Monday, 30 June 2014

June in Books

Exploring East London
June is always a busy month for me as there are birthdays and anniversaries galore. Almost one a week it feels like sometimes. Even with all that, I've found plenty of time for reading and managed to get through 8 books (breaking the 7 books a month habit I was forming). Not bad, not bad at all.

The Books:

35. The Rector's Daughter by F.M Mayor
36. Elsie and Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson
37. The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young
38. Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman
39. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
40. The Stranger by Albert Camus
41. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
42. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Book of the month: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The goals...
  • Enjoy the Classics Club month of WW1 literature
  • Read Nights at the Circus for Angela Carter week
  • Have a smashing month full of smashing things

Well, will you look at that! A very healthy goals list all nicely crossed out. It's been another top-notch month of reading and I've managed to cross off a broad selection of books from various lists and challenges (Classics Club, TBR Pile Challenge, Angela Carter week). I'm still not entirely sure what was going on in The Stranger or The Scarlet Letter (seriously, that narrator needs to not be so wordy), but I feel like I've achieved something by reading both. The Miniaturist though...WOW, there will be a review coming soon.

I thoroughly participated in the Classics Club June theme and shared why I read war literature and my recommendations for slightly less intimidating Modernist works. It was really motivating to focus my reading for at least part of the month on one topic so I will be joining in on other months this year. I didn't quite get to Goodbye To All That but I did read a good selection of war poems, attended an event about the war poets (at the stunning new Foyles flagship) and read a non-fiction book about Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm. Successful? I think so.

How was June for you? Do you have a book of the month?


Friday, 27 June 2014

Lit Nerd Recommends: Modernism

Do your knees go weak at the mere mention of Woolf, Pound or Eliot? Does 'stream of consciousness' have you breaking into a cold sweat? Would meeting H.D be your worst nightmare? In short, does modernism have you running for the hills? Well, it's time for you to fear no longer! I'm here with a special edition of Lit Nerd Recommends for the Classics Club Twelve Months of Classics June topic (yes, that would be modernism) to gently ease any of the modernist-phobic among us into the loving arms of the modernist family. 

Now, I'm not suggesting any of you go and read Stein's Tender Buttons (trust me, it's odd), unless of course you're feeling spectacularly brave, but hopefully one or two of these books may pique your interest enough to take the plunge into modernism (or even just dip you toes in).

The Fiction
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
See also: A Writer's Diary

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
See also: Katherine Mansfield's Journal published by Persephone Books

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
See also: Parade's End

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
See also: A Moveable Feast

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
See also: The Trial

The Non-Fiction
Constellation of Genius by Kevin Jackson

The One I'd Like to Read
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Personally I think there is a big difference between enjoying and respecting a modernist book. I can say I enjoyed (loved) To the Lighthouse but, whilst I respected what Joyce was doing, I hated A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I think that's the tricky thing with modernism - so many of the writers are so ridiculously skilled that you feel you should love the book. I'm saying that you can hate it but still be impressed by it. 

Anyway, let me know if you've read any of these or if you have any to add.

What's your stance on modernism? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent?


Thursday, 26 June 2014

On Reading War Literature

I'm an open book. It's not hard to figure out my likes and dislikes in life, so it follows that my bookish likes and dislikes are similarly transparent. One of my colleagues the other day commented on the fact that I was reading another novel about WW1 and I realised that you can sum up my literary obsessions into the following categories:

  • War 
  • Suffragettes
  • Ancient Greece
We had a little giggle about my obsessive personality and how [over] enthusiastic I can be about these subjects, but when I'd recovered I decided it was time to have a little ponder on the reasons why these particular topics hold such interest for me. Here is the result of my pondering on war literature.

Being fascinated by war literature isn't something I noticed until I reached the end of my second year at uni and was thinking about my dissertation topic. Looking back I'd always swayed towards novels which dealt with war and the associated issues but it wasn't until this point that I began making conscious decisions to read war writing. It was at about this point that the First World War started making little noticeable ripples in my life and I began to sit up and take note.

Out of the above categories Ancient Greece sticks out a bit although, technically, it is still war (it is the Trojan War which fascinates me primarily, with Oedipus/Antigone coming a close second). But the first two categories - war (of the 1914 variety) and the suffrage movement - are inevitably linked. I think this is another reason why this topic began to really resonate with me as you can rarely have one without the other. The suffrage movement is silently waiting in the wings of many a war novel and the war is a not so silent player in many a suffrage novel. Obviously the timing explains this inescapable link, but so too do many of the key themes, attitudes and anxieties which often form the basis of novels which focus on either.

I realise I'm skirting the main question here which is why I read war literature. I know many war novels, mainly those written in the years following (1930 was a big year for autobiographical novels), are quite contentious. They're not easy to read and are often startlingly visceral. I still have certain scenes etched onto my memory from All Quiet on the Western Front and I've not read that for pushing on three years. But I think this is necessary. What is war literature if not a coping mechanism and a way to bear witness to the horrors of war?

I think one of the key attractions, if you can call it that, of war literature for me personally is what it can reveal and teach about the complexities of the human experience. From the nurses in Mary Borden's sketches to the German soldier's in All Quiet on the Western Front; from the ambulance drivers in Not So Quiet to the deserter in Her Privates We; and from the pacifists in Non-Combatants and Others to the staunch patriots denigrated in Goodbye to All That. From this myriad of backgrounds, roles and experiences we can get that little bit closer to knowing our selves.

There is a divide between war literature and novels which use war as a narrative technique. By which I mean the novels/short stories/poems written as a direct response to war, those which were published during, shortly after or even more than ten years after the fact, versus the contemporary historical novels. The tone is different, the emotional impact is different and often the focus is different. And yet, I am equally as interested in both categories. Contemporary novels fill in the gaps left by those writing a direct response. Birdsong gives us the tunnellers perspective, My Dear I Wanted to Tell you examines facial injuries and reconstruction, and the Regeneration Trilogy explores neurasthenia and a shell shock hospital. Though perhaps not quite so raw or full of grief, these novels are still important for what they can teach us about the other side of war, the non-Western Front, the silenced side. 

The First World War has become an obsession for me. I read about it constantly in fiction and almost all the non-fiction books I've read this year have been, in one way or another, about WW1. Occasionally I think that perhaps I ought to cut back, that maybe they're having a negative impact on my mood (these aren't jolly books), but then I'm always drawn back to whatever it is that the war offers me, and I'm ok with that. Each new read teaches me that little bit more about the history and the humanity of war. I am infinitely curious about the human condition and the human predisposition for waging war and, no matter how many war novels I read, I very much doubt that I'll ever form an understanding about why we do what we do and how what we do affects us, our family and the world. Again, I'm ok with that and I'm not stopping now.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Blog Tour Review: Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Treasure
Ayelet Waldman
April 2014
Two Roads

Every so often a book comes along that shatters all the expectations piled upon it. Love and Treasure is one such book. I tend to be quite harsh in my initial impressions (of anything, not just books), which always makes it such a rewarding and satisfying experience when my impressions are shown to be entirely ridiculous. For a moment I had some rather deprecatory first impressions of Love and Treasure (can you judge a book by its title?), but Waldman basically wipes the floor with those less than fair initial thoughts. In a roundabout way I'm saying that I did not have high hopes for this novel, but you really should.


'A spellbinding new novel of contraband masterpieces, tragic love, and the unexpected legacies of forgotten crimes, Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure weaves a tale around the fascinating, true history of the Hungarian Gold Train in the Second World War.

In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life.

A story of brilliantly drawn characters—a suave and shady art historian, a delusive and infatuated Freudian, a family of singing circus dwarfs fallen into the clutches of Josef Mengele, and desperate lovers facing choices that will tear them apart—Love and Treasure is Ayelet Waldman’s finest novel to date: a sad, funny, richly detailed work that poses hard questions about the value of precious things in a time when life itself has no value, and about the slenderest of chains that can bind us to the griefs and passions of the past.'


This novel is split into three parts - Jack Wiseman's narrative, Natalie Stein's narrative and Dr Zobel's narrative. Sweeping across the decades from 1945 to 2013 and back to 1913, this is a novel of epic proportions but one that is written so that each minute detail has its place. Each narrative links in subtle and obvious ways and the prologue (set in 2013) introduces the main themes that will be woven throughout - Jewish identity, the aftermath of the Holocaust, family, love and, indeed, treasure. 

I'm a sucker for a shifting narrative voice anyway, but Waldman has a rare talent for carving distinct and memorable voices. Out of the three Dr Zobel particularly stands out for me. A Freudian psychotherapist who is far too eager to diagnose his patient with hysteria as a result of excessive masterbation. Ah yes, no aspect of Freud is left out here. His narrative is full of wry humour and a few almost tongue in cheek moments (that would be tongue in cheek were they not entirely based on the way things were in 1913). Alongside the entertainment factor of his narrative is the educational element. In fact this educational element is present throughout the novel. Waldman has done her research and it comes across brilliantly. It's not laid on with a shovel but rather used to add authenticity to the story. For example, in a session Nina and Dr Zobel discuss Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Not only is this a nod to the parallels between Perkins Gilman's heroine and our heroine, it also reflects what a modern young woman interested in women's rights and disinterested in marriage may have been reading in 1913.

Aside from the overall label of historical fiction, it is difficult to pin down what genre this novel fits in to. In reality it doesn't fit seamlessly into any category. It is part thriller, part romance, part history book and part quest all wrapped up into a 400 page bundle of emotions and intellectual questioning. 

The Hungarian Gold Train that is really the focal point around which the action of the novel revolves, is fascinating stuff. I'd never heard of it and never questioned what the Nazi's actually did with all the stuff they nicked. If you're interested in the Holocaust, particularly the aftermath, then this is a novel for you. Some of the questions Waldman raises surrounding the exodus of many Jews to Palestine are the sort that will have you mulling over the rights and wrongs of life for days. At times it threatens to become just that bit too deep and political, but each time we're brought back into the story in time for those elements to leave a lasting impact without undermining the power of the story itself.

The intricacies of this novel make it a difficult one to review so I'll just say this: read it. As I was, you will be blown away by the detail, the characters, the moral ambiguities and the historical significance wrapped into the pages of Love and Treasure. This is historical fiction at its best as the history guides it, but the characters make it.

Is the Hungarian Gold Train new ground for you? Would it be something you would be interested to read about?

Buy the Book

About the Author
Ayelet Waldman is the author of the newly released Love and Treasure (Knopf, January 2014), Red Hook Road and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was made into a film starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.”

For more information please visit Ayelet’s website. Her missives also appear on Facebook and Twitter.

Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel, Korea and Italy.

Watch the Book Trailer


Monday, 23 June 2014

Elsie and Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson

Elsie and Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson

'One day they saw an English plane, engine spluttering, flying so low over the trenches they could see the pilot's face. He pancaked into the water. They ran to him across the duckboard walkways to see if her was still alive, arriving just before the Germans who were expecting to take him prisoner and capture the plane. The Germans called out to Elsie asking if he was injured. She snapped back in German (Mairi's translation), 'well what the Dickens do you think after thumping down like that, of course he's wounded and we're going to take him.' The German's agreed but said they would have the plane.'

In Three Words: extraordinary, fascinating, uplifting

This was a disappointedly written piece of non-fiction, but worth reading for the lives of these two amazing women.

Elsie and Mairi Go to War on Goodreads


Friday, 20 June 2014

Lit Nerd Recommends: Troy and the Greeks

Last night I treated myself to a standing ticket for The Last Days of Troy at The Globe. As well as being a brilliant play, full of mortals and immortals, blood and tricks, it reminded me of many of my favourite books. It also made me wonder how many times a person can fall in love with a subject, ie the Trojan War. I'll let you know on that when I've finished falling in love with it. I love The Iliad and The Odyssey (the later perhaps a tad more), and almost as much as I love the originals, I love modern re-tellings and adaptations or really anything that remotely alludes to the subject. I touched on one or two of these in a previous 'Lit Nerd Recommends', but here I'm going to share those that are specifically linked to either The Iliad or The Odyssey.

1. Ransom by David Malouf
This is a stunning rewrite of The Iliad which focuses on when Priam visits Achilles to ransom his son's body.

2. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Atwood's imagining of Penelope's role in The Odyssey is simply brilliant.

3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I read this before I started blogging but if I'd read it after, my review will have been just as glowing as Charlotte's.

4. Troy by Adele Geras

I found a copy of this in a villa in Italy whilst on holiday with my family. We're talking something like 9/10 years ago. I promptly bought myself a copy when we returned and never looked back. I can still remember elements of the story and I doubt it will ever leave me.

5. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

This is a beautifully written novel which re-imagines many of the key scenes in The Odyssey.

6. The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd

Ackroyd is a crazily talented chap. I love his non-fiction and both my Mum and I loved this dark, intense novel which focuses on a couple who are in search of the lost city of Troy.

7. Cassandra by Hilary Bailey

If I was going to choose a favourite player in the Trojan War it would probably be Cassandra. This novel focuses particularly on her experiences.

8. Helen of Troy by Margaret George

Ah, the face that launched a thousand ships. This is the war narrated by Helen - interesting stuff.

9. The Trojan Women by Euripides

Not so much a modern take (clearly) but I loved this play which focuses on the end of the war.

10. The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young
This is perhaps a tenuous link, but the language of The Odyssey is woven throughout this novel. Young links Odysseus' journey to the return of soldiers from the First World War.

Bonus Recommendation:
11. Troy (the film version). I'm sorry but seriously, hello Brad and your sweaty yet perfectly formed body. Ahem.

Now I know there are so many more books out there on this subject so if you know of any, please share!

Have you read any of these? Do you share my enthusiasm for the Trojan War?


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter


'She felt her outlines waver; she felt herself trapped forever in the reflection in Walser's eyes. For one moment, just one moment, Fevvers suffered the worst crisis of her life: 'Am I fact? Or am I fiction? Am I what I know I am? Or am I what he thinks I am?'

In Three Words: magical, feminist, vivid

As much as sometimes I was a bit lost in the world Carter creates (the boundary between fantasy and reality is pretty flimsy), I did enjoy this novel. Perhaps not as much as I hoped after completely adoring The Bloody Chamber, but I'm even more intrigued to discover what other characters and world Carter creates in other novels/short stories. Plus the questions this novel raises had me re-living my gender modules from uni which is always a good thing. It's deep, but it's a whirlwind of magic, excitement and the circus. One to re-read to truly take it all in, I think.

Read this review by 746 Books

I read this as part of Angela Carter Week.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Summer Reading

It's about that time of year when I'm thinking about the books I'd like to read over the summer and particularly what to take on holiday. There are a few books I've been saving up as summer reads, mostly on my kindle, and here are the top ten on my TBR pile.

1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This one has featured in many a TBR list this year but I'm feeling pretty good about finally getting to it this summer. Last summer I made Anna Karenina a mini summer project so I think I'll do the same with this one.

2. The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher

I have adored every one of Fletcher's novels (her writing is so lyrical and beautiful), and this one I bought after Christmas in the kindle sale to save for the summer. The time has come.

3. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

This has been on the mental TBR for yonks and on the physical TBR for too long. Time for some feminism!

4. Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise

Victorians and madness - two of my favourite things. This non-fiction book promises lots of potential Wilkie links.

5. The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

As I've been meaning to read another Maugham since reading The Painted Veil about 3/4 years ago, I think this summer could be the right time to finally make good on that.

6. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran releases a novel? Ah-mazing. Bring on even more feminism!

7. The Museum of Extrordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

My Mum and I have slowly been making our way through Hoffman's back catalogue (usually picking up whichever one we find in the local Oxfam) so we were both excited to hear she had a new novel out.

8. And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseni

I was given this for Christmas and it's still on shelf. Shame on me.

9. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

My sister has just zoomed through this and loved it so it's looking like a must-read for me.

10. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Another one from the ever-expanding TBR. I missed the readalong for this one but adored everyone's posts so I'm planning this as a summer classic.

Having said that they're from my kindle, actually only one from this list is...oops. I guess that kindle TBR won't be getting smaller this year. There's always next year.

Hosted by The Broke and Bookish
What's the top book on your Summer TBR list?


Monday, 16 June 2014

The Rector's Daughter by F. M. Mayor

Recently I've been really struggling with writing reviews. The words either don't come or, if they do, they don't make any sense to me so it's even less likely that they'd make sense to you. My pile of books to review is threatening to topple and flatten me at the moment, but I'm loathe to just push them aside and start writing reviews again when I'm able because they're SO GOOD. Over the last couple of months I have completely fallen back in love with reading. Not that I ever fell out of love with it, but rather it felt like we'd been married for fifty years and, although the love is all there, we were so used to each other it didn't feel exciting any more. I don't know if it's because I've made more time for reading or because I seem to have stumbled upon some truly wonderful books, but recently that all-consuming passion for books has returned. I'm loving it. Yet I can't seem to share it. So, for a little while at least, my reviews are going to look a little different. I hope you enjoy them even if they are short and sweet.

The Rector's Daughter by Flora MacDonald Mayor

'On the whole she was happy. She did not question the destiny life brought her. People spoke pityingly of her, but she did not feel she required pity.'

'The tempests of life can die down as though they had never been.'

'Life is meant for experience; that's the thing that counts.'

In Three Words: compelling, sorrowful, unexpected

Read this review by Book Snob (basically everything I want to say put so eloquently)

I have Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing to thank for the recommendation. Shortly after reading Hill's literary memoir I stumbled upon this lovely second hand edition at the Southbank Book Market and knew I had to have it. I love serendipity. 

Have you read this neglected classic?


Friday, 13 June 2014

The Best of the Last Six Months

It's June and we're officially halfway through 2014. I've been inspired by this week's Top Ten Tuesday (which I missed) over at the Broke and Bookish to select my 'best of the year so far'. It has been an exciting year in the book world so far (for me, anyway) as many authors have started to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. Unsurprisingly then, quite a number of books that have made it into my 'best of' are WW1 related new releases. I usually find it quite tricky to narrow it down and, considering I'm pushing 40 books read so far this year, I thought it would be the same this time around. Suffice to say, I was wrong, choosing my favourites/stand out books has never been easier. 

1. The Lie by Helen Dunmore

My first WW1 read of the year and one I had high expectations for. It didn't let me down.

2. Wake by Anna Hope

A stunning debut that focuses on the world after the war.

3. How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

It's about books and feminism. Need I say more?

4. No Name by Wilkie Collins

I somehow doubt that there will ever be a time when Wilkie does not feature in a favourites list. You know the drill.

5. The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

Of the books I read on the Bailey's Prize shortlist, this was the stand out for me. It chilled me to the bone but was oh so powerful.

6. Wounded by Emily Mayhew

Three cheers for non-fiction! This is an amazing look at the wounded soldiers of the First World War and the many people involved in keeping them alive. 

7. Stoner by John Williams

This was massive in 2013 and I could really see why. A must read for everyone.

8. Secret Warriors by Taylor Downing

A book that well and truly allowed me to get my nerd on. Full of mind-blowing facts and some fascinating information.

9. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

This reminded me how wonderful graphic novels can be. A brilliant look at the Suffrage Movement. 

10. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Feminist and funny - I was surprised by how hard I fell for this novella that previously intimidated me.

What books have stood out for you so far this year?


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Blog Tour Interview: Cara Langston

As part of the Battle Hymns Blog Tour I was able to ask the author Cara Langston a few questions about the novel, what's next in the pipeline and her favourite novel of the year so far. Read on to find out more!

Q. This seems to be a pretty timeless love story. What made you choose this particular war for the setting?

A. The people who lived through World War II sacrificed so much for the cause, whether they supported it from home or fought on the front lines. The U.S. has been a wartime nation for most of my adulthood, and yet as a civilian, it doesn't affect my everyday life the way it affected Charlotte's in 1943. We no longer have conscription and rationing.  The "total war" sacrifice is unique in that way. It's what has always drawn me to this time period and one of the main reasons I wanted to tell this story.

Q. Which came first - the story or the time period?

A. When I start brainstorming a new story, I generally begin with the time period or setting. In the case of Battle Hymns, I chose the 1940s after listening to a lot of classic Christmas music during the holiday season. It’s the only time of the year you can hear Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin, Judy Garland, and Lena Horne on the radio! The story blossomed from there.

Q. Did you do a lot of research to get the feel of the time spot on? Did that research unearth anything interesting?

A. I certainly did a lot of research. My Google search history over the past five years is probably quite a sight. Thankfully we live in an era where so much useful information is posted online. You have to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, but it’s an invaluable resource. I was able to read love letters from soldiers, view photos of the Army Medical Center in 1942, and study digitized non-fiction books that delved into certain WWII battles. 

I came across a fascinating story while I was researching the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. There was an operation called Mincemeat in which the British planted false top secret documents on a corpse that washed up on a Spanish beach. Hitler believed the intelligence and prepared for the Allies to invade Sardinia and Greece instead of Sicily. A year later, the Germans found real intelligence, detailing planned military targets, on an abandoned boat in Normandy. But Hitler didn’t want to be duped again so he disregarded it. Imagine how circumstances could’ve changed with two different decisions!

Q. Charlotte is very free but she knows she'll be a wife/homemaker in the long run. I'm a bit of a feminist myself so I found this aspect of the novel particularly intriguing. Did you find this an interesting element to write about?

A. If you do any cursory research into the WWII home front, the newfound roles for women is a well-discussed topic. Women took men’s places in factories, restaurants, offices, professional baseball leagues, etc. It was a pivotal moment in feminist history. Following the war, though, many women were expected to leave those jobs and return to their homes/families. Charlotte would’ve been susceptible to the same expectations. It was interesting to write about because it’s still so relevant in 2014.

Q. What's your next project? Can we expect another war novel or will you move onto other things?

A. For now, I’m moving onto another setting. My next novel is called The Glassmaker’s Wife, a historical romance set in Chicago in 1925. It’s an interesting time period, chock-full of ideas. Prohibition led to a massive rise in organized crime, women only recently won the right to vote, and flappers were cutting off their hair and showing their knees. The Glassmaker’s Wife concerns Eva Berger, a rather conservative young woman who’s forced into the world of speakeasies and gangsters because of her husband’s bottle manufacturing business. Most of my research so far has been on women’s rights, the effects of 20th century immigration on American culture, and bootlegging! You can find the full synopsis on my website or Goodreads.

Q. And finally, what has been your favourite book of the year so far?

A. I wish you’d asked me this last year! I’ve read several books so far this year, but none that I wholeheartedly loved. Since you’re asking, though, two books come to mind. I thought Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things was a rather interesting premise. I was also pulled into the Outlander series this year, and though it has its faults, the third book, Voyager, was so enthralling I couldn’t put it down.

Thanks so much to Cara for answering my questions! For more information about the novel and my review of Battle Hymns go here, and for the blog tour schedule visit the HFVBT website.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Blog Tour Review: Battle Hymns by Cara Langston

Battle Hymns
Cara Langston
June 2014

'A second war. A second chance.

In December 1941, Charlotte Donahue is engaged to Nick Adler, a handsome, pre-law student at Georgetown University. Despite her studies at a liberal arts college, she expects nothing more than to marry her fiancĂ© and settle into a conventional life as a young American homemaker. But her future is unexpectedly disrupted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While Nick trains for the battlefront with the U.S. Army, Charlotte does her part by volunteering as a nurses’ aide with the American Red Cross.

Assigned to a convalescent ward at Walter Reed’s Army Medical Center, Charlotte discovers her passion lies, not in the home, but in tending to the wounds of injured soldiers, all of whom remind her of Nick. Here she is drawn to a mysterious soldier, Lieutenant William Kendrick, whose jet was shot down in the skies over Germany. As Will’s physical and psychological wounds begin to heal, he and Charlotte develop a friendship that will bind them together in ways they never imagined.

Battle Hymns is a poignant story of love, survival, and redemption set against the backdrop of the Second World War.'

It's no secret that I'm a fan of the First World War, but I feel my interest in the Second World War has been overlooked recently around here. Cara Langston's Battle Hymns was the perfect novel to reintroduce me into the war torn 1940's. Set in America, this gives readers a glimpse into a world which is not the Western Front. 

Battle Hymns is peopled with ordinary characters. We have mothers, sons, friends, lovers, fathers and daughters. No emotion is deemed too trivial and no action too unnecessary. It was refreshing to read a novel with such characters and I felt this made it hard to not be sucked straight into the novel and their lives. The central conflict (which I won't go into as it would be a massive spoiler), is worked through in perfect detail. By which I mean that the point isn't laboured over nor passed over. The conflict is dealt with so that we see the central characters grow and change which I think has a really powerful affect. There are perhaps one too many professions of love for my liking, but actually they create a really nice contrast for that central conflict (sorry, being all cryptic here). 

Something I particularly liked about this novel is the absence of moralising. Often war novels fall very clearly into a 'camp', whether it's anti-war or overly patriotic. This novel doesn't do that, rather it focuses on the people and enables the reader to make their own judgements. War isn't the key feature here, it is more a backdrop which Langston uses to explore the depths of human emotion. 

I don't think this novel is anything ground breaking, but it was a mighty good, thought provoking read. I sped through it in a couple of days and the relationship between Charlotte and Nick, and later her friendship with Will, truly have stuck with me. This is a novel about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances that really makes you question which path you would take if in their situation. I'd recommend this for any fans of historical fiction set in the 1940's and the Second World War, particularly if you're interested in the way events can shape lives. If you need any more help deciding whether it's worth adding to your bulging TBR piles, just take a look at that cover - gorgeous. 

About the Author

Cara is a novelist of historical fiction. She has two novels in the works. Battle Hymns is a historical romance set in Washington, D.C. from 1941 to 1943. It will be published on June 3, 2014. The Glassmaker’s Wife is a historical romance set in 1925 Chicago and is still very much in progress.

Cara has been an avid reader – especially of historical fiction, classics, and mystery novels – since she was young. She read all of the American Girl books when she was in 5th grade, even though her parents could not afford to buy her a doll. In middle school, she was obsessed with the only two Ann Rinaldi books in the school library. They taught her about the 1770 Boston Massacre and the Salem Witch Trials before her history classes ever did. And that was when Cara’s love of historical fiction was born. She didn’t begin writing, though, until her senior year at the University of Georgia, where she studied Finance and had already committed to a career in the corporate world. One day she will be able to quit working for The Man and focus on her writing. Until then, it pays the bills.

When she’s not writing or working, Cara enjoys drinking red wine, watching bad television, doing genealogical research, obsessing over the Duchess of Cambridge’s every outfit, and finding the best guacamole in Texas. Cara currently lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their dog.

For more information please visit Cara Langston’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and Pinterest.

For the full tour schedule visit the HFVBT website.

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