Talking About ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ with Bibliobeth!

Dear Mrs Bird

How did I get it?:
It was a gift!

Synopsis:

London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

CHRISSI: We all know now that you’re a cover judger. (Tee hee!) What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Sssh, that’s a secret! Oh well, you’re right, everyone probably knows by now. To be honest, with Dear Mrs Bird, I didn’t really have any impressions of the cover, positive or negative. I thought it was an okay cover, remarkably inoffensive but something that didn’t give away much about the contents of the novel (which can both a good and bad thing!) or stands out in any way. Luckily, I had heard good things about it from my fellow bloggers and had some vague idea about the arc of the story so I was looking forward to reading it.

BETH: Author AJ Pearce incorporates charmingly old-fashioned expressions to help convey a sense of the time period. What were some of your favourite terms? Did the language help your understanding of the era and the characters’ personalities?

CHRISSI: My impression of the book was indeed that it was charmingly old-fashioned. It was awfully British. I loved how Mrs Bird described anything ‘naughty’ in the letters as ‘unpleasantness.’ I also loved the use of the word ‘jolly’ too. We don’t use jolly enough. I’m going to make it my mission to bring it back. I liked it said someone was ‘awfully lucky.’ There was a lot of ‘awfully’! Two of my favourites were ‘Right-o!’ and ‘Crikey!’ It definitely gave me a sense of the era and of the characters’ personalities.

CHRISSI: One of the major themes of the novel is friendship. Discuss Emmy and Bunty’s relationship, and all the ways they support and encourage each other over the course of the novel.

BETH: I do love a strong female friendship in a novel, especially one like Emmy and Bunty’s where they are so close that they literally become part of each other’s family. I think both girls needed the other one in their lives for strong support, humour and to confide in during the tough and dangerous times that they are living in. This is particularly evident when a crack forms in the relationship and the two girls are almost lost without the other to lean on.

BETH: Did you have a favourite character in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I did have a favourite character. I did enjoy the friendship between Emmy and Bunty, but I have to say I liked Emmy more. I thought she was a very easy character to like. I was rooting for her throughout the story. I really wanted her to do well.

CHRISSI: Did you enjoy the pace of the story? Was it ever too slow/fast for you?

BETH: I did enjoy the pace. It wasn’t particularly action-packed and exciting but I don’t think that’s what the author intended it to be. It was about very ordinary characters doing extraordinary deeds and displaying huge amounts of resilience when placed in war-torn London and having their lives put at risk every single day. At some points it did feel slightly too “jolly hockey sticks,” and “British stiff upper lip,” but at the same time, I really enjoyed the quintessential and classic British-ness of it all.

BETH: Do you think Emmy was right to confront William after he rescued the two children? Was his reaction warranted?

CHRISSI: I could see it from both Emmy and William’s point of view. Emmy was worried about William losing his life and wondered how her good friend Bunty would deal with that if it happened. William was purely doing his job though so I can totally see why it got his back up.

CHRISSI: If you were to put this book into a genre, which one would you put it in?

BETH: I think I would put it in historical fiction, purely for the World War II aspect, the emotional accounts of the bombings and the brave efforts of so many volunteers to keep London and its inhabitants safe each night.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes, I liked the author’s rather gentle writing style!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Yes! 3.5 stars

CHRISSI: Of course!

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- Number The Stars

Number the Stars

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

Thoughts:

I absolutely adore historical fiction based in World War II. I don’t know why, but I just seem to have a fascination with stories based in that time period. It’s not that they excite me, I don’t mean that. I’m just always utterly compelled by that era. I’m always horrified by the things that happened. 😦 I think it’s really important that children/young adults learn about this time period too which is why I’m thrilled that Number The Stars exists.

Number The Stars centres around the Danish family of Annemarie Johansen. Annemarie and her family helped hide their Jewish friends. This story focuses on how the Danish helped smuggle the Jewish people into Sweden which was a free country, thus saving them from an almost certain death.

This book is just long enough to keep the attention of middle graders. It also has the perfect amount of historical detail. A book aimed at middle grade/teenagers doesn’t need to be bogged down with historical detail. That could potentially turn a lot of readers off. This has the right mix in my opinion. It’s also got some very likeable characters within its pages. Our main protagonist Annemarie is a sweetheart and I loved her friendship with Ellen. I absolutely adored how strong and brave the Danish were and how they looked after their neighbours.

I have to admit, that I didn’t know much about Denmark during World War II, so it was a really educative experience to read this book, even as an adult. I think there’s so much to be enjoyed in this short book. I really did enjoy it!

For Beth’s wonderful review, please check out her review HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Next up in the Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit Challenge (December):
Time Travelling With A Hamster- Ross Welford

Talking About Last Letter Home With Bibliobeth!

Last Letter Home

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

On holiday with friends, young historian Briony Andrews becomes fascinated with a wartime story of a ruined villa in the hills behind Naples. There is a family connection: her grandfather had been a British soldier during the Italian campaign of 1943 in that very area. Handed a bundle of letters that were found after the war, Briony sets off to trace the fate of their sender, Sarah Bailey.

In 1939, Sarah returns with her mother and sister from India, in mourning, to take up residence in the Norfolk village of Westbury. There she forms a firm friendship with Paul Hartmann, a young German who has found sanctuary in the local manor house, Westbury Hall. With the outbreak of war, conflicts of loyalty in Westbury deepen.

When, 70 years later, Briony begins to uncover Sarah and Paul’s story, she encounters resentments and secrets still tightly guarded. What happened long ago in the villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, she suspects, still has the power to give terrible pain. 

CHRISSI: What were your initial impressions of this book? Did it hook you from the start or did it take you a while to get stuck into the story?

BETH: I have to admit, like a lot of books in the past (and very recently!) I judged this book by the cover again. WHY do I keep doing that?! I thought it looked like a bit of a fluffy, contemporary romance which is a genre I’m not really into but I was willing to give it a chance, especially when you told me that you thought I would enjoy it and that it had a historical edge that reminded you of one of my favourite ever books, The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. However, I do have to be honest and say I wasn’t initially hooked by the beginning. When a narrative flows across two time periods, I often find myself preferring the historical tale and this was the same initially speaking, for Last Letter Home too.

BETH: In one of the very first scenes, Briony in contemporary times is trolled for some remarks she makes on feminism on a TV show. How do you think this affects her self esteem initially in trying to find information out about her mysterious grandfather?

CHRISSI: I think initially, Briony was really knocked by the after effects of the TV show. It takes her a while to get over how she was treated in the aftermath. Trolls are evil and can totally affect your self-esteem and self-worth, so this was utterly relatable. I feel like Briony was quite unstable at the start of the story and deeply affected. However, getting stuck into finding out more information about her grandfather draws Briony out of her shell and begins to give her some self belief. She has determination, that’s for sure.

CHRISSI: Do you think the dual timeline worked for this story?

BETH: At the beginning, it took a little while for me to get into it. I kept getting the main character in the contemporary time period, Briony messed up with Sarah in the historical period and it took me a little while to get their stories and who they’re involved with in the present time straight in my mind. However, once I had got this sorted, I really enjoyed how the dual time periods told such a fascinating story (from BOTH women’s points of view) and there were certainly secrets revealed that I wasn’t anticipating.

BETH: Were you aware at any points of the men “not to trust” and the men “who could be trusted,” in the narrative? Was it interesting to see the parallels between Briony and Sarah’s own lives?

CHRISSI: I’m always wary of characters in books which might say something about me. I was sure that Paul could be trusted as he seemed to be such a sweetheart. I loved reading about his interactions with Sarah. I really enjoyed the dual narrative of this story. It was interesting to see how Briony and Sarah shared many qualities with one another. They were both persistent, driven characters in their own time. I also liked how both story lines had elements of betrayal and deceit within them.

CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite narrative?

BETH: The historical narrative was hands down my favourite narrative. Although its not as overtly romantic as The Bronze Horseman, I can really see why you made that connection. I felt so awful for Sarah and her love interest in the novel, the strange triangle she found herself in and how other people’s attitudes at the time affected how she should be behaving/where she should be looking for a husband. I only wish we had heard more about her younger sister, who I found an incredibly intriguing character.

BETH: Sarah and her younger sister both have to deal with death at quite a young age – how do you think they cope with this as individuals?

CHRISSI: Good question! Sarah definitely dealt with the death in the family better than her younger sister. Sarah became really supportive towards her family. Sarah’s sister very much closes herself off from talking about death. She appears to be coping less well but I can’t say too much without spoilers! 🙂

CHRISSI: Did you feel like the chapters based during WWII were realistic?

BETH: I did. It wasn’t overtly graphic but it felt really authentic. It was simply the story of how normal people cope in extraordinary circumstances when food is reduced, danger is prominent and they are forced to live their lives they may not necessarily have imagined living them. One of the stand on scenes in the entire novel for me has to be when Paul is sent away to Italy as part of the war effort and has to witness a very difficult event, something that ends up changing his life forever.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think it would depend on the subject matter. I did really enjoy Rachel Hore’s writing and the story was interesting, but she wasn’t an author that I’d read automatically when her book released.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

A Sky Painted Gold

A Sky Painted Gold

How did I get it?:
Sent to me by the publisher, many thanks to Scholastic!

Synopsis:

Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, sixteen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer – a handsome, dashing brother and sister – Lou is quite swept off her feet and into a world of moonlit cocktail parties and glamour beyond her wildest dreams.

But, as she grows closer to the Cardews, is she abandoning her own ambitions… And is there something darker lurking at the heart of the Cardew family?

 

Thoughts:

I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book, so when I was given the opportunity to be sent a copy of Laura Wood’s A Sky Painted Gold, I snapped it up.  I’m into my historical fiction so that’s something about the book that definitely pulled me in. Usually historical fiction involves a lot of heavy plot lines. This book was so different because it was like an every day story but without all of our current modernness. It almost felt like a period drama. I can definitely see the links to The Great Gatsby. I’m so pleased I read this book because I really thought that it was a gem!

It centres around Lou who has a middle-class family. Lou is close to her sister Alice, who has just got married. Lou feels alone and knows she should be getting ready to get married herself, but she doesn’t feel quite ready yet. Lou ends up befriending the upper class Cardew family. She gets on well with the sister, Caitlin and is intrigued by Robert, the brother. Lou’s life begins to change. She attends loads of parties and events. She’s swept up in the glamour even though she knows she doesn’t really fit in.

I thought this story was so well crafted. It really captured my attention and I found it hard to put down. Laura Wood has such a fantastic writing style. I sometimes can find it quite hard to read books where they’re not particularly fast paced. I can be easily bored, however, with Laura Wood’s writing,  I was immediately captivated by the setting and the characters. The romance was a slow burner as well which I totally appreciate. I’m bored of insta-love.

The characters are so wonderful. I immediately really liked Caitlin. Her relationship with her sister was very realistic and heart-warming at the same time. I loved that the female friendships in this book were so strong. We definitely need to see more of that!

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

This book surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did! Highly recommended!

Banned Books #43- Summer Of My German Soldier

Welcome to 2018’s first edition of Banned Books. Each month, Beth and I review a book that has been on the Banned Books list. This month’s read was Summer Of My German Soldier by Bette Greene.

Summer of My German Soldier (Summer of My German Soldier, #1)

First published: 1973
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001  (source)
Reasons: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: Summer Of My German Soldier was first published in 1973, before I was born and it’s one of the older titles on the ALA’s top ten of banned/challenged books, challenged in 2001 which I still think of as fairly recent, I’m not sure about any of you? I was intrigued to read this book, especially when I found out that it was about a young girl and a German Nazi soldier and as with many of the books on our Banned Books list, I don’t agree with many of the reasons for challenging it. For example, I don’t remember any incidences of offensive language (perhaps I just glossed over them?) but I’m actually sitting here, racking my brain right now and I really don’t think there were any “bad words,” that shocked or offended me. Eye roll.

CHRISSI: I was really interested to see why Summer Of My German Soldier was challenged. As Beth mentioned, it is one of the older titles on the list. I didn’t find any of the language offensive in the slightest. There were some moments that were racist, but given its subject matter and the characters, it wasn’t really a surprise to me? I certainly don’t think it’s something that we should shy away from.

How about now?

BETH: As I mentioned, I still think of 2001 as being fairly recent (that probably shows my age!) but it was in fact seventeen years ago. I would have hoped attitudes have changed for the better in those years in that a lot of us are more tolerant and accepting and less racist but sadly, this is not true in all parts of the world or for all groups of people. In 2001, I would not have described this book as sexually explicit in the slightest and I certainly wouldn’t now. Excuse me while I rack my brain once again for even a slight mention of graphic sexual content because there wasn’t one! The only thing I am a little uneasy about in this novel is the racism, which I do agree is there and I don’t particularly like it or condone it. However, I think everyone should have access to all kinds of books, with some stipulations for younger or more sensitive children and in one way, it might educate people about how terrible people of another race were (and still) continue to be treated.

CHRISSI: I could kind of see why it would be banned or challenged but that’s not to say I agree with it. The racism did make for some uncomfortable reading. I know it’s not something that has been eradicated. Goodness knows we still have racism around in 2018, but it’s something that does make me uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s a book that should be banned though because it’s a good talking point and could potentially be educative. It just has to be used with sensitivity and with caution with impressionable readers.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  This is such a difficult one. Parts of it I really enjoyed, I loved Patty’s relationship with the housekeeper, Ruth and conversely, absolutely hated her relationship with her parents which made me incredibly uncomfortable and uneasy at points. The thing I had most problems with in this novel however was Patty’s relationship with the German soldier, Anton. She is twelve at the time when she meets him and he is twenty-two. She falls in love with him quite quickly, which is fine and he never outwardly reciprocates her love but there is hints that he feels the same way and that just feels very, very wrong to me. This book is also quite bleak at points so don’t go into it expecting a great resolution and a happy fairy-tale ending.

CHRISSI: Unfortunately, it’s not a book that I enjoyed. I didn’t like the relationships in this novel and it made me feel rather uncomfortable over all. I wouldn’t describe it as a pleasant reading experience!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Not sure.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me- I didn’t enjoy reading this book and I think there are better ones out there with the same subject matter.

Wait For Me

Wait for Me

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

It’s 1945, and Lorna Anderson’s life on her father’s farm in Scotland consists of endless chores and rationing, knitting Red Cross scarves, and praying for an Allied victory. So when Paul Vogel, a German prisoner of war, is assigned as the new farmhand, Lorna is appalled. How can she possibly work alongside the enemy when her own brothers are risking their lives for their country?

But as Lorna reluctantly spends time with Paul, she feels herself changing. The more she learns about him—from his time in the war to his life back home in Germany—the more she sees the boy behind the soldier. Soon Lorna is battling her own warring heart. Loving Paul could mean losing her family and the life she’s always known. With tensions rising all around them, Lorna must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice before the end of the war determines their fate.

Thoughts:

I have read so many books about World War II so I always get very excited when new books come out. Imagine my excitement when I heard about Wait For Me which was YA based. I do love YA and I’m not afraid to admit it!

Wait For Me centres around Lorna who lives on a farm in Scotland. It is 1945 and alongside going to school, Lorna is helping her father on the farm whilst her two brothers are fighting in the war. Life changes for Lorna and hr family when Paul, a German prisoner of war is sent to help at the farm. Lorna is very hesitant at first, but over time she learns more and more about Paul and finds herself falling for him. This is a dangerous relationship, but Lorna is completely drawn to Paul.

I absolutely devoured this book. I loved Lorna and thought she was such a great character. I loved her determination and her acceptance of Paul as he was. Paul is completely likeable as well. I loved how Caroline Leech portrayed his story and showed the reader his history. They were a likeable, believable romance. As well as Lorna and Paul, there were some more fabulous characters. I really liked Nellie, who helped them on the farm. I also enjoyed reading about Lorna’s dad.

This story is definitely more about the romance and not so heavy on the World War II content. It is there, but it’s more about the relationship developing between Lorna and Paul. So if you’re into romantic historical fiction then this book could be for you!

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

A sweet WWII romance. A fantastic debut!

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- Witch Child

Witch Child (Witch Child, #1)

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Enter the world of young Mary Newbury, a world where simply being different can cost a person her life. Hidden until now in the pages of her diary, Mary’s startling story begins in 1659, the year her beloved grandmother is hanged in the public square as a witch. Mary narrowly escapes a similar fate, only to face intolerance and new danger among the Puritans in the New World. How long can she hide her true identity? Will she ever find a place where her healing powers will not be feared? 

Thoughts:

I am always excited to read books that involve witches as I enjoy reading that kind of book. However, I felt a little let down by this book which wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be. I’d even go so far to say that I was a little bored when reading it. It was simply the author’s writing style that kept me reading. Her writing was particularly easy to read.

The story centres around Mary. Her grandmother is accused of being a witch and is hung in the town. We learn about Mary’s stories through entries in her diary. Mary flees the town. She is able to get onto a boat that is leaving the continent for the New World. Mary lives within a Puritan settlement. She tries to hide her true self, but becomes a target of hate. Mary just wants to be accepted somewhere and not be feared for her healing powers.

The reason why this book didn’t work for me, was because it didn’t feel original at all. I also didn’t feel like there was enough going on to really capture my attention. I understand that I’m probably not the target audience, but I’m not sure there’s enough for any age to be fully drawn into the story. Perhaps I’m wrong, so I think it’s worth giving the book a try, if you’re into historical fiction.

It’s not all bad though. The plot is particularly light and it’s a quick read! It just didn’t work for me.

For Beth’s wonderful review, please check out her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
It’s not for me!- 2.5 stars

Next up in the Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit Challenge (December):
Finding Jennifer Jones-Anne Cassidy