Review: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a typical Hugo fashion, there were intervening chapters with naught to do with the story. I don’t know if I’m exaggerating since I’ve really only read this and Les Miserables but it feels like it’s his style along with overly romanticising everybody and add to that, the swooning fall-in-love trope. Not that I mind the last bit very much except that the lady is lacking in character somewhat. Dear Esmeralda…

She fainted here!
She fainted there!
She fainted everywhere!

description

I expected an intelligent gypsy girl to have more Gumption!

On the other hand, I actually felt sorry for the villain, Claude Frollo, **evil laughs**
I feel his lack of nurture and therefore, inability / incapability to deal with emotions which no one had ever previously stirred in his heart. He was a nut-job obviously but as all of us are defined by the world around us, so was he.

And for the Disney movie lovers… pssst, do NOT ever read this book with the most tragic ending Ever! You have Disney to thank for that ;p

View all my reviews

Review: One

One
One by Sarah Crossan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve just had to wipe off the dry tear stains on my glasses after a session of sob-cry over this book last night! I thought I’d wipe my glasses dry but was obviously not seeing clearly enough (still over teary eyes) to dry them off completely. I knew the book wasn’t going to end with HEA but you know, I always have hope against all hopelessness. Nevertheless, I still do love the ending despite my swollen eyes this morning.

This is my very first Sarah Crossan‘s and truthfully, I haven’t heard of her previously. It has very interesting concepts both in story’s premise and structure. I’m not even sure what you call this structure, narrative poetry? Is there such a thing? In any case, it is amazing! To be able to tell a story with so little words and still send strong messages; Crossan is a maestro of words. Poetry really isn’t my usual cup of tea so I can’t comment on how well they’re formed except that they spoke to me and that’s all that really matters.

One is told from the perspective of Grace, one of the conjoined twin. Grace and Tippi are 15 and due to circumstances, will no longer be homeschooled but will have to attend school outside their home. We hear Grace’s thoughts of her family and as they go out in public, her and Tippi’s response to others’ reaction to them. In essence, this book really is like all YA novels as main protagonists face coming-of-age issues but with one distinguishing feature (conjoined twins).

This is a book that will stay with me a very long time. As someone in her late 30s though, I do find that I contemplate being the girls’ mother than being one of the conjoined twins! Even if we do not hear very much of their mother, she sounded to be a very good mother to them and I could only aspire to be like her (to my own little terrors). I’m going to look for Crossan’s other books and look forward to seeing her at Sydney Writer’s Festival next month!

View all my reviews

Review: Refuge

Refuge
Refuge by A.V. Mather
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Opening a normal-looking door into a whole new world is one of my favourite trope because there are just so many possibilities. In this novel, Refuge, our heroine, Nell McLennan, wanted to run away from her problems, her life. I bet each one of us has felt like that at one time or another… escape the daily drudge or any relationship difficulties and see how they cope when we’re not around or will they miss us at all?

Nell did not have a particularly close relationship with her parents. In fact, they were too busy with work to bother too much with her. And then, just before Christmas holidays, she managed to botch things with her best friend who won’t ever speak to her again. The final kick came when her parents decided to go on a holiday without her. She is being sent to a grandfather she’s never met who lives in woop woop. When the chance of escape was presented, Nell jumped for it.

It was a bit of a slow start or maybe I was just too impatient to get to the other world behind the door. It felt like there were too much setting up in the beginning; a steamrolling of events to drive Nell to truly want/need a ‘refuge’ from ever having to face up to her troubles. However, ‘Refuge’ really isn’t a haven where you do not have problems instead Nell came across a set of different yet the same sort of issues. Refuge is a dark world filled with madness and supernatural talents. Everyone came to Refuge for the same reason and all have their own sets of secrets, enemies, and allies. Who can Nell trust? Will she stay or will she return home?

I didn’t expect Refuge to be such a dark world but I do love the variety & dynamics of characters in this world. Nell was a little frustrating but it’s one of those passenger-driver issue, if you get what I mean. I am fascinated by the mad scientist and ever curious on the backgrounds of the other Refuge-ans (we don’t get to hear very much about them). The ending also makes me think that this is really only the first in a series; am keeping my fingers crossed that there will be more Refuge tales.

My sincere thanks to the author for providing e-copy of this book in exchange of honest review

View all my reviews

Deborah Burrows: Q&A

 

Thank you, Deborah, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing. I adored A Time of Secrets and have been keeping a careful eye for your next book so am very very happy with having one in my hands now 🙂

Thank you, Tien, for those kind words. I’m so happy that you liked Stella in Secrets – she’s one of my favourite people too. I do hope that you like Lily in Ambulance Girls, too. She’s a feisty Aussie girl in the thick of the Blitz mayhem.

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate?  It’s chocolate!! Whatever way it comes, I’m happy.

Coffee or Tea?  Coffee in the morning (crucial!) and tea in the afternoon (preferably with scones).

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark?  Ummm. I was known to dog-ear in my misspent youth, but now I’m a scrupulous bookmarker. I use anything, leaves, twigs, postcards, envelopes, pamphlets, anything available – even a real bookmark occasionally.

Plot or Character?   Definitely character, but this comes after I’ve decided on what themes I want to explore.

I usually begin a book with a couple of themes, for instance, anti-Semitism in WW2 Britain, the Australian Intelligence Service, the effect of war on those who fight, the impact of hordes of young American servicemen on a small city like Perth, what it is like to discover that your first love has died in battle in a country far away.

But I can’t begin writing until I know who my heroine will be, and I have a good idea of her back-story. I need to know where and when she was born, her family circumstances, where she grew up and what she is passionate about before I am able to imagine what she will undergo in the course of my book. Then other characters begin to appear in my mind and I need to know their back-stories in detail as well. Every character in my books (even quite a minor one) has a detailed back-story in my mind.

HEA or unexpected twist? Happily ever after! Always!!

What fascinates you so much about history that you have 3 history degrees?

I have always been fascinated by the past. Even as a child I would walk through the streets of Perth imagining how it had looked when my mother was a girl, or when her mother was young. My favourite books as a child were ones set or written in the past.

Also, history is about stories, and I adore stories.

And the study of history allows you to have some insight into why the world is the way it is today. It offers explanations, which I like.

Any other era in history that you like aside from WWII?

The 1920s. Like WW2 it was a time of enormous change for women. But it was a time of hope also, as people wanted to forget the horrors of WW1. And it has the added bonus of great clothes and music!

Any era in history you dislike? Why?

I don’t really dislike any historical period, but some don’t interest me as much as others. I doubt that I would write about the eighteenth century, for example, because I don’t know much about it.

When did you first start writing and what was the road to publication like for you?

I began to write in 2009, finished A Stranger in my Street in January 2011, and by April 2011 I had an agent and a publisher. So I can’t share any stories about having to paper my walls with rejections.

I will say in all humility, though, that I doubt a publisher would ever have considered my first book if I hadn’t paid to have the manuscript professionally edited before trying to find an agent. That really made all the difference. The editor suggested that I make a lot of changes to the pacing of the book. She also suggested that I write new scenes and remove others. Because of my editor I was able to see my ‘baby’ from an entirely new point of view and the flaws of the first time writer were horribly apparent. It’s not easy to accept that what you thought was wonderful needs a lot more work, but I’m so glad that I accepted her advice, because after re-writing I was able to offer a polished manuscript to literary agents, and I was accepted almost immediately.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Ambulance Girls’?

A 1941 newspaper article headed: “WA Girl is ARP Heroine”. It was about Stella O’Keefe, the first Australian A.R.P. [Air Raid Precautions] worker in Britain to be presented to the Queen for outstanding bravery in the London Blitz. Stella was born in a small town 160kms out of Kalgoorlie and (like me!) was a petite girl. (She was known to her colleagues in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Station where she worked as “The Mighty Atom,” which amused me.) In November 1940, at the height of the Blitz, she climbed up to the ninth floor of a bombed and dangerously unstable building in the blackout to rescue a trapped family.

In the article, Stella was quoted as saying, “Other girls at my station have done stickier jobs than this rescue. I am the only driver who so far has not crashed an ambulance into a bomb crater while going to hospital with wounded in the darkened streets. Many times bombs have been so close that I saw the explosion and disintegration of buildings, but the pressure of the job is so intense that there is no time for fear.”

After reading that article the character of Lily Brennan appeared in my mind, and the story soon followed.

Hmmm, I would love to know what’s happened to Stella O’Keefe after the Blitz!

What kind of research was involved in the writing of Ambulance Girls?

I was living in Oxford, UK at the time, and had access to Oxford University’s marvellous Bodleian Library. It is a deposit library, so every book ever published in the UK is in there. I just had to ask and books magically appeared in a few hours. This meant that I was able to read a lot of out of print novels written in WW2, and could peruse any books about the period that seemed interesting.

But I also like to visit the places I write about in my books. So I wandered around central London with a bomb map and worked out which buildings had been destroyed or damaged, so that I could get a sense of the city under siege. I also visited wonderful museums, such as the Imperial War Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, and Bletchley Park (where they broke the German Enigma Codes).

And I went to the Westminster City Archives, where I was able to inspect the actual records of the Blitz. I touched the detailed incident reports filled out by the ARP Wardens each day. They listed what bombs were dropped on what streets, the time they hit, the damage they caused to property, and the casualties. That was an amazing experience, because even after 75 years there was still a faint scent of smoke in the yellowing paper.

Was there a particular historical incident you came across during research that really touched you? Could you please share it with us?

This story, from a book that set out people’s memories of the Blitz, really affected me. It still makes me want to cry, for so many reasons:

“She was a beautiful little girl, about eight years old, blonde, the sort of girl you’d see in the old Pears soap advertisements. She was lying on the ground and she was dead. We checked her over but there was no injury except that a piece of shrapnel had taken off the back of her skull. She had a beautiful smile on her face. We took her to the hospital and asked for a doctor to certify her as dead and a young doctor came out. He took one look at her and took off his white coat and said he was going off to join the air force, because he wanted to drop bombs on people who were dropping bombs on us.”

Could you share your top 5 favourite WWII novels, please?

(in alphabetical order)

Enigma by Robert Harris

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer

A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Black-out/All Clear by Connie Willis

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’ve read 3, have got Blackout off the shelf to read, and added the other 2 to my tbr (ack!) ~Tien

What’s next for you?

Ambulance Girls is the first of a trilogy, which all deal with women ambulance drivers in the blitz. The books are loosely connected, so that Lily from Ambulance Girls will appear in the other two, but as a more minor character.

So, at present I’m writing the second in the trilogy, Ambulance Girls: Under Fire.

Eeeek!! I can’t wait 😀

You can check out my thoughts on Ambulance Girls, here

About the author

Deborah Burrows was born and grew up in Perth, Western Australia. She is the author of four novels, all set in the Second World War. Deborah’s inspiration is her late mother, who was widowed by the long shadow of that war and who loved to tell stories about life in wartime. Deborah’s latest novel is Ambulance Girls, which is the first of a trilogy set during the London Blitz.

Deborah’s ‘day job’ is in the law, but she has a passion for history. Perhaps that is why, although she adores the clear skies, beautiful beaches and easy-going atmosphere of her home town, she so loves spending time in dreamy Oxford, where she completed a post-graduate degree in medical history. She now divides her time between the two cities.

Find Deborah: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Review: Ambulance Girls

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: Paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Ever since I fell completely in adoration of Deborrah Burrows’ last book, A Time of Secrets a couple of years ago, I’ve been waiting for another book. And while I was waiting, I kinda stalk her on Goodreads and twitter so I knew she’s been traipsing (sorry, researching) all over London when living there. I greeted the cover reveal of Ambulance Girls with a squeal of excitement and I think my heart might have stopped for mo when I received a copy in the mail.

Firstly, I do love this cover and I really like war historical fiction especially when this particular book’s main character was inspired by a real life historical Aussie woman serving in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Station during the Blitz. There were a lot of things I learnt from this novel about women during the Blitz. I guess there have been quite a number of books or even documentaries but the way it was written here made it all the more real to me. It was obvious that a lot of research was done in the writing of this novel and not just about the women or the Blitz as novel itself feels like veritable literary tour of London.

The novel opens with Lily on duty and having to face one of her fears of enclosed spaces. It was a great start to the novel and you’d easily fall in love with Lily. Her other fears though were not as easily conquered… Aside from her courage, empathy, and her wish to do well unto others, she’s also got a great sense of humour. Maybe that’s her Aussie flavoured humour that coloured her interactions with her friends and gave the book a reminiscent air. We follow Lily through her struggles with daily life during the Blitz; the grief of losing a friend and the joy of falling in love. There were some shaky moments where I thought things were just not going to be right with this book but thankfully, all was made quite well! I had to give the book a bit of a hug from relief and an affectionate pat when I finished reading for I was well & truly shaken.

There were a number of characters both likeable and despicable in this book and the variety and dynamics between these characters were really quite interesting. The book is told from Lily’s perspective only so in a way, we miss out on a lot about the other characters as only a few were well developed. However, as this is the first book of a trilogy, I do believe we will get to know some of the others quite well later on (and I look forward to this!). What you cannot mistake in this novel is the author’s views on anti-semitism (ignorant) and Hitler (evil); she’s loud and clear on that front. Hear! Hear! These things can never be stated enough and whilst Hitler is gone, there are still those like him & share his views.

If you loved the show, Call the Midwife, or the books that inspired it, you would love Ambulance Girls. Lily Brennan may not be English but she’s as brave as those midwives in facing uncertainties & adversities of the time. And I dare say that her Australian personality shone through especially against the foil of English reserved façade.

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

View all my reviews

Review: The Immortal Bind

The Immortal Bind
The Immortal Bind by Traci Harding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been following Traci Harding for nigh on 20 years; I can’t believe it! I still felt like I’ve only just read her first book, The Ancient Future just the other week. I have always felt drawn to her books because the inner-romantic me loved that idea of love across time; of soulmates finding each other again and again over their karmic cycles. 20 years on, I’m still enamoured by this idea and still loved the stories weaved around this theme by Traci Harding.

Unlike her previous works, this book is stand-alone and was apparently a revised work of her earlier movie transcript. Her usual theme of karma and love across times, however, did not change. In The Immortal Bind, Sara and Jon currently living on opposite sides of the world from each other, found themselves enchanted by a pair of antique bejewelled chairs. Through these mediums, they relived their past lives and the curse that followed them through time. To break the curse and be free to be with each other this lifetime, amends must be made.

As Jon & Sara relive their past lives; for the readers, it’s like reading tragic love stories over and over again. On the one hand, it’s lovely to read of young love a number of times but on the other hand, a little frustrating. However, as their lives crossed many times periods in a variety of settings, The Immortal Bind definitely kept the readers interested as we come across different cultures. The only downside is that we do not really get in-depth pictures of each culture/time setting.

This book actually reminds me a little of Barbara Erskine’s epic books. I mean that literally her books are twice the size of The Immortal Bind. If this is your first read of Traci Harding’s, aside from her other books, I’d also recommend Erskine’s. If you are a fan of Barbara Erskine, please do give Harding a chance! The Immortal Bind is a story of love reaching across time but more than that, it is a story of self and lesson in selflessness… for how can you love when you are selfish?

Thank you Harper Collins Publishers Australia for providing paperback copy in exchange of honest review

View all my reviews

Review: The Orphan Sky

The Orphan Sky
The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gem of a find when searching for a book to fit a reading challenge! Who would have thought that I’d find a book set almost completely in Azerbaijan?! The author herself was born there and emigrated to the US in late 80s. This book, therefore, seems to be set at the time when she would herself been a teen in Azerbaijan. The main protagonist, Leila, is a piano prodigy and it seems the author herself was a talented musician in her own right. It’s very interesting to know that the way of life reflected in this book most probably reflects the author’s own.

description

This novel opens with Leila in her 30s seeking closure of some sort. The story follows as she traced the events in her youth which brought her to her current dilemma. It is a coming of age story as well as a love story from which a parallel to a mythical tale of the Maiden Tower (an actual mysterious monument in Azerbaijan). In her mid-teens, Leila was a good girl; focused on her future as a pianist and firm in her belief of Communism. She was instructed to ‘spy’ upon a shop owner suspected as an American mole. What she found, however, was a talented boy with an arty soul that complemented her own. The way of true love, however, is never straight…

Despite my frustration of Leila’s naivety (how could she again trust that snake who she knew manipulated her earlier downfall?!), I felt that is a true reflection of her rearing; she’s had everything handed to her previously so it feels like she hasn’t any resources of her own! The Orphan Sky is a blend of legendary love in the modern world; a story full of treachery and heartbreak yet there is always hope.

View all my reviews