Monthly Archives: February 2017

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

everyone-brave-is-forgiven

2016. ebook. Simon & Schuster. 432 pages.

Review:

The excellently-titled Everyone Brave is Forgiven turned out to be an excellent novel all the way through, proving that it is apparently still possible to write a worthwhile addition to the oversaturated market of WWII fiction. The book starts off briskly at Britain’s entrance to the war in September 1939. The three main characters are: Mary North, a young upperclass woman who signs up for the war and is assigned to be a teacher; Tom Shaw, an education administrator and Mary’s eventual lover; and Alistair Heath, an art conservator and Tom’s best friend who signs up for the Army. The novel follows the homefront characters (Mary and Tom) through the London Blitz, while much of Alistair’s story takes place at the Siege of Malta, which I admit I knew nothing about before reading this book. The book ends in June 1942, several months after the American forces arrive in England.

I loved Cleave’s writing, especially his handle on dialogue and characterization. There’s wit, and profundity and tragedy all fixed up together. An example passage:

His men headed for the pubs on the back streets behind the station, where the licensing hours had been quietly surrendered. The soldiers would drink ale until dusk and then switch to whisky and fists. They would fight the Navy if available, other regiments if not, and the RAF as a last resort since it was not good form to bother the afflicted.

Occasionally, Cleave’s figurative language was a little over-the-top for my tastes, but that is a small quibble when I consider how invested I became in the story. Cleave crafts some very harrowing scenes which had me spellbound. I stayed up way past my bedtime finishing this book.

While the book honors the men and women who faced the war, it is no blind paean. As one character jokes to another in gallows humor: “This helpful war. It makes us better people and then it tries to kill us.” Too many lives are lost, among them children. And those with brave and good hearts falter under the psychological and physical trauma inflicted upon them.

One of the novel’s plotlines involves the ugly side of the children’s evacuation from London – the children who are rejected and/or mistreated by the homes in the country, often due to reasons of disability and race. There is no Narnian wardrobe, or Bedknobs & Broomsticks adventure for them, no Mr. Tom. Instead, these outcast children are eventually returned to their families in London, into the path of the Blitz. As Mary tells her mother late in the novel, “We are a nation of glorious cowards, ready to battle any evil but our own.”

Cleave was apparently inspired to write this book based on some of his own family history. One of his grandfathers fought in the siege of Malta, and was also assigned to be the minder of Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph Churchill. One of Cleave’s grandmother’s drove ambulances in Birmingham during the Blitz, as the characters Mary and her friend Hilda do in the novel for a time, but in London. Cleave’s other grandmother had been a teacher.

If you’re curious about this book, I recommend downloading the sample first chapter if you have an ereader. If you like the first chapter, you’ll like this book. It is reading the sample that pushed this novel higher on my to-read list, and I’m so glad I prioritized it.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Farm Lane Books – “This book covers a subject that has been written about thousands of times before, but somehow Chris Cleave shows it to us in a fresh light.”

Lit and Life: “Cleave’s writing grabbed me and held onto me with its honesty, intelligence, and emotion. More than once, I found myself thinking “oh, please no” and just as often “oh, yes, this.””

RuthAnn (Goodreads reviewer): “Unfortunately, the ending felt a bit flat to me, and the pacing was off, so not a great finish in my eyes. Overall, though, it’s a book that’s definitely worth reading, and I think it lives up to the hype.

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The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

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2013. ebook. 308 pages.

Recommendation from: Iris on Books (though I can’t find her review now)

Review:

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord was the first book of 2017 that I really escaped into, and it was such a relief to fall under its spell, as my mind had become rather consumed by the news in recent weeks.

It is not a dark novel, but the premise of Lord’s book starts with a genocide. The Sadiri planet was fatally poisoned by a rival planet, and only the expatriate and off-world Sadiri (mostly men) are left to carry on their people’s culture and traditions. (In culture and mental capabilities, the Sadiri are reminiscent of the Vulcans from Star Trek.)

A group of Sadiri are sent to the Cygnus Beta colony to investigate it as a possible new home. The Cygnus Beta planet is inhabited by a variety of people groups, and the Sadiri hope to find prospective mates among them who can help keep the Sadiri ways alive for future generations.

The main character is a government scientist of the Cygnus Beta colony named Grace Delarua. Due in part to her rapport with Sadiri councillor Dllenahkh, Delarua ends up on a field assignment that takes her, Dllenahkh and a team of Sadiri and Cygnian government employees on an investigative tour of far-flung Cygnian settlements.

The structure of The Best of All Possible Worlds is episodic, but not in a bad way. It’s kind of like a season of television. Almost every visit to a new settlement includes a little mini-story arc. (Instead of mystery-of-the-week, a TV version of the story would have “settlement of the week”). The various cultures and traditions of the settlements are fascinating. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader in some ways.

The novel’s ensemble game is strong. Although the relationship between Dllenahkh and Delarua forms a major plotline, Lord has made the group dynamics just as important, and the growing bond between them is readily apparent.

Most of the novel is narrated by Delarua, and I was delighted by her humor and accessibility as a main character. It’s actually laugh out loud funny at times. Another amusing aspect: one of the people groups in this universe is called Terran, which is quite obviously of Earth origin, and it’s fun to see which cultural objects made it to Lord’s far-future setting.

I don’t think this novel will appeal to everyone, but I hope that if any of the story elements above sound intriguing to you, that you will give it a shot because it’s really such a lovely book. Also, I found out after finishing the book that Karen Lord is from Barbados, so if you’re looking to diversify your reading, this may be one to add to your reading stack. I hope to read her first book, Redemption in Indigo, at some point.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Lilia Ford – “… it proceeds with a remarkable absence of the usual melodrama, speechifying and point-hammering that you might expect to find in this kind of story. Instead the ideas and connections emerge almost invisibly through the sum of many encounters, many scenes, where the point is often not obvious.” (Lilia was sold on this novel by someone telling her that it was Jane Austen Star Trek.)

Me, You and Books – “…somehow, the whole of the novel is greater than its parts.  I can’t describe this or that aspect of the novel—its descriptions, characters, plots—as exceptional, but I was totally mesmerized by it.”

Wendy (Bibliosanctum) – “Reading this book gave me the feeling of being comfortable no matter where I was. I felt like I was sitting in my cozy reading chair with these characters, enjoying the story as it quietly unfolded. It’s probably not a coincidence that the story is told in the first person by Delarua, who has the innate ability to calm those around her, even while being a very emotionally expressive person with empathic abilities.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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