Finally, I made it to the end of this saga - the Neapolitan series. Phew. And despite what I have heard from my fellow readers, this is the one I enjoyed the most. Why? Because I have finally realised that I love books where things happen - a plot, action, events. Less of the stream of consciousness stuff, the hand wringing and naval gazing. Give me a story! For me this has been the best of the four, although there were times my eyes were glazing over, and just when I am gritting my teeth and wondering how much more of the introspection, internal dialogue I can put up with, something will happen. My attention is immediately got, and off I go on the Lena/Lila journey until the next time.

A lot happens in this novel and the friendship itself has a much more central role in the relationship between the two women. During the story, Lena moves back to the old neighbourhood to live in apartment above Lila. Book three ended with Lena leaving her husband and children to be with Nino and this relationship and its outcomes form the backbone to this last book. Actually the relationship of these three characters - Lila, Lena and Nino is really what the whole series is about, not just the friendship between the two women. Lena has become a very successful writer, and Lila still continues to own and manage the computer business she and Enzo established in book three. But the Solara brothers never go away, always a menacing presence, as is the political unrest.

I have never really liked any of the characters in these novels, and that has been part of my ambivalence over these novels. I still don't really, but the quality of the writing does continue to be outstanding. 

WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT by Sebastian Faulkes

It's been a couple of weeks since I finished this and I am struggling to remember exactly what it was all about. I look forward to every new book by this author, but invariably it is just a little disappointing. As another fellow keen reader said, nothing he has written has ever come close to that masterpiece 'Birdsong', and I can't help but agree. Now that is a truly awesome and memorable piece of writing. By far the best Faulkes I have read.

So this one... Like most of his books, war is the background, both world wars in this case. The main subject of the book, Robert, is a psychologist, successful author, travels extensively with his work, lives alone in his London flat, and not entirely happy with his life. But unable to pinpoint his melancholy, his feeling of just drifting through his life. The arrival of a letter from France, from a much older fellow doctor who claims to have known Robert's father on the Western Front during World War I sets Robert onto his own path of self analysis. He himself saw his fair share of action, tragedy, danger and trauma during the second war, and having all this thrown up in front of him leads him to France and the uncovering of his and his father's past.

It has many good points and I did feel engaged while reading it, there is no doubt about his crafting and beautiful writing, but somehow for me it just was not enough. It did not come together in a satisfying complete way. Not sure if I will read any more Faulkes. 

FRIDAY ON MY MIND by Nicci French

What a great holiday read. This apparently is the fifth novel in a series, the previous featuring the four previous days of the week. Trust me to launch straight into number five, and I didn't know it was a series until after I had finished it. Which may explain just the tiniest sense of confusion and that I may be missing something in the first twenty or thirty pages. There is quite a bit of referencing to past history that I was not aware of, but despite the early gaps in knowledge, this is actually a completely self contained story, and the gaps did not matter at all. It is actually very very good, and it cannot be easy for writers to compress and summarise previous action without boring dedicated readers, and yet not confusing new readers.

I have been a little intrigued over the years with the author Nicci French which is a combination of the names of a married couple who together have written around 20 psychological thrillers, and are both successful authors on their own names. This series of five features the psychotherapist Frieda Klein who seems to have worked quite closely with the police over the years in crime solving and criminal profiling. In this story she finds herself being framed for a murder that she did not commit. It is a constant cat and mouse game between Frieda, the police, the actual murderer and other suspicious character. Frieda basically has to go to ground, living on the streets, calling on her extensive knowledge and finely honed instincts to know who to trust and who to fear. With the way it ends it seems there will be an update sometime in the future that we can set aside a whole Saturday for. Can't wait!

BUY ME THE SKY by Xinran

The first children to be born under China’s one child policy are now in their mid-thirties. The consequences of such a policy have been enormous, and not always in a good way. One very serious downside is the huge gender imbalance with millions of men having to face the fact that they will never marry and have their own children. And then you get something like a devastating earthquake which collapses a school, and hundreds of only children are lost.

Xue Xinran is a Chinese born journalist, broadcaster, speaker and advocate for women’s issues. She moved to London in 1997 where she still lives, and has a son who was born during the one-child policy, and now also lives in London. So she has a foot in both camps, so to speak. With the huge migrations of Chinese young people to Western cities for study and/or work, this has made her the perfect architect to work on initiatives that help build understanding between China and the West, and between the birth culture and the adoptive culture. It follows that she has developed some unique insight into the differences between the two cultures. In this book she looks at the effect the one child policy has had on these young people as they take on the huge load of expectations that their parents have piled onto them since birth. The young people whose lives she documents come from both rich and poor families, urban and rural. Some are educated, some are not. Some get on with their families and parents, some do not. There are extremes in the capabilities of these young people, the most startling being the young man who has no idea how to open his suitcase. One of the students comes to this country, New Zealand, for her study. It is a little unsettling reading about the city you live in, that has a very large Chinese student population, being seen by the Chinese as quite far down in the pecking order of desirable places to study in, but is still much better than going nowhere at all! I would be alarmed if this was my one and only precious child.

This collection of interviews also highlights the consequences for personal development that the one child policy has – narcissism, over indulgence – hence the title ‘Buy Me the Sky’, inability to understand the concept of personal responsibility, the overwhelming/ingrained from birth need to please one’s family to the exclusion of any personal enjoyment, and trying to straddle the East/West cultural divide.

In our Western cities, many of us now live in close proximity to families who have, in recent years, migrated from mainland China. I wanted to read this book to give myself a greater understanding of the type of society and world that my new Chinese neighbours have come from. So different in every possible way from the type of society and cultural norms I come from. I found this book such an eye opener, and with the large migrations taking place from China to the West, so informative in helping even if just a little, to understand and learn how other societies operate.