Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

When my proof copy of Jojo Moyes' latest novel; The Girl You Left Behind dropped through my letterbox last week, I gave out a little squeal of excitement.  For many years now Jojo Moyes has been one of my favourite authors - each of her novels has thrilled me, and left me feeling that she's never going to top this.  Her last novel; Me Before You, which I reviewed on my blog here was a huge success for her, and I really did think that it was her best.  However, having just spent the last few days completely entranced by The Girl You Left Behind, my opinion has changed - THIS ONE is her best!

The Girl You Left Behind is the title of a painting, and the focus of the whole story.  Part One of the novel takes us back to 1916 in St Peronne, a small French town occupied by the Germans.  It is the middle of World War I, and the close-knit community of St Peronne are having to cope with the presence of the enemy amongst them.    Sophie Lefevre's artist husband Edouard is at war and she has returned from her marital home in Paris to help her family run their bar Le Coq Rouge.   Sophie's most treasured possession is The Girl You Left Behind - her portrait, painted lovingly by her husband before he went away.

Sophie narrated her story, she tells of how she and her sister Helene are expected to feed the German soldiers, and how they daringly sneak bits of food for their children and other people in the community.  When a new Kommandant comes to take control of the German troops, Sophie and he are drawn together by their appreciation of art and the painting becomes their link.   Sophie hates the Germans, yet she sees a flash of humanity in the Kommandant, and it is this that becomes her downfall.

Jojo Moyes
Part Two of the novel leaps forward 100 years and features Liz Halston - a thirty-year old widow who now owns The Girl You Left Behind.  Liv still mourns her late husband David, and like Sophie she feels that the painting is their only real link - she would do anything to keep it.  David bought the painting for her as a wedding present because Sophie reminded him of Liv.

I was so enraptured by Sophie's story in Part One that I felt almost bereft when all of a sudden the author took us to the present time, I wanted to hear more about Sophie, what happened to her?  Did she find Edouard?   However, after just a couple of pages of Part Two and Liv's story, I was just as absorbed.  And, then the stories become interlinked, as Liv fights to keep the painting, Sophie's story is continued through the diaries and letters that she and her family members wrote all those years ago.

This is a truly beautiful story, often heart-breaking, sometimes heartening but always warm and written so very very well.  Jojo Moyes has once again produced a novel that makes the reader really think, and also feel every emotion along with the characters.   The research is impeccable and introduces readers to a part of history that is little known.

It is captivating - another triumph from this wonderful author.   Bravo!

The Girl You Left Behind will be published on 27 September by Penguin Books.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pegasus Falling by William E Thomas

I was contacted by Mike Harris who is the Grandson of the author of Pegasus Falling, he told me a little about the story behind the book and asked if I would like to read it.  

Mike has set up acuteANGLE books  solely to publish the Cypress Branches trilogy, of which Pegasus Falling is the first.

The author, William E Thomas was born in West London in 1925.  He left The Brompton Oratory School when he was 14 and started work as a messenger at the BBC.

When war broke out, he went to work with his father at a factory in Harrow.  While still a teenager, William joined the army and was soon recruited in to the Parachute Regiment.  By May 1945, he had been 'dropped' in to a number of key battles and become a much decorated soldier.  He was still only 19 years old.  Following the war, William served in Palestine until 1948.

William has six children.  As they were growing up, he was working and studying in shifts as a merchant seaman and an engineer.

In his mid fifties, he decided to work full time as a lab technician at his Alma Mater, The Open University and remained there until his retirement.  It was during his retirement that he decided to set himself the challenge of writing a novel.  The Cypress Branches is the result.

William was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2006.  His health has since deteriorated to the point where he can no longer live at home and he is now cared of at a home in Milton Keynes where he is visited by his wife Sheila and family members daily.

I have been kept spellbound by this wonderful story, William E Thomas has an amazing way with words and has created a cast of characters who are warm and realistic yet still have flaws.  He has taken much of the setting of this story from his own life experiences, and this shines through in his writing, only someone who was there could express such a real feeling for a place and an era.

Captain Stanley Adam Malcom Parker, aka Sammy, of the Parachute Regiment, is the hero of the story.  Captured during a daring battle with the enemy, he spends the rest of the war incarcerated within a concentration camp.  Sammy is a brash, outspoken man, who hands out his own personal forms of punishment.  

It is his inability to keep quiet and accept what is happening that lands him in more and more trouble, but it also helps him to discover Naomi - a beautiful, mysterious Jewish woman who has had to sacrifice her soul in order to keep her life.  Sammy and Naomi keep each other alive through the horror of this place, they are scared and they are desperate but their love somehow makes them stronger.

When, at last, the camp is liberated Sammy and Naomi become separated.   Near to death, and angry, Sammy is interviewed by high ranking officials from the Foreign Service.   And so, the reader is introduced to another strong female character; Lesley Anne Carrington.  A woman from a privileged background who is strong, takes no nonsense and also beautiful.

The story follows Sammy, Naomi and Lesley through the end of the war and moves from Europe to Palestine, detailing the plight of the Jewish people as they struggle to find a place that can be their home.

There have been many novels set during the war and detailing the horrors of the concentration camps, but this is the first one I have read that centres on what happened next to those prisoners who were lucky enough to survive the camps.

Willliam E Thomas
Pegasus Falling is an extraordinary novel, it is part love-story and part social history.  William E Thomas does not shy away from the politics of the era, and my only criticism would be that at times, I felt just a little bogged down by the political detail.  However, this does not take away from the strength of the novel at all.

I wish Mike Harris and acuteANGLE books lots of success with Pegasus Falling and would like to thank him very much for sending my copy.  I will look forward to reading It Never Was You, the second part of the trilogy as soon as it is published.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

Published in May 2012, Black Heart Blue is Louisa Reid's debut novel and is part of the SpineBreakers series from Penguin Books.

It is aimed at a teenage audience, but is also published in an alternative, more adult cover.  It is most definitely a cross-over story, one to be read by all ages.

Twin sisters Rebecca and Hephzibah are the daughters of the local vicar, they had not had an easy life, not allowed to mix with other children, beaten and abused, yet both of them had hope of a better life someday.

 From the beginning of the story the reader knows that Hephzi is dead, and that Rebecca is mourning her and blaming herself.

The book is cleverly told by Rebecca in the present and jumping back to Hephzi in the past, enabling the reader to get the full story.

Frankly, this is a heartbreaking read, there were times when I felt that I could read no more as the emotion in the writing really affected me.  

It is more about the implications of what has happened and what is happening than graphic detail, and as the twins' story slowly unfurls, the pure terror of their lives is laid bare.

Black Heart Blue is an outstanding debut novel from an author who is able to get right into the characters and bring them alive on the page.  I will certainly be watching out for more from Louisa Reid.

Many thanks go to Nicola at Penguin for sending a copy for review.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Win a Kindle Fire - from Glasses Direct

The wonderful people at Glasses Direct have a great book blog called GD Book Worm, which you can find here.

At the moment, they are running a competition to win a Kindle Fire.  Just leave a review of a book on the blog, with a photo of yourself reading the book to enter.

There are already some great reviews on the site, and they are currently doing a feature about favourite books for summer reading.

Go on - have a go, you have to be in it to win it!
Good luck x

The Pocket Guide to Scandals of the Aristocracy by Andy Hughes

Published earlier this year as part of the 'Remember When's series from Pen and Sword Books, Scandals of the Aristrocracy by Andy Hughes is full of murder, lust, gambling and downright madness.

The so-called 'upper' classes have been there, done it and got the proverbial t-shirt!

There are tales of fortunes gambled away, spent on prostitutes, drink and drugs.   The stories are sectioned into eras of history going right back through the ages from the present day.

We tend to think that modern day morals have declined, that the twenty-first century is full of wicked, deceitful people who would sell their Granny to the highest bidder.  Think again!  

Some of the so-called nobility from times gone by would laugh at our modern day 'scandals' - and they got away with it, and carried on doing it.

Full of tales and intrigue that would delight the editors of Heat and The Sun these days, this is a gem of a book.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Home from Holidays

I can hardly believe that we've been home from Corfu for a week already, this week has flown by!

Early one morning, about to set off on the Arillas Trail
We had a wonderful two weeks in Arillas, on the north-west coast of the island.  This was our fourth visit to Arillas and it feels just like going home, it's such a small and friendly little village.  The weather was gorgeous, with just one day of spectacular storms and torrential rain.   We spent our days sitting in the sun, reading, strolling and eating - perfect!

Life has been hectic since we returned.  I have a new job and I'm working full-time again.   I'm working for Community Lincs as the Community Development Worker for the Ex-MOD villages in the district of West Lindsey in Lincolnshire.  It's a brand new project funded by the District Council and Lloyds TSB Foundation.   I have a two year contract and I'm really excited about the challenges ahead.  This week I will be out and about, meeting the residents of the villages who will become Community Champions.  My role is to support them with new community enterprises.
I managed to read loads of books whilst we were on holiday, but haven't had much 'reading' time since we got back.   I'm hoping to get a chance to catch up with my TBR mountain very soon!