Guest Review: Cilka’s Journey – Heather Morris

Cilka’s Journey
(The Tattooist of Auschwitz #2)
Heather Morris
Bonnier
Echo
ISBN: 9781760686048

 

Description:

From the author of the multi-million copy bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, comes the new novel based on an incredible true story of love and resilience.

Her beauty saved her life – and condemned her.

Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, in 1942. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival.

After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to Siberia. But what choice did she have? And where did the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was sent to Auschwitz when still a child?

In a Siberian prison camp, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she makes an impression on a woman doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing. Cilka begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.

Cilka finds endless resources within herself as she daily confronts death and faces terror. And when she nurses a man called Ivan, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.

 

Brenda’s View:

Sixteen-year-old Cilka’s arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau was followed by three years of heartbreak, torture and loss. It was also where she lost her innocence; where she met Gita, who was to be her best friend, and Lale the tattooist who marked her, and everyone else, with the number that identified her. At the time of liberation, in 1945, Cilka was interrogated and charged as a collaborator. Her punishment was to be 15 years in the notorious Vorkuta Gulag in the icy wastes of Siberia. Cilka’s life would change once more…

The hut that the women were housed in, where Cilka eventually formed friendships, was cold and miserable. Working in the mines was debilitating, exhausting work, but when Cilka met a compassionate woman doctor at the hospital and was asked to work there as her caring nature would be an asset, Cilka was grateful. Conditions were a little better but each night she returned to her hut after being confronted with death and shocking injuries. The fortitude and strength that Cilka held inside rarely faltered, but more was to come to test her. What was to be the outcome of this horror for Cilka? Would she ever know peace?

Cilka’s Journey by Aussie author Heather Morris is the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz where we met Lale as he told his story. Once again, the author has based her new story on fact, with Cilka being a real person, set in history; the settings are horribly authentic; the bravery and courage of Cilka mentioned to the author by Lale when she interviewed him. The artistry of the author as she blended fact with fiction shows a great amount of research – her mention of that research and how much time was devoted to it, is at the end of the book. Cilka’s Journey takes us back to a shocking time in history, a time I hope is never repeated. It is also a historical novel I highly recommend.

With thanks to Bonnier/Echo and associated publishers for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

Review:The Burnt Country – Joy Rhoades

The Burnt Country

The Woolgrowers Companion #2

Joy Rhoades

Penguin Random House

Bantam

ISBN: 9780143793724

RRP$ 32.99

 

Description:

A scandalous secret. A deadly bushfire. An agonizing choice.

 

Australia 1948. As a young woman single-handedly running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in New South Wales, Kate Dowd is expected to fail. In fact the local graziers are doing their best to ensure she does.

 

However Kate cannot risk losing Amiens, or give in to her estranged husband Jack’s demands to sell. Because the farm is the only protection she can offer her half-sister Pearl, as the Aborigines Welfare Board calls for her forced adoption.

 

Ostracised by the local community for even acknowledging Pearl, Kate cannot risk another scandal. Which means turning her back on her wartime lover, Luca Canali . . .

 

Then Jack drops a bombshell. He wants a divorce. He’ll protect what’s left of Kate’s reputation, and keep Luca out of it – but at an extortionate price.

 

Soon Kate is putting out fires on all fronts to save her farm, keep her family together and protect the man she loves. Until a catastrophic real fire threatens everything . . .

 

 

My View:

This was not the booked I expected to read!

 

Firstly I did not realise that this was the second in a series until I looked up the book details for my review. But don’t worry this reads perfectly as a stand a one.

 

Second – this is not the rural romance I thought it was going to be. There are relationships – but that is what life is about; the complex nature of our emotional resilience.

 

Thirdly – whilst this is a “historical” fiction the times are not that far away (late 1940s early 50’s). I found the social issues intriguing; women’s’ rights – financial, social, family, legal, work, domestic violence, the war, detention, The Stolen Generation… so so interesting and engaging.

 

This narrative packs a big punch – so many social issues, a tense engaging plot, relationships that felt real, I loved the way women supported each other and help raise each other up. The theme of fire was constant and added a cohesion to the overall plot and an uneasiness that anyone living in a dry, remote countryside will understand.

 

This read was surprising and amazing! I loved it and I hope you do too.

 

And I see a book to film in the future….

 

PS

I enjoyed the bonus recipes supplied at the end of the book.

 

 

 

Guest Review – Wolfsangel – Liza Perrat

 

Wolfsangel

Wolfsangel

Liza Perrat

Perrat Publishing

ISBN: 9782954168128

Description:

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.

  1. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France.

Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

 

Brenda’s Review:

The happiness that Céleste Roussel had taken for granted with her family on their farm had disappeared with the occupation of their small village of Lucie-sur-Vionne by German soldiers. Her father had been taken to a labour camp early in the occupation, so running the farm was left to Céleste, her mother and brother Patrick. He and his best friend Olivier quickly became part of the French Resistance, doing all they could to drive the Boche from their lives.

Céleste soon took the eye of a certain German officer, and found her feelings reciprocated. She knew it was wrong – the hatred felt toward the Boche was in them all. Her determination to assist the Resistance saw her embark on dangerous missions; all the while keeping her secret life hidden from all but a few. But the arrest and deportation of family members was the beginning of the end. Would the angel talisman which had been with generations of her family’s women, and now belonged to Céleste keep her safe? Would she ever see her family again?

Wolfsangel by Aussie author Liza Perrat is absolutely outstanding! The second in the Bone Angel series, nevertheless it can be read as a standalone. The Author’s Note at the end of the book was extremely interesting and shows, though it is complete fiction, Wolfsangel is based on a factual event which occurred on 10th June 1944. I didn’t think I could hear of more shocking atrocities committed by the Germans in WWII, but it seems I now have! Brilliantly written, and highly recommended. A 5 star read which will be in my top reads for 2018.

Post Script: The Right Side – Spencer Quinn

This is an outstanding read – it goes straight onto my “Best Reads of 2017 “list.

The Right Side

The Right Side

Spencer Quinn

Atria Books

ISBN: 9781501118401

 

Description:

 In this riveting new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie mystery series, a deeply damaged female soldier home from the war in Afghanistan becomes obsessed with finding a missing girl, gains an unlikely ally in a stray dog, and encounters new perils beyond the combat zone.

 

LeAnne Hogan went to Afghanistan as a rising star in the military, and came back a much lesser person, mentally and physically. Now missing an eye and with half her face badly scarred, she can barely remember the disastrous desert operation that almost killed her. She is confused, angry, and suspects the fault is hers, even though nobody will come out and say it.

 

Shattered by one last blow—the sudden death of her hospital roommate, Marci—LeAnne finds herself on a fateful drive across the country, reflecting on her past and seeing no future. Her native land is now unfamiliar, recast in shadow by her one good eye, her damaged psyche, her weakened body. Arriving in the rain-soaked small town in Washington State that Marci had called home, she makes a troubling discovery: Marci’s eight-year-old daughter has vanished. When a stray dog—a powerful, dark, unreadable creature, no one’s idea of a pet—seems to adopt LeAnne, a surprising connection is formed and something shifts inside her. As she becomes obsessed with finding Marci’s daughter, LeAnne and her inscrutable canine companion are drawn into danger as dark and menacing as her last Afghan mission. This time she has a strange but loyal fellow traveler protecting her blind side.

 

Enthralling, suspenseful, and psychologically nuanced, The Right Side introduces one of the most unforgettable protagonists in modern fiction: isolated, broken, disillusioned—yet still seeking redemption and purpose—LeAnne takes hold of the reader and never lets go.

 

 

My View:

This is an outstanding read – it goes straight onto my “Best Reads of 2017 “list.

 

If you are expecting another narrative in the style of the Chet and Bernie series – think again. I strongly suggest that you begin this book as if you have just discovered a new to you author – just expect this to be a brilliant read – and then you will not be disappointed.

 

For me this is a book that demands to be read in one sitting. The characters are complex – the psychological revelations are insightful and useful.  You will navigate heartbreaking traumas to reveal the small ray of sunshine, of optimism that prevents this book from being morose and sullen.  The mysteries here will keep the pages turning and you will gain a few perspectives that might surprise you and make you think.

 

This is an outstanding read and I imagine one that will soon be transformed onto the big screen – I wish I had the $$ to produce this one. It will be a winner – guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

Post Script: Frame – AK Alliss

Amor Vincit Omnia!

frame

 

Frame

AK Alliss

Atlas Productions Pty Ltd

ISBN: 9780995377615

 

Description:

How far would you go to save someone who was already dead?

 

Hidden in the frame of a single photo, a content producer for social media sensation, Mathew Albrecht, discovers his possible ties to a global terrorist organisation. Could her client’s involvement also be linked to the death of her husband years earlier or is it something entirely more sinister in nature?

 

What is revealed may eclipse everything that she thought she knew, forcing her to confront the ghosts of her past in her pursuit of the truth.

 

Frame is a genre-bending thriller, set in a world poised on the brink of insanity.

 

 

My View:

I first read this remarkable narrative as a manuscript – I knew nothing of the author, or his style of writing or his track record but I was hooked from the moment I read these couple of sentences in synopsis; “Hidden in the frame of a single photo, a content producer for social media sensation, Mathew Albrecht, discovers his possible ties to a global terrorist organisation. Could her client’s involvement also be linked to the death of her husband years earlier or is it something entirely more sinister in nature?

 

Synchronicity was at work! In a previous life (as most of you will already know) I worked in the film and television industry, looking at images frame by frame…content producing… these terms/actions immediately connected and intrigued me. I had to read this and find out more.

 

And am I glad I took this opportunity? YES! This is an amazing read.  A thriller that is set in the future – but not too far in the future, in the foreseeable future – I can “see” the landscapes, the settings and the technology.

 

And technology is power – holders of this power can influence, control; domestically the power of social media dictates trends, projects individuals to celebrity status and a culture of hero worship by keyboard is encouraged. Politically, wars are won or lost based on control of information and technical fighting power. The landscapes created here are so real they make you feel uncomfortable.

 

The characters are vivid and realistic – I feel for the protagonist, Hannah – melancholy, trapped by a web of grief wound so tight she can hardly breathe…yet strong and resourceful and smart – a great female protagonist.

 

Love, grief, the importance of family, of emotional connections, ties that bind, are themes that are explored in depth in the novel. The words  love and family usually connatates positive emotions and responses but loss of love or the void death creates can also restrict, hold our emotional health to ransom and have the potential to destroy. Hope can empower and create change.  Ultimately  (no spoilers here) the lesson here is: Love Conquers All.

 

A meaningful and captivating read!

 

 

Post Script: Songs Of A War Boy – Deng Thiak Adut with Ben Mckelvey

Such self awareness and an inspirational life story!

songs-of-a-war-boy

Songs Of A War Boy

Deng Thiak Adut with

 Ben Mckelvey

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733636523

 

Description:

The true story of Deng Adut – Sudanese child soldier, refugee, man of hope.

 

Deng Adut’s family were farmers in South Sudan when a brutal civil war altered his life forever. At six years old, his mother was told she had to give him up to fight. At the age most Australian children are starting school, Deng was conscripted into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He began a harsh, relentless military training that saw this young boy trained to use an AK-47 and sent into battle. He lost the right to be a child. He lost the right to learn.

 

The things Deng saw over those years will stay with him forever. He suffered from cholera, malaria and numerous other debilitating illnesses but still he had to fight. A child soldier is expected to kill or be killed and Deng almost died a number of times. He survived being shot in the back. The desperation and loneliness was overwhelming. He thought he was all alone.

 

But Deng was rescued from war by his brother John. Hidden in the back of a truck, he was smuggled out of Sudan and into Kenya. Here he lived in refugee camps until he was befriended by an Australian couple. With their help and the support of the UN, Deng Adut came to Australia as a refugee.

 

Despite physical injuries and mental trauma he grabbed the chance to make a new life. He worked in a local service station and learnt English watching The Wiggles. He taught himself to read and started studying at TAFE.  In 2005 he enrolled in a Bachelor of Law at Western Sydney University. He became the first person in his family to graduate from university.

 

This is an inspiring story of a man who has overcome deadly adversity to become a lawyer and committed worker for the disenfranchised, helping refugees in Western Sydney. It is an important reminder of the power of compassion and the benefit to us all when we open our doors and our hearts to fleeing war, persecution and trauma.

 

 

My View:

An incredible poignant and inspirational story – how this boy soldier survived and then went on to do great things (**more on this later) is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.

 

This narrative begins by stating the importance of Songs to the Dinka people; “They’re our avatars, and our biographies. They precede us, introduce us and live on after we die. They are also how our deeds escape our villages, and they pass on our code of morality, culture and law.

 

When I was a boy I dreamed of having my own songs, but now I am a man, I have no songs. It’s likely I never will, in the traditional sense. For the Dinka, these songs are only for men. In the eyes of my culture, I am still a boy.

 

When I should have been going through the rituals of manhood, I was caught in a vicious war. By the time I was returned to my people I was very much a westerner.”  (Prologue – Deng Adut)

 

And so begins the poignant and remarkable story of a childhood interrupted by adults’ politics and greed. Somehow this child soldier survived. Read this story and you will be amazed how anyone, let alone a child could endure such trauma – and endure Deng Adut has – Deng Adut’s adult life is testimony to how one man can make a difference (his brother John Mac in the first instance)  and many other’s later in his life’s journey.  This is Deng Adut’s story but it is many peoples story – listen and feel.

 

This personal narrative has much to offer; hope, inspiration, an honest cultural exchange…proof that education changes lives.

What I find remarkable about this man can be summed up in his own words; “I know I am whole, though. Yes, I have had a difficult life. I’m proud pf some things I have done, and ashamed of others, but I own all of it, and I’ve reconciled with all of it. That’s why I am whole.”

(Deng Adut -Prologue)

 

Wise and humble, inspiring and honest, this life, this book asks just one thing of you – open your heart and see the world with compassion.

An outstanding read! An inspiration to all.

 

 

**DENG ADUT – 2017 NSW AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

 

At an awards ceremony last night (Monday 7th November 2016) Deng Adut, Sudanese child soldier, refugee, man of hope, was announced as the 2017 NSW Australian of the Year. Deng’s incredible story is told in his book with Ben Mckelvey, Songs of a War Boy, which was released last week and is already captivating readers across Australia.

 

Deng’s is an inspiring story of a man who has overcome deadly adversity to become a lawyer and committed worker for the disenfranchised, helping refugees in Western Sydney, where he now has his own law practice with legal partner Joe Correy, the AC Law Group. His story is an important reminder of the power of compassion and the benefit to us all when we open our doors and our hearts to those fleeing war, persecution and trauma. Media Release Hachette Australia.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post – Bram Connolly Talks About Experiences and Influences on His Writing

Please welcome Aussie author Bram Connolly to my blog. Bram talks books, reading and reading influences.

bram-connolly

“As a Special Forces officer, Bram Connolly served several tours in Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for leadership in combat. He takes you deep into the world of high-intensity combat few have experienced.”https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/crime-mystery/The-Fighting-Season-Bram-Connolly-9781760290382

 

When I joined the Army there was a period of a few years where I didn’t read very much. The weekly training was intense and the sudden existence of a fortnightly wage saw me pursue other less wholesome pursuits on the weekends (drinking with my mates and chasing girls mostly). Don’t get me wrong; there were certainly lots of opportunities to read. One constant of being in the Army is that there is much sitting around and waiting involved: waiting for work to start, waiting for the next lesson, waiting for your turn at something, waiting for lunch, waiting for knock off – the list goes on. Soldiers are good at amusing each other. Dark humor and situational comedies are the main narratives of their tales; and we are colourful liars when it’s required to “sell” the story. I love this about us.

I fell into reading again by necessity when I was sent off on a six-week exercise to Weipa in Far North Queensland with a section of nine men. I remember we all took books to pass the time, knowing that sitting around an airfield in Northern Australia, as static defence, was going to be a boring undertaking. I discovered Robert G. Barrett’s books about Les Norton. In later years I also found these were the easiest to wrap in a small sandwich bag, secured by rubber bands, and thrown in the bottom of a military rucksack. Barrett’s books seemed to be impervious to the Tully monsoon rain that could seep into everything. I would sit under my individual shelter out in the middle of the jungle, as the rain pounded down, and immerse myself in Les Norton’s world of Sydney nightclubs and summer beaches. Easy reading and with strong Australian characters, the books reignited my passion for storytelling. With Barrett’s books complete, I graduated myself onto Jack Higgins, The Eagle has Landed and then every other book he ever wrote.

In the late 1990s, I was influenced in what I read by some of the older members of the battalion. The following books were considered required reading:

1 – Devil’s Guard by George Robert Elford. The story of a German SS officer who, with the rest of his Battalion, was seconded into the Foreign Legion at the completion of WWII, this book begins on the eastern front and continues into the First Indochina War. I remember it mostly because of the detail the author went into regarding the German operations. It was initially published as non-fiction but I understand that over time it was suggested this was a work of fiction. Either way, The Devils Guard is a riveting read and worth having on the bookshelf.

2 – As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me. Written by Bavarian novelist Josef Martin Bauer, this is the story of a German World War II prisoner of war Clemens Forell (Cornelius Rost changed his name to avoid detection by the KGB) and his escape from a Siberian Gulag in the Soviet Union back to Germany. Rich in its description of the landscapes, Bauer does a great job of making the reader anxious for Clemens the whole way through.

3 – Chickenhawk by Robert Mason. The story of Mason’s experiences as a ‘Huey’ UH-1 Iroquois helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, this is full of detail required to operate the aircraft. The book chronicles Mason’s entire career from his enlistment to his experiences in Vietnam, and his experiences after returning from the war. I think a generation of us who read this book believed we could jump straight in and fly a helicopter. I wouldn’t like to test that theory though.

4 – Marine Sniper. With 93 confirmed enemy kills, Carlos Hathcock was the most lethal sniper to emerge from the Vietnam War. This book describes his career and outlines the art of sniping in its purest form. I particularly like the details of the difficulties faced by those conducting operations in the jungles of Vietnam, something I could relate to at the time because of the intensive training we had also undertaken in jungle operations.

5 – Bravo two Zero by Steven Mitchell (writing under the pseudonym Andy McNab). This was the must have book of the 1990s. It was the first time a member of the British SAS had broke ranks completely to tell his story and give an account of what it was really  like for the men on the ground. The book inspired a generation of soldiers in the UK and Australia to attempt Special Forces selection.

6 – The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Based on the story of four British soldiers targeted by a hit squad known as ‘The Clinic’ on the orders of a Sheik whose own sons were killed in Oman by British forces, this book created real controversy in the UK when it was released. Sir Ranulph added much fuel to the speculation at the time about whether or not it was a disguised factual account by branding it fictional and contesting that elements were true, a great marketing plan. He also wrote Where Soldiers Fear to Tread, a brilliant book full of romantic images of the Middle East and well worth a read.

The books on this list are rich in characterisation and landscape description, skills I take great pride in developing as a writer. The books I read as a young adult demonstrated to me that fiction can be written within an historical context. It’s a complex balancing act to not let one aspect overshadow the other, but if you get it right then the story really sings.”

 

 

Bram has a new book out – see how his personal experiences and reading have influenced his written work.

 

the-fighting-season

Introducing Matt Rix… Australian commando. An explosive thriller from the heart of Afghanistan.

The Fighting Season is military fiction of the first order: as tough as nails and packed with the insider knowledge of someone who has done it for real.’ – Matthew Reilly

‘Action packed, gritty and authentic to the core.’ – Merrick Watts

An explosive thriller from the heart of Afghanistan

Outside the wire, Uruzghan Province, Afghanistan, 2010…

In the badlands of central Afghanistan an Australian Special Forces platoon is fatally hit by a roadside bomb.

A shadowy Taliban commander, codenamed ‘Rapier’, is identified as responsible for the deadly attack. Matt Rix, the ultra tough commando who led the ambushed platoon, swears vengeance. Rix is one of Special Forces’ most lethal operators. He’ll neutralise Rapier – whatever it takes.

But in Afghanistan’s brutal war, not all things are as they seem.