The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Lake Union| 20 February 2018|352 p|Review copy|3*

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now… 

I enjoyed The Tuscan Child up to a point. I liked the historical setting of 1944 and the descriptions of Tuscany and Italian food are beautiful. It’s easy reading and the dialogue gives a good impression of people speaking in a foreign language in which they are not fluent. Although I love Italian food I did begin to groan when yet another meal was being prepared and described in detail.

But the split narrative between Hugo and Joanna didn’t work too well for me. I liked Hugo’s story more than Joanna’s and I wanted to know what happened to him which kept me reading. But I thought the book was more of a romance than a historical mystery. And I thought the mystery element wasn’t too difficult to work out with rather too many convenient events that revealed what had happened to Hugo.

My thanks to Lake Union for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

A quest for justice

The Midnight Line (Jack Reacher, #22)

Bantam Press| 7 Nov 2017|391 p|Hardcover|4*

I wasn’t sure when I began reading The Midnight Line that it was my sort of book. It’s the 22nd book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and I haven’t read any of the earlier books. See this post for the first paragraph – what struck me was Lee Child’s straight forward style of writing and the short, staccato sentences.

Jack Reacher, a former military policeman, is looking for the owner of a West Point class ring from 2005. It’s a small ring, a woman cadet’s graduation present to herself, engraved with the initials S.R.S and Reacher wonders what she went through to get it and why it ended up in a pawn shop. He tracks the ring back to its owner in a search that takes him to the deserted wilds of Wyoming.

After a slow start containing too much description of fighting for my liking and too many short sentences I began to find that Child’s writing grew on me. It’s not all short sentences, and I liked the way that every now and then Reacher recaps where the search is taking him. I began to feel it was a book about a quest – reminiscent of tales of heroes or knights of old on a mission to rescue a damsel in distress, or of a ring-bearer returning the ring to its rightful owner – in a very modern setting.

I like the characters, particularly Reacher, a huge guy variously described as Bigfoot or the Incredible Hulk and I like the description of the landscape of the West with its vast open spaces – at least 20 miles between neighbours – long straight and dusty roads, rocky tracks and unmarked trails. Reacher doesn’t drive, but hitch hikes, or takes a bus, walking when he has to. He’s a loner, with no home, no belongings, just buying new clothes as he needs them, always on the move, a tough guy who uses a whole bar of soap when he showers.

The hunt first takes Reacher to Rapid City, South Dakota to find Arthur Scorpio, a laundromat owner, who tells him the ring came in from a guy in Wyoming in a place called Mule Crossing, a ‘wide spot’ on the road to Laramie. Whilst in Rapid City he meets Detective Gloria Nakamura, keeping Scorpio under surveillance and Terry Bramhall, a private detective, also watching Scorpio and looking for the same woman as Reacher. Reacher and Bramhall meet again at Mule Crossing and join forces.

It turns out that this is more than a search for the owner of the ring. As Reacher gets nearer to finding her he comes across the trail of a drug smuggling circle and I learned a lot about the history of heroin and pain relief and the terrible issues facing US veterans. Reacher finds out exactly what did happen to S.R.S., the owner of the ring, and it’s not pretty! This book is dedicated to the nearly two million recipients of the Purple Hearts awards.

I finished the book delighted that it was so much better than I thought it would be and was just as pleased when I went to Barter Books yesterday (more about that visit soon) and found the first book introducing Jack Reacher – Killing Floor – so that after reading the 22nd book I can start at the beginning.

About Lee Child

Lee Child (James ‘Jim’ Grant, known by his pen name Lee Child) is not American (as I thought) but British, born in Coventry.   He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theatre he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.” During his tenure his company made Brideshead RevisitedThe Jewel in the CrownPrime Suspect, and Cracker. He now lives in New York.

He has received many awards. The most recent is the CWA’s Diamond Dagger for a writer of an outstanding body of crime fiction, the International Thriller Writers’ ThrillerMaster, and the Theakston Old Peculiar Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

Many thanks to my husband for buying me this book as a surprise Christmas present.

I’m choosing this book in this year’s What’s In A Name Challenge in the category of a book with a shape in the title.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My Tuesday Post: Munich by Robert Harris

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by The Purple Booker. Post two sentences from somewhere in a book you’re reading. No spoilers, please! List the author and book title too.

My first paragraph this week is from Munich by Robert Harris, which I’m currently reading.

Munich

 

It begins:

Shortly before one o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday 27 September 1938, Mr Hugh Legat of His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service was shown to his table beside one of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Ritz restaurant in London, ordered a half-bottle of 1921 Dom Perignon that he could not afford, folded his copy of The Times to page seventeen and began to read for the third time the speech that had been delivered the night before in Berlin’s Sportpalast by Adolf Hitler.

Here is a teaser from page 99. 

The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain is talking to Legat about the suffering endured through the last war (the First World War):

… Afterwards, whenever I saw a war memorial, or visited one of those vast cemeteries in France where so many dear friends are buried, I always vowed that if ever I was in a position to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again, I would do anything – sacrifice anything – to maintain peace. You understand that?’

Blurb:

September 1938. Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace. The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there. Munich. 

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Fürher’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries, Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now their paths are destined to cross again as the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

I’ve read just a few pages on from my teaser and am firmly fixed in the pre-war years and hoping, futilely I know, that Chamberlain would succeed in preventing the coming war. I also want to know more about him. As Harris has portrayed him so far in this book he seems a man out of his time – a Victorian figure – and a man who like Hitler was egocentric, a man who ‘always conflated the national interest with himself.‘ (page 37)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

the Nightingale

Pan |29 January 2015| 5*

The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library JournalPasteThe Wall Street Journal and The Week.  Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category. And I can see why.

Blurb:

Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My thoughts:

The Nightingale is one of the most moving books I’ve read and I was emotionally drained by the end of the story. It tells of two French sisters and their experiences during the occupation of France in the Second World War. The younger sister, Isabelle is beautiful, impetuous and a rebel. She joins the Resistance Movement, whereas Vianne, married,  stays at home looking after her daughter whilst her husband goes off to war.

This is a story of courage, of love and of the determination to survive under dreadful and appalling conditions – the horrors and dilemmas of living in an occupied country under Nazi rule, with rationing, curfews, and the dangers of being caught helping or of being a Resistance fighter. Vianne was faced with the dilemmas of whether to collude with the Nazi officers billeted in her house and whether to help her Jewish friend to escape before she could be taken off to the concentration camps. Isabelle takes desperate risks as she helps British and American airmen to freedom over the Alps to Spain. Hannah spares no details and I struggled to read the details of what people can do to those they consider their enemies.

Interspersed at intervals the narrative moves to 1995 as one of the sisters is invited and goes to a reunion. For a long time I couldn’t decide which one it was and by the time it was revealed I was in tears at the sadness and pathos of it all.

This book is one of my TBRs – a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018.

When I’ve not been reading …

… I’ve been doing jigsaws (amongst other things).

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I’d done both of these Ravensburger puzzles before and put them back in their plastic bags inside the box, but I hadn’t sealed the bags and the pieces had got a bit muddled up. After I’d sorted them out this one was complete.

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But there are two pieces missing from this one – and I can’t find them anywhere!

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They are based on paintings by Alexander Sheridan, who was born in Cape Town and moved with his family when he was five back to Scotland. He has lived in New Zealand, India and Singapore. After his wife died he moved back to London with his young son. He met his second wife whilst hiking in the Outer Hebrides and then set up home on a farm near Ipswich, where he paints landscapes. (Information taken from the box.)

My Friday Post: Wedlock by Wendy Moore

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, a library book, that my friend recommended to me.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

It begins in London on 13 January 1777:

Settling down to read his newspaper by the candlelight illuminating the dining room of the Adelphi Tavern, John Hull anticipated a quiet evening. Having opened five years earlier, as an integral part of the vast riverside development designed by the Adams brothers, the Adelphi Tavern and Coffee House had established a reputation for its fine dinners and genteel company.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56

It should have proved a memorable occasion, summoning up reminiscences of the royal wedding just six years earlier. Yet by the time that Mary walked down the aisle of St George’s Church in Hanover Square, splendidly robed in her silver and white wedding dress, on her eighteenth birthday on 24 February 1767, her teenage infatuation was over. She knew she was marrying the wrong man.

Described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘ Splendid … as gripping as any novel’ this is non-fiction, the biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney. When Mary heard her gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel fought to defend her honour, she felt she could hardly refuse his dying wish to marry her.

I’ll be reading this book soon. What do you think? Does it tempt you too?

Victoria: A Life by A. N. Wilson

I finished reading Victoria: A Life at the end of January with a sense of sadness that it was over – I’d been reading it for three months and I have learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. Victoria was 81 when she died and had been Queen for nearly 64 years, from 1837 to 1901. She’d had 9 children and was grandmother of 42.

A. N. Wilson’s biography of Victoria is masterful, detailed and like all good biographies is well researched and illustrated, with copious notes, an extensive bibliography and an index. He had access to the Royal Archives and permission from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to quote from materials in royal copyright. He portrays her both as a woman, a wife and mother as well as a queen set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.

Whilst I was reading I wrote three posts about different aspects of the book that interested me at the time – one on my thoughts soon after I started reading the biography, one on Christmas at Windsor in 1860 and one on Victoria and John Brown.

And now I’ve finished it I’m not sure what to write about it. It has fascinated me and surprised me. It surprised me because it is so extensive, with so much about her involvement in the politics of the time. It has made me want to know more about so many of the people – such as Lord Melbourne, Gladstone, who she disliked so much that when he stayed at Balmoral she wouldn’t speak to him, Disraeli who she liked very much and of course her beloved Albert.

I think A.N.Wilson himself sums it up best in this quotation:

‘Writing about Queen Victoria has been one of the most joyous experiences of my life. I have read thousands (literally) of letters never before published, and grown used to her as to a friend. Maddening? Egomaniac? Hysterical? A bad mother? Some have said so. What emerged for me was a brave, original woman who was at the very epicentre of Britain’s changing place in the world: a solitary woman in an all-male world who understood politics and foreign policy much better than some of her ministers; a person possessed by demons, but demons which she was brave enough to conquer. Above all, I became aware, when considering her eccentric friendships and deep passions, of what a lovable person she was.’ A. N. Wilson

and in the last paragraph of the book he wrote of Victoria’s greatness and the awe awe she inspired:

The awe is for Queen Victoria the woman. Step over the carpet to that plump little figure that sits at her table, state papers or a Hindustani grammar open in front of her, the Munshi or Princess Beatrice at her side. You are approaching someone of great kindliness, someone of a far sharper intelligence than you would have guessed, and someone who – contrary to the most tedious of all the clichés about her – was easily amused. but you are also, if you have your wits about you, more than a little afraid. You are in the presence of greatness. (page 575)

This was going to be my last post about the book, but I have placed so many markers in places of interest to me as I read that I think I may do at least one more just of passages that I’d like to remember.

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