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Posts Tagged ‘world war ii’

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The Blurb: 

England, September 1939. Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go…

Australia, six weeks later. The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted on to dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

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My thoughts: 

I had really been looking forward to reading this book, believing that it was some kind of murder mystery set in turbulent times. It sounded like just the kind of book I would enjoy, and I did enjoy it although it was not quite what I expected and the comparisons with Agatha Christie which I read in some reviews were way off the mark. But that is not to complain – it’s a well written story, definitely more character driven than plot driven. The threat of WWII looms large and causes tension among the passengers, especially when Lily makes friends with a young Jewish woman named Maria, much to the disapproval of some other passengers.

Other than Lily herself, the main characters are a brother and sister named Edward and Helena, who befriend Lily, and a glamorous American couple named Eliza and Max Campbell who have a scandalous background. All the different personalities thrust together in an intimate setting, are bound to make for tension and this tension pervades the story.

I did not guess the ending, although in hindsight, there were clues peppered throughout the book. I did think it was cleverly written and would definitely read more by this author.

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Year of first publication: 2017

Genre: Mystery, drama

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Set across two different timelines, this is the story of Henry Lee and the girl he loved and lost…

In 1986, Henry is walking past the Panama Hotel in Seattle when he learns that a large amount of items which had been stashed there by Japanese American families, who were on their way to internment camps during WWII, have been discovered in the basement of the building. As Henry sees a distinctive parasol, he is reminded of Keiko, the Japanese girl who was his first love.

My thoughts

I really expected and wanted to like this book, so I am a bit disappointed to say that I found it…underwhelming. I can’t say that I actively disliked it, but it never really grabbed me. The historical parts – about Japanese residents in the USA being moved to internment camps (supposedly for their own safety, but everyone knows that it was because Japan fought against America in WWII – although most of those put in the camps were as American as anyone else) were fascinating to read about, but I didn’t feel like the characters themselves were ever well enough described for me to invest in them or to care too much about them – there was little characterisation and I never really got to ‘know’ them.

The writing itself felt almost like the wind of writing aimed at a child – simple and never very in-depth. were it not for the subject matter, this almost would feel like it was aimed at children, especially compared to other fiction books written about WWII.

So overall, the story itself gets a thumbs up for me, but the execution of said story….not so much a thumbs down as a thumbs sideways. Ho hum.

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Sage Singer is a 25 year old baker, from New Hampshire, who wants to hide away from the world, because of the scars, both physical and psychological that she has, resulting from an accident three years earlier.  She is in a relationship with a married man, which is going nowhere, and does a job that allows her to work at night, without contact with others..  When she befriends 95 year old Josef Weber at her grief group, she is able to open up to him in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else, so when Josef tells her that he is a former Nazi, responsible for countless deaths, and requests that she helps him to die, her world is turned upside down.

(Don’t worry, all of the above happens very early in the book, so there are no spoilers here.)  I have always found Jodi Picoult’s novels to be compelling and thought-provoking, and this one was no exception.  It is stated early on that Sage’s grandmother Minka was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, and a large part of the book is given over to her description of life during that time.  This may be a fictional story, but Picoult spoke with Holocaust survivors while researching this book, and while Minka may not really exist, the horrors described are all too real, and I was moved to tears while reading about them.

I liked and sympathised with Sage – she was a well rounded character, with flaws and insecurities that made her very believable.  The main theme of the book is forgiveness, and Sage’s dilemma in this regard was fascinating.  Her struggle to reconcile the elderly pillar of the community who she had become friends with, with the former war criminal who killed indiscriminately, was interesting and well described.  Can we ever forgive on behalf of someone else?  Does Sage have the right to forgive Josef’s sins – as he asks her to do – when it was not her who was personally sinned against?  All of this crops up throughout the book.

I also adored and admired Minka.  I would have liked to have seen more of Leo, the agent who has made a career out of tracking down war criminals and bringing them to justice – while he was immensely likeable, I didn’t feel that he was as well drawn as some of the others in the book.  This is only a slight niggle though, as for the most part, this book was truly hard to put down.

The ending was a surprise, and I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.  However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what had gone before, and overall, even though it’s not my favourite by Jodi Picoult (that would probably be Nineteen Minutes) I would certainly recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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The narrator of this book is Stevens, a loyal butler, who has worked at the grand Darlington Hall for most of his adult life.  Set in 1956, when Stevens receives a letter from former housekeeper Miss Kenton, who left Darlington Hall several years earlier to get married, he sets out to meet her.  En route, he reminisces about his time at Darlington Hall, specifically the years when he served the now deceased and disgraced Lord Darlington, in the years between World War I and World War II.

I found myself being drawn into this book, and ended up being very moved by it.  The characters – principally Stevens himself and Miss Kenton are believable, and if not always completely likeable, are certainly shown as two very decent people, who may have both missed the best years and opportunities of their lives.  (Such as when Stevens meets some villagers on his journey and allows them to believe that he had more influence over world affairs than he ever could really have hoped to have had.)

The dual narration works well, and while most of the book is devoted to Stevens’ time serving Lord Darlington, his present day narration show how those earlier years have affected him, despite his seeming never to want to show emotion.  Tellingly, on a couple of occasions in the present day narrative, he denies having worked for Lord Darlington, due to Darlington’s reputation as a Nazi sympathiser.  At times I wanted to shake Stevens and tell him to allow himself to show his feelings; not to miss out on an opportunity.  He was a perfectly drawn character, sometimes frustrating to read about with his fastidiousness and his occasional obtuseness, and ultimately a sympathetic character.

Also, this book is surprisingly funny at times.  Stevens attempts to teach Lord Darlington’s godson about sex (under Lord Darlington’s instruction) had me giggling, and his occasional referrals to the art of banter, and his attempts to learn this art, were also very amusing.

In the end, the message behind the book is a simple (and obvious) one, but this story is so beautifully told and so absorbing.  It’s no surprise that this book won the Man Booker Prize…I would highly recommend reading The Remains of the Day.

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This is the second book in Paullina Simons’ trilogy about young couple Alexander and Tatiana.  The spoilers I mention in the title of this post refer to both this book and the previous book, ‘The Bronze Horseman’.

The two title characters are actually not physically together for most of this book; Tatiana having escaped to America at the end of The Bronze Horseman, believing her husband Alexander to be dead; and Alexander still in Russia and forced to lead a penal battalion in war, with not enough soldiers, not enough ammunition and certainly not enough support from his country’s leader.

While Tatiana attempts to make something of her life – she becomes a nurse at Ellis Island, makes friends, raises her and Alexander’s son Anthony, and even considers dating again – she can never escape the possibility that her husband, the love of her life just might be alive.  Alexander meanwhile has no idea where in the world Tatiana might be, or even if she is still alive.

I enjoyed this book, just as I enjoyed The Bronze Horseman.  In this instalment of the story, Alexander’s back story, including how he came to be living in the Soviet Union, and his life before he met Tatiana, is covered, with the result that he is a much more sympathetic and rounded character.  I thought the parts which detailed him fighting for a war he was no longer sure he believed in, under horrific conditions, to be absolutely compelling.  The contrast between the lives which husband and wife led during this period were very marked – while Tatiana has found comfort and luxury, Alexander is barely surviving, and watches his fellow soldiers die on a daily basis.

The ending was superb – the last 100 pages or so are genuinely unputdownable!  There is a third instalment in this series, which I certainly look forward to reading very soon.

Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of The Bronze Horseman.

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Cary Grant, a Commander in the US Army stationed in Honolulu during World War II, is granted four days leave, together with three of his fellow army colleagues, and they decide to head to San Francisco.  There, they just want to relax and forget about the horrors of war for a while, but they keep getting pestered by various people who want them to rally the home front and give interviews in order to promote the war effort. Meanwhile, Commander Crewson (Grant) realises that he is falling in love with the fiancee of a rich shipyard magnate…

This 1957 movie was not well received, and time doesn’t seem to have been particularly kind to it either.  However, I thought it was better than many reviews would have you believe.  It does suffer somewhat due to the fact that it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be an out-and-out comedy, a romantic comedy/drama, or an attempt to highlight the suffering and sacrifices made during the war.  Jayne Mansfield is one of the supporting actresses, and while she does her best with her part, I found her irritating and something of a caricature in this film (I accept that she often portrayed the stereotypical dumb blonde, but she was a better actress in other films than she seemed here).

Suzy Parker plays Gwinneth Livingston, the engaged woman who falls for Crewson. Her performance has been criticised for being ‘flat’ but I thought she was fine in the role (she reminded me of Deborah Kerr, and after watching the film I discovered that Kerr had in fact dubbed Parker’s voice).

The film is saved by Cary Grant, who is always likeable and charming in such roles, and provides some much needed comic relief, although I would hesitate to call this a comedy film.  Ironically the fact that the film is far from one of his best, actually highlighted his charisma and talent – in the hands of a lesser lead actor, the film could have been a real disappointment.  However, due to Grant’s appearing in almost every scene, and peppering the movie with his legendary charm, it becomes watchable if not memorable.

Overall, this is not a dreadful film – but considering the talent involved (directed Stanley Donen, and actors Grant and Mansfield) it could have been so much better.  Still worth a watch though if you are a fan of any of the stars.

Year of release: 1957

Director: Stanley Donen

Writers: Luther Davis (play), Frederic Wakeman (book), Julius J. Epstein

Main cast: Cary Grant, Jayne Mansfield, Suzy Parker, Ray Walston, Larry Blyden

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When 19 year old Ruby decides that she has had enough of her life in London, she runs away to her grandmother Iris’s home in Cairo.  As Ruby falls in love with Cairo, Iris is in ill health, and fears that she is losing her memories of wartime Egypt and the soldier she fell in love with, who lost his life in World War II.  As we learn the story of Iris and Xan Molyneaux, we also see Ruby growing up, forming a relationship of her own, and bonding with her grandmother.

I really enjoyed this book.  As well as being a retrospective love story (which is wonderfully told), it is also a story of Ruby’s journey, from a troubled and thoughtless teenager, to an intelligent and compassionate young woman.  The story deals with love and heartbreak, fear and memories, and in particular, how the memory of a certain time in life can affect all that comes after it.

Cairo is vividly brought to life – both in the modern day, and during World War II.  It was very easy to imagine how Ruby felt when discovering the city for the first time – while making a parallel journey in which she discovered much about herself.  Reading the book made me want to visit Egypt for myself.

The love story between Iris and Xan is passionate and beautifully told, and never spills over into over-sentimentality or ‘cheesiness’.

All of the characters were entirely believable – more so for not being perfect.  They were well fleshed out and easy to invest emotion in.  The writing is beautiful and flowed easily.  I will definitely be seeking out further work by this author.

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