Monday, August 29, 2011

Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky




  • Paperback: 403 pages
  • Genre : Fiction
  • Publisher: Vintage 2007
  • Source: My Daughter
  • First Sentences : ‘Hot,thought the Parisians. The warm air of spring, It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid.
  • Review Quote :’ An irresistible work. Suite Française clutches the heart’ The Times
  • My Opinion: For me this story was all the more poignant because of the way the author died.


I read this as it was a recommendation from my daughter and she kindly passed this copy onto me once she had finished with it. I am so glad that she did so because it is such a moving account of the experiences of the everyday lives of French citizens during the Second World War and particularly during the German occupation.

For me this story is particularly poignant because although the author started to write this novel in 1941 she never wrote beyond the first two  sections as she died whilst a prisoner of war at Auschwitz. Some sixty five years later the manuscript was rediscovered by Irene Nemirovsky’s daughter and published to receive critical acclaim. Her daughter had always thought it was her mother’s diary that she kept as a memento and it was not until she decided to read the manuscript that she realised it was actually a novel.

The intention had been to write a five part epic saga, however it still works in its incomplete form with just the two sections ‘Storm in June’ and ‘Sweet’.

It is set during the year that France fell to the Germans, the ‘Storm in June set in Paris as the inhabitants flee the city. As transport and distribution collapse while the Germans bomb Paris, the narrative follows several groups of characters as they try to escape the chaos. The second part, ‘Sweet’ takes us to rural France where the inhabitants of a small village are endeavouring to learn to live with the new regime, that has taken over everything they know and love. Both parts have an eclectic cast of characters that despite the disarray all around them manage to find hope and love in the most unexpected places. The novel ends after a scene in which the Germans are celebrating the first anniversary of the occupation of Paris. A bittersweet celebration, the title of ‘ Dolce’ ‘Sweet’ is an ironic but truthful title as bitter emotions bubble away under the surface of this part of the novel. It is interesting that part three, for which notes were written was to be a far more traumatic sequel.

It is a tragedy that Irene Nemirovsky never got to finish this emotional novel of humanity under stress, which I found a compelling read.

The author at twenty five.

Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev, Russia on February 11, 1903. Along with the rest of her family she fled Russia in 1917 at the start of the Russian Revolution. Eventually settling in Paris she attended the Sorbonne, married and became widely recognised as a major French novelist. Unfortunately she was never accepted as a French citizen and despite her conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, she was sent to Auschwitz  as a Jew under the racial laws and died there on August 17th 1942.

I recommend that any of you have not yet read this novel but think you might be interested in doing so, to watch this fascinating video first.

Irène Némirovsky: "Suite Française"

Uploaded by ProgressiveBookClub on Jul 30, 2009

Information for this post is with thanks to the following websites.

Suite Française - Irene Nemirovsky – Wikipedia

Irene Nemirovsky - YouTube

Author Profile - Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Believers by Zoe Heller



  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Publisher: Penguin Books 2009
  • Source: Charity Bookshop in UK. 
  • First Sentence : ‘At a party in a bedsit just off Gower Street, a young woman stood alone at the window, her elbows pinned to her sides in an attempt to hide the dark flowers of perspiration blossoming at the armholes of her dress.
  • Review Quote : ‘Funny moving  and very very true. a brilliant, brilliant book’ – Daily Mail.
  • My Opinion: A compelling read.


    This is the first novel by this author that I have reviewed here as the previous one I read was Notes on a Scandal (2003) in 2004 before I started this Book Review Blog.  I was surprised that this novel is very different in style to the last one, a trait I always admire in authors that are brave enough not to just reproduce a winning style in their writing.  I think The Believers is just as good if not better than Notes on a Scandal and I do not hesitate to recommend both of them.

    The novel is set in 2002, over a period of about eight months, but to set the scene when the novel opens it is forty years previously and the protagonist Audrey Howard meets Joel Litvinoff, the man who will become her husband at a party.  A whirlwind romance with Joel, fourteen years her senior leads her to follow him from London where they met to New York in order to become his wife.  Fast forward forty years and Audrey and her three grown up children are forced to revaluate their lives when Joel a radical successful lawyer suffers a stroke.  Over four decades their family life developed in line with Joel’s ambitions to fight social injustices and they appear to live a very liberal lifestyle. After his stroke though the enormous cracks in this lifestyle come to the surface as Audrey, her daughters Rosa and Karla and their adopted brother Lenny all have to face their own demons.  As they struggled to decide what they each personally believed in I found that although I did not really like any of them, I still became involved in their relationships. For me it was a compelling read that was both funny and poignantly sad.

    Zoë Kate Hinde Heller was born in north London on 7 July 1965, she is an English journalist and novelist.

    She  studied English at St Anne's College, Oxford, and then went on to Columbia University, New York where she received an MA in 1988. Zoe Heller began her career in journalism, as a feature writer for the Independent on Sunday in the UK. She later returned to New York to write for Vanity Fair and then the New Yorker. She also wrote a weekly column for the Sunday Times magazine in the UK. She currently lives in New York with her two daughters. Her three published novels are

    Everything You Know (1999), Notes on a Scandal (2003), which was one of six books shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003 and made into a film in 2006, and The Believers ( 2008).

  • Zoe Heller talking about her writing and  ‘The Believers’ which I found very interesting as she mentions writing about unlikeable characters!

  • Uploaded by Harper1817 on Feb 2, 2009


  • Information for this post is with thanks to the following websites.     

  • Wikipedia - Zoe Heller

  • You Tube - Zoe Heller

  • Goodreads - Zoe Heller

  • Monday, August 22, 2011

    A Death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari


                   Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011


                     A Death in Tuscany (Michele Ferrara)

  • Paperback: 381 pages
  • Genre: Crime Mystery
  • Publisher: This edition Abacus 2009
  • Source: Charity Bookshop in the UK
  • First Sentence : The girl, little more than a child, was found on the road above Scandicci, scantily dressed, without papers and dying of an overdose, at dawn on Sunday 29 July and was taken to the Ospedale Nuovo.
  •  Review Quote : ‘The leading Italian crime writer’ The Times
  • My Opinion: Atmospheric of Italy with a sadly feasible plot.



    The August post with a list of books that the other people taking part are reading this month has already been posted. August Reviews


    Whilst the title for this book is not very imaginative, it is the reason I was drawn to pick this up for the Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011This is not a genre I read a great deal of and the author is not familiar to me so I do not feel I can compare him with others that write books set in Italy in this genre of which there are  quite a few.

    Michele Giuattari is a former Florence Police Chief so he does have an insiders advantage on the understanding of how the police and legal system work within Italy. This I think is certainly the sort of case that is sadly based on current issues in the real world, so fiction that has fact behind it.

    The story is about the investigation into the death of a young girl hardly more than a child, whom it is assumed died of a drug overdose. The case is taken on by Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara and he quickly realises that this is far more than a simple overdose death. He believes that the girl was murdered and as he investigates becomes convinced it is part of a much wider conspiracy. It even turns out that there is a sinister connection between this case and the disappearance of a close friend of his!   

    The speech appears stilted at times but I think this is just because English is not the original language. There are many characters and I did not find any of them particularly memorable, but the plot line was strong enough to hold my attention in what was a quick light read. What was of interest is the setting of Florence and the surrounding countryside, appealing if you know the area and maybe tempting you to visit if you do not. An average read then for those of us interested in Italy and or the crime novel.  I doubt if I would have picked this up if it were not for the Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011 though.

    Author profile photo from Facebook.

    Michele Giuttari was born in Messina, Italy in 1950. in 1975 he graduated with a law degree and three years later joined the Police Force., where fro 1995 until 2003 he held the position of Police Chief. In 1997 he began working as a writer of detective novels, soon becoming known both nationally and internationally. His books are translated into major languages ​​and published in over 100 countries.

    Information for this post is with thanks to the following websites.

    Facebook Profile         Author's Official Website

    Michele Giuttari - Goodreads Author

    I also post these ‘Italy in Books’ reviews on my other blog
    News From Italy

  • Friday, August 19, 2011

    Home by Marilynne Robinson




  • Paperback: 339 pages
  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Publisher: Virago Press 2009
  • Source: Another Bookcrosser
  • First Sentence : ”Home to stay, Glory! Yes!” her father said and her heart sank.
  • Review Quote :’One of the saddest books I have ever loved’ Sarah Churchwell, The Guardian.
  • My Opinion: A novel where the words and thoughts of the characters are its strength.
  • Favourite Quote: She said “The girls in this family got named for theological abstractions and the boys got named for human beings.”
  • Awards: Winner of the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction.


    When I added this title to My Wishlist although I had heard of this contemporary American novelist I had not read any of her novels. I was delighted when thanks to another Bookcrosser  this book arrived in the post as a surprise. This is one of the great things about Bookcrossing the generosity of those people willing to share books with others around the world.

    The central theme of the novel is the parable from the Bible of The Prodigal Son. Jack Boughton is the prodigal son, returning home after twenty years and attempting to rebuild his relationship with his father and siblings. He left with a drink problem and emotional problems which have got worse not better during his long absence.                       The female protagonist of the three main characters is Glory, also running away from her life, using the excuse of returning home to care for her dying Father. Glory is the youngest of the Reverend’s eight children and the only one free to nurse him. She also has secrets that burden her as her life has not been a conventional one for small town America in the fifties.                             The Reverend Robert Boughton is an old man for whom Christianity is a way of life. Although he knows he is dying, finds it impossible to give Jack the opportunity to talk to him about his problems, despite the fact he has always been his favourite child.

    A very moving book about families, love, death and faith, where as there is not much action the words and thoughts of the characters are the strength.

    The author accepting the Orange Prize for Fiction.

  • Marilynne Summers Robinson was born on November 26th 1943 and grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, is an American novelist and essayist.  Her first novel, Housekeeping (1980) , received the PEN/Hemingway award for best first novel as well as being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second novel, Gilead (2004) , won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and her third, Home (2008), won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

    Marilynne Robinson reads from her  novel "Home"


    Uploaded by msarvas on Oct 23, 2008
  • Information for this post is with thanks to the following websites.

    Amazon - Author's Page - Marilynne Robinson

    Wikipedia - Marilynne Robinson



    What We're ReadingWhat We're Reading

    Do pay a visit to this linky to find out what others around the world are reading.

  • Monday, August 15, 2011

    Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge


    I’m part of the Transworld Book Group!



    The Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge is running from August to October. It’s very easy – you get to pick four titles from a list of 15 and  they send you the first book, you read it and review it and then they send your second and so on.

    This is the list of titles that we are able to select our choice of four from to read and review.

    1. The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark
    2. Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll
    3. The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas
    4. Teacher, Teacher! by Jack Sheffield
    5. Death Sentence by Mikkel Birkegaard
    6. Crippen by John Boyne
    7. Caligula by Douglas Jackson
    8. Twelve by Jasper Kent
    9. The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil
    10. Nothing But Trouble by Rachel Gibson
    11. The Colour of Death by Michael Cordy
    12. Odin’s Mission by James Holland
    13. Legacy by Danielle Steel
    14. The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
    15. The Bomber by Liza Marklund

    The titles I have chosen are these. I am looking forward to the first book arriving in the post.

     The Sandalwood TreeThe Secrets Between Us

    The Obscure Logic of the HeartLegacy

    You can review the books on your blog, or if you do not have one on Amazon so why not sign up and join the book group?

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons




  • Paperback: 311 pages
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Publisher: Sceptre an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton 2010
  • Source: Gift from a friend to my husband.
  • Review Quote: ‘Utterly charming and very funny’ Paul Torday. Having just recently reviewed one of his books, seeing this quote on the cover piqued my interest.
  • My Opinion:  I agree it is charming and very funny but personally I also found it sad.


    My husband was given this copy as a Birthday present this time last year, he read it straight away pronouncing it brilliant and that I should definitely be reading it. I usually avoid books for at least awhile if they have a lot of hype surrounding them and this one seemed to pop up everywhere. According to its front cover the film was already on the way by the time the paperback was published!  I would of course like to see the film at some stage so thought it was about time I read the book, as I always do so if possible.   Seeing the film first absolutely ruins a book for me, as there is no point in using my visual imagination while reading. A charming and funny story but I also found it sad.

    At the heart of this novel is a little, literally as only 5ft 3”, German immigrant Jack Rosenblum. Arriving in England in 1937 along with his wife Sadie and one year old daughter Elizabeth, wanting to blend in and become a member of the English middle classes. With the help of the pamphlet the refugees were presented with on arrival he intends to study and use all the information listed to become a perfect English Gentleman. He realises that this leaflet just skims the surface when it comes to fitting in so he starts to add his own addendums the most important of which he feels is that ‘An Englishman must be a member of a Golf Club’. Poor Jack despite his careful copying of everything British there is no Golf Club to be found that will accept  his membership. The rest of the novel is taken up with his attempts to build his own golf course in the heart of the Dorset countryside and shows how by doing so he succeeds in alienating himself from both the locals and his roots. His wife Sadie is confused by his attitude as she does not want to forget the family and country they left behind.

    I felt this novel provided not just a picture of the problems of one set of immigrants to Great Britain before the Second World War but a description  of the dilemmas facing all immigrants even nowadays.

    As the actual original leaflet states ‘Be loyal to England your host’ 


    Natasha SolomonsNatasha Solomons

    Natasha Solomons was born in 1980. Her first job, aged nine, was as a shepherdess, minding the flock on Bulbarrow hill. Since then, she has worked as a screenwriter with her husband, she is also researching a PhD in eighteenth-century poetry. She lives in Dorset.


    Books in focus: Natasha Solomons discusses her book Mr Rosenblum's List – No spoiler.

    Uploaded by Jnews2008 on May 24, 2010

    Author Alan Gold interviews British Jewish author Natasha Solomons on her first novel, Mr Rosenblum's list

    Information, photo and video used in this post is with thanks to the following websites.

    Mr Rosenblum's List on The Author's Official Website

    Natasha Solomons Official Website

    Facebook - Natasha Solomons 

    YouTube  and  Hodder Author Profile

    Her latest novel The Novel in the Viola was published in May 2011 and I have already added it to my Wishlist.