World War II

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Blog Tour – Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro

Published May 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised. My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.

What did I think?:

When Anne Cater first got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in reading this book, I read the synopsis (as you do!) and immediately jumped at the chance. Thank you so much to her and to Unbound Books for allowing me to read an advanced review copy of this intriguing memoir in return for an honest review. If you’re new to my blog, you might not realise I’m not only a big fan of periods in our history like World War I and II, but I’m also a very curious soul regarding the culture and history of China. So imagine my delight when I saw that two of my favourite things were beautifully entwined in a biography of such a fascinating and brave man, told by one of the closest members of his family, his daughter.

Poster from artist Martha Sawyers ca. 1944 depicting a Chinese soldier with his wounded wife and daughter.

The subject of this memoir, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro was a considerably quiet, private and stoic man and the author of this book, his daughter Mary, knew surprisingly little about his struggles and the danger he faced as a soldier during the Second World War. It is only after he passes away that Mary makes a real effort to dig into his past, reading his diary entries from Hong Kong, marvelling at his escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and admiring his bravery as he faced a long trek through China, just to get to a place of safety. Moved by her father’s experiences, Mary takes it upon herself to attempt to carry out the exact same trip as her father, despite many place names in China having changed in the last seventy years. As she walks in her father’s footsteps, Mary feels that she connects with her father in a deeper manner and has such memorable encounters with people and places that can only be described as life-changing.

The Situation In China, 1944 – sourced from The US Army Center Of Military History.

Stranger In My Heart feels like the reader is given access to a detailed account of the struggles of a very unassuming soldier by means of his diary entries. It was an honour to be a voyeur into John Monro’s life and the incredible journey he made through China, all the while in danger of losing his life. The memoir was all the more touching and authentic for the inclusion of the diaries and for Mary’s own individual trip, many years later. I particularly enjoyed her quiet humour of the author as she described a sign posted at a hotel she stayed at briefly:

“Lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden.”

Like Mary, I had to have a little chortle to myself. Wrestling?? This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. As I mentioned, the diary entries are incredibly thorough and so intriguing to read – straight from “the horse’s mouth,” so as to speak. Moreover, we also get a brief history of China (which I particularly loved as a Chinese history enthusiast!) and finally, snatches from the author’s own trip to try and recreate her father’s journey which read remarkably like a great travel book. I had great fun reading it and really appreciate the efforts Mary Munro made in researching her father’s life and recounting it for the interested outsider. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t help but think that it’s almost as if this journey/book has given Mary peace with both her father’s life and his death and it was a pleasure to be taken along for the ride.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see http://www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and http://www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.

Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.

Find Mary on her website at: http://www.strangerinmyheart.co.uk

or on Twitter at: @monro_m276

Thank you once again to Anne Cater and Unbound Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Stranger In My Heart is due to be published in June 2018 and will be available as an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046559-stranger-in-my-heart?ac=1&from_search=true

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-My-Heart-Mary-Monro-ebook/dp/B07CVKMBL3/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525977789&sr=8-1&keywords=stranger+in+my+heart

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Banned Books 2018 – JANUARY READ – Summer Of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Published January 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Minutes before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen knew something exciting was going to happen. But she never could have imagined that her summer would be so memorable. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. To the rest of her town, these prisoners are only Nazis. But to Patty, a young Jewish girl with a turbulent home life, one boy in particular becomes an unlikely friend. Anton relates to Patty in ways that her mother and father never can. But when their forbidden relationship is discovered, will Patty risk her family and town for the understanding and love of one boy?

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the first banned book in our series for 2018! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

FEBRUARY: Twilight-Stephenie Meyer 
MARCH: Fallen Angels -Walter Dean Myers
APRIL: Saga Volume 3 -Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples
MAY: Blood And Chocolate -Annette Curtis Klause
JUNE: Brave New World-Aldous Huxley
JULY: Julie Of The Wolves -Jean Craighead George
AUGUST: I Am Jazz– Jessica Herthel
SEPTEMBER: Taming The Star Runner– S.E. Hinton
OCTOBER: Beloved -Toni Morrison
NOVEMBER: King & King -Linda de Haan
DECEMBER: Flashcards Of My Life– Charise Mericle Harper
For now, back to this month:

Summer Of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

First published: 1973

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001  (source)

Reasons: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: Summer Of My German Soldier was first published in 1973, before I was born and it’s one of the older titles on the ALA’s top ten of banned/challenged books, challenged in 2001 which I still think of as fairly recent, I’m not sure about any of you? I was intrigued to read this book, especially when I found out that it was about a young girl and a German Nazi soldier and as with many of the books on our Banned Books list, I don’t agree with many of the reasons for challenging it. For example, I don’t remember any incidences of offensive language (perhaps I just glossed over them?) but I’m actually sitting here, racking my brain right now and I really don’t think there were any “bad words,” that shocked or offended me. Eye roll.

CHRISSI: I was really interested to see why Summer Of My German Soldier was challenged. As Beth mentioned, it is one of the older titles on the list. I didn’t find any of the language offensive in the slightest. There were some moments that were racist, but given its subject matter and the characters, it wasn’t really a surprise to me? I certainly don’t think it’s something that we should shy away from.

How about now?

BETH: As I mentioned, I still think of 2001 as being fairly recent (that probably shows my age!) but it was in fact seventeen years ago. I would have hoped attitudes have changed for the better in those years in that a lot of us are more tolerant and accepting and less racist but sadly, this is not true in all parts of the world or for all groups of people. In 2001, I would not have described this book as sexually explicit in the slightest and I certainly wouldn’t now. Excuse me while I rack my brain once again for even a slight mention of graphic sexual content because there wasn’t one! The only thing I am a little uneasy about in this novel is the racism, which I do agree is there and I don’t particularly like it or condone it. However, I think everyone should have access to all kinds of books, with some stipulations for younger or more sensitive children and in one way, it might educate people about how terrible people of another race were (and still) continue to be treated.

CHRISSI: I could kind of see why it would be banned or challenged but that’s not to say I agree with it. The racism did make for some uncomfortable reading. I know it’s not something that has been eradicated. Goodness knows we still have racism around in 2018, but it’s something that does make me uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s a book that should be banned though because it’s a good talking point and could potentially be educative. It just has to be used with sensitivity and with caution with impressionable readers.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  This is such a difficult one. Parts of it I really enjoyed, I loved Patty’s relationship with the housekeeper, Ruth and conversely, absolutely hated her relationship with her parents which made me incredibly uncomfortable and uneasy at points. The thing I had most problems with in this novel however was Patty’s relationship with the German soldier, Anton. She is twelve at the time when she meets him and he is twenty-two. She falls in love with him quite quickly, which is fine and he never outwardly reciprocates her love but there is hints that he feels the same way and that just feels very, very wrong to me. This book is also quite bleak at points so don’t go into it expecting a great resolution and a happy fairy-tale ending.

CHRISSI: Unfortunately, it’s not a book that I enjoyed. I didn’t like the relationships in this novel and it made me feel rather uncomfortable over all. I wouldn’t describe it as a pleasant reading experience!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Not sure.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me- I didn’t enjoy reading this book and I think there are better ones out there with the same subject matter.

 3 Star Rating Clip Art
Coming up on the last Monday of February on Banned Books: we review Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

Prisoner Of Night And Fog (Prisoner Of Night And Fog #1) – Anne Blankman

Published July 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

What did I think?:

I read this amazing debut novel some time ago now as part of my Chrissi Cupboard Month which are books recommended and loaned to me by my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads. As my sister is well aware of my taste in books, I was excited to get to this when she assured me I would love it but I have to say it was the subject matter that I also found intriguing. I adore books set around the World War II period in history, particularly if they are set in countries a bit more foreign to myself i.e. NOT the U.K. The fact that Prisoner of Night And Fog is actually set in early 1930’s Germany prior to the events of the war I found even more interesting as we get to see Adolf Hitler in his very initial years of power as the leader of the National Socialist Party, before he became a force to be reckoned with in Germany and indeed, throughout the world.

The second thing that drew me to this novel is that it is told from the point of view of Gretchen, a young girl who has grown up knowing Hitler as part of her family, affectionately referring to him as Uncle Dolf, whom her father served loyally until a terrible incident one day where her father was killed in an attempt to protect Hitler. After his death, Hitler appeared to pull her family even closer to his inner circle which only gives Gretchen more faith and belief in him in a person and his ideals. So when a young Jewish reporter, Daniel Cohen appears in her life with astonishing information about her father’s death, the real man behind the mask of “Uncle Dolf,” and the dangers of the National Socialist Party, Gretchen does quite literally not know what to think. She must now challenge everything she has been told and what she has believed and attempt to uncover the truth which is not only incredibly shocking but hugely dangerous for both herself and Daniel.

You can quite clearly understand when reading this novel how much research and love has gone into this subject area. Anne Blankman draws on real people and actual events to tell a fascinating story all about the early years of Hitler’s power that was not only entertaining and educational but is a story with so much pace, frightening moments and then periods of such tenderness and heart that it was a true joy to read. I just want to take a moment to talk about the characters also. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of Gretchen at first but it didn’t take too long before I began admiring her guts, bravery and difficult relationship that she had with her mother and especially with her brother, Reinhart who is definitely one of the most psychotic characters I have come across in literature in recent times. This novel is atmospheric, beautifully evoking Germany in uncertain times in the 1930’s, struggling with the past history of World War I and worried about the future of their country. I’m really looking forward to the second book in the duology, Conspiracy Of Blood And Smoke which I hope to get to very soon.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Blog Tour – Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett

Published March 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to my spot on the Bamboo Road Blog Tour. Bamboo Road is the third in a trilogy of historical fiction books about Southeast Asia during the Second World War that can be read in any order. To see my review of the first book Bamboo Heart, please click HERE and for the second book, Bamboo Island, please click HERE.

What’s it all about?:

Thailand 1942: Sirinya and her family are members of the Thai underground, who risk their lives to resist the World War Two Japanese occupation and to and help British prisoners of war building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years. Bamboo Road is volume three in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island (the books may be read in any order).”

What did I think?:

After the beautiful second novel in the trilogy that was Bamboo Island, I was eager to get to Bamboo Road, make friends with a host of new characters and find out even more about the horrific things that Japanese prisoners of war went through during the Second World War. I’m very pleased to report back that Bamboo Road did not disappoint. Brutal in points, that’s a given considering the subject matter but hugely interesting involving a lot of other themes including friendship, the importance of family and love.

Our protagonist for this story is Sirinya, a young woman living in Thailand with her uncle, aunt and cousin and whom, when the Japanese invade and take over, goes to extreme lengths with her family to help the prisoners of war when she is horrified to discover how they are being treated. As with the other novels in the trilogy, there are a couple of different time periods, that of 1942 when Sirinya was a huge part of the underground movement fighting against the cruel methods used by the Japanese to torture prisoners and the 1970’s where Sirinya as a grown woman returns to her family home to settle an old score from years ago that has shadowed and deeply affected her life ever since.

Once again, similar to Bamboo Island, it was wonderful to read about such a brave and independent female lead character who I instantly sympathised and felt connected to. Sirinya takes many risks, is subjected to the worst kind of torture and experiences many losses of her own yet remains strong and determined that the prisoners of war should categorically not be suffering. Once she catches a glimpse of their starving, emaciated bodies in the jungle she is willing to put her own life on the line to ensure that they got enough food and that medicines that they desperately needed were smuggled into the camp. She had so much heart and compassion, not only in this but in the way she reacted to the people around her, especially her close family and I loved rooting for her throughout the novel. Throughout the trilogy, the author has struck an excellent balance between the horror, challenges and moments of romance that her characters experience and I feel like I’ve learned not only about the terrible conditions of prisoner of war camps but about Southeast Asia as a region, something I was hoping for when beginning the series and Ann Bennett delivered on every level.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Road, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bamboo-Road-BAMBOO-HEART-Bennett-ebook/dp/B06XFJSD7S

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

 Ann Bennett was born and raised in a small village in Northamptonshire, UK. She read Law at Cambridge and qualified and practised as a solicitor. During a career break, to have children, she started to write. Her father had been a prisoner of war on the Thailand– Burma Railway and the idea for a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy came from researching his wartime experiences. The research took her back to Asia, a place she loves and has returned to many times. She lives in Surrey with her husband and three sons and works in London as a lawyer.

Website: https://www.bambooheart.co.uk/
Blog: https://annbennettbambooheart.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/annbennett71
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ann-Bennett-242663029444033/

Thank you once again to Monsoon Books and Faye Rogers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Bamboo Road, the third in the Bamboo trilogy was published on 1st March 2017 and is available from all good book retailers now! If you’re hungry for more, why not check out some of the other stops on the tour from my fellow bloggers?

 

Bamboo Island – Ann Bennett

Published March 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Juliet Crosby has lived a reclusive life on her Malayan rubber plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. However, the sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Juliet is forced to recollect her prewar marriage, her wartime ordeals in Japanese-occupied Singapore and the loss of those she once held dear. Bamboo Island is part of a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy of historical fiction that can be read in any order and includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to the second of three very special days on my blog to celebrate the Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. To see my review of the first book in the series, Bamboo Heart, please click HERE. This post today will focus on the second novel, Bamboo Island which involves different characters than the first book but is set in the same time frame, in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. It means each book can be read as a stand alone but we do get certain events being referred to in the second and third book.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series but I was especially delighted to discover that I enjoyed Bamboo Island even more! It follows a British woman called Juliet Crosby who has lived with her husband, Gavin on a rubber plantation but their marriage is fraught with difficulties. Her only confidant is her sister Rose who is married herself and lives in Singapore so visiting and speaking with each other is a rare occurrence. There are a number of different time frames to this story (which was part of why I loved it most) and we switch between them seamlessly.

There is pre-war, naive Juliet and her struggles with her distant husband and distant sister (both distant for VERY different reasons, mind you!). Then there is Juliet during the war with full and heart-breaking description of her struggles and her internment at a horrific prison camp but also the friendships and bonds she makes along the way. Finally, there is post war Juliet living back on the rubber plantation and waiting for someone. The person who turns up is definitely not whom she is expecting, a young girl called Mary, claiming to have crucial information about Juliet’s family and the loss of those that she had been close to. Juliet is uncertain about whether to believe her but the two women journey to try and find evidence to back up Mary’s claims leading Juliet to go on an emotional journey back in time herself as she remembers her difficult life and comes to terms with what happened to her in the past.

I raced through this book in just over twenty-four hours, I kid you not. I literally could not put it down. I connected and sympathised with Juliet as a character so much, perhaps more than I did with the female lead in Bamboo Heart and I was constantly on edge whilst reading it, desperate to find out more about her past. I also can’t remember the last time I was willing a character to have a happy ending so bad! Again, the author does not avoid full and frank details about the conditions a prisoner of war under the Japanese would experience and once again, she had me disgusted, despairing but completely devoted to the story. I felt that the secondary characters in this novel were also people I wanted to get to know and felt like fully, fleshed out people who you could instantly love (or hate, in some cases!). After the strength of this second part of the trilogy, I now can’t wait to get to Bamboo Road where I hope to find further fascinating characters that will give me the intense feelings that Bamboo Island did.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Island, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814625175

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow for my stop on the blog tour for Bamboo Road, the final book in the Bamboo trilogy.

Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

Published March 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Shortlisted for Best Fiction Title, Singapore Book Awards 2016

Thailand, 1943: Thomas Ellis, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, is a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway. In stifling heat he endures endless days of clearing jungle, breaking stone and lugging wood. He must stay alive, although he is struck down by disease and tortured by Japanese guards, and he must stay strong, although he is starving and exhausted. For Tom has made himself a promise: to return home. Not to the grey streets of London, where he once lived, but to Penang, where he found paradise and love. London, 1986: Laura Ellis, a successful City lawyer, turns her back on her yuppie existence and travels to Southeast Asia. In Thailand and Malaysia she retraces her father’s past and discovers the truths he has refused to tell her. And in the place where her father once suffered and survived, she will finally find out how he got his Bamboo Heart. In a blend of stirring fiction and heart-wrenching history, Ann Bennett narrates the story of a soldier’s strength and survival in the bleakest of times and a daughter’s journey of discovery about her father and herself. Bamboo Heart is volume one in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special three days on my blog. For the next three days, including today, I will be talking about a wonderful new trilogy that I’ve just completed – The Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. I shall be reviewing the first book today, Bamboo Heart then the second, Bamboo Island tomorrow and finally the third, Bamboo Road as part of a blog tour celebrating the final book in the series and the trilogy as a whole. The books can be read in any order as they are all stand-alone stories although they do make references to things that have already happened in the previous books (in the case of the second and third novels).

Faye Rogers, who works as a freelance PR contacted me and asked me to be a part of this blog tour and when I read the synopsis of the books, I immediately accepted. A huge thank you to her and also to Monsoon Books for sending me a copy of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review. I’m a great lover of historical fiction and one of the periods of interest for me is the Second World War. As it is also set mainly in Southeast Asia, a region I find fascinating, that was the icing on the cake for me. What I wasn’t expecting is how emotionally invested I became in the stories. Bamboo Heart is the story of Laura Ellis in London, 1986 whom after the tragic death of her father, becomes desperate to find out more about his life during the Second World War. What happened to her father in the forties in Thailand and Malaysia is difficult for her father to talk about, the horrific experiences that he went through are nothing short of devastating and he deliberately shielded his daughter from the heart-break of his story.

After undergoing a break up of her own and still grieving for the loss of her father, Laura decides to journey to Thailand and Malaysia so that she can understand some of what her father went through. The story takes us through Laura’s hunt for that terrible knowledge and back in time to the 1940’s when her father, Tom Ellis is a prisoner of war of the Japanese, helping to build a railway from Thailand to Burma. The conditions he works in are brutal and almost indescribable but the author does not shy away from the honesty of how the prisoners were treated. They were beaten on a daily basis, starved, punished for the slightest infraction and before long, were mere skeletons, too weak to undergo the hard labour that was expected of them but terrified of repercussions if they didn’t. Laura goes through an emotional journey of her own as she realises what her father suffered and we learn more about Tom’s life both during this horrific time and when he first came to the East and fell in love with a local woman.

I found this novel to be a fascinating read, especially I have to say Tom’s story and his experiences whilst building the railway as a prisoner of war. I was slightly less invested in Laura’s story but I enjoyed how the author linked the two together. I must also mention that the author began writing this story whilst carrying out research into her own father’s involvement in the very same railway so I believe this makes the story all the more poignant, being based on real life anecdotes/experiences. It made me think a lot, mainly about the brutality of war but there was also a somewhat hopeful message within – how the soldiers banded together building strong friendships and being incredibly brave in the face of such torture was amazing to read about. I’m looking forward to reading another story based around the same time period but involving different characters in the next novel, Bamboo Island which I’m certain will be just as gut-wrenching but informative as this one.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Heart you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814423734

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow where I’ll be reviewing the second book in the trilogy, Bamboo Island.

 

Etta And Otto and Russell And James – Emma Hooper

Published March 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water.

Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

What did I think?:

There were quite a few things that immediately drew me to Emma Hooper’s debut novel. First of all, the lovely cover with the cheeky little animal on the front (which I now know to be a coyote). Secondly, the title – I mean, four names in a title, what’s that all about? I simply had to find out! Finally, there had been a lot of comparisons of this book to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which happens to be one of my all time favourite novels. I normally don’t like it when books are compared to others but I loved Harold Fry so much I needed to give Etta & Co a chance to stand as a story on its own merits.

So where this book is similar to Harold Fry is that it involves an adult in their eighties undergoing a long walk to get to a destination, meeting different people and well-wishers along the way. In this novel, our protagonist is Etta, 83 and slowly losing her memory. She wakes up one day and decides to walk to the ocean as she has never seen it, leaving her husband Otto a note explaining this and that she would “try to remember to come back.” The story follows Etta’s journey but is in no way chronological and dips back into the past and present as memories surface for Etta during her journey. We learn about her life as a teacher when she first met Otto. We also learn about Otto’s early life, part of a family fifteen-strong with the addition of his best friend (and current neighbour) Russell who becomes the honorary sixteenth member.

Most of Etta and Otto’s relationship is told in the form of letters, particularly when Otto has to go away to fight in World War II. Russell is Etta’s main support system when Otto is gone, unable to join up himself because of a childhood accident that left him with a lame leg. Russell is also deeply in love with Etta and when he hears about her pilgrimage later in life, immediately sets out to find her. Otto, her husband, stays at home making paper mache animals for Etta’s return and learning to bake from the recipes Etta has left him, deliberately so he can manage without her. Meanwhile on her journey, Etta meets many well-wishers and makes new friends, particularly a wily talking coyote called James who has quite the gift of the gab but encourages Etta through harder times on the road. The ending is somewhat bitter-sweet and very much left open to the readers own interpretation – it’s something I was slightly surprised by but thoroughly enjoyed at the same time.

I guess if you’ve read Harold Fry before you can see the similarities between them but I think this novel deserves to be talked about as a story all of its own. There are many differences between the stories also, particularly the magical realism part with the talking coyote, James, the dementia that Etta is sliding into and the hardships that Etta and Otto have suffered as a couple. I really fell in love with Etta as a character and the pure whimsical nature of this book (yes a talking coyote was always going to be a bonus for me, even if he was just in Etta’s mind?). It was also nice to hear from the spouse left behind, in this case Otto whose little paper mache animals and determination to learn to cook warmed the cockles of my heart. Initially, I was a bit wary of the ending of this novel and I have to admit, slightly disappointed but on closer reflection, I realise it was a perfect way for the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens. I’ll certainly be reading anything else Emma Hooper releases, this is one debut author with a bucket load of talent and beautiful writing to boot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0