World War II

All posts tagged World War II

Talking About A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton with Chrissi Reads

Published August 25, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love
 
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Amaterasu spends most of the novel feeling that she is to blame for things that have happened. How has this affected her life and does the novel provide a resolution?

BETH: Poor Amaterasu! I found her such a fascinating character and alternated between feeling really cross with her and then really sorry for her after her actions lead to her living such a sad, lonely life when her husband dies. Her potential grandson turns up on her doorstep one day after he had been searching for her for quite a while and you begin to see the start of a relationship between the two as Amaterasu thinks back to the events that caused her to lose her daughter and believe her grandson was dead. She escapes to America with her husband as she doesn’t feel that she can stay in Nagasaki because of all the bad memories associated with it. Even though she promises her husband on his death bed that she will try and integrate herself with the community, she becomes a virtual recluse, even developing a bit of an alcohol problem and it is only with the appearance of a man that claims to be a grandson that she can put old ghosts to rest.

BETH: Could you understand why Amaterasu made the decisions she did?

CHRISSI: Somewhat, I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for others! Amaterasu has to look back at her life and begin to come to terms with what happened in the time period before, during and after the bombing. It takes Amaterasu some courage to look back at her past and look for forgiveness for her actions so she can live the rest of her life in peace. It is a particularly painful look back for Amaterasu as she feels pain and immense guilt after her actions.

CHRISSI: What did you feel that you learnt about Japanese culture and the differences between East and West?

BETH: I felt I learned so much! This book is really special for the little paragraphs above each chapter that describe a Japanese word or phrase and what it means for the Japanese people. Even though the author is British, the novel is inspired by her years living in Nagasaki in the 90’s and it’s obvious she’s done her research and really integrated herself into the Japanese mindset. The East and West cultures can be quite different but it’s always fascinating to learn about a different culture and way of life.

BETH: Did your opinion of Sato change at any point in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: Not really. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like Sato as a character at all. I get the feeling that I was supposed to find some sympathy for him, but I just found him infuriating. I guess he did try and find redemption within his letters and his adopting an orphan, but for me, my opinion didn’t change. I didn’t find him likeable at all.

CHRISSI: You love Japanese fiction.  Did this book live up to your expectations?

BETH: I certainly do and it certainly did. It reminded me of Memoirs Of A Geisha and was beautifully written with a fascinating plot and intriguing characters, especially our main character Amaterasu. I also felt like I learned a lot about the horrors of the Nagasaki bombing and the effect it had on so many people’s lives and it’s encouraged me to read a bit more into it.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think it would depend on what the subject matter was. I do think the writer has a beautiful writing style, but I wouldn’t race to read another.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’S star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

 

A Year Of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

Published April 24, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Cornwall, 1947. Marvellous Ways is a ninety-year-old woman who’s lived alone in a remote creek for nearly all her life. Recently she’s taken to spending her days sitting on the steps of her caravan with a pair of binoculars. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it. Freddy Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the war. He’s agreed to fulfil a dying friend’s last wish and hand-deliver a letter to the boy’s father in Cornwall. But Freddy’s journey doesn’t go to plan, and sees him literally wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit. When Marvellous comes to his aid, an unlikely friendship grows between the two. Can Freddy give Marvellous what she needs to say goodbye to the world, and can she give him what he needs to go on?

What did I think?:

A Year Of Marvellous Ways is on the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club list this year and I think I had quite high expectations for it after enjoying Sarah’s previous novel, When God Was A Rabbit. Unfortunately, I’m quite sad to say that I was bitterly disappointed, it had oodles of potential and a really promising plot line but for some reason I just didn’t get it. Magical realism is a genre that I lap up and usually crave more of but dare I say this novel was too whimsical and in parts, very confusing even for me!

Its the 1940’s, post World War II and the “Marvellous Ways” of the story is an eccentric and fascinating old woman who at ninety years ago still lives on her own in a caravan by a creek in Cornwall, swims naked on a daily basis, believes she is the daughter of a mermaid and is famed locally for her healing abilities and potions. When we first meet Marvellous she appears to be on edge, staring out at the sea, certain that there is someone important that will visit her, one last person that she has to help before she dies.

The person who does turn up on her doorstep is Freddy Drake, a soldier fresh from his traumatic World War II experiences and completely broken and scarred from what he has seen during the war and from losing his first real love. Marvellous manages to heal both his body and mind by sharing some stories of the three great loves in her own life and helping Freddy piece together the mystery of who he is as a person. As these two mysterious and intriguing characters cement an unlikely yet important friendship it appears that there are wounds to be healed on both sides of the relationship.

There are so many positives about this book and that’s why I’m certain a lot of people would really enjoy it. Sarah Winman’s writing is beautiful and so poetic and for that reason I would usually give the novel a higher rating than I have, but I feel I have to be honest with myself about my enjoyment of the story. The characters were intriguing and I did fall in love a little bit with Marvellous Ways and Freddy Drake but everything just seemed so disjointed and a lot of the time I felt I couldn’t follow the thread of the plot properly. By the end I just became frustrated and kind of like – “What just happened?” I’m a huge lover of literary fiction normally, books that jump around in time and as I mentioned before, books with a bit of a magical edge but this novel just didn’t sit right with me. I don’t want to put anyone off as I know there are fans of the genre out there who will “get” it and I’d love to know your thoughts!

Would I recommend it?

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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Miss Carter’s War – Sheila Hancock

Published March 27, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

It is 1948 and Britain is struggling to recover from the Second World War. Half French, half English, Marguerite Carter, young and beautiful, has lost her parents and survived a terrifying war, working for the SOE behind enemy lines. Leaving her partisan lover she returns to England to be one of the first women to receive a degree from the University of Cambridge.

Now she pins back her unruly auburn curls, draws a pencil seam up her legs, ties the laces on her sensible black shoes, belts her grey gabardine mac and sets out towards her future as an English teacher in a girls’ grammar school. For Miss Carter has a mission – to fight social injustice, to prevent war and to educate her girls.

Through deep friendships and love lost and found, from the peace marches of the fifties and the flowering of the Swinging Sixties, to the rise of Thatcher and the battle for gay rights, to the spectre of a new war, Sheila Hancock has created a powerful, panoramic portrait of Britain through the life of one very singular woman.

What did I think?:

Miss Carter’s War was chosen for the Spring Richard and Judy book club this year and was a novel I was looking forward to being set in one of my favourite time periods, the Second World War. The story boasts a powerful, intelligent and independent female character, (hurrah!) Marguerite Carter who is something of a revolutionary. I really enjoyed that we saw her journey over a period of years from a young woman with a lot to learn about the world but with a strong desire to “do some good,” to a mature and much wiser older woman who still manages to achieve her dreams.

When we first meet Marguerite the war is over and she is about to begin a teaching job at a prestigious school for girls. However, throughout the novel we get flashbacks to times during the war which were particularly traumatising for her, working as part of the Specials Operations Executive in Vichy, France where she bore witness (and participated in) some incredibly harrowing events. Now a newly fledged teacher she is passionate about teaching her girls whilst still harbouring strong political notions that throw her into action if peace is in any way threatened or if she feels justice has not been served.

I loved the emotional connection Marguerite developed with her pupils and as life goes on, she descends almost like an Angel of Mercy if any of her girls are in trouble. There is a particularly poignant part of the story where one of her more gifted pupils becomes addicted to drugs and homeless. It is obvious how much love Marguerite has for the girl as she desperately tries to get her back on her feet again. In terms of her own relationships, poor Marguerite isn’t very lucky. First of all she falls for a fellow teacher but there is quite an important factor that prevents them from having a conventional er… “physical” relationship. Following this, she begins a relationship with a man called Jimmy who brings a lot of excitement to her life but has a dark little secret of his own. We as the reader find out quite early on that she has left her heart in France with a colleague from the SOE, Marcel. So will she ever manage to find love? Or will she be married to her precious teaching for life?

As a debut novel from Sheila Hancock, I did think this was a good read but it felt a little slow at points, particularly at the beginning. I absolutely loved the little snippets that we got of Marguerite’s job during the war and wished there were more of them or that they had been longer with more detail as that would have been intriguing to read about. Marguerite herself was a fascinating character and I loved that she was so independent and passionate, but occasionally it felt like I was reading about two different people regarding the flashbacks versus present time. I enjoyed the relationship/friendship that she managed to forge with Tony, the P.E. teacher but didn’t really believe or buy into the relationship with Jimmy all that much. Saying all this, the ending of the novel was really lovely and left me with a little warm feeling inside and I do believe Sheila Hancock has a real gift for writing fiction.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

The Ship Of Brides – Jojo Moyes

Published September 11, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The year is 1946, and all over the world, young women are crossing the seas in the thousands en route to the men they married in wartime – and an unknown future. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other brides on an extraordinary voyage to England, aboard the HMS Victoria, which also carries not just arms and aircraft but 1,000 naval officers and men. Rules of honour, duty, and separation are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young stoker. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined in ways the Navy could never have imagined.

What did I think?:

On my quest to read the entire back catalogue of one of my favourite authors, Jojo Moyes, I came across this little gem, The Ship Of Brides which is set immediately after the end of the Second World War. The majority of the story is set on-board HMS Victoria, a Royal Navy aircraft carrier due to be retired soon after its final journey which attempts to take hundreds of brides from Australia back to England to meet up with the husbands they married during the war. Many of these women have not seen their husbands for months, have never met their families, in fact, some barely know them at all! Still, they left their own family not knowing when or if they would see them again, to undergo a voyage at sea for many weeks to (hopefully) meet up with their spouses. (That is, if they didn’t receive the dreaded telegram whilst on-board – “Not wanted, do not come.”) which happened more regularly than you would expect. I have a bit of giddy love for stories set within war-time so I sensed I was going to enjoy this book but what I didn’t realise that it was based on an actual voyage on HMS Victorious with memories taken from the authors own grandmother. This, along with the journal entries/notes that began each chapter being from genuine passengers on the above mentioned voyage, only add more authenticity to an already compelling story.

There are a range of juicy characters for the reader to get their teeth into, the four main ones are brides on the crossing. There is Margaret, heavily pregnant and desperate for the voyage to be over so that she can get stuck into her new family life with her new arrival in earnest. Margaret was raised on an Australian farm, so we get a no-nonsense, no frills, airs or graces but warm and generous woman who is fiercely loyal to those that she be-friends on the journey. Then there is the other side of the coin, so as to speak with wealthy Avice, quick to look down her nose and sneer at others, the mysterious Frances, a former nurse who has more than one skeleton in her closet and appears cold and unyielding and sixteen year old Jean, young, slightly foolhardy, up for a good time (especially with all the MEN on board, oh my goodness!). These four ladies are forced to room together which leads to unlikely friendships, secrets, tragedy and some good old fashioned bonding as they learn that there’s nowhere to run and definitely nowhere to hide whilst at sea. A couple of intriguing male characters are thrown into the soup – a Marine who stands guard outside the ladies door with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a lot of sadness in his life. This is much the same for the Captain of the ship who harnesses a terrible guilt about a previous voyage when something went badly wrong.

As we follow the brides through their voyage we get a mixture of just about everything to delight the reader, high drama and tension, tragedy, death, a sprinkle of romance and even a lovely legs competition. Well… there’s not much else to do at sea, is there? I loved watching the characters grow throughout the journey as they begin to bond and help each other through tough times while preparing themselves for the unknown which lies ahead. The author has a wonderful way of making you feel something for every character, no matter how horrid and I really enjoyed the little surprises around each corner which I never seemed to anticipate. As a war-time novel, it’s a fantastic piece of fiction with those lovely elements of potential truth attached knowing that a similar voyage actually happened.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT JOJO MOYES READ: Silver Bay coming soon!

Talking About A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby with Chrissi

Published April 18, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

On a damp July morning in 1946, two schoolboys find a womans body in a bomb site in north London. The woman is identified as Lillian Frobisher, a wife and mother who lived in a war-damaged terrace a few streets away.

The police assume that Lil must have been the victim of a vicious sexual assault; but the autopsy finds no evidence of rape, and Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper turns his attention to her private life.

How did Lil come to be in the bomb site, a well-known lovers haunt? If she had consensual sex, why was she strangled? Why was her husband seemingly unaware that she had failed to come home on the night she was killed?

In this gripping murder story, Siân Busby gradually peels away the veneer of stoicism and respectability to reveal the dark truths at the heart of postwar austerity Britain.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What did you think of the narration?

BETH: At first I found the narration quite confusing in this novel to be honest. It hopped around quite a bit from chapter to chapter regarding which character was speaking, and at times I found I had to concentrate to realise who exactly was speaking which slightly spoiled my enjoyment of the story.
BETH: How do you think this novel worked in the crime genre?
CHRISSI: I think this novel would have been a better reading experience for me, if it had focussed specifically on the crime element in the book. I felt like it jumped around between historical fiction and crime fiction. If it had zoned in on the horrific crime, then I feel like that it would have flowed better. It felt quite stilted for me.
CHRISSI: Did it affect your reading experience knowing the area in which the book was based?
BETH: Great question. I absolutely loved that the book was set around the Holloway Road in North London which is where I am living at the moment. It was really nice to read about an area I’m just becoming familiar with myself, and I found myself smiling when I recognised parts of the area or local buses. Even though the book is set in the summer of 1946 and obviously some things have changed, refreshingly other things stay the same. And from what I see today, there still may be some “spivs” hanging around…
BETH: Would you have preferred that the villain in this book was unmasked at the end rather than halfway through?
CHRISSI: I think it would have been better placed at the end of the book. I think if it was at the ending then it would have built suspense really well.  I think because it was unmasked halfway through, I had nothing to really look forward to. If you can look forward to the unmasking of a villain…
CHRISSI: What did you think of Evelyn?
BETH: Evelyn is a woman that Lillian Frobisher takes into her house to rent a room, feeling slightly sorry for her but hoping she can help with general household tasks and looking after her disabled mother who requires constant care. I found Evelyn herself to be incredibly flighty, and interested in nothing but having a good time, milking everything she can from Lillian and her husband Walter Frobisher. When the murder occurs, I was very surprised at Evelyn’s reaction and her general uncaring attitude but would have loved if the author had delved a bit deeper into her character which seemed slightly murky to say the least!
BETH: What did you think of Lillian?
CHRISSI: Lillian was certainly an interesting character, even though I never really liked her as a character, I accepted that she was what life had made her. Lillian had hopes and dreams and wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted. I kind of think that she felt hard done by. She felt like she did everything. She kept her house, she queued for what food was available for them, she went without her lodger’s rent because she didn’t feel like she could chuck her out. Her husband bored her, so she went out looking for something more.
CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite character?
BETH: I was surprised at how many characters in this book are genuinely unlikeable. Walter Frobisher I just found pathetic, Lillian is a bit of a “hussy,” and I’ve already told you my thoughts on Evelyn. As with Evelyn though, I don’t feel we got the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into certain characters, which would have been more interesting. The only character I found myself feeling slightly sorry for was the Detective Inspector Jim Cooper who seems to have quite a troubled history – serving in the First World War and having a failed relationship with the love of his life Marjorie (who also happens to have been his friends wife – oops!).
BETH: Given how war can change people, do you feel any kind of sympathy for the murderer, or understanding of his actions?
CHRISSI: A great question! A tricky one too. War can definitely change people, it makes such an impact on individual’s lives. I don’t really feel sympathy for the murderer, but I can understand why he acted the way he did.
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: Probably!
CHRISSI: Yes!
Star rating (out of 5):
BETH: 3 Star Rating Clip Art
CHRISSI: 3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Jewel In The Crown (The Raj Quartet #1) – Paul Scott

Published March 27, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The opening title of Paul Scott’s masterpiece, The Raj Quartet.

India 1942: WWII has shown that England is not invincible, and the self-rule lobby in India is growing. Against this background, Daphne Manners, a young English girl, is brutally raped in the Bibighat Gardens. The racism, brutality and hatred heaped upon her young Indian lover reveal the desperate state of Anglo-Indian relations. The rift that will eventually prise India — the jewel in the Imperial Crown — from colonial rule is beginning to gape wide.

What did I think?:

Before starting this novel, I had heard great things about Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet, and when it was picked by a GoodReads group as part of the British Empire Challenge, I knew I had to read it. The novel opens in India 1942, where the British stationed there fear not only talks of a Japanese invasion but India’s demands for independence. You get the feeling that Paul Scott knows exactly what he is writing about, he served in the army based in India and Malaya from 1940-1946 so the story has an authentic feeling. On the night after the Indian Congress Party votes to support Ghandi, riots break out across the country and a British girl, Daphne Manners is raped by a number of young men. Scott begins the novel with the beginning of the riots, and the story of an English missionary teacher, Miss Crane then spends the rest of the novel by assessing different viewpoints of all the characters who surround Daphne or are involved in the situation in some way which was really interesting to read. I particularly enjoyed Daphne’s own journal entries where we find out her secret, and see just how destructive an Anglo-Indian rift can be, especially when an innocent man is accused of a crime he did not commit, purely because it seems impossible to some that two young people of different colours can be lovers.

There are so many fantastic characters in this book, the scene where the teacher Miss Crane is sitting by a roadside holding the hand of her Indian friend who has been bludgeoned to death by a mob while an overturned car burns in the background is a haunting and terrible image, yet one that Scott uses brilliantly as a beginning the troubles discussed in this novel. There is also Sister Ludmila, who is not actually a Sister religiously speaking, but wears the habit and trawls the city streets for the dead and seriously ill to take back to her Sanctuary and nurse them or bury them as the case may be. Scott’s poetic use of language and descriptions of India are honest and also beautiful, although I did find some parts a bit dry and difficult to get through. I persevered however because the colourful characters and back story of Daphne was just too intriguing and I had to find out the truth of what actually happened. I can definitely see why this author won the Man Booker Prize (for Staying On in 1977), and will probably pick up the rest of his Raj Quartet. My only real criticism is that I would have liked to read more about Ghandi and his thoughts and ideas, but this does in no way diminish how special and important I feel this book is as an example of our history.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng

Published March 5, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

“The Gift of Rain spans decades as it takes readers from the final days of the Chinese emperors to the dying era of the British Empire, and through the mystical temples, bustling cities,and forbidding rain forests of Malaya.” In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton – the half-Chinese, half-English youngest child of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families – feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat who rents a nearby island from his father. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. As World War II rages in Europe, the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, and Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and he is forced into collaborating with the Japanese to safeguard his family. He becomes the ultimate outsider, trusted by none and hated by many. Tormented by his part in the events, Philip risks everything by working in secret to save as many people as he can from the brutality he has helped bring upon them.

What did I think?:

The Gift of Rain is the debut novel from Malaysian born author Tan Twan Eng, published in 2007 and also long-listed for the Man Booker Prize that year. I enjoy reading the Booker novels that have been both long and short-listed so I knew I was in for a treat when I read the synopsis of this novel. It is set in Penang, during the years of the Japanese occupation during World War II and our main character is Philip Hutton who is of mixed Chinese-English heritage and often battles with his loyalities on both sides, while feeling a sense of not belonging to either faction. The story is told across two time frames, the first is the present day when Philip is an older man and on receiving a mysterious female visitor finds himself travelling back to his past. The second time frame are the years leading up to World War II when Philip is a teenage boy, where he finds some meaning to his life by meeting an older Japanese gentleman – Hayato Endo who teaches him the discipline of aikido. When the Japanese invade Malaya however Philip must make a decision about where exactly his loyalties lie, which has the potential to threaten his friendships and endanger his family.

As mentioned previously, I was looking forward to digging into this novel, and for the most part it lived up to my high expectations, but somehow I completed it feeling rather flat and I am trying to figure out why. I loved reading about the early life of our main character, and think that the author has a genuine talent with his descriptive writing and setting the scene but as the story progressed I began to feel slightly deflated, although for the quality of the writing I would give it a higher than average rating. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting and I’m well aware this review is starting to make no sense, but I can’t really describe it except that there was no real “wow” moment for me. I do think that this is a promising author however, and I already plan to read his second novel The Garden of Evening Mists which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize more recently in 2012.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art