Book Review (again…sorry!): Ten Days One Guernsey Summer (***)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

The Net Galley synopsis reads thus:

This is the story of a family living on the Channel Island of Guernsey, faced with the potential of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany during June 1940. Based on a true story, this is how they faced up to the decisions that needed to be made during the last few days before the occupation of the British Channel Islands.

We also follow the story of a German bomber pilot, and the actions he was involved in during the same period and how his life and actions impacted on that Guernsey family during 10 Days one Guernsey Summer. This is a story of love and compassion in the face of extreme adversity.

A must read for anyone interested in this period of history, 10 Days One Guernsey Summer is a story that will warm your heart and bring you to tears. Prepare to live those days and experience what it was like to face a period when decisions had to be made without anyone knowing where those decisions might lead.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this book – it was written by the grandson of the main characters, it involves a period of history that I find interesting, set in a place about which I know very little. The reviewers on Net Galley gave it five stars almost unanimously, with very flattering write-ups. I was looking forward to a story that hooked me from the first pages, that would “grab your heart and not let go until you can breathe a sigh of relief at the last page” (as one reviewer wrote.)

I think you can probably tell that there is a big “but” coming….

BUT…

I’m afraid that I found the story, and the telling of it, incredibly pedestrian. There was not a lot to hold my interest, just a slightly tedious recounting of everyday life (albeit during a momentous time in history) wherein the protagonists go to work, come home, discuss options, make decisions…but not much else happens until the day before the invasion of the island by the Nazi army.

I was more interested by the non-familial story, that of the German bomber pilot. This story held a little more jeopardy, and it was interesting to read “the other side”. Bernhard was a sympathetic character, an ordinary German, who was doing a job that he had to do, in as “moral” a way possible. He tried to avoid killing defenceless civilians, he acknowledged the bravery of his opponents, he wrote to his family and girlfriend, keeping the worst of the war from them. He was a likeable character, but we didn’t get much insight into his psyche: it was more a straightforward description of his actions: what he did rather than why he did it, or what he thought about it

And I think this was my problem with the telling of this story: it read very much like an account of actions, without much going beyond this. There was very little dialogue, very little descriptive writing, very little observation about motivation and character. So much so, that by the end I didn’t really care what happened to any of them, let alone being moved to tears, as one reviewer promised. Yes, I learned about how people went about their every day life on Guernsey in early 1940; I found out a little about the tomato growing and export business on the island; I even discovered information about the food that was eaten…but I had no sense of getting under the skin of the characters.

As readers of my reviews will know, I also find myself getting irritated by bad punctuation and poor writing, and there were examples of both in this book. When I was teaching 9 and 10 year olds, I refused to allow them to use the adjective “nice” – I explained that this was lazy writing, and always pushed them to find another adjective that told me more about the thing they were describing. The author uses “nice” too many times for my liking, and, I’m afraid, not many other adjectives.

He also thanks his proof reader – quite frankly, I wouldn’t be thanking someone who has such a poor understanding of the use of apostrophes. They were used in a very random fashion: frequently used for plurals (which is wrong. Example “The three K’s climbed into the plane”), sometimes used for the third person singular neutral possessive (which is wrong. Example: It’s wings shone in the sunlight), sometimes NOT used to denote a missing letter ( which is wrong: “Its a lovely day today” ) It’s this lazy editing that really annoys me, and I seem to find it so frequently! I’m sorry, regular readers, that you get subjected to my rants about it so often!

I’m not sure if it is an editing, or a proof reading, or an e-reader problem but there were also rather too many occasions when the spacing of words was incorrect, with words broken in the middle, or running into the next word with no space between them. Only a small matter, but a tad irritating.

I’m sorry to sound so down on this book, as it is obviously a subject close to the author’s heart. At the end of the book he talks about his love of Guernsey, of his grandparents and his family; he tells us how he has lived and worked on the island for all his life, and describes his childhood experiences. I really wanted to like this book, and maybe that’s why I gave it three stars – because finally, the author’s love for the subject shone through. In my opinion, it isn’t well written, but at least I knew that there was a passion in the writing, that the people meant something to the author, even if, sadly, I ended up not being terribly interested in what happened to them.

Nazi troops march through St Peter Port, Guernsey

A view of St Peter Port today


		
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Book Review: The Map of Us (*** and a half)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

THE MAP OF US by Jules Preston

The description on Net Galley was interesting: Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.

Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.

When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.

Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…

and what convinced me to choose this book was the tagline: “One of the most original and charming books you will ever read, this is a must read for all those who love Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things

While I haven’t read “Eleanor Oliphant” I have read “The Keeper…” and I did enjoy it, so I thought I would give this a try. I was glad I did, although I do have a few reservations.

It is written in very short chapters, with slightly bizarre titles, such as “More Sofa” (it makes sense within the story) or “64.726%” – some chapters are written in almost free-form poetry, others from different points of view, and with a definite style, depending on the subject/narrator. Each character’s story is woven together neatly, and the whole book is a pleasure to read. However, other reviewers found the writing style quite difficult to get along with, and even gave up reading the book.

In my opinion, the characters were engaging, and well delinated, and the story moved along briskly. While the writing was “different”, I didn’t find it put me off too much. I particularly enjoyed the chapters telling Violet’s story, and the characters described therein; Dog appealed most of all.

My reservations are two-fold – although the first is not so much about the book as the publicity. Billing anything as “The most uplifting and unmissable feel good novel of the year!” is possibly dangerous, as it sets the reader’s expectations almost unattainably high. I have read other books equally (or more) uplifting this year, although I’m not denying that this was a satisfying (although partially very predictable) read.

My second reservation is that at times I felt that the author was almost trying too hard to be quirky. There were times when I felt he was raising his eyebrow archly and saying “Aren’t I clever?” I guess that more and more novels have to have something to make them stand out from the crowd, but with this I just felt slightly put on edge by the knowing eccentricity of the way the story was told.

Don’t let this put you off: if you enjoy stories with “something different” about them, then I would recommend it. It’s not as good as the equally quirky “A Year of Marvellous Ways” which I loved but it is still a very enjoyable book. I have given it three-and-a-half stars (losing half a star for being “arch”) but for Net Galley, who don’t give half stars, I’m rounding it UP to 4 stars.

Book Review: Good Harbor (****)

This wasn’t sent by Net Galley. It’s a proper book – and one that I’ve had for several years, and have read several times.

Even though I know the story well, I still enjoy reading this book. I pulled it off the shelf as I was looking for something to read last night, as I wasn’t sure where my Kindle was. As always, I was drawn into the story, and found that I couldn’t put it down, finishing it off this afternoon. OK, I have the excuse of fatigue to mean that I can sit around reading for a good part of the day, but I still enjoyed this.

The Good Reads description says: Good Harbor is the long stretch of Cape Ann beach where two women friends walk and talk, sharing their personal histories and learning life’s lessons from each other. Kathleen Levine, a longtime resident of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is maternal and steady, a devoted children’s librarian, a convert to Judaism, and mother to two grown sons. When her serene life is thrown into turmoil by a diagnosis of breast cancer at fifty-nine, painful past secrets emerge and she desperately needs a friend. Forty-two-year-old Joyce Tabachnik is a sharp-witted freelance writer who is also at a fragile point in her life. She’s come to Gloucester to follow her literary aspirations, but realizes that her husband and young daughter are becoming increasingly distant. Together, Kathleen and Joyce forge a once-in-a-lifetime bond and help each other to confront scars left by old emotional wounds.

It’s interesting that this is the first time I’ve read it since I had trhe diagnosis of breast cancer, as one of the main characters is in recovery, just as I am; she is going through radiotherapy, and it was fascinating to compare Kathleen’s reactions and emotions regarding her cancer to my own – some very similar, some very different. All the characters – even minor ones – are well delineated, and are believable; they are multi-faceted and behave in ways that are consistent with what we know about them.

It’s an interesting study of friendship, and made me consider – and be grateful for – my women friends. I don’t have the close friendship that Kathleen and Joyce forge, but it brought home to me how important friends are. It also looks at how religion plays a part in family life, and at how misunderstandings that arise out of tragedy can have long lasting effects on relationships.

I found this – as always – a deeply satisfying book to read. Especially as there are none of the glaring grammatical or literary errors that I find in so many of the Net Galley books that I review!

Four well deserved stars.

This is a picture of the “real” Good Harbor beach

 

Book Review: England’s Lane (****)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

My attention was caught by the description  – a little less ordinary than many of the “blurbs”, which made this book sound as though it might be more interesting than a run-of-the-mill love story.

Lily: Caught up in a complicated love affair, unable to leave but unable to stay. Is this really her happy ever after? 

Pippa: Sinking into despair as she discovers her marriage is based on lies. She can’t bear the humiliation, but what’s the alternative?

Harry: Torn between two women and fighting depression to make it through each day. Will love be enough to save him from going under? 

England’s Lane is a tale of betrayal and forgiveness, family and friendship, loss and redemption. A painful but powerful modern love story, it explores the cost of marital infidelity and the challenges of single motherhood, the legacy of suicide and the healing power of love.

I was right. I found this a really interesting, well-written book. From the onset I was engaged with the characters – although annoyed by one or two, I found each one believable and their actions were consistent with what we knew about them. The one possible exception is Pippa; I wasn’t totally convinced by her voice, especially as it purports to be in a blog. I’m not sure that one would reveal such intimate details in a public blog.

I think the final sentence of the description sums up the themes of the book very adequately “A painful but powerful modern love story, it explores the cost of marital infidelity and the challenges of single motherhood, the legacy of suicide and the healing power of love.” Perhaps the challenges of single motherhood were glossed over a little – the character (I name no names – spoilers!) seemed to have things fall quite neatly into her lap at times, and the baby was remarkably well behaved and considerate, but hey, this is fiction, after all! The effects of one person’s suicide on those around was sensitively described, as was the importance of family, in all its different guises.

It examines some difficult issues – infidelity, depression, family break-up – but is, finally, a book that left me feeling more hopeful for the characters than one might imagine at the beginning of the book.

There were a few issues for me at the beginning, when timelines, voices and stories were not adequately seperated or indicated, so I was a little confused. However this settled down reasonably quickly, and I was able to follow the timeline more easily.

The other issue – possibly just an e-reader issue- was the way paragraphs were laid out. Sometimes there were paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences, or incorrectly placed. Some punctuation was missing too. I hope these will be sorted out before publication as they did rather spoil the reading experience for me.

In all, however, this was an enjoyable, engaging read, which deserves its four stars.

And this is a photo of England’s Lane, in London. Very nice…

Book Review: The Last Daughter ***

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is…

THE LAST DAUGHTER

by ANN TURNER

This was another book with an intriguing description, which, sadly, didn’t quite live up to its promise:

Book Review: The Hatmaker’s Secret ***

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is…

THE HATMAKER’S SECRET

by JILL TRESEDER

The description on Net Galley was quite intriguing: Two babies are born a century apart and three generations of women are blighted by a family secret.

Thea’s sense of self depends upon keeping her secret. Her daughter, Vanessa, is confused about her own identity. And there’s Kate, Vanessa’s own daughter, whose marriage is threatened because of her grandmother’s deception. Issues of racial prejudice, betrayal, forgiveness and trust echo through the years as Vanessa – caught between generations – tries to make sense of the past. The more truths she uncovers, the more enigmatic her mother appears.

Who was Thea? How did the beautiful young hatmaker turn into the controlling parent Vanessa remembers? Can Vanessa reconcile the two and find peace? And what will the future bring for her own daughter and grandchildren?

In my opinion, I’m not sure that it really lived up to its 4 star rating on the site, even though I found the story interesting. I didn’t really warm to any of the characters, finding that they were rather two-dimensional. The young Thea, who narrated part of the strory was the most appealing, but I couldn’t really accept the premise that while she was clearly seen as a mixed race young woman, she was able to hide this as she grew older. How could you not know your mother was mixed race? It seemed just a little far fetched…The prejudices and attitudes towards Thea, and towards other members of the family were explored, and gave an interesting insight into how these attitudes have (or haven’t !) changed over the years.

However, the central theme of how secrets kept from generation to generation can cause a ripple effect down the years was sensitively handled.

And, as I have discovered this is becoming more and more important to me as I readbooks from Net Galley, this book was well edited, with no bizarre sentence structure, incorrect grammar or poor use of vocabulary. For that alone it deserves the three star ranking. Not great, but certainly interesting enough.

 

Book Review: Northern Soles (****)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is…

NORTHERN SOLES

by STEVE ANKERS

The Net Galley description reads thus: With a (very small) spring in his step and a song playing on his smartphone, Steve Ankers sets out on a 200-mile coast to coast walk from the Mersey to the Humber.

Travelling from one City of Culture to another takes him through snow, torrential rain and sweltering heat to a mighty gathering of brass bands, a collection of police truncheons, a ghost train, the Taj Mahal of swimming, and a liquorice festival. He encounters a Vimto sculpture, the country’s finest cat hotel, a lost town, and a justification for donkey stoning. He discovers where gravity was invented, where rugby league was first discovered, how wind turbines breed, and why Sylvia Pankhurst is still a hero in Addis Ababa. And he consumes more scouse, spam fritters, and potato patties than you can shake a black pudding at.

Best of all Steve gets to meet his heroes – the largely unsung volunteers and staff at the heart of our heritage and communities, and those who, in this centenary year for women’s suffrage, honour the legacy of those who fought for the vote and still campaign vigorously today on issues of gender inequality and injustice. It’s a fascinating journey, and a passionate and often funny one.

This is not the type of book I usually read – it’s more my husband’s cup of tea – but being a Scouser, I liked the idea of the author starting in my home city. He writes in an engaging tone, showing interest and affection for all the places and people that he visits. I learned things about Liverpool, and its environs, that I didn’t know and that surprised me; I had other facts that were familiar acknowledged and admired. It reminded me to be proud of my city. The premise of his walk was to compare Liverpool, European City of Culture in 2008, and Hull, UK City of Culture, in 2017, and to look at the legacy left behind.

Fireworks in Liverpool City Centre, launching the year as City of Culture

A light show in Hull

Continuing on his journey on foot from the west coast (New Brighton, across the water from Liverpool) and following canals and rivers cross country to Hull on the east coast, Steve Ankers visits places associated with famous people – the Pankhursts, Elizabeth Gaskell and others – and tells their stories well; he also visits various festivals, and muses on the effects of regional development.

It is written with gentle humour – there were none of the outright belly laughs that I sometimes get with Bill Bryson, for example – but equally, I can find Bryson a little cruel, or self aware in his humour, and I did not find this with Steve Ankers. There was a genuine feeling of appreciation for what he was doing, and seeing, and who he was interacting with.

As I said, this isn’t my usual genre, as I prefer fiction, but I was engaged and interested. I give this a solid 4 stars.

New Brighton lighthouse

Hull, Wilberforce Monument