone who hasn’t read it yet and wants to read it without any extra info I will be adding a fair warning before and after those particular questions.

About the Author

Alex Christofi was born and grew up in Dorset. After reading English at the University of Oxford, he moved to London to work in publishing. He has written a number of short pieces for theatre, and blogs about arts and culture for Prospect magazine. Glass is his first novel. His second novel, Let Us Be True, is published by Serpent’s Tail.

Follow @alex_christofi @serpentstail Visit alexchristofi.com

Buy Let Us Be True

About the book

Paris, 1958. After a chance encounter, Ralf and Elsa begin a love affair that will mark their lives. Both already bear scars from their continent’s violent upheavals. The end of the war brought Ralf to Paris, where he feels he can hide from the past. Elsa meanwhile tries to hide not just her past from Ralf, but her present too. As they fall more deeply in love they face a dilemma: can you really love someone without giving yourself away?In a Paris recovering from the Second World War but riven by protests and discontent as the old world order falls away, Ralf tries desperately to hold on to the only person he has ever felt he belongs with, while facing the prospect of a reality where love might not be enough. Deeply moving and sweeping in scope, Alex Christofi’s second novel is an unforgettable love story as well as a profoundly affecting study of the personal cost of Europe’s bloody twentieth century.

Q&A

Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’ (readers love to get to know all about their favourite and new authors)

The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) I tend to consume books like tapas, so this is actually quite hard to answer. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, or a selected volume of Voltaire, or Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, or Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang.

Books or authors who have inspired you to put pen to paper? Mikhail Bulgakov, Emmanuel Carrere, George Orwell, George Saunders, Michel Faber, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Gustave Flaubert, Joseph Roth, Albert Camus. I love writers who can fuse beauty and cleverness with social purpose.

The last book you read, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Everyone has been talking about her for years so it’s not exactly a hot tip, but that’s the honest answer.

Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of guy? (Combinations are possible) Movie night. There are enough hanging plot threads in my actual life – I want to be able to sit back and look at the whole story. I don’t need Scheherezade feeding me cliffhangers every night forever. It’s like asking if you’d rather have limbo or a quick death.

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Not probably any of the people I most admire. Marcus Aurelius was objectively a top guy, but would be a terrible date – after two drinks he would leave citing moderation in all things. You’d want someone with a wicked sense of humour who knew how to live. Hunter S Thompson would probably kill me, but maybe Angela Carter or Ernest Hemingway. Or Obama. Everyone wants to meet Obama.

All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about Let Us Be True.

Where did you get the inspiration for Let Us Be True? Probably a question you have been asked before, but I am genuinely interested in the inspiration for the story of Ralf and Elsa. It’s strange, because what I have ended up with is really a character novel – one that devotes a lot of space to investigating the particular psychology of two particular people – but I first conceived it as a novel about the moment after the Second World War that is rarely written about, after the initial reconstruction efforts but before the individualistic, consumer-driven sixties was in full swing. I wanted to write about what it was like to find yourself on the very cusp of the modern era.

Why Paris? Did you pick this particular setting because you know it well or because it made sense logistically, culturally and from an historical point of view? I wanted to write about a place very like our own, but different enough that people could judge it for what it was – a bit like the way Shakespeare tore into society by setting everything in Italy. But Paris in 1958 was also a fascinating place in its own right: the Fourth Republic was collapsing; the communists were still one of the biggest parties, but there was a fascist fifth column in the police; French Resistance hero Charles de Gaulle was returned to power in a military coup and suspended the constitution; France was effectively at war with its own Muslim population; there were peaceful protests, but people were still being guillotined. Parts of Paris were already petrifying into an eerily timeless postcard city, and at the same time some of its residential neighbourhoods were ‘îlots insalubres’, dirty islands of slum housing, where no one owned a fridge and tenants shared a squat toilet. I can’t think of a better (or more intense) analogue for the conflicts we are worrying about here and now.

Although you don’t play on the underlying theme too much, do you think Ralf and Elsa connect in such a monumental way because they share a common denominator in their home country and war-trauma? Absolutely – it is a part of why they connect and also one of the reasons why they clash. But the war itself can’t be spoken about directly, because it simply wasn’t done. It could be referred to, or implied obliquely, but very few people who were involved had any desire (or perhaps even ability) to talk about what they had been through. It is an elephant in the room – the clearest metaphor in the book is of Ralf and his mother sitting at the dining table, painfully aware of the father that isn’t present. Ralf eventually opens up about some of his childhood experiences, but Elsa doesn’t reciprocate, and we implicitly understand why.

Does Elsa accept the negative aspects of her marriage, because she feels guilty and believes she deserves to be punished? Is her separation from Ralf a form of penance? I don’t know if I could be that specific, but sadly it wasn’t uncommon for women to accept physical abuse as a fact of life at that time (which is not to say we have resolved the problem now). Whenever we make choices, we weigh them up relative to our life experience. Elsa’s life with Theo isn’t the worst thing that has happened to her, and its great virtue is that it’s secure and predictable. She has never had that before – for me at least it becomes hard to judge her choice, even if we wish she could make the leap.

Unbeknownst to Ralf Elsa represents the root cause of why his life changed in such a drastic way. Does Elsa make a choice against Ralf because she believes the truth about her past would be an insurmountable hurdle between them? Yes, I think so. But more than that, in order to reveal her past to him, she would have to give him access to parts of herself that she hasn’t shared with anyone, including her husband and family, and it would make her vulnerable in a way she hasn’t been since she was a young girl hiding in a forest, muddy, shivering, terrified and alone. The war didn’t end when the last shots were fired. There was a whole generation of survivors whose lives were irrevocably scarred by what they saw and did, and they were out there, walking in the world, for the best part of the twentieth century. We’ll never know whether so many of them remained silent to protect themselves or to protect the rest of us.

One could argue that Elsa presents a certain coldness, a lack of emotion even, and one could suggest that her experiences in childhood, and as a very young woman, have defined her personality and the choices she makes. However that specific sense of survival and ability to detach herself from emotions was already evident at an early age. This information in combination with the actions of many Germans during the Nazi era begs the question whether Elsa really is the lovable enigma who has managed to enchant Ralf like a personal Mata Hari or is she a woman who is a ruthless survivor? In some sense Elsa is, if not the Nazi ideal, at least a Nietzschean ideal, a forceful, self-directed character. She can’t or won’t be absorbed into a group mentality, which exposes a fundamental contradiction in Nazi ideology: they simultaneously exult exceptional individuals and demand people subsume themselves to the herd. Are some people more valuable than others, or are we all interchangeable members of a group?

I did also really want this to be a story about love, and I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that love is one of the best answers to some of the questions posed in the book. But I wanted to resist this idea that’s very common in romance, that the underlying purpose of women’s behaviour can always be explained with reference to sex. Perhaps she is not stringing him along; perhaps it has nothing to do with him.

Thank you for answering all of my questions, even the odd ones! It was a pleasure – thank you for reading it with such care and attention. I think all writers dream of having careful readers!

Review

This read brings a sense of nostalgia with it and an aura of hidden emotions and unfulfilled desires. It is so much more than just a love story. It is about fractured identities and the trauma of war.

It is often hard for non-nomads or people who stay in one place their entire lives to understand what it is like to not feel as if you have a home or a country that feels like home. Being uprooted and becoming a displaced person can rock the very foundation of your existence.

I believe Elsa and Ralf share this feeling of not belonging and loss. Their home country and country of birth is their common denominator, despite their completely different paths in life.

Ralf doesn’t even feel at home in his surrogate country, and he also refuses to maintain a relationship with his mother. His landlord has become his family, a port of call in dire situations and France has become his safe haven.

Elsa is a survivor, albeit one from the other side of the battlefield. Her experiences have made her emotionally unresponsive, which is why she finds it hard to connect with her child and why she struggles to find a sense of peace in her life. It is also the reason she accepts certain negative aspects of her marriage including the occasional  bouts of violence.

I wonder if Elsa believes her guilt is something that would eventually come between them. A secret she can never reveal and perhaps never completely move on from.

Overall Elsa gives off a sense of detachment, a cold and hard face she presents to the world. It’s easy to forget her age at the time of her crimes and her complicity. Her trauma is no more than a footnote in history, although it is ultimately what steers and directs her sense of unhappiness.

In that sense the two of them share another bond in the form of very specific trauma. One could argue that his will always be greater because of the historical implications, however I would argue that trauma cannot be measured by what outsiders think.

France, like many other countries are often guilty of revisionism, especially when it comes to history. They like to forget and hide their guilt and crimes, and the part they played in some of the bloodiest and politically disruptive times in the twentieth century. They like to sweep a lot of uncomfortable truths under the carpet of national charm.

This is a love story taking place during some of those periods in time, so it isn’t just about two broken people finding a safe haven in each other, it is also about shining a light on the past. A past that is in danger of being repeated as we speak.

The author brings a maturity, insight and wisdom to the pages. He writes as if he has experienced decades of longing, pain and heartbreak. He is an author I will be revisiting. Oh and kudos to him for the Vélodrome d’Hiver part of the story. It’s a very significant and poignant part of history. A small moment in the book, but those are the ones that count.

Buy Let Us Be True at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Let Us Be True blog tour (1)

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

the womenWhen you compare how many books are written about the perpetrators of the Holocaust vs books on the brave people who tried to stop the face of evil. Well, the scales are rather imbalanced. Regardless of whether it would have changed the outcome of history or not, at least they tried. Against all odds, they tried.

Marianne thinks she needs to keep her promise to protect the women and children of her husband’s co-conspirators. That in itself is a noble thing to do, and she does in fact save Benita, Ania and their children in her own way, however Marianne can be very judgemental at the same time.

The pain, horror and difficulties of those considered to be the guilty party tend to be swept under the rug. After everything the people of Germany did, and their collaborators of course, why would anyone feel any pity towards them? The author gives the reader a flavour of some of those post-war difficulties. This doesn’t mean she excuses or shifts the blame, she just tries to remind us that in war there is a lot of collateral damage, and the lines between guilt and innocence are often very blurry.

Towards the end of the book there are conversations between Ania and her daughter Mary. They are reminiscent of conversations, questions and clarifications Jessica Shattuck had with her own grandmother about her past.( I loved my grandmother, but she was a Nazi) Shattuck has tried to align the image she has of her grandmother with that of her past as a member of the Nazi party.

Many scholars and historians have spoken of a collective criminality, responsibility and guilt when it comes to the Nazi era. Men and women, who under normal circumstances would never have committed crimes, are guilty of participating in and allowing the worst of atrocities.

No matter how hard Shattuck looks for an explanation there will never be a satisfactory answer. The majority of these men and women weren’t sociopaths, psychopaths or sadists. The majority of them were normal people in the midst of a mass movement of propaganda, patriotism and not so subtle brainwashing, who did condone and commit sadistic crimes. They looked the other way and chose to believe the truth of the concentration camps was merely Allied propaganda. It’s easier to ignore than to accept that you are part of the problem.

The one thing Shattuck can and should take away from all of her literary attempts to alleviate some genetic sense of guilt, is that the descendants are not to blame for the sins, mistakes or crimes of their ancestors.

The Women in the Castle is a well balanced read. It considers both sides of the coin, and most importantly the collaboration of both sides to attempt to rebuild lives after the war. Marianne, Ania and Benita are mothers and friends, there aren’t just women influenced and driven by the choices of their past.

It is tale of friendship, hardship and ultimately one of loyalty. Shattuck delivers the harsh reality of war in a direct and no nonsense way. There is no need for violins or overly dramatic scenes. The truth is sufficient. Definitely an author I will be revisiting again.

Buy The Women in the Castle at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

chilburyThis book sort of reads a wee bit like a TV series (home-front setting), with the reader discovering a little bit more about each character each week. It is a comfortable read, despite all the drama.

The trials and tribulations of the choir members become inconsequential when they get together and sing for Britain. Singing for Britain might seem like an exaggeration, however in times of war when the country is fighting to survive it probably feels as if they are.

There are a lot of different character story-lines connected via the occasional sing-song. The choir becomes the busy traffic junction for all the members. It is something consistent during a time of fear, worry and turbulence.

I think the author should have emphasized the choir more and the moments of pure harmony between the singers. Those few minutes of joy and happiness struggle to stay afloat in the sheer volume of sub-plots. It was a little disjointed, perhaps because it needed more focus on one boat in a sea of ships.

Buy The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @JenniferiRyan  or @HarperCollinsUK on Twitter.

Indecent by Ethan Brant

indecentBrant weaves the criminal element of the Yugoslav Wars into the story and life of his main character. Zlatan is recruited from inside a prison cell, but his so-called freedom has a high price.

He essentially becomes the lap-dog of the people who have freed him. They can demand his obedience at any time. To kill, to stalk and to destroy. He is their personal pawn.

Often it seems as if Zlatan is having a dialogue with the reader, almost as if he is asking their opinion or wanting their understanding.

In a way I believe it is him asking the audience/reader to be his conscience. Will we judge him for his violent crimes and complete lack of restraint? Do we understand the fact he has no choice?

Of course the truth is he does have a choice. Perhaps he enjoys the power, the violence and the lifestyle. In fact given the right circumstance he might even be at the top of the pyramid.

The author delves into the murky financial, political and personal motivation going on in the background of the Yugoslav Wars. At the forefront is the criminal underworld, the secret police and the criminals who played a pivotal role in the Wars.

What Brant needs to do is focus his energy a little more, give the plot more direction and give the characters more depth. There is a lot of potential, and the political and historical context is a minefield with plenty of avenue for exploration.

Buy Indecent at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Sweet Breath of Memory by Ariella Cohen

Today is my turn on the Blog-tour for Ariella Cohen’s debut adult novel Sweet Breath of Memory. It  is an interesting journey of grief, memories, guilt and friendship.

About the author

Ariella is a graduate of Columbia University, the Hebrew University and the University of Michigan Law School.  Although she makes her home in New England, her dream self resides in County Mayo, Ireland.

Sweet Breath of Memory is her debut novel and she’s hard at work on the sequel. Ariella believes in the healing power of cat purrs, champagne, Vivaldi and almond cookies.

To read more about Ariella Cohen go to ariellacohenauthor.wordpress.com

Follow @ariella_cohen or @Kensingtonbooks on Twitter

About the book

With its tree-lined streets, vibrant downtown and curbside planters of spring bulbs, Amberley, Massachusetts, seems a good place for Cate Saunders to start over. It’s been two years since her husband, John, was killed in Iraq and life has been a struggle. Her new job as a caregiver doesn’t pay much, but the locals are welcoming. In fact, Cate has barely unpacked before she’s drawn–reluctantly at first–into a circle of friends.

There’s diner-owner Gaby, who nourishes her customers’ spirits as well as their bodies; feisty Beatrice, who kept the town going when its men marched off to WWII; wise-cracking MaryLou, as formidable as Fort Knox but with the same heart of gold; and, Sheila, whose Italian grocery is the soul of the place. As Amberley reveals itself to be a town shaped by war, Cate encounters another kindred spirit–a Holocaust survivor with whom she feels a deep connection. When revelations about John’s death threaten Cate’s new-found peace of mind, these sisters-in-arms’ stories show her an unexpected way forward. And Cate comes to understand that although we suffer loss alone, we heal by sharing our most treasured memories.

Review

At the very heart of it this story is about friendship. Strong supportive relationships between women, regardless of their ages and backgrounds. They share bonds through pain, loss and tragedy.

The reader learns about their personal stories and how the bonds between them became so strong in the first place. The main character is welcomed into the folds of this unusual small town. Enveloped by the care, the concern, the questions and the emotions of all these close-knit women.

Cate has been fighting an inner battle of guilt and grief since the death of her husband. He died in combat, or so the powers that be say. She is convinced that there is something fishy about his death. Her own personal guilt about not being able to help him or be there for him when he needed her the most, is what fuels her quest for answers.

Cohen integrates quite a few historical, political and socio-economic issues of our era into the story. One of those is the blanket of silence over the deaths of soldiers in recent wars. Loved ones are looking for answers, and the way veterans and widows (ers) aren’t supported sufficiently after their service to their country is over.

Then there is Miriam’s story, which becomes the inspiration for Cate and her writing. The tragic tale of a war refugee, a Holocaust survivor and a woman who has lost everything. Cate starts finding single pages of a journal written by Miriam or rather the pages find her. The pages tell the tale of her tragic journey from the Lodz Ghetto all the way to Amberley. She describes the horror of war, of the Holocaust and of the death she managed to escape.

The underlying element and moral of  Cohen’s story is allowing ourselves to feel compassion for others. Learning to recognise how similar we are and yet how different our reactions are to grief, loss, anger and sorrow. An interesting read.

Buy Sweet Breath of Memory at AmazonUK, Waterstones or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.