Book Review: The Seventh Cross, by Anna Seghers

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_seventh_crossFirst published in the US in 1942, this novel is the first unabridged English translation of the original, written by German born Jewish woman Anna Seghers. Of four copies Seghers made, only one made it to publication in the US, and even then it was posted from France, the others destroyed or disappeared. In 1944, a film starring Spencer Tracy based on this book was one of the few movies of the era to depict a European concentration camp.

As we continue to be deluged with both fiction and non-fiction, movies, TV series about the war, the Holocaust, the horrific and terrible cost, pain and loss of everything during WW2, this novel remains as relevant and important as it was 70 plus years ago.

George Heisler is a prisoner in a concentration camp near a town in Germany. Like the author, George is a communist, hence his imprisonment. Along with six others, one day he escapes. This is the story of that escape, how the others are caught, how George evades capture, how he learns who to trust and who not to trust, and how living on your wits is almost fatal work. The seven crosses are a creation of the ruthless and sadistic camp commander. As each prisoner is caught he is dragged back to the camp and tied to the cross erected for the purpose. Day after day the seventh cross remains empty.

Over the course of a very desperate week George returns to the town he came from – Mainz, where he has both good and bad luck in getting help for his continuing evasion from the Gestapo and SS. For the risk remains that he may be betrayed by any one of the people he meets, or that his contacts are in turn betrayed, or make an error that puts them and all their families at risk. It is a perilous world. But as we know, us humans can be capable of great risk taking for another person, and great acts of kindness. That George makes any progress at all is a miracle, but the biggest miracle is what he discovers about himself.

This novel is exquisitely written in its detail of daily life for the average German over this time. There is much putting the head in the sand amongst the citizens, the constant worry that ears are listening and possibly misinterpreting conversations, asides, who one is seen with. The SA, SS, Gestapo and Hitler Youth are everywhere, there is endless fear that one may put a foot wrong. Right up till the very last page, George’s plight could all go wrong.

This is neither a hard read nor an easy read. It is very detailed in the minutiae of daily life and there are a lot of characters, most of whom are peripheral to the actual plot. A character list at the beginning doesn’t do enough to introduce us to all the characters. However, this is a minor issue, as the story of George is really what carries the whole thing along. It would be great to see a remake of the 1944 movie.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Seventh Cross
by Anna Seghers
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780349010670

 

Book Review: Frieda – a Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley, by Annabel Abbs

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_frieda.jpgThis book tells the moving story of Frieda von Richthofen, wife of D.H. Lawrence – and the real-life inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel banned for more than 30 years.

Frieda, daughter of German aristocrat Baron von Richthofen is married to English professor Ernest Weekley and living in Nottingham. A visit from her sister unsettles her and she decides to visit Germany, leaving her three children with Ernest and the nanny. It is 1907 and Munich is a city alive with new ideas and free love so it seems inevitable for Frieda to take a lover. Her experience awakens her sexually and Otto stimulates her intellectual thinking as well so that when she returns to England she continues to write to him and dreams of their time together.

Ernest invites a former student D H Lawrence to lunch , but when Ernest is delayed Frieda finds herself relaxing and warming to the young man who is keen to go to Germany for work. She decided ‘if she was still as dazzled by him, she would take him to the woods and show him who she truely was’. The year is now 1912 and their relationship is volatile and causes great heartache and anxiety in the family.

The book is written in eight parts taking the reader from England to Germany, Italy and back to London while the epilogue is back in Italy in 1927 with Lawrence working on Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Author Annabel Abbs lives in London with her husband and four children. Her debut novel The Joyce Girl has won a number of awards. Her writing style is soft and gentle with a wonderful use of the English language,’She hadn’t intended to lie naked in the open air but as she walked through the woods , a sudden breeze had rushed up her skirt, rattling and pulling at her underclothes as if trying to prise them off.’

Having read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in my final year at high school I was keen to read Frieda and found it added a lot of background to the characters and I will read Lady Chatterley again shortly. The historical notes at the rear of the book added useful information about the characters and DH Lawrence’s books. It is a great read and I am sure will be enjoyed by many people especially those who have read some of DH Lawrence’s novels.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Frieda – A novel of the Real Lady Chatterley
by Annabel Abbs
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9780733640117

Book Review: The Peacock Summer, by Hannah Richell

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_peacock_summer.jpgThe Peacock Summer is the latest novel by bestselling Australian-born and England-based author, Hannah Richell. Narrated in the first person, the story centres on the lives of two women, Lillian and Maggie.

In the prime of her life, Lillian finds herself trapped. Encouraged by her aging guardian, Lucinda Daunt, and out of concern for her invalid sister Helena’s medical expenses, Lillian marries the wealthy investor, Charles Oberon. At twenty-six years old, she has become a porcelain beauty in a delicate dollhouse, burrowed within the paintings, ornaments, and collected objects of Charles’s manor. Now Lillian must navigate a world of cake tins and floral dresses, of high-society men and their wives with their expectations and illusory glories.

At the hands of her manipulative husband, Lillian becomes the victim of domestic abuse, which leads to her barrenness. The pains of maternal yearning and a loveless marriage plunge her into a world of deep loneliness. Nevertheless, what keeps Lillian going is Albie, her stepson, whose playfulness and curiosity remind her constantly of the joys of living and loving. Life takes a dramatic turn that summer, when Lillian meets the young artist, Jack Fincher, whom Charles has commissioned to paint the nursery.

Fast forward to the present day: At age twenty-six, Maggie Oberon feels like she is going nowhere. Her parents, Amanda and Albie, left her at a young age, going their separate ways. The rock of Maggie’s whole life was her grandmother, Lillian. Now that the aged Lillian is very ill, Maggie travels from Australia to Lilian’s English manor, Cloudesley, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills. As Maggie learns of Lillian’s story, she finds that they are very much alike. Lillian reminds Maggie about the brevity of life and the necessity, therefore, to live boldly and fully.

The Peacock Summer is a call to the genuine celebration of life and family. Richell’s prose is highly descriptive, tender, and vibrant. The story touches on the poignant themes of parenthood, loss, longing, and the indefatigability of authentic, sacrificial love. I strongly recommend this excellent book for the upcoming spring and summer months.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

The Peacock Summer
by Hannah Richell
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9780733640438

Book Review: The Blood Road, by Stuart MacBride

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cv_The_blood_road.jpgThis is the first Stuart MacBride book I’ve read, although I have several of his older books waiting their turn in my bookcase.

The story centres on detective inspector Bell, who supposedly committed suicide by setting fire to his caravan two years earlier. When he turns up dead in the driver’s seat of a crashed car, questions start being asked – especially when it’s discovered he was stabbed before the car crashed.

Logan McRae is now working for the Professional Standards division of the police, meaning most officers don’t want anything to do with him. He needs to find out where Bell has been since he was thought dead, and who stabbed him. Why did he disappear – and more importantly, what made him return from the dead?

Deaths start piling up as Logan works tirelessly to discover Bell’s secrets. If it wasn’t his body in the caravan, whose was it – and was Bell responsible for his death?

That’s only one of the storylines weaving their way through The Blood Road. Alongside this there are a number of missing children and rumours start flying about them being stolen to order for something called the livestock market. Witnesses aren’t telling the truth and Logan also has to deal with a young police officer who goes off on her own, seemingly reluctant to share any leads she has with her superiors.

Logan has a lot to do with the parents of the missing children, one of which is hiding her own secret, a secret that could put her life and the life of many others in extreme danger.

This book took me a few pages before I really got engrossed in it, but that may be down to the fact I had to keep looking up some of the words MacBride uses that may only be familiar to the Scots! It kept me guessing until close to the end, the mark of a good thriller, and as soon as I finished it I started on one of his earlier books, which showed how much I enjoyed it. (That and the fact he has cats, which instantly made me like him!)

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Blood Road
by Stuart McBride
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008208240

Book Review: Promising Young Women, by Caroline O’Donoghue

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_promising_young_womenJane Peters is twenty-six and newly single after getting out of a comfortable but unexciting long-term relationship. Her advertising agency job isn’t exactly scintillating but it pays the rent, more or less. And there’s a cute colleague she’s had her eye on for a while. Jane’s secret side hobby as an online agony aunt gives her an outlet for her snark and provides a nice ego boost whenever her advice goes viral.

Irish writer Caroline O’Donoghue’s debut novel begins as an enjoyable, relatable read about a young woman fresh from a break-up, plodding away at her mediocre corporate job.  Fun, light, and rather formulaic you’re thinking.  But things take a surprisingly dark turn: Bridget Jones’s Diary this is not.  After a drunken encounter with her charismatic boss at a work party, Jane finds herself quickly out of her depth and struggling to maintain a hold on reality.

In the #MeToo era, where the news is (rightly) full of horrendous stories about the likes of Harvey Weinstein and the Old Boys Club of some local law firms, this is an exceptionally timely novel. Reminiscent of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, this is a story about power and sex, and gender politics in the workplace.

‘Our company is teeming with women under thirty, and men approaching or over fifty.  That is how the food chain works. Dozens of attractive young women do the grunt work for a handful of men, and the women get filtered out by motherhood. It’s the corporate version of natural selection.’

This novel is dark and cuttingly funny. That I, a reasonably busy working parent, made time to read this book over just two days is testament to how compelling a story it was. This is a book that you will want to recommend to your bookclub, just so that you have friends to discuss it with afterwards.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Promising Young Women
by Caroline O’Donoghue
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780349009919

Book Review: The Crooked Staircase, by Dean Koontz

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_crooked_staircase.jpegI am a big fan of Dean Koontz so was delighted to be able to read and review this book. This is the third book in the Jane Hawk thrillers – The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room being the ones previous to this one.

Former FBI agent Jane Hawke, the central character is on the run. Her husband Nick is dead, made to look like a suicide, but Jane knew he would never have committed suicide. She is convinced he was murdered, but how to prove it? Her son Travis was in hiding staying with trusted friends. Her husband’s so-called suicide is one of many that seem to be occurring around the country which in Jane’s eyes, is too much of a coincidence.

She is being hunted by Government agents but also a rogue organisation, the vengeful Techno Arcadians, who are assumed to be behind the murder/suicides. They seem to have unlimited power and money to hunt her down. Jane’s is able to outfox them at every new development, thanks to her ability to access technology and hack into systems.

What Jane uncovers about the Techno Arcadians makes for a great read. I struggled to put this book down at times, so caught up in the story I wanted to read just another chapter. By the time I came to the end I felt a little disappointed. I was expecting a conclusion but there is none, so we will have to wait for book four.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Crooked Staircase
by Dean Koontz
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460756546

Book Review: Afternoons with Harvey Beam, by Carrie Cox

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_afternoons_with_harvey_beam.jpgIf we listen to talkback radio, we form a relationship with the host, love them or hate them, and Afternoons with Harvey Beam is a book which takes the reader into the life of a talkback host, his problems, his loves and his family.

Harvey Beam left his small home town of Shorton to work in talkback radio in Sydney but after many years his popularity is waning and he is facing redundancy.

When the head of HR says, ‘What I see is a man no longer making connections, a man who is not happy in himself, a man who is not playing nicely with the other kids, and all of that equals bad radio,’ Harvey believes his biggest mistake is ‘not sleeping with the head of HR’.

Being called back to Shorton because his father is dying gives Harvey time to think and reflect on his life and where he is going in the future.

Beam’s entire family still live in Shorton and the reader is introduced to his mother, brother, and two sisters as well as his father Lionel .He still has a good relationship with his ex wife and his daughters as well as his mother but finds his sisters behaviour challenging and his brother Bryan is not at all welcoming. But it is his father’s hostility which is at the heart of the book and the reader is never fully informed what has caused the dysfunction between the male members of the Beam family. As Harvey takes time to reflect we learn about his divorce as well as his parents split, but a talkback session reminds him ‘it all starts and ends with family.’

I enjoyed this book. It was well written with pockets of humour, and the author is able to write with great clarity to reveal the strength and emotions flowing amongst the characters. There is hope for the future as new relationships develop and family ties are strengthened but I was disappointed more was not revealed about what had caused the hostility between Harvey and Lionel.

An interesting Australian family drama, the book will appeal to a wide age group both male and female.

Carrie Cox is a journalist , author, tutor and mother who lives in Perth Australia This is her first novel but she has written two non fiction books, Coal , Crisis, Challenge and You Take the Road and I’ll Take the Bus.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Afternoons with Harvey Beam
by Carrie Cox
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN  9781925591088