Jane Smiley’s ‘Some Luck’

some luckSome Luck follows the lives of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, year by year from 1920 to 1953. From a young couple starting their lives on a farm in Iowa, the book follows their family as it grows and expands, following them across the country and beyond as they find love, go to war, discover new things about themselves and have children of their own.

All of this is set against the backdrop of wider global issues taking place at the time, placing this one fictional family firmly in the middle of some of the most important events of America’s twentieth century – from the Great Depression to the prohibition to the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War.

Walter and Rosanna are a typical Midwest rural farming couple, and they raise a family in the hope that their children will go out into the world and choose their own paths. They sacrifice everything they have to keep their family going – enduring drought, falling prices and poverty to make sure that there’s food on their table and that their children never go without an education. Continue reading

A review of Julia Gregson’s Jasmine Nights

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I have a soft spot for historical novels. I especially like it if these historical novels happen to focus on a subject that I know relatively little about. As any reader will know, World War II has – quite rightly – inspired a whole plethora of books over the years, and in my experience it’s quite rare to come across one that has a completely fresh take on the genre. However, Julia Gregson’s Jasmine Nights managed to do just that.

Jasmine nightsFar away from the trenches of central Europe or the grey, rationed world of 1940’s London, Jasmine Nights presents a completely different aspect of war experienced in the exotic cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Istanbul and the open skies over the Egyptian desert.

Against the wishes of her family and in a move may alienate her from her father forever, ENSA singer Saba has risked everything to pursue her passion and to serve her country. Egypt offers her a chance to grow in ways that she could never have imagined, but as the war progresses she finds herself increasingly embroiled in the shady world of espionage, with devastating consequences.

Pilot Officer Dominic Benson, serving with the Desert Air Force, has recovered physically from a traumatic injury but is struggling with the guilt of losing his best friend. When he hears Saba singing in a hospital concert, he dares to hope again. But taking to the skies again comes with it’s own dangers, and when disaster strikes, can they find their way back to one another?

The switching narratives give an insight into two very different sides of war, from Saba, fighting for her independence from the constraints of home, to Dom, who has experienced the all the horrors of war first hand but can’t bring himself to talk about it. At it’s heart, it’s essentially a romance novel, and yes, it does have some clichés and yes, the characters could have been developed a little further, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it.

Prior to Jasmine Nights, I hadn’t read much about WWII in Africa, and this book was packed full of vivid visual imagery and a wealth of detail and description that spoke to all the senses. I listened to this as an audiobook, mostly on my way to and from work, and on several occasions found myself loitering in the snow because I couldn’t bring myself to turn it off! The protagonists are interesting and appealing and there’s enough tension and intrigue to keep you hooked all the way to the end. Above all it’s entertaining, what more do you need?