The Day My Grandfather Was A Hero by Paulus Hochgatterer #BookReview

TheDayMyGrandfatherWasAHero

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In October 1944, a thirteen-year-old girl arrives in a tiny farming community in Lower Austria, at some distance from the main theatre of war. She remembers very little about how she got there, it seems she has suffered trauma from bombardment. One night a few months later, a young, emaciated Russian appears, a deserter from forced labour in the east. He has nothing with him but a canvas roll, which he guards like a hawk. Their burgeoning friendship is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of a group of Wehrmacht soldiers in retreat, who commandeer the farm.

Paulus Hochgatterer’s intensely atmospheric, resonant novel is like a painting in itself, a beautiful observation of small shifts from apathy in a community not directly affected by the war, but exhausted by it nonetheless; individual acts of moral bravery which to some extent have the power to change the course of history.

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When I heard about this novel, it didn’t take more than a second to know that I wanted to read the story of a young girl during WWII. The girl is the person guiding us through the story but it’s mainly about a painting that really went missing during the war and where this novella gives a version of what possibly happened.

This short novella covers in merely 112 pages in fact the way of life in Austria for a family of farmers. The characters here fold back on themselves and they very much live in their own microcosmos in the country side. While it might seem at first that the war is not close by for them – you won’t read about invasions, raids, hunger or camps – it is a false feeling, even they can’t escape from danger. Yes the war is almost at its end as the date reads March 14, 1945 in the first chapter but that doesn’t mean that the threat is gone or that they have come out of it unscathed.

Nelli is the anchor point throughout the story but the story’s orbit extends to the farmer and his wife and their 5 children. Nelli – only 13 years old – is the most interesting character for half of the novel though as she’s lost her memory yet the scarring is right under the surface and it shines through intermittently via an astuteness that is quite extraordinary for a 13-year old. She has a special fondness for stories of martyrs for example and has no problem regaling an audience with vivid descriptions of ways to murder somebody.

I was well aware that she had a vivid imagination so it was difficult to know what the truth was. She often tells two versions of events and sometimes I was hoping that the alternate version of events that she proposed right after the one that was first mentioned was actually the one to be true. Who knows though? Did someone walk away or was this person killed after all, we’ll never really know… and exactly that play with the reader’s emotions, kindling that hope that we still carry in ourselves for the most positive outcome, is what made this novel extraordinary.

It did take me a bit of time and some research to find out more about the political situation in Austria at the time and the characters positions. ‘It’s only the Wehrmacht’ introduced me to their new visitors but I would have enjoyed it if the author had described their situation in more detail as it left me confused at first. The author also put a lot of effort into describing the landscape, the sky and air etc. which I could really imagine but not all of his characters came alive as much as Nelli’s surroundings unfortunately.

It was a interesting short story and Nelli allowed me to read a ‘could have happened’ story about a painting that really went missing in 1945. Above all this she made me realise that heroes don’t always get their fame. There were good people who acted and were never named. There are still so many stories untold, people who were brave and never received the recognition they deserved. It’s time to take notice and this novella is a great tribute for any unnamed heroes.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher MacLehose for review. This review is my honest opinion.

The Postcard Murder by Paul Worsley QC #BlogTour @midaspr #PaulWorsley #ThePostcardMurder

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Welcome to my stop for The Postcard Murder – A Judge’s Tale by Paul Worsley QC and thanks so much to MidasPR for the invitation to join this blog tour! I have an extract to share with you today but first check out how great this novel sounds.

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It may be of some satisfaction to you, Gentlemen of the Jury, to know that you have been engaged in one of the most remarkable trials that is to be found in the annals of the Criminal Courts of England. Mr Justice Grantham, Judge at the Old Bailey

This is a vintage whodunit set in Edwardian London at a crossroads in time, as social revolution and psychiatry posed new questions for the Law and for the first time the Media were co-opted to run a killer to ground.

The year is 1907: 22-year-old Emily Dimmock lies murdered in her Camden Town flat, her head all but severed from her body. With not a thread or stain or fingerprint to point to the perpetrator, a young artist is manouevred into the shadow of the scaffold.

The tale is told verbatim by witnesses presided over by the author, who draws on his own experience as a Judge at the Old Bailey to get inside the mind of the outspoken but irresolute Mr Justice Grantham. The result is as compelling today as it is definitive of the era in which the murder was committed.

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Author

Paul Worsley was for ten years a judge at the Old Bailey, where the Postcard Murder was tried. He now lives in rural North Yorkshire, where as a practising QC most of his murder cases took place. The Postcard Murder is the first in a series of books in which he gets into the mind of the trial judge in order to lay bare Justice as it was understood and dispensed in the manner of the day.

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*** Follow the rest of the tour here ***

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Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton #BookReview #BWR

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WHEN ESTHER THOREL, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

INSIDE THE THORELS’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

IT IS SILK that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household and set the scene for a devastating day of reckoning between her and Sara.

THE PRICE OF a piece of silk may prove more than either is able to pay.

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Two women, Sara and Esther, are the narrators in Blackberry and Wild Rose, a historical novel situated in the year 1768. This shared responsibility for telling the story in alternating chapters is exactly what makes it such a fascinating novel.

While they are both subservient women, they hold very different positions in life. Sara becomes a servant in the Thorel household and Esther Thorel is the wife – literally ‘only’ the wife – to a very prominent silk weaver. The women are tied with their hands and feet to their social roles and I followed them while trying to fulfill their hopes and dreams. Sadly, there’s hardly a connection between them despite their similarities, it does not spark any sympathy for the other woman and if anything, they stand firm and tall in their own corner. Is their anything that can ever bring them closer together?

Even though Sara is obviously the underdog and is to be pitied, I sympathised significantly more with Esther and never really warmed to Sara throughout the story. It’s difficult to understand why she wasn’t grateful (any job would seem better to me than working in a brothel and Esther did save her from a lifelong debt) and I can’t attribute a lot of positive traits to her character. My heart did go out to her a few times towards the end though when I finally saw the deep feelings she was in fact able to develop for someone even though it might hurt her in the end.

But overall I found more enjoyment reading about Esther’s encounters with Bisby Lambert, a journeyman silk weaver who is allowed to use the spare loom in the Thorel attic to weave his own masterpiece. I hardly knew anything about silk weaving so a whole new world opened up to me and it was fascinating and educational to read about the looms and the process of weaving silks. There was also a beautiful chemistry between them that rejoiced me enormously.

Jealousy, secrecy, desires, and then… oh lord, a betrayal so deep you might not recover. It all leads the story towards that one point where they’ll have to make a certain choice, one ultimate moment of deciding whether to give support to the other woman or turn their back in the other one’s hour of need and even worse, be the one responsible for casualties. I was very dubious they would make the correct moral decision. The situation took a turn for the worse and I crossed all my fingers this would have a happy ending. In a way it did but also it very much didn’t, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

Blackberry and Wild Rose was brilliantly atmospheric and a thoroughly enjoyable debut. She’s going to make me a true historical novel buff if she keeps this up, you’ll see.

I received a free paperback copy of the novel from the publisher, Quercus Books. This is my honest opinion.