Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Lauren Wolk’s previous book, Beyond the Bright Sea, is one of my absolute favourite books. When I heard Lauren had a new book coming out I was very eager to get my hands on it and see where she would take me next. The cover alone is one of the best covers of 2020 and would draw any reader in! In Echo Mountain, Lauren Wolk transports readers back to a time that is both simpler and harder. There is no technology so distractions are few and it’s quiet, but the doctor is far away and you must trade for food or grow it yourself. Lauren introduces us to Ellie and her family, making a home on Echo Mountain.

It is 1934 and Ellie’s family have been hit hard by the stock market crash. Her father was a tailor and her mother was a teacher but business for them both had dried up, so the family must move from the city to the wilds of Echo Mountain. They survive by growing food and trading what they can. When Ellie’s father slips in to a coma after an accident on the farm their lives are changed forever. While Ellie’s mother and sister use lullabies to soothe him, Ellie sees that this is doing nothing to help him get better. Ellie determines to do anything she can to wake her father, from pouring ice cold water on him, putting a snake in his bedroom to make her sister scream, and making her own medicine. When Ellie is out collecting ingredients for her medicine a mysterious dog leads her to a hut the top of the mountain, where she discovers a sick, old woman called Cate. As Ellie helps Cate to heal she starts to heal her family. The more that Ellie learns about those around her, the more connections she uncovers

Echo Mountain is an engaging, character-driven story that leaves you feeling like you have just lived Ellie’s life right beside her. Ellie is a person who has strong emotional connection to things around her. She feels the pain of tree roots as she walks through the woods, she feels great sadness when honeybees die trying to sting her. As you read you feel Ellie’s determination to wake her father and the frustration that her sister and mother won’t break out of their slump. Adults in the story keep mentioning that she is ‘only 12’ but she is the one using her commonsense and is willing to do anything she can to help the ones she loves, whether that is her puppy, her father or Cate. She realises that to save her family she is the one to do it. If she doesn’t know how to do something ‘the best way to learn is to do it,’ something she has learnt from her father.

It’s a story about identity. It’s about Ellie trying to figure out who she is, but also realising that people aren’t just the person you see on the outside. Ellie says “For a long time, I’d thought that people simply were who they were and became who they became. But I didn’t think that anymore.” Ellie learns that Cate is not simply ‘the hag’ that everyone believes she is, but a kind, caring person who has been affected by the events in her life. Ellie also realises that her mother isn’t just the sad woman whose husband is sick, that she was a different person before she moved to the mountain and a different person again before she met Ellie’s father.

If you haven’t yet read one of Lauren Wolk’s books read Echo Mountain and fall in love with her writing.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

When I was a teenager I went through stages of reading nothing but war stories.  I was fascinated by them because I couldn’t believe how people, especially children, could survive such a horrific event.  These stories put me in the shoes of teenagers in another time, taught me empathy and taught me a lot about the survival instinct of humans.  The thing that always gets me with war stories is that you know these horrible things happened, but you struggle to accept that anyone can be that cruel.   In her latest book, A Winter’s Day in 1939, Melinda Szymanik introduces us to a Polish family who do everything they can to stay together and stay alive.

Taken from their home, forced to leave their country, put to work in labour camps, frozen and starved, Adam and his family doubt that they will ever make it out alive. Even if they were to get away, they might freeze to death, or starve, or the bears might get them. For the Polish refugees, the whole of the USSR becomes a prison from which there is seemingly no escape.

 

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds.  Adam and his family are ripped from their safe, comfortable life in Poland and transported to prison camps in Russia, in freezing conditions and with little to eat and drink.  They get transported in dirty, stinking train carriages with a stove and a pipe as a toilet, live in cramped barracks with many other families, and are forced to work for the good of Russia.  People die of exposure to the freezing conditions and disease is rife.  In these conditions you need to have to will to survive, and for Adam and his family, this is what is keeping them going.

The story is narrated by Adam, so you see everything through his eyes.  You feel how much he wants to survive and how important his family is to him. You get a real sense of how desperate their situation gets as time goes by, especially when it comes to food.  When a clerk at one of the evacuation centers apologizes to Adam for the lack of food, Adam says ‘He sounded sorry about it but that was no help to us.  You couldn’t eat ‘sorry.” You want so much for Adam and his family to survive the war and be able to return home, but you don’t know if their story will have a happy ending.

One of the things that stands out in Melinda’s story is the sense that Adam, his family, and the other refugees around them, hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’re treated the way they are.  Adam says this himself, ‘We were being punished but I hadn’t done anything wrong.  None of us had.’ These people have been thrown out of their homes and sent to prison camps for no reason what so ever.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a great addition to any home or school library.  It’s a war story that hasn’t been told before and it will have an affect on readers of all ages.  Stories like Melinda’s help us to remember all those people who died during this horrific period of history and I’ll certainly remember Adam’s story for a long time.

4 out of 5 stars

The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence

Yee-haw!  Welcome to the Wild West where you’ll meet outlaws, miners, saloon owners, detectives, Indians, Celestials, Soiled Doves and a whole cast of other characters.  Caroline Lawrence transports you to the West in her new book, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, the first book in The Western Mysteries series.

The story starts with P.K. Pinkerton trapped down a mine shaft, writing about what has happened.

“My name is P.K. Pinkerton and before this day is over I will be dead.  I am trapped down the deepest shaft of a Comstock silver mine with three desperados closing in on me.  Until they find me, I have my pencil and these ledger sheets and a couple of candles.  If I write small and fast I might be able to write an account of how I came to be here.  Then whoever finds my body will know the unhappy events that led to my demise.”

So, stuck down the mine, P.K. tells his story of how he came to be trapped in the mine, starting with his foster ma and pa being killed by three deadly desperados dressed as Indians.  P.K. escapes and hops on a stagecoach to Virginia City, followed by the three desperados called Whittlin Walt, Dubois ‘Extra Dub’ Donahue and Boswell ‘Boz’ Burton.  P.K. meets many colourful characters in Virginia, some that help him, like newspaper reporter Sam Clemens and Poker Face Jace, and some that steal from him, like Belle Donne.  Will P.K. escape from the mine and the three desperados?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The Case of the Deadly Desperados is a fantastic story and will go on the list of my favourite books.  P.K. is such a cool character and I loved seeing him deal with different situations in the story.  At the start he tells us about his ‘Thorn’, which means that he’s not good at recognising emotions – he can only spot happiness, fear and anger.  He can’t spot whether someone is lying or telling the truth and as P.K. says, “People confound me.”  Caroline Lawrence paints a vivid picture of life in the American West and you can almost smell the drunken miners, feel the dust and grit in your eyes, and taste the Comstock layer cake.

Put on your spurred boots, grab your quick draw library card and head to your nearest dry goods store (library) to get your copy of The Case of the Deadly Desperados.  Recommended for 9+   10 out of 10