22 September 2018

The Weekend 22nd September

No reviews over the weekend but...

... did you miss

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform!

21 September 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Pit of Vipers by Millie Thom

(Sons of Kings Book 2)

Fictional Saga
Anglo Saxon 9th Century

In Pit of Vipers, the second book in the Sons of Kings trilogy, the lives of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia continue to unfold against the ever increasing threat of Danish raids. Now back in his homeland, Eadwulf sets out on his determined quest for revenge, whilst Alfred’s leadership skills develop at the courts of his successive brothers. Before long, those skills will be put to the test . . . The Danish invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 865 is merciless and relentless. Every year more Norse ships come to join their comrades in a quest to plunder for wealth and gain domination over the people. The Wessex king is now Aethelred, Alfred’s last surviving brother, and Alfred becomes his trusted second-in-command. Whilst the Danes take kingdom after kingdom, the brothers wait with bated breath for them to set their sights on Wessex. By 869 their worst fear is realised.
In the meantime, Eadwulf pursues the objects of his revenge.”

As with most trilogies, it is best to start at the beginning, although I admit I have not (yet) read Book One but plunged straight in at this second part of the saga.

We have the young Alfred, the brother of the King, hordes of rampaging Vikings and Eadwulf, who was a slave to the Danish Vikings but is now a free man. Alfred is a young man, desperate to learn how to lead and rule, Eadwulf, living in Mercia with his wife and family, is determined to seek revenge for wrongs done to him in the past, and the Vikings do what Vikings do best where looting, fighting and pillaging is concerned.

I liked the way that Ms Thom has blended real characters from the past with her made-up ones – the blend is seamless so the reader, unless familiar with this period, does not know who is real or who is invented, which is excellent for a historical novel. The author also knows her subject for she has written a fascinating narrative that encapsulates the way of life in this turbulent period of the ninth century, a period dominated by the conflict of Christian against heathen, of hardship, battles, triumphs and tragedy.

But this is where the ‘but’ comes in: I did feel there was a little too much history, especially during the first part of the book which did read a tad slow, but to be fair this might be because I did not know the characters or background story, perhaps had I been more familiar with book one I would have been immersed right from the beginning. That said, for readers who enjoy delving into the facts that create the background to fiction, exploring the narrative of writers like Ms Thom is probably one of the best ways of discovering history.

No spoilers but book three will be looked-forward to by Ms Thom’s readers who have become engrossed with these intriguing characters who are striving to survive the upheaval of the Viking invasion of England. Meanwhile, I'm going back to Book One...

© Ellen Hill

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20 September 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Family drama
19th/20th century

Pachinko is a multigenerational saga about a family of Koreans in the early 20th century who have to move to Japan because Korea is occupied, the economy is tanking, and the best way to make a living is to emigrate to the land of their occupiers.

Initially, Sunja, the beloved daughter of two older parents (older in that they were early 20s when she was born in the early 20th century), gets pregnant out of wedlock. Her lover, she discovers after it’s too late, already has a wife in Japan. Sunja, who has her pride, has zero intention of being his mistress and sends him on his way. One of the boarders at her parents’ boardinghouse, a preacher with tuberculosis and who is traveling to his new church, offers to marry her and raise her child as his own. She accepts and goes with him to make a new life in Japan.  Together, they raise their sons in Japan and the story follows four generations of their family, navigating through wars, cultural upheaval, and constantly being viewed as outsiders. Throughout, they are haunted by shadows of their past that they cannot outrun, for better or worse.

It’s been a really interesting read, though I am discovering that I’m apparently not generally a fan of multigenerational narratives. Not in a single book, anyway. This started out strong and then got rushed near the end, as though there are too many stories, too many characters, and too much to say to give attention to any one of them. I think doing multigenerational sagas over several books is a better way to go.

That said, this was an excellent read, especially the first half, and I learned a ton about Korean culture that I had no idea about before. I didn’t know so many Koreans had moved to Japan, nor that Japan had occupied Korea. My education failed me! The way some of the people felt like they had to “pass” as Japanese just to be allowed to live in peace and make a life for themselves was so sad.

Overall, I had my quibbles with it, but I thoroughly enjoyed Pachinko and would recommend it as an excellent and eye-opening read.

© Kristen McQuinn

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