Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

Series: Letters to the Lost #2
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1681190141
ISBN 13: 9781681190143
Published: May 2018
Pages: 408
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Letters to the Lost (Letters to the Lost #1)

Onto the second book I read in a day (but scheduled the review for the day after), we have the same characters, but the focus has moved to Declan’s best mate, Rev, who is the adopted son to two wonderful human beings.

Rev was abused as a child. His mother died close to his birth, and his father was a leader in a church… taking his beliefs to the level of starving and beating Rev into obedience. He was home schooled, never saw a doctor, the works. It’s only when his hand is held on the hot plate of the stove and his arm then broken in his struggles when he tries to run away from home, and his neighbour finally witnesses him vomiting, hurt, and absolutely petrified of his father.

His adoptive parents are beyond lovely and patient. When he first comes to them he can’t sleep for fear his father will come for him, and he’s also been raised to think black people are evil… but through their kindness and intelligence he slowly begins to trust and understand just how many things his father was wrong about. That was all when Rev was about seven.

In this novel he’s now eighteen. The laws restricting his father from him fell away along with his status as a minor, and within weeks of his birthday he receives a letter and then emails from his former-father. As if that isn’t enough his parents have taken in another child – something he’s generally used to – but instead of being a baby or kid it’s now a young teen, who has also been through hell to the point of grabbing a knife for protection and staring at people while they sleep.

Rev also has to be there for his mate who wants to go visit his father in jail for the first time, and then the girl he’s only just met is getting harassed online for being a gamer and her parents are getting a divorce. It’s all going on, and Rev is getting more and more worried he’ll turn out exactly like his father, and hurt the ones he loves.

Through this novel we see people who need lessons and patience in how to view a situation from eyes not their own, and give trust for people from the outside to reassure them that they are not bad, and everything will be okay. The hardest thing is understanding that some people out there aren’t just bad, they’re also misguided into thinking that they really are doing the best for the people they love – and that kettle of fish is so much harder to deal with.

This is a beautiful and hard book, and you just have to focus on the fact there are good people out there, instead of those who are really quite shit. The poor kids in this book. We just need more like Rev and his parents.

Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Series: Letters to the Lost #1
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1681190087
ISBN 13: 9781681190082
Published: April 2017
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: More Than We Can Tell (Letters to the Lost #2)

I devoured these two books today. They remind me a lot of Australia’s own Fiona Wood – novels that contain late teens who are going through some pretty heavy stuff, and the books both don’t speak down and belittle their crisis, nor do they make the issue so all encompassing that there’s no hope and everything is just drugs and rape – because my god, am I sick of those types of books from when I was a teen, it’s like all there was.

In this, we have Juliet. Her mother was a photojournalist until she was killed in a hit-and-run coming home from the airport – she survived taking photos in the worst war-torn parts of the world to then be taken by something as simple yet cruel (as they never find out who killed her) as that. Juliet copes by writing letters and leaving them at her mother’s grave – carrying on something they did while the mother was travelling – but her privacy is torn apart by Declan. He’s a youth on reprimand, having to do community service after a brush with the law, that requires him to mow the lawns in the cemetery. He reads her letter and, without thinking, adds his own few words to it, sharing his grief. He’s lost his sister to his own father’s drink-driving, but through their initial meetings Juliet is just pissed that he dares to assume he knows of her grief.

When they work out that they understand each other on a level that most of the kids in their year at school don’t, they build a friendship that gets firmer as the novel progresses. For the majority of the novel they don’t really meet – they correspond via letters left at the grave for a while before progressing to anonymous email accounts to speed things up. And from there, we have a quite dignified and sometimes anguished look at grief, responsibility, and how your world can be turned all up in more than a few ways. When a single event eclipses your entire life for a year or more how do you handle it if suddenly everything you thought you knew about this was then shaken up?

Declan and Juliet’s ability to discuss, consider, and put everything aside to be there for each other through everything is what drives this novel. It’s about acceptance and respect.

With Juliet and Declan we also have Rev – Declan’s neighbour and best mate, who’s had a pretty awful life also… who the second book then takes hold of. We’ll talk of him in the next review post. Juliet’s best mate, Rowan, who means well in the majority of what she does, but plays an integral role into how we interact and treat others based on appearances and rumours.

Something that is touched upon in this novel and also what always got me riled up in school is how if there’s two kids in an ‘incident’, and one is ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’, you can bet they’ll both be told off at the most but the bad will be sent to the principal’s office or into detention, and the good will be told to take their seat. It’s expected that regardless of whether that situation itself is dealt out to its finality – and whether the bad student just happened to be there or actually did have a hand in the issue, they’ll nearly always at least share the blame. It’s a bit ridiculous. And parts like these make the novel seem utterly realistic to the teenage environment.

Review: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0671878778
ISBN 13: 9780671878771
Published: 1998
Pages: 384
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We meet Miles again on a mission as his new rank – imperial auditor – shadowing Imperial Auditor Vorthys (though they do work fairly equally despite Miles’ infancy in the role that already normally goes to much older men…

They have come to Komarr to investigate what caused a ship crash, which happened to also take out the solar mirror that’s vital to the continual terraforming of the planet, where you still need breathing masks if you venture out of the domes the inhabitants all live, shop and (mostly) work in. The other issue here is that the location is Komarr, which is the location of where Miles’ father earned the title The Butcher – for an event not even his doing. There was a massacre of government officials who had surrendered to Aral, but was then taken out by an upstart Aral quickly dispatched himself… but what use is the truth when you have a planet of either indifferent or rebellious locals who hate Vorkosigan as a whole, the Emperor, and wouldn’t mind it at all if Barrayar left them alone for good?

That’s just what the ship disaster looks like it will be leading to. Miles and Vorthys have a difficult bit of detective work ahead of them, and it’s not made easier when people continue to die or go missing around them… and it wouldn’t be part of the Saga if Miles didn’t manage to get himself held captive somewhere and earn a few more wounds (in addition to his current state that still means has seizures).

All in all this is an excellent book because there are no villains – things don’t always go according to plan, but everyone is working and fighting for what they honestly think is for the good of the people. What’s also excellent is that a great portion of this book is from a female point of view, as we are introduced to Ekaterin Vorsoisson, Vorthys’ niece and their host for their time on Komarr. She has an affinity for gardening which relates often in this book on a partially terraformed planet, and also for intelligent destruction – once again we get a female character who doesn’t sit around to be rescued, but instead wants to give them hell even when it may be against the old Vor way.

And finally, Miles is growing up. Still disappointed in his pointless dream at the start of the book, but otherwise he’s treating people with a little more respect. Yay!

Discussion Post: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

Memory is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. In Memory the story sees significant changes in Miles’s life and in the lives of some of the people around him. This book has major spoilers for Mirror Dance, so stop reading now if you haven’t read that book!

You can read Katharine’s review of Memory here and Tsana’s review here.

 

Katharine: And so we meet Miles back with the Dendarii – and quite quickly we see Miles land himself in some pretty terrible action. After dying in an earlier novel we see the side effects have continued; namely that he has seizures – usually at inopportune times, which we later learn is because they’re triggered by stress.

 

Tsana: For a book that I mainly remembered as being about Simon Illyan, this one really did have some significant life changes for Miles. For all that Miles has had the opportunity to fix a lot of his medical problems — he’s been gradually replacing his skeleton with stronger artificial bones, for example — he’s also been accumulating new ones and now, after much hardship, they’ve finally caught up with him severely enough that it’s time for a medical discharge. From the start of the book, he has seizures left over from his cryorevival but he hasn’t actually told anyone about them. So things go horribly wrong when he goes on a field mission and has a seizure in the heat of battle.

 

And we’re getting into spoiler territory very early on. Should we put up the spoiler shields or jump to discuss something less spoilery?

 

Katharine: Sure thing. Beep boop beep!

 

— spoilers —

Continue reading

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Published by: Echo: Bonnier Publishing Australia
ASIN: B074CG2SGV
ISBN 13: 9781760403171
Published: February 2018
Pages: 288
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

Funded via Kickstarter, Morris brings us the story of two people who will come to be known as Lale and Gita Sokolov – both born under other names, but through the horrific events of Auschwitz and surroundings, and what they had to go through even when they weren’t behind barbed wire any longer, they found reason to seek other names for their future. Both Slovakian, introduced as prisoners, and finally winding up in Melbourne to tell Morris their story, we are drip fed their life from before, during, and after the war.

Lale was somehow fortunate (a weighted use of the word) to become, as the title says, the tattooist of Auschwitz. Sometimes working elsewhere but mainly there, he was one of those who cut into the arms of fellow prisoners, marked the numbers, then rubbed ink into the wound to create the tattoo. Gita, who had been a prisoner a little longer than Lale when they first meet, was also fortunate enough to work in administration – which however leaves each victim’s name blazoned in her memory where Lale only has numbers. They meet when Lale has to re-tattoo Gita’s faded numbers, and from there they keep meeting for short snatched minutes wherever possible, giving each other the strength when everything is hell in the limited hope they will someday be free and be able to marry.

During their years of incarceration, through intelligence, charm and charisma Lale manages to carve out ways to survive and look after those he can. There are women who are responsible for separating the shit personal items from the useful – when collected, the prisoners often didn’t know where they would be going and so would bring what wealth they could – and Lale makes connects with them to be smuggled money and jewels where possible. He endeavours to read people and situations, make himself invaluable, and treads as carefully as he can in order to barter limited food and medicine to dole out to those who need it to most. He’s not always careful enough, and comes close to death many times, however somehow manages (with a whole lot of luck, also) to make his way back to Gita every time.

This is a heartbreaking and deserving story. There are countless historical fiction novels out there about this subject, but Lale and Gita are both marvellous people who, yes, did terrible things, but also saved the lives of many others, and were people who were kind where – if they weren’t there – their place may have been taken with someone cruel and desperate, and in turn many more people may have perished.

This was a fast read. It’s not pleasant, it’s hard, and you can only feel shame that this was what was experienced by such a staggering amount of people. Lale says he tells his story so it won’t happen again. It’s now up to readers to take the time to understand the horrific past, and individually do whatever necessary to make this world a better place.