Book Review ~ Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

isbn9780708898901-detailLove and Ruin tells the story of Martha Gellhorn, one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century, and her love affair with one of the century’s greatest authors, Ernest Hemingway.

The loves of Hemingway’s life are proving a rich mine for fiction; McLain herself wrote The Paris Wife about his first wife, Hadley Richardson (a book I haven’t read), and in 2014, Naomi Wood wrote Mrs Hemingway (which I have read). The reason seems to be that, apart from their tempestuous years as the wives of a difficult genius like Hemingway, all these women were remarkable people.

The Martha Gellhorn that we meet at the beginning of the novel is restless and unsettled, having written a novel that was poorly received, and eviscerated by her father. She’s looking for a cause, for something to be a part of, and when she runs into Hemingway, quite by accident in a Key West bar (where else?), her life takes a turn, and really begins. Not necessarily because she has met a man, but because meeting him is a catalyst. Gellhorn travels to Spain, to cover the Spanish Civil War, and becomes part of a group of Americans, including Hemingway, who are working there to help the Spanish people resist the fascist regime of General Franco.

McLain’s evocation of life in Spain, and later Cuba, then into wartorn Europe, feels extraordinarily real. The portrayal of areas ravaged by war and suffering was visceral and stark. Experiencing it through the narrative of Gellhorn, fictionalised though it is, was a great way for me to learn about a conflict (the Spanish Civil War) that I didn’t know too much about.

It must be hard, when writing about a woman who had a very famous husband, not to position her solely in terms of her relationship. Of course, Gellhorn’s marriage to Hemingway is important; it shaped a huge part of her life, and, you could argue, set her on a path that she might or might not have found for herself. But Martha Gellhorn was an accomplished, intelligent and brave woman, and McLain does an amazing job of showcasing this side of her character. I was left in awe at the sheer amount that Gellhorn achieved, and how gutsy she was. At times it was easy to forget that you were reading about a woman who actually did all of these things, who put herself into danger so she could report the truth; if this was a film you might be forgiven for thinking it was all a little too far-fetched, but these incredibly brave exploits seem to be the truth.

Hemingway is not reduced to a bit-player; his importance in Gellhorn’s life was too important. But McLain treads a very fine between making this a romance novel, and celebrating the achievements of Gellhorn herself. And of course, the best thing is that this is a great read. It’s written beautifully, and I didn’t want to put it down. I only knew about Martha Gellhorn from reading about her in relation to Ernest Hemingway, but Love and Ruin has made me determined to seek out more of her work.

Love and Ruin by Martha Gellhorn
Publication Date: 7th June 2018
Fleet
£14.99
Provided by publisher

Love and Ruin Banner

February & March 2018 Books

What do we have here – a blog post? Surely not, I hear you cry, for that Jane calls herself a blogger but doesn’t actually write anything. But here I am, trying again, and at the very least making this a place where I talk about the books I have read, because I love talking about the books I have read.

I got a bit behind with logging my monthly reads, but instead of cutting loose and starting afresh, which is tempting, I decided to go back and round things up, because I really like having this as a log of what I’ve read. I’ve been doing it in one way or another on this blog since 2011, so it would be a shame to start leaving gaps now. So without further ado, let’s look back at my February and March 2018 reads.

Feb-March-2018

Word Play by Gyles Brandreth
I randomly picked this up in the library when I was returning another book, and I managed to read it over the course of one day. It’s a look at language and how we use it, so it explores the likes of palindromes, puns, spoonerisms, anagrams and so much more. It’s clear (if you didn’t already know) that Gyles Brandreth is a lover of language and words, and though he’s quite eccentric about it, it’s a lot of fun to try the word games that he suggests when you can’t sleep!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The last few months feel as though they have been quite heavy on books that I want to read before I see the film, and this is one such example. A Wrinkle in Time is beloved in the U.S., and with the film hitting cinemas a couple of months ago, I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. It tells the story of Meg Murry, a young girl whose father has gone missing, and her attempts to reach him wherever he might be. She’s helped on her quest by three mysterious women, and ends up travelling outside of the universe to try and reach him. In all honesty, I was slightly underwhelmed by the book, but I think that maybe I needed to have been immersed in the universe of the story as a younger person to appreciate it in the way that millions of Americans do.

The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson
I’m always on the lookout for good true crime books, and I’d heard about this on one of the many podcasts that I listen to. I had already heard the story of the murder at the centre of the story; a young student, Jane Mixer, accepted a lift from someone when she was travelling home from college in the late 1960s, and was murdered by him, though he was not caught at the time. I was expecting this to be a straight telling of the story of her murder and the killer’s eventual capture, but it was actually a lot different. It’s written by Jane’s niece, who never actually met her aunt, but whose murder has obviously affected her family’s lives ever since. The story mostly follows the trial of the man who was eventually arrested and subsequently charged with the murder, and it’s a powerful and personal account of the grief that her whole family had lived with for over 30 years.

The Viceroy’s Daughters by Anne de Courcy
My favourite type of biography centres around high society women in the early 20th century. Sure, for the most part, they are flouncing around at parties and sleeping with men who are not their husbands, but many of them were undeniably involved in world politics (either directly or indirectly) at a time when the world was veering from one disaster to the next. This one follows the three Curzon sisters, Irene, Cimmie and Baba, who were connected to incredibly powerful men, first through their father, and then through their husbands and lovers. I listened to this on audiobook, and aside from a couple of really bad sound quality issues at various points, I really loved listening to it.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Another book that I was reading before I saw the film. I’d had it on my TBR since last September, fully intending to read it in good time so that I didn’t go into the film with the story and characters too fresh in my head (that’s a sure way to put you off a film, I’ve found!). However, in true me style, I left it right to the last minute, and ended up finishing it mere days before I saw it at the cinema. I loved the book, way way more than I thought I was going to. In terms of world-building, it’s pretty much unparalled with anything else I’ve read, certainly recently. What a feat, to have created this virtual world and make it feel so immersive, and most importantly, ensure that it makes complete sense. That’s the way it felt to me anyway, and the story itself was exciting and engaging and kept me guessing all the way through. This isn’t a film review, but I’ll just say that while the movie adaptation clearly decided to veer off massively from the plot of the book, it’s still a hugely fun and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

Books read in 2018 – 11

Blog Tour ~ Force of Nature by Jane Harper

26363669_820356591500735_835523176619311104_nAlice Russell is missing. She went on a team building exercise in the Australian bush, with the company on who she is currently whistleblowing, and while her four colleagues made it back safely, she didn’t, and nobody seems to know what happened.

Aaron Falk, the federal police agent who readers first met in Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry, has been secretly working with Alice to uncover some of the financial wrongdoing of the company she works with. When he discovers that she is missing, despite being an officer with the financial division, he’s drawn into the investigation,

Following on from The Dry, which I read and reviewed last year, I had no idea that Jane Harper’s next novel would feature Aaron Falk, figuring that this would be a stand-alone novel. The story itself is completely distinct from the family murder from Harper’s first book, but the consistency in the lead investigator of Falk is great; he’s a great character who I really enjoy spending time with. Although the focus of the story is with the missing Alice, Force of Nature continues to explore Falk’s relationship with his father, which made up a large part of the first book.

The case itself is a fun one to follow; the timeline splits into two, so we start almost at the end, with four women emerging from the outback, and one of them missing. We then go back to the start, discovering each woman’s character, and finding out exactly what happened, and why Alice goes missing. Interspersed with this action, we are part of the investigation with Falk, so as the police start to piece together what has happened, the narrative from the lost women approaches its climax, and the two timelines culminate together.

It’s a really fantastic crime novel, and it builds to such a pace that, as with all good crime stories, you reach a point where the whodunnit/what happened is so close to being revealed that you won’t want to put it down before you find out!

 

 

January 2018 Books

January Reads

The first month of the year was a good one for me, in terms of reading. I made a conscious effort to set aside more time for reading, instead of going to bed and playing on my phone while I listen to podcasts. I love podcasts, but I love reading more, so it’s important to me that I make the time. My next step is to buy an alarm clock so that I can put my phone on the other side of the room, because when I charge it near my bed, the temptation to check Instagram becomes too great!

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
With The Last Jedi in cinemas just before Christmas, along with the one-year anniversary of Carrie Fisher’s death, the fact that I had never read any of her books was on my mind when I was browsing through Amazon at the 3 paperbacks for £10. I added this one in and got to reading it right away. I enjoyed it up to a point; there’s no denying that Fisher was a wonderful writer, able to construct a witty one-liner at any given opportunity, and unflinchingly honest about her relationship with Harrison Ford, which forms the backbone of the book. But I wish so much space hadn’t been given to the actual diary entries in the middle of the book; I much preferred her retrospective look at her brief relationship with Ford, and her time on the set of the first Star Wars film.

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne
I’ve never read anything by Holly Bourne, but I know she’s a darling of the YA scene. I’m not a huge YA reader – not because I don’t like the books, just because I don’t often read them, but I thought I’d give this one a go. Maybe I started with the wrong book, but I wasn’t entirely won over. It’s the story of a teenager called Audrey (why do YA heroines always have to have unusual names?), who is trying to deal with her parents’ messy divorce, and her own painful break up at the same time, while starting a new part time job and doing her A-Levels and worrying about the future. And of course, there’s a new romance to think about as well. It’s not that I thought it was a bad book, I just think maybe I hadn’t managed my expectations. I just found the whole thing a little bit samey as many other YA romances that I’ve read. There’s even room for a gay best friend!

Seven Year Itch by Victoria Corby
When I was a bit younger, I devoured chick-lit novels. At the start of the 2000s, all of those books seemed the same; a mid-to-late twenties woman who was either very successful in her career, or very unsuccessful, who went to All Bar One after work, who met a man who she initially had some sort of conflict with but with whom she ended up living happily ever after. This was one of those books, and I read it back then, and for some reason, certain sections have lodged themselves in my memory, but the title and author had escaped me. One night last month I was awake in the middle of the night, had a flash of inspiration, and downloaded the Kindle Unlimited version of it. It’s not a great book, but the story of a property scandal in the countryside is mildly entertaining, and it’s not hard to see how it could be re-written for 2018 if you take out some of the questionable gender politics and add in some slightly diverse characters (but no need to go overboard, Katie Fforde manages to write book after book about straight, white, middle class people).

Force of Nature by Jane Harper*
I have a full review of Force of Nature coming soon, so I won’t say too much here. But it’s a follow up to Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry, which I read and reviewed at the very start of 2017. The case has changed completely, but the common thread is Aaron Falk, the police officer in The Dry who had returned to his hometown and found himself caught up in a murder case. As a federal police officer in the financial crimes department, Falk surprisingly once again finds himself caught up in an unusual case, as this time he ends up investigating after one of his key witnesses in an embezzlement case goes missing on a staff training course in a dense forest. Suffice to say, I really loved this book, and whizzed through it to find out what had happened and how it had happened. Full review coming next week!

Meet Cute by Various Authors
A short story anthology by various YA authors, Meet Cute features tales of ‘how they met’. There’s two teenage girls who meet after one lodges a customer service complaint via Twitter, and the other does everything she can to help her. There’s a futuristic story about the Department of Love, reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine, who perform relationship autopsies and the provide the chance to go back and try again. There are lots of lovely stories, some more engaging than others, and they are super diverse and inclusive (though off the top of my head I can’t remember if there are any male-male stories), and it was really enjoyable to listen to.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
This is a novel that was on just about every ‘Books to look forward to in 2018’ list, I was lucky enough to be offered it as a review copy. It follows four siblings who go together to see a psychic when they are children in 1960s New York; they are each told the date on which they will die, and the rest of the novel branches off in four directions as they live their lives under the shadow of the prediction. I will be reviewing this one in full closer to the publication date next month, but for now I’ll just say that I really liked it, and I’ve already recommended it to everyone I know!

Books read so far in 2018 – 6