Book Review: Purple Hearts (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 480

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s 1944, and it feels to everyone like the war will never end. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr and Rainiy Shulterman have all received accolades, been ‘heroes’, earned promotion – in short, they’ve all done ‘enough’ to allow them to leave this nightmare and go home. But they don’t.

D-Day, June 6th 1944. On that day, many still doubted the American soldier.

By June 7th no one did.

Review:

It doesn’t feel like long ago that I was first introduced to this series, and now I’ve read the final one. It’s been emotional!

Rainy, Rio and Frangie are all decorated war heroes now, but their battle is still raging on. Rainy is keen to see the war to an end after her torture in Italy, Rio is good at being a soldier and doesn’t know what she’d do if she went home, and Frangie wants to keep healing and helping her fellow soldiers.

All three girls are unrecognisable from the ones we started with, and I love that. Something like this really affects you as a person and it’s interesting to see how it’s affected each girl differently. To me, Rio changes the most: in this book she is so far from the sweet girl who left to fight a war that it starts to affect her realtionships. The tensions between her and Strand that started in the last book are ever present it was fascinating to see how that went down.

Frangie’s parts were the ones where I really felt the horror of the war. The things she treated, the wounds she saw, it all hammered home how truly horrific war is. She had another tough time in this book, with a moment that brought tears to my eyes.

Rainy’s position as a Jew in Nazi-occupied lands is really interesting, especially as she starts to embrace her heritage more. As the war comes to a close and the awful concentration camps are revealed, you can really feel the personal connection Rainy has to them and how awful it is to see her people persecuted like that. It’s even more terrible reading some of the events and knowing how true to real life they are.

On a lighter note, we finally have the mysterious narrator revealed! This was a big moment for me, and it didn’t disappoint. There a few hints throughout which I picked up on so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but it felt very fitting.

I liked that the book didn’t just end when the war did, and we got to see a bit of the character’s lives afterward. There’s a great bit at the end with obituaries for the soldiers who die later of old age, so we get a little snippet of what they did after the war.

I’ve really loved this series and I’m sad it’s ended now. It’s such a simple idea, wondering what would happen if women fought in WWII, but it’s made for an exciting and fascinating trilogy which I’d really recommend you read.

4

Book Review: Silver Stars (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 479

Release Date: February 9th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The summer of 1943, World War II. With heavy memories of combat, Frangie, Rainy, Rio, and the rest of the American army are moving on to their next target: the Italian island of Sicily.

The women won’t conquer Italy alone. They are not heroes for fighting alongside their brothers—they are soldiers. But Frangie, Rainy, Rio, and the millions of brave females fighting for their country have become a symbol in the fight for equality. They will brave terrible conditions in an endless siege; they will fight to find themselves on the front lines of WWII; and they will come face-to-face with the brutality of war until they win or die.

Review:

I adored Front Lines last year and was really grateful receive a copy of the sequel in the post, big thanks to Egmont UK!

Just as with the sequel, I did find this a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the swing of it I loved it. We still have our unnamed narrator framing events, with a small section at the start, middle and end of the book. I have a theory on who this is now, but we’ll have to wait until the next book to find out!

Rio, Rainy and Frangie are back and still at war. Rio is in the midst of the fighting, Frangie is doing her best to patch people up and send them out in – excuse the pun – fighting condition, and Rainy is on a secret mission that sees her meeting the Mafia and the British navy.

I kind of think of Rio’s story as the main one, probably just because I like her so much, and she’s the one doing the actual fighting, which, while not necessarily the most important job, it is the one that springs to mind when you think of war. She’s a good soldier and that’s leading to promotions she doesn’t want, because it’s easier to follow orders than to give them. But Rio isn’t able to shirk away from the responsibility and it leads to guilt, a battle within herself and tensions with Jenou, her best friend and fellow soldier.

Frangie has a doubly hard war to face: people might not like women soldiers, but what they like even less is coloured women soldiers. I think Frangie’s story is so important and so eye opening. Towards the end, after conversations with a certain character (no spoilers!) she sees how she is treated like a second class citizen, and how she even contributes to that, because that’s what’s been drummed into her. I know things aren’t like they were back then, but we still have a long way to go with race relations and I think reading Frangie’s story is really important. There’s also a note from the author at the back of the book on racism in the war. One bit that really stuck with me was when he said how black American’s had to fight to be allowed to fight in the war for a country that hated them. There’s real bravery and patriotism there.

Rainy’s journey takes her to dangerous territory: an invaded Italy is no place for a young Jewish woman. I admired Rainy’s resourcefulness and determination throughout and wished things worked out differently for her (no spoilers again!) It’s hard to say a lot without ruining things but some parts of her story towards the end really made me want to cry. Also, kudos for the mention of periods, wasn’t expecting that in this book at all and it was something I’d wondered about.

I was reading some reviews of Front Lines on Amazon and one comment stuck out to me. Someone said they thought they enjoyed the book because it was similar to the Animorphs series, by Katherine Applegate, Michael Grant’s wife. I was also a big Animorph fan – still am in fact, I think they’re an incredible set of books – and I think the comment rings true for me too. While they’re quite different in one respect – Soldier Girls being about WWII and Animorphs set in the present with an alien invasion – they’re both still kinds of war stories. While I loved the action in Animorphs, what fascinated me the most was the way the war changed the kids. Fighting like that, taking lives and making tough decisions changes people, and I loved reading about how it affected them. It’s the same with this series: now they’ve been at war for a while and all three have suffered and seen so much, we’re seeing the way it changes them, for better and for worse.

This book was a triumph, again. I’m more invested in the characters than ever and I really hope (though somehow doubt) they all survive the war. I loved that their paths are beginning to cross more and hope there’s more of that in Book 3, plot allowing.  I’d love to see more of Frangie and her struggles because she felt a little more absent in this book and I do love reading about her. If you’ve not picked up this series yet then I really recommend you do. It has three amazing, complex and very different female characters that are all inspiring in their own way and are great role models in YA.

4

Book Review: Dead of Night (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 85

Release Date: February 23rd 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Set in the alternative World War II scenario of his Front Lines novels, Michael Grant, author of the bestselling GONE series, has written this story exclusively for World Book Day 2017.

Rio Richlin doesn’t have superpowers. She is an ordinary young woman. A soldier in the American army, wearing a uniform, carrying a rifle, and fighting alongside thousands who are trying to make a difference, trying to change the world.

At least, that’s the plan. Right now she’s part of a squad on a training exercise in some place called Wales. They’re cold, they’re wet, and Rio’s pretty sure they’re also lost. Spending the night in a creepy old inn wasn’t part of the plan at all…

Rio’s only training. But soon, the fate of the world will be in the hands of the soldier girls.

Review:

I really enjoyed the first in this series, Front Lines, last year and was excited when I received the sequel and this World Book Day story in the post.

On a training exercise in a dreary part of Wales, young soldier Rio Richlin finds herself in a creepy inn listening to stories of wars past, present and future. That’s right, this is a kind of A Christmas Carol story, with Rio being visited by ghosts who tell the story of how they died, while giving a bit of background to the war they were fighting in, both in a historical and personal way.

I liked the format of this once I figured what was going on, and it was a great way for Grant to give some commentary on war without being too preachy. I was curious where it was going when the second ghost said she had to learn to hate the enemy – while this is probably true in the case of war, it seemed an odd message for the story, but the third ghost came and told his story and it all made sense then.

This was a great little read and a good way to get back into the world and characters after a year away from it. I’m really excited to see where all the girls go next and I hope lots of people will be picking this up for World Book Day.

4

Book Review: Blood for Blood (Ryan Graudin)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Pages: 481

Release Date: October 6th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

There would be blood. Blood for blood. Blood to pay. An entire world of it.

For the resistance in the Third Reich, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun. Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against Hitler’s army, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But in the midst of the chaos, Yael’s past and future collide when she comes face to face with a ghost from her past, and a spark with a fellow rider begins to grow into something more. Dark secrets reveal dark truths and one question hangs over them all—how far can you go for the ones you love?

Review:

I enjoyed Wolf by Wolf  last year and was really excited when I was approved to read the sequel. Unfortunately I really struggled to get into it. I don’t know if it was because I’d just read an amazing book and my mind was still on that one, or if it was because I’d not read the first book in a while, but I got to about 30% through and was ready to give up. I was confused by some of the names and couldn’t see where the book was going.

I took a break from reading and came back to it a week later and finally got into the swing of it. The pace picked up, they had an aim and I had some idea of where the book was going, although it took a lot of twists and turns, of course. I remembered why I liked the characters and after an incredible finale I was really glad I stuck with it.

The book picks up straight after where the first one left off, with Yael on the run after shooting Hitler. With Luka and Felix, she must do all she can to support the uprising and finish the mission she started. Luka has his eyes opened about what life in the Fuhrer’s Germany is really like for non-Aryans and Felix has to make a difficult choice but family and doing the right thing.

I loved Yael again: she’s just as strong and focussed as before, although I wasn’t keen on the lean towards romance in this book. While I liked her and Luka as a couple, I just wasn’t that bothered about the story line there, and felt they should be concentrating on more important things, like saving the world! Still, I loved Yael’s depth and complexity and wish there were more characters like her around.

I found Felix’s story really interesting. I was never sure what choice he would make, nor what was the right one. Morally speaking the choice is obvious, but when family comes into it, nothing is straightforward. I knew whatever he chose, I’d understand the decision behind it.

The climax was fantastic, one surprise to the next that left me breathless and desperate to read more (I actually read one of the chapters on my phone while pretending to be busy at work…) It was satisfyingly dramatic and intense with enough success and heartbreak to keep me happy. But one of my favourite bits was the last chapter, where we catch up with the characters shortly after those events. I liked that everything wasn’t suddenly happy and perfect in Germany and the world: war raged on and things weren’t okay overnight, but the big steps had been taken and they were on their way to change.

I’ve marked this down for the beginning as I just felt the pacing was really off in the book. While Yael and her friends didn’t have a concrete aim it felt like the book meandered for a bit. But it really picked up once they got going and I’m glad I stuck with it.

3

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf (Ryan Graudin)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Pages: 390

Release Date: November 5th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Over ten years since the Nazis won the war, 18 yr old Yael has one mission: to kill Hitler – a captivating second novel from Walled City author, Ryan Graudin.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.Her story begins on a train.

Germania, 1956. Over ten years since the Nazis won the war. 18-year-old Yael is part of the resistance, and she has just one mission: to kill Hitler.

But first she’s got to get close enough to him to do it.

Experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains are the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she’s lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she will be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.

But with other riders sabotaging her chances at every turn, Yael’s mission won’t be easy. . .

 

Review:

I made a comment recently in a review about typical ‘what if Hitler had won the war’ re-imaginings and this book falls firmly in that category. Except it’s not typical, it’s brilliant and I loved it.

In this alternate universe, Hitler won and is still alive, Jews and non-Aryans are persecuted in the worst ways, and there appears to be no hope for any kind of resistance. Except for Yael and her remarkable shape shifting abilities, and a daring plan to kill Hitler.

I loved the fantastical elements mixed in with this alternate history type story. When so much of the awfulness of the story is based on identity – Jewish, Aryan and otherwise – it’s fascinating to have a character able to change their appearance at will. It would be so easy for Yael to live a normal life in Hitler’s regime: all she has to do is change to a blonde haired, blue eyed Aryan beauty and the Nazi’s would leave her alone. But that’s not who she is as a character, and Yael wants to use her abilities to change the world, not just blend into it.

There is a feel of The Hunger Games to the Axis race, only a little less dramatic – although riders may die during the race, it’s aim isn’t to kill everyone off until there’s one winner. I was worried there would be a lot of race description, which didn’t really interest me as I’m not that into motorbikes, but there was plenty of other action to go with it. While Yael may have thought her biggest challenge would be driving the fastest to win the race, she has a lot more to contend with: the twin brother of the girl she is impersonating and his attempts to get her home, and a previous winner of the race with a history with ‘her’ that she has no idea about.

This is a fantastic book based on two interesting ‘what ifs’: what if Hitler won the war, and what if the medical experiments performed in concentration camps actually could change someone’s appearance? While the ending – which is definitely not what you expect – concludes this part of the story nicely, it also sets the way for another in the series, which I hope will come out very soon!

4

Book Review: Front Lines (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 576

Release Date: January 26th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

World War II, 1942. A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans. For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war.

These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.

Review:

I loved the idea of this book as soon as I read the blurb. I feel I’ve heard of a lot of twists on WWII, most of them being ‘what if the Nazi’s won the war?’ I felt this was such a small thing to tweak – having women fighting alongside men – but gave so many possibilities, and I couldn’t wait to get reading.

I struggled a little to get into it at first, but I’d blame this on Christmas time/a bit of a reading slump. I came back to it in 2016 with fresh eyes and was quickly sucked in. The story follows three main women at war – Rio, Frangie and Rainy – who are all in different units, doing very different jobs, but whose paths do eventually cross.

The book progresses quite slowly at first. We see the girls signing up, each for various different, but equally valid reasons, and then them in training, before they finally go off on assignments. I was glad the book didn’t linger on training too long – I know it’s probably an important part but it just felt like something I would have read before/seen in various films.

I knew that attitudes to women would be a big part of the story, and I did enjoy reading the different ways men reacted to living and training and fighting alongside them – some were more accepting than others, understanding that it was whatever was needed to win the war, but these were a minority. There was a lot of lewd jokes and gestures, and mostly an expectation that the women would be little more than secretaries/support roles, which is why I loved that they end up on the front line (hence the title) and one of them is even the first to get kills in. The women are all very different characters – no one is ‘a wimp’ or ‘one of the guys’ or any stereotypes like that, which is what makes this book work.

What took me by surprise was the attitudes towards Frangie, a black woman at war, and her fellow black soldiers, whether they were men or women. It’s probably naive of me but I’d not really thought about racism being a big thing around war time, but this books shows how there were separate ‘coloured units’ and a lot of the white soldiers wouldn’t want to be looked at by a coloured doctor like Frangie, even when desperately injured. It made me sad that those attitudes existed, and while I know we’re not perfect these days, it’s a hell of a lot better than that.

The story is framed by an unknown narrator, talking from near the end of the war, injured in some way although we don’t know how. It’s a clever device as they tell the story of all three girls, and don’t reveal who they are themselves. I’m hoping it is someone we know, but I’m glad they remain unknown for now – it puts more weight on the fate of the girls because you don’t know who survives.

The worst thing about this book is that it’s the first of a series and I’ll probably have to wait a year to read the sequel. I love the idea and the characters and can’t wait to find out what happens to them all. This is definitely one to read in 2016.

Copy of an art exhibit