Book Review: “Orphan Monster Spy” by Matt Killeen

Title: Orphan Monster Spy
Author: Matt Killeen
Genre: historical fiction
Target age-group: YA
Dates read: 12/06/18 – 20/06/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had quite an interesting premise, but unfortunately the writing style prevented me from getting really invested.

Sarah is a Jew, despite inheriting her German father’s blond hair and blue eyes. After her mother dies, she is recruited by Captain Flynn, a British spy, to infiltrate an elite boarding school for the daughters of high-profile Nazis and steal the plans of a Nazi scientist.

The main reason I couldn’t get more into this story was the writing style felt very detached. Things were happening, but I felt a bit on the outside. I don’t know if this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author or just my own reading experience, but it made it hard to really get invested in Sarah.

There were also German words peppered throughout, particularly in the dialogue. I think this was probably supposed to immerse me in the setting more, but since I had to look up most of them on Google Translate, it pulled me out of the story. Technically, everything  the characters were saying was “in German”, even though I was reading it in English, so it didn’t really make sense to then actually have German words in there.

Still, the plot has a good basis in historical fact, and I think Matt Killeen did a good job of taking the history and crafting it into an interesting story. While I wasn’t that into it, I could still tell that the plot was building, and it does have a solid climax. I think the right reader will really enjoy it.

One last thing, and that’s  a content warning: there is a character who is a sexual predator, and having tired of his daughter, preys on other young girls. While this is kind of a spoiler, I guess, I know that there will be some readers who would prefer to know this before starting, and perhaps avoid.


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“I want to go on living even after my death” // Review of “Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

Title: Diary of a Young Girl (Definitive Edition)
Author: Anne Frank
Genre:
Memoir/Non-fiction
Date Read:
06/01/2017 to 09/01/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review: 

It feels a bit odd to be rating and reviewing Anne Frank’s diary, yet here I am. I had seen plenty of the profound quotes from its pages everywhere over the years, but it was a surprise to read the diary in full and realise just how much of a normal teenager Anne was.

This review hardly needs the usual paragraph I do here with a quick synopsis. This is the diary kept by Anne Frank during the years 1942-44, when she and her family and four others hid in the secret Annex at the back of her father’s office building to hide from the Nazis.

Anne was an incredibly insightful 13-year-old, far more than I ever was or many of the people I know. Her circumstances gave her a unique perspective from which to observe people. I am glad I read the definitive edition, as I believe in earlier editions her father edited out a lot of the material relating to Anne’s fraught relationship with her mother. I am glad I read this, as it was what made me feel closest to Anne; I identified a lot with the relationship she described.

Anne’s diary is also incredibly important as a piece of social history. She describes the ways the Secret Annex passed the time while stuck in the tiny space for such a long time, how they obtained food, and how they were helped by their friends still on the outside. While she did still at times come across as a whiny 13-year-old, I was able to forgive her due to the incredible observations about life and human nature that she often made.

This isn’t really my best review but it’s hard to know what else to day. I am not really one for telling people what they “should” read, but I think this is probably an exception.


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Book Review: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Beast’s Garden
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: historical fiction/fairytale retelling
Date Read: 16/11/2015 – 26/11/2015
Rating: ★★★

Review:

beastsgardencoverKate Forsyth’s newest novel is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ story, The Singing, Springing Lark, a variation on the Beauty and the Beast story. It is set in Berlin, during the years 1938- 1945. It’s a thoroughly researched novel and well put together, and I read it quite quickly, though I never found myself getting really invested in it.

It’s 1938 and Ava Falkenhorst finds herself drawn to Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein, despite the events of the Night of Broken Glass and the protestations of her family and close Jewish friends. As Germany prepares for war, those close to Ava are no longer safe, and she eventually marries Leo in exchange for him keeping her father safe. She feels she needs to do something to help the movement against Hitler’s regime and joins an underground resistance, unaware for the most part that Leo is part of an inside scheme to assassinate Hitler.

Ava and Leo were both solid characters, but I never felt particularly invested in them. Even when things start going very wrong, I kept reading, but never felt particularly worried or bothered by what was going on. And awful things were happening! People were being shipped off to concentration camps, or simply being killed on the streets. Leo also bothered me a) because despite being a spy, he would still make derogatory comments about Jewish people, even when they were standing in the room with him, and b) early on, he made some rather unpleasant remarks about Ava being “his”. In fact, the whole romance felt rather insta-lovey, though at least Leo was self-aware enough the term “in lust” at first, rather than “in love”.

As someone who doesn’t actually know that much about the Second World War, other than the basics, I wish I had read the afterword first, as it revealed just how many of the side characters in this novel were actual historical figures. I really wish I had known this before I read it, as it would have added some depth to the Resistance. As it was, I just found that all the various resistance groups were getting confused in my head, and I had trouble following. This might have been a problem regardless of how much I knew, but I still wish I had known.

The other thing that threw me a bit with this book was the time jumps. The book is divided into several parts, and sometimes there is a leap of up to a year or so between them. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing this, it did make me feel like I was missing something of the characters’ lives, even though I’m sure they were just surviving day-to-day in these in-between sections.

All in all, I feel like this is a solid piece of historical fiction, but not quite as good as my introduction to Kate Forsyth’s work, Bitter Greens. I’ve still got some of Kate’s other works on my TBR, which I plan on getting to this year, so we’ll see how they hold up, too.