Monday, 26 January 2015

Of Irish Blood

Of Irish Blood by Mary Pat Kelly has a long story arc starting in early 20th century Chicago and moving to pre-WW1 Paris, on through the trenches and hospitals of war-torn France, and then on to Ireland and the stormy period after the Easter Rising, through the Anglo-Irish War and then the Civil War.

The book is based on the life of the author's aunt and it was certainly eventful. Nora Kelly is a strong believable character who sees the best in people and this often leads her down difficult and dangerous paths. She is swept along on the romance of Ireland painted by Yeats and Maud Gonne amongst others but doesn't always understand the nuances of politics. .

Nora discovers a whole hidden part of Paris when she stumbles across the Irish College and meets the students, priest and lecturers. One in particular shapes her life and future direction and the romance and tragedy of their relationship frames the plot.

The main drawback I felt was that the author was trying to show off her knowledge of famous characters who lived in Paris during the early 20th century: Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scot Fitzgerald, Matisse and many more pass fleetingly across the story without really moving it on. Other historical figures are key: Maud Gonne in particular, and these add to the flavour and plot.

If you like big sagas grounded in history this is the book for you!

I received this copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

War of Flowers

War of Flowers by Jane Thynne

This is the third title in the series with Clara Vine, the actress come spy living in pre-war Nazi Germany.

I really enjoy this series of books which offers a fascinating insight in to the day-to-day life of those living in Germany just before the outbreak of WW2, as the Nazi regime was strengthening its grip on the daily life of its citizens.

The book opens with the murder of a young woman on a cruise ship but then quickly moves to Paris and then wends its way back to Berlin, on to Munich and then on to the Bergdorf, Hitler's mountain retreat. It is now 1938, the Anschluss with Austria , the so-called War of Flowers, has just taken place and the world is trying to understand Hitler and his sabre -rattling. The plot revolves around the lead-up to the annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia and the appeasement politics of the rest of Europe and Britain.

The murder is actually an unnecessary element to the story - Clara does not really get involved in solving the crime and this thread re-appears occasionally at opportune moments and then comes back to tie the plot of the novel about the resistance and failed Oster coup together in an untidy bow. The actual premise of the novel - life in Nazi Germany, the German film industry and the famous real-life cast of characters does not need this plot device to tell a good story or to create suspense. It is all their in the real-life events.

Clara is a fascinating character, constantly walking a fine line of balancing her increasing fame as an actress with the secret life of feeding information on the Nazi elite back to her spymasters. The real-life events of the Oster plot which highlights the resistance movement that existed in Germany offer an interesting view of Germany and its people at this time.

At the end of the novel Clara is left in an increasingly precarious situation and the reader is left to wonder where Thynne will take her next, especially as war is now looming on the horizon. The major figures from the Nazi elite and their wives all make appearances in this series - but the main character of  Hitler himself is never seen, only spoken about. You are left to wonder if and when Clara will meet Hitler himself and what will happen when they do.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who likes their historical novels well grounded in fact. This series casts a light on a little known aspect of Nazi Germany - the impact on the people themselves. I would say though that the murder element is not needed to move the story forward and would ask the author to only include this device if the plot really needs it!

I received a copy of this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.