Here are some more reviews of our winter selection of books. If you've read them, please add your reviews to the comments section of this blog post. We'd love to hear your thoughts whether you are a member of our group or not. More reviews coming soon!
After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold
Reviewer: Su R
1865, a story inspired by friendship forged between a man and a young girl. Inspired by life of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the genius and his muse!
An exploration of Victorian social mores and the terrible truths they could hide. A very worrying read that turns tail at the end to reveal a shocking truth.
It tackles an age old, yet still current problem, all is not as it seems in relationships between the ages and sexes. The ‘mores’ may change but the misconceptions remain as do the terrible harms humans can inflict on those they are close to – families, control, friendships, misplaced ides of ownership and love – all explored here and still relevant today.
Reviewer: Kate M
This is an absolutely incredible book, I think so, because it is so shockingly plausible. The skill of the Author is incredible, its painfully well written, it’s apparent that this is a subject she feels strongly about, a warning if you like; about a topic so awful yet still so prevalent in Society today. Thank God for the “eye of Society”, even if it is sometimes sleeping, is all I can say.
I knew, almost immediately that this was going to be a book about child abuse, what’s strange is I didn’t expect to be quite so moved by it. Poor Daisy, it actually hurt to read this book. I’m saddened that even in the 21st Century, I feel we still haven’t done enough within society to protect children.
This book I have to say was awesome and awful at the same time. The disturbing tale turned my stomach, an abused child will often protect the abuser. The ramifications of child abuse are severe and deep rooted. Well done, Gaynor Arnold, for tackling such a shocking subject and opening the eye of Society.
The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes
Reviewer: Margaret S
By the end of the first paragraph I knew that I was going to enjoy reading this book.
The story takes place in two different countries in two different centuries. It starts in the French village of St.Peronne in 1916 during its occupation by the German military. It then moves to London in 2006, alternating between the two places and two periods.
The main character in 1916 is Sophie who keeps a hotel in St.Peronne, she is married to an artist who is held in a prisoner of war camp somewhere in Germany. The main 20th century character is Liv a young self-employed woman whose life has been devastated by the sudden death of her beloved husband, four years previously.
These two women’s lives are connected by a painting of Sophie done by Edouard, some years earlier.
Reviewer: Su R
A tale of two times – 1916 & 2006 - a family and a portrait painting that spans the two.
Artist Edouard Lefure goes to fight at front leaving Sophie his wife at home – a home soon occupied by the German army and its new Kommandant. Sophie risks all in the hope of seeing her husband again and the story is told through the mysterious portrait of her by her husband – as it passes through the ages – into 2006. A battle ensues over its ownership which uncovers the whole story around Sophie and her family.
Great storytelling couldn’t wait to read on and on it is a real page turner.
Liked the writing style and the strong women characters.
History, passion, enemy occupation, family feuds, beauty and love a great combination!
Reviewer: Eric S
An artist paints a portrait of his wife little knowing what would follow! Only because she was strong did she survive at all. The owners of the painting years later had just as many problems.
Reviewer: Kate M
I really liked this book, the first part of which is set in a small war torn village in France,
St Perrone and centres around a small family run Inn, Le Coq Rouge.
The town is held under German occupation at the time.
This isn’t the type of book I would normally choose to read myself and I was pleasantly surprised, at how much it moved me, especially at a time of Remembrance. I thought of all the sacrifices made by so many, so that our lives are lived out in freedom. I can’t imagine a life lived in suppression. I am so grateful to all the unknown men and women who gave their lives and lost so much in the First and Second World Wars, and all serving men and women today, who serve so that we can live in freedom.
This story brought to life the hellish nightmare of war, the fear, the killing, the feuding and how wretched it must have been to live through such terrible scarcity. Anything of beauty at such a time is appreciated, because life is no longer taken for granted. Beautiful things stand out.
What also struck me, was the sheer beauty of the human spirit and how it has the capacity to rise above the chaotic madness. I was moved by the characters of Sophie Lefevre and the Kommandant Friedrich Heneken and their shared love of fine art. Even though they were on opposing sides, they were still able to sit together and talk about a shared love of art, recalling life in peaceful times that made me feel hopeful. I felt something shift between the characters as soon as the Kommandant had shared his first name with Sophie, “Friedrich. Call me Frierich.” I sensed trouble ahead, they were no longer in a business type relationship, they had built rapport and I felt that Sophie was putting herself in a dangerous situation by doing so, just to be seen conversing with the enemy was dangerous and I wondered how her behaviour might be interpreted by others, her neighbours and friends.
Her own brother Aurelien, was listening all the time, through the floorboards and ultimately he felt betrayed by Sophie’s actions, if her own brother felt this way, you can imagine how badly it would have gone down with others, who did not have a relationship with her. Aurelien exposed Sophie as a collaborator, even though Sophie was using the painting to barter for her husbands’ life. I find it hard to imagine the climate of fear they all lived in, having to look over your shoulder constantly, being fearful of being stabbed in the back, not knowing who to trust and ultimately, not even trusting yourself to do “the right thing”, because who can say what’s right or wrong in such circumstances. Helene’s words of warning echoed through the pages “Once it is done, it cannot be undone.” What would you have done?
Sophie’s painting, The Girl you left behind, was a gift to her from her beloved husband Edouard, you can imagine the beauty of it, the vivid colours and the joy of a time past, one of passion and love. No wonder Sophie felt such strong emotions for it, who wouldn’t cling on to such beautiful memories. Friedrich could also appreciate the appeal of it. He too, saw the emotion caught on canvass and no doubt it reminded him of happier times too.
The Second part of the book is set is London, 2006. Sophie’s painting has now become the property of Liv and David Halston, a young couple enjoying their honeymoon in Barcelona, Spain, it’s almost a hundred years since the picture was painted. They stumble across it when they meet an American lady, who is in distress, her dead mother’s possessions are being thrown out of the property she rented until her death onto the back streets of Barcelona, by a very frustrated Landlord. David intervenes and helps the woman placate the Landlord, coming to a compromise about the belongings and by way of a Thank you, she offers the painting to the young couple. David insists on paying her for it and hands over 300 euros to the woman and gifts it to Liv as a honeymoon present, she is delighted.
An impulse buy on their honeymoon becomes all the more special for Liv, when David dies unexpectedly, the picture now holds strong sentimental value for Liv, it has become a memory for her, of her married life.
The painting comes to the attention of a Company called TARP, they specialise in the return of stolen works of art, many of which have been removed from rightful ownership during the war. By a strange quirk of fate, Paul McCafferty , who works for TARP, has recently met Liv in a bar and is very attracted to her and it’s on an intimate date, that he sees the painting in her home and he has the awkward task of informing Liv of what he does for a living and how this painting has been brought to their attention. Liv is furious, she feels set up and refuses to even contemplate a discussion about the art work.
I totally got it, why Liv didn’t want to let go of the picture when its provenance came into question. Death does that to you, it makes you cling on to a time past, the remnants of a time gone by take on a new meaning, a stronger meaning evoking a memory of happiness and sharing when your loved one was still living. I felt strongly for Liv in those circumstances.
Liv has befriended a homeless woman Fran, who lives on the street outside her home, Liv brings cups of tea to Fran from time to time and they chat about life. Fran, is the one who so eloquently puts it “It’s a type of madness” when she attempts to explain the need to cling to material possessions, she’s absolutely spot on.
Both Liv and Sophie value people over possessions, Sophie stands up for Lilane Bethune, when she is paraded through the village by the Germans, its Sophie who reminds them of the risks Lilane has taken for the benefit of others. Liv looks out for Mo, when she has nowhere to live and invites her into her home. Yet the painting is the one thing they both do not wish to be parted from, because it’s more than just a picture for both of them; its represents so much more.
When Liv goes to Court to defend her case, it’s Edith, Lilane Bethune’s daughter who comes to her aid and informs the Court that Helene, Sophie’s sister received news of her journey to be reunited with Edouard. Helene instructed Edith to take the painting to Herr Kommandant was hunting in the nearby forest. Edith is terrified of the man and says no, she will not do it. Helene makes her realise just how important it is that she does so. Edith eventually does as she is told and tells the Kommandant that Sophie has died on the journey. A small victory for her, she wants him to feel the pain she had felt when her mother was expelled from the village. She blames this man for the vile humiliation of her mother. Edith wants to take something away from him forever too.
Edith informs the Court that the painting was not stolen, but given freely to the Kommandant in return for Sophie and Edouard’s freedom. This means that Liv is, after all the rightful owner of the painting and the case collapses.
I admired Liv’s fighting spirit, she stood up for Sophie and rose above all the finger pointing and whispering, of those who sought to make her wrong. She had courage. This is a quality Sophie shared as well, she took a huge risk for the life of her beloved, when she offered the picture to Freidrich.
The painting of, The Girl you left behind remains in Liv’s possession, as if it was always meant to be that way. After all, she became the girl left behind and this piece of art will always remind her of her beloved husband too.
This is a story of love, loss, courage and hope. You can imprison a whole village, but love has the power to ensure you’re heart and mind remains free, when others around you live in fear and an internal prison of their own making.
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Reviewer: Kate M
I don’t know if this comment would offend the Author or not, it’s not meant to offend, especially after all the hours it took to write this book, but I have to say this book would make an excellent Christmas movie, it’s a little disappointing as a novel. What I think I’m trying to say, is that by being brought to life it would appeal to so many more people, it has all the components of a modern day Christmas classic, but it would have to be done on a huge budget with a top Director, to really make its mark. This is a film I would want to watch over and over, it has the feel good factor. Why hasn’t some Hollywood Moghul snapped it up!! Probably, because they’re all too busy flying home for Christmas, first class no doubt, with all the hassle of removing their belts and shoes and fighting for their luggage too. Unless they’re really rich like Max Powers and some poor bugger gets to carry it for them. Ooooh I’d love to be a co-director on this movie, steady on Kate……daydreaming again. Well, you’d be surprised what a little Christmas magic can do. .I do believe in magic, I do, I do.
Tom Langdon, a disillusioned journalist makes his way from Washington to LA on the train, he’s been banned from flying after a row with Airport security, which reminds me to be on my best behaviour whilst travelling, even though you do get treated like cattle these days by over worked, under paid security personnel who must get absolutely sick of asking passengers if they have any unauthorised items in their baggage. No matter how often you fly, it always seems like you do too. “Oh, I forgot about that”, “My mum insisted I take some home cooking, etc……. No wonder they don’t seem to appreciate the most wonderful time of the year, when there’s even more baggage to check. That’s why they’ve all got faces like smacked arses and who can blame them. If you want to keep on the right side of security, pack lightly and SMILE often.
The baggage issue isn’t a problem on the capitol limited from Washington, D.C., to Chicago. Tom has a ticket to ride and unbeknown to him, also on board is an old flame, Eleanor Carter. She now works for a famous movie director Max Powers, who is planning a story about riding the rails. Tom is also working on a project of his own, his impressions of train travel. Max bumps into Tom and suggests they team up for the duration of the journey, at this point Tom has no idea that Eleanor is a part of Max’s team and thinks it’s an interesting idea. Max introduces Eleanor and things are very frosty between them. Although, as the journey progresses I got the impression, there was unfinished business between the two of them.
The first leg of the journey has a few setbacks, the train makes a few unscheduled stops and an opportunist thief has also made off with a number of personal items belonging to several passengers.
Other passengers travelling on board the same route include a priest Father Kelly, a young couple planning on getting wed called Julie and Steve, Max Powers the famous Hollywood Director, Kristobal ( who on earth would give their kid a name like that !!! you just know he’s going to be bullied his whole life) , Max’s highly strung personal assistant, Misty the mystic, a couple of friendly travel attendants Regina and Tyrone; oh and a lady called Agnes Jo, who is estranged from her daughter and takes the Christmas train on a regular basis, because she seems lonely. The first stage of the journey is set to be entertaining with just a hint of romance on the horizon. Not a great deal happens though, apart from an opportunist thief filling his bags.
The story really starts getting going, unlike the train, when the southwest chief begins the second stage of the trip from Chicago to Los Angeles ( the city of Angels). Regina and Tyrone have disembarked and Regina’s mother takes her place. A woman called Roxanne with a personality as large as her waistband. Another new arrival is a retired Engineer, Herrick Higgins, he knows the train inside out. He was forced into retirement early when Amtrak were making cuts. He tells the current Engineer at a stop at Kansas City to put on as much fuel as possible, he doesn’t like how things are shaping up .Even though Herrick is no longer employed by Amtrak, the company that runs the train service, he is wise and the current driver appreciates his advice, he doesn’t like the current conditions either.
Everyone on board can see the chemistry between Tom and Eleanor, but just as Tom is about to reveal his heart, his girlfriend Lelia arrives. OMG!! Lelia is a real piece of work, life is about to get a whole lot more difficult for Tom, Lelia is a very demanding woman. Eleanor is dismayed and annoyed at her arrival. Max Powers gets a shock too! Appears he’s met Lelia before. These showbiz luvvies do get around.
Anyway the young couple get hitched, but you get the impression that the real love story is just about to begin. The train gets stuck on a mountainside after a huge avalanche leaves the track unpassable. The future looks bleak, even Misty is reluctant to consult her cards, she does and they say a rescue will take place by six legs. Strange, but true.
Tom finally fesses up to Lelia that he doesn’t love her, she plays her part well crying and clinging to Tom. I actually felt quite sorry for her. However, she had already invited Kristobal to her compartment and he emerges from the shower area just after Tom’s admission, makes you wonder what planet Lelia is on, but hey it’s Christmas and a lot of unexpected snogging goes on.
The situation on board is looking dire and Tom suggests that he leave and look for help. Eleanor is furious with him and storms off, she’s angry at the thought of him leaving, but she’s really more worried about him not coming back. She reveals this to Tom, and admits that’s why she left him all those years before, because she couldn’t stand the thought of him not coming back to her, every time he set off for work. He changes his mind after hearing her and decides to stay.
What makes the story is the passenger’s pulling together to help one another, that’s reminds me what life is all about, helping each other. Even the spoilt Lelia makes the effort to entertain the kids on a very bleak Christamas Eve. A burly Barry is dressed up as Santa Claus and Lelia and Kristobal put on a “Cuppy the Magic Beaver” show and it goes down a storm (pardon the pun) with both young and old alike! Just what you need when you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere on a train and all you can see is snow. Anyhow let’s face it, there are worse ways to go.
On Christmas day, Tom can’t sit there any longer, he decides to go and search for help. Eleanor states that she is going too. Tom doesn’t want her to, but she reminds everyone present “I taught him everything he knows about skiing”. Tom concedes and off they go on one more job together. The power of love, so sweet.
They do, in fact, manage to find help and despite almost freezing to death, Tom finally gets the chance to propose to Eleanor and she accepts. At last! They return on horseback with a team of helpers, laden with food and other supplies. Six Legs, Misty’s prediction comes true, four from the horses and two from the rider. Even Max is impressed by her prediction, this makes for a great movie!! Father Kelly pronounces their return a miracle, he’s overjoyed they’ve made it back. The rescue team perform a controlled explosion which clears the snow off the track. A replacement train is also provided with ample helpers too. Roxanne and Herrick are highly thought of, so many of their colleagues have turned up to help.
So off they go again, for the final leg of the journey across New Mexico and towards Albuquerque, here, they stop to let passengers take a walk and enjoy the sunshine. News of Tom and Eleanor’s engagement has spread and even the rejected Lelia wishes him all the best. She has now hooked up with Kristobal.
They finally catch the Christmas thief too. Turns out it was the Catholic Priest! Agnes Jo happens to be an undercover Police Officer, working for Amtrak and she rumbles him. Tom had thought Agnes was the culprit but she was lurking around in the line of duty. The Catholic Priest is a man called John Conroy. Agnes Jo consults Tom about info she has gleaned on the fake priest. He was busted 2 years earlier for petty theft, prior to that his record was clean. Turns out his wife of over 33yrs had died, he’d lost two children too, poor sod. Hell, who knows he probably invented those too. He’d returned the stolen items on Christmas Eve. Agnes hadn’t yet called the crime in and wanted to know what Tom would do? You just know they’re gonna let him off and let him off they literally do!
They organise an unscheduled stop at Fullerton, where John is met off the train by some people who Roxanne feels can help him. A second chance for the thoughtful thief.
The biggest surprise for Tom is yet to come. Just as the train is arriving in L.A Steve, the newly wed drops his ID card in the shower area, Tom picks it up. Steve is an actor!, this marriage is an elaborate hoax and behind it all is Max. Max organised thewhole thing, the fake wedding, he even got Lelia in on the act. Eleanor, is like a daughter to him. Max knew there was someone in her past and Tom was that loose end that just had to be tied up, like a beautiful Christmas gift. Max booked the trip as it was a perfect opportunity to make Eleanor and Tom have a re think about their lives. Tom has just two words for Max “Thank You”. L.A the city of Angels and there’s still a fair few. Do you have anyone to thank this Christmas? I know, I do. Happy Holidays!!