I'll say straight away that I really, really enjoyed this book.
Set in the Deep South in the early 1960s, it's narrated by three women: sensible Aibil...moreI'll say straight away that I really, really enjoyed this book.
Set in the Deep South in the early 1960s, it's narrated by three women: sensible Aibileen, black maid to a white family; sassy Minny, Aibileen's best friend and also a maid; and Skeeter, a white woman, frustrated with her life and desperate to become a writer.
Advised by a New York editor to write about what interests her, Skeeter does the unthinkable and asks Aibileen to tell her about her life as a black woman working for a white family. With the black civil rights movement gathering pace in the background, these are dangerous times in the South and Aibileen hesitates before agreeing to help. Together, the women begin a secret project to document the stories of 'the help'.
The story follows the progress of the book as they write it, but it also focuses on the everyday lives of the women.
Aibileen works for the Leefolt family, doting on their baby, Mae Mobley. In secret, Aibileen tries to teach the child that skin colour doesn't make a difference to the person inside.
After losing her job because she did a "Terrible, Awful Thing" to the local white queen bee, Minny eventually finds a job with a lonely white woman, desperate to break into the town's social circle.
Skeeter is unique amongst her friends in being unmarried and childless. She becomes more disillusioned with the attitudes of her friends towards black people, especially as she grows closer to Aibileen.
Skeeter's friend, Hilly Holbrook, is the villain of the piece. She's the local queen bee, a firm believer in segregation and a skilled manipulator. Nobody crosses Hilly and gets away with it, but both Minny and Skeeter manage to make an enemy of her. I was rooting for her to get her comeuppance and she does, both in the revenge Minny takes on her and through her desperate attempts to stop people finding out about it.
The chapters are narrated by different characters and that comes across in the style of writing. Aibileen and Minny's chapters are written in the voice of a black woman, colloquialisms and all. Skeeter's is written more traditionally, in the voice of a college-educated white woman. I found both equally easy to read, but I know of other people who struggled with the black voices.
The main characters are all well drawn. It focuses on the women with the men in their lives having only a walk on part. It draws out the fear the black women lived with and the reality of their lives. I know about segregation and the struggles the civil rights movement faced, but this book really brought it all the life and I was utterly shocked by some of the things the whites believed.
This is a good book and I rattled through it. Definitely worth a read. (less)
I read this book many years ago and the protagonist is still the most amoral character I have ever come across. Beatrice is obsessed with Wideacre and...moreI read this book many years ago and the protagonist is still the most amoral character I have ever come across. Beatrice is obsessed with Wideacre and can't handle the thought that it won't be hers simply because she wasn't born a man. She will go to any lengths to possess the estate and I do mean any lengths.
I think this is a Marmite book - you'll either love it or hate it. Me, I loved it. (less)
This novel has the potential to be good, but is let down by poor writing and even worse editing. The author repeatedly resorts to simply telling us ab...moreThis novel has the potential to be good, but is let down by poor writing and even worse editing. The author repeatedly resorts to simply telling us about the action, rather than showing us. Too many times, we find out about major points through a one-sided phone call or by one character telling the others what's happened elsewhere. The plot is also riddled with unlikely coincidences or wildly improbable events.
This book would also have been improved by much tighter editing. It's full of spelling errors, grammatical mistakes and suffers from poor formatting. A good editor would also have cut down the clunky exposition. It's a shame that so many things spoiled this book. I do wonder how this got published in the state that it's in. (less)
I bought this book expecting a good story with a hefty dollop of Victorian scandal, but it's really a rather dull story, peopled with unlikeable chara...moreI bought this book expecting a good story with a hefty dollop of Victorian scandal, but it's really a rather dull story, peopled with unlikeable characters. The story centres around the divorce of the well-to-do Codringtons in the 1860s. Helen, the scarlet woman at the centre of the scandal, is a selfish, manipulative woman, who cares not a whit for anyone other than herself. Even her affection for her daughters seems to revolve mainly around her own feelings and not theirs. Harry is Helen's husband and appears to live in his own little world. Then there's Fido, Helen's young friend, a prim, prudish woman, who is exceedingly stupid for a woman devoted to the cause of women's suffrage and doing business in a male-dominated world. She's also quite obviously in love with the flighty Mrs Codrington, who uses her time and time again for her own purposes.
I kept waiting for the story to heat up in any way, but it never did. The sealed letter of the title failed spectacularly to deliver any tension. I'm at a loss to understand why it sparked such curiosity in the author if this is the best explanation she could come up with. There is a small twist in the tail, but it's really barely a kink, never mind a twist. All in all, a thoroughly disappointing book. (less)
**spoiler alert** Now, I am a sucker for First World War stories. That period of history is endlessly fascinating to me, so this book was a no-brainer...more**spoiler alert** Now, I am a sucker for First World War stories. That period of history is endlessly fascinating to me, so this book was a no-brainer buy for me. Real moth to the flame territory.
I got the Kindle version and absolutely raced through it. The book follows Riley Purefoy, a working class boy who has tried to better himself from a very young age through his friendship with the Waveney family.
Riley is in love with Nadine Waveney and, happily enough, she loves him right back. Class matters not to them, but Nadine's middle-class mother is less keen on the match. As Riley's hopes founder, the shame and confusion of a drunken liaison leads him to enlist soon after war is declared.
From there, the author splits her focus between a number of characters: Riley and his commanding officer, Peter Locke, in the trenches; Nadine in London, desperate to find a purpose; Julia Locke, Peter's wife, a woman struggling to find her identity with her husband gone; and Rose Locke, Peter's cousin, a nurse at a hospital for men who've suffered severe wounds of a particular kind.
For me, Riley really comes alive as a character when he is wounded in action. It's the nature of his wound and his slow road to dealing with it that really makes the difference. There's a scene with the young daughter of one of his men that had me blubbing like a baby.
Nadine finds a purpose, against her mother's wishes and really throws herself into it. She goes from a pampered girl to a young woman deliberately placing herself in situations that most women of her generation couldn't begin to comprehend, never mind handle. But whether that's because of an inner strength or because she simply wants to blot out her own pain is open to discussion.
Of the Locke clan, Rose is the strongest character. She encounters Riley when he is sent to her hospital. She's practical and straightforward where Julia is silly and empty-headed. With almost a century separating us, I found it difficult to understand Julia, a woman whose whole self-worth and identity hangs on her husband. The things Julia does and the choices she makes are alien to me. She didn't really add anything to the novel for me. As for Peter, the author uses him to show how men were damaged in the Great War even if they weren't physically injured. However, his main purpose in the story seemed to be as the hole in Julia's life.
There were some parts of the book that I found a little disconcerting, not because of the subject matter, but because the style of writing lapsed occasionally into stream-of-consciousness. Overall, though, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction. (less)
I really thought I'd like this book. My dad recommended it to me and it had a lot of good reviews, plus the subject matter is right up my street. I'm...moreI really thought I'd like this book. My dad recommended it to me and it had a lot of good reviews, plus the subject matter is right up my street. I'm sad to say that I was completely disappointed though. The rave reviews totally puzzle me.
This read to me like a schoolchild's story. The writing was laboured, with the dialogue between the characters especially stilted. Mr Nath has no ear for conversation at all. His characters are detached, forever noticing things rather than feeling or experiencing them. They are cardboard cut-outs with no depth and no attempts to flesh them out at all.
The protagonist, Auguste Ran, seemed to be a very weak man, seeing things only in black or white. He wobbled from one point of view to the next, fixating on one thing, then another. He never rang true to me. Would a police inspector really be naive enough to believe that a sworn statement from him that someone confessed to a murder is solid evidence for a trial? I also found the religious agonising jarring, especially as it came from nowhere.
I was hugely disappointed and not a little irritated by this book by the time I finished it. It was a feat of endurance just to get to the end of it. I won't be recommending this to anyone or reading another of Mr Nath's novels. I can hardly believe that this was published in this state as it is. (less)
This is a beautifully written novel that transports you deep into the 15th century and one of the most turbulent periods of English history. It follow...moreThis is a beautifully written novel that transports you deep into the 15th century and one of the most turbulent periods of English history. It follows the life of England's most controversial king, Richard III.
When we first meet Richard, he's a little boy just shy of his seventh birthday and already deeply hero-worships his eldest brother, Edward. The year is 1459 and Richard's world is about to change dramatically as the Wars of the Roses flare up with tragic consequences for his family, the House of York.
At around 950 pages long, this book doesn't skip over many time periods, but the 25 years it covers are packed with battles, treachery and intrigue. Richard may be the central character, but the novel also focuses on the charismatic Edward IV and his selfish, manipulative queen, Elizabeth Woodville; the traitorous George, Duke of Clarence, brother of both Richard and Edward; Richard's loyal wife, Anne Neville; Anne's ambitious father, Warwick the Kingmaker; Marguerite d'Anjou, the embittered queen of Henry VI; and a real tapestry of other characters.
Sharon Penman brings them all to vivid, glorious life, fleshing them out to become real people, not just caricatures from history. Richard is Dickon to those he loves, Edward is Ned, and Ms Penman shows that these royal brothers were real, flesh-and-blood people with their own strengths and frailties, passions and problems.
Richard himself is a compelling figure in the hands of this author. He emerges as steadfastly loyal to his sovereign brother, loving and supportive of his young wife, a caring father and uncle, and staunch friend. He inspires utter devotion in those who love him and bitter hatred in those who oppose him. He's a man with strong morality, who finds himself in terrible situations, often having to make hard decisions.
Wherever possible, Sharon Penman rooted her story in real events, using contemporary sources. She admits in the notes at the end that she had to fill in some blanks simply because records don't exist for everything. The actual fate of the Princes in the Tower is still a mystery, but her interpretation of what happened to Edward IV's boys is more than plausible.
This book was meticulously researched and is the richer for it. The depiction of medieval life is outstanding, the attention to detail phenomenal. Particularly fascinating for me were the scenes in York because I know the city so well and could picture the setting.
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the complex politics of the Wars of the Roses, anyone who loves tales of battles and kings and queens, anyone who likes a bit of historical fiction. In fact, I'd recommend this to anyone who likes a good, satisfying story. I couldn't forget that this was firmly based on real events, but that just made the story, especially the ending, even more bittersweet. (less)
**spoiler alert** This is the tale of a young Russian, Georgy, who finds himself as bodyguard to the Tsarevich Alexei in the final years of Romanov ru...more**spoiler alert** This is the tale of a young Russian, Georgy, who finds himself as bodyguard to the Tsarevich Alexei in the final years of Romanov rule. Georgy often finds himself in the thick of things as Russia moves from a monarchy to a republic.
The novel centres around Georgy's improbable romance with one of the Grand Duchesses and his unshakeable love for his wife, another Russian emigre.
The story moves backwards and forwards between time periods as Georgy tells of his life. We see young Georgy coming to St Petersberg to serve the Imperial Family and how his relationships with various members of the family develop. We see old Georgy watching his beloved wife, Zoya, battle the end stages of cancer. We see Georgy in Paris after the October Revolution and in London from the 1930s onwards.
As a narrator, Georgy isn't always a very sympathetic character. He can be incredibly naive, which often feels like a clumsy exposition tool so the author can explain certain things to the reader. Georgy can be very self-centred, which I found quite off-putting in places. He also has an uncanny knack for being smack dab in the middle of historic events as they happen, which is highly unlikely for a peasant turned soldier. That's fine a few times, but really stretches credibility when it happens time and time again.
The story plods at times, but I stuck with it because the fall of the Romanovs is one of those subjects that has always fascinated me. The history is a bit off in places, but will only jar if you already know a fair bit about what happened to the Romanovs in the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinburg.
There is a twist to the tale, which I guessed early on, but I won't spoil it for you if you want to read this.
The most interesting bits for me were those set in revolutionary Russia. I could have done without some of the interim years, like Georgy and Zoya's domesticity. I guess the author felt that much of that was needed to put the central secret in context, but I thought it was unnecessary. Overall, I thought the novel needed to be pacier to make it into a real page-turner. (less)
I really wanted to like this book as the premise is so interesting, but the story failed to deliver. It felt like a series of detached observations ab...moreI really wanted to like this book as the premise is so interesting, but the story failed to deliver. It felt like a series of detached observations about individual incidents rather than a really story. There's not much of a plot and nothing over much happens.
The basic idea is great, but the characters, especially the main one, Mathieu, are quite unappealing. I kept reading purely because I was hoping it would spring to life, but it never did. (less)