Monday, 17 May 2010

The Postmistress - Sarah Blake

Letters of love, telegrams of loss – the postmistress awaits them all

The wireless crackles with news of blitzed-out London and of the war that courses through Europe, leaving destruction in its wake. Listening intently on the other side of the Atlantic, newly-wed Emma considers the fragility of her peaceful married life as America edges closer to the brink of war. As the reporter’s distant voice fills the room, she sits convincing herself that the sleepy town of Franklin must be far beyond the war’s reach. But the life of American journalist Frankie, whose voice seems so remote, will soon be deeply entangled with her own. With the delivery of a letter into the hands of postmistress Iris, the fates of these three women become irrevocably linked. But while it remains unopened, can Iris keep its truth at bay?  

I was fortunate enough to win a proof copy of this book in a competition over at GoodReads. And what's better than free books? Getting to review them and have your opinions heard! 

Growing up, I was surrounded by WWII memorabilia. My dad was a bit of a fanatic and this rubbed off on me - I remember devouring Teary Deary's Horrible History books on the subject and watching TV adaptations of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Carrie's War. As an adult I still have a keen interest in WWII novels and books such as Kommandant's Girl and The Book Thief are currently on my Keeper shelf. Sarah Blake's novel was a slight change in my WWII literature as it followed three American women and this isn't an aspect I've typically explored before. Being British and having friends in Europe, I've mainly read books set on this side of the world, so it was interesting to see the events of WWII unfold across the Atlantic. Admittedly, I did prefer the scenes where Frankie was traveling across Europe, and it was fascinating to see her uncovering the truth of the war through the lives of the common people. It made me wonder whether we in Britain were also so ignorant to how minorities were being treated by the Nazis. Did we really not understand what was happening to the Jews or were we simply pretending not to notice? Having visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last September and attended seminars with the Holocaust Educational Trust, this is an issue that is very close to home for me. 

Although I was fascinated by Frankie's discoveries and work as a radio broadcaster, I didn't find the other two characters - Iris and Emma - as engaging. While I sympathised with Frankie and her struggle to decide how to confront Emma about her husband, I never really felt connected to Emma herself. Her story demanded sympathy but I didn't feel like she herself was fleshed out enough. Iris was the same - she felt a bit two-dimensional. Despite her apparently being the title-character of the Postmistress, the story definitely seemed to revolve around Frankie. This made me think, is Frankie really the Postmistress, with the letter that she can't bring herself to deliver? This idea intrigued me. 

I truly found Frankie's sections of the novel exciting and unputdownable, and although I enjoyed the setting of Cape Cod, I never really felt connected to the other characters there. I also felt that there was too much unneeded sex, or discussions about it, injected into the story. I enjoy a good romance and even a well-written sex scene if appropriate, but it didn't seem to flow well with this story and seemed a bit awkward in places. It almost seemed as if Blake had slipped into a Mills & Boon voice which made a couple of moments a bit cheesy and amusing - perhaps not the right tone for this book. 

Despite finding two of the main characters rather hard to relate to and care about, and in spite of the awkwardly set up sex scenes, I did enjoy this book and think it's a great debut effort from Sarah Blake. I would look out for her novels in the future and am now more interested in reading American-based WWII novels. 7/10

Dreaming of Amelia - Jaclyn Moriarty

Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury for their final year of school, and everyone is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, talented and totally devoted to one another, the two of them drift through school in their own world. But there's more to the couple than meets the eye - they have secrets. And some of them are dangerous to share. As Riley starts to lose his grip on Amelia, the repercussions affect everyone around them.

A spellbinding story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femme fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future’s coming to get you.

Although I've been busy studying for exams and arranging to move into my new flat, I have had time to read a couple of excellent new books, including Jaclyn Moriarty's latest teen novel. I was lucky enough to get sent a proof copy from my lovely friend Anne, who wanted a young person's opinion for a review she was writing. Here are my thoughts.

I've been an avid fan of Jaclyn Moriarty since I read her first novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia, when I was thirteen. I've always liked the epistolary style of writing and Moriarty is one of the few authors who can pull this off successfully, in my opinion. Dreaming of Amelia is a particularly unique version of this style of story-telling in that the majority of it is written in the form of an English exam. Although this is interspersed with emails, blog posts and letters, for the most part of the story we follow four characters as they sit their final English exam - Lydia, Emily, Toby and Riley. Lydia and Emily first appeared in Moriarty's second novel, Finding Cassie Crazy, and both played cameos in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie. I was particularly pleased to read about Lydia again as she is definitely one of Moriarty's quirkiest characters. Emily was, as ever, hilarious to read about, particularly as she is constantly mixing up words when she writes. Her exam paper was wonderfully over-dramatic. Toby also featured in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, although it took me a while to remember where I'd heard of him before, and it was great to see his character developing. He was especially interesting to read about as he turned his exam paper into a story about a historical figure that he'd been researching, which later added to the "ghost" element of the story - I won't tell you exactly what I mean by that as I don't want to spoil it, but it was a nice surprise when the two stories overlapped in the end. Riley is one of the new characters in this novel and I never really felt like I got to know him properly. However, I have a feeling that was Moriarty's intention - he and Amelia are meant to be mysterious, which explains why all the students at Ashbury are so fixated by them. 

In a sense, Riley and Amelia seemed to be a plot device to get the story rolling. Although they were at the centre of the novel, there were several other small sub-plots occurring simultaneously. Lydia wants her ex-boyfriend back, Toby is worried about his divorced father and Emily is convinced that there is a ghost haunting the Art building. At times I found it hard to believe that two new students could really cause so much fuss, but then I remembered when two incredibly attractive, blonde German exchange students came to my school for a year - yep, everyone was obsessed.

The ghost aspect of the novel intrigued me. I'm not exactly a fan of fantasy or ghost stories and I wasn't sure how Moriarty was going to successfully pull of a ghost story in a modern setting without making it horribly cheesy. What actually panned out impressed me - the idea that each of us has a metaphorical "ghost" haunting us. It wasn't until near the end of the story that I realised that this was what Moriarty was trying to say and I was quite pleased with this conclusion. Of course, there is an actual "ghost" in the story (well, I believe that there was) but it managed to fit into the plot without seeming too out of place or unbelievable.

All in all, I'm very pleased with Moriarty's latest novel. If I have to be totally honest, I think it's impossible for me not to like any of her books. Moriarty is one of the few writers from my teen years that I still love as an adult - her characters are insanely quirky yet realistic, she utilises a different epistolary style for each novel and each of her books surrounds some sort of mystery. I honestly wish that my high school years were as exciting as those that I've read about at Ashbury. Another 10/10 from Jaclyn Moriarty!