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

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Savage Tide by Glen Chandler

savage tide

Synopsis from Amazon:

This is a Steven Madden mystery. For Steve Madden, Brighton is no longer beaches, fish and chips and amusement arcades. It’s also a place of murder. Estranged from his son and grappling with the jealousy that comes from watching your ex-wife getting closer to another man, his world is thrown into turmoil when he is called to investigate a particularly savage murder. But there is something else, something that will change his life forever. Dragged into the twilight world of nightclubs, drugs and prostitution, Steve is about to realise that being a Detective Inspector in a seaside town is far more dangerous than he could ever have imagined.

Steve Maddon is called is called to a murder scene in Kemp Town, Brighton – the place notorious for where the homosexual community live. What he finds in the flat is a shock – and will completely rock his world. The murder is sex fueled and gruesome, and personal. Maddon is taken off the investigation, but unsatisfied with the police work, investigates himself, where he makes some shocking discoveries.

This book is not for faint hearted. The description of the murder was graphic, and horrific. The is a lot of violence, drugs and sex in this book, which aren’t really my cup of tea. That said; it was a good read, with a few twists and an interesting portrayal of the seedier side of Brighton.

Chandler wrote well – it flowed easily, I was able to keep up with the story and remember who all the characters were. It didn’t take me long to read and I was quite surprised by the revealing of the murderer. If you like crime novels, or a good murder book, this is for you.

7/10

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

brighton rock

Synopsis from Amazon:

A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, he is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold. Greene’s gripping thriller, exposes a world of loneliness and fear, of life lived on the ‘dangerous edge of things’.

I picked up this book for part of my dissertation reading (the portrayal of Brighton in fiction) and wow, it certainly portrays life in the town in a dark, horrific way. Brighton Rock follows Pinkie, a heartless man as he tries to become a gang leader. He kills a journalist without any remorse. Just as he thinks this is the start of big things, he starts to be hunted down by Ida Arnold, who wants justice for Hale’s death. As events unfold Pinkie takes all sorts of measures to remain safe and in control, including more death, but he may just have underestimated Ida…

I didn’t know what to expect when starting this book, especially as the opening line is:

“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”

I actually enjoyed this book. It was a slow read, and sometimes I got a little bored but overall it was exciting, with murder, fear, love and suspicion. The book shows a dark side of Brighton, with gang wars and dingy hide-outs. The ending was not what I expected either – and probably not how I would have written it, but a good way to end the book.

I liked Ida best. Pinkie was too arrogant and moody for me – he had lots of mood swings, which although fitting for his character, did annoy me somewhat after a while. Ida on the other hand, she was big and brave. She was clever and determined – and not easily scared. I think she was the most courageous character in the book.

Although written in the 1930s, this is a good crime novel, and just as exciting as modern-day thrillers. If you like suspense, and adventure, this book is worth reading.

8/10

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

bones to ashes

Synopsis from Amazon:

Under the microscope, the outer bone surface is a moonscape of craters…

The skeleton is that of a young girl, no more than fourteen years old – and forensic anthropologist Dr Temperance Brennan is struggling to keep her emotions in check.

A nagging in her subconscious won’t let up. A memory triggered, deep in her hindbrain – the disappearance of a childhood friend; no warning, no explanation…

Detective Andrew Ryan is working a series of parallel cases, and requires Tempe’s forensic expertise. Three missing persons, three unidentified bodies – all female, all early-to-mid teens… Could Tempe’s skeleton be yet another in this tragic line of young victims? Or is she over-reacting, making connections where none exist?

Working on instinct, Tempe takes matters into her own hands. But she couldn’t have predicted where this investigation would lead, or the horrors it would eventually uncover… Can Tempe maintain a professional distance as the past catches up with her in this, her most deeply personal case yet?

I have only just started reading crime novels and this is the first Kathy Reich’s book I have read – and it certainly encourages me to read more of this genre and more of her work.

In this novel, Tempe is working with several skeletons – most of them from Ryan’s missing girls and cold cases. Except, it all gets a little personal. When a young girl her friend disappeared without a trace, and Tempe worries that one of the skeletons is her friend. With this in mind, she and her sister start their own investigation, which leads them into danger….

This was an exciting book with plenty of turns and twists and I didn’t work out the ending. It seemed very realistic – full of scientific knowledge and crime knowledge. Reich’s writing is engaging and gripping. She writes about more than just the crimes, there is love and friendship and family explored too, adding depth to an already good book. Through these she is able to explore the characters more fully.

My only complaints were lots of the conversation was in French, which then had to be translated, and there was so much science I didn’t understand! Other than that, this was a good book and well worth reading.

8/10

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

an ice cold grave

Synopsis from Amazon:

Harper Connelly was struck by lightning as a teenager, and now she can find the dead. In her third case, Harper and Tolliver, her stepbrother, are hired to find a missing grandson. But the truth is far worse than a single dead child, for numerous teenage boys, all unlikely runaways, have disappeared from Doraville, North Carolina. Harper soon finds the eight bodies, buried in the half-frozen ground, but then, still reeling from coming into contact with her first serial killer, she is attacked and injured. Now she and Tolliver have no choice but to stay in Doraville while she recovers, and as she reluctantly becomes part of the investigation, she learns more than she cares to about the dark mysteries and long-hidden secrets of the town: knowledge that makes her the most likely person to be next to end up in an ice-cold grave.

This is the third book in Harris’ Harper Connelly series, and of course, is as good as the other two – both of which I gave top-ratings too.

In this installment, Harper is in South Carolina. The grandmother of a missing teenage boy has contacted them to see if she can find his body. Not only does Harper find the body of one boy, she finds the bodies of eight. In this small town, a serial killer is at large. At once the place is swarming with police and the media. However, having had his dirty secret revealed by Harper, she is his next victim, and he lands her in hospital. Yet that is not the end of his man nor the investigation…

Well, this is by far the most creepy, what with it being a serial killer, who did horrific things to the boys before their deaths. Along with the suspense is an engaging and exciting book. Harris does not whip out of writing about the horrors of rape and torture – and although that is very sinister, it adds to the book. As ever, she continues story lines from the other two books – such as Tolliver’s and Harper’s changing relationship and their missing sister Cameron.

I love this series and am so looking forward to the next one, which is out later this year (2009). Harris is gripping and exciting. I love the way she writes and her characters. I enjoy reading about Harper, the realism in her physical pain and the way she becomes emotionally involved with the cases and the people. I highly recommend this book and the entire series.

10/10

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

grave-surprise

Synopsis from Amazon:

A bolt of lightning struck Harper Connelly when she was 15, leaving her with a strange spider web of red on her torso and right leg, episodes of weakness, shakes and headaches – and an ability to find dead people. Harper is summoned to Memphis to demonstrate her unique talent, but there are still plenty of sceptics, even as Harper stands atop a grave and announces there are two bodies buried there. The police are convinced there’s something fishy going on when the grave is opened to reveal the centuries-dead remains of a man, which they’d expected (that being his grave, after all) and a dead girl, which no one expected – except Harper, of course. And suspicions are raised even further because Harper had failed to find eleven-year-old Tabitha Morgenstern when she was abducted two years before. Harper and Tolliver need to find the real killer to prove Harper’s innocence, especially after their nocturnal visit to the cemetery in hopes that Harper can sense something more is followed by the discovery, the following morning, of a third dead body in the grave . . .

This is the second book in Harris’ Harper Connelly series – and pretty much as good as the first. There is a reason why I have only heard good things about this series – her writing is exciting and engaging; her characters are realistic and her storylines, and the suspense as they unfold are perfect.

In this book, we travel from Saines to Memphis with Harper and Tolliver – her step-brother. She is going to give a demonstration of her ability to a group of university students. The old grave yard has a surprise in store for her though – in the oldest, darkest grave, is a recent body. The body, an 11 year old girl called Tabitha, who Harper had been looking for 18 months ago. Coincidence? Harper sets out to find out. Yet the grave has one more surprise for her. When she goes back, another new body is in there. How are the two related? What is the key? Alongside this, Harper learns more about the supernatural and has to struggle with her feelings for Tolliver.

There is a lot to this book, yet it reads quickly. It is exciting, thrilling even. I was starting to think there was something deeper between Tolliver and Harper, so I am glad that has started to be explored. There are links back to the previous book, to allow the story to continue, and keeps other storylines open, such as the disappearance of their sister Cameron. I think that is important and very well done.

I liked all the characters. All of them seemed believable. There are issues all of them face, and I like how Harris explores things such as grief and sexual orientation, as well as families and religion.

I read this book in two sittings. You will not want to put it down – it is fabulous, a must-read.

10/10

Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck

blackbirdSynopsis from Amazon:

The house on Mary Street, Carson City, Nevada is the only place five-year-old Jennifer Lauck will ever call home. It’s where the sky is deep blue, forever blue, and there are almost never any clouds up there. It’s where Jennifer lives with her older brother B.J., her father and mother, and their two cats Moshe and Diane. It should be a perfect, peaceful childhood – but Jennifer’s mother is ill, very ill, and a childhood is the last thing Jennifer is going to be allowed.

Oh my word, what a sad book. I read this book in three sittings. It is such a good book, but so powerful and moving. This story follows Jennifer through from the age of 5 to the age of 12. The best way to describe it is like a real like Snow White story – with the death of the parents and the evil step mother.

Jennifer is an amazing girl. She has grown up too fast, had to deal with all sorts of horrid things, yet she is strong and able to look after herself. I can only admire her. I loved the way the family comes through for her, there is such a strong sense of family, and wanting to be happy in one.

I could have cried at most of this book, I laughed in places, and was thoroughly moved and longed for the best for Jennifer. I was rooting all the time for her.

I adored this book.

10/10