Review – My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young


The month is almost over and I’m a little behind on reviews. 😉 Today you’ll get another review that fits the Great War Centenary topic. I read Louisa Young‘s My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You which was shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Novel Award.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You
Image provided by Harper Collins UK¹
Synopsis quoted from Harper Collins UK¹:

A letter, two lovers, a terrible lie. In war, truth is only the first casualty.

While Riley Purefoy and Peter Locke fight for their country, their survival and their sanity in the trenches of Flanders, Nadine Waveney, Julia Locke and Rose Locke do what they can at home. Beautiful, obsessive Julia and gentle, eccentric Peter are married: each day Julia goes through rituals to prepare for her beloved husband’s return. Nadine and Riley, only eighteen when the war starts, and with problems of their own already, want above all to make promises – but how can they when the future is not in their hands? And Rose? Well, what did happen to the traditionally brought-up women who lost all hope of marriage, because all the young men were dead?

My Thoughts:

Louisa Young’s historical novel My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You is set in early 20th century England and France. While Ms Young did thoroughly research the time the book is set in, I had problems envisioning the setting, especially the scenes that are set at the Western Front, even though I am familiar with what it looked like from pictures.

The novel’s main characters are Riley Purefoy, Nadine Waveney, Peter and Julia Locke as well as Rose Locke, but those who most stand out are Riley and Julia. Riley, whose life we witness from his boyhood onwards, goes through a lot of changes and there comes a time when he even turns into a quite unlikeable fellow. Nevertheless, his character always stays believable. Julia Locke is the perfect characterization of a wife without purpose. Staying at home, nobody thinks her capable of doing something useful, so she slowly begins to lose her mind.

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You starts out slow-paced but picks up so much speed in the second half that I wasn’t able to put it down. The novel switches between England and France, home and the Western Front. All main characters get their share of attention and so the reader is able to see the war and its effects from different perspectives. My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You gives us a glimpse of human tragedy and hope during the Great War and to add a little special something, Louisa Young provides insight into the history of the first successful plastic surgeries.


If you are interested in more info on the plastic surgeries done by Sir Harold D. Gillies, you can read his book Plastic Surgery of the Face online here: (Warning: Contains images of facial gunshot wounds):


Review – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer


Two weeks ago, I finally got to read Nathan Filer‘s The Shock of the Fall which won the Costa Book Award in 2013. Thank you Nina from Nothing But N9erz for this wonderful novel that has been on my wish list for months.

The Shock of the Fall
Image provided by The Borough Press¹
Synopsis quoted from The Borough Press¹:

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.
There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.
There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

My Thoughts:

Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall is set in contemporary England. The scenes that build the base for Matthew’s (the main character’s) mental illness have a very dark feel to them that makes you anxious to your bones. Most settings in the book make you uncomfortable either because of the people who interact within these settings, the settings’ construction, or because of the memories Matthew connects with these places. This is great, as the settings mirror how Matthew must feel.

Matthew, the novel’s main character, turns from a grieving boy into a young man who isn’t able to cope with his feelings on his own. Mr Filer manages to create a very believable character and in the end, he supports this believability by showing us one of the reasons for Matthew’s problems that most readers, just as Matthew’s parents, probably haven’t noticed all along. And while we’re talking about parents, Matthew’s mother is another character that holds a lot of potential. She lost one of her sons and now she has to protect the one that is left. But just as things start to get interesting, Mrs Homes disappears from the novel’s focus.

The Shock of the Fall gives us insight into the mind of a young man with mental illness who tells us his story. But Matthew doesn’t immediately give away what happened to his brother years ago in that rainy night. This way, Mr Filer is able to maintain a certain level of suspense, although I don’t think the story would have needed it. Matthew’s routines and his thoughts alone are worth the read. If you are interested in coming-of-age stories and books with protagonists that have mental illnesses, this poignant novel is for you.



Review – Die Seltsamen / The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann


About two weeks ago, I got to read the German edition of Stefan Bachmann‘s The Peculiar which was originally published by Harper Collins in 2012. It’s called Die Seltsamen and Diogenes publishers provided me with a review copy. Thank you.

What’s worth mentioning, is the effort Diogenes made to promote the upcoming release of the book. Weeks before the release, bloggers all over Germany were sent black feathers and got the message that Bath had vanished. They were encouraged to find out what had happened and were fed more clues at the Magisches Labor (translates to Magical Laboratory) where they were also able to speculate and communicate with each other.

Die Seltsamen Cover
German book cover provided by Diogenes¹
The Peculiar Cover
English book cover provided by Harper Collins²
Synopsis quoted from HarperCollins²:

Don’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged.

In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings—Peculiars—and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.

One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley—Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.

First he’s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

My Thoughts:

For The Peculiar, Stefan Bachmann uses a 19th century England backdrop to create an alternate steampunk world. Bachmann’s love for detail is apparent and it is his great talent. I particularly liked how he described the clockwork birds that play an important role in the novel.

Bartholomew Kettle and Arthur Jelliby are the main characters in The Peculiar. This way, Bachmann manages to capture both adult and young adult readers – at least theoretically. Unfortunately, I couldn’t empathize with neither of them. Bartholomew is just a little boy who wants to live a normal life and Arthur Jelliby seems actually quite insecure (sometimes even heartless), no matter his actions. I also always imagined the latter to be a middle-aged man rather than the young man he is said to be.

Most of the time, The Peculiar is a slow-paced book, even though the plot would require the considerably faster pace that it picks up near the end. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t able to empathize with the main characters. This is why, at some point, I stopped caring about the future of Bartholomew, Hettie and Mr Jelliby. I really enjoyed the world Bachmann created, but he just couldn’t hook me with his story that ends with a huge cliffhanger and left me indifferent.

One more thing though: Stefan Bachmann wrote The Peculiar when he was 16 years old! I think he did great for that age. Not many can write a book at 16. Still, my review was not written with his age in mind. It should simply show you what it was like for me to read his novel.

2beans(actually 2.5 magic beans)



Review – The Golem And The Jinni by Helene Wecker

Happy Friday everyone,

I’ve recently finished a wonderful book, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I heard about it a few months ago and thought that I might read it some time and as soon as I started reading, I regretted that I didn’t pick it up earlier ;). Warning: This isn’t just a novel with magical elements in it, it’s a great take on late 19th century immigration to the U.S.!

The Golem and the Jinni
image provided by HarperCollins¹
Summary provided by HarperCollins¹:

Helene Wecker’s dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in this strange new place, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their neighbors while masking their true natures. Surrounding them is a community of immigrants: the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom.

Meeting by chance, the two creatures become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

My Thoughts:

Helene Wecker’s novel about two unusual immigrants is mainly set in New York City around 1900 and she takes you right there. In The Golem and the Jinni, you’ll visit cramped, stuffy tenements as well as stately, airy mansions. You will explore a city that you’ve probably never seen before. Ms. Wecker has a gift for setting. I only wished there would have been a map somewhere in the book to place all the streets and to get a feeling for the distances the characters traveled.

The novel follows the two main characters, a female golem and a male jinni, on their search for freedom and happiness. Chava, the golem, is new to life. She learns fast and adapts to the Jewish immigrant society quickly. Her greatest fear is to hurt someone and so Chava stays wary. Ahmad, the jinni, was free to do whatever he wanted and now he is trapped in human form. His self-conscious and impatient character makes him roam New York City night after night. While Chava wants to be like anyone else, Ahmad only wants to be free again to return home to Syria.

In my opinion, these two main characters are the archetypal immigrants. They are very different from the rest of the people already living in the U.S.. Chava comes to stay and to make a living. She wants to fit in and still has to learn everything to survive. Ahmad is in the U.S. with the goal to return to Syria as soon as he is free again. He resembles those immigrants who came to America to work and make money just to return home again, although lots of them stayed in the end.

As you can see, The Golem and the Jinni is a novel about immigration and different cultures in New York City around 1900, but this book has even more to offer. It is a book about friendship and trust and it’s a riveting read.