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#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan (@Egangoonsquad) Historical fiction for those interested in the history of New York, women’s history during WWII, and followers of Egan’s career.

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Hi all:

I bring you a review of a book that I was very intrigued about as I’d read one of the previous books by the writer. This one couldn’t have been more different. It is a good book, but for some reason, I didn’t quite connect with it.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

‘One of the most dazzling novelists writing today . . . It is simply stunning; thrilling, heartbreaking and unputdownable‘ the Bookseller, Book of the Month.

The long-awaited novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon SquadManhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression.

‘We’re going to see the sea,’ Anna whispered.

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have been murdered.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.

‘Egan’s precise, calm underwater prose is a persistent pleasure’ Daily Telegraph

‘A stunningly resourceful writer’ Guardian

Review

Praise for Jennifer Egan:

“Jennifer Egan may well be the best living American novelist.”

(Joe Klein Time)

“Jennifer Egan is a writer of tremendous intelligence and grace.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Jennifer Egan is . . . dizzyingly inventive.” (The Washington Post)

“Is there anything Egan can’t do?”  (The New York Times Book Review (cover review))

Advanced Praise for Manhattan Beach:

“Egan’s propulsive, surprising, ravishing, and revelatory saga, a covertly profound page-turner that will transport and transform every reader, casts us all as divers in the deep, searching for answers, hope, and ascension.”  (Booklist (starred review))

“Tremendously assured and rich, moving from depictions of violence and crime to deep tenderness. The book’s emotional power once again demonstrates Egan’s extraordinary gifts.”  (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“After stretching the boundaries of fiction in myriad ways…Egan does perhaps the only thing left that could surprise: she writes a thoroughly traditional novel. Realistically detailed, poetically charged, and utterly satisfying: apparently there’s nothing Egan can’t do.”  (Kirkus (starred review))

https://www.amazon.com/Manhattan-Beach-Jennifer-Egan-ebook/dp/B06XDG7YFC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Manhattan-Beach-Jennifer-Egan-ebook/dp/B06XDG7YFC/

Author Jennifer Egan
Author Jennifer Egan (Photo credit: Pieter M. Van Hattem)

About the author:

Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago, where her paternal grandfather was a police commander and bodyguard for President Truman during his visits to that city. She was raised in San Francisco and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and St. John’s College, Cambridge, in England. In those student years she did a lot of traveling, often with a backpack: China, the former USSR, Japan, much of Europe, and those travels became the basis for her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and her story collection, Emerald City. She came to New York in 1987 and worked an array of wacky jobs while learning to write: catering at the World Trade Center; joining the word processing pool at a midtown law firm; serving as the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones, an OSS spy-turned-Spanish Countess (by marriage), who wrote a series of bestsellers about her spying experiences and famous friends.
Egan has published short stories in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta and McSweeney’s. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, came out in 1995 and was released as a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Her second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2001, and her third, The Keep, was a national bestseller. Also a journalist, Egan has written many cover stories for the New York Times Magazine on topics ranging from young fashion models to the secret online lives of closeted gay teens. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book (due for publication in October) that I freely chose to review.

I read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad a few years back and I was fascinated by its language, the stories, the way the story was told, and its inventiveness. When I saw Egan’s new book on offer at NetGalley I couldn’t resist. I have not read any of Egan’s other novels, but this one is very different from A Visit. For starters, this is a historical fiction novel. Both from the content of the novel and from the author’s acknowledgements at the end, we get a clear sense of how much research has gone into it. The novel covers a period around World War II, in New York and the surrounding area, and focuses on three stories that are interconnected, and are also connected to seafaring, the seafront, New York, and to the war era. The story goes backwards and forwards at times, sometimes through the memories of the characters, and sometimes within the same chapter, we get to see how that particular character got to that point. Although the story is narrated in the third person, we are firmly inside the character’s heads, and we can be at sea one minute, and the next at home remembering one gesture, a smile…

Anna Kerrigan is the strongest character and the one we spend more time with. We follow her story and know of her circumstances: a severely disabled sister, a father who disappears, and a mother who decides to go back to her family. Anna is a young woman, independent and determined to live her own life. She has never made peace with her father’s disappearance and remembers a strange encounter, when she accompanied her father as a child, with a man later revealed to be a gangster. Anna’s story was the one I was most interested in. Partly, because she was the character we got to know in more detail, partly because of her eagerness and determination, as she decides to become a diver and does not give up until she achieves her goal (at a time when being a woman severely limited one’s options, even during the war, when there were a few more openings, as she was already working at the Navy Yard). Her relationship with her sister, her training to become a diver (and you feel as if you were with her inside the incredibly heavy suit), and her obsession with finding out what happened to her father make her somebody to root for, although I found it difficult to engage at an emotional level with the character (it was as if she was contemplating herself at a distance and always analysing what she was doing, except for some brief moments when we get a sense of what she is feeling).

Dexter Styles is a strange character: he married a woman of the upper-class, and he has a good relationship with her father and her family, but by that point he was already involved in some shady deals and the underbelly of New York clubs and gambling joints, and he is smart, elegant, classy, but also ruthless and a gangster. I’ve read in a number of reviews that there are better books about New York gangsters of the period, and although I don’t recall having read any, I suspect that is true. I found the background of the character interesting, and his thoughts about the links between banking, politics, legal business, and illegal enterprises illuminating, but I am not sure I would say I completely got to know the character and did not feel particularly attached to it. (His relationship with Anna is a strange one. Perhaps it feels as if it was fate at work, but although I could understand to a certain extent Anna’s curiosity and attraction, Styles did not appear to be a man who’d risk everything for a fling. And yet…).

Eddie, Anna’s father, makes a surprise appearance later in the book and we get to learn something that by that point we have suspected for a while. From the reviews I’ve read, I’m probably one of the only people who enjoyed Eddie’s story, well, some parts of it. I love Melville (and the book opens with one of his quotes) and when Eddie is at sea, in the Merchant Navy, and his ship sinks, there were moments that I found truly engaging and touching. He is not a sympathetic character overall, as he takes a terribly selfish decision at one point in the book, but seems to redeem himself (or is at least trying) by the end.

This is a long book, but despite that, I felt the end was a bit rushed. We discover things that had been hidden for most of the book, several characters make life-changing decisions in quick succession, and I was not totally convinced that the decisions fitted the psychological makeup of the characters or the rest of the story, although it is a satisfying ending in many ways.

The novel’s rhythm is slow, although as I mentioned above, it seems to speed up at the end. There are jumps forward and backwards in time, that I did not find particularly difficult to follow, but it does require a degree of alertness. There are fascinating secondary characters (Nell, the bosun…), and the writing is beautifully descriptive and can make us share in the experiences of the characters at times, but I also felt it didn’t invite a full emotional engagement with them. I was not a hundred per cent sure that the separate stories interconnected seamlessly enough or fitted in together, and I suspect different readers will like some of the characters more than others, although none are totally blameless or sympathetic. An interesting book for those who love historical fiction of that period, especially those who enjoy women’s history, and I’d also recommend it to those who love seafaring adventures and/or are curious about Egan’s career.

Thanks to Lady Amber and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview #RBRT WOLFSANGEL by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) For lovers of historical fiction and the French Resistance, a novel based on a true episode of cruelty that should never be forgotten

Hi all:

I bring you today another one of my reviews for Rosie’s Book Review Team. Don’t forget to check her fabulous blog! You will recognise the author if you follow my blog.

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.
1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.
When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.
As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France.
Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.
A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

https://www.amazon.com/Wolfsangel-Liza-Perrat-ebook/dp/B00FKWIY7Y/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolfsangel-Liza-Perrat-ebook/dp/B00FKWIY7Y/

Editorial Reviews

Review

‘… one of the best books I have ever read.’ Kimberly Walker, reader

‘A heart-stopping novel of love, betrayal and courage which will leave youshaken and profoundly moved.’ Karen Maitland, bestselling author of Company of Liars

Wolfsangel captures the tragedy of betrayal and the constancy of hope … choices made in youth cast deep shadows. A superb story that stays in the mind long after the final page. ‘Lorraine Mace, writer, columnist and author of The Writer’s ABCChecklist 

‘Once I picked this up I found it impossible to put down … based on the tragic events of Oradour Sur Glane in 1944, this novel doesn’t pull any punches and will remain with the reader for a long time.’ LovelyTreez (VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)

… a powerful story that has stayed with me since finishing the last page…wow. Megan ReadingInTheSunshine  (TOP 100REVIEWER)

… an absorbing, well-written novel ideal for anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction and like Liza Perrat’s previous novel Spirit of Lost Angels there are courageous female characters at the heart of the storyline. L.H. Healy “Books are life, beauty and truth.” (VINE VOICE)   (TOP 500 REVIEWER)

 … reviewed for Historical Novel Society … entertaining play on the familiar theme of love in the twilight of politics and honour … grippingly dramatic … prose and writing are beautiful, the central character conflict and outcome are satisfying … a solid achievement. ChristophFischerBooks”Chris” – (TOP 500 REVIEWER)

... a fascinating, forceful and extremely well-researched novel that will thrill historical fiction fans. Liza Perrat writes elegantly, with feeling and authority. LincsReader TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE

Author Liza Perrat
Author Liza Perrat

About the Author

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family for over twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist. Since completing a creative writing course twelve years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably, the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine, France Today and The Good Life France. Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in her French historical trilogy, The Bone Angel Series. The second – Wolfsangel – was published in October 2013, and the third, Blood Rose Angel, was published in November 2015. She is a founding member of the author collective, Triskele Books and reviews books for BookMuse.

Links: Email Newsletter sign-up for FREE short story, Ill-fated Rose, that inspired The Bone Angel series: http://www.lizaperrat.moonfruit.com/sign-up

Website: www.lizaperrat.com

Blog: http://lizaperrat.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Liza-Perrat-232382930192297/

Twitter: @LizaPerrat

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/triskelebooks/

My review:

This is the third book by Liza Perrat I have read, and it won’t be the last one. After The Silent Kookaburra set in Australia in the 1970s, I read the first book in the Bone Angel Series, Spirit of Lost Angels. (Read the review here). This is a series that follows the women of a French rural family through the generations, with big jumps in time. The name comes from a little bone angel talisman these women wear and inherit down the female line, together with a skill and talent for nursing (including knowledge of herbs and natural remedies) and midwifery. While Spirit of Lost Angels is set around the time of the French Revolution, this book follows the main character, Célestine (Céleste) through the difficult years of the German occupation of France during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath.

The book is again narrated by its protagonist, a young girl, eager to prove herself and to lead an interesting life away from her seemingly uncaring and cold mother, in the first person. I know some readers do not like first person narrations although they bring an immediacy and closeness to the proceedings, and help us understand better the main character (well, to the point she understands herself). This device also means that we share in the point of view and opinions of Céleste and we are as surprised by events as she is, as we do not have any more information than she does. I am fascinated by narrators, and although Céleste is not an unreliable narrator by design (she does tell things and events as she experiences them), her rushed and unthinking behaviour at times, her quick reactions, and her youth make her not the most objective of people at times. Of course, if readers cannot manage to connect with Céleste at some level, the novel will be harder to read, but she is a likeable character. She is young, impulsive, and enthusiastic. She is eager to help and will often do it without thinking about the consequences and risks she might be taking. She helps a Jewish family very early on, hiding them on the farm, even when she is convinced her mother will not be happy. She wants to help the Resistance cause and is frustrated by the assumption that she is incapable of making any meaningful contribution to the war efforts because she is a woman. She works hard to prove she can be as useful and courageous as a man and runs incredible risks to achieve her goals.

She is not perfect, though, and her youth is particularly well reflected in her romantic attachment to one of the German officers. As is often the case for young lovers, Céleste seems to fall in love with her idea of romance, having only very limited and furtive contact with the officer. If at first she tries to convince herself that she is only playing a part to gather intelligence (and even her sister Felicité encourages her to try and obtain information), soon things turn serious, proving that she is not as calculating and mature as she would like to believe.

Céleste develops throughout the novel, moving to the city, becoming a true resistance fighter, helping the war effort as a nurse, feeding the prisoners at the station on their way to the camps, spying and passing secret information, and becoming a determined and independent woman. She also proves her strength and determination and survives a terrible ordeal and severe losses.

The cast of secondary characters is also exemplary. Céleste’s family (except for her father that we don’t know much about) are well-drawn and fascinating. The relationship mother-daughter is one of the strongest points and it reminds us of the strong bonds and connections between women (not always straight forward) the series is built on. Felicité, Céleste’s sister, is an amazing character, brave beyond the call of duty and, as we learn later, based on a historical figure. Her actions and her courage are very touching. Her brother is strong and supportive, and also a member of the resistance, and we get to know her friends, the doctor, the priest, and to understand that a lot of the population supported the resistance (some more openly than others), although there were collaborationists there too.

The author creates a great sense of place and historical era. The language, the foods, the clothing, the difficulties of an occupied nation trying to survive and resist are vividly brought to life thanks to the detailed descriptions of the landscape and the events, that make us share in the experience, without burdening the novel with extraneous information. The research is seamlessly incorporated into the story and it reminds us of how close the events are to us and makes us reflect on historical similarities with current times. The style of writing is poetic at times (the descriptions of the forest, Céleste’s love for her home and her pendant…), dynamic and flowing, and it has psychological depth and insight too.

The novel is harrowing and realistic as it describes death and tragedy on a big scale. The events that took place in Oradour Sur Glane in 1944 (and that inspired the novel) are horrific and reading them in the first person helps us understand more fully the kind of horror experienced by the victims and also the survivors.

The ending ties all loose ends together and is perfect for the story.

This is a great book for anybody who loves historical fiction and is interested in the French resistance from a more human perspective. It personalises and brings the readers closer to the experience of the era, at the same time helping us reflect on events and attitudes that are all too familiar. If you prefer your history close, personal, and in the first person, this is your book.

Thanks to Rosie for her great team, thanks to the author for another fantastic novel (and thanks to Terry Tyler for her recommendation), thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson (@JSAauthor) A well-paced mystery that takes us back to a fascinating and tragic historical era

Hi all:

I have another review I’ve written on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think you’ll love this one!

The Lover's Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson
The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson

When a homosexual Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.

After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one it is and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it all.

Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.

** One of The Displaced Nation’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016 **

“Gripping mystery…the suspense is intensely magnetic and the characters equally captivating “ – BookLife Prize for Fiction 2016, No. 14 in Mystery category

“Well worth reading for what the main character discovers—not just about the portrait mentioned in the title, but also the sobering dangers of Amsterdam during World War II.” – IndieReader

“Jennifer S. Alderson delivers a mystery novel not quite like most. It’s not about stolen paintings, but about lives that were stolen… The Lover’s Portrait is a well-written mystery with engaging characters and a lot of heart. The perfect novel for those who love art and mysteries!“ – Reader’s Favorite, 5 star medal

“If you love history, a detailed mystery, and a lovely, yet not run of the mill heroine, then you will love The Lover’s Portrait.” – Author and blogger Vicki Turner Goodwin

“I highly recommend The Lover’s Portrait for artists, art lovers, history buffs, historical novel fans, and anyone else looking for a well-written, enjoyable read.” – Author Pamela Allegretto

This amateur sleuth mystery describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery draws on the author’s experiences gained while studying art history in the Netherlands and working for several Dutch museums.

Related subjects include: women sleuths, historical mysteries, amateur sleuth books, murder mysteries, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), travel fiction, suspense, art crime, art theft, World War Two, art history.

https://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

Author Jennifer S. Alderson

About the author:

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam. Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson.

Review and discuss her books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JenniferSAldersonAuthor), Twitter (@JSAauthor) or Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/JennifeSAlderson).

For more information about the author and her upcoming novels, please visit: http://www.JenniferSAlderson.com

My review:

Thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to review. (If you are a writer and are interested in getting first-class reviews do check here).

I love art but cannot claim to be a connoisseur and I’ve never been to Amsterdam (well, I stopped at the airport to change planes once but that was that) but I can reassure you neither of those things prevented me from enjoying this solid mystery set within the world of big art museums and exhibitions, with a background story that would comfortably fit into the genre of historical fiction.

The story is written in the third person but from several characters’ point of view, although it is easy to follow and there is no head-hopping as each chapter, some longer and some shorter, is told from only one character’s point of view. There are two time frames. Some chapters are set in 1942 and tell the story of an art dealer from Amsterdam who is being blackmailed by one of the Nazi occupiers due to his homosexuality. In 2015, Zelda, the intrepid protagonist, is trying very hard to get into a Master’s Programme that will qualify her to work in museums and agrees to help with some very basic editing tasks for an exhibition of art objects confiscated by the Nazis that has been organised in an attempt at locating the rightful owners of the paintings. Readers get also a good insight into the thoughts and motivations of other characters (the evil nephew of the original Nazi blackmailer, Rita, the owner of one of the portraits in the exhibition, Huub, the curator of the exhibition…), although we mostly follow Zelda and her adventures. Although this is book 2 in the series, I have not read the first one and had no problem getting into the story. Zelda at times reflects upon how she got here and we learn that she moved from working with computers to a stay in Nepal teaching English and finally Amsterdam. In effect, I felt the novel was better at offering factual information about her than developing her character psychologically. I was not sure of her age but at times she seemed very naïve for somebody who has travelled extensively and has held important jobs, not only with the mystery side of things but also with her personal life, but she has the heart in the right place, and I appreciated the lack of romance in the story.

The different points of view and time changes help keep the suspense going, as we have access to more information than Zelda, but this can sometimes make matters more confusing (as we are not privy to everybody’s thoughts and there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure). The author is also good at keeping us guessing and suspecting all kinds of double-crossings (perhaps I have been reading too many mystery books and thrillers but I didn’t trust anyone and was on the lookout for more twists than there were).

The setting of Amsterdam, both in the present and in the 1940s is very well depicted and, at least for me, the wish to go there increased as I read. I really enjoyed the description of the process of documentation and how to search for the provenance of artworks (the author explains her own background and its relevance to the subject [very] in an endnote that also offers ample bibliography)  that is sufficiently detailed without getting boring, and the background theme of the fate of art and the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in occupied Europe is brought to life in the memories described by several of the characters and also the fictionalised entries of the art merchant. It is not difficult to see how a book about the research of actual works of art could be gripping too, and the fictionalisation and the mystery elements make it attractive to even more readers.

This is a gentle mystery, with no excessive or graphic violence, with an amateur sleuth who sometimes is far too daring and impulsive (although otherwise there would not be much of a story), with a great background and sufficient red herrings and clues to keep the suspense going. I suspect most readers will guess some aspects of the solution, but perhaps not the full details, and even if they do, the rest of the elements of the story make the reading worthwhile.

A good and solid book, an interesting intrigue that combines present and past, set in a wonderful Amsterdam and the art world, with likeable and intriguing characters,  but not heavy on the psychological aspects or too demanding.

Thanks so much to Rosie and the wonderful members of her team (don’t miss their reviews), thanks to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Children in the Second World War: Memories from the Home Front by Amanda Herbert-Davies (@penswordbooks) For those interested in history from the point of view of the people in the street and a reminder of why this should not happen to any children.

Hi all:

For some reason this week we have more non-fiction books than fictional ones, but they are all wonderful and truly different, so here comes a historical one that I found irresistible.

Children in the Second World War by Amanda Herbert-Davies
Children in the Second World War by Amanda Herbert-Davies

Children in the Second World War: Memories from the Home Front by Amanda Herbert-Davies

It was not just the upheaval caused by evacuation and the blitzes that changed a generation’s childhood, it was how war pervaded every aspect of life. From dodging bombs by bicycle and patrolling the parish with the vicar’s WW1 pistol, to post air raid naps in school and being carried out of the rubble as the family’s sole survivor, children experienced life in the war zone that was Britain.

This reality, the reality of a life spent growing up during the Second World War, is best told through the eyes of the children who experienced it firsthand.

Children In the Second World War unites the memories of over two hundred child veterans to tell the tragic and the remarkable stories of life, and of youth, during the war. Each veteran gives a unique insight into a childhood which was unlike any that came before or after. This book poignantly illustrates the presence of death and perseverance in the lives of children through this tumultuous period, each account enlightens and touches the reader; shedding light on what it was really like on the Home front during the Second World War.

https://www.amazon.com/Children-Second-World-War-Memories-ebook/dp/B06XJ5LWQT/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-Second-World-War-Memories-ebook/dp/B06XJ5LWQT/

 

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/Children-Second-World-War-Memories/dp/1473893569/

Author Amanda Herbert-Davies

About the author:

Amanda Herbert-Davies has an honours degree in Conservation and Restoration of Historic Art. After living in France and having children, she returned to England where she became involved with the Second World War Experience Centre in Yorkshire. Working with the archival collection of the Home Front, she became fascinated by the recollections of children who grew up under wartime conditions in Britain.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amanda-Herbert-Davies/e/B06WGPHZ25/

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword Books for offering me a copy of this book that I freely choose to review.

This book is the product of the author’s work in the archival collection of the Home Front at that Second World War Experience Centre in Yorkshire. It is easy to imagine what fascinating material the collection must contain, and how difficult it must be to choose some witness testimonies over others, but this collection offers a unique point of view, that of boys and girls who lived through the war in Britain. As the author explains, over 200 personal accounts have been used in its creation and they offer as many different points of view as children there were.

The book is divided into several chapters by themes. Although some are chronological (like the beginning, the end and the one about the bombing), some are more general and cover the whole period.

The Beginning talks about the initial thoughts about the war and how life changed (many of the things were surprising to me although I’m sure many people will have heard stories about it. For instance, I knew about the blackouts, but it never occurred to me that the names of train stops would be removed and travelling at night with nothing to help you orient yourself in a city [no lit shop windows, names…] was not only difficult but also dangerous [light coloured cars were forbidden and pedestrians couldn’t be easily seen either]. The chapter ‘Air-Raid Shelters’ shows the steps the government took (steel shelters, Andersons, Morrisons…) and also what individuals themselves did (hide in the cupboard under the stairs, which saved quite a few people, simply ignore the alarms, dig underground trenches [especially soldiers who’d been in WWI], fortify a room, go to the underground in London) to try and keep safe. The pictures that accompany the paperback are an eye-opener to anybody who didn’t live through it. The chapter on evacuation is one of the most heart-wrenching, with a whole range of experiences, from the kids who left the city to face prejudice in rural areas, to those who found a second family and were made feel like royalty. In ‘invasion’ there is discussion of the plans families made in case of invasion (some determined to die rather than be taken prisoner) and also their home-spun anti-spy activities. ‘Shortages’ will probably be familiar to those with relatives who lived through the war, and it is a tribute in particular to mothers’ imagination and inventive when trying to make up for the things that were missing (I loved the mock banana sandwiches made by boiling and mashing up parsnip and mixing up some banana essence). ‘Schools’ emphasises the difficult experiences of those children who missed schooling or had to try and learn in classrooms with neither roofs nor materials, with children of all ages mixed together and hardly any teachers. ‘Entertainment’ shows that children can see opportunities to have fun anywhere. While some children were terrified, many others felt inspired and made use of shrapnel, diffused bombs, ruins of buildings, to role play or to design games and bombs. ‘War Effort’ shares the work older children (some as young as 12) did to help, including running messages, working for the post office bringing the dreaded bad news, girls helping in hospitals, and how many of them moved on to join the armed forces when they grew up. ‘The Bombing of Britain’ will bring memories to many and it covers not only London but many of the other cities, and phenomena such as the families who would leave the cities every night and go back in the morning. The resolution and the population and the way people took everything in their stride come across clear in these accounts. People who survived would dust themselves off and carry on. ‘The End’, talks about the celebrations for those who could celebrate and the sad moments of those who couldn’t.

The book has very funny moments, and sad and hard to read ones too, some inspiring and some not so much. The author is very good at remaining invisible, choosing passages that illustrate different angles of the same theme and letting speak for themselves, without interfering, and the approach increases the power of the accounts. I marked passages and quotes as I went along, but I ended up with so many it was very difficult to choose. But here are a few, to give you a flavour of the book:

Here, talking about taking refuge in cellars:

There was an element of risk sheltering in that cellar with an open fire considering they were ‘within six feet of an operating gas main and visible pipes’, but the general thinking in Charles’s cellar was that it was better to ‘be bombed in comfort’. (17)

Talking about the bombings and the state of disrepair of the houses:

Pamela had her house windows broken, then repaired and covered in sticky tape, and then had the lot of them blown out again. Her mother, being practical, merely commented, ‘Oh well, I will not have to clean them.’

And talking about the VE Day celebrations:

To Irene’s astonishment, one of the elderly church ladies ‘of staid and sober habits’ turned up resplendent in an eye-catching red dress and was later seen leading the conga up the street. (171) It seems the conga was pretty popular.

I am not a big reader of conventional military history (battles, strategy or detailed fight scenes) but I’m always intrigued by what happens back home during any wars and how the world carries on in some fashion for the rest of population while the fighting goes on elsewhere (at least in conventional wars). The memories of those children and their accounts of their experiences at the time might be tinged with nostalgia in some cases, but in others, it reflects the long-term effects of experiences lived so long ago and that have not been forgotten. It is impossible to read this book and not think about those children who, still today, live in a constant state of war and danger, and how disruptive this will be to their lives if they reach adulthood.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the home front angle of the war (World War II in Britain in particular, but any wars), in stories about children’s subject to extreme situations, and anybody who enjoys history as told not by politicians and big names, but by the people in the street. A great and important book that should be required reading for school-age children.

Thanks to Pen & Sword Books, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK, and of course, to share reviews for all the books you read.

Categories
Family stories

In Memoriam: Joan Molet a man who didn’t want us to forget #WWII #familyhistory

Hi all:

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while might remember that I’ve sometimes shared posts about my mother’s family, in particular about two of her uncles, Josep and Conrado, (although she never got to meet them) who fled Spain during the Civil War, went to France, helped the efforts of the French Resistance and one of them died in Paris and the other one in Mauthausen.

Here my cousin, Joan Molet, next to the picture of one of our uncles, Conrado Miret Musté, who died for France

I was aware of some of that but learned much more thanks to a cousin, Joan Molet, who started digging into the family history and became involved with the Amical Mauthausen, helping organise visits to the camp, assisting those looking for information about relatives, and contributing to the effort to keep the memory of those events alive  (going to schools, doing presentations…). Through his effort and insistence, we finally found out that Conrado had died in Paris, as a result of torture, in the Prison de la Santé and now there’s a plaque there in his memory. (I saw it recently when I visited a friend in Paris).

Unfortunately, my cousin fell ill over a year ago and despite a variety of treatments and time spent in hospital, I got news that he passed away last week. He leaves a wife and two children, and he’ll be sorely missed by friends, work colleagues at Oxfam and all who knew him. I came to know him more through to his work in recovering family history (as through my years in the UK I’d lost touch) and I’ll sure miss his updates, his dedication and his energy.

I’ve shared many posts based on the information he gave me, but here is one I dedicated to him:

Family Stories. My cousin, Joan Molet, and his efforts to not allow the memories to disappear.

Rest in peace. I know he’s made a difference to many people’s lives. Sending all my love to his mother, wife and children.

Thanks to all of you for reading.

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview PEARL HARBOR. FROM INFAMY TO GREATNESS by Craig Nelson (@Craig_Nelson) Thorough and detailed look at the historical event and its background.

Hi all:

To end the week, I bring you a non-fiction book about a historical event that continues in people’s minds after all these years.

Pearl Harbor by Craig Nelson

Pearl Harbor. From Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson.

Description

Published in time for the 75th anniversary, a gripping and definitive account of the event that changed twentieth-century America—Pearl Harbor—based on years of research and new information uncovered by a New York Times bestselling author.

The America we live in today was born, not on July 4, 1776, but on December 7, 1941, when almost four hundred Japanese planes attacked the US Pacific fleet, killing 2,400 men and sinking or damaging sixteen ships. In Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness, Nelson follows, moment by moment, the sailors, soldiers, pilots, admirals, generals, emperors, and presidents, all starting with a pre-polio Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, attending the laying of the keel at the Brooklyn Navy Yard of the USS Arizona, against the backdrop of the imperial, military, and civilian leaders of Japan lurching into ultranationalist fascism, all culminating into an insanely daring scheme to shock the Allies with a technologically-revolutionary mission in one of the boldest military stories ever told—one with consequences that continue to echo in our lives today.

Besides the little understood history of how and why Japan attacked America, we can hear the abandoned record player endlessly repeating “Sunrise Serenade” as the Japanese bombs hit the deck of the California, we feel terror as Navy wives, helped by their Japanese maids, upturn couches for cover and hide with their children in caves from a rumored invasion, and we understand the mix of frustration and triumph as a lone American teenager shoots down a Japanese bomber. Backed by a research team’s five years of efforts with archives and interviews producing nearly a million pages of documents, as well as a thorough re-examination of the original evidence produced by federal investigators, this definitive history provides a blow-by-blow account from both the Japanese and American perspectives and is a historical drama on the greatest scale. Nelson delivers all the terror, chaos, violence, tragedy, and heroism of the attack in stunning detail, and offers surprising conclusions about the tragedy’s unforeseen and resonant consequences.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Pearl-Harbor-Greatness-Craig-Nelson/dp/1451660499/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pearl-Harbor-Greatness-Craig-Nelson-ebook/dp/B01JON8IM0/

https://www.amazon.com/Pearl-Harbor-Greatness-Craig-Nelson-ebook/dp/B01JON8IM0/

Some information about the author:

Author Craig Nelson
Author Craig Nelson

CRAIG NELSON is the author of Rocket Men, The First Heroes, Thomas Paine (winner of the 2007 Henry Adams Prize), and Let’s Get Lost (short-listed for W.H. Smith’s Book of the Year).

His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Salon, The New England Review, Reader’s Digest, The New York Observer, Popular Science, and a host of other publications; he has been profiled in Variety, Interview, Publishers Weekly, and Time Out.

Besides working at a zoo, in Hollywood, and being an Eagle Scout and a Fuller Brush Man, he was a vice president and executive editor of Harper & Row, Hyperion, and Random House, where he oversaw the publishing of twenty New York Times’ bestsellers.

He lives in Greenwich Village.

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for offering me a free ARC copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I am not a historian but like most people I’ve read novels and watched films about the events and was intrigued by the possibility of learning more about Pearl Harbor. This book definitely delivers.

This volume is extremely detailed and right in time for the 75th anniversary it reviews previous research and testimonies, and leaves no stone unturned to offer us as wide and knowledgeable a version of events as possible. The variety of sources is impressive, from communications at the time, messages, phone calls, coded messages intercepted, eye-witness declarations, inquiries and investigations, everybody is a protagonist, pilots and military men on both sides, civilians living in Hawaii, politicians, nurses and doctors, unsung heroes and the less-heroic.

It is not a revisionist story trying to go back and explain what happened with the advantage of hindsight (although it notes the prejudice and misunderstandings in the way each country saw the other), and it tries hard to not pass judgement and provide background to the situation, examining the political, economic and social circumstances of both countries, in the context of the world history and the events taking place at the time.

The book builds up to the attack piling up information and it takes us about half the book to get to the events of the day (probably a bit more as there are two appendixes, and a lengthy list of sources at the back of the book). Some individual readers might become impatient if they prefer to be immersed in the events, but others might prefer to get there fully informed and the tension mounts with each chapter.

Although it might be possible to read individual chapters if the reader is looking for specific information, sometimes the full picture only becomes clearer later on (we do not follow any character from beginning to end at the time of their first mention, at least not the ones who make repeated appearances. For instance, there is an early mention of General MacArthur with regards to the Philippines operation that is later developed in much more detail, including the trials and difficulties of the population and his men), and it pays off to keep reading.

The writer remains an impersonal observer until the last chapter, when he provides his own interpretation, not so much of the reasons for Pearl Harbor (he has offered us enough information throughout the book for us to make our own minds up), but of the role Pearl Harbor had in the history not only of the United States but also the world. I am not from the United States and as such, I can easily see that his conclusions might not be shared by everybody. (His comments about the role of the US in putting an end to fascism, for instance, would probably be questioned. After all, in Spain, where I am from, we lived under a dictatorship for 40 years, but I guess Franco was not seen as a threat to the US or world peace.) He also compares the reactions and the evaluations of the events by the US and Japanese people today and tries to elaborate what the reasons for the differences are. This again might resonate with some readers more than others.

I read an ARC copy, and I did not have the advantage of having access to all the maps that would make some of the more detailed manoeuvres discussed easier to visualise, although I suspect a paper copy might be the best option for those who want to pour through all the details (although footnotes work well).

The appendices provide detailed and unedited documentation including the federal investigation of the events and a listing of the medals of honour awarded.

The book offers us the human everyday moments, from records playing to whisky being used to clean oil off the skins of wounded navy men, from horrifying moments (the description of the wounds and some of the experiences of the men are graphic and terrible, and this is not an easy book to read) to inspiring ones. It also gives us the information about the strategic and high-level political decisions, but it is not a novelisation or an easy read for somebody looking for a light introduction to the events. It is research heavy and full of names, dates, and details that will serve well somebody looking for further information on a topic they are familiar with, and it will be a welcome addition to the collections of those who want to have a thorough book to consult on the topic. I can see it complementing the libraries of lovers of US history and those looking for a solid and well-researched volume.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher and author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And more next week!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Surviving the Death Railway: A Pow’s Memoir and Letters from Home by Hilary Custance Green (@HilaryCustanceG) A touching reminder of the people behind the history books and a well-deserved memorial

Hi all:

As I told you I’ve accumulated a lot of reviews that I haven’t had a chance to share yet. Today, I bring you a book I read recently (I’m afraid there won’t be a lot of order on how I share the reviews either). A fellow blogger (Hilary Custance Green) contacted me to ask me if I would be interested in reviewing a non-fiction book. As you know, I read and review mostly fiction books, but I’ve read many non-fiction books in my life, for my studies or personal interest, and when she explained her project, I couldn’t resist. Through her book, I got in contact with a very interesting publishing company from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, a stone throw away from where I live and with a great and varied catalogue. They kindly sent me a hardback copy of the book and I read it on my recent trip to Paris. Although I don’t mention it on the review, the book (that’s also available in digital copy) is filled with maps, photos of the letters, and pictures of the people it talks about, so a paper copy is a good investment.

And no more blah, blah, blah…

Surviving the Death Railway. A PlW's Memoir and Letters from Home Edited by HIlary Custance Green
Surviving the Death Railway. A PlW’s Memoir and Letters from Home Edited by Hilary Custance Green

Surviving the Death Railway: A Pow’s Memoir and Letters from Home by Hilary Custance Green

The ordeals of the POWs put to slave labour by their Japanese masters on the ‘Burma Railway’ have been well documented yet never cease to shock. It is impossible not to be horrified and moved by their stoic courage in the face of inhuman brutality, appalling hardship and ever-present death. While Barry Custance Baker was enduring his 1000 days of captivity, his young wife Phyllis was attempting to correspond with him and the families of Barry’s unit. Fortunately, these moving letters have been preserved and appear, edited by their daughter Hilary, in this book along with Barry’s graphic memoir written after the War. Surviving the Death Railway’s combination of first-hand account, correspondence and comment provide a unique insight into the long nightmare experienced by those in the Far East and at home. The result is a powerful and inspiring account of one of the most shameful chapters in the history of mankind which makes for compelling reading.

This is the link to the hardback copy in Amazon.co.uk:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Surviving-Death-Railway-Pows-Memoir-Letters-Home/1473870003/

This to the digital one:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Surviving-Death-Railway-Memoir-Letters-ebook/dp/B01ICYJNQW/

Here in Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Death-Railway-Memoir-Letters-ebook/dp/B01ICYJNQW/

In my review, I share the publisher’s site, where you can also get a copy:

Thanks to Hilary Custance Green (who edited part of her family history and that of many others) and to Katie Eaton from Pen & Sword Books Limited  (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk) for sending me a paperback copy of this book that I freely choose to review.

As a reader, when it comes to stories about the war, I’ve always been more interested in the individuals (both in the front and back home) than in the way the battles were fought. I had heard, read, and mostly watched TV programmes and movies about Japanese war camps (I won’t forget Tenko in a hurry).  Probably lots of people have. This book provides the personal experience of a family whose lives were affected and transformed by the war. We get to know Barton (Barry) Custance Baker, born in Malaya, before the war; we later learn of his marriage to Phyllis and then we follow him all the way back to Malaya and read on as he becomes father and prisoner of war. We also read (thanks to the correspondence of the period, some that reached its destination and some that didn’t) about Phyllis’s life, the thoughts of those left back home and the way they tried to hang on to hope.

The book combines letters from Barry to Phyllis about his life in the East, most of the time not sure if any of them would make it to his wife, letters from Phyllis to Barry, trying to keep up his spirits with news about their son, Robin, and his family, and the diary Barry wrote, containing more details about his time abroad, although always trying to emphasise the positive and understate the difficulties. The combination of these narratives creates a complex and complementary testimony of the varied experiences of the war for those on both sides of the conflict, such as the difficulty of being away and separated from those you love for years, missing the early years of a son you hardly know and worrying that you might no longer know your partner when you go back (or when they come back), and contrasting the often mistaken ideas and thoughts about what the other party might be enduring.

Barry’s parents thought he would be bored as a PoW, never imagining he would be building a railway line, the Thailand-Burma railway, appropriately called Death Railway, as it cost so many lives (not only British). That he, as an officer, might be engaged in heavy labouring work, starved and ill did not enter their imagination.

Barry also had little concept of life back home and did not have news of his parents’ move to San Francisco to help with radio transmissions in Malayan or later, of the death of his younger brother, John. He imagines there might be some restrictions and even danger, but not how unsettling the lack of news was.

Barry’s efforts trying to ensure he kept track of his men and that he did all he could to keep them safe were echoed by those made by Phyllis, who tried her hardest to create a network of information to share any news between the relatives and friends of the men in her husband’s unit, sending encouraging letters, and even creating a dossier with as much data as possible about all the men, to facilitate the task of the War Office in identifying and reporting their fate.

The book is extraordinary too because it clearly shows the tireless efforts they all made to try and keep in touch at a time when communication with each other wasn’t only a click away, and when sometimes years might pass without any news of the other person (and in the best case scenario the news might be years old by the time they get it). Forget about 140 characters on Twitter. The rules of their communication kept changing and at some point they could only send 25 words to their loved one, and that included the date. And the best they could hope for was a prewritten card with only a few words added by hand.

If physically the experiences are very different (although not full of gross details, we get a clear sense of the trials and suffering the men had to endure), mentally, the toll of the lack of information, of the separation and the impotence is clear on both sides. And those letters of mothers, girlfriends, uncles, asking for information about their loved ones, sharing the good and bad news, but always trying to encourage the other person, no matter what their lot has been, are impossible to forget. Even the replies to Phyllis request for particulars about the men convey so much more than what is written. It is amazing how a few words to describe somebody can be so full of feeling and be so touching, and how much they say about unspoken emotions.

As readers, we can but share in the feelings, and are touched by the hopes, anxieties, and stress of the situation. We are given an extraordinary insight into the lives of people whom we might have known, and who could have been our neighbours, friends, or family. We read about their joy at the impending reunion and their wish to get to know each other (and the worry that they might no longer recognise or like the persons they have become). Barry and Phyllis become our ersatz family and we’re happy to learn they had more children and lived happy and fulfilling lives. I was particularly moved by a moment towards the end of Barry’s life when he’s ill in hospital and for a moment believes he’s back at the camp. When his daughter (Hilary) explains to him what has happened since and he realises he’s ill and dying but has lived a full life he says ‘I’ll settle for that’. I hope we all can say that when our time comes.

Hilary Custance Green, the editor of the book, and Barry and Phyllis’s daughter has found the way of letting the letters and the diary tell the story, with very little explanation or unnecessary interference, other than minimal clarifications or explanations when needed. The material is powerful enough in its own right. She has done a great job and the book is a great memorial not only to her parents but also to all the men and women who went through the experience. At the end of the book, there is a call to anybody who might have information about families of members of the Men of 27 Line Section to get in touch with the editor. Don’t forget to pass the message on if you know anybody connected to the men or with contacts who might have more information.

In summary, this is a fantastic book for those interested in World War II, both from the point of view of war action and of the home front, those interested in stories about PoW, tales of human bravery, valour, endurance and the heroism of extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people. Don’t miss this book and don’t forget to pass it on to anybody who might have known a member of the unit.

Here a bit about the editor of this fantastic book:

Author, editor Hilary Custance Green
Author, editor Hilary Custance Green

Hilary Custance Green was born in England, but had a European childhood, including two years at the top of the rock of Gibraltar and four years in a Belgian convent. She studied languages at school but was determined to become a sculptor. After her first degree, in Fine Arts at UEA, she went to St Martins in London and pursued her dream, working as a sculptor for twenty years while also getting married and having children.

She became fascinated by the brain and studied Psychology at the Open University, followed by a PhD at Cambridge University looking at Attention mechanisms in the brain. It was during this period that she started writing fiction. She found the contrast between the direct, clean arguments of academic writing and the rich, sensation-laden prose of fiction highly enjoyable.

Hilary aims to write entertaining, read-in-bed fiction, yet her books also look honestly and realistically at how individuals cope with what life throws at them. In 2003 Hilary’s first novel, A Small Rain, was published. She was interested in the way our social life is scattered, so you might practise music with one set of friends, take Spanish lessons with another and the confusion that can result when these groups meet. A Small Rain also looked at the way grief disrupts life and music and poetry can act as consolations.

Unseen Unsung was published in 2008 (with the eBook version appearing in July 2014). This opens in the ruins of a building and looks at the courage of ordinary individuals in extraordinary circumstances. In this book, Hilary allowed her passion for music free rein but always making it accessible to non-musicians.

In December 2014 her latest novel, Border Line, will come out in both print and eBook format. This is a love story set in Slovenia, yet it also explores the dilemmas of living with guilt and choosing suicide and the vexed subject of assisted dying.

Hilary is also working on an exciting non-fiction project about Far East POWs in WWII. She has hundreds of letters written during WWII between a young couple and also from the wives and mothers of men imprisoned in the Far East. She wants to tell, using their own words, the story of separation and survival, hope and heartbreak that so many of our parents and grandparents lived through.

To see more about Hilary go to her website at www.hilarycustancegreen.com or visit her blog at www.greenwritingroom.com

I asked the author/editor, in case any of the readers knew somebody who might have information about the Men of 27 Line Section and she suggested it might be worth checking this post on her blog for more information. And don’t forget her website.

Thanks so much to Hilary Custance Green and to Pen and Sword Books Limited for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

Categories
Book reviews New books

#Bookreviews THE ART OF EXILE. A VAGABOND LIFE by John Freely (@ibtauris) An Extraordinary Life Dedicated to Knowledge, Travel and Writing

Hi all:

As you know on Fridays I share new books and writers (today more than usual, but it’s a busy month). John Freely is not a new writer, far from it, but this is the first book I read by him and I expect now that I’ve discovered him, it won’t be the last one. In case you want to check a bit about him, you can check in Wikipedia or all his books (so far) in Amazon.

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely
The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life. By John Freely

As you set out for Ithaka Hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery… ‘ Constantine P. Cavafy. By the time he was six, John Freely had crossed the Atlantic four times. His childhood was spent on the mean streets of 1930s Brooklyn, where he scavenged for junk to sell and borrowed money for books; his first love being Homer’s Odyssey. He was 15 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and 17 when he enlisted in the US Navy and embarked on the first great adventure of his life: joining a clandestine unit that helped the Kuomintang fight the Japanese. He served for two years, 96 days in combat and a total of 344 days overseas, which sparked a lifelong passion for travel. Returning home after the war, Freely fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world. This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love. And still the odyssey continues, “as I ponder the meaning of an Ithaka and of exile as an art that takes a lifetime to master.”

Description

John Freely is a renowned travel writer and, as the first to popularise the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire for a general audience, he is one of our last great globe-trotting storytellers. After returning home from WW2 aged just 19, he fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world.

This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love.

Advance Praise

“Imagine Zorba the Greek as a wandering Irishman from Brooklyn and you have the beginnings of John Freely. His odyssey has been a wild ride across continents, a microcosm of modern history. Freely is a born storyteller and an expert on everything from mysticism to physics to the back streets of Athens, Istanbul and Venice. The only danger of reading this book is envy for such a dazzling life.” – Stephen Kinzer

“John Freely provides a wonderful portrait of Istanbul and Athens in their bohemian heyday” – Philip Mansel
My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B.Tauris for offering me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I wish (like many of us) I was more of a traveller, but when I received an e-mail about this book, a memoir of sorts of John Freely, I was interested for many reasons. Although I hadn’t read his books, I’m always interested in books about writers (professional deformation, I guess). He’s written extensively about travelling, and as I said before I have a long list of places I’d love to visit, among them many Dr Freely has written about (and I’m always happy to be inspired and encouraged to take up more travel). And the title of the book, ‘the art of exile’ appealed to me because I’ve lived away from my own country for many years and I always feel an affinity for those in similar circumstances, even when their lives and mine couldn’t be more different.

John Freely has written many travel books, although as I understand from his own and others’ descriptions, they are not your standard travel book, but rather investigations and reflections about culture, architecture, literature, music, and he has researched extensively the topics of Istanbul, Greece, Physics, classical history, literature… He is a true polymath, a born lecturer and teacher, and knowledge pours out of every page.

Freely structures the book as an autobiography, and I found the story of his upbringing very touching, as it reflected that of many emigrants from Ireland (but not exclusively) who sailed away searching for a better life elsewhere. History has a way of changing settings and actors but it does indeed repeat itself, as we can see in the continued story of both emigrants and refugees that carries on to the present.

The author doesn’t dwell too much on the difficult circumstances of his childhood and family, lack of money, working as a child and living hand-to-mouth. That was how things were at the time and he was expected to live with it and did the best he could. He went to war when he was only 17 after dropping out of high school, and that was the beginning of a life of travelling. Even in those circumstances he loved books and reading (he had studied with fascination a book about the wonders of the world his grandfather had brought back to Ireland from the Crimean War as a young boy) and he educated himself by reading a catalogue of recommended lectures a military priest gave him whilst traveling to China. Mr Freely is a connector and communicator who made (and I’m sure still makes) friends everywhere he went and was lucky to get and take good advice. He decided to follow some such advice and took advantage of the GI bill; he studied Physics and he did well, as he reflects upon, with surprise, a few times throughout his life. His love for knowledge and his thirst for travelling combined into a lifelong journey and he found a more than willing partner in his wife, Toots.

Although he does not talk in detail about such things as feelings, it’s not difficult to read between the lines and sometimes he says more when he doesn’t elaborate on topics that when he does (his muted comments about his son’s difficulties are an example). His vignettes of early married life and his love for his wife come through loud and clear.

Once the couple move to Istanbul and Dr Freely starts his international teaching career the book becomes a catalogue of trips, not in detail but mostly as itineraries, interspersed with references to his career moves and to his published books. There are brief moments of lyrical descriptions that hint at wonders to be had in the full books, and he ponders upon those moments when they were the only western travellers in some of the locations and they could feel history at its fullest. He quotes the classics and is happy to share the experiences and moments he lived with his friends and collaborators, always giving credit where credit is due. He talks with warmth and affection of the institutions he’s worked in and is always grateful and happy to mention others’ achievements. I could not follow all the itineraries in detail and didn’t always know who everybody was, although it didn’t seem that important. I’m convinced the book would be a great read for those familiar with his work or interested in it that would be able to provide the background and fit all the pieces of the puzzle in, but it would also work well as an introduction to the topic of his books and his life.

There are moments that will feel familiar, easy to connect with and will touch everybody, like his visits to Ireland, back to the old family home, the autobiographical details of life in Ireland and old New York when he was a young man, and the latter part of the book, when his wife becomes ill and dies and he has to carry on the journey alone (not a spoiler as it’s not that kind of story).

I thought I’d share some of his comments towards the end of the book, which I must admit had me in tears (as by then I’d become another exile and vagabond with them). He is talking here about writing this book:

When the book on Homer was finished I began working in earnest on the story of our own odyssey, The Art of Exile, particularly after I looked at a photograph of Toots taken on her 80th birthday, when the sight of her wearing a Byzantine tiara reminded me once again that she was in fact my queen, though I’d had no kingdom to offer her, just a lifelong journey.

Now I have become my own Homer, composing the story of a life perpetually on the move, always an exile…

I’m not sure this is a book for everybody, as it’s full of brief descriptions, names, quotes, dates, and travels, although some parts of it would be enjoyed by most people. Personally, I’d love to go for a walk through Istanbul, Naxos, or anywhere with Dr Freely as a guide, telling me all he knows about the many places he’s visited, and with classical references thrown in too. As I don’t think that’s likely to happen, this book provides a good substitute, and has encouraged me to look into his other books.

And here, I share Dr Feely’s quote of the Odyssey that is perfect for the book.

As you set out for Ithaka

Hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…

May there be many summer mornings,

when, with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbours you’re seeing for the

first time… But don’t hurry the journey,

at all,

Better if it lasts for many years.

So you’re old when you reach the island

… Ithaka gave you the marvellous

journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

Link:

The book is currently available in hardback copy here (I’m sure it will be published in other formats soon):

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Exile-Vagabond-Life/dp/1784534986/

I read an e-version of the book so I cannot comment on the possible differences between the versions, although being familiar with I. B. Tauris and their work I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Thanks to I.B. Tauris and John Freely for sharing this journey with us, thanks to you all for reading and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

Categories
New books

#Newbooks. ‘The Dolan Girls’ by S.R. Mallery (@SarahMallery1) and ‘Ludwika’ by Christoph Fischer (@CFFBooks). Strong women in fiction and history.

Hi all:

As you know Fridays is time to share new books and/or authors. Today, both of the authors who are visiting with new books have graced my blog before, and I’m pleased to say I’ve read some of their books (next Tuesday I’ll be sharing a review for one of Sarah Mallery’s novels) and they more than deserve to be featured here. They are fairly different, but I wanted to give you a chance to catch up with both before the holiday season.

First:’The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery

The Dolan Girls, by S. R. Mallery
The Dolan Girls, by S. R. Mallery

Set in Nebraska during the 1800s, whorehouse madams, ladies of the night, a schoolmarm, a Pinkerton detective, a Shakespeare-quoting old coot, brutal outlaws, and a horse-wrangler fill out the cast of characters. Add to the mix are colorful descriptions of an 1856 land rush, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, bank/train robberies, small town local politics, and of course, romance. Two, in fact!

Links

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018Y063XA/
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B018Y063XA/

And a couple of reviews (both 5 stars):
S.R. Mallery has done it again and in her usual style, she has done it well. I love historical fiction (and the books of S.R. Mallery) because I learn from them and they echo truth. The Dolan Girls is a story about three strong, resilient and very different women and their difficult and ardulous journey through life in the old West. Set in Nebraska after the California Gold Rush, the Dolan Girls is brimming with realism, history, vivid description and amazing characters designed and developed so well I wanted to know more about them.. If you’re a fan of the old west, strong women and enjoy a great read, this book is for you. Recommend highly!

 

Though I am not normally a reader of historical fiction, I do enjoy movies about the Old West. Films like ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘True Grit’ (the Coen Brothers’ version, not the original). There’s something very appealing about these desperate, iconic characters struggling to survive in a desolate setting, with the promise of Progress—usually in the form of a new railroad—looming somewhere on the horizon. When I read THE DOLAN GIRLS, I found many of the things I love—strong women, villains cut from the cloth of a harsh adherence to tradition, and some other pretty colorful characters, both real and fictional.

THE DOLAN GIRLS is western fiction as you’ve never read it. S.R. Mallery’s words thunder off the page like a cattle stampede. And her sharply written characters demonstrate that truly it was WOMEN who tamed the American West.

Don’t forget to check the author page in Amazon and follow her for news about her books.

http://www.amazon.com/S.-R.-Mallery/e/B00CIUW3W8/

And now,  Christoph Fischer, who has visited my blog a few times, has a new book out (just out on the 14th of December). The book goes back to history, one of his favourite subjects, and the story behind the writing of the book is fascinating too.

Ludwika by Christoph Fischer
Ludwika by Christoph Fischer

Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany by Christoph Fischer

It’s World War II and Ludwika Gierz, a young Polish woman, is forced to leave her family and go to Nazi Germany to work for an SS officer. There, she must walk a tightrope, learning to live as a second-class citizen in a world where one wrong word could spell disaster and every day could be her last. Based on real events, this is a story of hope amid despair, of love amid loss . . . ultimately, it’s one woman’s story of survival.
Editorial Review:

“This is the best kind of fiction—it’s based on the real life. Ludwika’s story highlights the magnitude of human suffering caused by WWII, transcending multiple generations and many nations.

WWII left no one unscarred, and Ludwika’s life illustrates this tragic fact. But she also reminds us how bright the human spirit can shine when darkness falls in that unrelenting way it does during wartime.

This book was a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion, skilfully told by Mr. Fischer, who brought something fresh and new to a topic about which thousands of stories have already been told.”

Links:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B018UTHX7A/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018UTHX7A/

Paper:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1519539118/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1519539118/

Don’t forget to check his author page in Amazon, and follow for news of his books:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christoph-Fischer/e/B00CLO9VMQ/

I share a couple of the posts Christoph has written about the book in his own blog, that include excerpts. There are others, so don’t be shy and wander around a bit.

https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/ludwika-a-polish-womans-struggle-to-survive-in-nazi-germany-is-available-for-pre-order/

https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/displaced-polish-people-after-ww2-and-a-first-excerpt-from-ludwika-a-polish-womans-struggle-to-survive-in-nazi-germany/

And a couple of five star reviews:

Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany by Christoph Fischer starts with an introduction to the story’s protagonist, Ludwika Gierz, a 4 foot-ten inches, 22 year-old, beautiful Polish woman with piercing blue eyes. Children like her because of her friendly disposition. She has a 5 year-old daughter Irena from a non-marital relationship she had years ago, after which the father of the child left town. The well-written prose starts with undertones interjected on the horizon and we know there will be danger: the German invasion and fleeing of the townspeople, including Ludwika’s father, who disappeared with the retreat of troops; and the fact that Ludwika’s looks, her beauty, was once an asset but now is a liability as it attracts brutish German soldiers. It is a time of war with Hitler’s regime moving in and taking over, which establishes the story’s tension and conflict. In her town in Poland, Ludwika works her farm with her younger sister and mother. Siblings are mentioned, including her brother Franz who drowned in a river 2 years earlier, the memory still raw and painful. The story is off to a good start as we care about the protagonist and sense the danger that’s been alluded to. The story progresses and Ludwika encounters a Nazi soldier on the road who becomes attracted to her and protective of her, granting her rights others do not have. As Jews are being hauled off and the elderly assassinated, Ludwika is learning German from the translator that her “Nazi friend” has enlisted to help him. There’s now enough conflict in the story to propel it forward in this horrific time in history where madness prevailed. Without retelling this page turner suffice it to say that it goes deep and does not hold back as the plot moves through Ludwika’s drive to survive, and all the emotional turmoil, good and bad, that goes along with it. I’ve read several other books by this author and have to say that next to The Luck of the Weissensteiner’s this is my favorite.

And a brief one but it says it all:

Great to see Christoph Fischer, author of The Three Nations trilogy, back with another classic world war 2 story. This is probably his tightest, best work yet. It’s intense and cinematic. Fans of world war two dramas will eat this one up. Well done!

Thanks so much to S. R. Mallery and Christoph Fischer for their books, thanks to you for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment and CLICK!

 

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