Review: Operation Finisterre by Graham Hurley

finisterre

About the Author

Graham Hurley was born November, 1946 in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. His seaside childhood was punctuated by football, swimming, afternoons on the dodgems, run-ins with the police, multiple raids on the local library plus near-total immersion in English post-war movies. He directed and produced documentaries for ITV through two decades, winning a number of national and international awards. He left TV and became full time writer in 1991. Graham is the author of a number of thrillers and crime novels.   Author website

About the Book

Publisher summary: Germany, October 1944 – Dozens of cities lie in ruins. Enemy armies are at the gates. For the Thousand Year Reich, time is running out. Desperate to avoid the humiliation of unconditional surrender, German intelligence launch Operation Finisterre – a last-ditch plan to enable Hitler to deny the savage logic of a war on two fronts and bluff his way to the negotiating table. Success depends on two individuals: Stefan Portisch, a German naval officer washed ashore on the coast of Spain after the loss of his U-boat, and Hector Gomez, an ex-FBI detective, planted by Director J. Edgar Hoover in the middle of the most secret place on earth: the American atomic bomb complex. Both men will find themselves fighting for survival as Operation Finisterre plays itself out.

400 pages, publication date October 2016

 My rating: 4 (out of 5)

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publisher, Head of Zeus, in return for an honest review.

This is an assured historical fiction/thriller set towards the end of World War II at the point where Germany is facing the prospect of defeat.  The novel is structured around two separate stories and it’s not until over two thirds of the way through the book that the connection between the two is made clear.  For me, the story set in Los Alamos was the more successful and compelling as ex-FBI detective, Hector Gomez investigates the apparent suicide of one of the scientist working on the atomic bomb project.  This has lots of twists and turns and the mystery of what has really occurred is sustained until the reveal in the final pages.  I found the parallel story of Stefan Portisch less convincing as there were a number of convenient occurrences and the connection with the Los Alamos story I didn’t feel was that crucial in the end.   An enjoyable read with some interesting historical detail that was clearly well-researched but, in the end, left me wishing to have been slightly more satisfied with how the two strands came together.

In three words: Thriller, compelling, well-researched

 

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Review – Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case

nelly-dean

Authentically voiced retelling of Wuthering Heights

About the Book

(Courtesy of Goodreads):  Nelly Dean is a wonderment of storytelling and an inspired accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s adored work. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save.

My Review

I started reading this book back in November and the fact that I’ve only just finished it but have read over a dozen other books in the meantime, tells you I didn’t find it as compelling as I hoped or the author deserves given the obvious craft put into it. The book expands on the narration by Nelly Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, in Emily Bronte’s original book and introduces imagined back stories for some of the characters, notably Hindley, Hareton and Nelly herself .

However, although it magnifies some aspects of Wuthering Heights (in some instances, quite exhaustively) it glosses over large parts of others, in particular the core relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy and the tragic events that surround them. For this reason, I don’t really see it as a standalone novel for a reader who is unfamiliar with Wuthering Heights.   For example, Alison Case devotes a substantial section to Nelly’s attempts to care for the infant Hareton that are encapsulated in a few sentences in the original book. But on the other hand, leaps forward at points so that key events from Wuthering Heights are merely alluded to.

So I found myself on the one hand thinking, “I know all this from Wuthering Heights” and on the other, “Wait a minute, we’ve skipped several years here – what happened to so-and-so”.  Plus, occasionally thinking, “Whoa, I bet Emily Bronte never had that in mind!”. Having said all this, the author has created a really authentic period voice for all her characters and if it wasn’t that Emily Bronte’s masterpiece is a persistent and relentless echo, this would be a really successful piece of historical fiction.

But…it has made me determined to go back and re-read Wuthering Heights!

Book facts: 456 pages, published February 2016

My rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

In three words: Authentic, descriptive, inventive

Try something similar…Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, tour-de-force reimagining of Jane Eyre

About the Author

Alison Case is a Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts and her academic background has focused on Victorian Studies, Narrative Theory, and Gender Studies. Her first book, Plotting Women: Gender and Narration in the 18th and 19th-Century British Novel, is well-known and well respected. With these interests, it’s not a surprise that Case’s first novel focuses on a well-known literary character from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

 

 

 

 

Review: Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

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About the Author

Miranda is an author and dramatist who grew up in London before studying English at Oxford and Playwriting Studies at Birmingham University. She now lives in the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and two daughters.  Miranda is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4 (sometimes as Miranda Davies) and is currently undertaking a PhD in the history of BBC radio adaptation at Cardiff University.   Author Website

About the Book

Publisher Summary:

Soho, 1965.  In a tiny two-bed flat above a Turkish café on Neal Street lives Anna Treadway, a young dresser at the Galaxy Theatre.  When the American actress Iolanthe Green disappears after an evening’s performance at the Galaxy, the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate.  But as the news grows old and the case grows colder, it seems Anna is the only person left determined to find out the truth.  Her search for the missing actress will take her into an England she did not know existed: an England of jazz clubs and prison cells, backstreet doctors and seaside ghost towns, where her carefully calibrated existence will be upended by violence but also, perhaps, by love.For in order to uncover Iolanthe’s secrets, Anna is going to have to face up to a few of her own…

368 pages, publication date 12 January 2017

My rating: 5 (out of 5)

My review:

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins UK/4th Estate in return for an honest review.

This was a great read that would keep you entertained for hours on a train or plane journey.  At first, it seems like it’s going to be a straightforward period detective mystery but there are a number of elements that, as you read on, raise it to another level.  Firstly, the authentic feel of the period setting.  This is the England of homes without central heating, smoke-filled bars and buses, seedy clubs, drugs, awful coffee, backstreet abortions and, most shockingly, homophobia and overt racism against black people, Irish people and basically anyone who is perceived as an outsider.  Secondly, Miranda Emmerson has created such a great cast of supplementary characters, including Ottmar, the Turkish café owner, and Aloysius, the Jamaican accountant.   It is no accident that the characters who help Anna in her search for Iolanthe are all outsiders and perhaps it’s the fact that Iolanthe is also an outsider that makes them care so much for her fate.  Lastly, this is such a multi-layered novel because underneath the simple mystery narrative are questions of identity and reinvention.   All the characters have either reinvented themselves, wish to reinvent themselves or are struggling to play a part they haven’t quite come to terms with.  There’s Anna, who admits “I tried to be someone and I failed” and is drawn to starting over anew; Sergeant Brennan Hayes, who changes his Christian name and accent to disguise his Irish origins (“His new voice commanded more respect, his new name spoke of privileged beginnings.  He didn’t belong anywhere, he was aware of this, but he looked like he belonged, sounded like he belonged”) ; his wife, Orla, who empathises with Iolanthe’s determination that “one part of your life needs to end and another to begin”  when she realises that Brennan “just wasn’t who I thought he was at all”;  and Aloysius, who has moved to London because he is “in love with the idea of England” but the England of Dickens, which turns out to be a far cry from reality he experiences.    I was really impressed with this book.  At the end, there are questions unanswered but I’d like to think these were not unintended loose ends but deliberate on the part of the author or (even better) threads to be woven into a future book.

In three words: Authentic, engaging, satisfying

To read a Q&A with the author, click here

Read: The Hour of Daydreams by Renee M Rutledge

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About the Author

Renee was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in California from the age of four. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two daughters.  Renee received her Bachelor of Arts in English from UC Berkeley and Master of Fine Arts in English and Creative Writing from Mills College. Her reporting on minority issues facing Filipinos was nominated for a New American Media Award and New California Media Award by the editors of Filipinas Magazine. Renee works as a nonfiction book editor for Ulysses Press. She is currently writing her second book.  Author Website

About the Book

Publisher Summary: At a river near his home in the Philippine countryside, respected doctor Manolo Lualhati encounters the unthinkable—a young woman with wings. After several incredible visits, he coaxes her to stay behind—to quit flying to the stars with her sisters each night—so they can marry. Tala agrees, but soon finds herself grounded in a new life where she must negotiate Manolo’s parents’ well-intentioned scrutiny. As Tala tries to keep long-held family secrets from her new husband, Manolo begins questioning the gaps in her stories, and his suspicions push him even further from the truth. Weaving in the perspectives of Manolo’s parents, Tala’s siblings, and the all-seeing housekeeper, The Hour of Daydreams delves into contemporary issues of identity and trust in marriage, while exploring how myths can take root from the seeds of our most difficult truths.

270 pages, publication date March 2017

My rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

My review: I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and Forest Avenue Press in return for an honest review.

The author weaves fantasy and fable into the story of Tala and Manolo’s meeting and marriage. The writing has a lyrical, fairytale quality which at times is mesmerising (“He began walking along the lip of the water, where it saturated the sand with kisses”) and the author has some imaginative metaphors/similes (“They talked rapidly and their conversation was like a dance; as one took the lead, the others were eager to follow. It was a meandering dance, circling from place to place…”). However, at other times, the language was surprisingly clunky (“Cigarette in hand, he assessed the scene in front of him with some degree of calm.” or “Your mother’s anguish invoked you from sleep, and we combined our efforts to pacify your discomfort.”) There are keenly observed descriptive passages of everyday life (the market, the quayside) but I found some of the author’s extended metaphors baffling, such as pretty much the whole of Chapter 6. The supporting characters are well-drawn and the importance of food and sharing communal meals is lovingly described. I enjoyed the story of the main characters but found that, for me, the fantasy element confused rather than enhanced the narrative.

In three words: Lyrical, imaginative, uneven

 

Read: World’s End by Upton Sinclair

worlds-end

About the Author:

Upton Sinclair wrote close to one hundred books in many genres. He achieved popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, acquiring particular fame for his classic muckraking novel, The Jungle (1906). To gather information for the novel, Sinclair spent seven weeks undercover working in the meat packing plants of Chicago. These direct experiences exposed the horrific conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. In 1943, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

About the Book:

Publisher’s Summary: World’s End is the first novel in Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series. First published in 1940, the story covers the period from 1913 to 1919. This is the beginning of a monumental 7,340 page novel, the story of Lanny Budd, a young American, beginning in Europe in 1913. It is also an intimate record of a great world which fell victim to its own civilization. A new world was about to be born.

599 pages, first published 1940

My rating: 4 (out of 5)

My review: Lanny is drawn to art, poetry and music but, as the son of an American munitions manufacturer, is exposed to (some would say, cynical) arguments of commercial reality,  power-broking and real politik.  The conflict Lanny experiences as he struggles to make sense of these opposing forces is at the heart of the novel.   This is a long novel and at times, particularly in Part 5 covering the attempts to arrive at a peace settlement, it seems more straight history than historical fiction but Lanny’s Forrest Gump-like ability to be at the centre of important events and several underlying stories stop it from feeling completely like a college course.  Upton Sinclair depicts the motives of the countries involved (particularly Great Britain, France and America) with brutal clarity (“Now they were here, not to form a League of Nations, not to save mankind from future bloodshed, but to divvy the swag”).   That the war was fought for control of  natural resources (coal, oil, steel) and territory is made very clear and in this sense, the lesson of history is that nothing much has changed.

In three words: Epic, detailed, factual