A Plum Job by Cenarth Fox

Published: 4th August 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Fox Plays
Pages: 249
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s 1940. Germany’s military might is smashing through the Low Countries and the British, Belgian and French forces are trapped at Dunkirk. The Nazis will soon be in Gay Paree. 

Louise Wellesley is a gorgeous and aristocratic young Englishwoman desperate to become an actress. But her upbringing demands that young women of her class go to finishing school, the Buckingham Palace debutante ball and then remain at home until the right chap comes along. Such young ladies most definitely do not cavort semi-naked upon the wicked stage. 

But war brings change. People tell lies. Rules are broken. So when you’re in a foreign country and living by your wits while facing arrest, torture and death from the French police, Resistance, Gestapo and a double-agent, you bloody well better remember your lines, act out of your skin and never ever bump into the furniture. 

Oh and it helps if your new best friend is Edith Piaf. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is a great story that has been slotted into the folds of history. From innocent beginnings into the throws of World War Two Fox tells a captivating story about young Louise Wellesley.

The narrative perspectives of Louise plus cousins Max and Kurt Hartmann provide different sides of the events and opens up new perspectives. Fox connects the trio’s stories creatively and with style, and brings their humble origins into the dangers of a world war. Louise is not innocent nor is she entirely naive. She is determined and brave, and is quick thinking. Kurt and Max also have their own agenda’s and ambitions, their differences coming to light on the page and through their actions.

Louise is a character to admire even before her assistance to the war. She is fiercely loyal and a wonderful friend, she adores her family and wants to do right by them. But she is also ambitious, something she’s not supposed to be, but with her determination she gets what she wants and becomes who she wants to be. There is still a hint of that young inexperienced girl inside her, but that doesn’t stop her from doing what needs to be done.

The more you read of Louise’s time in Paris it’s hard to imagine her as the simple actress from England, but Louise has not forgotten her acting roots, nor those who guided her, and as she finds herself in times of trouble she reflects on what she’s been taught, faking confidence, suave, and bravery she keeps herself alive and out of danger for the most part.

Knowing a little but not a lot about the early days in Paris, I enjoyed the references to historical events and figures. The reactions and responses by those close to Hitler and those who suffered because of distant orders was interesting and it told of the gradual yet seemingly well organised invasion by Hitler’s forces.

A Plum Job is about passion and perseverance, about missed opportunities and great losses. Against the backdrop of a fresh world war and suspicion on both sides it is more than just a tale of a wannabe actress. The fictional tale Fox has woven through historical events is captivating and filled with drama and excitement, it’s even a little bit heartbreaking to be honest.

It’s not 100% historically accurate but it is hard to put down all the same with a story that’s filled with drama, excitement, and suspense. There are numerous surprises and unexpected things that keep you interested and engaged and it’s a compelling story, you’re never quite sure where it is heading but you don’t mind the journey getting there.

You can purchase A Plum Job via the following

Amazon

Amazon Au

Amazon UK

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Published: 3rd August 2015
Goodreads badgePublisher: Random House Australia
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fairytale retelling
★   ★   ★  ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany. 

The Beast’s Garden is the kind of story that appears to be a simple fairy tale retelling, a classic tale woven through history; but in actual fact it is a powerful and important story, filled with bold thoughts and acts of defiance, bringing history to life under the guise of a mere fairy tale. It is brutal and honest, yet told so wonderfully that amongst the horror of war and the raw subject, you are captivated and amazed at what happens, real or otherwise.

From the first pages Forsyth holds nothing back, showing off the beauty and danger early on, something that remains until the very last page. The combination and close proximity beauty and danger has in this novel is wonderful, the way Forsyth shows how both existed side by side for so long also adds a lot of meaning. The fact day to day life coexisted with such horror, especially in the early years, is incredible to discover, even more so in novel form.

As you read you are immersed in a fascinating yet brutal part of history and the past comes to life revealing Forsyth’s immaculate research skills. According to Forsyth the only created characters are Ava, Leo, Jutta and their families, everyone else is taken from history. The Beast’s Garden includes important and historic figures such as the Goebbels, Mildred Harnack, members of the Abwehr, as well as numerous others on both sides. Through Forsyth’s flawless and bold narrative their stories and movements during Hitler’s reign are brought to life again in a spectacular tale about war, love, strength, and music.

Though a few characters are created, they fit perfectly into the history. Forsyth blends the actions of the real with the desires of the fictional and manages to excel and telling both stories. Real events are woven meticulously and elegantly with the lives of her characters creating a personal and unique perspective on some of the people and key moments during World War Two.

Aside from the historical elements, the detail and style of the narrative is wonderful to read. Nothing is included that isn’t of some importance and everything has meaning in some form or another. Ava is strong and resilient and watching her grow over the course of the story is incredible, truly an example of not knowing what you’re capable of until you have no other choice. Each created character brings something to the story, whether it is the perspective of the Jewish, the resistance, or those caught in between,

Ava’s story is not the sole one being told with many other figures having their stories explored as well, including members of the resistance, Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boysen. Forsyth has woven Ava into history marvellously and with the perspective of others included it brings a lot more intensity to the story than if the events and historic figures were merely background noise to Ava’s own life. Forsyth treats each of her characters with respect, and those taken from history have become as true and honest as they are able with actions, opinions, and fates reflecting what happened.

Forsyth combines the fairy tale and the real together stylishly and with skill. There are quotes from The Singing, Springing Lark opening each section and Ava reads and draws strength from the story of the lark herself, through all its torments and triumphs, each action reflected in her own story.

Coupled with the story of The Singing, Springing Lark and the facts and truths of World War Two, Forsyth’s incredible creativity and ability to mix together what is real and what is not is to be admired. The story spans seven years, from 1938 to 1945, and through Ava’s story you see the world change around her and see it change herself. Through her story and others an understanding is gained about the effect Hitler had on not just the outside world but Berlin and the German people too.

This is a story that is riddled with real faces and real events, connected and combined with characters that are filled with bravery, bold opinions, and incredible strengths. It is a novel told against the backdrop not only of history but of a fairytale, and one that demonstrates the power Germany had shown the world, but it also shows the power hidden within Germany itself. A spectacular story.

You can purchase The Beast’s Garden via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Booktopia | Dymocks

Bookworld | QBD

I Truly Lament by Mathias B. Freese

Published: 15th September 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Wheatmark
Pages: 230
Format: Paperback
Genre: Short Stories/Historical fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

I Truly Lament—Working Through the Holocaust is a varied collection of stories: inmates in death camps; survivors of these camps; disenchanted Golems complaining about their designated rounds; Holocaust deniers and their ravings; collectors of Hitler curiosa (only recently a few linens from Hitler’s bedroom suite went up for sale!); an imagined interview with Eva Braun during her last days in the Berlin bunker; a Nazi camp doctor subtly denying his complicity; and the love story of a Hungarian cantor, among others.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book for review

The stories in this anthology are not real accounts or experiences, they are fictionalised stories, and yet Freese does manage to capture a small part about what life was like for those during the war. Stories about starving in camps, being dragged away from villages and mistreated by guards, as well as the tales and haunting memories by survivors are all expressed through numerous stories and Freese explores these emotions really well.

Freese does not take one side or viewpoint in his stories, instead he uses a variety of perspectives from prisoners, guards, adults and children, and uses settings and moments that take place before, during, and after the war. Each narrative voice is good at expressing the required level of emotion and feelings, suitable depending on the character and the circumstance, and despite somewhat restricted descriptions, a vivid image of the various environments is possible.

Even though the topic is quite intense, not every story is haunting or depressing; some are humorous and light-hearted, some are certainly strange, and even those from prisoner points of view are fairly philosophical and reflective, yet don’t distract from the serious topic at hand. There are stories that explore falling in love in the early days of the war, about life within the camps, and stories that change the tone completely with humour, absurdity, and intense philosophical and psychological evaluations. For those stories of a darker nature, the details about life in the camps and the abuse suffered at the hands of guards is realistic but have limited detail or gruesome accounts. Freese does not make light of the treatment or shy away from the facts, but he also does not spend time describing it in great detail. There is a great deal of authenticity in many of these stories but Freese is restraining on making it too brutal to read about.

Despite being fictional, there is a ring of truth and real emotion in many of these stories that expresses the despair and torment of living in the camps, the justification by the Nazis, and even demonstrating that coming out a survivor does not always mean total liberation from the memories or the suffering. I liked that Freese chose to have many points of view from all parts of the war and from both sides involved. It balanced out the collection and it added a wonderful range of views and experiences of the same situation.

Admittedly not every story was up to the same calibre with some of greater quality and more enjoyable than others. Some were emotive and insightful and were wonderful at evoking feelings and circumstance while others were a tad bland and seemed to be lacking something. Having said that I did find a lot of the stories fascinating, not in a morbid way, but as someone who cannot even fathom what it was truly like, for prisoners or guards. There is no real way to wrap your head around these experiences and no matter how much you read you can never truly capture what it was like. Freese has tried to get inside the minds of people who experienced all sides of the war and has managed to reflect the numerous and various experiences rather well.

There is no denying the topic is one that is haunting and possibly uncomfortable for many, but this is not an anthology filled totally with heavy stories about sorrow and despair. Freese mixes up the styles and the tones and with a mixture of humour and reflection and tells touching stories that try and explore what people went through as a result of World War II. Certainly not all stories will be to everyone’s taste, and some are more serious and respectful than others, but what Freese has done in trying to take new approaches in discussing the Holocaust is certainly commendable.

You can purchase I Truly Lament via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust