Louise’s War ~Sarah R. Shaber

Louises WarISBN ~ 9780727880406
Publisher ~ Severn House Publishers
No. Of Pages ~208 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books

The first in a new series from the author of the ‘Simon Shaw’ books – 1942. Louise Pearlie, a young widow, has come to Washington DC to work as a clerk for the legendary OSS, the precursor to the CIA. When, while filing, she discovers a document concerning the husband of a college friend, Rachel Bloch, – a young French Jewish woman she is desperately worried about – Louise realizes she may be able to help get Rachel out of Vichy France. But then a colleague whose help Louise has enlisted is murdered, and she realizes she is on her own, unable to trust anyone . . .

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first time I have read a book by this Author, and I was pulled to it by the subject matter; I have read many books about the SOE and their operatives, I was interested to read about the American equivalent, OSS.

I was initially disappointed by the fact that this was not an OSS book, but rather a novel that revolved around the life and experiences of the title character who worked for the OSS.  Very much like the real women in the book The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, the main protagonist was firm in her belief that any little she could do would help win the war.  Despite not being a war widow, she has taken full advantage of the war to expand her horizons and make a new life for herself.  The whole story is told from her point of view and, despite living in a boarding house full of other war workers in DC, it also manages to highlight the mistrust that so easily arose from the slightest thing, and how everyone had secrets.  Apart from the main character, those others mentioned in the book were not given as in-depth a back-story, and even in this I felt there was something in Louise’s story that the Author was holding back, or has not quite decided on making a part of her character yet.

I particularly liked the descriptions of live in the capitol during the war years, and had a wry smile at the mention of rationing in a country that was capable of producing food for themselves.  It is apparent that the Author has meticulously researched this book as it covers things from victory gardening to the insufferable heat that was documented for 1942, and how the inhabitants of Washington DC coped with it.  This book actually became quite sluggish in part (maybe a reflection of the hot summer), but it left me feeling that the pace of the action could have been picked up to add to the flow and tension of the book.

I would recommend this book to any reader looking for a quick but enjoyable read on a rainy day; I read it in one sitting.  I will be reading others in this series as the fate of Louise and the OSS has me curious.

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Review: Skippy Dies ~ Paul Murray

skippy diesISBN ~ 978-0141009957
Publisher ~Penguin Books Ltd
No. Of Pages ~660 pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school.  Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the frisbee-playing siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. . . A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first book I’ve read written by this Author and, I’ll say this upfront, I’ll probably be hunting down some more of his books to read.

The whole book is centred on a group of teenage boys, one of whom dies within the first few pages.  However, this is not the last we read about this character as the book covers events leading up to the moment of his death.  Teenage boys are a totally different species to any walking the earth and the Author manages to catch their peculiarities perfectly in his character building.  He covers all those one would meet at a boarding school from the bookish to priests to parents, bullies and beyond; he then brings them to life and throws them into a story that grabs the reader from the very first.  The Author is able to capture their adolescent humour, their obvious obsession with anything remotely female (this being an all boy’s school) and set it down in a way that appeals to all readers.  Each of the characters is written skilfully, pulling on the different personality and traits that can be found in a variety of guises in this age group.  As a parent myself I remember my own son going through his teenage years and I picked him out of the crowd with no difficulty, along with a bevy of his ‘associates’.  The Author has managed to capture the classroom antics, attitude towards the teachers and classmate banter so well that there is no character that stands out from the others as the main protagonist; not even ‘Skippy’

This is by no means a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type book, and I would defy anyone not to be caught up in the humour of everything in this easy read.  Despite there being a huge number of characters, major themes and plot points the Author is able to juggle them all seamlessly and well.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a light and humourous read.

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The Great Unread

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This is an interesting article that made me wonder why some of our newer ‘classics’ tend to be reread whilst others are cast into obscurity

The Great Unread.

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Review: Hickies, a Novella, and Four Short Stories ~ Jerry DePyper

HickiesISBN ~ 978-1470006778
Publisher ~ Createspace
No. Of Pages ~ 172 pages
Links ~ eBay, Amazon, Bokus

Human clones will soon be living among us. Ever wonder what that might be like? Will they look and act like everyone else, or will there be something missing, some barely noticeable oddity?

At some point in the future, you might find yourself working or studying right next to a cloned human, and not even know it. Until something bizarre happens. For all you know, your best friend or the one you live with might be a clone. Who knows? You might be a clone yourself.

This may sound like science fiction, but the mood of Hickies is more philosophical than high-tech or scientific. The futuristic theme becomes a mere stage upon which to explore the depths of the human psyche and soul, and to inquire into what it means to be human.

In this volume, the fictional work Hickies is complemented by four other short stories, all by the same author, and all of which may be represented as one layman’s ruminations and as simple forays into the fields of psychology and moral theology.

4 Thumbs-UpThis novella disturbed me in some very uncomfortable ways, it made me examine whether there is a possibility that, regardless of race or species, history could very well have a habit of repeating itself.  If the thought of the ghettos and labour camps of World War II make you uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you; regardless of that there is one thing this book will make you do, and that is think deeply about the world we now live in and the relationship between religion and science.

At first I was a little bothered by the fact that the characters had no real depth and substance to them, but as I continued reading I realised that this omission may very well have been a deliberate act on the part of the Author.  So little is known about the personality, traits and general reality of human cloning that by omitting any of the things that go into making us what we are the Author adds to their topic very nicely, and this leads to more questions being asked of themselves by the reader; How would I react?  Would I support them in my Community?

The downside to this novella for me, and the reason it didn’t get the five thumbs it may have, were one, the typos I came across which should have been easily picked up by a competent proof-reader and two, the novella becoming very religion based and preachy towards the end.  Rather than continuing the possible reasons behind what it means to be human, I felt that the Author was telling me that if I did not have religion in my life it was pretty much not a life.  I am not sure if the Author let their personal feelings on this subject enter the book but, for me, it felt as if the novella suddenly turned into a recruiting tool for the Catholic Church.  However, this did not make me miss the connection between the plight of the clones and the aid from the Church and those same connections that were made between Church and the Jews in WWII; this was not the only comparison to be found, and to reveal others would spoil the book for future readers.  Apart from the two points mentioned I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and finished it in a single day due to its engrossing nature.

I would highly recommend this novella, and the accompanying short stories which I have not reviewed here, to anyone is interested in psychology, philosophy and science or anyone looking for a good read that is not going to take days to complete; it would also make a good addition to any book club reading list due to the discussions it could foster.  I will definitely be reading more from this Author as I am interested to see how their style and technique develop as they become more proficient.

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Review: The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust ~ Edith Hahn Beer, Susan Dworkin

Nazi officers wifeISBN ~ 978-0349113791
Publisher ~  Abacus
No. Of Pages ~ 305 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harper Collins

Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman studying law in Vienna when the Gestapo forced Edith and her mother into a ghetto, issuing them papers branded with a “J.” Soon, Edith was taken away to a labor camp, and though she convinced Nazi officials to spare her mother, when she returned home, her mother had been deported. Knowing she would become a hunted woman, Edith tore the yellow star from her clothing and went underground, scavenging for food and searching each night for a safe place to sleep. Her boyfriend, Pepi, proved too terrified to help her, but a Christian friend was not: With the woman’s identity papers in hand, Edith fled to Munich. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi party member who fell in love with her. And despite her protests and even her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity secret.

In vivid, wrenching detail, Edith recalls a life of constant, almost paralyzing fear. She tells of German officials who casually questioned the lineage of her parents; of how, when giving birth to her daughter, she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal her past; and of how, after her husband was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia, Edith was bombed out of her house and had to hide in a closet with her daughter while drunken Russians soldiers raped women on the street.

Yet despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith Hahn created a remarkable collective record of survival: She saved every set of real and falsified papers, letters she received from her lost love, Pepi, and photographs she managed to take inside labor camps.

On exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., these hundreds of documents form the fabric of an epic story – complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.

3 Thumbs-UpI always feel that when reading about this period of our history, the Holocaust and its accompanying literature should be taken in small pieces due to its intensity and the emotions it can bring out in the reader.  This is one small piece that was worth reading but it wasn’t as mind-blowing as other true accounts I have read.  I actually feel a little guilt at only giving 3 thumbs to a book written about a holocaust survivor, as each survival story is remarkable in and of itself, but this book didn’t capture me in the way others have, and I found the Author really hard to connect with.

With that said, this book opened my eyes to a part of the Holocaust I had heard of, but never really read anything about; the story of a Jew in Nazi Germany living as a non-Jew, or as they were known a ‘U-boat’.  This book gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘living with the enemy’.  I was totally immersed in the paperwork and rationing involved in Germany at this time, and along with the presence of mind required by the Author to remember who she was at any given moment, and to keep her cool when questioned I found myself pulled more into the era and life then, than I was towards the Author herself.

The evidence of how the Author had to harden her emotions to everyday events, something that she still carries with her today, was apparent in the way in which this book was written.  Events were put on the page in a very matter of fact manner and with very little emotion, this also spilled over to others mentioned in the book, as they came across as one-dimensional and with little to no depth.  This made it very hard to figure out their personalities and the motivation behind their actions; but maybe I was looking for too much in what is an account of an extraordinary life.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Holocaust fiction as they might find a viewpoint on this period they had not read before.

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Reading Challenges ~ Love them or Hate them?

So we are at the beginning of a whole new year and, as is their usual practice, Goodreads are encouraging users to join their Reading Challenge.  As much as I like reading challenges, this one is beginning to feel a little stale, so I started looking for something that would be more of a challenge while at the same time opening me up to new reading experiences.  Scouring the internet I came across the challenge below that I thought I would share with you, and hopefully inspire you to open up to new reading experiences as we progress through this year.  I know that reading a book from the second category on the list is really going to be a challenge for me!
reading challenge

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Let children read the books they love ~ Neil Gaiman

I read this article in 2013 in The Guardian newspaper, it was written by Mark Brown their Arts Correspondent, and thought that it would be an interesting read to get this year off to a start.  Enjoy.

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Neil Gaiman believes well-meaning adults can destroy a child’s love of reading by giving them ‘worthy-but-dull books’.

Children should be allowed to read whatever they enjoy, the author Neil Gaiman has said as he warned that well-meaning adults could destroy a child’s love of reading for ever.

Gaiman was delivering a lecture on Monday night about the future of books, reading and libraries to an audience of arts and literary figures. In a wide-ranging speech he said the rise of ebooks did not mean the end for physical books and made an impassioned plea to stop library closures.
Gaiman, who has written books for children and adults, warned of the dangers of trying to dictate what children read at the second annual Reading Agency lecture, inaugurated last year by Jeanette Winterson.

He said: “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” Every now and again there was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. “It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.”

He added: “Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading. Stop them reading what they enjoy or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like – the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature – you’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

Gaiman revealed that he too had been guilty, once telling his 11-year-old daughter that if she loved Stine’s horror books, she would absolutely adore Stephen King’s Carrie: “Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years and still glares at me when Stephen King’s name is mentioned.”

Gaiman said physical books were here to stay. He recalled a conversation with Douglas Adams more than 20 years ago in which Adams said a real book was like a shark. “Sharks are old, there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs and the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar operated, feel good in your hand – they are good at being books and there will always be a place for them.

Earlier Gaiman said most of the publishing industry was trying to figure out what is going to happen in five or 10 years. “None of them know. All of the rules have changed … they are just making it up as they go along.”

Gaiman said reading fiction was one of the most important things people can do and he was passionate in his defence of libraries, the closure of which was stealing from the future, he said. “It is the equivalent of stopping vaccination programmes. We know what the results are. In order to remain a global power, in order to have a citizenry that is fulfilled and fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations, we need to have literate kids.”

Mark Brown

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