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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Winter Games
Francie visits her grandmother Daphne in a home but she is more concerned with her own life than she is with her grandmother's life which is now drawing to a close. Francie is a journalist working on a magazine and during a work trip to Germany she sees a picture in a museum of Daphne with Hitler in the 1930s. Naturally she is curious and wants to know more...
Published 23 months ago by Damaskcat

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who hasn't got a photo of Granny with Hitler?
Daphne Linden is the daughter of an Oxford don, a man of Latvian Jewish extraction and a philanderer. In 1935, she is just 18 and has a place, but not a scholarship, at Oxford. Her father suggests that she spend a few months in Germany, improving her grasp of the language, before resitting her entrance exam. Daphne has a naïveté that we cannot imagine these days,...
Published on 8 Jan. 2013 by S. B. Kelly


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Winter Games, 16 Mar. 2013
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
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Francie visits her grandmother Daphne in a home but she is more concerned with her own life than she is with her grandmother's life which is now drawing to a close. Francie is a journalist working on a magazine and during a work trip to Germany she sees a picture in a museum of Daphne with Hitler in the 1930s. Naturally she is curious and wants to know more.

The story is told in alternate chapters - Francie in 2006 and Daphne in 1936 - and it shows how different life was then when compared to the twenty first century. As Francie struggles to make sense of her heritage and to make a success of her own life she becomes more and more interested in what did happen to her grandmother in 1936 - the year her own father was born.

This book grew on me. After the first hundred pages I was considering giving up but something kept me reading and I was glad in the end that I had done so. I did not take to Francie and found her a very selfish person, always considering how events related to her - getting annoyed when she thought Daphne was going to die before she could talk to her; hearing of a flat for sale in her own block and wanting a friend to buy it; being attracted to a work colleague. I liked Daphne as a character, though she too had her faults.

I did get a bit bored with the brand placement in the 2006 episodes and felt they rather over-egged the pudding. It was obvious from the reader's first glimpse of Francie and her husband, Gus that they lived a very fashionable life.

Overall this is an enjoyable read though I found it difficult to chose whether to award it three or four stars. As I enjoyed the last third of the book and read it at a sitting I came to the conclusion it warranted four stars. I felt some of the writing was a little slapdash but overall it was a good story and the two parts dovetailed well.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who hasn't got a photo of Granny with Hitler?, 8 Jan. 2013
By 
S. B. Kelly (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
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Daphne Linden is the daughter of an Oxford don, a man of Latvian Jewish extraction and a philanderer. In 1935, she is just 18 and has a place, but not a scholarship, at Oxford. Her father suggests that she spend a few months in Germany, improving her grasp of the language, before resitting her entrance exam. Daphne has a naïveté that we cannot imagine these days, barely understanding the sudden disappearance of a Jewish classmate from her Bavarian school. She then moves to Munich where her friend Betsy joins her from finishing school. The girls find plenty of boys to squire them around and are invited to the winter Olympics.

Seventy years later, Daphne's granddaughter Francie visits the same Alpine resort for work. Francie is not a sympathetic character: she has a nice husband, a flat in Little Venice and a good job in the media so she is -- obviously -- discontented with her lot. She also lives in a world where women have 'manes' rather than hair like normal people. Then she gets word that Daphne has had a stroke in her care home and is asking for her. Next day, she is astonished to see a photograph of Daphne and Betsy with Hitler in the archives. Francie was very close to her grandparents, who brought her up as her father died when she was young and her mother went off with another man. Looking through a box of keepsakes, she is shocked to find her father's birth certificate with his father's name left blank.

I found the premise of this novel intriguing -- posh English girls go off to Germany in 1936 to improve their German and mingle innocently with the Nazi elite -- but the execution is disappointing. I did wonder, on ordering it, if Johnson could write, or if she was someone who gets published because she has a famous family. The novel is an enjoyable enough read but no more than that.

It's not easy to pinpoint where the problem lies with her writing: undisciplined is a word that springs to mind, but it also lacks the spark I expect from a really accomplished writer. Her sentences amble along with no attempt at elegant economy and the plot could be better structured, staggering about into flashbacks all over the place. Her prose is serviceable but uninspired. Every time a new character is introduced, the flow of the novel is interrupted to give a description of them, as if for a police report: the sure sign of an inexperienced novelist, except that some never grow out of it.

She's awfully fond of adjectives too, with nouns often requiring two of them. In a single sentence in chapter two we have picture windows which are vast, views which are both panoramic and marvellous, meadows both rich and Alpine, and long-lashed cows, followed by vistas (presumably different in some way from views) which are 'Lindt-chocolate-wrapper' with white mountains, yellow sun and cornflower-blue sky. I got exhausted reading it.

There are some nice jokes. Francie's husband is, her friends assure her, adorable -- meaning heterosexual, with his own hair and teeth and not obviously a sociopath.

Not all the writing is bad: there are some well-turned phrases, which suggests that Johnson would not take the trouble to edit and edit and edit again until the book was as good as it could be, which is short change for the reader.

I have given the novel three stars as it's an enjoyable read, so long as you're not expecting great art.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity lazily written, 5 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Winter Games (Paperback)
The premise of this novel was very promising - as was the jacket- but an alarming note crept into the back-cover puffs: 'Surprisingly brilliant' and 'shiveringly brilliant' - a little editing would have helped the repetition, but much more is needed inside the covers.
Lurching between two periods, 1936 and 2006, with impending crisis clumsily telegraphed at every point, the modern plot reads like slick satire of the self-referential type that readers of glossy magazines enjoy for guilty recognition of their own lifestyle. Brand names galore dropped so often that I expected sponsor acknowledgements. The characters without exception are hideously superficial and one-dimensional. This would have been great if the aim had been parody, and a magazine article, but it appears an earnest attempt at 'weighty import' in a novel that verges on the bonk-buster. The 1936 story which it counterpoints is not much better with poorly drawn and scarcely credible characters, and the opportunity of a fascinating perspective on Nazi Germany is lost. The author seems to lose track between the alternating plots: Daphne returned to the chalet 'to find her stained bedlinen had been changed' - this ignores the key twist that she had swapped bedrooms for the night with her friend, which had then implausibly led to the 'staining'. In the writing, less would be more, and a challenging editor would have helped the prose.
The preface attributes inspiration to family experience. The whole book feels lazily constructed and written and relying on the family name to sell. It could have been so much more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great looking cover for a mediocre book, 16 May 2013
By 
E. Heckingbottom "elaineheck143" (U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
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Very much a book of two halves - quickly read and just as quickly forgotten; it certainly doesn't reflect the image on the cover, coming over very much as 'chick lit' of the Mills and Boone variety!

Brief Summary (without spoilers): - Daphne was sent off to Germany in the mid thirties to improve her knowledge of the German language. Seventy years later her granddaughter, Francie, interested in the time her grand-mother spent there, sets out to discover out as much as she can about that visit - a visit which appears to have had somewhat far reaching consequences.

One of the interesting techniques that the author uses (indeed one that is beginning to be used more and more) is that of moving between the two time periods; a chapter set in prewar Germany followed by one set in modern times.

For me, the descriptions of life in Germany during the mid thirties, whilst the Nazi party were on the rise, were intriguing and, whilst not brilliantly written were, nevertheless one of the slightly better aspects of the book. It picks up and reflects (all be it through a glass darkly) the feel of a society which felt that it had been shabbly treated as a result of the Peace Treaty that followed WW1, and which resulted in a willingness to accept all that Hitler had to offer. It also showed and strongly reflected the way that some of the British Upper Classes, including the Mitford family, ended up admiring the way that the Nazis party had inspired Germany, and how they were influenced to believe that it was all a move for the good.

The modern section of the book, however, was far less convincing, and caused the book to fail on many fronts. Although Rachel Johnson attempts to introduce several parallels between Francie's life and that of her grandmother's; there were far too many differences which detracted from the attempted comparisons. Francie herself does not come over as a particularly emapthetic character. Some of the events covered - icluding a rather sordid affari - were irrelevant; and much of the description of her life felt more like padding for what would otherwise have been an extremely short book rather than key content, as the real interest here was 70 years earlier rather than in details of Francie's activities ... her selections of an expensive restaurant or the 'beyond expensive' one ... her sordid affairs ... and so on!

In summary: - This is a fairly short book which is quick and easy to read in a relatively short period of time, which has been based around an intriguing and interesting concept; however, I feel strongly that it would have worked better with more emphasis on Daphne's exploits and on the History of the time - all of which is reloatively intereting, and rather less on Francie - who is NOT particularly interesting!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting But I Have Reservations, 12 May 2013
By 
Brett H "pentangle" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
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This is very much a book of two halves. Daphne has been shipped off to Germany to further her knowledge of the German language in prewar Germany. Seventy years later her granddaughter, Francie, becomes interested in the time Daphne spent there and sets out to find out as much as she can about that visit which, apparently, had rather far reaching consequences.

The author uses the technique of moving between the two time periods, with one chapter on the earlier period followed by one in the later. I thought that the descriptions of life in Germany during the mid thirties, at a time when the Nazi party were very much in the ascendant, were very interesting. One quickly picks up on the whole feel of a society which had been treated shabbily in the peace negotiations following the First World War, and which, as a result, proved to be a fertile ground for Hitler's poisonous philosophy. Equally interesting was the way in which British middle to upper classes, including the Mitfords and others, were in open admiration and awe of the way in which the Nazis had galvanised Germany and had managed to convince themselves that there was not going to be a further Great War.

I found Francie in the mid 2000s rather less convincing. Whilst the author clearly attempts to introduce parallels between her life and her grandmother's I do not think they were at all compelling as not just the time period, but also the circumstances were so different. Francie's sordid little affair with her boss did not seem at all relevant and much of the description of her life had the feeling of padding, as the real interest here was 70 years earlier rather than in details of Francie's restaurant forays.

This is a short book which I read through quickly. The whole concept is an interesting one, but I think it would have worked better with more emphasis on Daphne's exploits and rather less on Francie.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a snow-go..., 23 Nov. 2012
By 
S.M. Gidley (Sidmouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
Winter Games is a novel that moves between present times and the mid-1930s when the Winter Olympics were held in Germany under the Third Reich and also seeks to tackle some fairly hefty interrelated issues. Whilst I'm sure it's possible to unite these two eras elegantly via a single theme, it would take a more skilful author than Johnson.

Altogether, this novel does not really work. A story about the rape of a teenager, set against the rise of a fascist regime contrasted with a character in the modern day who is insubstantial and not really that likeable, yet has done something morally questionable, does not blend seamlessly; it curdles into lumps.

The main problem here is the style. Johnson wants to be witty and Mitfordian (of which more later) for the 1930s' sections and makes great efforts with her parade of characters and their dialogue, however her main subject matter can't really be dealt with like this. The modern-day story suffers similarly. The undercurrent is quite serious, but the characters are Bible-paper-thin and she relies on constantly quoting brand names to fill in the picture. The two styles individually aren't brilliantly rendered (the 30s is a bit better than the contemporary), however put together they just bang up against each other and the sound is clangingly hollow.

As expected, Johnson mentions the Mitfords (whose ghosts would haunt anything like this, even if they weren't explicitly mentioned). However, anyone familiar with what happened to Unity when war was declared and her life afterwards might feel that it is a bit distasteful to have her mentioned in this novel, no matter how fleetingly. The mention could easily be deleted at no cost to the narrative and should have been.

If you want to find out about what went on in Germany in this era, there are plenty of excellent social histories as well as a wealth of eye-opening works on the Mitfords; I'd stick with them, as truth, as always, is much stranger than fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Winter Games, 15 May 2013
By 
EssexReader (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Unfortunately this book didn't make it past my 50 page test and I've decided that life is too short to struggle on with books that I'm not enjoying. I was initially intrigued by the book description and the cover but once I started reading I didn't like the style of writing nor did I engage with any of the characters or the storyline. If it hadn't been for the change in Vine reviewing rules then I wouldn't have bothered to submit this review as I hadn't completed the book but as I am forced to I think its only fair that I give it 3 stars. It wasn't a book for me but that doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't enjoy it, however I wouldn't rush to read any more by this author.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Jolly Ski Sticks as the clouds of war gather, 16 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Winter Games (Paperback)
This is tremendous fun- an odd thing to say about a novel set in Germany in the run-up to the Second World War but true never-the-less. A hybrid chic-lit/historical fiction work it switches effortlessly between contemporary London and Bavaria in 1936.

Francie Fitzsimon is a journalist for a glossy magazine sent to do a piece on an holistic spa built on the site of the mountain retreat where Hitler planned the invasion of Russia. The chance discovery of a photograph of her grandmother with the Fuhrer himself sets her on a quest to discover the past that was never spoken of. Daphne Linden was nearly twenty when she was set to Germany to be "finished". A little Wagner, improving her German and learning to ski amongst the right sort of foreigners (Frenchmen cannot be trusted in taxis) was what her parents had in mind.

The detail of thirties Germany is period-perfect. The shadow of economic depression, the promise offered by New Germany, the uniforms, the marching, the hope, the Winter Games and the gradual realisation of the price demanded and the darker side of the new regime. Equally well-delineated is the picture of the Notting Hill set, "the time of peace and plenty, when houses doubled in value every ten years, households threw away as much food as they consumed and men didn't die for their country they did Yogacamps and BeutCamp Pilates". Both heroines display a naive vunerability perhaps initially more obvious in the sheltered Daphne but as the novel progresses equally evident in the superficially sophisticated Francie embarking on an affair with her caddish boss.

First and foremost this is a novel wittily written and romping along. The voices of the 1930s Deb set ring true adding to the flavour of the times. The pace is fast and the characters engaging but Rachel Johnson has taken the trouble to get her history right and in among an entertaining story and an intriguing what-really-happened puzzle there is much to think about after you have put the book down.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Who's the father?, 9 Jan. 2013
By 
Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Winter Games (Hardcover)
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Receiving `Winter Games' in hardback gave me the same sort of buzz I remember from getting my hands on a copy of 'The Mountain of Adventure' and a newly battery-ed torch to read it by, ... It feels just as good and has the familiar instant embrace; I knew I'd enjoy this from the word go. What a treat.

Anyway I've missed Rachel Johnson since she moved upstairs at The Lady, which is still excellent but not so wonderful as it was when she was at the helm. Plus I am well at home in pre War Bavaria having just read The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family with our Book Club.

Rachel just can't help being good company. Naughtily she product places throughout which ought to annoy but doesn't because it plonks you down so efficiently into the lives she is conjuring up. I gave up noticing after Moleskine, Costa Coffee, Net a Porter, were name dropped into the 2006 section. Stockings by Woolford, Keston Brassieres, moved me nicely back into 1936.

Moving to and from 1936 to 2006, each time change left me gagging for more of the one I was reading about. The 2006 section does have a whiff of chick lit about it but enough of a story to carry the fluffiness. People just don't change, a fact that was neatly exhibited by both Daphne's and Francie's similar behaviour six decades apart. With Daphne coming up smelling of roses and Francie not so fragrant for me.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like it more..., 23 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Winter Games (Paperback)
Francie is a spoilt, self-obsessed woman working as a 'journalist' on a glossy magazine. She lives the glamourous, design-led lifestyle with her chi-chi flat and successful husband and has a sexual encounter with her boss. Her Grandmother Daphne is coming to the end of her life and has many secrets. When Francie visits Bavaria on a work assignment she sees a picture of her Grandmother and Hitler which prompts her to investigate further.

I so wanted to like this book more than I did as the premise is really good; the problem is that it is written as chick-lit with pretensions rather than as literature. Francie is a deeply unlikable person, she is vain, shallow and self-obsessed and the parts of the narrative about her lifestyle are irritating. Daphne is a likable and believable character but the idea that this a novel about society girls involved with the Nazi hierarchy is unfair. Essentially girl in the thirties gets pregnant and granddaughter investigates seventy years later is better. The plotline could have occurred any time, any place, the Nazi theme is really not integral to the story and even the very light thread about Daphne being part-Jewish isn't really explored.

It's a quick read and quite entertaining but really leaves one asking for less Francie and more Daphne
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Winter Games
Winter Games by Rachel Johnson (Hardcover - 1 Nov. 2012)
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