Book reviews – Memoir

Travelling with ghosts by Shannon Leonne Fowler.   

“Fowler has turned her devastating, beautiful, honest, and personal story into something universal. Akin to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, her book will appeal to globetrotters and readers of hopeful stories chronicling grief and recovery.”
Booklist (starred review)
In the summer of 2002, Shannon Leone Fowler was backpacking with her fiancé Sean in Thailand. The couple were planning to return home after their excursion to the island of Koh Pha Ngan, but their plans were devastated when a box jellyfish – the most venomous animal in the world – wrapped itself around Sean’s legs, stinging and killing him in minutes. Rejecting the Thai authorities’ attempt to label Sean’s death as ‘drunk drowning’, Shannon accompanied his body home to his stunned family – a family to which she suddenly no longer belonged.

Shattered, untethered and alone, Shannon set out on a journey to make sense of her loss. From contemplating the silence of Auschwitz to learning the rules for sitting shiva amid daily bombings in Israel, to finding humour and creativity in Sarajevo, a city still scarred by the recent war, Shannon charts a path through sorrow towards recovery.

Traveling with Ghosts is a beautiful memorial to love and an intensely personal account of learning to live with grief. It is the story of a brave journey towards survival.

Review by Sepali de Silva

‘Travelling with Ghosts’ is a moving memoir cum travel journal by Shannon Leone Fowler. Shanon & Sean are literally in each other’s arms when Sean loses his life and what pursues are nightmarish days for any single traveller alone on a distant beach. She is offered unconditional support by two Israeli girls whose actions will leave you questioning your beliefs and practices.
As days go by her nightmare turns to profound grief which she documents with a mature understanding. Legally not a widow nor a mother who lost a child, her pain is no less, and she tries to find solace by travelling through Eastern Europe to dark places blanketed with sadness and struggle where she feels connected through sorrow at a time when there were no mobile phones or Google maps.

I needed a box of tissues with this book, but it is an excellent memoir. Not many can document their sadness as well as Shannon does. The juxtapositioning of the tenses where she places her present in the past and her past in the present paralleling her thought process gives this memoir a unique structure. The book is part narrative part travel journal by an incredibly brave person, and if you are a traveller or you are someone who has a love for marine life, or if you have lost someone you love and feel no one understands your grief you should get yourself a copy of this book. Shannon holds a PhD in Marine Biology.

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Book Reviews – Fiction

The Choice – Samantha King

Reviewed by Amber Vitharana

For fans of The Couple Next Door, I See You and He Said/She Said, The Choice is a hypnotic suspense debut from a remarkable new talent and explores the terrifying Sophie’s Choice scenario: What if you had to choose between your children?

‘Beautifully written, taut, tense and very clever.’ Claire Douglas, Sunday Times bestselling author of Last Seen Alive.

Then:  Madeleine lived for her children. She’d always believed she’d die for them too. But on the morning of her twins’ tenth birthday, her love was put to the test when a killer knocked on their door and forced her to make a devastating choice: which child should live, and which should die – her son, or her daughter?

Now:

Madeleine stands silently on the periphery of her fractured family, trying desperately to unravel why her world was so suddenly blown apart. But as memories of everything leading up to that tragic day return in agonising flashes, she begins to realise her family’s life still hangs terrifyingly in the balance…

Reviewed by Amber Vitharana

What a book!  The start was explosive – you want to know what happened to make Maddie choose between her kids and you only half believe it. But Maddie believes it, and so you have no choice but to follow her thoughts and ramblings, from happy beginnings to domestic abuse, from best friend to adultress.  When the truth is finally revealed or rather unravels,  you whoop with joy and relief and confusion. Then, of course, it’s a roller-coaster ride to the end –  you’re never quite sure what will come next, and at some point you start skipping descriptions, hurtling towards the end.

When you finish, you’re a little numb from the excess of emotions that you’ve been forced to endure.

A roller coaster of a book  – I loved it.

The only fault I feel is that she drags out the story a bit and at some point, the writing seems to get in the way of the storytelling.

Similar books –  Girl on the Train, Gone Girl

This is a top 10 Amazon bestseller.

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World-War Stories for kids, teens and young adults

In this list of well crafted and enduring stories of war, you will find age-appropriate recommendations that support school curriculum work. For the older readers, the books in this selection are a reminder to how war affects not only those on the battlefront and are relevant today considering the thousands of children and adults who have become refugees in recent years.

  • Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes – Age group 10-14 years.

A gripping and moving novel by one of the world’s best-loved writers for children. From much-loved author, Shirley Hughes comes a thrilling World War II novel for children aged 10 and up. It is 1944 and Florence, Italy, is occupied by Nazi German forces. The Italian resistance movement has not given up hope, though – and neither have Paolo and his sister, Constanza. Both are desperate to fight the occupation, but what can two siblings do against a whole army with only a bicycle to help them? In extraordinary circumstances, people are capable of extraordinary things.

 

 

 

  • Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden – Age group 9-11 years.

It is wartime and Carrie and her little brother Nick have been evacuated from their London home to the Welsh hills. In an unfamiliar place, among strangers, the children feel alone and find little comfort with the family they are billeted with: Mr Evans, a bullying shopkeeper and Auntie Lou, his kind but timid sister.

When Carrie and Nick visit Albert, another evacuee, they are welcomed into Hepzibah Green’s warm kitchen. Hepzibah is rumoured to be a witch, but her cooking is delicious, her stories are enthralling and the children cannot keep away. With Albert, Hepzibah and Mister Johnny, they begin to settle into their new surroundings. But before long, their loyalties are tested: will they be persuaded to betray their new friends?

  

  • Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo.  Age group 8-10 years.

Friend or Foe by [Morpurgo, Michael]Friend or Foe is a gripping World War 2 story from Britain’s best-loved children’s author, Michael Morpurgo.

Evacuated from London, David and Tucky feel like the war is a long way away from their new life in the countryside. Then one night the skyline of the moor is lit up with gun flashes, and the distant crump of bombing miles away brings the war back to them and shatters their new-found peace. When a German bomber crashes, the boys feel they should hate the airmen inside. But one of them saves David’s life.

  

  • Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

Young Willie Beech is evacuated to the country as Britain stands on the brink of the Second World War. A sad, deprived child, he slowly begins to flourish under the care of old Tom Oakley – but his new-found happiness is shattered by a summons from his mother back in London.

Winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award.

“An engrossing and poignant story, with much sunlight to balance the darkness.” — “The New Yorker.

  

  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. Age group 12+.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Vintage Children's Classics) by [Boyne, John]‘Some things are just sitting there, minding their own business, waiting to be discovered. Like America. And other things are probably better off left alone’

Nine-year-old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind. Who is the ‘Fury’? Why did he make them leave their nice home in Berlin to go to ‘Out-With’ ? And who are all the sad people in striped pyjamas on the other side of the fence? The grown-ups won’t explain so Bruno decides there is only one thing for it – he will have to explore this place alone. What he discovers is a new friend. A boy with the very same birthday. A boy in striped pyjamas. But why can’t they ever play together?

  

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Age group 13+

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meagre existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbours during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

  


Get your hands on these unforgettable stories by much-loved authors. Books available now.               See you soon at Chapters!


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  • A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian – Age group – Older Teens

A classic young love story set in the middle of World War II

It is the summer of 1943, and war continues to rage. For Rose and her sister Diana, it’s a time of independence and self-discovery as they find first loves.  But when Rose uncovers an extraordinary love story from another war, she is forced to question that love.  Rose is about to discover a secret that will change everything. Michelle Magorian combines her rich style with a refreshing take on wartime women in this classic coming of age story.

True Stories of war

  • Voices from the second world war – Witnesses share their stories with the children of today.  Publishes in association with the award-winning children’s newspaper First News and The Silver Line. 

A powerful, moving collection of first-person accounts of the Second World War. Contributors include a rear gunner who took part in sixty bombing raids, a Jewish woman who played in the orchestra at Auschwitz, a Japanese man who survived Hiroshima and Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 children by setting up the Kindertransport program from Czechoslovakia. Many of the interviews were conducted by children, and the book is being published in association with award-winning children’s newspaper First News.

Categories: Non-Fiction          For readers aged: 9+

The Diary of a young girl – Anne Frank

First published over sixty years ago, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl has reached millions of young people throughout the world.

In July 1942, thirteen-year-old Anne Frank and her family, fleeing the occupation, went into hiding in an Amsterdam warehouse. Over the next two years Anne vividly describes in her diary the frustrations of living in such close quarters, and her thoughts, feelings and longings as she grows up. Her diary ends abruptly when, in August 1944, they were all betrayed.

  

Stories of animals in war

In the deadly chaos of the First World War, one horse witnesses the reality of battle from both sides of the trenches. Bombarded by artillery, with bullets knocking riders from his back, Joey tells a powerful story of the truest friendships surviving in terrible times. One horse has the seen the best and the worst of humanity. The power of war and the beauty of peace. This is his story.

War Horse was adapted by Steven Spielberg as a major motion picture with Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The National Theatre production opened in 2007 and has enjoyed successful runs in the West End and on Broadway.

A great way of introducing young readers to the realities of WWI. Look out for Morpurgo’s other war fiction including Friend or FoeWaiting for AnyaKing of the Cloud and An Eagle in the Snow.

War Horse is a story of universal suffering for a universal audience by a writer who ‘has the happy knack of speaking to both child and adult readers’ (The Guardian).

   

You might be interested in this current bestseller.