The Boat Runner | Book Review


y648In the tradition of All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, comes an incandescent debut novel about a young Dutch man who comes of age during the perilousness of World War II.

Beginning in the summer of 1939, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem.

On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.

When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever.

Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.

+++ Image and blurb from HarperCollins website+++

3.75 Stars

A cleverly crafted WWII narrative that focuses on survival rather than heroics. The reader is forced to understand the unending loss and struggle that people endure during war and crisis, and how individual human voice and experience should not be lost to the greater politics.

Jacob’s lack of agency throughout much of the novel detracted from my emotional attachment to his tale, yet his grief was palpable. From this disconnect, I felt the progression of the plot was building up to a crescendo, as it never allowed me to find comfort in the narrative for nothing was safe from the destruction of war. The downside to this excellent distance and disquiet in the reader is that I often felt frustrated, as one act would not conclude by lead to more and more confrontation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the imagery of light, shadows, music and water – how they were woven throughout the novel and at key moments of Jacob’s development. It plays with the concepts of illumination heavily, as Jacob’s father is the owner and creator of a lightbulb factory – supplying lightbulbs to most of Europe. As the war forces blackouts and the Germans take control of the lightbulb factory, light is a strong metaphor for knowledge as many atrocities were hidden and kept secret.

Ultimately, it was a fascinating read that highlighted the human experience in war and the desperation of refugees.


An Heir of Uncertainty | Book Review

19304924Yorkshire, 1820

Lina, Lady Radbourne, thought being a countess would rescue her from poverty. Unfortunately, her young groom failed to plan for the future, and his drunken accident left her widowed and pregnant. Now Colonel Winstead Vaughan—Win—will inherit her late husband’s fortune…unless she gives birth to a boy. Win is her natural enemy, so why can’t she stop thinking about him?

Win is stunned to learn he stands to inherit a vast fortune. He’s even more surprised to find himself falling for the beautiful, spirited Lady Radbourne, who is the one woman who stands in the way of a life he’d only imagined.

When someone tries to poison Lady Radbourne, suspicion falls on Win. There’s a clever killer in their midst, and if Win doesn’t solve the mystery fast, Lina may perish. He needs to win her trust, but how can he prove it’s she he wants, and not the fortune?

+++ Image and blurb from Harlequin Publishing+++

Net Galley ARC received from Carina Press for an honest review

3.75 Suspicious yet Sexy Stars

I was uncertain when picking up this romance, as the cold Yorkshire countryside did not fit in well with the summer weather I have been experiencing. Thankfully the weather cooperated and it has become wet and grey, giving the read a relatable backdrop. Weather aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the mystery and twists of the plot, as I was not expecting a quality murder mystery alongside an excellent romance.

Lina only had a few months with her new husband Edward and as Lady Radbourne before he dies in a foolish dare – and the executor of the estate quickly contacts a long distance relative and heir presumptive. However, when the heir to the estate, Colonel Winstead ‘Win’ Vaughan arrives with his young daughter and eccentric younger brother, it is to discover that the widow Lady Radbourne is expecting and her child could result in his disinheritance. Tensions run high from the awkward situation, but also from the unexpected attraction Win and Lina feel toward each other. Attraction wars with suspicion as several attempts are made on Lina’s life close after Win and his family arrive, but there are so many distrustful local figures that the culprit could be anyone.

The murder mystery was well crafted and acted as a catalyst for Win and Lina’s romance, forcing their hand in desperate times. As a fond reader of crime novels, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the mystery and did not guess the murderer until the author intention let slip a few details to raise suspicion. The romance was also wonderfully crafted, as it did not easily develop from suspicion or from the stubborn natures of both characters but more from mutual respect and the slow burning passion that simmered beneath their concern for each other. Win’s nineteen-year-old pigeon-obsessed brother, Freddie, added wonderful comedic relief and had me hoping for him to find someone that shared his love of birds.

If you are looking for a murder mystery with slow-burn romance set in a Yorkshire winter, then you should definitely pick up An Heir of Uncertainty.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown | Book Review

3.75 Deliciously Piratical Stars

Pirates, explosions and Gourmet? Oh my!

The basic premise that a chef taken captive on a pirate ship forced to cook one gourmet meal a week for the dastardly lady pirate, is a wonderful hook. Yet this book offers so much more than mere echoes of the Romantic adventure stories. Eli Brown tantalizes the reader’s taste and smell with evocative descriptions of ingredients, cooking and final serving. If you enjoy food and reading of food then Owen Wedgewood is your dear friend.

However, the creation and science of the food is explored as Wedgewood must develop basic ingredients from the crudest of pantries. I must admit I found this fascinating, reading how the development of a yeast culture was essential for baking but the conditions forced him to inventive measures.

The plot was not new, but the politics behind the tale was curious. Highlighting the devastating impact of expanding European consumption of ‘exotic’ teas/fabrics/trade, the abuse of opium and the idealist supremacy behind colonialist ventures. The character arc was pleasantly developed and allowed the reader to join him in the gradual understanding of wider politics.

A fun tale that moved swiftly with action and captivated me with food. A recommended read for any foodies wanting an adventure with pirates on the high seas.

Click below to watch a video of Eli Brown discussing his book Cinnamon and Gunpowder


The Five People you meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

MitchAlbom_TheFivePeopleYouMeetInHeavenI read this book in a day, and it took me twice as long to full understand how I felt towards it. I think that everyone will have their own ideas towards this book, whether it is too preachy, hyper emotional, a wonderful fiction, or even a beautiful idea of the afterlife.  Regardless, Albom is playing with some pretty big life questions and making us think about them in a new light.

The story is of 83 year-old Eddie, well more like it begins with his death, and follows him through the five people he meets in heaven. Eddie has worked as a maintenance man at Ruby Pier amusement park, ever since his father relinquished the position when he fell ill and died. The everyday is viewed as mundane and a series of tasks to get him through the day, but he always ensures all tasks are completed properly. One afternoon the carriage seat of the sheer-drop ride ‘Freddy’s Fall’ becomes precariously skewed and passengers are stuck at the top of the drop with only the safety bar stopping them from falling. The park staff work quickly under Eddie’s orders and manages to save the people, but he notices too late that when they release the carriage seat for decent the hydraulic cord will snap and send the seat plummeting to the ground. He manages to warn everyone away, save for a young girl wailing in the confusion, so Eddie runs to save her from the descending death.

He doesn’t know if he saved the girl but all he knows is that he is being dragged away onto a journey, and the first stop is to the amusement park of his childhood. Eddie first meets the blue man, who he accidently killed when chasing his baseball onto the road causing a crash. Next was his Army Captain, who died in war but he discovers who dies saving his men (which included Eddie). Then he met Ruby, the woman who gave her name to the pier, and came to hate it after it nearly destroyed the life of her husband. He spent most of his time with his wife, Marguerite, exploring their life together and finally dancing to their wedding song for the last time. Eddie’s last person, a Pilipino girl named Tala, lifts the shadow that always haunted him from his days in the war.

All of these people exist in their own idea of heaven, even if Eddie hadn’t been there in his life or had not even known the person. Heaven seems to be a unique creation in the mind of each person, their own special place of dreamed happiness. Marguerite, for example, existed in a heaven of endless weddings, always celebrating the beauty and hope of love. However, each person Eddie met was to teach him something or allow him to ease into a peaceful existence for heaven. Through promises, forgiveness, love and memories; Eddie discovered that his life did have meaning and he did not lead a “nothing” life as he always claimed.


I must admit throughout this entire book I was thinking of how close this was to the concept of ‘A Christmas Carol’, changing the outlook of life for the grumpy protagonist. Avoiding the giant elephant of ‘actual afterlife beliefs’ in this novel, I would rather it have more significance to how people can live their lives. No one should think or be bullied into the idea that they are nothing, and that life is filled with beautiful people that you should cherish, understand, fight with and forgive every day. I think I take away the importance of connections from this book, and will give myself time to contemplate the rest.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Well I am not going to beat around the bush with this novel – I am stuck between liking it and not liking it. The unhappy fact that it took me quite a long time to get into the novel, was very frustrating, but that is mainly due to the lack of direction. I suppose I have been accustomed to reading very plot driven novels and this was a sudden jump into the deep end of character driven narrative. However, the confusing paradox is that I like Holden as a narrator, even though he is confused, alienated and dysfunctional in his reality and that of a narrator, I felt his narration was honest and true.

catcherThe plot, if you can call it that, starts with Holden Caulfield farewelling his former school (which he flunked out of) Pencey Prep: seeing off old teachers, talking to fellow students, finishing in a fight with his roommate (over a girl his roommate just had a date with and who Holden knew), and then he decides to leave that night instead of waiting for a few more days. He travels to New York (where he lives) and checks into a questionable hotel, before hitting the town. He interacts with multiple women putting the moves on some, but becomes terrified when approached by Sonny the prostitute. He has little patience for men his own age (Holden is 16 years old, but he does know older boys from previous schools he flunked out of), he either finds them annoying, avoids them if he can or enjoys annoying them.  He interacts better with a former English teacher, who later became a family friend, Mr Antolini, who he readily takes advice from but run from him, when he thinks Mr Antolini is making a “flit” pass at him.


Throughout all of his experiences in New York, I only really enjoyed when he sneaked back to his home to see his younger sister, Phoebe. It was the first time in the narrative when he  isn’t harshly criticising another behaviours, as everyone he interacts with are either criticised for having a “phony” behaviour or being an uninteresting moron. It was in his conversations with Phoebe and Mr Antolini that I began to understand the nature of Holden’s view point, and the meaning behind the narration style. Holden suffered the death of his brother, Allie, when he was younger and witnessed suicide of a boy at one of his schools; from these traumas Holden idolised the innocence of childhood. All the phony behaviour Holden disliked was associated with adults, social etiquette, sexual activities; and he saw children as honest, innocent, and true to their own natures. It was expressing a fear of growing up, of change; Holden didn’t want change. He wanted to stay exactly the same like the displays at the museum, to keep going around on the carousel. It was expressed beautifully in his desire to be ‘the catcher in the rye’, to stop children from running out of the playground of rye and over the cliff to death/adulthood.

catcher in the rye web 1

Another reason I am unsure of my feelings regarding this books, is that Holden is so desperate for affection and company but he continuously pushed people away. Holden was trying to understand the change he was going through in his teens, the blessed years of puberty, so he buys the red hunting hat to declare his individuality. However, at the same time he wants to alienate himself from the change and from the people around him who are growing up, so he constantly pushes people away by being nasty or just running away. However, by creating that defence of alienation he makes himself so lonely that he craves affection, but is too scared to truly experience it. As you read it is clear he is pushing himself further and further towards a nervous breakdown, which does occur, and you finally find out he is retelling his ‘long weekend’ from an institution about a year later.

I cannot completely disregard one of Salinger’s most popular novels, as he does end it with very realistic sense of hope, but it is a raw view into the human experience that one should be prepared for.