Monday, 8 April 2013

Easter Read-a-thon: The Reviews

I feel it would be cheating almost to take part in the Easter Read-a-thon and then not actually review any of the books that I read during it.

The truth is I find book reviews hard to do, although I actually used to really enjoy doing them when I did them for my Classics each month. It's a fine line between reviewing a book and just telling people what the plot is though and it's a wobbly tightrope to navigate at times.

Plus it's brave to review a book I think. To say in black and white "this is what this book made me think" or "this is what I think this book is about" - the written word is open to all kinds of interpretation and whilst it should be a pleasure that there is no right or wrong answer, it's a big leap to put your opinion out there.

But I felt I couldn't really shy away from this one. An Easter Read-a-thon is about reading and therefore I should honour the books that took part in it with a little review.

Plus I actually only finished two books during the Read-a-thon so it's not like it's going to be hard.

My Easter Read-a-thon in photos - Thursday-Saturday update & Easter Sunday - Easter Monday update

Dominion; CJ Sansom
Dominion imagines a world where the 2nd World War never really happened. Churchill never got into power. England made a peace deal with the Nazis and the world isn't as we know it.

The book takes place in 1952 and Britain is essentially a Nazi outpost, retaining independence in mostly name whilst kowtowing to the Nazi regime in reality.

Churchill's followers are a resistance movement who recruit David Fitzgerald, a civil servant and secretly half-Jewisih, to act on their behalf, photographing documents. David is drawn further in when an old university friend, Frank, becomes of importance to the Resistance.

David is drawn into a rescue mission to get Frank out of the country and into safety in America and when his cover is blown the rescue mission becomes one for his own life, along with that of his wife, Sarah - who has been unaware of David's secret life as a spy.

The major part of the action occurs in the middle of The Great Smog in London - a real-life air pollution event which cloaked London in thick smog for days. David, Sarah and Frank have to try and escape from London in the middle of this whilst being chased by the Gestapo officer, Hoth.

It was an enjoyable book although I just couldn't connect with it like I do Sansom's Shardlake series for some reason. It felt heavy going at times and I was a little disappointed with the ending.

A pretty good understanding of British politics in the period leading up to and during the 2nd World War would also be an advantage, I think there were some points, especially the Epilogue, which were completely lost on me because I didn't get references to particular politicians and the roles that they played in real life in the same period.

It was a scary concept however, and it didn't feel totally fantastical. It was actually fairly easy to imagine events unfolding in the way that they do in the novel - with people in Britain falling in to various categories - Resistance fighters, Nazi supporters and those whose refusal to commit to either side allowed the deportation of Jews from the country.

Toby's Room; Pat Barker
Oooh I do love a bit of Pat Barker. 

Toby's Room revisits some of the characters we met in Life Class - fortunately for me reading the first isn't essential because I can never remember what happens in books once I read them.

The name is almost misleading as Toby isn't always the centre of attention in the book. Instead the focus is on those around him, Elinor, Kit Neville and Paul Tarrant and how they are left to deal with the hand that they have been dealt by World War I.

Guilt seems to be a major theme running through the book - Elinor feels guilty for not helping out with her Mum when they learn of Toby's death, she feels guilty for using Kit and Paul, feels guilty for how the disfigured soliders in Queen's Hospital make her feel. Paul feels guilty because he loves Catherine Stein but can't let go of Elinor, guilty because he sleeps with Elinor even though he knows she's still mourning the loss of her brother. 

In many ways the real protagnist of the novel is Kit Neville as we go inside his brain during his morphine fuelled recovery after his operations to rebuild his face. Does he feel guilty that he didn't stop Toby from killing himself? Or does he feel guilty for not possibly teling the truth about how Toby died?

And then there's Toby - we never really know how he feels, never see behind his eyes - does he feel guilty about his actions towards his sister? Does he feel guilty for getting caught in the stables by Kit Neville?

Barker excels at her descriptions of World War I life. The recollections of Kit Neville whilst he is recovering from his operation are vivid and evocative and manage to avoid banging home the same old story that it was horrible and grim and awful in the trenches, whilst at the same time not trying to gloss over what life must have been like for those serving.


A massive thanks to Kate for hosting the Easter Read-a-thon - I urge you to go and visit her blog and drink in all the booky goodness.


  1. I agree with you about the difference in reading to enjoy a book and say reviews and book clubs. My "friend" wanted me to join a book club and I just think it would take all the fun out. Anyways ... i'm really intrigued by the Dominion book - that sounds right up my street so I'm going to hope my library has or it!

  2. Also I thought i'd reply here to your comment about the James Herbert book you asked about. I'd say it's typically very Herbert like in style - there's the twists and the turns, but it's a big slog of a book (700 pages) and feels a little too unreal and then other parts are a little too predictable at times. But as a James Herbert fan myself I did enjoy it and it's certainly worthy a read but it's not sadly, is best work. Shame he passed away too.

  3. I'm currently readathoning for Alex's blog. I have started them all, but not finished any of them yet, which is probably not the best way..


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