**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**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. ...more
This is a well-written, thoughtful book. There's no storyline as such other than following Stephen Ryan, a working class Dublin boy, through four yearThis is a well-written, thoughtful book. There's no storyline as such other than following Stephen Ryan, a working class Dublin boy, through four years of his life. Those four years are more dramatic than most though.
Stephen is a gifted mathematician, earning a scholarship to Trinity College, but when the First World War breaks out, he enrols through the university as an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, much to the disgust of his nationalist brother.
The story follows Stephen through training to the hell of Gallipoli, where he and his men fight against the Turks. Evacuated as one of the walking wounded, Stephen finds himself back in Dublin just in time for the Easter Rising. As an officer in the British Army, he's on the opposing side to his brother, Joe.
Calm, unflappable, brave Stephen also sees action on the Western Front, earning a medal for gallantry, becoming involved in the huge tunnelling operation under the Messines Ridge and slogging through the mud of 1917.
But war is hell and Alan Monaghan paints a visceral picture of it. The battle scenes are brutal, the mundanity of trench life horrific, the loss of life, limbs and sanity heart-wrenching. Stephen Ryan is a solid character, holding the tale together. He's a safe pair of hands, but not dull. He's a man who gets on with what he has to do, even when every fibre of his being screams against the senselessness of it all.
If you're interested in the First World War, give this book a go. It's worth it.
This book is split into three parts and I'm giving it two stars for the first two parts. The third part is dire and barely warrants one star.
Part oneThis book is split into three parts and I'm giving it two stars for the first two parts. The third part is dire and barely warrants one star.
Part one is written in the first person and follows Frantisek Moravec, flashing between his First World War service and his work setting up the Czech military intelligence section. This was fairly interesting, but when Czechoslovakia falls to the Nazis, Moravec gets on a plane and doesn't appear again (except perhaps in an uncredited and unconfirmed cameo near the end of the third part).
In part two, the author switches to telling the tale through a series of military documents, one of which is a narrative improbably written by Jan Kubiš, one of Heydrich's assassins. Another is the personal diary of Karl Hermann Frank, Heydrich's second-in-command in Prague. Not a great deal happens for a long time, with the would-be assassins holing up with sympathetic families and hooking up with women. For trained soldiers and SOE agents, they often seem remarkably naive. It takes a long time to get to the assassination and, even in the thick of it, it's not very exciting.
The final part is written as the personal journal of Karel Curda, the Czech SOE agent who betrayed his fellow agents to the Gestapo. Curda is a most unpleasant character, a small man who desperately wants to be important. He writes his journal while in prison awaiting trial, remembering events. Much of what he recalls is uninteresting, which he himself admits, so why we're treated to it as readers, I simply can't fathom. The only part that I wanted to know about was the final stand of Heydrich's assassins. However, Curda goes round the houses before relating this particular tale and when he does it loses impact because he's not really involved. He's neither inside the church nor laying siege to the church, simply an eyewitness, who gets short shrift from his erstwhile colleages when he exhorts them to surrender.
I don't know whether this is a self-published book, but it would have been better with tighter editorial control. It's a shame because the author has quite obviously deeply researched his subject, but I'm not sure the conceit of telling the story in parts through different narrators using documents really works. In parts, it disengages the reader from the action. Plus, there was some sloppy writing in there, things like: "I remember remembering that I'd forgotten to forget about her."
The book also had lots of Americanisms in it that jarred in two ways: as anachronistic and as out of place in a book peopled with European characters. Then there was the spelling of Czech names, which varied from part to part. Prague, for example, was Praha in earlier parts and Prag in the final part. I also think it was a mistake to anglicise German terms that would be familiar to anyone with an interest in the Second World War. The majority of people recognise the term Fuhrer, so changing it to Leader lessens the impact. It's also confusing when a character is addressing a soldier as leader and talking about the Leader, but meaning Hitler. Hearing a German soldier or bureaucrat calling Heydrich 'my lord' was really incongruous to my English ears too.
I really wanted to like this book, but it became a chore getting through to the end. ...more
**spoiler alert** This novel relates the story of Bess, a girl who becomes immortal in the 1600s. She spends her life reinventing herself through the**spoiler alert** This novel relates the story of Bess, a girl who becomes immortal in the 1600s. She spends her life reinventing herself through the ages and fleeing from Gideon, the man who taught her witchcraft.
The book starts off promisingly with Bess' desperate flight from a 17th century prison cell, but soon switches to modern day Elizabeth, who is far less interesting. The author takes much too long to tell us about Elizabeth's new home and her friendship with Tegan, her young, gauche neighbour. The book drags dreadfully in these parts and doesn't really pick up again until we flash back to Bess when she was mortal in pre-Civil War England.
Life as a peasant in 17th century England was hard and, for Bess, it was about to become insufferable. She endures tragedy upon tragedy before taking refuge with Gideon, a man she deeply distrusts, who instructs her in magic. Bess finds herself enthralled by Gideon until he shows his true colours. Events overtake Bess and, finally, she must make a choice that will fundamentally change her life.
From there, the novel flits between modern day hippy Wiccan Elizabeth, Victorian doctor Eliza and WW1 field nurse Elise. There is little surprising in this novel. Living in Whitechapel in 1888, Eliza crosses paths with the most famous murderer in history and his identity is scarcely a surprise. In 1917, Elise nurses soldiers at Passchendaele, but also finds time for a whirlwind romance with a Scottish lieutenant. This battlefield love story seemed totally out of character and shoehorned into the story to me. (view spoiler)[ The fact that Archie had a touch of the otherworld about him and appeared to be the only person in 400 years to have recognised Elizabeth as a witch (without a word passing between them) also seemed mighty strange and a plot device too far. (hide spoiler)]
However, despite her longevity and her witchyness, Elizabeth is never really a very interesting character. She tells us often of living life looking over her shoulder and being saved by her witchy intuition. However, in the episodes we see, she never really seems to take precautions or act on her suspicions. She'd rather wait for a reply to her letter to be sure if someone is a fraud than do anything concrete about it. She never seems to be able to identify Gideon in any of his guises until it's too late. (view spoiler)[There's also a curious incident where she tells Tegan to whisper Gideon's current pseudonym while looking into water and the girl is miraculously shown his current face morphing into his Gideon face then into his true monstrous face. That left me wondering why Elizabeth didn't permanently keep a bowl of water to hand to whisper a suspect's name over if it's that easy to unmask her pursuer. (hide spoiler)] And she never, ever learns from past mistakes. Despite the fact that Gideon uses an anagram of his name every time he shows up, she never thinks to unscramble the names of the men she suspects might be him. She invariably suspects the wrong man and is surprised when Gideon turns out to be someone else with an anagram name.
Gideon himself is something of a pantomime villain. He's evil because he's evil is about the strength of his motivation. He's chased Elizabeth for nearly 400 years because she didn't do what he told her to do and he's rather cross about it. That seems a little flimsy to me. Plus, Elizabeth is simply too dull to pursue for four centuries. And for an all powerful master of the dark arts, he's pretty useless at capturing his prey. Elizabeth seems to evade him with very little trouble every time we see them meet.
This book is well written and well researched, but both the plot and the characterisation could be stronger. The ending in particular felt like a cop out, with the lacklustre Tegan simply writing in Elizabeth's diary about what had happened. It was all a little distant and removed, not to mention disappointing.
Also, as a British reader reading a book set in Britain written by a British author, I found the American spellings, words and date format jarring, especially when Elizabeth's voice throughout the ages is so formal and old-fashioned.
I think this is more like a 2.5 stars for me. I did enjoy it, but it didn't hit any heights. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a good read with a strong storyline, but it did have more than a touch of 'jolly hockey sticks' about it, which becameI enjoyed this book a lot. It's a good read with a strong storyline, but it did have more than a touch of 'jolly hockey sticks' about it, which became a little grating.
The protagonist, Florrie, starts the novel as a thirtysomething woman taking her consumptive teenage son to a clinic in the Swiss mountains. Then we flash back to 1912 where 18-year-old Florrie has plans to head to London to join the suffragette movement. From there, the novel continues in a linear fashion.
Florrie becomes actively involved with the militant wing of the suffragettes and once war breaks out she signs up as a VAD nurse. So far, so good. For me, though, Florrie never seemed to have a great affinity for either cause, she just wanted an adventure, a bit of a jolly jape. She was never three-dimensional enough as a character for me to believe in her like the other characters do.
Florrie is always beautiful, always capable, always feisty, always naturally brilliant at everything, always much admired by every single person who crosses paths with her. This gets a bit wearing at times. Florrie would be so much more interesting if she wasn't such a paragon and an inspiration to everyone else. In fact, she does have some flaws, but nobody ever seems to notice them because they're all marvelling at how wonderful she is. She's silly and selfish and thoughtless many times. She also keeps a rather large secret to herself for very flimsy reasons. The only person who ever really finds fault with her is her father and that's because he's an old-fashioned Victorian, who thinks women should be seen and not heard.
Nevertheless, the story rolls along nicely, despite the sometimes twee phrasing. The novel moves from the pre-war women's suffrage movement to the outbreak of war and nursing the casualties on the Western Front. (view spoiler)[This is where we get a hefty dollop of romance, when Florrie gets all starry-eyed about an army surgeon she obviously finds devastatingly attractive, but I find quite unappealingly as a character. Florrie, though, is a naive, virginal, young woman, who goes from nought to all the way with the good doctor after just one kiss. He barely has to put in any effort at all to have his evil way with her. So much for her respectable, Edwardian upbringing! (hide spoiler)]
The book also deals with one of the more difficult aspects of the war and the author handles it well. It gets a bit silly for a while after that (view spoiler)[ where trained doctors and nurses apparently suspect nothing is amiss when a blatantly not pregnant young woman leaves the hospital and returns a day or two later with a baby in her arms. Instantly, they believe it's her baby. None of them so much as question her or consider for a second that it's not her baby. I can understand her family in England swallowing her story, but medical people who have worked beside her day in day out until the "birth"? No, sorry (hide spoiler)].
Florrie is at a bit of a loss without a cause to attach herself too after the war, but, eventually, we get back to where we started with Florrie heading to Switzerland with her son. This part of the storyline feels a bit unnecessary to me. I know why it's there, (view spoiler)[for Florrie to resolve her love affair with the unappealing Ernst and realise she's actually in love with the saintly Gervase, who's been hanging around pining after her for 20 years, (hide spoiler)] but it seems a bit drawn out for what it is. (view spoiler)[It's also a little strange to me that Florrie tells her secret to a nurse, but never seems to think it might be appropriate to tell Ernst personally rather than let him read about it in the patient notes. We're constantly told how brave Florrie is, but when it comes to sharing her secret, she's decidedly cowardly. Either that or she's just very self-centred, which is entirely possible too. (hide spoiler)]
I thought the ending was a little too perfect. Everything gets wrapped up in a giant bow covered in love hearts. Okay, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing, but it was a bit too saccharine for me. However, having nit-picked, I really did enjoy this book, despite the odd attack of eye-rolling at certain points. If you're interested in this period of history, it's definitely worth a read. And if you like a historical, romantic saga, you'll love it. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A moving tale centred around the arrival of the Unknown Warrior in Britain for a burial conceived to assuage the grief of a nation.
Two years after thA moving tale centred around the arrival of the Unknown Warrior in Britain for a burial conceived to assuage the grief of a nation.
Two years after the end of the Great War, emotions are still raw. With men adjusting to life at home after the horrors of the trenches and women still trying to come to terms with the loss of so many of their menfolk, there's no sense of anyone moving forward with their lives. The country is locked in place, like a fly in amber.
This book follows three women with very different experiences of the war. Hettie desperately wants to kick loose and enjoy life after the long war years, but she has a psychologically damaged brother and an overbearing mother, both stifling her in their own ways. Evelyn, struggling to get over the death of her fiancé, sinks deeper into bitterness as she watches her demobbed brother appear to float through life, seemingly unaffected by his wartime service. Ada goes through the motions every day, grieving for her teenage son, whose under-reported death haunts her.
Each of these women had a very different war and each is grappling with different problems in the aftermath. They don't know each other, but they are linked. Hettie gets a lot of focus, but in the end, she seems more of a supporting character than a main one, possibly because her story is less interesting than those of Evelyn and Ada. Of the remaining two, I expected to feel more for Evelyn because I can identify to an extent with her situation. However, her manner and the choices she makes are alien to me. I simply don't understand her. Ada, on the other hand, I did feel for; her quiet grief, her inability to accept her son's death, and her desperate but almost apologetic desire for some kind of resolution.
However, for me, the most compelling, interesting and affecting chapters were those about the Unknown Warrior himself. From the selection of the body to his journey from the torn battlefields of the Western Front to the splendour of Westminster Abbey, the Unknown Warrior affected all who crossed paths with him. For a nation of parents, wives, lovers and families denied the ritual of burial, the Unknown Warrior symbolised every one of the young men who never returned from battle. His burial represented a desperately needed funeral for all of those loved and lost during the war. The images of the bustling capital city stilled and silenced by grief is visceral. Anna Hope brings to life that enormous sense of loss and the hugely personal significance of the Unknown Warrior to countless people. She captures many moving experiences in small snapshots as the living inadvertently or deliberately intersect with the poignant final journey of this one soldier who represents so many. This is a quiet book, but it packs a powerful punch. ...more