Book Review ~ All the Things You Are by Clemency Burton-Hill

All the Things You Are tells the story of Natasha, a young Jewish woman living in New York. Following a broken engagement, she falls in love with Rafi, an architect working on her grandmother’s social club, who also just happens to be from a Palestinian family.

I’ve long been fascinated by the Jewish faith, and for a while I’ve been looking for a non-fiction book that will help me understand all the customs, traditions and history that come with being a Jew. Having read All the Things You Are, I’ve realised that the best way to understand the faith may be to read books like this, novels that are focused on Jewish families. I certainly do not know as much as I should about the historical conflicts surrounding Israel, and even though this novel hasn’t made everything clear, it has certainly encouraged me to seek out more information and read more about it.

As much as I enjoy standard chick-lit books, sometimes I find myself looking for something more in a book. All the Things You Are has, at its heart, a romance, and yet it is so much more than just a boy-meets-girl kind of a story. Natasha and Rafi fall in love in New York, where, at first, she assumes that he must be Jewish. It’s not clear why she assumes this; maybe it’s just because her Holocaust-surviving grandmother has employed him as an architect, or maybe it’s the way he looks. When she finds out that his grandparents were forcibly removed from Jerusalem as children, it doesn’t affect her feelings for him, but she does feel a sense of guilt at the way that he is treated in Jerusalem, when, as a Jew, she is able to visit the city without anyone questioning why she is there.

The title speaks to the fact that who you are is made up of so many things; Rafi spends a lot of time telling Natasha that he doesn’t want to try and take on any of the resentment that she seems to want him to feel over the injustice that his parents suffered. For her part, she can’t help but feel a sense of guilt, just because she is Jewish, even though she of course had nothing to do with it.

When the action moves, halfway through the book, from New York to Jerusalem, these issues become even more heightened, with Natasha meeting Rafi’s family and friends, and the political and historical issues really come to the forefront.

For me, the most fascinating character in the book is Natasha’s grandmother, Esther, and it’s a shame that there isn’t really enough room within the story to focus more on her. She’s very much in the background, providing a reason for Natasha and Rafi to be brought together, and book-ending the novel with her work, but it would have been nice to learn more about her. Perhaps there’s a whole other novel waiting to be written about her tragic past. She says that New York saved her life, and I would love to read more about that.

Although I felt that things got tidied up almost a little too neatly at the end, I did enjoy All the Things You Are; it was an interesting story about a romance that has to transcend tribes, proving that even in this day and age, sometimes love has to try very hard before it is able to conquer all.


All the Things You Are by Clemency Burton-Hill
First Published: 2014
ISBN: 9780755358274
Publisher: Headline
Book provided in exchange for an honest review by bookbridgr

32 Before 32 ~ The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer

I figured it was about time I started thinking about this 32 Before 32 goal (read ten books from 1982), because time is marching on, and before this one, I had only read one. I now have quite a few from the library, so I can crack on!

When I reserved The Prodigal Daughter at the library, I didn’t realise that it was actually the second book in a trilogy. In fact, I didn’t really know anything about it, I reserved it purely and simply because it was published in 1982. It wasn’t until I actually looked at the cover of the book that I realised that it had the United States presidential seal on it, and I realised then that it was probably more up my street than I had previously suspected.

It tells the story of Florentyna Rosnovski, the daughter of a Polish immigrant who has spent years building up a hotel empire, along with a grudge with a local banker. The story of the grudge, unbeknownst to me, is told in the first book in the trilogy, Kane and Abel. Florentyna is a precocious child with a talent for academia, and decides from an early age that she wants to be the president, following in the footsteps of her idol, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Somewhat predictably, she falls in love with the son of her father’s mortal enemy, and as a result, she is estranged from her father for many years.

i really enjoy a book that spans several decades, so reading about Florentyna’s life, from when she is born in Chicago in the 1920s, until she is challenging for the presidency in her sixties, was really appealing to me. Added to this is that half of the story is set against the backdrop of the American political system, something that is of particular interest to me, and I was always going to enjoy reading it. The depth of knowledge of the political system is very good, and if Jeffrey Archer wasn’t a famous (or infamous) name in British politics, I would have no trouble believing that the author was an American. As the book draws on, the real-life events that have provided the backdrop to the story have to become imagined, so we get a British Prime Minister in Neil Kinnock, and, somewhat bizarrely, Prince Charles marrying Diana in the early nineties.

None of this, nor the reputation of Jeffrey Archer himself, detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. It’s pretty well written, and the story is entertaining. Sometimes it feels a bit as though Florentyna can do no wrong, and then all of a sudden she has a reality check of some sort. These small hiccups in her political career and personal life can feel a bit shoehorned in, as though Archer has suddenly realised that readers might not warm to a lead character who leads a completely charmed life. But overall, I enjoyed reading about her life and following her as she attempts to achieve her ultimate ambition.

Although since reading the book I have realised that this is the middle story of a trilogy, I don’t see myself reading the other two books. While I enjoyed this one, I don’t think I need to read about the feud between the two men of the first book, nor do I necessarily want to read about Florentyna’s life after this book.

Two down, eight to go on number one of 32 Before 32 – read ten books from 1982.

Book Review ~ Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane

I didn’t really know what to expect going in to Zenith Hotel. I had seen a lot of people talking about it on Twitter, and I was keen to read it, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a book about a prostitute in Paris.

Nanou is the prostitute in question, and Zenith Hotel  is, quite simply, the story of a day in her life. She lives in a grubby hotel, and wakes up each day with nasty taste in her mouth, but she has no desire to change her life. This isn’t a book about redemption, or a fairytale about a sex worker changing her life. It is is simply the story of Nanou’s day.

Interspersed with Nanou’s writing are the stories of her clients. Each client has their own story, and they are connected only by the fact that they pay the same woman for sex. That, and they are all lonely and isolated. Coop-Phane shows that there is a commonality in loneliness; people feel so alone, and don’t realise that in their loneliness, they are connected to others. Each man is given merely a chapter to tell his story, and yet each character feels as fully fleshed out and developed as if they were given an entire book.

The most interesting thing to me was the way Paris was portrayed. This is not the glamorous city that you know from films and photos, and nor is it the bohemian paradise you may think you know. It’s a seedy, dirty and grubby place that is so at odds with the usual portrayal of the city.

Oscar Coop-Phane was just twenty when he wrote Zenith Hotel, and the language is just gorgeous. My favourite passage is this one, on bereavement:

“The main thing was to live with it, like a parasite that you feed with your own blood. It sucks at you, but it’s better to let it drink a few drops of blood than to chase it away and have it harrow you to the bone in retaliation…You won’t get over it, all your life there’ll be this gaping wound deep in your heart. But don’t worry. It won’t stop beating.”

Simply stunning prose, and it felt as though he was speaking directly to me. That’s pretty high praise as far as I’m concerned.

Zenith Hotel  is a very short book, and definitely one that can be read in one sitting. At just shy of 100 pages, it manages to pack an awful lot into a very short book.

* I was provided with a copy of this book for review purposes by Arcadia Books

Book Review ~ The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

I first read The Go-Between when I was studying for my English Literature A-Level (a massive fourteen or so years ago). I remember enjoying it, which to be perfectly honest is not always the case when I study a book. I often find, as I’m sure many others do, that studying a book at school or university can take an awful lot of enjoyment out of it, but this wasn’t true of The Go-Between. So when my friend Jen mentioned that she was planning on reading it again, I thought I’d follow suit, and I dug out my old, battered copy, and got reading.

The Go-Between tells the story of Leo, a young boy who, in the first summer of the 20th Century, is invited to stay with a school friend at his home, the grand Brandham Hall, in Norfolk. The story actually begins with the adult Leo finding an old diary that he kept during that time, and reminiscing on his time with the Maudsley family, and thinking about the events of the summer changed his life forever.

Developing a crush on his friend’s grown up sister, Marian, Leo finds himself engaged as a go-between, a postman between Marian and Ted, a local farmer. At first Leo doesn’t understand the nature of the letters passing between the two of them, though the reader is quickly clued in as to what is going on. Despite being promised to the local Viscount, the man from whom the Maudsleys are actually renting Brandham Hall, Marian is engaging in a passionate affair with Ted.

The most famous quote of the book is the opening line: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” This is said from the perspective of the older Leo, a man who is looking back, and this sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Although it is the younger Leo’s story, we are regularly reminded that the story is from the memories of the older man, and it provides us with a perspective on a series of events that a twelve-year-old couldn’t have been expected to understand at the time.

Hartley uses the figures of the zodiac and various gods throughout the whole novel, with Leo likening Marian to Virgo (ironically, as it turns out), Ted to the water carrier, and himself to Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Viscount Trimingham, with the disfigured face he obtained during the Boer War (happening in the background of the novel), is compared to Janus, with his two faces.

As it has been so long since I first read this book, I can’t remember all of my feelings on the book. I can’t remember if I felt as sad for Leo then as I did this time around. The story of the summer of 1900 is bookended by the older Leo, now in his fifties, reminiscing about that summer, and at the end of the book, he actually returns to the village to try to put some of his demons to rest. The whole thing left me feeling sad for this character whose life is essentially wasted because of the actions of adults who manipulated and used a child for their own means. Hartley himself was said to have been surprised when people sympathised with the relationship between Marian and Ted, as he himself had intended for them to be seen to be in the wrong. From a 21st Century perspective, it’s even easier to empathise with Marian; a young woman who is essentially being sold to the local landowner, when she is clearly in love with Ted. But her actions (and Ted’s too, he is not blameless in the slightest) regarding Leo, and her attitude at the end of the novel, mean that for me, she is not a particularly sympathetic character.

I would have to say that I enjoyed The Go-Between even more this time round. Reading it as a seventeen-year-old was fine, and I’m glad I did, but I think as an adult, I was able to enjoy it on another level. I feel as though it’s going to be one of those books that I am going to read every couple of years.

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
First Published: 1953
ISBN: 978-0141187785

Book Review ~ The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith


I have never been particularly shy about loving Young Adult books. Of course, I prefer the very good ones, but even the mediocre ones tend to be short enough that it doesn’t really matter that they aren’t very good.

I downloaded The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight from Netgalley. It’s not a new book, but they were offering a limited number of downloads, so I thought I’d give it a go. The first thing that struck me was what a striking resemblance it bore to a particular event in my life.

Seventeen-year-old Hadley is flying to England to attend her dad’s wedding. Missing the flight, she waits at the airport and meets Oliver, a handsome British guy who just happens to be on the same flight as her.


Sitting in an airport, worrying about missing a wedding struck a particular chord with me, because this is the situation I found myself in a few years ago. OK, so my travel woes were caused by a snowstorm, rather than a missed flight, and I waited a lot longer than Hadley for my flight, but I felt her pain! We were even both travelling (or trying to travel) from Connecticut to London, and both had the same fears over having terrible hair for the wedding (her fears weren’t realised, while mine very much were).

Sadly I didn’t fall in love with a handsome stranger either. Oliver is the perfect hero for a Young Adult novel; he’s tall, handsome, mysterious, and slightly tortured. Hadley has her own problems, but, of course, she goes on both a literal and metaphorical journey, and manages to reconcile herself yo her father’s new life in London.

This is a very short novel; and I really felt as though I wanted a little bit more time devoted to all the characters. I didn’t feel as though I really got to know anyone other than Hadley, and I didn’t believe in the relationship between her and Oliver, because there wasn’t enough time devoted to it.

The Statistical Probability of Falling in Love was fine as a quick read, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed half as much if I hadn’t identified with the travel crisis like I did.