Monday, 29 June 2015

Film Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

If you're a big Thomas Hardy fan like I am, or if you're a fan of the British writer David Nicholls (One Day, Us) you might be a little bit excited about the new adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd that's just been released in Australian cinemas.  Nicholls has worked with Thomas Hardy's novels before, adapting the more well-known Tess of the D'urbervilles for the BBC, and I think his deep connection with Hardy's themes of class, gender, and the improbability of circumstances and luck is clear in his own writing, where happy endings are not mandatory, and rabbits are not pulled out of hats just to make true love conquer all.

For those of you not familiar with the story (and I'll admit that while I own the novel, I haven't yet read it but I will, I swear), I'll do my best to bring you up to speed, but remember that the novel and the film will be two completely different texts.  The film follows Bathsheba Everdene, a young orphaned woman who comes to work on her aunt's farm.  She's a spirited but hardworking young woman (played in the film by Carey Mulligan) who finds her unusual name uncomfortable to hear said aloud, but has no idea as to why she was given the name as her parents are no longer around.  While out on a ride, she catches the eye of Farmer Gabriel Oak, who owns 1000 hectares of land and 200 sheep or so, and is doing well for himself.  The two become friends, but when Oak proposes marriage to Bathsheba, she refuses, saying that she likes the idea of being a bride, but only if she doesn't have to have a husband afterwards.  Her ideas at this point in the film are quite ahead of her time (the late 1800s), and this makes her easy for the modern viewer to relate to.  She believes in working hard, and equality for the sexes, and this is an aspect of her character which grows stronger over the course of the film, though she is not without flaws. She also believes that it will be uncomfortable for her to marry Oak as he is a landowner and she has no property, no name, only an education.

Time passes, although how much is unclear, and Bathsheba leaves her Aunt's farm to take her place as the owner of her own estate, left to her by her Uncle.  But for Oak, fortune has not been so favourable-- in a particularly distressing scene, a young and inexperienced sheep dog chases all of Oak's sheep over the edge of a cliff, leaving him destitute.  He sells his farm, leaves town, and heads out on the swag in search of work.  Their fortunes well and truly reversed, Bathsheba and Gabriel meet again.  After he saves her property from a fire which threatens her barn, she hires him as shepherd and superintendent of her farm (which mostly produces grain) and keeps his counsel as her trusted and truest (perhaps only) friend.

Gabriel is not the only person in pursuit of Bathsheba's heart and hand in marriage anymore.  At the sales yard, when Bathsheba and her wares are slighted by buyers because she is a woman, she catches a glimpse of the town's most eligible bachelor, Mr Boldwood.  Boldwood is her neighbour, an older man with a surly and miserable countenance but a large fortune.  She at first thinks he may be an ally but he too slights her in the marketplace, and later, she and her companion Lyddie decide it would be a good idea to send him a Valentine's Card in jest.  Mr Boldwood takes her rather seriously, however, and he too asks for her hand in marriage.  She says she will think, as the idea of her saying no makes him visibly miserable.  As he waits for her answer, his slide towards obsession becomes clear as the sides of his hair turn whiter and whiter.  She eventually refuses him, after a 'change of heart'.

That change of heart is a far too pretty, far too smarmy sargeant from the army whose name is Francis Troy.  Bathsheba stumbles upon Frank trespassing on her property after he has been left at the alter by Fanny Robbin, a young woman who used to work for Bathsheba's uncle.  Frank does not know that Fanny has not jilted him, but in fact went to the wrong church and has lost touch with Frank who ran away from his post.  Bathsheba is taken in by Frank's charms, but for me as an audience member, he was ringing alarm bells in my head from the moment he decided to demonstrate his talent with a saber, slicing at the air around Bathsheba's head and accidentally cutting off a piece of her hair.  When he takes a kiss and *erm* some liberties as a reward, the klaxons were well and truly sounding.  Yet while I (or any other woman I hope) was running away in my head, Bathsheba was suddenly behaving like a silly girl, running off to meet her young man in Bath and coming home his wife.  The next morning, virginity well and truly gone, she wakes up and the camera zooms in on the look on her face, which is a look of sheer 'What have I done?'

I won't tell you too much more of the plot, as this story's drama is hinged on the tangled plait of Bathsheba's three possible futures.  It was clear to me from the start that Oak was the one for her; the on screen chemistry between Mulligan and Matthias Schoenarts was warm and compassionate, and for the most part felt safe, if a little fatherly at times.  But all three of her men had their redeeming features, or were supposed to.  And all three had pitfalls, making the viewer's allegiances as hard to pick as Bathsheba's at times.  But the more we got to know these men, the more we disliked or feared or felt sorry for two of them, and the more we got to know Bathsheba, the more we realised that she would probably be okay on her own.  After all, she has money and an education by this point in the film, and can choose to marry for love-- the only reason one should marry in her view, though not in the view of her society.  This adaptation is thoroughly modern and very topical, despite it being a 'period drama' and an adaptation of a Victorian novel.  It is a film with a heroine struggling to find her place in a world where men want to own her as a possession and a trinket, and where men get to decide how she is supposed to live her life.  She is at times impetuous and blunt, but always sure of what she wants and frequently wise beyond her years too.  Perhaps my favourite line in the film is when she claims it is unfair for men to expect women to be able to put their feelings into words invented by men to describe their feelings.  (That's not verbatim and Nicholl's had it much more punchy in his screenplay.)

Cap off this amazing storytelling with the gorgeous cinematography and scenery and you have a film that I want to sit through again and again and again.  I haven't even had a chance to mention the comedy provided by Lyddie or the complexities of the Frank> Fanny > Bathsheba plot, but I really must leave something for you to find and delight in when you see it for yourself.

Favourite film of the year?  Perhaps, but it is only June.

Five stars.  Will see again and will definitely read the book.  Bravo.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Book Review: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers
Kirsty Logan
Harvill Secker 2015 (I own a copy courtesy the publisher)

This weekend, our unseasonably warm Perth winter finally turned cold and rainy, which meant perfect circumstances for reading a book about a world that is almost totally under water.  This book was Kirsty Logan's The Gracekeepers, a fantastical and yet oddly real novel about two girls, a floating circus and a bear.  How marvelous it was to listen to the rain beating down on my window and the wind howling outside, all the while imagining myself floating away on a stormy sea with a brown bear for company.

The Gracekeepers is the story of North, the bear girl, who performs each night with her trained brown bear on board the Circus Excalibur, a circus on a boat which travels between island archipelagos to entertain the Landlockers, or people who live on land.  North and her people are Damplings, an outcast minority of people who choose to live on the sea, even though the sea is now most of the world.  The old world, our world, is still present under the surface.  This new world is one of superstition and darkness, where babies who are born with fins or gills are buried alive under sacred trees and damplings must wear bells on their shoes when they come on land so that everyone will know what they are.  North carries a secret within her that threatens her future on board the Excalibur; she is carrying a child within her, and the baby's father is a merperson though she barely remembers the encounter that bore such strange fruit.  She continues with her act, letting out her clothes as long as she can, taking it one day at a time.

When tragedy strikes during a ferocious storm, North and her circus family travel to a graceyard, perhaps a lingual relation to our own graveyards, where bodies of those who die at sea are interred under the water, and the bereaved are presented with a grace, a bird in a cage which will mark the time of grieving's end with its death.  Here, North meets Callanish, the gracekeeper, who wears silk gloves and slippers to hide her webbed fingers and toes from the world.  North and Callanish are drawn to one another in a way that cannot be expressed in words, but Logan does an excellent job of expressing what they are to each other.  When Callanish and North go together to see the bear, Callanish takes her gloves off in front of another person for the first time in order to feel the animal's fur, and instead of running away, North's reaction is to hold Callanish's hand a little tighter.  This is a beautiful image, one that fills the reader with a lovely warm feeling and gets to the heart of why this book is so comforting.

The women are separated by vast amounts of ocean but they journey back to one another, knowing that together they will find what they both need.  This is a book about grieving, about love, about family and about survival, but it is also a fairy tale and is lovely and terrifying and strange in the way that only a fairy tale can be.  Gender and sexuality are fluid constructs in this novel, but in such a gentle way that it becomes clear this is a novel about people, and not about men or women or gay or straight love.  This is a novel about bigger constructs, about feelings that cannot be labelled.  Kirsty Logan's love of words and language is evident with every sentence she crafts; her words are pared back but powerful and she says so much in short scenes that the book is soon over, but not forgotten.  It is a truly beautiful book and I gave it five stars.

Available now.  To order from Bookcaffe, click here.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Book Review: Lost Boy and Other Stories ed. Estelle Tang

Lost Boy and Other Stories
ed. Estelle Tang
Margaret River Press 2015
I own a copy (bought at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival 2015)

The Margaret River Short Story competition, now in its fourth year, has quickly gained a reputation for excellence, with the resulting short story collection being one which always seeks out the best in short fiction from emerging Australian writers.  Writers published in the collection have gone on to do great things, such as Christine Piper, who was published in the first collection. Piper won the 2014 Vogel Award and is now short listed for the Miles Franklin literary award for her novel After Darkness.  This year's collection is no different; lead author Melanie Napthine has been short listed for the Dundee International Book Prize.

Napthine's story is about a police officer and the bond he forms with a mysterious wild boy who is abandoned outside an inner city cafe, and the betrayal felt by this police officer when things turn out to be less of a mystery and more of a con.  Her prose is sharp and evocative without being overdone, and the story leaves a lingering impression on the reader, opening them up to the rest of the collection.  It is hard to believe that Melanie is a relative newcomer to submitting her work, as she told the audience at her Margaret River Festival panel, but her prose is skilled and I expect to see great things from her in the future.

Second place winner Eva Lomski follows on with her story, 'The Trapper', a dark story of literal and figurative entrapment, and the lengths that the human spirit can be stretched to in an attempt to escape.  Lomski's writing is turning up on prize winning lists and short lists all over the place, and it's no wonder to me after reading this piece.  Her characters are authentic and unconventional and her writing is punchy and evocative.

Other highlights of the collection included Susan McCreery's 'The Uninvited', a story of a man who breaks into a house and ends up taking care of the woman who lives there and Claire Aman's 'Ash Miss', in which a woman bonds with an abused child over their training of a budgerigar,   Overall, this is a story which showcases short stories about significant moments, or stories in which the narrators reflect back on moments they had not realised were significant at the time.  They are as much about what did happen as about what could have, such as in Glen Hunting's 'Human Traffic' or in Jane Downing's 'An Undelivered Letter to the Future.'  Under the editorial eye of Estelle Tang, these stories are all sharply polished, and there is a little something for every reader, which is the beauty of a multi-authored collection like this one.  I can't say that I connected with every single story-- that would be impossible-- but I enjoyed this collection and the diversity of voices within it.  I look forward to the work these writers will do in the future, and hope one day to get one of my own stories into the pages of one of these collections.  It hasn't happened yet, but who knows what the future holds.

Lost Boy and Other Stories is available from all good local bookstores, or you can order it from Bookcaffe here.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival 2015

The Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival was on over this long weekend in the picturesque South West Region of WA.  The festival is in its seventh year of life, and this was my second time attending.  More than anything else, MRRWF is a festival of ideas and a festival which celebrates creativity in all its forms, which left me with a great sense of the enormous privilege I have been given in being allowed to be part of such a vibrant community as the writers community in Western Australia.  This year, the Festival boasted such illustrious guests as the divine Mr John Marsden, whose wise words of wisdom I almost wept over at this year's Perth Festival in February, the courageous Isobelle Carmody, and the many-times-award-winning Michelle de Kretser.  There were also three comedians on the bill this year and that was a treat indeed.

I was lucky enough to be heading along to the festival with Louise Allan, an up and coming writer herself, who was shortlisted for the City of Fremantle TAG Hungerford Manuscript award earlier this year.  Louise and I have been in a writing group for some time now, and I am always in awe of the fabulous ways her mind works and the fact that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a boring conversation with her.  We road-tripped down from Perth to Margaret River, taking an unplanned detour through Bunbury when we missed the turn off onto the bypass (oops) and arrived just after lunch, in time for an afternoon session on Autobiography and Family History featuring three Margaret River based writers and last-minute rope in David Leser.  It was at this point that we met up with the third member of our trio, prolific and hilarious blogger Rae Hilhorst, whom I had never met before except through social media.  The three of us headed back to our amazing accommodation, a three bedroom townhouse walking distance of all the main shops and restaurants, and a very short hike from the Festival venue.

That night, we headed back to Festival HQ for the opening celebration (after a short detour to Swings and some delicious wine and pizza) where we met up with many familiar faces for wine and nibblies.  The evening was one of raucous laughter, or at least it was for me, as Justin Heazlewood, AKA the Bedroom Philosopher took to the stage to make fun of himself, and of us, in song.  It was at this ceremony that we met fellow blogger Reading, Writing and Riesling and reconnected with Jane, whom we had befriended last year at the festival!  We also spent some time chatting to fellow WA Writers to watch (as seen on Amanda Curtin's blog) Amanda Gardiner and Kim Coull, and their friend Jo, actor/writers Claire and Glen, Margaret River Press publisher Caroline Wood, authors Lynne Leonhardt, Amanda Curtin and Laurie Steed... (takes big breath!) so as you can see it was a very social event for a bunch of introverts.

After a brisk and chilly walk through the fog back to the apartment, we were greeted by the thoughtful hum of a central heating system which had turned itself on while we were out (Hooray!) and stayed up late into the night talking about the various merits of Outlander, Game of Thrones and Poldark (which I haven't seen yet but I'm thinking it's on the to do list!)  Then, it was off to bed to turn on our electric blankets and dream of John Marsden, who we would be seeing that very next morning.

Lovely Rae started our day off the right way by sussing out a) where the good baked goodies were sold and b) that there were attractive young football players in the vicinity when she went out in search of caffeinated beverages with which to wake us up.  Coffeed and dressed (and looking very artistic, I must say), we started our walk up the hill, only stopping to get coffee number two as we reached The Urban Bean.  The first item of the day was John Marsden, whose philosophies on writing, teaching and taking risks perfectly explain why I love his books so much: this is a man with his priorities in the right order, and a man who knows how to have fun, and how to have adventures, and he is also extreeeeeeeemely smart.  We each left that session with a little crush on him, and I am desperate to revisit the Tomorrow series if I can find the time, and possibly revisit my 12th year of life in doing so!

John Marsden with session chair, Rosemary Sayer
The next session of the day was Luke Ryan talking to Steve Butler about his memoir A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo, which is his account of having had cancer TWICE.  I was struck first of all by Luke's optimism, and also by his humour (but then again he is a stand up comedian), and his session got me thinking about the way I deal with stressful situations.  He was very easy to listen to and this was also quite a funny session despite the subject matter.

Then there was a session which was a panel on the resurgence of short fiction we're currently seeing in Australia.  The panellists were poet, Nandi Chinna, first prize winner from the Margaret River Short Story competition, Melanie Napthine and SW Regional Writers Prize Carol McDowall.  Though both short fiction writers admitted they were only just beginning their journeys as published writers, they both had some profound insights into writing and especially into where their stories came from.  Session chair, Laurie Steed, maintained his reputation as an interviewer who does not tolerate question-comments from the audience, thereby making himself the hero of a lot of people there!  Part way into the session, the lecture theatre actually began to fill up with smoke and many people were on edge, thinking they may have to evacuate, but it was just our lunch being cooked on a barbecue out in the courtyard, blowing smoke in through the gaps in the glass doors...

After lunch, comedian Sami Shah told us about his book I, Migrant and made us laugh and laugh, but also called some big issues into question, leaving us with lots to think about.  

I left Louise and Rae to listen to a romance writing session with Fiona Palmer and took myself for a walk back along the main drag, stopping at the shop that sells the delicious fudge!  Back home, I wrote up a storm at the little kitchen table and I had almost finished by the time the others got back.

That night we were entertained at the home of Lily Malone, an extremely lovely local author who has written and published several books and is now working with Escape Publishing.  Lily cooked up a hearty stew and we ate this by the fire pit in the yard, looking up at the stars and listening to the distant thump of a band playing somewhere out in the darkness.  I was struck by her generosity in having us all over at such short notice, but also at her warm and intelligent advice giving, when us three novice writers asked her about the tricky ins and outs of this writing life.  All of her answers were so well considered and wise, and I think we all left feeling buoyed by what she'd told us.  If you're reading this, thank you Lily!

Day three was Sunday and it began with Isobelle Carmody, who is the author of thirty five or so books beginning with the Obernewtyn series which she wrote the first book of at age 14 though it wasn't published until later.  She was probably the most engaging speaker of the weekend, and she told us about her travels throughout the world, and her deep seated belief that brave people are not brave at all because they have no fear in them whereas she is profoundly cautious in everything she does.  It was a really fascinating talk!  It contrasted sharply to the next session with Michelle de Kretser, which was a far more chilled panel.  De Kretser was very softly spoken and she gave some deep insights into the journey she took as an academic and then a book reviewer and an editor and then a writer and so on and so forth.  While it wasn't the most invigorating of sessions, I found it very inspiring and I related to a lot of what she said.  

We bloggers-three headed off to Sails for lunch, then split up so that Louise could take in some nature and Rae and I could explore the retail offerings of Margaret River.  That afternoon, we met up again to listen to Amanda Curtin and Richard Rossiter talk about Elemental, which all of us agree is an astounding, beautiful book.  

There was nothing left after that but to wait for the closing event, and this was great fun.  Justin Heazlewood, Sami Shah and Luke Ryan took to the stage to do comedy, and while some of the material was repeated from earlier sessions, other bits were fresh and new and hilarious.  I am definitely going to see more comedy shows in the future, as it was so relaxing to let my guard down and just laugh.  

The lighting wasn't great for iPhone photos, but Justin decided he wanted to get veeeeery close to Sami...
We sat goodbye to our festival friends then headed out to El Rio for dinner.  We were all reaching the limits of our energy, and though it was some time until I finally climbed into bed, I did feel incredibly satisfied that I had gotten the most out of the weekend.  

The last morning,(Monday), ended up here:  Sidekicks Cafe on Bussell Highway.  

As far as sampling the local wares went, I think we did pretty well this weekend, and it was nice to unwind and hang out with friends, particularly of the writing variety.  My head is in a very literary headspace and I hope that it will last until Friday, my next day off work with NO UNI WORK TO DO (YAY) when I will be diving head first into whatever project takes my fancy.  

Thanks to all who helped make Margaret River Writers Festival a huge success this year and especial thanks to Louise and Rae who took amazing care of me this weekend and helped me have a really really REALLY good time.  You guys are superstars.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Reading Round-Up: May

I did it!  I finally made it to ten books in one month!  This is a momentous occasion, and to top it all off, I did it whilst finishing the first semester of my postgraduate studies, with assignments to submit and everything.  I don't know if I watched less television or slept less or learned how to pause time, but I managed it and it feels glorious.

(That being said, I have acquired a lot of books lately, so reading ten of them hasn't totally solved my nuclear proliferation of books.  Sigh.)

In order of when I read them, here are the books I read in May!

The Bird's Child by Sandra Leigh Price

I adored this book.  It was set in an era which I feel particularly drawn to (1929) and it featured vaudeville style magic, romance, and one spectacularly creepy narrator.  I reviewed this book here.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

We very sadly lost Mr Pratchett this year but Discworld will live on.  I'm a shamefully recent Discworld convert and I doubt I'll ever read them all but I wanted to pay homage to TP by reading his first Discworld novel this month.  It featured his signature wit and the joy of silliness, but I have to say I enjoyed Mort  and Equal Rites  a lot more.

In Love and War by Liz Byrski

I don't often read memoir (or any non fiction for that matter) but I was drawn to this memoir/ history crossover piece by Liz Byrski, who is a West Australian writer I rather admire.  Byrski's very balanced approach to uncovering more than just the surface mythology surrounding the East Grinstead Guinea Pigs (men who had drastic plastic surgery after being injured in the Second World War) proves why she is so revered as a writer.  It's just a cracking good read, so please pick up a copy.  I reviewed it here.

The Canary Press Fiction Magazine Issue 4

I'm trying to read a lot more literary magazines, starting with the issues I already own, because to read them and understand them is to be up to date with what's new and innovative in the world of short fiction.  I really enjoy short fiction and this issue of The Canary Press features some of the best short fiction writers currently working in Australia, including Maxine Beneba Clarke, Ryan O'Neill and Ruth Wyer (who I've had the pleasure of meeting and she is delightful.)  This issue also does something really neat, which is take short stories written by eight year olds and reimagine them into stories for adults... that's actually an exercise I would love to try so I might be sending my cousins some emails!

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

You might have heard of this book because it's been shortlisted for so many awards lately, and deservedly so!  This is a book which uses various short forms of prose fiction to explore issues of culture and identity through the eyes of a series of Aboriginal characters from Queensland.  It features an extremely imaginative example of a future Australia where political correctness has gone horribly wrong which is so funny and so horrifying at the same time.  The book also explores gender identity and queer identity in a way that is really stunning and though provoking and I was so amazed by this wonderful book.  Thanks to Sophie for the recommendation!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This was my book club book.  (Yes, I joined a book club because clearly I don't read enough...)  I never expected to read Liane Moriarty, because I thought it just wouldn't be my thing, but everything I've ever heard about her work is true.  She's so funny and she gets the details of these characters just right so you feel like you've met them.  The story follows the lead up to a school quiz night where a parent is killed and has you guessing which parent it might be and who the murderer is, but it's not a typical crime/ thriller because the social interactions and the multiple points of view really come into play at centre stage.  Unfortunately, the book has to shine a light on a really ugly side of modern society, and that is the cliquey horrible ways people still behave towards one another for the most trivial of reasons, but it's such a clever, entertaining book and I 100% understand why this book is a best seller.  There were a few bits of the ending that I thought came a little out of nowhere but they weren't big enough reasons to write off the book!  It just wasn't how I would have written it.  The peril of reading as a writer, I suppose!

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I've had this one on my shelf for a shamefully long time, and I keep preventing myself from culling it so this month I decided it was time to read it, once and for all.  It was a quick read, and quite lovely, rating somewhere between The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird on the scale of tone and themes.  I don't have a lot to say about this one, and I probably wouldn't reread it, but it was nice to travel somewhere a bit different in my historical fiction readings, and Sue Monk Kidd's approach to giving voice to real historical characters who have been semi-forgotten by history is really admirable.  I think a lot of people would really enjoy this book.

The Girl with All the Gifts by MJ Carey

Yes, this is a zombie novel.  Except it's not.  MJ Carey's background is in film and comic book writing, which seems quite obvious once you know it.  I don't want to say much about the book in case I spoil it for you, but I will say it was surprisingly compelling.  This is not my genre at all though, so I don't think I noticed the tropes as much as other readers have.

When there's Nowhere Else to Run by Murray Middleton

This was the Vogel Winner for this year, a collection of short stories about Australians facing situations where they have a choice to make, or they are not given a choice and have to watch the inevitable unfold.  The stories were all very subtle, and I found a few instances where I wasn't 100% sure what I was supposed to know about a character though I often had an inkling.  However, the writing style was great, and his control of language was superb.  The Australian short fiction genre is really experiencing a renaissance so I was super excited to read this one, considering was a coup it was for it to win the Vogel, which usually goes to a novelist.   One thing I will say is that these stories all had open endings or were more about moments of truth than resolutions to problems, and writing short stories in this way is something I've been criticised for, so I'm both confused and pleased to see an award winner doing this too!

The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

I love Kate Forsyth, I adore her writing, and probably one of the worst things that has happened in my sad, sheltered young life was that I lost my beautiful copy of The Starthorn Tree when we moved house.  Kate's novels for adults are inspired by fairy tales and feminism and all sorts of wonderful things, and her new novel, The Beast's Garden is a recasting of The Singing, Springing Lark set in Nazi Germany.  It follows a young singer named Ava as she is forced to marry a Nazi officer in order to save her father and herself, and her struggle as she tries not to fall in love with him because of what he represents.  There's a lot more to Leo than it seems, and Ava finds herself embroiled in the resistance effort in a lot of ways she never expected.  This book also features of a lot of references to music, as Ava is a singer, and that's rather lovely... I did feel that this novel didn't sweep me away the way that Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl did, and I was disappointed because I miss the magic that I felt with those first two books, but I still thought that this was a great read.  I'm going to blame the fact that Nazi Germany and World War Two are far more common story settings in fiction.  I will also say that Ava and Leo's love story didn't quite convince me.  I didn't feel them falling in love and I think I could have.  But the book was very good and I liked that we were seeing this war from the German resistance's point of view.  It was a clever pairing with the fairytale (which is a variation of Beauty and the Beast.)