Truth or Die by James Patterson and Howard Roughan. This is the first time I’ve read a book by Patterson, one of the world’s leading authors. I have to say it’s not my genre and I didn’t like the writing style. Just couldn’t get into it and didn’t finish the book I’m afraid. I do think Patterson is very good with plots, twists and turns though. The story centres around the hunt for a killer but I wasn’t invested in the characters. I might try one of Patterson’s early novels.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. This historical novel could have been spectacular but it was more of a bodice-ripping yarn in my view. Based on the real life female aviator, Beryl Clutterbuck (what a name!), who spent her youth in colonial Kenya, the novel seemed to turn a powerful, independent woman into a love-sick puppy. Clutterbuck (who became Beryl Markham) was a woman with balls – just read her Wikipedia entry. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, east to west, in 1936.

In this novel, however, I found her insipid and more interested in eyeing off the local male talent. A childhood friend is a Kipsigis warrior and McLain has Beryl saying: “I felt myself drawn to him, the polished look of his skin, and the strong length of his thigh beneath his shuka.” I felt the writer spent too much time having her main character fall for the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton (along with other men), and not enough time on her bush pilot experiences. For me, the ending was rushed. I did like the writing style though.

Ernest Hemingway met Markham on safari two years before her Atlantic crossing, and referred to her as “a high-grade bitch.” Somehow McLain has rendered Markham into a swooning female, with a penchant for bad boys. Disappointing.

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. An outstanding novel. When I read the back cover and realised it’s yet another WWII novel, with Nazis thrown into the mix, I was hesitant. SO glad I decided to read it though. It’s a highly original take on WWII. The story of dysfunctional love between an Italian woman and Daniele, a young Jewish boy she saves from the Nazis in the Jewish Quarter of Rome.

The novel spans the 1940s to the 1970s and moves between Rome and Cardiff. Multiple points of view are used and there is the wonderful main character of Chiara Ravello. I did become slightly frustrated with the character of Daniele – we never quite understand why he has a troubled life. The descriptions of Rome are masterful and the writing style oozes confidence. This is Baily’s second book. I haven’t read her first novel, Africa Junction, which she wrote as Ginny Baily, but will get my hands on it.

Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen. This is my first Gerritsen novel and I was not disappointed. Apparently, the book was inspired by a piece of music and, like Baily’s novel, it’s a refreshing take on WWII. The main character, Julia Ansdell, is in Rome and buys an old piece of sheet music. She is a violinist and, on her return to the States, she plays the music only to find it sends her three-year old daughter into some dark place where she murders the family cat. This is the part of the novel I didn’t really like or believe – it’s almost as though we have two stories going on in this book – the disturbing three year old, with the possibility of some horror story about a haunting piece of music and then…the suspenseful bit…the hunt for the man who composed the beautiful waltz called Incendio.

This hunt takes us back to Rome during WWII and the characters of Lorenzo and Laura. There are two points of view in this novel: present day, with Julia trying to discover the origin of the music; and Venice of WWII and the increasing threat of Nazism and its impact on Lorenzo and Laura.

My view is that Gerritsen should have left out the three-year old goes berserk bit and simply written about the discovery and fate of the musician who wrote a piece of soul-soaring music.

Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks. Superb. No words to describe how beautiful this book is. Well, a few! It examines the insanity of the 20th Century and how the world was no longer the same following the World Wars. Through the eyes of the main character, Robert Hendricks, who is a psychiatrist, it also explores the early days of psychiatry.

Hendricks receives a letter from Alexander Pereira, an old French neurologist who claims to have known his father (who died in WWI). Hendricks visits Pereira and the story is told through a series of flashbacks and reminiscences about war, trust, love and loss. I shed a bit of a tear at the ending. Highly recommend this book.

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade. This is a debut novel. Basically, it’s a tale of forgiveness and revenge. The main character, Rachel Rabinowitz, is an orphan in a Jewish orphanage in New York during the 1920s. She is subjected to medical experiments in the early days of x-rays. Later, she is a nurse during the 1950s, where she has to care for Dr. Solomon, the same doctor who experimented on her with x-rays, in order to advance her reputation in the medical world.

The tension of the novel centres on what Rachel will do, now that she has the aged and helpless Dr. Solomon under her care. I found the character of Dr. Solomon a bit cliched, but I do think the writer handled the moral dilemma well.

What I found irritating was the relationship between Rachel and Naomi – they literally walk off into the sunset together – a bit of a rushed and tidy ending.

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain. I do seem to be reading a lot lately around WWII and its aftermath. I find that when historians write novels, they are usually very good. This book is no exception and I often thought the historical detail was so good, that the author must have lived through WWII.

It’s a story of survival. Ada Vaughan is a young dressmaker stupid enough to go to Paris with a man, when it’s pretty clear WWII is about to erupt. She is abandoned in France and ends up taken prisoner. Her dressmaking skills means she survives the war. This section of the book alone makes you wonder how you would survive in a similar situation.

Then we experience Ada’s life following WWII, mainly in 1939 London. It’s a sad life and one that very clearly articulates how a woman was treated under the law in that time period (I don’t want to give away the ending, just in case you decide to read this book. Let me just say that the law was on the man’s side.)

The writer does a great job with characterization, you really feel for Ada. I think it’s a great analogy, using sewing to create a number of story threads, which then come together with the book’s ending.

Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon. I have an advance reading copy of this book, which will be published in January, 2016 I think. There are comparisons of this book to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ Girl on a Train, but honestly, I don’t feel this book is up to the standard of these two.

The main character is Alex Dale, a divorced journalist who comes across the unsolved case of Amy Stevenson. Dale has a drinking problem (similar to the character of Rachel in Hawkins’ book). I guess my issue with this book is the writing style – way too many adverbs – and I found some very odd descriptions, such as “His sort-of-curly, sort-of-straight hair resembled a guinea pig sitting on his head, digging its paws into his face.” I have no idea what this means and found these sorts of obtuse descriptive bits irritating.

I also guessed whodunit early in the piece and I found it very hard to like Alex as a character.  The court case with Amy as a witness (she is comatose) is also hard to believe.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I like to re-read this classic every few years. Brilliant plot. Written in 1938, it’s an insight into the speech patterns and manners of the time. What is very intriguing is that you never know the name of the narrator. There is a fleeting reference to her having an unusual name, but the reader never learns of it. It’s just a classic book that everyone should read. The writing is effortless and the house, Manderley, is a main character, with a life force of its own.

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