The Flight of Gemma Hardy
By: Margot Livesey
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.
Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and ’60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.
Two things piqued my interest in this novel: the fact that it was a sort of modern re-telling of Jane Eyre and the fact that it was set in Scotland and Iceland. I eventually picked up the eBook maybe two years ago but it did take me some time to get around to reading it. But I eventually did, lol.
By: Halldór Laxness, Philip Roughton (Translator)
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Sometimes grim, sometimes uproarious, and always captivating, Iceland’s Bell by Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness is at once an updating of the traditional Icelandic saga and a caustic social satire. At the close of the 17th century, Iceland is an oppressed Danish colony, suffering under extreme poverty, famine, and plague. A farmer and accused cord-thief named Jon Hreggvidsson makes a bawdy joke about the Danish king and soon after finds himself a fugitive charged with the murder of the king’s hangman.
In the years that follow, the hapless but resilient rogue Hreggvidsson becomes a pawn entangled in political and personal conflicts playing out on a far grander scale. Chief among these is the star-crossed love affair between Snaefridur, known as “Iceland’s Sun,” a beautiful, headstrong young noblewoman, and Arnas Arnaeus, the king’s antiquarian, an aristocrat whose worldly manner conceals a fierce devotion to his downtrodden countrymen. As their personal struggle plays itself out on an international stage, Iceland’s Bell creates a Dickensian canvas of heroism and venality, violence and tragedy, charged with narrative enchantment on every page.
I had been eyeing a book or two from Halldór Laxness for a long time but it wasn’t until I travelled to Iceland last year and seeing his books everywhere that I decided to pick a book of his up. I decided to go with this book because of its expansive scope of 17th century Iceland and its ties to the Danish kingdom at the time (Denmark being the other place I went to last year). So here we are 🙂
By: Alan Furst
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944. Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic novel, a work on a grand scale.
This is not my first Alan Furst novel–that would be Mission to Paris (review)–but this was the first book I had ever heard of by the author and it has long been on my wishlist. Well last year I finally got around to picking it up and reading it 😀
By: Audrey Magee
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
In a desperate bid to escape the trenches of the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met, in a marriage of convenience that promises ‘honeymoon’ leave for him and a pension for her should he die in the war. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin and both are surprised by the passion that develops between them.
When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into Nazi high society, wedding herself, her young husband, and her unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina find their simple dream of family cast in tragic light and increasingly hard to hold on to.
Reminiscent of Bernard Schlink’s The Reader, this is an unforgettable novel of marriage, ambition, and the brutality of war, which heralds the arrival of a breathtaking new voice in international fiction.
I must’ve picked this book up how many times before committing myself to reading it, lol. I first heard of it when it was longlisted a few years ago for the Baileys Women’s Prize in fiction, the premise sounded interesting.
By: Joseph Boyden
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar. Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling amongst the Huron and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to the new world. As these three souls dance each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux.
I had a few other books by Joseph Boyden that have been sitting on my TBR pile for some time. This book in particular was everywhere a few years ago so I was finally compelled to pick it up. I’ve enjoyed the other books of his that I’ve read so far so I was curious to read this book.