Guest Review by Ceri Gwyther: The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

(Narrated by Laurence Bouvard)

This is another one of those books that I found randomly on BorrowBox whilst training for a marathon. The problem (benefit??) with Borrowbox is that everything is always on loan so I end up finding novels that I would not normally choose. I nearly switched it off when I first starting listening, The Woman in the White Kimono started out like a bog-standard romance novel. These are not my cup of tea.

But, I had miles to go and nothing else to keep me going, and besides, Laurence Bouvard has really quite a captivating voice. I’m glad I persevered, but this book does contain some seriously upsetting scenes. I guess this would not be surprising if you read the blurb and knew your history. Quite obviously, I didn’t.

This book is the tale of two women. Naturally, their tales are intertwined. We start with Naoko Nakamura in post-war Japan, 1957. She has fallen in love with an American sailor who loves her back and sets out to win the approval of Naoko’s family. As with any love story between the occupied and the occupier, it’s not plain sailing. The second story introduces us to Tori Kovac the daughter of said American who has no idea of her father’s previous life and love, Naoko, until he drops clues on his deathbed. Tori is an investigative journalist and after a few hesitations, sets out to discover the story of her father’s youth. Could she have done anything but?

What starts out as a seemingly innocent story soon turns darker as we are introduced to the stigma and shame that befell the Japanese women who had relationships (both mutual and not) with the American gaijin. What is worse is what befell the children born of such relationships. I will leave it to the reader to discover some of what happened to these children by letting them read this book. Suffice it to say, that this is not an easy book to run too – it’s hard to catch your breath when you’re trying not to cry. That said, I’m glad that this piece of history has been well and truly seared into my memory banks.

Guest Review by Ceri Gwyther: Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

I stumbled across this book quite by accident. I was training for my first marathon and I prefer not to think about running when I’m running, as I just stop. Audiobooks are my life saver. I’d already made my way through the Lord of the Rings and I was after another epic to keep me motivated. So, I turned to BorrowBox, a way of borrowing audiobooks from your local library. I basically scrolled through all the books until I found one that was of sufficient length, and quite importantly, available for loan.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands is based on Japanese mythology. It did not disappoint. Well actually, there was one huge disappointment, but I’ll come to later. The story starts off with a young boy losing his father and coming under the protection of his uncle. This does not bode well for our young hero. It soon transpires that the elderly Emperor is going to die and the sorcerer Prince Abbot wishes the Emperor’s second son to secede. Soon, our hero Shikonoko finds himself embroiled in magic and intrigue, as events beyond his control start to take over.

Each chapter is written from the perspective of different characters, and unlike certain other novels where the jumping of the story through time and space drives you crazy, in this book, each chapter succeeds in advancing the story in a logical manner.

What I like about this book is that it does not focus on the battles, the gore and the million and one ways of mutilating/causing pain to your your enemy. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments, but these are secondary and the author focuses on the characters, their motivations and their stories.

Some people have criticised Lian Hearn’s style of writing as being too simple, but from someone who has listened to the story rather than read it, I found it really soothing yet gripping.

As for my disappointment, this stemmed from me not knowing anything about the book. After some Googling, it transpired that I had in fact listened to books 1&2 of a 4-book series. My big disappointment had been the ending. No wonder I hadn’t enjoyed it, I was only halfway through! Now to find books 3&4 and to keep running.

Guest Review by Ceri Gwyther: Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

This book is the first of a trilogy by up and coming author, Matthew Ward. The story encompasses two Kingdoms; the Tressian Republic and the Hadardi Empire, and follows a cast of heroes and heroines as they try and defend their home nations. 

Why do I like this book? Firstly, it is a chunk of a book. I love a good story that I can invest time into. Time to get to know my favourite character (I actually still haven’t figured out who that is), to watch them grow, and sometimes to surprise me. I like to watch the story unfold, through twists and turns, unable to put the book down when really I should be asleep. Shorter stories just don’t do that for me.

Obviously, it’s not the size of the book that matters if it is not a good story. Legacy of Ash has everything you can wish for from a fantasy novel; heroes & heroines, magic, intrigue, destiny, a pantheon of bickering Gods and Goddesses and dare I say it for fear of sounding like a preaching feminist, strong female characters. Hurr-flipping-ray. Not all of the strong female characters are sword-weilding valkyries (though some of them are), some are masters, I mean mistresses, of intrigue, some are homely and some are just dealing with the cards they’re dealt. I’d like to say that Matthew doesn’t make a sing and dance of this, but actually one of the plot arcs is specifically looking at women coming out of the shadow of their men-folk. That’s not my favourite plot-arc, but I am impressed that he did it.

Perhaps what I like most about Matthew’s work is that despite the genre, or perhaps that should be sub-genre, of his different works, there are elements that tie them all together. You can dip into his Coldharbour series, set in modern day London, or into some of his short stories and you can guarantee that there will be names or monsters you recognise that turn up unexpectedly. I am not familiar with any other author crossing worlds and ages like this, tying all the stories together.

I must admit I have a confession. I know the author. However, I genuinely enjoy reading his works and always look forward to reading the next installment.