Smoke and Key Review

Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton

A sound awakens her. There’s darkness all around. And then she’s falling…

She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she’s dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names—from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.

She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn’t utter a word. There’s Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key’s instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can’t remember why.

Then the murders start; bodies that are burnt to a crisp. After being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she becomes the next victim…

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Smoke and Key was one of those “this book sounds interesting, could be a total flop, but it may also be good”. So I bought it at YALC. And for some odd reason I decided it’d be a good variety to the rest of the books I took with me for our honeymoon.

It was a quick read, easy to read, doesn’t require much thinking even though there’s a lot Key doesn’t know and a lot to try to puzzle out in this Under world. But the story takes you along, not in a condescending way but just with Key to learn as she does.

The world of Under got interesting and then it gets a little bit weird, specially as Key keeps remembering more and more and things start to connect between Under and Key’s life before she died.

I liked the concept that an item you were buried with was the thing that “defined” you and how “Under” had adapted to this odd fate, until Key arrives and can’t adapt or rather her memories won’t really her do so.

The rest of the characters are somewhat fleshed out and at first feel very bare bones but as memories come back and things get slowly revealed, they become better fleshed out (some never do, but oh well, the main ones kind of do).

Coming to the ending was interesting as I had no clue what to expect from this book. And it somehow left me feeling like it had ended well, despite being a bit of a “how did this all happen? Magic? Magic!” but it was exactly the type of book I kinda expected it to be in the good way. It passed the time, didn’t require a lot of thought and engagement to keep up with it, and it was interesting with an ending that left me pleased and not angry at the book.

Under a Dancing Star Review

Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

In grey, 1930s England, Bea has grown up kicking against the conventions of the time, all the while knowing that she will one day have to marry someone her parents choose – someone rich enough to keep the family estate alive. But she longs for so much more – for adventure, excitement, travel, and maybe even romance.

When she gets the chance to spend the summer in Italy with her bohemian uncle and his fiancée, a whole world is opened up to Bea – a world that includes Ben, a cocky young artist who just happens to be infuriatingly handsome too. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set: can Bea and Ben put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance?

With their new friends gleefully setting the rules for their fling, Bea and Ben can agree on one thing at least: they absolutely, positively will not, cannot fall in love…

A long, hot summer of kisses and mischief unfolds – but storm clouds are gathering across Europe, and home is calling. Every summer has to end – but for Bea, this might be just the beginning.

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It seems to me that Laura is set on making me love her books on things I do not like. She did it first with A Sky Painted Gold, a “Gatsby” like kind of book (I do not like Gatsby at all), and now she’s done it with Under a Dancing Star for Shakespeare.

Her ideas are a different take on things, for Under a Dancing Star, she asks, “What made Bea and Ben in Much Ado About Nothing, get to that point where the play starts?” and she does it masterfully. Not only for the main two characters, but for the whole ensemble, and I loved it deeply.

There is a lot of care into the fashion part and on setting the scene and the feel for it, which is also delightful and makes you feel like you’re there chatting with the artists, sharing a lazy dinner with them.

The banter and teasing between Bea and Ben is glorious! I laughed a lot throughout the book and also giggled and smiled. Oh, if I had the guts Bea does. And maybe a younger me did have some of that. Plus it is nice to see her blossom into herself rather than stay in the shell of what her parents want for and from her.

Highly recommended alongside A Sky Painted Gold.

Among the Red Stars Review

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

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True to form, I read this book at an RAF base while my boyfriend did pylon racing (I mean, Russia really wasn’t an option just to go read a book).

Among the Red Stars was one of those books I knew I needed to read, so I preordered it and then put it on my WWII shelf and didn’t read it for a long time. Reviews to do, books to read for x or y event, and then I wasn’t in the mood for it. I didn’t want to read it in the wrong mood because I knew it’d be a book I would love, and I wasn’t wrong.

The book takes you through two points of view. Valka as a young woman joining the one all female aviation group (who would later become known as the Night Witches, the women that gave Hitler nightmares). She takes you through the nuances of joining this force and of how training goes. And her narrative takes you through her journey as a Night Witch and what it entailed.

On the other hand, we have Pasha who is a gentle soul with a knack for radios, and who is now a soldier at the front. Both exchange letters, and through Pasha we learn a lot about the nuances of religion and what socialism meant to those born in it.

Valka talks more about what happened when you are suspected of being against the system. And she explores how the women of the aviation group were initially considered inferior by all the other regiments until they proved their worth and changed things around.

One of my favourite things is that there are all this gorgeous details about the aircraft (Po-2, which was later renamed U-2, this brought a long discussion between my boyfriend and me about why they renamed it and which one I was referring to) and the world of flying for the Soviet Union. But there are also everyday details like the women adjusting their own uniforms to fit, or Pasha learning to sign hyms through one of his fellow soldiers.

And it is also relatively “true” to the actual things that happened. I didn’t at any point feel like saying “woah, too many artistic liberties here”. Never had anything to complain, except that at first the whole “letter” and then narrative part was odd, but I got used to it quickly.

At the end there is a nice note explaining who inspired each character and which ones are based on real people that lived and fought and did the things they’re known for in the book.

If you’re a WWII enthusiast or an aircraft one, do read this, it is more than worth it!

Voices Review

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan Of Arc by David Elliott

Author David Elliott explores how Joan of Arc changed the course of history and remains a figure of fascination centuries after her extraordinary life and death.

Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood). Along the way it explores issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.

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I used to love playing Age of Empires II on my Windows 98 computer (yes, I am old, shush!) as a child and teenager. And one of the first campaigns is Joan of Arc. I learnt a lot about her story and France (I am not saying it was perfect, but I learned a lot, and Age of Empires sparked my interest in more history). But the point wasn’t about gaming on a 1990’s computer, rather that it sparked my interest in this book.

As starter things, this book is a poem, it isn’t 100% accurate but more of an “artistic” view as the idea was to focus on the type of poems that would be used during Joan’s time. (This part I found nice, as the poems made a little more sense than modern poetry. Apparently Medieval poems are more similar to general Spanish poems, therefore make more sense poetically speaking than other poems in English do for me). And it isn’t a book about Joan’s whole life, but rather it is meant to be a “I am about to die, my life choices are questioned, this is what led me here” type of book.

I liked the artistic take on the story, and the poems. Some are shaped, and there’s a lot of formatting in it which made the experience of reading it, more of an experience in itself. My absolute favourite is the Fire, but in general, I enjoyed the poems, and I don’t know if I have a sooty mind thanks to hanging out with my friends, but there were some interesting hidden jokes in the poems that made me raise an eyebrow and laugh quietly at it.

It was a nice change of reading, and it was a relatively familiar story, so it was a neat read as I had been suffering from head splitting headaches, and this wasn’t too hard. Which probably made me enjoy it more than I would’ve otherwise. As did my love for Age of Empires…

 

The Book of Boy Review

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The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert-Murdock

Boy has always been relegated to the outskirts of his small village. With a large hump on his back, a mysterious past, and a tendency to talk to animals, he is often mocked and abused by the other kids in his town. Until the arrival of a shadowy pilgrim named Secondus. Impressed with Boy’s climbing and jumping abilities, Secondus engages Boy as his servant, pulling him into an expedition across Europe to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy quickly realizes this journey is not an innocent one. They are stealing the relics, and gaining dangerous enemies in the process. But Boy is determined to see this pilgrimage through until the end—for what if St. Peter can make Boy’s hump go away?

This compelling, action-packed tale is full of bravery and daring, stars a terrific cast of secondary characters, and features an unlikely multigenerational friendship at its heart. Memorable and haunting, Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s epic medieval adventure is just right for readers of Sara Pennypacker’s Pax, Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo.

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Oh my gosh, this was such a cute read. Boy is such an interesting character and it immediately made me feel like I was 1350.

The way Boy talks is very much from a different time, and at first I wasn’t sure what exactly his secret was, but I have to say I loved it (I do not want to spoil you, but that was my favourite part and how that mixes with the adventures of Secundus).

Boy is delightful, the lines between heaven, hell and earth blur beautifully. Relics are all the rage and life is so different, yet at the same time some things don’t change, do they? It not only mixes fantasy but religion, beliefs and a simple way of life. And it was very interesting to see Boy talking to animals and understanding them.

What are you waiting for? Go read The Book of Boy.

Moon recommends

When I read The Book of Boy, I was reminded a lot of Cadfael’s mysteries, so why not try Ellis Peters’ books?

 

Historical and Sci-Fi Leafer Box

Before I unbox this lovely box (it is the cheapest box I have found), let me tell you that December’s boxes will include an exclusive colouring bookmark design by me. This design won’t be available in the shop and can only be found when purchasing a Leafer Box.

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Just as a reminder, I receive two boxes in one (which means only one chocolate and no repeat items). This time I went for the Historical one rather than Fantasy (the theme appealed more to me), and it is my first “Historical” box.

So let’s unbox it, starting from the chocolate and going clockwise:

  • A Mint and Lemon dark chocolate bar which is quite refreshing and my boyfriend even stole a few squares of it.
  • The First Casualty, the Sci-Fi book. I was very pleased that it is an “indie” paperback size (until recently, this was the size I had in my head when anyone said paperback).
  • A glorious golden cage bookmark, it is so detailed and beautiful.
  • Galaxy socks, they are soft and comfy and fun to wear.
  • Space stickers, which I want to stick everywhere and at the same time neveruse them up because they’re so cute and there’s so many designs…
  • A choker with a purple rose. This is very pretty and I can’t wait to have an occasion to wear such a beauty.
  • Hidden under the chocolate and by the choker, there’s a magnet with a quote from Charles Dickens which is now holding some To-Do on my fridge.
  • The Undesirables, whcih was the Historical pick of the month.

As per usual, I was very pleased with my box. It is less main stream but most of the items make me happy and I think it is the box that has the least “set apart to give away” items ever. (As I mentioned in my 101 post, it is normal to choose not to keep some items).

If Leafer Box sounds up your street, you can purchase the November box until the end of the month and then the December one as soon as it is the 1st of December. If you use code KESTREL10 you can get 10% off any purchase and there are several genres to choose from.

 

Moon List: WWII Books

Welcome to the very first ever Moon List.

In this edition I will be listing books on WWII. All of the books listed here have been read by me unless otherwise stated. This list will include title, author, a link to purchase on Amazon (if I own the book, a picture taken by myself), and maybe an extra fact about it if I have one available.

Please note they are in no specific order. An asterisk will be added to those I consider unmissable. Feel free to ask about any of them (or about WWII in general).

The Most Common Ones

Here are the usual recommendations I get when asking for WWII books (I’m going to gloss over these since they are quite popular and there is a LOT of information on them and some have films/docummentaries too).

Young Adult/New Adult

There is a surprisingly good amount of fiction about WWII (and the Great War, but I will cover that on the next list) for readers that aren’t adults and most of these books are amazing at telling stories during such a difficult time.

A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian

This is by the same author of Goodnight Mister Tom. She has a few more books regarding WWII but this little gem stayed in my heart. The story is mostly told not on the battlefield but about those that stayed behind, specially young girls and how they had to be sent away to be kept safe. There is a bookstore involved if my memory doesn’t fail me. Very sweet, quite endearing, easy read. You can buy from Amazon here.

Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein*

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This is a story of friendship, of women, of being a prisoner of war, and of course, pilots. It is not exactly the happiest story but the writing is powerful and gripping. A must read that you can buy from Amazon here.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein*

This book alongside Shades of Grey (it is included further down the list) were the ones that opened a world of WWII YA fiction to me that I didn’t know existed. It also helped me find out a lot more about concentration camps and start learning more about Ravensbruck and the Rabbits. You can buy this from Amazon here.

Cross my Heart by Carmen Reid

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I admit I have not read this one yet but it is in my TBR list and I have heard great things about it. You can find on Amazon here.

The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

A strange one in the mix and probably my least favourite one of the ones included, it is set in Britain and touches on cinematics and film alongside happenings during WWII. Very difficult to describe withoutgiving a lot away, so you can buy it here.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys*

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This was my first WWII YA fiction book, and I remember going to the bookstore and asking for it and the lovely assistant asked me if I really wanted this one or maybe I was looking for ’50 Shades of Grey’. You can’t compare the two at all. This is about surviving being deported and thrown into a train alongside your mother and brother during WWII. Ruta Sepetys has a magical way of writing even if it is quite raw and can be sometimes brutal but there is such beauty in it, it goes into the must read list. Buy it on Amazon here.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys*

The story is told through the eyes of four different people and it tells their journey to get to the Wilhelm Gustloff. The ship was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board, so this is based on truth and it makes the sinking of the Titanic  a banal thing. A must read again you can buy here.

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

This one surprised me. The writing is like a fairytale and it tells you the story of a young woman who wants to teach and how she moves from England to Austria to an experimental school. There she helps with the children and meets a young man who intrigues her. Yes, this sounds more like a non war story but trust me it gets quite interesting as the story progresses and Hitler’s troops advance through Austria. You can find it here.

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

When Hitler’s forces invade, Ruth’s family flees to London, but she is unable to get a passport. Quin, a young professor and friend of the family, visits Ruth and, in an effort to bring her back to London, he offers a marriage of convenience.This becomes quite interesting and get convoluted as time goes by, once again it is not just a romance story but history. You can find it here.

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

Sent to boarding school in London to avoid the war, Tally isn’t very happy. But this is a story about friendship and endurance. You can buy it here on Amazon.

A Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman*

Gretchen has a secret she doesn’t know is secret. She is Hitler’s ‘niece’ and dotted on by him, until an anonymous letter makes her start to question everything. You can find it here.

A Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman*

Continuation of A Prisoner of Night and Fog, Greatchen has to decide fi she will go back to Germany and break her rules to save Daniel and clear his name. Don’t miss out on it and buy it here.

Adult Fiction

My choices for adult fiction are less cheerful and deal more on how adults took and reacted to the war. They may be in a way less heroic stories but are equally gripping and interesting.

Meet Me Under the Clock by Anne Murray*

This is my favourite one of her books but she has so many set around WWII, that half of the list would be only about them. Instead, I will tell you about the sisters that are making an effort to move through the hard times of WWII at the home front and how each copes with the changes and makes her own effort to contribute. You can find it here.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

This is a story where little things have huge after effects in a subtle way. See what a little kindness can do during WWII. You can buy a copy here.

Pattern of Shadows by Judith Barrow

An interesting story telling us about Mary, a nursing sister at Lancashire prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs. It follows her, and her family alongside one of the German POWs and how life was at the home front. This is a series but can be read as a standalone and you can buy it here.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

A tragic story of good intentions and set in two different times, the past and the present. (There is a film for this one, or you can buy the book here).

Spitfire Girl by Lily Baxter

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This one has been on my TBR for a little bit and it is about Susan who dreams of flying and helping her country. Of course I like planes, so it was a must. You can find a copy here.

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

This kinda shouldn’t be here but at the same time it should. It spans the years between WWI and WWII and follows the story of a young poet and a soldier as they exchange letters while the war wages. You can find a copy here.

Non Fiction

Most of my non fiction is based on Aircraft, specifically the Lancaster Bomber. I promise there is a good reason for that and it will be revelead soon enough on one of the “Meet the Character” posts. Meanwhile, enjoy some interesting non fiction.

My Dear Bessie: A Love Story in Letters by Chris Baker

This doesn’t need much of an explanation, the title says it all. It is a moving read. You can buy it here on Amazon.

Odette by Jerrard Tickell

During some of the darkest days of the Second World War, a young Frenchwoman living as a mother and housewife in England left her ordinary life to become a British agent, working covertly in France to aid the Resistance. This is her story, and you can buy a copy here.

If This is a Woman by Sara Helm*

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Of all the non aircraft related non fiction books featured on this list, this is my favourite one. Sara does an amazing job at showing how Ravensbruck and concentration camps came to be and how life was there. This is a tough read because of the topic, but the writing is good. I took this one slowly but it is a must read. You can buy it here from Amazon.

The Female Few: Spitfire Heroines of the Air Transport Auxiliary by Jacky Hyams*

Through the darkest days of the Second World War, an elite group of courageous civilian women risked their lives as aerial courier pilots, flying Lancaster bombers, Spitfires and many other powerful war machines in thousands of perilous missions. Very interesting information here.

The Lancaster at War: Books 1 to 5 by Mike Garbett and Brian Goulding

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A compilation of books on the Lancaster Bomber. Absolutely worth it. You can it here.

The next few are ones I’d recommend but since they are non fiction and cater to specific interests, will only add title and link to the book.

Famous Bombers of the Second World War by William Green

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There are also other alongside the series likie Fighters instead of Bombers. You can find it here.

The Secret Life Of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

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I am always interested in code breaking and cyphers so Bletchley Park should definitely feature here. I have loads of books about it on my wishlist but this is the one I actually own. You can find it here.

Handbook of Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick

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One of the most illustrated and easy to digest handbooks for aircraft of WWII I could find (as you may notice this is not the only one I have but it is the easier to approach and learn from if you’re not as crazy about the topic as I am). You can find it here.

Blooper Book

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This little guide is an original I found on an antique bookshop so I don’t expect you to want this one, but I found it interesting and have added it to my collection. There also some Penguin original editions still making the rounds through odd bookshops (manuals for pilots, ration books, etc). It is interesting and amusing to see how they tried to get the soldiers ready for the continent and being in France.

Set during WWII and mention it but aren’t specifically about it

  • The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
  • Narnia books by C.S. Lewis

This last part of the list may get expanded on as my mind remembers books that fit this category.

And I admit that as I wrote this list, more and more books came to mind. Some I only remember a tiny bit of the story or the feeling that reading the book gave me, so I did use synopsis from Amazon/GoodReads to help me out. Others I remembered but didn’t want to give much away. Still, I hope you find a lot to read here and a lot that you hadn’t heard about before.

Disclaimer: There are Amazon Associates links, but if you choose to use them and buy from them, know that you’re just helping me buy more books and feed my reading needs. All these books are recommended solely because of my own research and looking into the topic.