Book Read: Crooked Hearts by Lissa Evans

Crooked Heart by LIssa EvansMy eight book this year (2016).

I chose this because in a Goodreads group that I’m a member of, we’re reading WWII books this month. I had this book in my book case for a while already and wasn’t sure whether it would be for me. Well, I loved it!

A young boy, Noel, living with his grandmother in London, is moved to St Albans when the bombing starts (WWII). He ends up with a woman who only takes him in because she’ll be paid for it. She has no interest in the boy at all. But after a while, he turns out to be useful and a careful bond is forged.

What I liked about the story was that the not very nice woman, Vee, finds that she needs Noel as much as he needs her. Her mother and her son, who live with her too, turn out to be great disappointments, and she has to fend for herself, not always taking the legal way to make money. When things go very bad for her, Noel is there to help, and she realizes she could be a mother to him after all.

There are some interested contrasts in the story. For instance, Noel comes from an educated, rich background while Vee is poor and struggling to keep the roof over her head – eviction is eminent most of the time. Vee comes from a place where people all know each other while Noel comes from London, very much an anonymous place.

The story takes place in war-time England, and this takes a prominent part in the book: bombing, air shelters, food coupons, evacuees, back outs, it’s all there. There is no way the reader can forget in which time this story takes place. The war is an important part of the book, but the story itself is not brutal or bloody.

After I finished the book, I found myself wanting to stay with Vee and the boy a bit longer.

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Book Review: The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

 The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

The Moor’s Account: What it is about

Vintage (publisher) says: “In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive.
As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history—and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.”

The Moor’s Account: What I thought

I loved this story of captivity and adventure. Mustafa al-Zamori is a regular guy in his North-African town, but because of adversary circumstances, he sells himself as a slave, so his family has enough money to get through the next few months.  Of course, this seemed like a very bad career choice to me, and that is what it turns out to be. As a slave, he cannot control his circumstances and who he is sold to. He ends up with a man who is not that bad to him, but takes him to America, on an exploration trip, reducing his chances to ever see his home town and family again.

In Florida, they lose their sense of direction and are at the mercy of the various Indian tribes. The boundaries between slave and master disappear completely. Mustafa thinks he’s free, but is he really? Although they all become virtual slaves to the Indians at some point, and Mustafa’s master considers them equals, as soon as they get back into civilization, things chance again.

This is a beautiful adventure story that deals with issues such as freedom and property. Can people really be the property of other people? Can a country (Florida) be yours (the Spanish) just because you declare it’s yours?


Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 324

First published: 2014

I got this book: from my Penguin Random House representative for an honest review

Genre: historical fiction

 

Book Review: The Visitors by Sally Beaman

The Visitors by Sally BeaumanThe Visitors: What it is about

Harper (publisher) says: “Based on a true story of discovery, The Visitors is New York Times bestselling author Sally Beauman’s brilliant recreation of the hunt for Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings—a dazzling blend of fact and fiction that brings to life a lost world of exploration, adventure, and danger, and the audacious men willing to sacrifice everything to find a lost treasure.

In 1922, when eleven year-old Lucy is sent to Egypt to recuperate from typhoid, she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist. The friendship draws the impressionable young girl into the thrilling world of Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter, who are searching for the tomb of boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

A haunting tale of love and loss, The Visitors retells the legendary story of Carter and Carnarvon’s hunt and their historical discovery, witnessed through the eyes of a vulnerable child whose fate becomes entangled in their dramatic quest. As events unfold, Lucy will discover the lengths some people will go to fulfill their deepest desires—and the lies that become the foundation of their lives.

Intensely atmospheric, The Visitors recalls the decadence of Egypt’s aristocratic colonial society, and illuminates the obsessive, daring men willing to risk everything—even their sanity—to claim a piece of the ancient past. As fascinating today as it was nearly a century ago, the search for King Tut’s tomb is made vivid and immediate in Sally Beauman’s skilled hands. A dazzling feat of imagination, The Visitors is a majestic work of historical fiction.”

The Visitors: What I thought

The story is told by an old lady, who, as a young girl, traveled to Egypt a few times with her guardian. She befriends the daughter of an archaeologist and meets several other people involved with the archaeological digs, as well as people from the upper class British society, who are spending their holidays in Egypt.

The rest of Lucy’s life is in one way or another connected to her experiences in Egypt. At the end of her life, she tells her story and leaves a few surprising scenes until the end. She goes into a lot of detail, which gives the story a brilliant 1920s atmosphere. However, it also means that it is sometimes a little slow.

The story sometimes felt a little contrived: in order to know all that happened during the excavations, she had to befriend (or listen into the stories of) quite a few people and be at the right place at the right time. On the other hand, it is clear that the author has done a lot of research into the Egyptian excavations as well as the politics of the time – Egypt wanted to reduce the influence of the British in their country, and more specifically, didn’t want ancient artifacts to be taken out of the country. The British archaeologists were keen to show off their findings in the British Museum or keep some items for their own collection.

This is a very atmospheric story. While a little long, it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the 1920s, a time often overlooked in novels because of the World Wars and the Great Depression surrounding it.


Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 530

First published: 2014

I got this book: from the publisher for an honest review

Genre: historical fiction

Also read by this author: Rebecca’s Tale

 

Book review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl by Nick HornbyFunny Girl: What it is about

From the publishers: “Funny Girl is the story of a popular 1960s tv comedy series. The writers, Tony and Bill, comedy obsessives, who each harbour a secret. The Oxbridge-educated director, Dennis, who loves his job but hates his marriage. The male star Clive, who feels he’s destined for better things. And most of all Sophie Straw, once Barbara Parker, Miss Blackpool 1964, who’s changed her name and abandoned her old life because she just wants to make people laugh, like her heroine Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame. Nick Hornby’s new novel is about popular culture, youth and old age, fame, class and teamwork. It offers a wonderfully captivating portrait of youthful exuberance and creativity, and of a period when both were suddenly allowed to flourish.”

Funny Girl: What I thought

I read this book for my face-to-face book group. I didn’t like the idea of the book, but I do like the writer, so okay, I was happy to try.

It turned out to be a really good story. Somehow, I never really engaged with Sophie/Barbara, the main character, although it could be argued that the show itself is the main character. I loved the feel of the 1960s and the story behind the (fictional) TV series.

Sophie is quite a handful and the show is built around her, a novice actress from Blackpool (of all places!). We follow the story of the writers, who are always living in fear of running out of ideas. Their discussions on what should be in each next episode are fun to read. The director, Dennis, is one of a kind and one can but hope he’ll be happy in the end.

The writing is very smooth and easy – not a book that you have to struggle to get through. Great fun to read, although I did find there wasn’t all that much to discuss with the book group about this book. Just read it for yourself, just for fun.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (okay)

Number of pages: 346

First published: 2014

I got this: bought in bookstore

Genre: Historical fiction

 

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