Monday 19 September 2022

All the Broken Places (The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas #2) by John Boyne (2022)

The long-awaited sequel to the global bestseller, 


The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is John Boyne's latest novel for adults.

1946. Three years after a cataclysmic event which tore their lives apart, a mother and daughter flee Poland for Paris, shame, and fear at their heels, not knowing how hard it is to escape your past.

Nearly eighty years later, Gretel Fernsby lives a life that is a far cry from her traumatic childhood. When a couple moves into the flat below her in her London mansion block, it should be nothing more than a momentary inconvenience. However, the appearance of their nine-year-old son Henry brings back memories she would rather forget.

Faced with a choice between her own safety and his, Gretel is taken back to a similar crossroads she encountered long ago. Back then, her complicity dishonoured her life, but to interfere now could risk revealing the secrets she has spent a lifetime protecting.

It is a riveting follow-up to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and it works incredibly well as a standalone.
The story is told with a dual timeline of Gretel's post-war life and the present. The frequent shift between past and present made compulsive reading and I devoured this book in one day.
Gretel is a very human and complex character who grappled with grief, guilt and fear for her entire adult life. She kept her identity secret for a lifetime and even as an old woman the thought of confronting her past and opening old wounds would leave her emotional and upset. There was no way she could right the wrongs of her past but I thought it fitting that she had the chance to make a difference in one little boy's life and in a way atone for her sins.

A couple of things about Gretel's life appeared odd to me- On the run from Nazi hunters and the like she and her mother chose Paris to hide in after the war and with their German accents not well disguised. Also, when Gretel was slightly older she didn't recognise that David was Jewish. These little oddities aside, the book is very fast-paced, and dark but greatly entertaining. 
Some people might get hung up on whether the book is historically accurate but as a work of fiction, it works. It is simply inspired by events in WWII and at the same time, it raises thought-provoking questions about what faced the ordinary Germans who had to adapt to post-war Europe.

Sunday 4 September 2022

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna (2022)

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family--and a new love--changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don't mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she's used to being alone and she follows the rules...with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and...Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he's concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn't know she was looking for....

Mika and her found family at Nowhere House are a bunch of magical eccentrics. 
Witches are not allowed to live in groups because of the volatile nature of magic. Three children who don't have control of their magic are bound to cause problems. 
I loved that the people at Nowhere House had such a strong family bond and they didn't want to have to separate the children. Having read about Mika's upbringing and how lonely it was I was hoping for a good outcome for the children.
Jamie doesn't want Mika there as he sees her as a threat to the secrets they are hiding at Nowhere House. However, his grumpiness is soon mellowed the more he gets to know Mika.
There was a surprising twist at the end of the novel that I did not see coming and ended the story in a very heartwarming and uplifting way.
I loved the narration of this book. The narrator does a wonderful job of the characters' voices and accents. I was particularly impressed with Jamie as his accent is difficult to get right and Samara MacLaren nails it. Perfect.