Friday, 22 April 2016

Daughter Of The Killing Fields by Theary Seng / The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain / Saloon War At Seven Rivers by Kendall Hanson

Daughter of the Killing Fields: Asrei's Story by Theary C. Seng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I found Daughter Of The Killing Fields by Theary Seng on the book exchange shelves at Camping Casteillets in France. Knowing little about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia other than what I had learned from The Killing Fields film which I watched years ago, I thought it would be interesting to read an account by someone who actually lived through the regime's rule. Dave attempted to read this book before me and gave up fairly early on because he couldn't get on with the writing style and I also found it difficult to identify all the different people about whom Seng writes. There is a family tree diagram and glossary of Cambodian honorifics at the front of the book, but names seem change depending on the speaker which is tricky for my Western mind to grasp.

Seng was only four years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power so this book includes her own memories as well as information gleaned from interviews with surviving family members and other Cambodians. Their stories are horrific especially considering that these events were just forty years ago. I wasn't reading about ancient barbarity, but recent history and this is particularly shocking to consider. Seng writes about how her father was deceived into walking to his death, her time in prison before her mother vanished, and her years of rural peasantry. What shines through her memoir is the ingenuity and strength of these people, their struggle to survive but also their quiet acceptance of the inevitability of death. Perhaps a professional writer might have created a more accessible book overall, however there was a certain raw power in knowing that the person whose words I read had really experienced these incredible years.


The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain from its publishers, Gallic Books, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

The Red Notebook is a deceptive novel in that it seems quite light-hearted on the surface, but actually explores some pretty deep philosophical questions. Is it possible to glimpse what might have been? Can we influence coincidence? Where is the line between harmless curiosity and creepy stalking?

Returning home late one night Laure is mugged on her doorstep and her designer handbag stolen. Injured in the attack, she seeks refuge in a neighbouring hotel, but is later rushed to hospital. Next morning, bookseller Laurent finds the bag and, as a good citizen, takes it to the police. However they really aren't interested so Laurent undertakes his own amateur detective mission in order to track down its owner. The Red Notebook of the title is in the handbag and contains Laure's comments and thoughts on her life. There's nothing written there to identify her, but Laurent becomes so fascinated that he begins to cross social boundaries in his determination to find her.

I loved the gentle and very French style of this book which makes it a fascinating romance where, as readers, we never quite know whether Laure and Laurent will ever meet. And if they do, will their realities match up to their imaginations? Laurain has a deft touch and a lovely way of portraying his characters which comes through perfectly, even in translation. I was rooting for Laurent all the way through the book, even when his behaviour did start to get a little creepy. In the hands of a different writer, this could have become a sleazy or even a chilling book, but Laurain cleverly stays just on the happy side of the line. Yes, on reflection some of the coincidences are just too coincidental to be truly believable, but that didn't matter to me as I was so swept up in the romantic potential. I liked that both Laure and Laurent were independent people with pasts, cautious but open to possibilities, and Laurent's daughter is a great creation. I squirmed at the cafe scene! Laurain doesn't rush to his conclusion and often diverts into literary discussion or other asides. These do slow the pace, sometimes adding to its tension, but occasionally seeming like unnecessary padding. However The Red Notebook is still a relatively short book which I easily read in a few hours and I came away from it feeling uplifted and very satisfied with the tale.


The Saloon War at Seven Rivers by Kendall Hanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Having enjoyed The Bordello Kid, the first book in Kendall Hanson's Farr And Fat Jack western series, I was happy to download this second book, Saloon War At Seven Rivers, when I saw it advertised in the author's e-mail newsletter. Farr is still working for Fat Jack's mother providing security for her boarding house and Fat Jack performs much the same function in a saloon up the road. French Kate, who had been badly injured in the previous novel, is making a good recovery, but trouble ensues when her former boss tries to 'encourage' her to return to work.

Saloon War concentrates more on the action than it does the characterisations so I didn't feel the same depth to this story as I did its forerunner. I was disappointed by this because it was what I particularly liked about the first book. We learn a little more about Farr's unconventional upbringing, but newly starring characters such as the Olsen family and the gunman Graver never become fully rounded creations. I liked the overall story arc and, again, we have a satisfying ending, but Saloon War felt too short and I think more space could have been given to scene-setting and description. The will-they-won't-they between Farr and Kate is nicely done, but I found it difficult to fully understand the actions of other characters as I didn't know enough about their motivations.


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