Lovely War – not so lovely!

lovely2
Author: Julie Berry
Publisher: Viking

I’d seen a lot of reviews for this book before I read it and I thought it would be a perfect read for me – an impressive mix of mythology, historical fiction and romance. I have to admit, though, that the majority of the book left me cold, it wasn’t until the last third that I became interested. Once again, I find myself at odds with most reviewers who loved the book. I liked this book, but I didn’t find it captivated me like I think a book of this magnitude should do.  I found it slightly dull, particularly the interaction of the characters with each other. I thought Berry’s writing lacked humour and it was all so so.

I do applaud Berry for her meticulously researched book that spans two wars and two worlds. The majority of the action revolves around four young people finding love, experiencing loss and discovering themselves during World War I, but the principal story is set during World War II – a romantic triangle between three Greek Gods: Aphrodite, the goddess of love; her husband, Hephaestus, the god of fire and Ares, the god of war.

I will admit that Berry manages to weave these two storylines together magnificently. She is quite a competent writer, but it lacks humour, charm and that something that makes you want to keep on reading and for the story to never end. Personally, I found the book quite tedious at times and there were many times that I consider not actually finishing the book. To be quite honest, I couldn’t wait for the book to end!

I did read from many reviewers that they were amused and delighted by the Immortals’ snarky comments and constant competition with one another. Though I was left bored and I didn’t find the storyline amusing.

Berry begins her story in a Manhattan hotel on the eve of World War II, Aphrodite and Ares have been caught together by Hephaestus – Aphrodite’s husband and Ares’ brother. Hephaestus gives Aphrodite a chance to explain herself and so she begins to weave an elaborate tale of mortal love during wartime.

Moving between the present and the past, the goddess’ narrative centres on Aubrey, an African-American musician, Colette, a Belgian singer; Hazel, a naïve British pianist; and her beau, James, a hopeful architect who are all brought together by fate during the First World War.

The resulting story told by Berry is visually beautiful and historically accurate. By having an African-American character, Berry can highlight the racism that occurred during this time and this gives the book a point of difference.

So what kept me reading besides my stubbornness to finish. Berry does write beautifully. Her sharp eye for detail is quite compelling. I found myself lost in her writing of places such as London and Paris. She captures the beauty and makes you wish it was you walking the cobblestone streets of Paris. She also depicted the French front remarkably well – the nightmare that those young soldiers went through and she makes you wonder how so many of them were able to come home to a relatively normal life after all that they had experienced and witnessed.

The first casualty of war is the truth.

The characters are beautifully written and quite authentic, but I didn’t find that they kept my attention. I found the conversations between the characters quite mind-numbing and I wanted more. I wanted to feel their vibrancy, their youth, their humour and their originality. I also wanted to be enchanted by the Gods, particularly Aphrodite. I did like the take that Berry took on Hades, God of the Dead and the Underworld; I thought that she showed an interesting side to this god and his story was one that did have me quite interested.

Many have said that this is an unforgettable romance, I disagree. The writing of the places is beautiful – Berry has a way of transporting you to another place and this is a gift, but I didn’t find the characters memorable and I didn’t feel invested in any of the characters. I read that this novel will make you laugh, cry and swoon, but I didn’t feel any of these emotions when reading Lovely War.

But in saying all of that, this is one book that I will keep because it is so sumptuously beautiful.

Heart, Love, Romance, Valentine, Harmony

A Great Escape – the real people behind The Berlin Wall

Image result for a great escape felice arena

Author: Felice Arena
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

A Great Escape by Felice Arena is another middle-grade reader. Usually, I don’t write reviews for middle-grade readers, or if I do, it is for the boys at my school and not for the general public. I have always found middle-grade readers to be quite tedious and not great reads. In the past few years, though, that has changed dramatically and I now find myself reading middle-grade readers and thoroughly enjoying them.

The last middle-grade book I read was A Great Escape by Felice Arena. I liked this book – A LOT! I enjoyed Arena’s last book Fearless Frederic, but  A Great Escape will push you as a reader. I love that Arena takes a decisive point in history and makes it accessible for younger readers. It is so hard to explain the Cold War and particularly The Berlin War to primary aged children, but this book succeeds in doing this.

Peter’s father works in West Berlin, but Peter and his family live in East Berlin with his grandparents. His parents have decided that the whole family (including his grandparents) will move to West Berlin to live. Peter is meant to go with his mother and sister for the day to look at accommodation in West Berlin. Peter is playing with his friends and his mother leaves him behind in frustration and goes to West Berlin with her daughter – thinking that she will be only gone for the day. It is this moment in time that will change Peter’s family’s whole life.

In just one day the border becomes impassable. A temporary barbed wire fence is constructed and is guarded by soldiers. The barrier is impenetrable. Suddenly Peter is in East Berlin with his grandparents and his parents and sister are in West Berlin.

Of course, Peter becomes determined that he will make it across the wall and starts to plan his escape. In his planning and attempts, he witnesses many disconcerting scenes of escapes that are unsuccessful. Peter soon realises that escaping will not be quite as simple as he thought it would be and an unsuccessful attempt will either end in death or imprisonment.  Not only does Peter witness unsuccessful attempts, but he also witnesses and hears of successful efforts.

A Great Escape has all the elements of a novel that boys will love – historical facts, daring ingenuity and a likeable protagonist.

I have to admit that this book stayed with me for a long time after I read it because even though I knew about The Berlin Wall and I studied it at school and university. I only knew the facts. I knew the politics behind the wall. I never knew that for twenty-eight years families and couples were separated. So many people were separated from the ones they loved. There were real people like Peter and his little sister who were separated for twenty-eight years. One day, like so many others, couples kissed each other goodbye for the day – one went off to work in West Berlin and the other stayed in East Berlin and then a wall was put in place and that couple were separated. I wondered how the reunions were after twenty-eight years. I wondered how a young boy like Peter grew up. I wondered how his sister grew up. The conditions in  East Berlin deteriorated as the years passed. Was their resentment after the initial joy?

Felice Arena has captured a time in history that should not be forgotten but more than that he has taken facts and created a gripping and emotional narrative. He gives us a story that is so much more powerful than the facts.

I would recommend this book because it opens young people up to a pivotal point in history — a time that should not be forgotten and a reminder that building walls are not a solution.

Berlin, Berlin Wall, Graffiti, Germany, Mural

Liberty

liberty-cover_final

Author: Nikki McWatters

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Liberty is a magnificent book about three women who lived in three different centuries but who were all fighting for the same reason – their freedom.

Firstly, we are introduced to Jeanne, a teenage girl living in 1472, France. Jeanne is from a poor, disgraced family – her father is known as Matthew, the Coward. Due to her family’s lack of circumstances, Jeanne is forced into an arranged marriage. At the same time that Jeanne is dealing with the fact that she can’t marry the man she loves, war is coming to her beloved town of Beauvais. The townspeople have elected to fight their enemy, even though their numbers are low and they are not suitably equipped to fight.

In 1797 Ireland, Betsy is living in her much-loved Ireland and has joined the rebel army along with her brother and best friend to free Ireland from English rule. Betsy and the rebel army want Ireland to be liberated and they want to live lives free from oppression.

Our final story is told from Fiona’s perspective. The year is 1968 and Fiona is heading off to university for her first year as a law student. During this time, Fiona’s brother receives his draft notice and suddenly Fiona begins to take more notice of the anti-Vietnam protests that are occurring around her.

What I particularly loved about this book was that though each story is fiction, they are based on real events that happened in history. Jeanne and Betsy are both real women from our past and I’ve no doubt that there was a real-life Fiona who was grappling with what was happening in 1968 and wondering how she could make a difference.

It is evident that McWatters has done extensive research for this book. Each story is distinct. The sense of the period in each story is unmistakable. Each story unfolds in alternate chapters and there is never any confusion of which story is being told – each young woman is distinct and each story is captivating.

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Betsy. At the beginning of Betsy’s story, she is spirited, young and a little naive. Being so young Betsy is idealistic and sees that England occupying her treasured Ireland is wrong. By the end of Betsy’s story, she is still young, but she considers life with more matured eyes. Betsy has fought a battle and that battle has made her wiser and stronger. Betsy has been through a war and she now knows the exact price of war, but still, her spirit and resolve remains strong. McWatters is a master writer because since finishing this book, Betsy has never been far from my thoughts.

Being a student of history, I know that rarely is history told through the eyes of females and so this book by McWatters is quite remarkable.  I love that McWatters sheds light on two brilliant young women from history who fought for what they believed. I loved that McWatters showed that women were making a difference. I also loved that McWatters showed men and women working together to make a difference. Jeanne, Betsy and Fiona all had strong and supportive men in their lives. These men knew what these women were capable of and they wanted to help these women reach their potential. The men in these women’s lives were in awe of these strong, independent and spirited women. I loved that these were stories of women empowering women but also of strong, decent men empowering women.

Liberty is a brilliant book for women and men. I hope that young men read this book and are just as inspired as the young women readers.  If you love politics, this is the book for you. If you love history, this is the book for you. If you love great storytelling, this is the book for you.

Thank you, Nikki Mc Watters, for giving us a book that resonates long after you have finished reading.

liberty3