When we left Hank and Julie at the end of Gap Creek (published in 2000), they were leaving Gap Creek and heading back up the mountain to begin anew. H...moreWhen we left Hank and Julie at the end of Gap Creek (published in 2000), they were leaving Gap Creek and heading back up the mountain to begin anew. Having survived a very rough first year of marriage, they were full of hope and love and the future seemed bright. And, indeed, the future does seem to have been good to them. In this sequel, narrated by Annie, one of their daughters, some 25 years after the events in Gap Creek, Hank and Julie have created a family, are financially stable, and overall seem to have been doing well in the years since we last saw them. How did they get there? Don't ask me.
Here is what we learn about those years: after leaving Gap Creek, Hank and Julie at some point moved back there, and then left again, when Annie was about 5 years old; Hank was able to find steady work in the '20s by building summer cottages for rich people; with steady work, he gained confidence; and they have 4 children. Why did they return to Gap Creek? Why did they leave again? Dunno. I suppose the stories must not be very interesting, since the only family lore Annie seems to know are things that happened when her parents were newlyweds - in other words, stories we already know if we read Gap Creek. A sequel doesn't have to describe every detail that we've missed in the lives of the characters, but it's almost as though Morgan's imagination just totally failed him and he just doesn't know what happened to his characters in those 25 years. In which case, quite frankly, this book needed a different title, because the road from Gap Creek is not at all the story it tells.
That being said, the writing is, of course, beautiful and evocative of Appalachia in the late 1930s and into WWII. As a stand-alone book, this would have been a lovely read. As a sequel, it just doesn't hold up.(less)
Reading this book felt a little like watching a silent movie: some jerky, indistinct action, interspersed with text that's supposed to illuminate the...moreReading this book felt a little like watching a silent movie: some jerky, indistinct action, interspersed with text that's supposed to illuminate the dialogue you can't hear, but doesn't necessarily help bring the story into focus.
The story begins as Eva's mother takes her to her father's house for the first time, where she meets her half-sister Iris, and is in for some nasty surprises about her father. Eva and Iris escape to Hollywood, where Iris has some initial success in becoming a starlet, before she is black-balled by the industry. Beginning to widen the cast of characters, Eva and Iris move to New York where the bulk of the action takes place. But why do people choose to go with them? Why do others join the little group in New York? Explanation of motivation is sorely lacking in the narrative. Instead, we are asked to accept, for example, that someone with a long and successful career as a make-up artist in Hollywood would just give that up to join two girls he hardly knows on a cross-country trip. Ok, yes, he felt about what happened to Iris, but I'm sorry, I just don't buy it.
I also felt like the narrative followed the wrong character. Eva just isn't very interesting. I'm not sure that I would have found Iris to be all that more compelling, as she comes across as shallow and self-involved, but at least she has agency in her own life. Eva just sort of drifts along, and seems to almost willfully not understand what's going on around her.
And yet, by the end of the book, I understood where the title came from, and what Bloom was trying to do. It was a satisfying ending, if not a satisfying beginning or middle.(less)
Now with the elite Special Operations Executive, Maggie continues her somewhat maverick approach to acts of derring-do on behalf of His Majesty with a two-pronged mission in Berlin. Unfortunately, most of the people she encounters during her exploits there fail to come alive on the page. Add to that less-than-convincing mission details and some entirely-too-coincidental meet-ups, and this adventure just doesn't measure up. But MacNeal has already proven that she has what it takes in this genre, so I'll continue to hope for good things in future Maggie Hope adventures.
Two additional notes: First, this book shouldn't really be called a mystery, since there is no mystery to be solved. Second, MacNeal shouldn't feel the need to rip off scenes from tv shows, although I'm sure it was entirely an unconscious thing on her part. She chose one of my favorite scenes from an excellent show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but I was still very disappointed. Her writing is strong enough without resorting to copying, even from the greats.(less)
In my review of Winston Churchill's Secretary, the first of the Maggie Hope books, I said that the series showed promise as MacNeal settled into her t...moreIn my review of Winston Churchill's Secretary, the first of the Maggie Hope books, I said that the series showed promise as MacNeal settled into her talents as a writer. With this second installment, MacNeal is certainly starting to live up to that promise. Although some of the language is still a bit clunky (and there are far too many mentions of birds), the story itself flows much more smoothly than it did in the first book and MacNeal takes fewer shortcuts to get her characters in and out of situations.
Newly installed with MI-5, Maggie Hope is placed at Windsor Castle at Christmas in 1940. Posing as Princess Elizabeth's math tutor, she is really there to ferret out a possible plot against the future queen's life. Descriptions of life at Windsor Castle during this period are well-done, and glimpses of historical personages are clearly well-researched. Once again, MacNeal does an excellent job bringing to life a fascinating aspect of Britain during WWII, while at the same time allowing Maggie to grow as a character and as a spy. I look forward to reading more!(less)
This book got off to a very promising start for me. Nayman's initial narrator (Oscar) said something that gave me an instant feeling of connection. Bu...moreThis book got off to a very promising start for me. Nayman's initial narrator (Oscar) said something that gave me an instant feeling of connection. But, after only a few pages with this narrator, and just as things are starting to get interesting, we are abruptly thrust into a new time and place, and given a narrator (Christine) with whom I not only felt no connection, but couldn't even bring myself to be really interested in at all. I was so turned off by this section of the book, that I had a hard time feeling any investment in the the next section, even though I felt at least some connection with this third narrator (Marilyn). Both Christine and Marilyn hint at some dark secret from Oscar's past that they think they know, though both do it in such a jumpy, pseudo-tantalizing fashion that by the time we hear Oscar's voice again I was more relieved that all the games were coming to an end than actually interested in what the secret was.
It's a shame that the story felt so herky-jerky, because I think that if Nayman had kept Oscar's voice as the sole narrator throughout the book her story would have had the emotional impact she was going for. Instead, by throwing in so many extraneous plot points and red herrings (Christine's opium addiction and Marilyn's conflicting feelings about her wartime photography, among others) she's declawed what could have been a powerful story.(less)
This book should have been a fun read. It deals with some of the most interesting aspects of WWII-era London including cryptography and Churchill's of...moreThis book should have been a fun read. It deals with some of the most interesting aspects of WWII-era London including cryptography and Churchill's offices at 10 Downing St. and adds the little-discussed element of IRA activity in London during this time. Unfortunately, the book's numerous flaws overshadow the positive aspects. MacNeal takes several shortcuts to get characters were she needs them and to move the narrative along.
However, as the first book in a projected series about Maggie Hope, it shows promise. As MacNeal settles into her narrative talents (which are certainly evident, despite this book's shortcomings), she will figure out to avoid the pitfalls of narrative convenience and lovers of strong female detectives in historical fiction will have another series to become engrossed in.(less)
In order for a narrative conceit to work, it can't get in the way of the story. In this book, de Rosnay employs two conceits, one of which, alternatin...moreIn order for a narrative conceit to work, it can't get in the way of the story. In this book, de Rosnay employs two conceits, one of which, alternating chapters between 1942 and present day, works fairly well. Unfortunately, I felt like I was continuously tripping over the other conceit, that of referring to the main character of the historical chapters as "the girl". It seems completely unnecessary to refer to her that way, since the reader can easily guess her name, and it's eventual revelation is completely anticlimactic. Ditto for the revelation of the name of "the child" later in the book.
The story itself is engaging, if somewhat predictable. Certainly, de Rosnay is to be given credit for bringing to light a part of the Holocaust - the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup in Paris - that gets little attention. She's not exactly subtle about it, but her point is well-taken.(less)
The entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was missing something, like it was the sequel to a book I hadn't read. Relationships were writt...moreThe entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was missing something, like it was the sequel to a book I hadn't read. Relationships were written as though there was a lot of tension between characters, but nothing was developed enough (either in the backstory or the present story) for me to really care about where the tension came from, or whether it got resolved. Most of the characters seemed to just drift through the story, occasionally colliding with each other in encounters that were evidently supposed to be very weighty, but really just seemed like random plot devices. I think Kluge was aiming for high drama, but only managed to give us melodrama.(less)
When an author chooses to write a novel in the first person, they make a choice about the voice of the novel as a whole. The interior dialogue of a na...moreWhen an author chooses to write a novel in the first person, they make a choice about the voice of the novel as a whole. The interior dialogue of a narrator must match their exterior dialogue. If the two don't match up, it detracts from the credibility of the character and the overall readability of the novel. The disparity between inner and outer voice is especially striking when the character speaks in dialect, as is the case here. The narrative switches among 4 characters, two native Englishpeople, and two who have moved from Jamaica to England. One of the Jamaicans speaks in a strong dialect, while the other is quite proud of her "King's English" even though she often finds that English shopkeepers don't understand a word she says. And yet the interior voice of both of these characters is largely the same as each other, and the same as the other two narrators. I found this disparity distracted a lot from the story.(less)
Almost everyone knows the story of Anne Frank. Far fewer people know the story of one of the men who hid her and her family from the Gestapo for 2 yea...moreAlmost everyone knows the story of Anne Frank. Far fewer people know the story of one of the men who hid her and her family from the Gestapo for 2 years. The mere fact of having his story of bravery be told makes this book worthwhile.
Victor Kugler's story shines brightest when told in his own voice. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen very often. Large portions of the book are taken from the notes of Eda Shapiro, who interviewed Kugler late in his life. This is fine, as far as it goes, but Shapiro's words are also used to give us historical background information on topics such as WWII and the history of Jews in Holland. Surely a more authoritative source could have been found for these subjects.
At least this historical background is interesting. Not so the rest of the book's padding, including descriptions of various dramatic and musical productions of Anne Frank's story that Kugler attended and his reaction to them, and descriptions awards and honors that Kugler was given, including his inclusion among the Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem, all well-deserved. I could have lived with a lot less of this extraneous material, especially since Kugler's story stands so well on its own.
FTC disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for this review.(less)
When reading a book in translation, it's always hard to tell whether any awkwardness in the text comes from the original or the translation. And there...moreWhen reading a book in translation, it's always hard to tell whether any awkwardness in the text comes from the original or the translation. And there's a lot of awkwardness in this story, though not all of it can be attributed to problems in translation. Some of the awkwardness could go either way, such as the stilted dialogue (I understand that recreating dialogue in a memoir can be problematic, but I think most readers would agree that ease of reading trumps efforts to be strictly faithful to events, as long as gist and meaning are maintained).
Other kinds of awkwardness are easier to pinpoint, such as when the author tells us that she wishes she had broached the subject of her father earlier so that she would have had an opportunity to talk to his friends who are now either dead or past the point where she can talk to them about their memories of her father. This would indeed be unfortunate, except that throughout the book we are repeatedly given the memories of several of her father's friends, given, we are told, directly from them to her.
This extensive awkwardness is a very unfortunate factor in what otherwise could have been a very good read. The author's quest to find her father, lost during the Holocaust, is a very interesting subject, but this book would have benefited greatly from either a ghost writer, or a better editor, or both.(less)