Jan. 30th, 2013

sprezzatura: (Default)
I have never blogged about books before, but since I finished uni I have been reading a lot more for pleasure and I want to keep a better record of it. Mostly for my own benefit, I intend to make a monthly book post.

1. A Train in Winter - Caroline Moorehead

Engaging but predictably depressing account of a group of (mainly) French women whose involvement with the Resistance, however minor, cost them their freedom, and in many cases, their lives. Exploration of the idea that the strength of friendship amongst the group, even when some individuals appeared not to like one another very much, was the driving force that kept a significant, perhaps surprising number of them alive in prison and then concentration camps until the liberation. It was quite hard to keep track of who was who as I was reading, as a lot of the women had similar or the same names, so the short biographies at the end divided into those who were still alive at the time of publication, those who survived the war but have since died, and those who did not live to see freedom were particularly insightful and moving.

2. Jackdaws - Ken Follett

Rather implausible but thoroughly gripping tale of a highly experienced female SOE agent who, in the space of a week, recruits and trains an all-female (at least as far as outward appearances are concerned) team to be parachuted into Normandy to destroy a telephone exchange in time for D Day. The story of the German intelligence officer on her trail is interwoven with the main plot. This was pretty much a perfect piece of fiction as far as I was concerned: wartime espionage and sabotage in Occupied France, a badass heroine, an appealing love interest, well-drawn and likeable supporting characters, historical accuracy, action and humour. Excellent stuff.

3. Night Sky - Clare Francis

Still in Occupied France, a slower paced but highly detailed trio of stories which gradually become interwoven: A young English woman who goes to live with relatives in a remote Breton village to escape the shame of her illegitimate pregnancy, and becomes caught up in a Resistance escape line; an embittered and ruthless Paris pimp and black marketeer turned extremely effective Nazi collaborator, and a German Jewish scientist who is initially sent to a concentration camp but eventually ends up working for the Kriegsmarine developing radar. I found this a bit ploddy and predictable, there was an awful lot of background information that I didn't feel was necessary, but the detail was vivid enough to make me want to persist with it. I wasn't convinced by the ending, but I liked the heroine, Julie, and the message that ordinary people can do remarkable things in order to survive.

4. A Half Forgotten Song - Katherine Webb

In 1930s Dorset, an awkward teenager who has known only poverty and isolation is befriended by the sophisticated daughter of a famous artist, whose family stays in the village over three consecutive summers. She becomes the artist's muse, and what starts as an innocent adolescent crush becomes more sinister. Meanwhile, in the present day, a down-on-his-luck gallery owner comes to the area to research the artist and becomes entangled in intrigue of his own. I picked this up before Christmas and finally got round to reading it at the weekend, and found it hard to put down despite struggling to sympathise with or even like any of the main characters. A good story with some surprising twists and evocative descriptions of the locations, Dorset and Morocco.
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