Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Review of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire
Rose Under Fire
by Elizabeth Wein

Published: September 10, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: ARC from publisher

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

 

mythoughtsGiven my absolute, totally consuming love for Elizabeth Wein’s other novel (Code Name Verity) it would be an understatement to say that I was excited for Rose Under Fire. Unfortunately I didn’t feel the same love for RUF that I did for CNV. I still thought the book was amazing, but it didn’t quite live up to CNV.

I absolutely love Wein’s writing style, how everything may seem a little disjointed at first but as you keep reading things just come together. She tends to throw you right in this other world and you have to do the figuring out of who’s who and what’s going on. Her writing isn’t fancy and buttoned up, it’s raw and emotional and in the moment.

The characters always play a major role in Wein’s books it seems, and the characters in RUF did not disappoint. I love the friendship that was built up under awful circumstances, and everything they had to do for each other just to survive. It was intense and again, in the moment. But it was also witty and funny and sarcastic, just like friendships are. As for the plot, it drew me in from the beginning. I can’t say that will happen with everyone, I’m just a huge reader of everything WW2. Although, I couldn’t help but compare the plot, the characters, everything, to Code Name Verity. They just seemed so similar… both set in World War 2, both focusing on friendships. And while I love every aspect of these books, and they definitely differ in many ways, I couldn’t help but feel like I was just reading a modified version of Code Name Verity. And for me, CNV was better. The emotion in CNV was so overpowering and consuming, but in RUF, while it was still emotional, I barely shed a tear (and I was bawling when reading Code Name Verity). I know it’s wrong to compare these books because they are separate works and should be seen that way, but when you write two books with this many similarities, I think you have to realize that it’s impossible not to compare them.

I think that if I hadn’t read CNV and just went into RUF not knowing what to expect, I would have loved it a lot more. But the fact that I was comparing both books made me more critical and CNV just did not fully live up to my expectations.

Overall, I did love this book. I completely recommend it if you’re into historical fiction like I am, because it’s really great. Elizabeth Wein writes books you want to savour and read slowly so that you can absorb every last detail, and if you haven’t read one of her books yet, you need to do that ASAP (but I recommend Code Name Verity to start).

PS. I’m sorry this review is so awkwardly written, and I’m sorry I haven’t posted in  so long. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen to this blog but that’s another post. For now I’m just trying to push forward. Baby steps is becoming my motto.

5 birds

Absolutely adore this book! Would fight dozens of flocks of crazed birds to read it!

Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published March 14th, 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
550 pages

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery….Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever they are to be found.With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.(Goodreads)

mythoughts2I have absolutely no clue what to write about this book. I cannot, in any way, do justice to this book by just writing down some words for you to read. But I guess that’s kind of my job as a book reviewer, right? To write a review that tells you just how I felt about this book? Yeah. And now I’m right back where I started, still with nothing to say. So I’m going to change things up a little. I’m going to write this review with the help of quotes from this book. A lot of them, probably. But don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers. Here we go.

This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love to read.

“It’s a small story really, about, among other things:

* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery”

That it is. This book starts out on a train making its way through a desolate stretch of land somewhere in Germany. Liesel is the main character, a young girl being taken to live with new parents, as her mother can no longer take care of her. Liesel’s first encounter with Death happens to be on that train. And Death, in fact, is the narrator of this story.

We all imagine Death to be a dark, gloomy figure, probably holding a scythe and wearing a cloak. As it turns out, that’s not Death at all.

“A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” 


The story, although told by Death, mainly focuses on our main character Liesel as she grows up in her new life on Himmel Street. Her Mama, though constantly cursing, is a loveable character. She’s always calling Liesel a bad name, but she has a heart of gold. And Liesel’s new friend Rudy is the perfect companion for stealing fruit from farmers and playing soccer on the street. I really loved Rudy; he was a character so endearing that there’s no way not to love him. But it’s Liesel’s Papa that I came to love most. He’s a painter by day, an accordionist by night.

“Many times, she wanted to ask her papa if he might teach her to play, but somehow, something always stopped her. Perhaps an unknown intuition told her that she would never be able to play it like Hans Hubermann. Surely, not even the world’s greatest accordionists could compare. They could never be equal to the casual concentration on Papa’s face. Or there wouldn’t be a paintwork-traded cigarette slouched on the player’s lips. And they could never make a small mistake with a three-note laugh of hindsight. Not the way he could.”

Most importantly though, Papa is the one who teaches Liesel to read, fueling her career as the Book Thief. Liesel doesn’t have the luxury of going out and buying book after book, but she’s determined to keep reading. Thus, the book thievery begins. It’s almost as if all the other aspects of the story, NAZIs and street soccer and bomb shelters, are interwoven and tied together, and in the middle of the whole thing is just one thread – books. In so many ways, the novel could simply be about Liesel becoming the Book Thief. But it’s not – it’s much, much more than that. This story breaks through the limits of paper and ink and becomes something greater, something alive and breathing and wonderful.

A story told by Death is much different than one told by a human. Death observes humans, offers us an outside view, and provides us with a perspective that no human can offer. And Death being Death, he (or she) has a lot of opportunities to witness the lives of humans.

“A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”

The Book Thief is not made to be horribly dark and gloomy. It’s simply a story of life and death, of suffering and happiness. Everything about this book, from the quiet thoughts of Liesel to the elegant and tragic writing, is what makes it so stunning. The writing is so poetic and graceful but at the same time so sharp and blunt. Zusak uses words like tools, cutting and chiseling and crafting the story into something so completely mind blowing that after reading it you just need to step back, to breathe.

It’s not just about the characters or the writing or the plot. It’s about the emotion pulsing through this book, the way it takes hold of you and grips your heart so tightly. It’s about everything in this story coming together to create a masterpiece, a timeless classic that I hope will never stop being read.

So that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Just remember that this book is a thousand times better than I could describe it, and that to truly understand this heart-wrenching, unforgettable story, you need to read it for yourself. I’ve no more words left for you, just one last quote from the Book Thief herself:

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

 6 birds
(you couldn’t have expected any less)

*The Special Rating* Would fight ALL THE BIRDS IN THE WORLD to read this.

Review of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Doubleday Canada (Canadian Edition)
Release Date: May 15th 2012
Pages: 339
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Rating: 6 birds

I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

mythoughts2

I’m having so much trouble writing this review, because honestly, I just don’t know how to describe my thoughts for this book. No review I write can ever do it justice. However, this is the kind of book that I want  to force upon everyone and anyone to read, and so for that reason I will try to explain how much I love Code Name Verity.

Code Name V. in one word: extraordinary. Extraordinarily brave, elegant, gritty, tragic, and witty. A book like this doesn’t come along every day. The story documents the horrors of war, but at its heart this story is about a friendship that is so incredible it makes your heart ache. In the book there is one line where one of the girls says “We are a sensational team.” No matter how many times I try to define and explain their friendship, I will never express it better than that single line. They are such an unlikely pair and yet they are absolutely brilliant together, and I would be friends with both of them in a heartbeat. They are so different, but in many ways they seem like the same person, especially when they’re writing about each other. And when you read Verity’s account of their friendship it is like she knows Maddie so well that even when she wasn’t with her she knew how she was feeling and what she was thinking.

The story line was just a never ending road of twists and turns, and every time something big happened or some other piece of the puzzle clicked into place, I knew that the story could not be any other way – every little detail of this book is what makes it so brilliant. And the writing, oh my gosh the writing, it was so simple but filled with so much depth and emotion. This book is centered around war, so to understand the concept and what is going on, there are many detailed descriptions of all the aspects of war in the book – the airplanes, the different jobs, the buildings, etc. However, nothing ever got boring because the writing was so amazing and the characters would not let you get bored. Ever since reading this book I have been repeating phrases from it over and over in my head. A couple times now I’ve found myself thinking “FLY THE PLANE, MADDIE” or “KISS ME HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!”. And every time I do, I just want to bawl.

I did cry in this book. I will leave it at that and let you find out why, but there were many, many times that I cried while reading this. This was one of those books that when you’re done reading it, you walk around in a daze because for those glorious few hours or days you had been wrapped up in this unbelievably amazing story and then suddenly you realize it’s over, and you’ve read the last sentence. But I know I will be re-reading this book, hopefully many times over. And honestly, if you haven’t read this one yet, you need to immediately. It is stunning.

6 birds

I feel like this is such an incomplete review, like I am missing so many other marvelous things about this book. But I found these 2 images on Tumblr that just reminded me so much of Code Name Verity, and I had to share:

Review of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: March 22nd 2011
Pages: 344
Reading Level: Young Adult
Challenge: 100 Books In A Year, Debut Author Challenge
Source: Won ARC
Buy the Book: Between Shades of Gray

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. (Goodreads)

My Thoughts

Between Shades of Gray took my breath away. This novel portrays the story of Lina, a young girl living in Lithuania in 1941. Her story immediately begins the night she is taken away. I started reading this novel in the car right after I got it, but I was only planning to read a few pages… after all, I was already reading another book. But little did I know! Since the beginning of the story is so captivating, I could not put it down! I read the majority of it that night, and only when I was forced to go to bed did I put it down. I immediately finished it the next day.

Honestly, I didn’t even know that this had happened in history, and it makes me feel ignorant. Because if so many people suffered this much and this tragically, I think everyone should know about it.

But horrific plot aside, let’s look at the writing. Sepetys does a magical job of creating something beautiful out of something terrible. Her writing captures the essence of what it was like to be Lina, and even though I am worlds away from this girl who suffered so much, when I was reading this novel, I understood. I understood her pain and her loss and her harrowing fight to just stay alive. Sepetys adds no fancy details, no extraordinary embellishments. This story just is. And that is what makes it so heartbreaking.

Now, the love. Lina and Andrius’ relationship is so very simple, yet it means so much – to both Lina and the reader. And this is what made me realize something. Lina and Andrius are just two teenagers – all they want is to be together, to love and be loved. But what has happened to them has stolen their very power to do just this. Yes, these people lost everything material you could think of. They were deprived of food, of water, of fresh air. But then think past that. What these people have ultimately been deprived of is their identity. And as far as I am concerned, no one should have the right to take what makes you you away from you. The parts that most got to me in this book were the times when the prisoners were made to feel worthless, belittled, unwanted.  Like when Lina, her mother, and 2 women were forced to dig large trenches small, handle-less shovels. They worked 12 hours on end with as little as 1 break. They worked through rain and frost. And then, when they were finally done, the head of the prison camp came over. He made the women lie in the trenches, and him and his friends buried them and threatened to kill them. This part, throughout the whole story, is what  broke me. It made me see and understand that no one deserves to be treated like that. And the only reason they were is because this ignorant, filthy man thought he was better than them.

Overall

This book is amazing. Possibly my favourite of the year so far… Sepetys brings to life this tragic and horrific story that was suffered by so many, and tells it from the point of view of just an average teenage girl trying to keep herself and her family alive. It is the story of children forced to grow up too fast, too soon, and those who never got to grow up. Of mothers and fathers dying before they will ever see their children do great things. Of stolen lives and lost souls. But most of all, it’s proof that hope still lives on  – even in the darkest, dankest back corners of sun deprived train cars heading into an unknown world of pain and loss.

6 birds


*The Special Rating* Would fight ALL THE BIRDS IN THE WORLD to read this.