Posts Tagged With: war

American Smile by Cody Young

Title: American Smile
Author: Cody Young
ISBN: 978-0-47315832-3
Publisher: Golden Bay Press
First Published: May 2011
No. of pages: 216

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (back cover):
American Smile weaves together a D-Day love story and a contemporary tale.

When Emma Rowland discovers that her family tree is a work of fiction, she is determined to uncover the truth, though it has been hidden for 65 years and few people are willing to talk.

The irresistible Tyler Robinson, an American aircraft mechanic, promises to help solve the wartime puzzle. It son becomes clear that Tyler knows more about the mystery than he’s willing to say, and that he has secrets of his own.

Together they follow the trail blazed by a reckless GI and his blonde bombshell. A DNA test holds some surprises and the search takes Tyler and Emma to Paris, where their questions are finally answered, but what does the future hold for them both?

Let me start by saying that I don’t usually read anything with even the remotest of romantic plots, as I generally don’t enjoy them, so my review of this novel, which is essentially a love story, may be coloured to reflect that, and so perhaps other readers may well give it a higher rating. However, as I give American Smile a very strong 4/5, that should tell you just how enjoyable it is, if someone who hates romances thinks it’s a great read!

The key is in the clever handling of two parallel stories in different eras – one in the months leading up to the D-Day landings in Normandy, and one contemporary. Both are linked in more ways than one, and each strand of the two stories weaves together to create a beautifully tangled web of mystery and searching.

The characters are absolutely wonderful and I especially loved Tyler, the American aircraft mechanic – to be truthful, I found myself falling rather in love with him myself. It’s rare that a romantic hero is so sweet, gentlemanly and, well, inexperienced, but it works to the advantage of the story and sets a contrast to the WWII relationship that is both fun and endearing.

Whether you’re a fan of romances or avoid them like the plague, I can heartily recommend this heartwarming tale – I swear I could hardly bear to put it down for even a moment. Cody Young is an author to look out for in the future and it’s worth mentioning she also has a novella available for Kindle (Scandal at the Farmhouse) which I really wish was available in hardcopy, as I’d love to try it!

American Smile is available both in paperback and on Kindle.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Housseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Housseini

Bloomsbury 2007

Synopisis (taken from back of book):  “A Thousand Splendid Suns is an unforgettable portrait of a wounded country and a deeply moving story of family friendship. It is a beautiful, heart wrenching story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely bond and an indestructable love.”

Review: This is a fantastic, heartbreaking, moving and informative story of life in Afghanistan from the mid 1900s up to the present and includes the effects of the Taliban rule, epsecially on the streets of Kabul.

I fear my review will not do this book the justice it deserves. The story centres on a young girl called Mariam who starts life in rural Afghanistan living with her mother, who was one of her father’s ‘accidental conquests’ and consequently rejected from his family. As a teenager, Mariam’s desire to get to know her father triggers tragedy and before she knows it she is being sent to the city of Kabul and forced into an arranged marriage with a man thirty years her senior. She is young, naive and vulnerable and we learn about the strict regimes of the Islamic religion along with the build up to the Taliban rule.

Two decades later Mariam and her husband take in fifteen year old Laila, no stranger to tragedy herself, homeless, orphaned and heartbroken. Laila and Mariam have a shaky start to thier relationship but over time become as close as mother and daughter. They are living through wartime in Kabul, in a tiny poky house as wives of an old man they both grow to despise for differing reasons. “Life is a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear,” but thier strength of bond enables them to triumph over this. It does however involve sacrifices and danger.

This book taught me a lot about ‘the other side’ of the war in Afghanistan, how it is for the residents of Kabul. I also learned about the Islamic religion and thier beliefs and realised just how naive I myself am about other cultures. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complicated read – being eight months pregnant and with a toddler I am am hardly fit for heavy going reads at the moment (!). Housseini writes clearly enough to make his work not complicated.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is hard to put down and not easily forgotten. I cannot emphasise enough how well written it is and how much I would recommend it.

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Fatal Light by Richard Currey

Synopsis from the publisher:

A devastating portrait of war in all its horror, brutality, and mindlessness, this extraordinary novel is written in beautifully cadenced prose. A combat medic in Vietnam faces the chaos of war, set against the tranquil scenes of family life back home in small-town America. This young man’s rite of passage is traced through jungle combat to malaria-induced fever visions to the purgatory of life in military-occupied Saigon. After returning home from war to stay with his grandfather, he confronts his own shattered personal history and the mysterious human capacity for renewal.

My thoughts:

It’s not often that the words “horrifying” and “beautiful” are the two words I think best describe
a novel, but that is how I feel after reading Fatal Light. Horrifying because this is, after all, a novel about war. The kind of war where men curse, and use drugs, and find prostitutes, and kill people. Lots and lots of people. There is nothing about this war that is romanticized or glossed over. It is harsh, and brutal, and horrifying.

But also beautiful. There were moments while reading that I almost ached at the pictures Currey painted with his words.

“First look: sandbags and fog. And quiet. As if the fog itself were the carrier of silence easing among us, touching us, loving our faces.”

“Such things live together here, poetry and shotguns. Alive and well in a single body.”

“Once upon a time I had been in love with Mary Meade. Loving her was one of the things that kept me alive in a place where staying alive was hard to do, loving her resonant image, the effigy of our touch.”

This isn’t an easy novel to read. It is presented as a series of short vignettes, in mostly linear order, about the narrator’s life before, during, and shortly after his time in Vietnam. There were times I felt confused, not sure of where we were or what exactly was going on. This is a very internal novel, so while it is about war, there is not a lot of action to move the plot along – mostly we just drift with the narrator’s memory, reading what he chooses to remember. At times I almost forgot I was reading a novel – it seemed SO personal, it was like peeking into someone’s diary.

Fatal Light is, however, the kind of book that will stay with you. Its insights into the horror and mindlessness of war are powerful. This edition is a 20th anniversary reprint, being issued by Santa Fe Writers Project. This is the third book I have read from this independent publisher, and they have each been unique and engrossing. It’s director, Andrew Gifford, is a very cool guy – read more about his story here. His life could probably make quite a fascinating movie. Also, read the new intro to the book written by Richard Currey, specifically for this new edition here. He writes about his novel, “Fatal Light is a novel sheared down to the primary essentials of the story it tells and the spiritual predicament it describes, one that has no resolution, no solution, that joins the texture of a life and, as the unnamed young narrator of Fatal Light says at one point, sticks there “like a photograph on the spine.” ”

Finished: 3/4/09
Source: Santa Fe Writers Project
Rating: 6.5/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris


Synopsis taken from Amazon:

Beyond the main street of Les Laveuses runs the Loire, smooth and brown as a sunning snake – but hiding a deadly undertow beneath its moving surface. This is where Framboise, a secretive widow named after a raspberry liqueur, plies her culinary trade at the creperie – and lets memory play strange games. Into this world comes the threat of revelation as Framboise’s nephew – a profiteering Parisian – attempts to exploit the growing success of the country recipes she has inherited from her mother, a woman remembered with contempt by the villagers of Les Laveuses. As the spilt blood of a tragic wartime childhood flows again, exposure beckons for Framboise, the widow with an invented past. Joanne Harris has looked behind the drawn shutters of occupied France to illuminate the pain, delight and loss of a life changed for ever by the uncertainties and betrayals of war.

What a lovely book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it hard to put down. There is so much that can said about it. It is full of intriguing recipes, which might be worth trying out. Harris looks into many issues, including love, childhood, death, war, secrets, family and mental illness, yet none of it is so daunting it is a hard read. All are dealt with well and sensitively, and add depth to the book.

There is action all the way through the book, right up to the last page. The descriptions were so thorough I felt like I was there with Framboise.  The narrative does jump around from childhood to middle age and back to childhood again, however this did not bother me at all, I felt it fitted right in with the story.

My favourite character has to be Paul, slow Paul who actually is quite a sly dog, I loved him and found myself growing very fond of him. As the book progressed on and we delve more into the recipe book I felt more and more sorry for the Mother, a misunderstood and ill lady. I think Harris wrote her wonderfully.

The only complaints I can think of were there were a lot of characters with similar names, and I forgot who was who, and there was also some writing in French and German that I didn’t understand which wasn’t translated. Apart from that, this is a superb book.


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Don’t Shout at the Guns by Lawrence Harris


Synopsis (taken from Amazon):

World War 2 veteren Hank Jensen leaves New York for a nostalgic trip back to the battlefields of northern France. With him go his grandchildren, Aaron and Esther. When they find a camcorder which has an amazing flashback mode they have a real adventure.

This was an interesting read which has left me stumped as to how to review it. It is clearly a young person’s book about WW1. The story follows Hank, his grandchildren Aaron and Esther and two young Britons Hank met at the battlefield’s memorial a few years before, Polly and Tommy. They go back to France to visit the sites of WW1 and the teenagers, with the help of the camcorder, travel back to 1918 and experience an adventure of their own. This book did keep me gripped and wanting to know what happens but I do have complaints about the book.

Firstly, I was not convinced by the storyline of Jenson, the WW1 fighter. Although a good, engaging story, I did not find it realistic, and actually was not particularly informative about the War.

Secondly, I was not convinced by any of the characters. None of them related to me, known of them touched me, I just wasn’t particularly interested in them.

And thirdly, I found it hard to believe that two teenagers would be allowed to travel to France with people they barely knew.

However, that said, I did not put the book down and was intrigued to know the ending.

This is a fictional, young adult book based around World War One.


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The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

Russia, 1854: the Crimean War grinds on, and as the bitter winter draws near, the battlefield hospitals fill with dying men. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr – young, headstrong and beautiful – travels to Balaklava, determined to save as many of the wounded as she can. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa’s cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from Henry, her fiance, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon their arrival at his lodgings, she and her maid make a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared. Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella’s epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. As she ventures deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella’s ordered world begins to crumble and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness and love.


This is the first book I have read by Katharine McMahon, and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was convincing and engaging. At no point was I bored or struggling to continue. McMahon writes in a wonderful way, with humour, description and character. I easily slipped into the story and felt I was there.

The story does jump between different locations and years, but I did not find this troubling, in fact I feel it enhanced the story. It was fascinating to read about how people at home viewed the war, how to them it was only a small part of their lives and how they thought it should go, compared to what was actually happening out there.

I didn’t have a favourite character, all of them touched me. I did find Mariella a touch selfish though. She managed to make the whole war centre around her, amazing! I was happy with the way most characters developed and how the story ended. I did guess what the ending was going to be, but it was still sad and a satisfying finish.

I was left asking a few questions, but overall I really enjoyed this book.


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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Amazon synopsis:
1939 – Nazi Germany – The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl; an accordionist; some fanatical Germans; a Jewish fist fighter; and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – death will visit the book thief three times.

I loved this book, I’m recommending it to everyone!!

It is a long book, of 550ish pages, but well worth the read, and even has pictures in the book! It is incredibly easy to follow and I liked how the pages were often broken up with some asides and important notes.

I think my favourite part was the fact the book was narrated by Death, who had some very funny one-liners. Death was also my favourite character, he was portrayed in a new, almost sensitive way, which I loved. And he had a great sense of humour.

The book had me gripped from the beginning and was full of twists and turns. I was nearly in tears at the end of the book, it was so sad, but I was thoroughly satisfied by the ending.

I loved all the characters, some had me cringing, some had me laughing, some I just loved and wished they were real.

This is historical fiction, but I had no reason to doubt the history in the book, with the concentration camps and the Munich bombings.

9/10, an excellent book.

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