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3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Winter Games
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 14 April 2013
While the plot itself was occasionally engaging, the cardboard cutout array of characters (not least the thoroughly unlikeable protagonist Francie) and the creaking prose ensured that I did not care in the least for the outcome.

The attitude displayed towards rape was reprehensible - "I'm sure nowadays everyone would call it rape and get into a frightful stew." Likewise the criticism of Nazism was lukewarm ("If you tuned out the Third Reich, it was all very Heidi").

I suspect I won't be perusing any more of this writer's oeuvre
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on 8 December 2012
Quite a new departure here for Rachel Johnson, who adeptly combines a little-known aspect of social history from 1930's Germany from the point of view of Daphne, an innocent 16 year old British girl over there at that time, with a gently cutting depiction of the London 'meeja' world that Daphne's granddaughter, Francie, inhabits in the pre-austerity year of 2006. She evokes both worlds brilliantly. It's no surprise that the 2006 segments are written so well and enjoyable to read - this is Rachel's usual milieu after all - but the 1936 stuff is also well executed, generally. I really did feel that I'd been transported to that time and the surprises that occur keep that part of the book from feeling stuffy and tiresome.

Another reviewer thought there was more to develop in the 1936 section and I agree. The story is so hugely intriuging and with so many characters grappling for attention, I felt this part of the book wasn't quite as satisfying as it could have been. Similarly, the question mark the 2006 part ends on is a little too emphatic for me. But essentially the book (which I'd been waiting for almost the entire year to read) works because it's more than another enjoyable, knowing romp from one of my favourite writers - this time she gave me something to chew on. It's also a thoughtful reflection on the futility of regrets and on a sadly undermined value these days - privacy.

This is an absorbing read that balances pathos, humour, and a snapshot of social history to mostly tremendous effect.
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 9 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 15 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( 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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on 5 January 2014
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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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This story is another in the "timeline" style which, in my opinion, is getting done to death lately.

Daphne Linden and her best friend Betsy are a couple of young "debs" who are going to Germany in 1936 for a bit of finishing orf. Daphne, to be fair, has been accepted at St Anne's at Oxford but still needs to apply to Somerville and as she has an aptitude for languages, Daddy thought it would be good to get her German up to speed. At this time in history, England was still firmly of the opinion that there wouldn't be another war and that the Germans were good friends with the British, plus there was a sizeable ex-pat community out there. Betsy on the other hand was a bit of an airhead who thought red flags with swaztikas on them were awfully pretty and everything was just marvellous and jolly hockey sticks.

The second timeframe is of Daphne's granddaughter, Francie, who writes for a glossy magazine and finds herself in Munich 2006 writing about a spa hotel. She nearly faints when visiting a museum in Berchtesgarden she sees a photo of her grannie and Betsy on the arm of Hitler. Cue a good yarn but unfortunately, this tale doesn't really amount to very much. Francie is a bit of shallow creature, married to Gus but has the hots for her boss, Nathan and can't seem to think of anything else but going to bed with him. The "Daphne" story has more guts and against the rise of Nazi Germany she falls in love with a German boy - who, conveniently doesn't think much of Hitler and his thugs. Meanwhile, Betsy has fallen for a blond aryan "uber-Nazi" who isn't all that nice but a bit of complication arises with the two girls and their respective boyfriends.

The story is all a bit of muddle to be honest and Francie's story doesn't really travel much at all. I thought the premise was quite good but unfortunately, for me it all fell a bit short.
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VINE VOICEon 5 March 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The narrative of Winter Games goes backwards and forwards between 2006 and the 1930s. The 1930s plot line is about Daphne Linden; a young debutante who is sent to a German finishing school just as Hitler is gaining in strength and power. In 2006, her granddaughter Francie sets out to uncover what happened to her grandmother and resolve a family secret.

If you strip away the writing, this novel has a great story at its core. I was very interested in the time period and the location and even the Mitford-esque cast of characters. Sadly though, you can't strip away the writing or the author's obsession with brand names and other minutiae of upper middle class living. Initially I was able to skip over the `Smeg' fridge and the `Mulberry' satchel but by the time I started to read what brand of crackers Francie was eating (Dr Karg), I was getting seriously bored. I neither know or care what a Roche Bobois sofa is and am still trying to figure out its relevance to the plot.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the characters go beyond being unsympathetic to being downright unpleasant, as does the narrative voice with diatribes about life after having children or those who wear `sub-Juicy Couture-style tracksuit(s).'

I won't be in a hurry to read another of her novels.
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VINE VOICEon 22 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Winter Games by Rachel Johnson for me was a book which I could not say I enjoyed mainly because I found the writing slow and repetitive, the main reason is the characters especially the character in 2006 Francine. I know there is a selfish side to everyone but with these characters I do believe it was impossible for them to think of anyone other than themselves. I fully understand this is the way the author wanted her characters portrayed but with most authors they do give us characters which the author can appeal to or even warm to as the story develops.
The story could have been interesting as it showed the reader how Germany was developing before the Second World War. The author used the Olympics 1936 as the basis of this book which she did at an excellent time as we are still living with our own memories of 2012 London Olympics.
The author tells the story in two separate time zones in the 1936 Daphne and her horrible cousin Betsy have been sent to finishing school at the same time the rumbling of war is at their feet and as their parents have told them there will be no war they simply ignore what is going on around them. While Francine is actually the granddaughter of Daphne and she is living in her own world where her thoughts and cares are all that matters. While in Bavaria researching hotels for her job she finds a photo of her Grandmother as a young girl standing alongside Betsy but with Hitler in the middle. This photograph starts Francine researching into her Granny's youth while trying to find out who her Grandfather actually is.
This could have been a brilliant story in another author's hands but I simply could not accept the writing as it was such a childish look at human emotion. To be honest the simply reason I did not enjoy the book was because it bored me.
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