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LoveReading Expert Review of Ashes

A provocative yet compassionate and thoughtful story about the friendship between two Belgian girls who flee the invading Nazi army in 1940.

A thoughtful, stirring, and compassionate historical novel set during World War Two. Simone, the daughter of a Belgian First World War hero is best friends with Hava from a devout Jewish family, together they flee the advancing Nazi army in 1940. Inspired by the experiences of the author’s family members in Belgium, this is essentially a tale of what should be an uncomplicated friendship sitting within one of the most complex and horrifying times in world history. Author Christopher de Vinck introduced the reasons behind this book before Simone’s prologue slammed into my contemplations. Each chapter epigraph includes excerpts and memories that really do spread chills. It is interesting to note that those unattributed are from the author’s grandfather who was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery and was in the Belgian Resistance before being captured. Christopher de Vinck brings the girls to vibrant life by noting the small things that make each of us unique. He doesn’t sit in judgement, he releases the horror and emotion of the full story, with lost innocence spearing awareness and encouraging my own thoughts to form. Ashes (what a penetrating title that is), is a provocative read and yet also full of love.

Liz Robinson

Ashes Synopsis

A deeply touching novel about two young women whose differences, which once united them, will tear them apart forever, during Hitler's Nazi occupation of Belgium and France. Based on true events.

For fans of All The Light We Cannot See and Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Belgium, July 1939: Simone Lyon is the daughter of a Belgium national hero, the famous General Joseph Lyon. Her best friend Hava Daniels, is the eldest daughter of a devout Jewish family. Despite growing up in different worlds, they are inseparable.

But when, in the spring of 1940, Nazi planes and tanks begin bombing Brussels, their resilience and strength are tested. Hava and Simone find themselves caught in the advancing onslaught and are forced to flee.

In an emotionally-charged race for survival, even the most harrowing horrors cannot break their bonds of love and friendship. The two teenage girls, will see their innocence fall, against the ugly backdrop of a war dictating that theirs was a friendship that should never have been.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780310111986
Publication date: 20th August 2020
Author: Christopher de Vinck
Publisher: Harper Inspire an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Inc
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 352 pages
Collections: Around the World in 80+ Historical Novels.,
Primary Genre Historical fiction
Other Genres:
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Ashes Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

A story of friendship, loyalty and the horrors of war.

Ashes is a story of loyalty, friendship and the horrors of war.

Christian Simone and Jewish Hava are more like sisters than friends and share their interests with one another in pre-war Brussels. Hollywood, Clark Gable, Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind are just some of their teenage passions and beautiful, extrovert Hava encourages quiet Simone to enjoy life.

However, their lives are shattered when Hitler’s troops invade Belgium and both end up separated from their loved ones. The short chapters in the book include ‘sound bites’ from history as we follow their increasingly desperate plight as they try to outrun German troops. The fact that Simone could have probably remained relatively safely in Brussels is something she doesn’t seem to consider and her strength of character comes to the fore as she tries to help her friend reunite with her family.

Of course, we all now know the horrific plight of Jews in WW2 but Hava is convinced her family are safe and looking for her. This book brings the Holocaust to a personal level and I think could be added to the school curriculum as a valuable teaching aid.

Sue Packer

Ashes by Christoper De Vinck is following the trend to read about all things from world War Two but is told from a different perspective. An interesting read and should do well.

A novel based on Belgian refugees trying to evacuate and escape the Nazi invasion of 1940 and is centred on two young girls, Simone and Hava, who is Jewish. The harrowing descriptions of their attempts to escape seem very real. The author has researched in detail what it must have been like. Each chapter begins with either a fact or quote from the wartime era, fitting to that particular piece of writing. The chapters are quite short and the book is divided into six parts, making it easy for the reader to understand each section of the girls' lives.
I found this book mesmerising even though it was describing a world that seems so far away in this day and age, it fits very well with the revival of stories from wartime and will no doubt be a popular read when it is released for sale.

Glenda WORTH

A beautiful, emotional telling of two young women's journey to escape the Nazi invasion.

Simone & Hava, the General's daughter and a Jewish girl are best friends from different backgrounds. They dream of Hollywood, but the Nazi invasion shatters their dreams.
A beautifully told adaption of the author's Grandfather's story. This touched me on many levels, the story painting pictures of young Simone on horseback and the journey they embark on.

Neil Williams

Ashes is a poignant read with a message that we must never forget.

The author based the novel on his own family and in places it feels as if he found it painful to write. Whilst the characters of the two girls seemed rather young for 18-year olds, I think the author was intent on conveying their naivety and carefree attitudes in contrast with the horrors of the German invasion of Belgium. As the novel progresses we follow Simone and Hava’s flight from Brussels, their encounters with the people on the way and the kindness of the strangers. Ashes is a poignant read with a message that we must never forget.

Heather Byrne

A descriptive story showing the joys and horror of friendship, loyalty and war.

Ashes tells the story of a friendship between Simon Lyon, the daughter of a Belgium national war hero and Hava Daniels a young Jewish woman. At the start of the book the friendship begins, the girls meet and become inseparable despite growing up in different worlds.

As World War II starts we follow the two girls trying to elude the Nazi bombs and planes as well as dealing with being separated from their loved ones. As the book follows the girls running from the bombs we get vivid descriptions of the bombs landing and killing innocent people. The friendship and loyalty are shown as Simone is trying to help Hava find her family despite the fact that had she stayed at home she might have been safe.

Ashes is very descriptive in showing the horrors faced at that time, especially when it is described what happened to Hava. Each chapter is short and begins with a quote or fact about World War II which was very interesting and informative. I learnt things I didn't know from these facts.

As Christopher De Vinck wrote in his acknowledgements 'it's my ambition that Ashes will capture the hearts and imagination of those who read about Hava Daniels and her friend Simone' for me it definitely did capture my heart and imagination.

Rebecca Unsworth

A deeply moving novel about friendship, and survival, that will stay with me for a very long time.

Right from the start, I knew this was going to be a heart-wrenching novel, and it certainly had me in tears. It's essentially about best friends whose relationship is torn apart by war.
I really became attached to Hava and Simone who are so different from each other, but they managed to form such a close bond.
The novel is very descriptive without feeling like it's being over padded, and I really felt like I was right there with them.
As I joined them on their race for survival I felt so sorry for the teens who had to grow up so fast and quickly deal with the horrors surrounding them.
This is a fast-paced, and deeply moving novel that will stay with me for a very long time.

Lisa Rowsell

An emotionally charged tale of friendship and courage against adversity. Based on real events in the authors' family history. An emotional, but unmissable story.

For all those out there who have supported the recent popularity of 'Wartime' novels loosely based upon the truth.

Ashes is a beautiful tale of the friendship between two young ladies with their whole lives ahead of them. Simone Lyon is the daughter of a Belgian World War I hero. Hava Daniels is an imaginative girl from a devout Jewish family. After a chance meeting, the two, from very different backgrounds, become inseparable. They compare themselves to sisters. Little details of their pre-war lives together definitely coax an emotional investment from the reader.

With the Nazis approaching Belgium, the two young women are forced to flee their homes together. What follows is a heartbreaking story of courage against adversity and what seems to be an unbreakable bond between the two. However, we all know that such a friendship could only be doomed between 1939 and 1945.

It took me a while to recover after finishing this story based upon the author's family history. An emotional, but riveting tale.

I almost felt like I was there with Simone and Hava-and the wind must have got in my eyes.

Vanessa Breaks

Ashes was inspired by the experiences of the author’s family members during the invasion of Belgium in WWII. The Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940 and within hours there was a mass exodus of people trying to flee Brussels.

Ashes was inspired by the experiences of the author’s family members during the invasion of Belgium in WWII. It centres on teenager Simone and her best friend Hava. They have a carefree life in Brussels, they love Shakespeare, Gone With the Wind, and opera.

When the war starts it all seems so far away and of no relevance to them, and their lives continue to be as happy as before. But in May 1940 that all changes suddenly with the Nazis surprise invasion and the intensive bombing of Brussels. Within hours, all of Brussels is on the move trying to flee the Nazis.

Suddenly, it makes a difference that Simone’s father is a well known WWI war hero. It makes an even bigger difference that Hava is Jewish. As the war rages around them and the Allies retreat to Dunkirk, life for Simone and Hava changes forever.

Ashes gives a novel and interesting perspective on a desperate chapter of Belgium’s history and WWII. I found the writer tended a bit too much towards a YA writing style, perhaps because of the age and nature of the main characters. I would have liked to see some of the other characters developed more fully to give the story more depth.

Alison Burns

A fascinating and captivating read about the horrors of World War Two that touches your heart.

Set just before the Second World War, this book tells the story of Simone Lyon, only daughter of a Belgian war hero, General Lyon. Prior to the war starting, she meets and forms a strong friendship with Hava Daniels, a local Jewish girl.

The girls are inseparable and share many fun times together, but when the war starts this changes everything. Forced to leave their native Belgium, they embark on a journey around Europe trying to avoid the German bombings.

I enjoyed this book; it really captured the essence of what it was like in the Second World War for the Jewish people and how the strength of friendship can remain resilient through tough times.

Nicola Coen

Two girls, different religions, best friends. The Nazis invade Brussels and the girls need to escape to safety. The strength of their friendship endures through unimaginable hardships.

Set in Belgium at the start of WWII ad following the progress of the war and onwards, the book is inspired by the true experiences of the author's family.
We follow the story of best friends Simone and Hava, 18-year-old girls. Simone is Catholic and Hava is Jewish. They have a very strong friendship but because of their different religions, they encounter great difficulties. Simone's father is a famous General with medals for his work in WWI and he leaves at the start of the war. Simone's mother died in childbirth so Simone is left at home alone.
It took me a while to get into the story but once I got going I couldn't put it down. The description of the German invasion of Brussels is incredibly vivid and there are lots of clear historical references. The girls manage to escape from Brussels and as I followed their journey I developed enormous fondness and admiration for them and their courage and resourcefulness. You also see some incredibly kind acts of humanity amongst all the deprivation.

Dawn Vanstone

A beautiful novel about the determination of two young girls to survive the war and keep a friendship no matter what is thrown at them.

A beautiful novel about the determination of two young girls to survive the war and keep a friendship no matter what is thrown at them. I read this book in one go as I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. Having been to visit the concentration camps and a interest in history I really enjoyed reading this story. I now want to visit Belgium after reading this. I thought the bits of information at the top of the pages about real events worked really well with the story. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read this.

Dawn Lynch

A compelling tale of two young women, their strength of friendship, racing against all the odds, trying to outrun the German occupation of Belgium. Will they make it? This book was a page-turner and hard to put down. Well written and look forward to more from this author.

This book was a lot different to others like it that I've previously read. I found it heartwarming, the draw of two girl's befriending each other and ultimately forming a strong sisterly bond. Hava the beautiful Jewish girl who introduced her new friend Simone, a General's daughter, to her family and their traditions. Like all young women their love of music, books and movies. Their dreams and references to Gone with The Wind, showing how young women would dream about movies and heroes like Clark Gable. Throughout this book I found myself constantly hoping both Hava and Simone would overcome everything in their path, no easy task when trying to outrun a German invasion. I enjoyed this novel and would encourage others to read it.

Yvonne Richardson

Immersive and accurate this tale of a Belgium general's daughter and her Jewish best friend is based on true events. Brilliantly written and highly recommended.

In Belgium in the summer of 1939, two teenage friends Simone Lyon, the daughter of a national hero and her best friend Hava Daniels, daughter of a devout Jewish family, are growing up inseparable. Then in 1940 Nazi planes and tanks arrive and change the girl's lives completely and forever.

Emotional and harrowing, based on true events, we follow the girls as their world, innocence and friendship are tested and challenged as the ugliness of war shadows the period of time in tragedy. Christopher de Vinck shines a light on the bravery and kindness of friends and strangers throughout the war whilst not diluting the detail of horrors of WW2.

I love historical fiction and I love this story. It's so immersive and took me through a range of emotions from anger to loss with a dash of hope thrown in for good measure. This is the first of Christopher de Vinck's books that I've read and I will definitely be looking for more to read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in accurate historical fiction set in WW2 that is brilliantly written in tone and pace that encapsulates the frustrating disbelief of a time that should never have been with the inspiration of those who lived through it.

Nikki Telling

Highlighting the horrors of the Nazi invasion of a country thought to be neutral and the perils of being a Jew made this book a harrowing but heartwarming read.

Ashes is the heartwarming tale based on true events by author Christopher De Vinck. Set in Belgium 1939, eighteen year old Simone Lyon is the Catholic daughter of a Belgium national hero, General Joseph Lyon. Her best friend Hava Daniels, is the daughter of a devout Jewish family. Despite growing up in different worlds, they are inseparable. Spring 1940 brings Nazi planes and tanks bombing Brussels where they live and their resilience and strength are tested. Hava and Simone find themselves caught in the advancing onslaught and are forced to flee but even the most harrowing horrors cannot break the bonds of love and friendship of a relationship that never should have been.

The story starts quite powerfully and straight away the reader is subjected to the horror of war. We are then taken back to how Simone and Hava became friends and as the Germans invade Belgium shortly after, we follow their resilience and perseverance to protect each other and stay alive.

The girls really did capture my heart and their innocence was a joy to read. To say the book wasn’t riveting would be doing the story (and the authors writing) a disservice because just the nature of the story based on true events deserves high praise. However it was slow at times and the ending seemed a bit rushed. I did find the final closing chapter very emotional and I admit to feeling quite sad when reading.

Simone’s and Hava’s friendship was remarkably poignant and the relationship between them was truly incredible and lovely to read. Highlighting the horrors of the Nazi invasion of a country thought to be neutral and the perils of being a Jew made this book a harrowing but heartwarming read. The author hopes to remind readers what it if feels like to be filled with compassion, dignity and love and I believe he achieved this. The historical facts/quotations at the start of each chapter were a nice addition and often were very informative.

If you enjoy character based stories with a backdrop of war then you’ll find this book is for you and apart from being a tad slow at times, I did enjoy and would read more by this author again.

Miriam Smith

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780310111986
Publication date: 20/08/2020
Format: Paperback

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About Christopher de Vinck

Christopher de Vinck is a teacher and the author of eleven books and numerous articles and essays for publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest. He delivers speeches on faith, disabilities, fatherhood, and writing, and has been invited to speak at the Vatican. He is the father of three and lives in New Jersey with his wife. His essays on everyday life have been published in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The National Catholic Reporter, and used in high school and ...

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