I really wanted to like this one more. I just didn't feel the chemistry between the two main characters and the writing style started to get on my nerI really wanted to like this one more. I just didn't feel the chemistry between the two main characters and the writing style started to get on my nerves after a while - I'm all for dual pov but this felt like it switched between the two in all the wrong places and consequently there were gaps in character development, especially with Linda.
But it was clearly meticulously researched and the author balanced the many issues here really well. And the fact that so many people are reading and talking about this book is a wonderful thing. ...more
Although this book is set in 1934, I'm not going to put it in my Past on Paper feature because it just feels all wrong calling it historical fiction.Although this book is set in 1934, I'm not going to put it in my Past on Paper feature because it just feels all wrong calling it historical fiction. Even though it's historical and a work of fiction.Yes, the voice very much depends on this particular time period but (and there's massive clue in the title here) this is very much in the realms of the mysterious for me. It pays homage to both Agatha Christie and her ilk as well as classic boarding school stories but somehow manages to be something else entirely.
First admission: the crime element wasn't the page-turner I thought it was going to be. Maybe it was the 'school girl investigators' angle because this subsequently put a bit of distance between the main characters and the other players or just that the plot didn't unfold quickly enough for me. Not really sure, but the book made up for it in other ways...
The cover design and synopsis gave the impression of something light-hearted - apart from that whole murder thing - and even though the tone was upbeat, it surprised me with an underlying darkness, not to do with the murder (maybe partly to do with the murder *resists urges to say MURDER in Taggart-like fashion*) but with the relationship between Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, our two detectives. Hazel is the put-upon 'secretary' of their secret society who records everything in her casebook and describes the frustration and occasional upset the actions of her best friend cause. Daisy is definitely manipulative, possibly slightly sociopathic (can someone be slightly sociopathic?) but never boring. What kept me turning the pages was their 'friendship' - a very realistic depiction of how one personality can dominate another and it gave the book another dimension.
A good voice can make a book and here it never falters. Hazel is a very sympathetic character and the combination of her keen observation and naivety make her a great storyteller - I would have loved to hear more about her life in Hong Kong but hopefully this might be developed further on in the series. And even though this is Hazel's story, I hope Daisy and her background get featured in future adventures, especially after that little taster at the end...
Despite being the tiniest bit disappointed in the actual crime (although I applaud the clever resolution), this was a surprising mystery in more ways than you might think... ...more
Quick warning: the odd spoiler on the horizon folks...
That Burning SummerWith that amazing title and a synopsis that strongly hints of a secret wartiQuick warning: the odd spoiler on the horizon folks...
That Burning SummerWith that amazing title and a synopsis that strongly hints of a secret wartime love affair, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this book is an out-and-out romance. Ok, it is a bit of an out-and-out romance, but as much as I adored this particular relationship and the mammoth objects put in its path, the thing I took away was a different sort of fire - having the strength to cope with the day-to-day realities during some of the most difficult and tense events in history.
As with her previous book, Syson's writing takes a particular point and place in the past and opens it up in a way I don't think I've come across in YA before. All the research and attention to detail is evident, yet it never feels like you're sitting through a history lesson. Or maybe just like you're experiencing the best history lesson ever. This book not only sheds light on the contribution of Polish pilots to the war effort, but also the story of those who chose to stand by their pacifist principles in the face of overwhelming pressure and the ripple effects this had on their families. I was initially a bit apprehensive about the large part Peggy's younger brother Ernest appeared to be playing in the story ( just wanted to get to the kissing bits to be honest), but his journey and how this tallied with Henryk's experiences, ended up being my favourite part of the book. This is a tale about a different sort of war time bravery - of coping with overwhelming mental as well as physical hurdles as well as standing up for beliefs in the face of public opinion and convention. But with all the complex issues floating about, there is still a strong and powerful chemistry between Peggy and Henryk that was a joy to read. Some of the scenes actually made my page CRACKLE, I swear.
As with all the best historical fiction, this provides a new perspective on a period that has been depicted on paper many, many times before. It's a very welcome addition to the growing number of YA books set during this period that I've had the pleasure to read in the last couple of years. Not only does it make you think AND swoon, but there's also does a rather good sideline in suspense too. Oh, and the cover's ace as well. Seriously, what more could you want?
I've been thinking a little too much about how I approach this feature - am I going to focus more on their historical context or just how good the stoI've been thinking a little too much about how I approach this feature - am I going to focus more on their historical context or just how good the story is? Unless I have easy access to a time machine, I'm not really in a position to judge their historical accuracy. Is this even important when reviewing book? Surely whether or not it's a gripping read should matter the most. You might have already gathered that I'm still a bit undecided about all of this. Maybe I should just get on and review the book...
Well, I'm a bit late to the party on this one. Ten years late to be accurate. Jo told me to read it ages ago, but I'd been putting it of for some reason. This is always the way when I'm faced with an 'acclaimed' book - am I just setting myself up for inevitable disappointed? If I don't enjoy it as much as I feel I'm supposed to, does this mean I'm not getting it I'm being a bit thick? Or maybe I was just putting this one off because it has a bit of a boring cover. Probably a mixture of all of the above. God, I really need to stop asking all these questions and just get on with it.
I was definitely mulling over this a little too much, because it turns out there was no reason to worry whatsoever...
A Gathering LightSo here we are in the 1910s, in the US, in a place and period I know nothing about. The fact that whether I did or not is completely irrelevant is testament to just how fantastic this book is. With a historical novel, I think it can maybe go in one of two directions - building a story around a famous incident and having that dramatically impact on the characters and plot, or having the story just 'sitting' on its setting, absorbing attitudes and conventions of the time, but never being completely dictated by them. This book definitely falls into the latter camp - when we were introduced to Mattie and her surroundings, I was initially a bit wary that this was going to be overshadowed by ISSUES - attitudes towards women and race, for example - but it manages to explore these (which it should) without the brilliant central story getting lost at all. This is about Mattie and how she comes to make an important decision whilst being pulled in many different directions - a familiar YA set up and skillfully told with the perfect balance of plot, place, and prose. I was initially more intrigued by the real-life murder mystery element, but that's not what this book is about at all, rather it's used as a device to push Matt's story along and very beautifully it does it too.
The time shift method to a little while to get used to, but once all the pieces fall into place, this is an unusual, mind-blowing bit of story-telling. I highly recommend it whether you're after some cracking historical fiction or not....more
There are certain things that I don't, as a general rule, approve of in young adult fiction. One of those things is love triangles. I won't go into thThere are certain things that I don't, as a general rule, approve of in young adult fiction. One of those things is love triangles. I won't go into the old love triangle argument here, but I just tend not to find this situation realistic in the slightest and a lot of the time, it just doesn't create the tension the author may have intended. Another thing is insta-love. I wouldn't say that I'm negative about this as the love triangle, but it needs to be done very well indeed to convince my cynical and jaded self.
So went I read the blurb of this book, one of the things that sprung to mind was 'that sounds like a certain three-sided shape in romance form with a touch of love of the instant variety'. But it's all good. It didn't matter in the slightest. Because a few other things had caught my attention....
Back in the day, I somehow managed to come out of university with a politics degree (not that I have used it in my professional life whatsoever), and politics has always been something that has caught my attention, especially political history. When I started on this whole YA reading/writing business, I never expected to find the two interests crossed over in such a fascinating way. I mean, the Spanish Civil War isn't something that most folk, even a lot of politically, historically minded ones, know a great deal about. I remember writing an essay on it many moons ago, but ask me to recall any of the facts and I will stare at you blankly, pretend I didn't quite catch the question and offer you a brew and a biscuit to distract you.
So I was definitely intrigued by the premise. And the cover. Did I mention the cover?
Seriously, I can't take my eyes off it. It's magnificent.
Anyway, back to the contents...
When a story is split three ways, so much relies on making each character engaging in so fewer words. And Ms. Syson more than nails Felix, Nat and George. Sometimes in this situation, I find myself wishing a particular character would hurry up and move the story along so I can get back to my favourite, but this never happened here. Although, I have to say I found George the most compelling, in the sense that this sort of nice-guy character is usually so one-dimensional in most stories, but here he was given another side to his character, one that didn't involve moping after the girl he is never destined to be with (or is he?)
And Nat and Felix - I can completely forgive the insta-love thing when the chemistry is this good. The tension between them and within the story is just fantastic. Wobbly knees a-plenty.
Like a few historical YA books I've read recently, the quality of the prose is first class. On key political events like war, it doesn't pull any punches, with every smell, sound, every horror right their on the page, unflinching. And like, in war, we're are reminded that not everything is cut and dried as reality begins to dawn on these characters.
If this was a book aimed at adults, I imagine it might be a sweeping epic romance, the size of which might act as an effective doorstop. And when I was about two-thirds of the way through, I was getting a bit annoyed because I wanted it to be longer - I wasn't ready to say goodbye yet. But on finishing, I was converted - this is the perfect length, and all the more skilled because so much emotion and action is within fewer pages.
I know historical YA fiction isn't for everyone, and if you're after a more light-hearted read, then maybe give this one a miss. But if you want and intense, beautiful book that will make you physically melt whilst reading it, then look no further. This might have actually inspired me to pick up my Southern-European history book that's been languishing on the bottom shelf for far too long... ...more
Well, this one's going to be a bit tricky to write. and not because I hated, or I loved it. But possibly both. At the same time. All at once. Let me eWell, this one's going to be a bit tricky to write. and not because I hated, or I loved it. But possibly both. At the same time. All at once. Let me explain....
When I first read about this one, well, to say I was intrigued was an understatement. Code Name Verity had given me an appetite for some more exquisitely written twentieth century historical YA fiction and the political angle of this one got my attention, being in the possession of a politics degree myself (although I have never actually used it from the moment I graduated).
Let's start with the positives - the writing. It was superb. It was funny. I spent the first half of the novel highlighting at least a paragraph a page. It made me want to eat my Kindle it was so damn good.
Nostalgics believe that the past is nicer than the present. It isn't. Or wasn't. Nostalgics want to cuddle the past like a puppy. But the past has bloody teeth and bad breath. I look into it's mouth like a sorrowing dentist.
The first third builds up a picture of Clem's family history in intricate and personal detail, going back to his great-grandparents. Each member is so brilliantly captured, especially his grandmother Win and father George, and it felt like a privilege to read such fantastically-written characters.
However... as wonderful as this prose was, when it was getting close to the middle of the book and I still knew very little about our protangonist, my mind started to wonder where the hell this was going exactly. The whole family history thing reminded me of Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, but whereas that was like a jigsaw slotting into place as the book went on, this felt like the author was giving us all this background information just because he could. As gorgeous as it was, I just wanted it to have more of a purpose.
My mixed feelings continued when it came to the whole concept of the novel. I loved the idea of this - one of the key events in twentieth century history having an indirect influence on one of the key events in the life of a seventeen year old boy in a remote part of Norfolk. And I really, really wanted it to work. And it sort of did, but, well, it would have been and much more enjoyable read if there was slightly less history and slightly more Clem and Frankie. Every time we got to one of those key moments in Clem's love life, it was abandoned and we're back with JFK for another two chapters. Although I enjoyed the way he made major political figures characters in this story (especially JFK with his randiness and his ailments), it was felt overdone, clunky and forced a lot of the time. What could have been a way of making history more fascinating may well have become, I fear, even more of a turn-off to those who aren't already fascinated with it.
The other thing I was never quite sure of was Clem. We learn so much about those around him, yet I finished the book feeling I didn't know that much more about our narrator than a the start (or more accurately, the middle or thereabouts when Clem finally became a character). His voice didn't half tell a great story, but the overriding impression I got of him was just a boy who was desperate to get his first shag. And that's about it. And I wish we'd got more of Frankie into the story. I learned so much about her from just one sentence (not all of it good, mind), and I would have loved to see more of her character that wasn't only to do with her relationship with Clem.
Despite my criticisms, I would still very much recommend you read this - it's original, beautifully written and doesn't patronise the reader - like with the best YA, I can imagine people of all ages enjoying this (ok, maybe not ALL ages). I just wanted all the elements to gel together more seamlessly and to care just a little bit more about the story and the person telling it.
But it also serves as a very important reminder of a period of history that could well have been the darkest of them all, and for that it must be applauded. ...more
A young, British spy has been captured and imprisoned in a German occupied chateau, nearing the end of the Second World War. She has accepted her fateA young, British spy has been captured and imprisoned in a German occupied chateau, nearing the end of the Second World War. She has accepted her fate but in order to endure her ordeal, she agrees to write down everything she knows for the next two weeks. Every code, every detail of the Allied war effort and every last memory of her friendship with Maddie Brodatt, an ATA Pilot enlisted for RAF 'Special Duties'. And so begins a story of a short, intense friendship where nothing is what it seems.
'"Fraulein Engel, you are not a student of literature', he said. "The English Flight Officer has studied the craft of the novel. She is making use of suspense and foreshadowing."'
ISN'T SHE JUST?
How on earth do I go about reviewing this book? First off, let me explain to you exactly why writing this is going to be especially difficult -
1) As any reviewer and blogger knows, when you finish a book that you love, you can only write READ THIS BOOK in so many ways, which doesn't make particularly interesting or informative reading. It becomes impossible to put down exactly HOW MUCH you love this book and no matter what you write, it can never do it justice.
2) How can I go about writing a review when, if you try and mention anything that happens past the first couple of chapters, you will henceforth be known as a PERSON WHO STEALS ENJOYMENT AND RUINS THE MAGICAL READING OF THE MAGICAL BOOK?
3) There's just so much going on here. So much...where do I begin??? Maybe I'll just go for a little lie down....
No, I must stay strong, MUST WRITE REVIEW.
By the way, this book was made for the CAPS LOCK, if you hadn't already worked that one out. Ok, I'll ease of the caps from now on. Well, try to, at any rate... So, here goes...
First off, lets talk about the writing. The sophisticated style here got me thinking about the nature of YA and that whole big question about what constitutes YA. If you could ever pigeon-hole a 'crossover' book, this would be it. The voice here is impeccable, the plotting so intelligent and intricate, so much more so than plenty of adult fiction that I've read, yet I would never, ever, in a million years, say it would go over the head of any teenager. It is just simply a bloody good story, rammed full of suspense, drama and emotion, written by a master. It's that simple. So forget putting a label on it. Unless that label reads, THIS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND, or a similar sentiment.
Now let's talk about the whole historical fiction thing. If your brain recoils at the words 'historical fiction', I beg of you to still give this one a go. Yes, it is set in Second World War, and yes, the historical events shape the story, but, and I think this of any genre, if the writing is compelling and the story is well told, does it really matter when it is set? The thing I adored about the war setting is that it was never in the background - this was a story about people, first and foremost, but the horrors of warfare are never shied away from, and the very real fear is always at the forefront of the characters minds.
Which brings us onto the characters. Without giving too much away, the voice hear is blindingly good. On the first page, we get a measure of the character, her intelligence, her sense of humour, her turn of phrase. All the supporting characters are fully formed, three dimensional, living, breathing people. Which makes the whole thing oh so more devastating.
"I am in the Special Operations Executive because I can speak French and German and am good at making up stories, and I am a prisoner in the Ormaie Gestapo HQ because I have no sense of direction whatsoever."
I have mentioned the plot a few times. There was one point, nearly halfway through, when I thought I had the whole thing sussed and probably had a really annoying smug expression plastered across my face. Of course, I was about as far off the mark as it was possible to be. In most books, for there to be this many tiny little red herrings, well, it would become very annoying, very quickly. But here, they are so subtle, so skilfully placed, I was left gawping in wonder by the end. That is, gawping in wonder with tears streaming down my face. I just read the last line again before I started writing this, and even thinking about it now, well, I'm getting the snuffles, so I'll finish up.
First and foremost, this is a story about friendship and how it strengthens in times of hardship, how it shapes us and leaves lasting imprints. And that's all I'm going to say about this, for fear of leaking salty tears all over my keyboard.
So, this is a book for those who like mysteries, emotion, historical fiction, suspense, drama, humour, a fleeting touch of romance... I could go on... heck, it's a book for people who love books. And I'm sure you will love it as much as I did....more