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

Advertisements

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

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

notes on a scandal

Synopsis from Amazon:

When the new teacher first arrives, Barbara immediately senses that this woman will be different from the rest of her staff-room colleagues. But Barbara is not the only one to feel that Sheba is special, and before too long Sheba is involved in an illicit affair with a pupil. Barbara finds the relationship abhorrent, of course, but she is the only adult in whom Sheba can properly confide. So when the liaison is found out and Sheba’s life falls apart, Barbara is there…

Sheba is a new teacher at school; she is a pottery teacher and is instantly spotted by Barbara. She is different from the other new teachers, she keeps herself to her room and doesn’t participate in staff room gossip. Sheba meets Steven Connolly in detention, where she discovers he has some artist talent. She starts giving him tutorials after school, where their relationship blossoms. Soon they are having a sexual affair, a pupil and a teacher. During this time the friendship between Sheba and Barbara has been blossoming. Sheba confides in Barbara about Connolly. This affair cannot remain hidden forever, and when the people find out what has happened Barbara is there for Sheba; but what is her motivation?

This is a book which focuses on a controversial issue – pupils having sex with students when they are underage. Heller is brave writing this book, especially as she questions the portrayal of these teachers, and the different treatment male and female offenders receive. Heller looks at reasons why teachers would enter into this relationship, the effect feelings have over a person, regardless of age and who will stand beside you whatever you have done. She also studies spinstership, how the woman is portrayed and what it could do to you.

I enjoyed this book but I didn’t like the characters – I was gripped by the story and what the outcome would be. I found it an interesting read; a sensitive subject manner and I wanted to know how Heller would write it. I found Barbara manipulating and judgmental and Sheba delusional and a liar. This is a good read because even though I didn’t like the characters they did spark a reaction.

This was not a fast read but a well written book and a good read.

8/10

PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

ps i love you

Synopsis:

A wonderfully warm and heartfelt debut from a stunning new talent. Everyone needs a guardian angel! Some people wait their whole lives to find their soul mates. But not Holly and Gerry. Childhood sweethearts, they could finish each other’s sentences and even when they fought, they laughed. No one could imagine Holly and Gerry without each other. Until the unthinkable happens. Gerry’s death devastates Holly. But as her 30th birthday looms, Gerry comes back to her. He’s left her a bundle of notes, one for each of the months after his death, gently guiding Holly into her new life without him, each note signed ‘PS, I Love You’. As the notes are gradually opened, and as the year unfolds, Holly is both cheered up and challenged. The man who knows her better than anyone sets out to teach her that life goes on. With some help from her friends, and her noisy and loving family, Holly finds herself laughing, crying, singing, dancing — and being braver than ever before. Life is for living, she realises — but it always helps if there’s an angel watching over you.

Holly is lucky; she found her soul mate when she was young. Except she is unlucky – he dies young of a brain tumour. Her life is ripped apart. What is she going to do? Her husband has dead. Yet her mother is holding a letter for her, one from Gerry. There is a note for every month of the rest of the year, which will help her carrying on living.

This is a well written, touching book. To lose your u at a young age must be horrendous, and that is how Ahern writes it. It is so sad, very heartbreaking. Ahern looks at what losing your spouse does to you, how relationships change, who are your real friends, and how you can keep going. I loved the idea of notes, and everything Gerry set up for her to help her. What a lovely thing to do. It was so beautiful that he was there supporting her through these few lines a few. Ahern’s writing is gripping and draws you into the story. I felt the emotions Holly was feeling, and could have cried along with her.

I don’t think I have a favourite character in this book. Everyone was well written and I liked how they developed over the year. It was interesting to see how Gerry’s death affected everyone. It was good to see how Ahern remembered the other characters and incorporated their grief in the book too.

It is important to note that not all the book is sad, and there are moments of joy, fun and laughter. Ahern looks at a range of emotions and the rollercoaster of grief.

I really enjoyed this book. It is chick-lit, but it explores a hard issue. It did not take long to read this book – it was just a good novel.

9/10

The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

the chocolate run

Synopsis from Amazon:

Amber Salpone thinks in chocolate – talk to her for three minutes and she’ll tell you what kind of chocolate you’d be. In fact, most days, if she was asked to choose between chocolate and relationships, there’d be no contest. At least chocolate has never let her down. Unlike her family. Growing up in the Salpone household has taught Amber to avoid conflict – and love – at all costs. So, when she does the unthinkable and has a one-night stand with womaniser Greg Walterson, her uncomplicated, chocolate-flavoured life goes into meltdown. Especially when Greg announces she’s the love of his life – and Amber finds it hard enough to decide if she wants plain or Fruit & Nut …Meanwhile, her best friend, Jen, seems to be launching a bid to become Bitch Of The Year and Amber’s family are making unreasonable demands. Amber has two choices: to deal with her past and the people around her, or to go on a chocolate run and keep on running …

Amber is not a chocoholic – if you ask her – she is just a chocolate sniffer, needs chocolate to think, and compares everyone to chocolate. It is her constant in life, her safety net.  But running for chocolate is not going to help her this time. She has been off relationships for 18 months, and has loved it. Yet she is falling for Greg, the womaniser. As she pursues this line she realises that her best friend is being turned into skinny, selfish, horrid person, who Amber doesn’t know, or want to know. The some dark secrets come out – not only does Amber have to confront her childhood fears, but she must make choices about friends and lovers.

I really enjoyed this book. This is the second book by Koomson I have read and liked it so much I have bought a third novel. Koomson is a great writer. She is exciting and gripping. I didn’t want to put the book down. The story flows easily off the page and incredibly readable.

I loved the characters. Koomson writes in a way that you feel how Amber feels – so when she was sad you were too; when her heart broke, so did yours. I really liked Renee and Martha her work collegues – they were funny but good people – great friends to have around.

This is chick-lit, but anyone who likes a good story of friendship, love and family should read this book.

9/10

Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

knit two

Synopsis from Amazon:

Old Yarns
It is five years since the members of The Friday Night Knitting Club bonded during divorce, job loss, romance, birth – and the sudden death of their dear friend, Georgia. But the Walker and Daughter knitting store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is still going strong.

New Patterns
Drawn together by their love for Georgia’s daughter, Dakota, and the sense of family the club provides, each knitter is struggling with new challenges: for Catherine, finding love after divorce; for Darwin, newborn twins; for Lucie, being both single mum and carer for her elderly mother, and for Anita, marriage to her sweetheart over the objections of her grown-up children.

A love letter to the power of female friendship and, of course, knitting, Knit Two is entertainment with heart.

This is the sequel to the wonderful Friday Night Knitting Club. It is five years on and there have been some big changes. Georgia died, leaving Peri in charge of Walker and Daughter – although Peri really wants to expand her pocket book business. Lucy has made a name for herself as a producer, but her daughter Ginger is a handful. KC is now working in law, but is still single. Catherine is also single, and stuck in a rut. Darwin has twins, and is struggling with how to raise them. Anita is all set to marry Marty, but her sons are adamant she mustn’t. And Dakota, Georgia’s daughter is 18 and ready to take on the world, making huge, life-changing decisions. All this combined makes for interesting Friday nights knitting together in Walker and Daughter, when Lucy gets the chance to film a music video in Rome. So half the knitting group are off to Europe. Secrets are revealed, plans are formed, and friendships are forged – all until disaster strikes back in New York…. Could this be the end of Walker and Daughter…..?

I was skeptial about how this book would turn out as Jacobs killed off the main character, however, this book was just as good. The fact Georgia is dead is addressed, and we see how friends are still grieving and what her friendship meant to them individually and as a group is very well written. This sequel allows Jacobs to explore the other characters more deeply, which I think made the book. I loved all members of the group – such an odd mix of people but still they form a strong bond together, and it was nice reading about that.

It must be noted that with the odd exception, men are not greatly portrayed in this book. Nathan, Anita’s son, is manipulative and conniving, and James is dominant and stuck in his ways. I found myself disliking both of them as I read the book – although a book that sparks a reaction, whether negative or positive is a good book in my opinion.

I do have one complaint: I felt some areas of the story were too conveniently concluded. Anita’s story for one – it was too neat, a touch unpredictable really. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book. It is not a fast read, but it is a good read.

9/10

The Tenko Club by Elizabeth Noble

the tenko club

Synopsis from Amazon:

Club Rules

Men, children, work, shopping, wine and chocolate. Important, but not AS important.

When they need you, you are there. No giving up.

Members

Freddie, Tamsin, Reagan and Sarah

They meet at university in the heady days of the 80s: four women with little in common but an eagerness to live life to the full. And over romantic crises, long gossipy nights and too many bottles of wine, they form the Tenko club and swear they’ll always be there for each other.

Life Membership

Twenty years later, that promise is put to the test.

Regan, Sarah, Tamzin and Freddie met at university and formed a lasting friendship. Their friendship remained after their uni years, through marriage, and children,  and the death of Sarah. Now they need each other a lot more. Freddie receives two doses of bad news, which send her to America. Regan and Tamzin go with her, and they explore themselves, their lives and their friendship. Through fights and laughter the Tenko Club move forward.

I really enjoyed this book. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Noble. I have enjoyed the other books of hers that I have read. I love her writing style – engaging and fun, gripping and enjoyable. All her characters are believable, and the way Noble writes makes you wish you know them. I wanted to be a member of the Tenko Club! I even liked how they had memories and flash backs contained Sarah, even though she is dead.

This is definitely chick-lit, but this is chick-lit at its best. I found the book believable, but quite predictable. It was a heart warming read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

9/10