Zoo Station: David Downing

I’ve read all of Downing’s “Station” books before, but decided to go back to the source and remind myself what makes a good writer.

Downing provides extraordinary portraits of decent, ordinary people in extraordinarily evil times. My favourite Nazi-timeline series.

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All the Light You Cannot See: Anthony Doerr

An orphan boy and a blind girl caught up on opposite sides of the maelstorm called World War II. ALL THE LIGHT YOU CANNOT SEE has all the makings of a trite, cliched pantomime. Instead, it is a searing portrait of WWII daily life, focusing on common people instead of major events and battles and heroes and villains.

Werner has charmed me forever.

It’s not often I agree with the majority (I’ve only ever voted for a successful politician once), but this clearly belongs on all the bestseller lists.

Transcript: Kate Atkinson

Oh my! Didn’t this one surreptitiously infiltrate onto my device clandestinely. I don’t remember ever having heard of this author, much less installing it on my device.

Oh my! Erudition! Intelligence! Bon mots! Clever turns of phrase! A superb sense of time and place!

And of course, the sublime Juliet Armstrong: orphan, romantic, thief, inveterate liar, unhappy virgin, free with her charms, spy, loyal friend, completely selfish, spunky, devil may care, murderess [yes, that’s a spoiler, but Ms Atkinson saves a much larger surprise ending that I had not one iota was coming].

Superb bibliography. With the ‘right’ books (my grad degree is in the History of Intelligence during this time period, so I know which ones are which).

I sincerely hope Ms Atkinson will see fit to provide me with an invitation to be part of Juliet Armstrong’s fascination life again.

I’ll be waiting.

Juliet….Juliet…wherefore art thou?

The Diplomat’s Daughter: Karin Tanabe

I was really ready to like this book from the cover blurb.

My optimism was misplaced. The word usage is extremely pedestrian. I can almost never read a book without making a note of some interesting idea or clever word use. I made not a single notation from the entire novel.

Worst of all is the extremely unrealistic portrayal of a young Japanese woman of that social station and age and time period. Even if her parents allowed her to behave in the manner the book describes, Japanese society never would have.

As an illustration, do some quick research on the current Crown Princess of Japan, who had a similar upbringing, except she is a present-day version of Emiko, when contemporary social conventions are a little more unencumbered. Princess Masako has endured such societal pressure to bend to the social norms of her station, she has suffered extreme emotional distress, to the point where she has seldom even appeared in public since 2002.

Emiko fighting and rising above such tribulations would have been a good story. Instead, Tanabe pretends the real-world societal strictures of Japan barely existed.

The Swiss Spy: Alex Gerlis

It took until my e-reader told me I had read 73% of the book to understand why Gerlis bothered writing this book at all.

The historical facts are well known, leaving no suspense. The writing is bland and expository. The characters are such cardboard cutouts I frequently had to thumb backwards to remember who was who.

Then, finally, at the 73% mark the titular protagonist performs the one decent act in the book, which naturally marks him for death.

So I guess that’s the purpose: spying is a nasty, dirty business that can only end in misery and death. Much like this book.

Canto for a Gypsy: Martin Cruz Smith

Seriously?

It’s hard to believe the same author that wrote the Arkady Renko and December 6 masterpieces provided us with this (yes, it’s an early novel, before MCS found his ‘feet,’ but still…).

I am a sucker for fiction about Hungary, a nation that went from superpower to irrelevancy in a few mere years and it sits far outside our general sphere of recognition today.
Unfortunately, you won’t find much to keep you here.
Try David Downing’s “Station” novels instead.