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Friday, 21 April 2017

Review: Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys

With the seeming overabundance of historical fiction about World War Two, it's sometimes hard to find a story that is a completely fresh perspective on this period (which isn't to say those stories aren't good). With Ruta Sepetys' novel, "Salt to the Sea", you find something that is fresh, well-written and absorbing, and educational.

The book is divided between the POVs of four people - Joana (Lithuanian), Florian (German), Emilia (Polish), and Alfred (German), each haunted by dark secrets that are revealed in turn.

Joana, Florian, and Emilia are fleeing Eastern Europe with the Red Army hot on their heels. They have heard the horror stories. They also know that no official evacuation orders have been given so they have to be careful. Their aim is Gotenhafen, where evacuation ships await - so they hear. 

They meet in a forest under extreme circumstances. Emilia, beset upon by a Russian soldier, is saved by Florian just in time. Though he has no interest in her tagging along with him, she does so anyway. They meet a small group of people, of which Joana is a part. Other characters include a cobbler dubbed 'The Shoe Poet', a blind but extremely perceptive girl called Ingrid, a small boy whose grandma did not wake up, and a woman called Eva. They travel together towards Gotenhafen, though some of them are uncomfortable with having Emilia as part of their group. 

The group reaches Gotenhafen, but it is here that disasters start to happen. One of their number is lost beneath the ice. Gaining boarding passes for the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, is immensely tricky. And even once they are on the ship, all is not yet safe. 

The short chapters really help with the sense of pace and urgency these characters would be feeling in their flight towards the ship, and the promise of safety. Certain events are told from more than one point of view, just so we can feel empathy in all its forms. If this was on a cinema screen, the camera would often be darting around every few seconds. As each secret is revealed, your empathy is necessarily increased. None of these characters were necessarily persecuted in the way that we know victims of the Nazi regime were treated, but that does not render the devastation of their lives any less awful. These characters have lost every part of their lives but their own bodies - and even then, they are not fully perfect. It seems so important to have stories like this that tell just a small part about the tens of millions of lives in between Germany and the Soviet Union - the Soviet Union may technically have been on the Allies' side, but it was no less brutal than any other country who took part in the war. 

I would encourage everybody to read this if I could. Books about the Holocaust, the fighting in Britain, France, Germany, and other European countries will not become less important, but we need more stories like this, stories of civilians who suffered immensely just because they were in Hitler's sights for lebensraum. 

Review: Whispers in the Sand, Barbara Erskine

"What you need, my dear, is a holiday." So says our protagonist's (Anna's), Aunt Phyllis, during Anna's visit following a recent divorce. Phyllis speaks of Anna's great-grandmother, Louisa Shelley, a renowned artist, and Anna becomes inspired to retrace Louisa's journey through Egypt. Armed with Louisa's diary and mysterious small glass bottle, Anna books herself onto a cruise.

As soon as she arrives on the cruise, it becomes apparent that two men (Andy and Toby) are competing for her affections - but is it her affections they desire, or her diary and bottle? Both seem eager to examine the two possessions, and Anna has to struggle to fight them off. Not only is it them she finds herself battling against, however, but it soon transpires that there are mysterious and malevolent presences around Anna. 

She confides in Serena, a woman who partakes in the mystical arts, most notably those of a modern-day Isis worship. She sensitively explains and explores what could be happening. 

The longer the journey goes on, the more intense these presences get - and they no longer affect Anna alone.

Interspersed with Anna's story is that of Louisa Shelley, whom we get to know through Anna reading the diary. Louisa was gifted the bottle by her dragoman, Hassan, whom had no idea of the apparent curse surrounding it. For the most part, it causes no trouble except for when an English nobleman tries to wrestle it off Louisa, which leads to tragedy. 

This was a very enjoyable read, with a a blend of historical narrative, exploration of ancient mysticism and spirituality, and gorgeous descriptions of Egypt's landscape. There was one bugbear, however, and that was the ending. It just stops without a final resolution. Erskine wrote an "Afterthought" in which case she deliberately wanted to leave the story there, but it left me feeling unsatisfied. I know books, once finished, become independent of their authors, but I wanted to know Erskine's ending, not imagining one of my own. 

I would recommend this book, but if you would feel frustrated at a non-ending, like me, it might be best to leave it as it's not the shortest of reads!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Guest post: Dan Whitehouse

Today's post comes from Dan Whitehouse, from an organisation called "Into Forward."  Into Forward is a cutting edge, industry recognised technology and future trend predictions blog. We use a special blend of machine learning and search data for all our trend predictions! Plan from three years from now and you'll never fail. We'll share all we know to keep you in the loop with the next biggest thing in technology, the markets, green tech and many more.

Dan wrote an article about Latest Books and Reading Trends. I hope you'll enjoy it!

You would think in this technological age that books would not be so popular anymore. The truth is that books are actually making a comeback because of electronic books that can be read on devices like Amazon Kindle. The popularity of digital books has increased tremendously in recent years and they are only getting more popular. Not only that, but independent authors now have an easy way to publish their own books to an audience without needing to hire a traditional book publisher or invest their own money into printing copies of the books.
Also, Amazon has a service through their subsidiary company “Createspace” where independent authors can actually self-publish printed books online. The way it works is when someone purchases the print book, Createspace will manufacture that book specially for the customer and then the author will get a royalty on that sale. This means the author doesn’t have to investment any of their own money into printing copies and then hoping they sell. Instead, they can just have Amazon print the copies when they sell and then deduct the printing costs from the money already received. As more authors are discovering Createspace, more self-published printed books are being brought to the marketplace.
Of course, it is still hard for self-published authors to get their books recognized and selling like crazy. Instead, you’ll see more publicized authors like Bill O’Reilly or John Grisham having an easy time selling their books. Bill O’Reilly, who is the host of the “O’Reilly Factor” on FOX, has published numerous books within the last few years which are still trending. These books include Killing the Rising Sun, Killing Kennedy, Killing Reagan, Killing Patton, and Killing Jesus. Despite how negative these titles may sound, they actually touch upon some very sensitive issues about great American men of the 20th century.
With all the success of movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the “Harry Potter” series, the books that the movies are based on are becoming increasingly popular. Fans of these franchises are discovering additional books and storylines which have not been made into movies yet. For Fifty Shades of Grey fans, there is a trilogy of the three books that you can purchase in a package called the Fifty Shades Trilogy. It contains the books Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. Fans of Harry Potter are currently flocking toward the bestselling book “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”