Atonement

 

Atonement

Published: 2001

Author: Ian McEwan

This book has been on my radar since the film release in 2007, but I never felt an overwhelming urge to read it so although I had it on my kindle it wasn’t until I bought the hard copy a few weeks ago that I decided now would be as good a time as any.

For those of you living under a rock, the story goes that a young girl commits a crime that allegedly has disastrous consequences for her sister and their long term family friend; it sees lovers torn apart and a family in turmoil. The film trailer and even the book synopsis created this illusion that I was about to read something terrible, awful. This young girl unwittingly commits a crime and the whole world turns upside down because of it. The problem I had with this book is that the crime wasn’t drastic enough for me; the lives after the said crime were not substantially decimated.

Setting the scene for this lie was the most interesting part of the book; it was most of the book in fact! Everything after just seemed to fall out of the authors mouth like word vomit. I didn’t think enough emphasis went on any character so how a reader can feel that lives have been turned upside down is beyond me. Example, the elder sister stops speaking to her family (apologies for a reveal), but how did this impact her or the family? It doesn’t say.

It might seem that I am being harsh and I suppose I have my own high expectations to contend with, I did enjoy the book. Maybe it is because I like period literature, or maybe it is because I have a black heart and wanted to read about the ruining of lives!

On that note, there was one poignant scene in the book, set on the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII after the retreat had been ordered; it saw a fight ensue between army soldiers and a weak member of the RAF. This spat tore at my heart strings, and I thought McEwan successfully captured the absolute carnage of human mentality and body on those beaches over 70 years ago.

 Although my review has the pretence of snubbing the literary efforts of McEwan, I would recommend the book.  I would always recommend the book over a film.  The setting of the scene was beautifully done, and the descriptiveness of the war efforts were also very good.

 

4 star

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Birdsong

Birdsong quote

I have recently finished Birdsong, and was shocked at how it impacted me emotionally. It wasn’t the story that I found so moving, but rather the parallel lives of those back in Blighty and the indifference they felt towards the front line soldiers.

A full review to follow, but for now a quote from the book that truly illustrates how this war affected the men who gave their bodies and minds to it.

Elephant Moon

Elephant moon

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Elephant Moon by John Sweeney

I usually ask those around me for any book recommendations, or do some research online as to which one I should pursue next.  However I finished Daughter late a couple of evenings ago and needed a read for the daily commute in the morning.  So, I saw the cover of Elephant moon, and judged that I would enjoy this animal inspired story.  From the get go, the very first sentence, I was captivated, I fell down the history rabbit hole into the middle of the Burmese town of Rangoon in 1941.

Based loosely on a true account of an Elephant regiment of 53 beasts, rescuing a school mistress and her band of merry orphans from the terrors of the Japanese invasion during the second world war. Altogether, men, elephants, children and one woman trekked through the Jungle up to the safety of India, witnessing unimaginable horrors as well as beautiful animal relationships and experiencing love and loss. A truly remarkable tale that had my mind racing back to the great war as well as having me in tears on the tube,

Since finishing it earlier today I have done a little background reading on the book and have come across some great reviews, but I have also read some which are very negative. I understand and recognise the flaws frequently mentioned, such as weak characters and a loose writing style, and I certainly didn’t miss the pathetic love references.  This book is certainly not written with the same kind of depth you experience from the likes of the more seasoned author, but in my opinion the story outshines anything Sweeney could have written.

I don’t think that you should rush out and read Elephant Moon, but I do feel that if you don’t read it at some point you will be missing out on something special.

4 star

A Respectable Trade

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A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

I think this must be one of Gregory’s heftier books, perhaps even a novel. I mention this as most of her books are fairly short and easy to digest.  In a way this is one of her best, mostly down to her encapsulating method of description. I could really picture myself standing along side the protagonists, watching their story unfold thanks to all the details Gregory inserted. But, this was long! Such a long read, at first I struggled to really want to continue to read, then it got sort of interesting, but then it returned to borderline dull and dramatic.  Perhaps I could better describe this book with an oxymoron, interestingly dull or dramatically plain  (is that one?!)?

I really enjoyed the slave perspective, it was clear that Gregory had worked really hard to get traditions and history correct.  The western characters were much more vulgar, exaggerated and on reflection I believe this was done deliberately. A way for me to empathize with the African natives…….thinking about it more I love that she did this.  Historical fiction can be so biased, that is what they say isn’t it, history is only written by the winner!

I award this 4 stars, for her efforts and details.

4 star

The Red Queen

The Red Queen

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

This was a quick purchase at Heathrow airport on my way to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as I needed a book for my 12+ hours of travel and I didn’t fancy carrying my current read, Wolf Hall.

I saw Philippa Gregory and I knew I would be in safe water, little did I know that the water was so safe it was placid. This book seemed to have all the right components, a strong heroine, an exciting time period, war and love. But after trudging through the book I was more than disappointed, I was embarrassed for Philippa.  It is so poorly written, with constant repetition. Always repeating. Everything is repeated several times and Gregory gave me absolutely no credit, in fact I can only presume she assumed I and the rest of her readership are dim and incompetent.

I simply do not understand where this book came from, did she actually write it herself or commission it out to be written on her behalf.

Whatever, see the link below for a full review on the plot. But take my advice, avoid this one.

Bah…..

2 star

“Only the captivation of fiction allows you to fully understand….”

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I saw this quote in Stylist magazine about Historical Fiction, and you know how much I LOVE historical fiction….

 

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall

 

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The book fairy came to me again yesterday, but this time he hand delivered the goods. He had been given this book in a corporate goody bag of some sort and thought I might like to read it! I glimpsed the Orange Prize sticker on the front and exclaimed my delight at award winning books. Then after he walked away I read the back and now I cannot wait to start it as it is only my favorite sort of book…historical, set in Tudor England 🙂

This is now next in line!!

 

The Memoirs of Cleopatra

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The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

I read this months ago, my 1,000 page conquest. So long ago in fact that I am not sure I can provide an accurate review.  It took me a fair few weeks to finish the book and often I would drift in and out of actually absorbing the story, I found it to drone a fair bit.

I remember planning this almighty review that would relate Cleopatra to modern day women, this is because this huge book could be an alternativer ‘Girls’ bible involving tips on how to be powerful, strong, successful and how to user emotions and skills to advantage.

The below link is a good review of the book, I apologise for my laziness but unless I read it all again in order to write a review, nothing note worthy is going to be expressed.

Queen of De Nile (realmsqueen.wordpress.com)

I give the book 4 stars for research, attention to detail and to myself for persisting.

4 star

Ice King

Ice King by Geoff Woodland

Probably the longest book I have read in a while, but it felt as though it was finished too quickly.  I would get up early for work just so that I could get on the train sooner to read this book. I sat at my desk eating and reading and I sat with the family reading this book instead of socializing.  The thing is, yes this book was addictive but I am unsure as to why. The story was clever and original and yet it was slightly predictable. The characters were varied and interesting but I never felt like I knew any of them personally or that they related to me directly.

However, in saying that, maybe it was the whole package. There is history, action, romance, betrayal and success. I suppose there is not much more you would want from a story?

Another historical fiction, set in Liverpool during the final few years before the abolition of the ‘African Trade’ (which occurred in 1807) within the British Empire.  The main characters are a Father and Son, the Father caught up in the ‘African Trade’ and the Son working hard to put an end to it.

Highly recommend……..and I have just realised what I could not put my finger on before. This is a man’s book! The story is of the navy and shipping, booze and women, even the front cover has a masculine attraction. Now I understand why I enjoyed the book but still had my breath at the end of it.

Underground

Underground by Gayle O’Brien

The debut novel from a new and fresh historical fiction writer; and she has set her bar high!  The story of two 17 year old girls running in juxtaposition, one living in 1860 and the other in the present day.  A gripping tale of both girls who find themselves fleeing danger, discovering love despite barriers that they face such as class and race.

O’Brien has proven herself to be an astounding amateur historian, integrating monumental events that changed the landscape of American history with fictional story lines and characters. Her writing style is modern and casual, yet she captures the essence of her female protagonists and the personalities in which make them so fascinating.

The epitome of why I love historical fiction so much. A novel that I literally could not put down, I fell in love with the characters and felt deflated upon finishing. It is such a wonderful thing to be moved so much by a book.

The Confessions of Katherine Howard

The Confessions of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn

I don’t need to repeat my love for historical fiction, however I will briefly explain how I came about this book, an actual book! I lent my good friend (Sara) a few of my Michelle Moran books, albeit several years ago, but she returned them to me recently after having thoroughly enjoyed them! So much so in fact that she then went and purchased another historical fiction, namely The Confessions of Katherine Howard, and then lent it to me in return.

The story itself was enlightening, I would like to consider myself an amateur Tudor enthusiast and I had never considered Katherine Howard particularly interesting, but she was/is. She was just a young girl, with no ambition, caught up in the fancies of an old King.   I honestly felt sorry for the fate that beheld her, and in fact all those around her were subsequently caught up and also suffered….how times have changed.

In terms of literature and writing style, it was ok. I thought Dunn over used punctuation and she wrote in an informal, modern tone,  perhaps that is her signature? I also found it hard to get into the book (potentially because of her writing style)  at first and only when the personalities were getting steamy (yes in that sense) did I actually have more than a vague interest in the book. That isn’t to say I pined after a Mr.Grey scenario, I simply felt that the sudden gossip in the young girls’ lives made for a good read.

I am tempted with another of her books.

I have decided to introduce a rating system, therefore I give this book 3 stars. It was light and enjoyable but not addictive or in fact written particularly well.

Michelle Moran

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Nefertiti

The Heretic Queen

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

I introduce you to the wonderful Michelle Moran, the author who implanted her historical fiction seed into my craving mind. I read these three books about 18months ago, recommended to me by an Oxford University student (therefore I felt clever reading them!).  I cannot review each of these books individually as that would be like literally tearing myself apart into 3 pieces. Each book is fantastically written and rendered me more fanatical than a Cheryl Cole fan being flung a lock of her hair!

Although each book can be read as an individual, they are all linked in some way or another, particularly Nefertiti and the Heretic Queen.  If you love Egypt or in fact a powerful and exotic story then I recommend these books.  In fact, I was so distraught after completing the series that after trying many other Egyptian books I have failed to discover an author as captivating as Moran……subsequently I then moved onto Philippa  Gregory and her Tudor collection.

I wish I could find another book like these, set in Egypt…if you know of any PLEASE tell me!!!!???

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

As you must all be well aware of by now, I am a historical fiction fanatic and when this one got recommended to me it was an instant purchase. Winner of the Orange Prize 2012 for fiction this was surely going to be a thrilling read, and it did not disappoint. Unlike many of the hard wired ‘can’t put this down’ books, ones that need to give you suspense after suspense and cliff hangers to rival Dover, The Song of Achilles was soft and inviting. An emotional book provoking feelings of love towards the two main characters. Miller needed no more than love to write this book (it took her 10 dedicated years to accomplish), and her passion for her young protagonists is evident like no over read.

Not only are the characters superbly constructed, but her attention to detail is unimaginable. I read because a book can transport me places I have never been before and Miller took me to ancient Greece where I felt the warmth of the sun and the cold stare of the sea nymphs, where I watched a friendship turn to love and I flinched when a life was taken before my eyes; a place where mythology and mortality are beautifully combined. However, if I had studied history would I feel the same way?

I recommend this book, probably my best read for a fair few months because of the writer’s talent for storytelling.

The King’s Concubine

The King’s Concubine by Anne O’Brien

I chose this book via the Kindle store not only because I am obsessed with historical fiction, but because it claims to be better than Philippa Gregory! Well I simply had to judge for myself as I am a stern P.G fan. My initial thoughts on the novel were that it was incredibly well written and the attention to detail was addictive, the storyline and the protagonist were captivating and it is true that I didn’t really put this book down.  However, I found the book to be far too long, and there were times that I have to admit I skimmed!! SIN! But I would read another of her novels, checking the book length first. As to whether O’Brien is a strong competitor of Gregorys’, I am not convinced. I may have to read another of her creations, I would only have 2 to choose from.

The story of a 14th century Queen’s damsel rising from nothing to holding all the power of the court in her hands, but at what cost?

 

 

 

For more information on Anne, visit her website: http://www.anneobrienbooks.com/

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Addictive! Completely and utterly on the edge of my seat constantly. Read in 2 days of solid 10am-4pm reading whilst on holiday. Story is told through different women and the writing style follows the social class of each woman. Highly recommend!

II have also seen the film adaptation, and I have to say it is fantastic! Not only one of the best films I have ever seen but also I am proud that the creators have visualised this incredible book in a deserving way.  As with many book adaptations, a fair amount has to be left out, but the film is true to story, character and emotions. I highly recommend watching.