Monday, 31 January 2022

IF SHE WAKES by Erik Therme

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: dark family drama

I didn't realise when I opened this novel on my Kindle that it was a sequel, as I don't look a book up on Amazon after choosing it for review so I can't be influenced by others.  I gather that in the first book, Tess and Josh's daughter Lily was killed in an RTA by Brady, after which Tess stalked his family (wife Meg and daughter Amy), and Meg faked Amy being kidnapped.  Also, Tess's brother Colin died of cancer - he was married to Torrie, and they have a son, Levi.  I learned this from a prologue and first chapter that contained a little too much exposition; a brief 'story so far' in the introduction might have worked better.

The title refers to Torrie, who falls into a coma early in the story, the rest of which centres around Tess and Josh's necessary but difficult relationships with Torrie's family members, as care for Levi is of prime importance.  Mysteries abound concerning Torrie and her family.  Although certain conclusions are reached by the end of the book, it's clear that it's making way for a third novel as the story is by no means finished.

I'm afraid I found this novel a little 'flat'; it flowed well and is professionally presented; the author has thought up a reasonable plot and delivered it, and the characters are fairly well represented.  The emotional problems within Tess and Josh's marriage are well written and realistic, but none of the characters are likeable (you need at least one person to root for!) and I felt that the conversation and narrative lacked spark.  An example: 'I nod, as if I didn't already know this. "Better to go tonight and get it done, as something might change in the morning, and we wouldn't have time.  I'll go.  I just need a few minutes to relax after I finish clearing the table.  It's been a long day".'  It's all like that.  Nothing wrong with it, but it just didn't grab me.  A couple of times I got a little excited by what appeared to be the beginning of a good plot line, but each time it fizzled out quickly. The twist at the end was over-explained and a bit tenuous, I thought.

It's not bad, but for me it was just 'okay'.  This is, of course, always so subjective, and others might feel differently, particularly if they loved the first book.

Monday, 24 January 2022


 5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Watched the film for the first time a few years back.

In a Nutshell: Can a child be born evil?

This film popped into my head recently and I watched it again, then decided, on impulse, to get the book too.  You'll probably have heard about it - it's about Eva, happily married to Franklin, deciding to start a family.  Throughout the pregnancy she's not sure if she's done the right thing, and from the moment Kevin is born she does not bond with him at all.  From when he's a toddler, she begins to believe that he either hates her, or was born evil.  Events pile up, over the years, until just before his sixteenth birthday when he instigates catastrophe.

The book is written in the form of Eva's letters to Franklin, after the life-changing events of April 8th, 1999.  It's hard to say how much I would have understood about what she insinuates had I not seen the film, though some of the outcome is made clear from the beginning.  Some reviews have criticised this, but there is more to find out right at the end, if you haven't seen the film.  The unfolding of the family's life after Kevin's birth, in her letters, is truly shocking.

It's an unusual structure and format, being written partly in the second person, but for me it totally worked, and I was engrossed throughout.  Highly recommended (and in answer to the book club question examples at the end, yes, I think he was born evil and no, I don't think any of it was Eva's fault!). 

Thursday, 13 January 2022

LUCKY JACK by S Bavey @SueBavey

 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: via Rosie Amber's Review Blog

In a Nutshell: A biography of Sue Bavey's paternal grandfather, though written in Jack Roger's first person voice.  He and Sue were very close.

This is such a great project to have undertaken; Sue says she wanted to get Jack's story down for her own children, and generations to come.  

It's a charming book, starting with London life in the late Victorian times - Jack was one of those rare people who have actually lived in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.  At one time he was officially Britain's oldest man, and at the age of 103 co-wrote a column for the Lincolnshire Echo for a while.

Although this memoir covers some tragic times, such as the two world wars, it is mostly kept to a lighthearted vein, though I have to say that the section I found most memorable was his time in a German POW camp during WW1, when he and his friends suffered hardship we cannot even imagine in these times.  I also found the chapter about living in the flight path of Heathrow Airport oddly poignant; he talks of a time before, when seeing planes take off was a novelty for him and his wife, only to find, later, that living in its immediate vicinity was no joke.  I felt sad to think of the pub he loved which, of course, disappeared under all that concrete.

An interesting surprise for me was that Jack opened his surgical boot making business in 1920, at a premises in Goldhawk Road, Stamford Brook, which is in Hammersmith, North London.  My mother was born in 1926 and, until the late 1940s, lived in her family home in Vaughan Avenue, Stamford Brook - which happens to be just off Goldhawk Road - I looked up a street map of the area.  So Mum must have known of Jack's shop; she may have even met him!  Small world indeed.

(Note 18 Jan:  She did, and more!  Please see HERE for the stuff I found out.)

The secret of Jack's long, healthy and lucky life seems, from what I read in this book, to have been his positive attitude and adaptability, taking the enormous changes in the 106 years of his life in his stride.  We can only imagine what it must be like to have seen so, so many changes in the world.  I bow with respect.

Monday, 10 January 2022


out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I saw that Lorraine of @ReviewCafe blog had, on Twitter, named the whole trilogy as the best books she read in 2021 - that was enough for me!

In a Nutshell:  Germany, from 1933 to the beginning of WW2, from the POV of a German general and his Jewish staff.

This is a long book, and quite an achievement; it's the most detailed fictional account of this period that I've ever read. It is set in the city of Kiel in northern Germany, and shows how the persecution of the Jews developed so gradually over the years, how Hitler was perceived when he first came to power, and the way in which the idea of war sneaked up on everyone.  It certainly increased my knowledge about the period, generally.

I very quickly became invested in the main characters - General Erich Kästner and his family, and Yosef and Miriam Nussbaum, his driver/handyman and cook/housekeeper.  Also Ruth Nussbaum, Yosef and Miriam's daughter, from whom the account derives.  Some characters and places are real, some are fictional; there is an explanation at the beginning of the book. All the main characters were clearly defined, so I was interested in their stories.

One aspect I liked very much was how some chapter topics were heralded by memos between official personnel - mostly to General Kästner from his superiors and colleagues - informing each other of the Führer's plans, or by articles in either the Kiel morning paper or the underground publication distributed by Jews.  Later, information is given to the reader in this way via letters between Miriam and her friend Esther, who escaped to Palestine, and between their children.  These short, sharp shocks (particularly via the memos and the Morgenpost) built suspense so well, and gave a nice variation to the text.

More than any other book I've read on the subject, The Gathering Storm illustrates how the restrictions placed on the Jews were introduced so slowly that they became almost resigned to such persecution.  Similarly, we see how the ordinary people were manipulated to see the Jew as the cause of all the country's problems, a subspecies, dirty, untrustworthy, etc.  In effect, there was little difference between those who joined in wholeheartedly with the persecution and those who turned a blind eye and went along with it for the sake of their own safety.  Most of all, though, this book answered the question asked by so many: why did most of the Jews just accept what was happening?

I saw the reason for their perceived passive reaction as not only fear and lack of options, but also the fact that they didn't know how bad it was going to get.  Had they been told that within the next decade six million of them would be murdered in concentration camps, the entire country might have reacted differently to those first changes in the law.  Each time there was a lull in the violence and trouble, the characters hoped that everything had 'settled down now'.  They clung onto little glimmers of hope, onto rumours that Hitler would be ousted; all they had to do was wait.  The characters would assure each other that it couldn't get much worse.

'It is hard to believe that something of that nature can happen in our country in the twenty-first century' - Yosef, about the murder of a Jewish doctor in 1933.  

'Once the country is stabilised we'll return to normal, surely?' - Mrs Kästner, justifying her vote for Hitler, when her husband criticised one of the new laws giving him absolute power.

The population was kept in the dark, never knowing what was true and what was rumour, gradually being desensitised to the cruelty, believing that the Jews should not 'expect to be able to move around with impunity, endangering the German people'.  Soon civilians who had swallowed all the propaganda were doing much of the job for Hitler and his men, via discrimination, violence, damage of property, etc.

I did like this book a lot, and will definitely read the next one in the trilogy, but I felt it could have been cut down by at least a quarter.  I was in awe of the extensive research, but at times I felt that it was perhaps a little over-researched.  There are long, detailed chapters about sailing and boat races in which the Kästners were involved that seemed to be there only to show that the author knows about sailing and boat races.  The 1936 Olympics seemed to go on forever, important though it was because of the attitudes towards Jesse Owens.  The other aspect I was not so keen on was that much of the story is told in dialogue - it's used to convey information, incidents often being reported in conversation after the event, rather than the scene being shown, which made for less impact.  For instance, Yosef's experience of a riot outside the British Consulate in which many Jewish citizens were assaulted by the Nazis was dealt with in one paragraph; it could have been an excellent scene.  I actually found the memos and news items at the start of the chapters more foreboding and atmospheric than the rest of the book.

It's a novel that I'd recommend if you're interested in the subject matter, but I did feel it needed an editor with the sort of eye that prunes superfluous detail; not all research needs to make it into the book, and the proofreader did not pick up on the fairly frequent misuse of the word 'I' when it should have been 'me' (a minor  bugbear of mine!).  Looking at the other reviews, though, it seems that not being completely blown away by The Gathering Storm puts me in a minority of one (!!), so you may want to disregard my thoughts.  It is, as I said, jolly good on the whole - I've already bought the next book and am looking forward to seeing what happens next for the Kästners and the Nussbaums.