If Philippa Gregory and the scriptwriters of Hollyoaks got together I think this is what they would come up with. A roller coaster of ups and downs, t...moreIf Philippa Gregory and the scriptwriters of Hollyoaks got together I think this is what they would come up with. A roller coaster of ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs against a historical backdrop of fact and fiction. It was compelling, edge of seat and all encompassing story telling. Not particularly great writing, but that didn't stop a great story from being told. (less)
I didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I did. What an engaging voice Jeanette Winterson has. A very brave opening up about her awful childhood and s...moreI didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I did. What an engaging voice Jeanette Winterson has. A very brave opening up about her awful childhood and struggles in later life. I loved how at the end she admitted to not wanting to have lived a different life. (less)
The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was just a perfect glum January pick me up. It is split across two eras. The early era covering the early...moreThe Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was just a perfect glum January pick me up. It is split across two eras. The early era covering the early to mid 40's and the later period telling us about the character's lives 40 years on in the 80's.
A young Henry Lee is 12 when we first meet him in the 40's. He is an American born boy, living in Seattle with his Chinese parents. His father is a very traditional man who has escaped turmoil in China when the country was at war with Japan. His terrible ordeal has engendered a real fear and hatred of any Japanese people and foists his opinions on his young son. He expects great things of Henry and sends him to the local American school, rather than the Chinese school. He also insists that he only speaks English to him and his Mother. Henry's parents don't speak English, so this results in a prolonged period of little communication at home.
At school Henry experiences a lot of bullying and takes shelter by working in the kitchen at lunch time and after school. Here he meets the only other Asian child at the school, Keiko a gentle and friendly Japanese girl. He is too afraid to even speak to her at first, but slowly their differences to the other school children draws them together and here blossoms a romance and love that is a joy to see evolve.
Their love story is set against a harsh backdrop of USA policies during the Second World War of treating all Japanese residents as enemies. Rounding them all up to be shipped to an internment camp. Allowing minimal belongings to be taken to the camps means that many of the Japanese families look for places to store their precious memories, Wedding dresses and albums, graduation certificates and family heirlooms. The owner of Hotel Panama allows such possessions to be stored in the basement. We witness the extreme difficulties that Henry and Keiko have in surviving all the turmoil.
In the 80's Henry is a fragile old man who has just lost his wife to cancer. A chance passing of the Hotel Panama, sees the long forgotten possessions being brought up from the basement from a building that has been boarded up since the evacuation of Japan town in the war. This sets Henry on a path of searching for a treasured possession from Keiko's past.
Some may think that the story here becomes rather sentimental. I thought it was much more about Henry's reconciliation with his past, the difficult relationship he had with his Father and also his understanding of his own son. I think any sentimentality is balanced out with the sheer injustice of the internment that the Japanese encountered.
I absolutely fell in love with Henry, both as a young boy and an older man. Other significant characters were just as well drawn, the Jazz players, Chaz the bully and Mrs Beatty who was the kitchen supervisor. They all had so much to offer to the story.
I will be making no apologies for recommending this to everyone I discuss books with. I read it for a reading group which meets next week so it will be interesting to see if everyone was as swept away as I was by it.
I look forward to future Jamie Ford's publications. He is obviously a lovely chap as a Tweet I put out about how I'd loved the book, was promptly replied with a thank you. I may have done a happy little clap.(less)
I am in awe of authors who can change from one distinct genre to another and do both a great service. I have read one of CJ Sansom's Shardlake series...moreI am in awe of authors who can change from one distinct genre to another and do both a great service. I have read one of CJ Sansom's Shardlake series - Dissolution. Which are based in the 16th Century around the reign of Henry VIII and focus on Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer solving mysteries. His attention to detail and master of story telling made it a compelling read.
His switch to something a little more modern, Winter in Madrid, focusing on the end of the Spanish Civil War was just as compelling and again the historical detail and timing is the basis of an amazing story of struggle, survival and relationships.
Three boys who were boarders at private school, find their paths crossing and re-crossing in later life. War, espionage, internment, betrayal are all wrapped up in this gripping novel that I found myself reading in a Joyce Grenfell accent whenever the 'old boys' were speaking. The insight into the end of the Civil War and how desperate life was for Spanish civilians still reeling from destruction was fascinating but very uncomfortable reading at times.
Spain was teetering on entering the Second World War and was being courted by both German & British governments. The corruption of the authorities was astonishing. It was almost farcical that the British & German embassies were next door to each other, but all this historical backdrop paled in comparison to the human tragedies portrayed throughout. I was really rooting for the survival of Harry, Bernie & Barbara and was rather stunned at the end of the novel. I hadn't expected the outcomes and the twists and turns continued right to the end.
A great novel, I highly recommend and I'm definitely adding Madrid to my list of 'must' visit cities.(less)
I think Anne Tyler is my 'go to' author. The one you know won't disappoint.
I really enjoyed Noah's Compass. It is a discovery of 60 year old Liam's l...moreI think Anne Tyler is my 'go to' author. The one you know won't disappoint.
I really enjoyed Noah's Compass. It is a discovery of 60 year old Liam's life and how he came to go to bed in his new apartment one night, and wake up in hospital 2 days later after confronting an intruder.
This incident sets him on a path to discover why he can't remember the attack, where a chance encounter at a neurologist appointment results in a new and unlikely friendship.
Liam has a very wry and witty take on life, which seems to happen to him rather than him taking control. His relationship with his daughters, ex-wife, sister, step-mother and Eunice allows us to see how he plays a different part with all of them. He just wants a quiet life, will they allow him to lead his that way?
If I could have given this six stars, I would have.
Maybe it was because I read it in a day, or maybe because it was based on a true story, I know I w...moreIf I could have given this six stars, I would have.
Maybe it was because I read it in a day, or maybe because it was based on a true story, I know I will not forget this book for a long time.
Much WW2 literature is written from the view point of the English during the blitz, the French heading up the Resistence or the Nazi's wreaking evil. I think there is only Alone in Berlin and The Book Thief that I have read, which has given an insight into the dire situation that the ordinary Germans lived through to survive the War.
The loss of their son fighting for Hitler, sets Otto & Anna on a path that once started upon, they cannot stop. It may seem a very trivial or weak way to fight out against the Fuhrer, by leaving postcards with anti-Nazi propoganda written upon them all around Berlin. It is however, an act or mission which they will pay for with their lives if caught.
The other characters who play out alongside Otto & Anna are all brilliantly drawn. Defined by their bravery, evilness, cunning or fecklesness. None of them are superfluous to the story, even old Judge Fromm makes his final appearance worthy of his strange actions at the beginning.
Other factors which made this book amazing for me alongside the fact that it was closely based on a true story, is that it was written in only twenty four days and was first released in 1947. It reads like a modern day thriller and the detail only serves to heighten the suspense and fear you have for the characters. A hefty volume, but definitely worth the investment of your time. (less)
I think the one star says it all. I haven't read any of Faulks other novels but know he is held in high regard, particularly for Bird Song & Charl...moreI think the one star says it all. I haven't read any of Faulks other novels but know he is held in high regard, particularly for Bird Song & Charlotte Gray. Perhaps A Week in December isn't typical of his work?
It had the potential to be so much better. The premise of intensely examining seven people's imperfect lives over the course of a week, set against the backdrop of bustling London sounded like it would be quite gripping.
The seven main characters were less character and more stereotype than can really be permissible, I'm sure. The hot shot foreign footballer, the obnoxious city banker, the obnoxious city banker's spoilt drug taking teenager, a book critic with not much personal success (or charm), an under utilised scruffy lawyer, a student being lured into terrorism and for good measure a female Tube driver.
I found the constant satirical references to real life material very annoying, the girl band - Girls from Behind, the Big Brother take off - Barking Bungalow, where the 'contestants' were mentally ill patients trying to win a years worth of treatment and a Facebook equivalent (I cant even bear to look back through to see what it was called, but it talked of jabbing instead of poking) to name a few examples.
The hedge fund banker was a vile, greedy character who allowed Faulks to show off his knowledge or the amount of research he had done into the underhand dealings that the bankers have been playing at which has led to the collapse of the whole industry & it's contribution to the recession. This could have been quite enlightening to the lay person, but to be brutally honest I found it boring, too detailed added to my couldn't care less attitude to the book. I wondered if his financial research was the reason behind the book. He wanted to put it out there, and have a dig at the banks.
My other thoughts on what was behind the book was the character of the literary critic, he hated modern fiction & couldn't bear to see his contemporaries be successful, even going to a reading of a new novelist to heckle. Is this the reason Faulks painted a portrait of such damaged people, was it all quite sarcastic and his way of poking fun at broken britain?
So not one I will be recommending, but I do now feel a need to get hold of Birdsong to compare his work.
Edit: I think this would easily be a 3.5, but not quite a 4 for me. I find I quickly forget thrillers/crime novels so tend to score low.
I started read...moreEdit: I think this would easily be a 3.5, but not quite a 4 for me. I find I quickly forget thrillers/crime novels so tend to score low.
I started reading this whilst staying in a lodge, in a forest, on my own with 2 children. I think it is partly why I didn't sleep at all the first night. After reading about one of the characters being hunted down in a forest by a murderer known as the Snowman, it certainly got under my skin.
The pace of the book at the beginning in particular is astonishingly fast. The body count is high, by about a fifth of the way in. The murders are gruesome and don't make easy reading. There is the stereotypical, grumpy, alcoholic detective, with a young attractive female assistant. All sounds a bit run of the mill up to now, eh? However, there are some clever plot lines and enough twists to keep you hooked. I did have my suspicions quite early on of who the 'real' snowman was, as you are led to believe he has been caught a couple of times throughout the novel.
I liked the Norwegian setting, and it gave quite a contrast between the glamorous cosmopolitan lifestyle of the flashy head journalist, and the traditional rural dwellings on the outskirts. The relentless snowfall played quite a key role in novel too.
I did feel that it went on a little bit too long, with perhaps a few too many plot lines to tie up. It didn't stop it being a page turner right up until the end though.
This is one of our book club choices for April, so I'll add the overall verdict from them on, when we meet early May.(less)
I'm not quite sure I fully understood all I should have about this book. I struggled at first with the introduction of so many characters in quick suc...moreI'm not quite sure I fully understood all I should have about this book. I struggled at first with the introduction of so many characters in quick succession, but was soon quickly drawn in. It is based on historical fact, centred around the incarceration of poet John Clare in an asylum in the 1840's.
It intertwines the poet's life, the asylum owner and Alfred Tennyson in a cleverly imagined tale around all of their flawed characters. It is set over seven seasons, and gives us snapshots of the lives of the characters, written so beautifully and in a sense so poetically. I was left wanting more, which I think is always the sign of a good book for me. (less)
Here is a great example of why going to a reading group is worth while. It means that you read books that never in a million years would you have pick...moreHere is a great example of why going to a reading group is worth while. It means that you read books that never in a million years would you have picked up from the cover alone.
Set in 1953 during the end of Stalin's reign, Leo Demidov is a war hero, a high ranking officer serving the State, playing his part in the perfect society. His belief in creating the perfect society is severely tested when he is ordered to investigate and denounce his wife, cover up the death of a child and witnesses the cover up of a botched investigation of an innocent man, sent to his death.
His punishment for not adhering to orders is to be demoted and exiled to the lowest rank of the Russian police. A communist Russia, with an ideal society where everyone is equal has no crime. So when a serial killer becomes evident, Leo becomes an enemy of the state for even daring to acknowledge this. He risks his and his family's lives for daring to track the killer down.
A compelling read, with a very frightening period of time as it's backdrop.(less)