Book review: Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

cv_parisThis book is in bookstores now.

My advance review copy of Paris weighs over 900 grams and is over 670 pages long. I didn’t keep count of the number of characters the book follows, but the number was high – and with about 800 years of Parisian and wider French events to cover, it’s understandable.

Paris tells the story of the city through the lives of four families who bump against each other and occasionally intertwine over many centuries. Significant events and periods in Parisian history – from multiple religious expulsions to The Terror, the reign of the Sun King to occupation in World War II – are interpreted by the actions and reactions of members of the families, all from different social strata, but all determined to survive.

I will admit to struggling to get into Paris – but once I got the hang of the plot skipping backwards and forwards between families and time periods, and realised that there was a central plot arc that everything was feeding into, I found it hard to put the book down, and the housework and garden were neglected as I chose to keep reading to get to the story’s conclusion.

The bulk of the novel deals with a set of characters living between the 1870s and the end of World War II, and the stories that fall outside this period are a seasoning that add richness and dimension to the story. Rutherfurd cleverly weaves his narrative so that you don’t always realise the significance of a scene, or even a whole chapter, until later in the story; I found myself having small “a-ha!” moments when I’d realise that something I’d read dozens (if not hundreds) of pages earlier was a clue to the current storyline.

A strength of Rutherfurd’s style is that he doesn’t assume the reader has prior knowledge of French history or language, of Parisian geography. The story is clearly very well researched, and events are explained without feeling like you’re sitting in a school room, and not needing to stop and check what a French phrase meant was great. Being an advance proof, my copy did not contain the family tree or maps of Paris that are in the final published book and will greatly add to the richness of the reader experience. Without these, the travelling backward and forward in time, the historically correct repetition of ancestral first names, and my ignorance of the layout of Paris, made some parts of the story feel a little muddy. I understood the action, but couldn’t always see things clearly.

Characters in Paris, as in the real world, sit on the spectrum from thoroughly unlikeable to delightful, with steel worker Thomas Gascon being a favourite of mine. I was really interested in some of the minor players who weren’t from the main four families, particularly some members of the Renard/Fox and Jacob families, and would like to have read more about them. It felt like the Gascon family got less attention than the other three families, and I would have like to follow their story more. The death of a strong female character near the end of the book was not commented on by the other characters, which felt odd and jarred a bit, especially in the circumstances; it felt like a loose end that had been dropped. Over everything hung the spectre of a rigid class system, blindly accepted by some characters, and fought against by others.

When I started Paris I wasn’t sure that I’d be writing a genuinely positive review; now I’m looking forward to rereading it, with family tree and maps close to hand.

For an interesting review with the author about this book, I recommend this interview on Radio NZ National (the audio file will download when you click the link).

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

by Edward Rutherfurd
Published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN 9781444736809

Book review: The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans

cv_the_island_houseThis book is in bookstores now.

An Australian archaeology student inherits a deserted Scottish island from her estranged archaeologist father. She travels to the wild, wind-swept island and tries to learn more about the ancient artifacts her father had begun uncovering. Meanwhile, on the same island, 1200 years ago, a Pictish girl comes into the care of a group of nuns and monks after her family is killed in a Viking raid. It’s a story of love and loss in two time zones, with a time-travelling ghost thrown in. Think Cross Stitch meets Clan of the Cave Bear and you’d be close.

There was a lot about this book to like. The descriptions of the fictional island of Findnar and life in a Christian commune in 800AD were evocative and educational. It is not a period of history I know much about and I found it interesting enough to have to head off to the internet after I finished to learn more about the fascinating Picts of northern Scotland.

The book began promisingly with two budding relationships. In the present day, Australian Freya Dane (and she’s almost always called “Freya Dane” or “Miss Dane” by the characters in the story; these people do not go in for informalities) and local Dan Boyne meet, hate each other on sight, argue passionately, and then, typically, fall head over cliché heels for each other.

The parallel story takes place a thousand years ago and sees Signy and Bear fall madly in love, despite circumstances conspiring to keep them apart.

However, every avid sitcom watcher and chick-lit reader knows that you can’t bring a blossoming romance to resolution too quickly; you need to heighten the anticipation by teasing the audience with “will they, won’t they” plot twists. It was therefore frustrating that both the fledgling romances in this book were resolved by two-thirds of the way through the story (one ridiculously and unrealistically quickly and one unhappily). That left the remainder of the story centred on the political machinations of the various clan leaders as they jostled for supremacy. I confess I lost interest and resorted to skimming my way to the end of the book.

This book ticked all my boxes for a promising holiday read – history, romance, culture, and gorgeous scenery. And I did enjoy it. But I didn’t love it. I suspect a large part of that was due to the annoyingly negative Freya Dane and her abandonment issues. At times, I just wanted to shake her – “You’ve just inherited an island, woman! And an island full of archaeological mysteries and hidden treasures at that. Your PhD thesis is writing itself. You’ve just met not one but two attractive and charming Scottish blokes. Surely you can crack a smile occasionally!”

If you can get beyond Miss Dane’s sulkiness and some of the “yeah right” implausibility of the archaeology, then this could be an enjoyable summer holiday read.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Island House
by Posie Graeme-Evans
Published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN 9780340920411

Book review: The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King

This book is in bookshops now.

A story, within a story, within a story, The Wind through the Keyhole takes a side journey away from the Dark Tower saga and into a lighter more personal view of Roland.  It takes in his formative years through the first story flashback to the start of his career as a gunslinger and branches into pride, courage, patience, grief and thinking outside the box with a dash of myth, legend, fantasy and magic thrown in.  Roland and his travelling companions are forced into shelter from a “starkblast” leading Roland to tell his own story around the fire while hunkered down.

The first story branch leads us to the start of Roland’s career as he is sent on a mission by his father to track down a mass killer. (Can’t give the story away) and meets the recently orphaned Bill Streeter, a somewhat younger version of Roland, and enters a to and fro relationship which asks and answers questions about his own relationship with his father.  This leads Roland into a role of more of a mentor and father figure and he tells Bill a story.

“The wind through the keyhole” is the internal sub story (fairy tale) within and is established in the forest village of Tree.  This sometimes dark story takes you to a realm in a long post-apocalyptic feudal setting, which slowly dawns on the reader, and moves on into the adventure of Tim, and his quest and the mystery man in black.  Interwoven into Tim’s journey are lovely touches of the worlds of Merlin (Maerlyn), Asimov, Oz, Wonderland and others beautifully stitched together into a learning and growth experience for the main character and anyone who wants to go along for the ride.

We all look forward to a good ending to a book and again without wanting to give too much away each and every reader should finish this book with a great feeling of satisfaction.

This book does stand alone as an independent novel and tends to make you want to get involved in the greater story of the Dark Tower, which I have not read but now will.  The writing style was light and easy, and changed with the telling of each tale, depending on the age of the listener, propelling the reader to find out what the resolution of each will be.

This book was a captivating read with a lot of surprises along the way.  It should not be considered a book for children but more for the light fantasy adventure reader. If you want to find out what a billy-bumbler is or who or what is Daria……  Go for it.

Reviewed by Julia Leathwick

The Wind Through The Keyhole
by Stephen King
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN 9781444731712