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Sunday, 23 August 2015

The War Came Home With Him by Catherine Madison

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Moving, Positive and Totally Gripping Memoir               My rating:  5/5

This is the story of Doc, a Korean War survivor; how he survived the War (and being a POW) and family life during his absence and on his return.  It is also the story of his daughter Cathy, the author. Useful background information for readers unfamiliar with the Korean War is given as part of the narrative.  

The book starts in the 1950s and continues up to 2002.  Chapters alternate between the father's story in Korea and the daughter's story growing up, mainly in the US, with her returned father's authoritarian parenting style.  The changes between timelines are smooth and work well - there are no sudden break offs, or cliff hangers at the end of chapters.   There are only 3 main characters, Cathy and her parents.  Other family members, friends and POW survivors and non-survivors play a peripheral, albeit essential, role in the book. 

Themes that stood out for me included  the chaos of war (from the soldier's perspective), the importance of friends, how a positive outlook at times of unimaginable suffering really does make a difference, and of course an insight into the Korean War.   Also, of course, how to survive growing up with an overly strict, and often frightening, father.     

What really drew me to this book, was the author's writing style.  She uses brevity to give the information pertinent to the action, but does not embellish it.  There are moments of total awfulness in some of the Korean scenes, and moments of wit - such as when Cathy has to clear her plate of unwanted asparagus "Chewed until I couldn't chew anymore, then swallowed.  ... When it wouldn't go down, its friends came back up."  Few emotions are described as the writing is so clear that the reader knows how the person is feeling. 

I found this book totally gripping.  I empathised with Cathy trying to cope with her parents, enjoyed the scenes of her growing up, felt sad at the struggles her father was obviously going through, and was shocked at many of the Korean scenes.  However, despite all,  this is a positive book - and quite possibly the best book I have read so far this year!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Baptism by Max Kinnings

(Book received from, and review written for,

488 pages of non-stop excitement!                              My rating:  5/5 

A dramatic start to this thriller, followed by the murder of a monk in Snowdonia which  leads to 16 hours of fast moving action.

For George it is just another ordinary, albeit hot, start to a day.  All his life he has felt a failure, his dreams have come to nothing, and life, apart from his wife and children, has been a bit of a mundane disappointment to him.  However today will be different, but he has no idea of this as he commences his day as an underground driver and leaves Morden station.

Tommy, unlike George, is on a high.  Today, guided by God (he believes), is the day to make a difference.  He, along with his sister, will perform a great deed.

Ed Mallory, Special Branch, has the role of trying to stop the deaths of over 300 people stuck on an underground train somewhere between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road.  But can he make the right decisions to satisfy the police, the government, the military, those stuck in the tunnel and their families? 

This is a fast moving book, with short chapters, and action all the time (not just cliff hangers).  There is quite a bit of violence, but this is in keeping with the story, and not overly gory.  Each chapter is headed by the time of day, and, apart from the first chapter/prologue, moves in chronological order.   I can't say anything more about the story, for fear of giving any of the plot away.

Most of the action takes place on the underground in London, which is depicted well.  I would be surprised if anyone using the underground shortly after reading this book, is not unnerved by it.  I just hope your underground train does not stop between Leicester Sq. and Tottenham Court Rd!     Action takes place in Snowdonia at the beginning of the book, but gives almost no information about the area for visitors. 

I was riveted to this book from page one, right to the end.  It is  great to read a book where the action continues right to the penultimate page, no long winded explanations to the reader by a detective here!  I loved the fast paced action, and having commuted on the London Underground for many years was right there with those people in the tunnel.

I thoroughly recommend this book if  you enjoy a true thriller, and are ok with the views of a religious psychopath!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

You Think You Know Me by Clare Chase

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

My rating:  5 out of 5

A great thriller that starts gently, builds up and then stampedes to an exciting end.

Based in London Anna attends an Art Gallery launch party one evening, and meets an attractive man.   However it appears he is acting oddly and Anna is warned to stay away from him  - but she can't quite leave him alone.  And that's only Chapter 1! As Anna says much later on "He seemed like a nice man", but is he who he seems to be?     As the story progresses Anna has to decide should she listen to her long time friend from University or to the man of her dreams that she has just only just met.  Naturally it's not as simple as that, as the author weaves her modern day thriller. 

This is a book that draws you in, and keeps you reading just a little bit more than you had intended to each session.  Anna 's character is well drawn, helped by her chats with her house mates (bit like "Sex in the City" minus the sex and based in London) and I felt really involved in her dilemmas.     There were many instances I wondered what I would have done in her situation - until well into the book when I would have fled the scene very fast (Anna fortunately has more bravado than me).   The mystery builds with each chapter, with lots of twists and unexpected turns, and many cliff hanger chapter endings.  This is a book that you won't want to put down.

Clare Chase's writing style is fun, often humorous and makes for a great light, but engrossing, read. 

The story is based in the art world, so gives brief glimpses into that; whilst mostly set in London there are occasional forays out into the Lake District.

I loved it, and would recommend this book to anyone looking for a gripping thriller.

Monday, 10 August 2015

When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

(Book received from, and review written for,
My rating:   4/5

Set in Tallinn and the countryside of Estonia this novel takes place during the turbulent years of 1941 to 1944 and 1963 to 1965.  Before WWII Estonia was an independent  country, which then became occupied by the Soviets and the story starts in the thick of a (1941) battle with Estonians fighting the Red Army, just before liberation (as they thought) by the Germans. 

 We follow the, very different,  lives of Juudit and her husband Edgar, and how their lives intertwine with Edgar's cousin Roland.  The story moves, clearly,  between the 1940s and the 1960s, as Edgar changes sides from the Germans to the Soviets as the power shifts, and thereby follow the course of the occupation during the Word World by Germany and then the Communist control in Estonia during the 1960s.  Meanwhile Edgar's cousin Roland is leading a very different life, coping with tragedy and the silence that surrounds it, and hunting for the cause in the 1940s.  In the 1960s he is working with the underground in Tallinn - totally opposite to Edgar's life, who is attempting to rewrite (literally) events that may not show him in a good light to the Russians. 

Through the telling of this interesting, and often exciting, story, we see the celebrations that follow the liberation by the Germans in the 1940s, and the gradual realisation that this does not mean the ending of the war.    Repression moves from the Soviets to the Germans and back again to the Soviets and we see the fear that so many people lived in, as they tried to survive these terrifying years by conforming to the regime of the time, and then being terrified that the current regime will hear of your actions under the previous regime.  And then of course there are the people who will give anything to escape out of the country. 

Through the very different courses of the main protagonists lives we see how it is to live in Tallinn and the countryside during these times, and how a struggle to survive and do the right thing can lead to danger and great personal risk.  This is truly a story of heroism, love, betrayal and great sadness. 
For the tourist this is a fascinating history of lives in turbulent times in Estonia.   It provides excellent background history for anyone visiting Tallinn, and though has little in the way of descriptions of places and buildings, it has plenty of atmosphere and vivid imagery of what it would have been like to live through those times. 

There is a useful glossary at the end of the book - worth glancing through before starting the book. 

Though a very  interesting book from a historical viewpoint, for me the characters lacked depth, and so I did not find the book a terribly gripping read.  However I am very pleased that I read it as I had no idea of what took place in Estonia during these terrible times, and this book will add depth to any visit to Tallinn that would otherwise have been missing.