Book Review: Among the Lemon Trees, by Nadia Marks

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_among_the_lemon_treesAnna’s twenty-five year marriage has hit a crisis and, with her two grown children off travelling for the summer, it is time for her to make time for herself, to reflect on her relationship and consider her future. And when her aging father decides he wants to spend the summer on his native Greek island, the perfect opportunity for relaxing and contemplating presents itself. Neither Anna or her father have been to the island since her mother died four years ago, however when they arrive, they slip back into the family’s welcoming and loving embrace. Memories of hot, lazy summers with Greek cousins aplenty flood back and soon Anna is one of the locals again.

Amidst the sun and idyllic settings, Anna slowly examines her heart as she is enfolded in the security of friendship and the familiar. The Greeks recognise four different kinds of love (agape – spiritual love; Éros – physical, passionate love; philia – ‘mental’ love, regard or friendship and storgé – affectionate love) and while on the island, Anna comes closer to understanding each of these through her own experiences both past and present, and from uncovering a closely guarded family secret. It is this secret, revealed initially through letters, that provides much of the action of the story – we are taken back to where it all began, pre-World War II. Not only does this history relate a dramatic love story, it opens a window into the lives of everyday citizens in both Greece and Italy during the conflict.

Gently paced, as is suitable for a story reflecting on the many aspects of love and set in a sun drenched Mediterranean island, the story really picks up once Anna discovers the hidden letters in her aunt’s house. Marks has done a fine job of knitting the past with the present and bringing together a village of varied supporting characters who each have an important role to play in helping Anna through her summer of growth and change. At the end of the story, she better understands her personal definition of love in all its forms.

Born in Cyprus and raised in London, Marks is well equipped to introduce us to life in the Greek village with its traditions and daily workings. Her background is in journalism and this is her third novel. Filled with sunny days, sparkling seas and balmy nights under the stars, Among the Lemon Trees could be just the ticket for the approaching cold rainy weekends.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Among the Lemon Trees
by Nadia Marks
Pan Macmillan, 2017

Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_everyone_brave_is_forgivenThis literary blend of historical fiction and wartime romance places you in wartime Britain, contrasting the fates of the upper- and lower-classes in London during the Blitz, and showing the effects of modern siege warfare on the British army men who occupied the island of Malta from 1940-1942.

Mary North is the first upper-class Brit we are introduced to in Everyone Brave is Forgiven, in a very dramatic first few pages – she joined the war effort the day it was declared, leading to her first job, as a schoolteacher. Not what she had in mind at all (as the daughter of an MP), but as she begins work, she realises that she thrives on teaching. Unfortunately, she isn’t quite what the head of the school had in mind either, so she just as swiftly gets let go before the children are evacuated into the countryside, but continues a relationship with Zachary, a little African-American boy who is the only person of colour in her school.

Mary meets Tom Shaw, head of the district her school was in, and persuades him to give her a new group of kids to teach: the ones left behind, and those that were rejected by the host families of the British countryside for being different, or difficult. Mary falls in love with the earnest Tom, who has himself decided to give the war a miss. Tom’s roommate Alistair, however, volunteers early on, and completes his basic training in time to walk backwards out of France with the rest of the British Army. Alistair and Mary meet while he is on leave, during a double date that was for the benefit of Mary’s friend Hilda. Looks are exchanged, plus Mary is the beautiful one, but of course there is the little matter of Tom.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is based on the true story of author Chris Cleave’s grandparents. Both of his grandmothers were in London during the Blitz, and he took elements of truth from the stories of both – one was an ambulance driver at the time, the other got engaged to his grandfather while he was on leave from the Army – to create Mary North. His grandfather was stationed in Malta during the siege, with little hope of survival, and dulled instincts due to starvation rations.

First of all, did the upper-class Officers of the British army really go on like that? Blackadder really didn’t have to look too far for an easy parody, did it? The dialogue between Simonson and Alistair is probably meant to serve a leavening purpose, given they are at that point stuck in Malta for the foreseeable future, with too little food, and no way of getting more thanks to constant air siege, but I did want to throw the book across the room more than once. Perhaps Cleave reasoned that you couldn’t overlook the jolly good fellows, because the British class system is, in essence, why Malta held out for so long – over 180 nights of continuous bombing from the Luftwaffe. That didn’t make the waffle any easier to enjoy.

This story is interleaved with that of our heroine Mary North, the privileged finishing-school student who is eager for adventure during the war. Her relationship with Zachary and latterly the other negro orphans who pitched up at London’s Lycaeum Theatre during the siege was well-formed, if stretching the imagination a little at times. I appreciated the injection of reality coming in the form of one of the senior minstrels from the Lycaeum’s blackface show, telling her to move on, because they were concerned that people from higher up might notice the fact they had a few legally dodgy operations going on there.

I was disappointed overall with this book. I was telling a friend how flowery and over-wrought the prose was at times – there’s even a one-page wondering about what happens to conkers when the children aren’t around to play with them – and she reminded me of Cornelia Funke, who noted during Writer’s Week that when writing for children you don’t get to play around with language – it is pure plot. That is not to say that beautiful writing, and long books can’t be incredible, but the writing in this book wasn’t extraordinary enough to be leaving extraneous description, or wonderings, on the page.

I believe that for every book that one person dislikes, there will be another 1000 people who will love it, given the opportunity to look between the covers. So if the rest of the story sounds fascinating, and you want to peek into areas of wartime London that you haven’t yet read about in fiction, then this may be a book for you.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave
Published by Sceptre
ISBN 9781473618701


Book Review: Please Enjoy Your Happiness, by Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_please_enjoy_your_happinessThis is a love story, a fine romance but there is nothing mushy about it. Mills & Boon it is not.

Instead, it is a beautifully written snapshot of the authors’ First Love, based on his time spent in Japan as a serviceman, which still resonates today with the author.

Just 19 years old when he is sent to serve in Japan, Paul and the older, more sophisticated Kaji Yukiko are an unlikely match. She is on the run from very unpleasant circumstances, and he is a very young serviceman. It is a shared love of poetry, music and the theatre that draws them together, unleashing a love that will continue to have an impact on the rest of Brinkley-Rogers’ life. This all happened during a time when there was no email or social media, and there was limited telephone access. People wrote letters – and it was a rediscovery and rereading of Kaji’s letters to him that enabled Brinkley-Rodgers to realise that after all he had been through, Kaji was still the love of his life, and that the love had never died.

This is really quite a special book, Brinkley-Rogers’ story is beautifully written and very engaging and without artifice. It is honest and warm, there is plenty of room for thought, especially with regards “lost” love – love that may in fact not have been lost, but has been forgotten, where only hindsight can remind us of the impact that these loves have had on us. Brinkley-Rogers invites us to look back, acknowledge and celebrate our loves and honour them, and he does so in a very readable book which keeps the reader turning the pages.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Please Enjoy Your Happiness
by Paul Brinkley-Rogers
Published by Macmillan
ISBN  9781509806089

Book Review: Julie & Kishore, by Carol Jackson

Available in selected bookstores nationwide. 
Carol Jackson is a New Zealander married to an Indian man. They have been together over twenty years. This books is fiction but is loosely based on her own life.

Julie, like all young Kiwi girls dreams of meeting Mr Right and living the dream, but finding this man seems elusive. Working firstly as a veterinary nurse then changing careers to work at OSW (Office Supply Warehouse), Julie’s job entailed visiting companies to discuss their office supply needs. One of these companies’ was an accountant’s – McAllister and Co. There she caught the attention of a young Indian man, Kishore who had been in New Zealand for two years. The two of them became friends and then of course, like in all good love stories, this love developed, with Kishore eventually asking Julie to marry him. Julie’s friends and family at first were worried for her, but after meeting Kishore they all realised he was perfect for her. Julie’s parents gave them their blessing.

Kishore’s family in India wanted to meet Julie, so it was duly arranged for them both to travel to India. On arriving there, Julie was welcomed into the family. Kishore’s mother and father put the suggestion to them both that perhaps they marry in India.

This is a great read. Many of us don’t know a lot about Indian culture but with the growing cosmopolitan population of New Zealand, inter-marriage between races isn’t that unusual. In the 1980’s, of course, this was very unusual.

Carol Jackson has written another book in this series Julie & Kishore – Take Two. This will be released shortly. She is currently writing a third book, Nina’s Art, which involves many of the same characters, but is a different story.

I look forward to reading more of Julie & Kishore’s life.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Julie & Kishore
by Carol Jackson
Published by Libertine Press
ISBN  9780692262313