#BookReview When The World Was Ours by Liz Kessler @simonkids_UK @BagsofBooks


Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for When The World Was Ours by Liz Kessler. My thanks to Eve at Simon & Schuster for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy. Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, Sarah at Sarah’s Vignettes.

For the duration of the blog tour, you can purchase signed copies of When The World Was Ours from independent children’s bookshop, Bags of Books.

When The World Was OursAbout the Book

Three friends. Two sides. One memory.

Vienna, 1936. Leo, Elsa and Max have been best friends for years. Since the day they met they’ve been a team of three. But then the Nazis come, and their lives, once so tightly woven together, take very different paths.

Leo must rely on the kindness of strangers to escape the rising threat to the Jewish people.

Elsa, like Leo, is hated for simply being who she is. To be safe, she must run.

Max suddenly finds that he is the danger his friends are trying so desperately to escape as his father rises through the Nazi ranks.

Format: Hardcover (320 pages)          Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 21st January 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Inspired by the true story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, in When The World Was Ours the author takes the reader on a journey from Vienna in 1936 to the outbreak of the Second World War and beyond in the company of three childhood friends – Leo, Max and Elsa. Since Leo and Elsa are Jewish, the lives of the three children, and their families, are destined to take very different paths.

Given their youth, the friends don’t always understand, at least to begin with, the full import or implications of the things they see or hear their parents discussing. Only gradually do the youngsters become aware of the consequences of Leo and Elsa’s Jewish faith when anti-Jewish sentiment becomes more widespread and is followed by legal restrictions, and worse. It results in the three friends being separated, unsure if they will ever see one another again.

The author really captures the emotional and psychological toll of their experiences on the three children and the insidious nature of Nazi indoctrination. This is especially evident in the case of Max, who emerges as the most complex character and the only one of the three children whose thoughts are communicated in the third person. His mental contortions as he tries to reconcile what his conscience is telling him about his friends with the anti-Semitic hatred he is being fed by his father and the authorities is hard to witness. “Before long Max had convinced himself Leo and Elsa weren’t Jewish at all. They couldn’t have been. And if they weren’t Jewish then Max didn’t have a problem.”

Max’s fourteenth birthday evokes memories of an earlier birthday shared with Elsa and Leo – captured in a precious photograph – and a rare moment of self-awareness. “In an instant, nothing of his current life was real. He saw it for what it was: a vain, superficial attempt to fit in. To be loved. To be praised by his father…”. Unfortunately, it’s short-lived thanks to the intervention of his father who forces Max to demonstrate his loyalty to the Nazi regime in the cruelest of tests. It is not the last time he will face such a test.

Amidst the heartbreak and tragedy, there are small moments of joy. For example, Elsa’s delight in acquiring a best friend, Greta, and their joint adoption of a cat they feed with scraps. Or Leo’s pride at overcoming the obstacles to getting himself and his mother to safety. These provide a counterpoint to some of the truly chilling scenes in the book: the school assembly at which Jewish children are singled out; the day Max accompanies his father to work and its location is revealed; and, later, Max’s feeling that it is “his destiny” when found a job at his father’s new posting.  It’s difficult not to get a sense of foreboding also at Elsa’s hope that the outbreak of war against Germany means, “Everything is going to be all right. I can feel it in my bones and in my heart”.

The fact the book is written from the perspective of the three children makes it both accessible and educational for teenage readers. But it also has much to offer for older readers like myself. As we look around the world today, Elsa’s reflection should provide us all with food for thought. “How rapidly something unthinkable can become commonplace. How easily we let the inconceivable become a new normal. How quickly we learn to stop questioning these things…”

In war, there are rarely happy endings and books, even if works of fiction, that recount the events of the Holocaust are often difficult to read. At the same time, books like When The World Was Ours are an inspiring testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the kindness of strangers.

In three words: Moving, heartbreaking, powerful

Try something similar: The Young Survivors by Debra Barnes or People Like Us by Louise Fein

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Liz Kessler © Jillian Edelstein
Liz Kessler © Jillian Edelstein

About the Author

Liz Kessler has written more than twenty books for children and young people, including the internationally bestselling Emily Windsnap series. She has an MA in Novel Writing and has been a full-time writer for the past twenty years. When The World Was Ours has been brewing in her heart for at least half of that time.  Liz lives in the north west of the UK with her wife, Laura, and their dog, Lowen.

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#BookReview Summerland by Lucy Adlington @HotKeyBooksYA @ReadersFirst1

SummerlandAbout the Book

October,1946. The Red Cross escorts a group of child refugees from Europe to England. Among them is Brigitta – a serious, silent figure with worn clothes and a small cardboard suitcase containing a single grey glove. Arriving in London, Brigitta breaks from the group and runs . . .

Brigitta’s mission: to reach Summerland Hall and find the one person who can solve a wartime mystery. But Summerland holds secrets and shadows of its own . . . and perhaps the key to a new life and new beginnings.

An extraordinarily rich tale of love, prejudice, truth and forgiveness, inspired by real events.

Format: Paperback (320 pages)              Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: 5th September 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction, YA

Purchase links*
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Find Summerland on Goodreads

My Review

Through the character of Brigitta, Summerland brings to life the story of children who survived the Nazi concentration camps or were orphaned by the War and who were brought to Britain as refugees. The reader gradually learns of Brigitta’s traumatic experiences: forced into hiding for fear of persecution as a Jew, sheltering alongside her mother in bomb-damaged buildings, searching for scraps of food.

Arriving at Summerland Hall, a place she was told about by her mother, Brigitta’s wonder at being offered the luxury of jam to stir into her porridge reminds the reader of the contrast with the privations she has suffered. This is also cleverly brought home by Brigitta’s very different reaction from that of the village children to things like men in uniform, fireworks on Bonfire Night or games like Murder in the Dark. ‘The words were ominous, but in England, it seemed murder in the dark didn’t mean watching your neighbours getting shot at three in the morning.’ Ironically, Brigitta recalls being told by her mother during the time they were in hiding to think of it like a game.

Amid the more serious subject matter there are some lovely touches of humour, from the failure of Brigitta’s English/German dictionary to cope with phrases such as Toad in the Hole to the quirky chapter headings representing the unfamiliar foodstuffs Brigitta encounters – Fish-Paste Sandwiches, Bacon Butties, Violet Creams. And anyone of my generation who experienced school lunches may chuckle, as I did, at her impression of being served a plate of liver and onions. ‘The liver was like leather with bits of rubber piping in. […] The onions looked like beige phlegm.’ Sorry, if you were eating your dinner while reading that!

A character I particularly liked was Summerland’s cook, Sophie Rover, for her kindness to Brigitta and her simple philosophy of life that everyone should be well fed and comfortable. As Brigitta sagely observes: ‘If only she had been leader of the Third Reich, not Hitler. Meatuntooveg instead of mass murder, misery and world war.’

When Lady Summer, owner of Summerland Hall, embarks on the restoration of the house following its requisitioning for military use during the war, it seems an analogy for recovery after conflict. It’s as if Brigitta’s arrival has brought new life to the house, such as the rather different kind of musical entertainment at the traditional New Year’s Eve party or Lady Summer’s uncharacteristic hospitality towards the village children. However, Brigitta herself sees only the ghosts of the past.

As Brigitta’s past catches up with her things turn darker and the reader is reminded of the suspicion and recriminations that can linger after conflict and the physical and mental scars caused by war. Finally, the secret that has brought Brigitta to Summerland is revealed, offering the prospect of a different, and perhaps unexpected, future for her and others.

Although aimed at young adults, Summerland is an engrossing, emotional and beautifully crafted story that will engage readers of all ages. I loved it.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hot Key Books and Readers First.

In three words: Moving, compelling, uplifting

Try something similar: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

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About the Author

Lucy Adlington is a writer and clothes historian. Her novels for teenagers, including The Diary of Pelly D, Burning Mountain and The Red Ribbon have been nominated and shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Manchester Book Prize, the Leeds Book Prize and the Rotherham Book Award. She tours the UK with dress history presentations and writes history books for adults, including Women’s Lives and Clothes in WW2: Ready for Action and Stitches in Time: the Story of the Clothes We Wear.

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