The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

the piano teacher

Synopsis from Amazon:

Ambitious, exotic, and a classic book club read, ‘The Piano Teacher’ is a combination of ‘Tenko’ meets ‘The Remains of the Day’. Sometimes the end of a love affair is only the beginning! In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton lands in Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair!only to discover that her lover’s enigmatic demeanour hides a devastating past. As the threads of this compelling and engrossing novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges — between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and above all, the past.

Claire is a newly wed who takes a job as a piano teacher for the infamous Chen family when she moves to Hong Kong from England with her husband. It is here she meets Will – the Chen’s English driver. He is mysterious, rude and intriguing. She is drawn to him and their love affair begins. But Will is caught up in the past, and his only love Trudy. Life was fine for him and her before the war came to Hong Kong bringing Japanese occupation of the island. It is here life changed for everyone and had a lasting affect on all who experienced the hard war years.

This is an excellent debut novel. Lee writes of life in Hong Kong during the Second World War and the aftermath of it. She explores how War can affect a civilisation and how people change and what they will do to survive. I think this was well written and sensitive. It seemed very realistic, with the horrors of war shown in this book – Lee does not hide the violence, death, fear and poverty. Yet that added to the wonder of this book – it made it more readable.

The book does jump between the decade, as Claire features in 1953 and Trudy in 1941, yet Lee links the story wonderfully and it is clear how the two women are linked and how the story is continued in the decade after WW2.

It is interesting that I was not particularly connected to the characters. Neither Claire nor Trudy appealed to me, and I found Will brooding and strange, yet the story gripped me and I wanted to know what would happen, how people would protect themselves. The story was good enough for me to not need to be empathetic with the characters.

I can’t think of anything particularly bad about this book; this is a good historical novel that I would recommend to anyone.

8/10

A Small Part of History by Peggy Elliott

a small part of history

Synopsis from Amazon:

Remarkable. Inspiring. Heartbreaking.

In the summer of 1845 Rebecca Springer and her family join the Oregon wagon train in search of land thousands of miles away. It’s a hard and dangerous journey through blizzards and searing heat, over prairies, desert plains and mountains and, at times, it seems as if it will never end. But an unbreakable bond develops amongst the travelling women as they are tested, physically and emotionally, and their shared experiences of new life and tragic death will bring them closer than blood ever could.

How the west was won and the terrible price that was paid.

A Small Part of History is an epic, heartfelt story of courage in the face of appalling adversity, and a haunting portrayal of how America was forged. Above all, it is a story of people and how the ties that bind us most strongly are those of friendship, of family and of love.

The Springer’s are joining a train to Oregon. They are hoping a trip West will change their fortune. Yet it will not be an easy trip. When they leave tensions are high between the family. Rebecca, the step-mother is at her wit’s end with Sarah, her 15 year old step-daughter, and Matthew is newly married, and his wife does not want to travel. Early on the family splits with Matthew going home. But this is not the first split the family will suffer. As they travel friends and family suffer from the heat, the cold, lack of food, pregnancy and many other trials. They won’t all make it to Oregon City, but those on the journey form unbreakable bonds and learn how to survive and love each other.

I enjoyed this book. I have seen reviews where people have been unhappy that Elliott mixes up fact and fiction, but I read this as purely a fiction book, and found it highly readable. I loved the characters and how they recorded diary entries so we got to know them better. I enjoyed reading about how friendships were formed, and what it took to make those bonds.

This book was full of adventure. There were fights with Indians, death, a desert to cross, family feuds – all sorts. At all points of the story there was something going on; this was a not a boring book. This was a good historical novel. It may not have been specific and the facts correct, but for a generalised idea of what this era was like for the women crossing America this is a good book.

This is a gripping book, well worth reading. In fact, I have already lent out my copy I enjoyed it that much.

8/10

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

the guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

Synopsis from Amazon:

It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realizes that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.

What an extraordinary book. The narrative is all letters. It is through a letter that Juliet, an author struggling to find something to write about after WW2 discovers about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. She receives a letter from Dawsey about a book of hers he has, and from there their correspondence blossoms. Soon there are several members of the Society writing to her and she learns how the group came about and how they have helped each other through the Nazi Occupation of the Island. She is drawn to the place and eventually ends up living there; where she finds her writing mojo, forms lasting bonds and finds peace and love.

I loved this book. Even though it is written in letters it is very easy to read. I liked that it was all written in letters, it gave a more personal feel as people were free to express their feelings to their friends. I found the story to be extraordinary – what a genius idea for keeping sane during a war. I just love the idea that books can bring people together and can form lasting bonds between people.

I loved all the characters. It was a joy to watch Juliet find happiness, she was a lovely person to read about. And the Literary Society were a group of great people. Dawsey is a strong, solid, reliable man, and I fell in love with him. It is interesting that even though we never meet Elizabeth we hear all these wonderful stories bout her and her heroics, how she brought everyone together and helped them out in times of need, and I found myself wanting to get to know her. And when we discovered what happened to her I could have cried.

I was attached to this book and the characters. It wasn’t a quick read, but lovely. Well worth reading. I felt emotions along with the characters and didn’t want the book to end. One of the best books I’ve read recently. This is a must read.

10/10

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

the-reader-jpg

Synopsis from Amazon:

For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does – Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

This is a brave book. It follows Michael, who after a long period of illness goes to thank the women who helped him when he was sick in the street. This second encounter leads to a love affair that will haunt Michael for the rest of his life. Suddenly Hanna disappears and Michael thinks that is the end – until he sees her in court answering to crimes committed under Hitler’s reign. Yet as the trail proceeds Michael discovers something about Hanna that she is hiding, and which leads her to punishment.

This books looks at Germany, the aftermath of the war, the Holocaust and the guilt of a generation. It also looks at love and sex, and books. I thought this book was a good read. It isn’t a long book and it didn’t take me long to read. I did find the philosophy in the second part hard to grasp, and found it difficult to concentrate whilst reading those bits, but they are really my only complaints.

I liked Michael – he was a simple 15 year old who hadn’t been in a proper relationship, then a man trying to work out how to condemn those who had been involved with the Holocaust, and ultimately he proved himself a good friend. I felt sorry for Hanna and the secret she felt she needed to keep however she had a mean streak that I didn’t like.

As already said, this is a brave book. I think it addresses these sensitive issues well – I don’t think people will be offended when reading this book. I would recommend this as a good book.

8/10

A Brighton Flirtation by Valerie King

a-brighton-flirtation

Synopsis from Amazon:

Headstrong and independent Katherine Pamberley finds herself drawn despite herself to Captain Evan Ramsdell, a gentleman with old-fashioned ideas about women, but their growing feelings for each other must take a back seat when they stumble upon rumors of a plot to assassinate the Prince Regent.

This is your typical Regency novel. The star is Katharine Pamberley – an independent women who has recently moved from Berkshire, and her home’s stables, to Brighton, to become part of the Prince Regent’s close knit group of friends. Whilst in Sussex she starts to fall for Evan Ramsdell – or does she? As the story unravels we see them examining their feelings and friendship. Alongside this, there is the plot to assassinate the Prince Regent, which Ramsdell is investigating.

There was nothing spectacular about this book. It was an average read – maybe even a little dull. The “do I love him?”, “do I love her?” got old quickly. The exciting bits were the attempted assassinations. Aside from that, the book was unimpressive. I wonder if I would have bothered finishing this book had I not had too. Really it is fair to say that King’s writing technique was not spectacular and her characters were not particularly original.

There was one thing that really bugged me though: when writing about the Regent’s resident King refers to the Marine Pavilion, but when describing the building she describes the Royal Pavilion – the two buildings are in fact not the same thing. The Marine Pavilion was built before the Royal Pavilion, and then subsequently replaced by the Royal Pavilion – which is the building still standing today in Brighton. I feel that if you are going to write a historical novel, it should really be accurate.

Overall, besides my big complaint there is not an awful lot to say about this book. It really isn’t that good in my opinion.

4/10

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

the-constant-princess

Synopsis:

Splendid and sumptuous historical novel from this internationally bestselling author, telling of the early life of Katherine of Aragon. We think of her as the barren wife of a notorious king; but behind this legacy lies a fascinating story. Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both rulers and warriors. Aged four, she is betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and is raised to be Queen of England. She is never in doubt that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur’s wife grows ever more bearable. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur’s young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother’s daughter and her fighting spirit is strong. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it. Philippa Gregory proves yet again that behind the apparently familiar face of history lies an astonishing story: of women warriors influencing the future of Europe, of revered heroes making deep mistakes, and of an untold love story which changes the fate of a nation.

This is the first book in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series. In this book we meet Katherine of Aragon, first as a girl of 5, then as a girl of 15, as she marries Arthur. We watch their love and affection develop, and their intimacy increase, until one fateful day when Arthur dies. Katherine, a strong-willed woman, determined to be Queen of England, steps up and tells one great lie – that their marriage was not consumated. The result – her marriage to Arthur’s brother Henry. We see them crowned, and Henry become Henry VIII. With her power she manipulates, goes to war and struggles with the reality that her parents have used her as a pawn in their power struggle in Europe. But Henry is youthful and lustful – he longs for war, love, attention and an heir. How long until his eyes stray and her deadly secret is revealed?

This was an enjoyable read. Gregory takes us on a historical adventure, in both England and Spain, incorporating their two histories. She writes about European battles between France, England and Spain, and of Spanish battles with the Moors. She looks at how people are the same, even if they have different religion, and she shows what lengths people will go to to achieve their ambitions.

I liked how Katherine was written, a strong women, determined to do whatever it takes to achieve her destiny, even lying and manipulating, but yet a gentle, loving woman, who mourned Arthur’s death and was crushed by the death of her little boy. Henry was a bit irritating, but well written, as he was just a spoilt boy, as can be seen through his history and his string of marriages.

The ending is not a surprise because this is based on English history, but I liked how Gregory broke off. There are no surprises but that does not spoil the book at all. Gregory has re-told this event in history with creativity and passion. This is a good book, well worth reading.

8/10

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Synopsis:

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale stands as a classic study of a seld divided; trapped by the rules of society, he suppresses his passion and disavows his lover, Hester, and their daughter, Pearl. As Nina Baym writes in her Introduction, The Scarlet Letter was not written as realistic, historical fiction, but as a romance; a creation of the imagination that discloses the truth of the human heart.

Well, if truth be told, this book did not hold my attention. I felt it dragged on and I found myself not concentrating throughout the book.

The story follows Hester, who commits adultery and therefore has to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ pinned to her outfit. This makes her a social outcast. The product of the affair was Pearl, who made the story for me. She brought a smile to my face with her little mischievous ways. The rest of the characters I was a bit indifferent too – except Roger, Hester’s husband, who creeped me out. There was something about him I just didn’t like. I did feel a bit sorry for Arthur, as he seemed to spend the rest of his life paying for his affair, but then actions reap consequences.

I thought it was interesting how they humilitated Hester, with the letter, but how she took it and understood her crime. She seems humble enough to continue wearing it. I was bemused that Pearl only accepts her mother when she is wearing the letter – her crime has become her identity – even to her own child. I liked how it linked back to England and had a dash of history lashed through the book. I was surprised by how much religion was in the book, virtually every chapter mentioned God or the Bible. I guess, however that this was a book set in Puritan times so maybe that should have been expected, and in the eyes of the Church and centuries gone by, adultery is a big sin.

Overall, I was not keen on the book. My interest was not held, however it wasn’t so bad I didn’t finish it. There were elements that made me keep reading, such as Pearl’s character, but they were few and far between.

5/10