I received this book as part of a Firstreads giveaway. It took me about eight and a half hours to read, spread over a few days.
I enjoyed the majority of the book, though it did have some problems and portions that I didn't particularly enjoy. The book begins with the beginning of the life of Harry Clifton, a child whose father has died in the war, or so his mother has told him. He has struggles in early life with attention and he little interest in school life. Along a short way, we're introduced to his family and his few friends.
It was quite uplifting to have so many people take an interest in Harry's life. From his teachers to his choir master, a lot of people are very involved in his life. In the same sense, it also felt quite interesting and added a lot of character to the novel because of the warm background characters with stories and agendas of their own. I find many of the characters to be interesting and a personal favourite is Old Jack. I thought it interesting that Harry was receiving an education with him even though he was barely going to school at some points in time. Harry, as a character, was quite interesting as well. He seemed quite innocent through a large portion of the novel, unaware of the perils his own mother was being put through just so he could recieve a good education. His mother was another of my favourites and I found it truly inspiring the incredible lengths she went to. I was particularly interested in the telling of her own story, going through so much work at Tilly's, the various hotels and even her later work. I laughed quite hard when she was applying for the job at Tilly's, turning up several hours early and then immediately getting the job. I was quite interesting in Hugo Barrington as well. I felt that the positions he'd been put in were quite understandable. Though he made some wrong choices, I felt that his character was quite misunderstood by many of the other people, even his own family. His hatred for Harry wasn't exactly deserved by the boy, but understandable.
The plot of the novel was good, but at later points it seemed a little bit lost. Much of the first portion was clear; it was very focused on Harry's education and his being accepted into the various schools he wanted or needed to go to. I was particularly intrigued by the school life of the boys, Harry, Giles and Deakins. I think many of the interesting parts of their lives were glossed over and then we were introduced to a new aspect of the book. I think it lacked a little bit of attention to some of the more important portions as it was jumping around a bit. Later on, I also felt like the book took an abrupt turn, right between Old Jack's portion (1925-1936) and Giles Barrington's portion (1936-1938). It just seemed like everything had changed inbetween these sections and much of it wasn't really explained. It was disappointing because I felt like I was missing out on a lot here. Soon after, we find that Giles' little sister, Emma, and Harry have now begun some sort of romance. It was sweet (and hinted on earlier in the novel), but it felt almost as if it was a bit forced. There were elements in the novel that were a bit unnecessary as well. I certainly thought Giles' affair with the tour guide to not be needed; even though it did sort of play a place in the novel, I felt it could have been done differently. The majority of the novel in the beginning was meant to have some innocence, but in the later portions, it felt like a lot of elements went innapropriately and it led to a disappointing ending for me. I was especially disappointed with the final portion with Harry taking to the seas, being lost at sea and "dying". It felt like such a dull element to the book, even though I know it was meant to be interesting and to give the next book something of a "fresh start".
Overall, I did enjoy it and I liked the themes that were presented in the beginning of the novel. I liked the money struggles of the Cliftons, though quite saddening, and I felt that the ending to that plotline was a little unfinished (though we did receive an explanation). I liked the issues in Harry's school life, even though that was also a little bit unfinished (but with explaination). I felt that it's worthy of four stars. I have a few other books to read at the moment, but I would like to read the next book just to see the continuation of Harry's life.