Category Archives: History

Out of the Dark

It’s Quick Reads time again this week. And I have a horrible suspicion I’ve not read one since 2007… Which was also a book by Adèle Geras, just like this one.

Adèle Geras, Out of the Dark

Out of the Dark sent me back to WWI, and the return home by a wounded soldier. Rob has lost his face, which really sounds far worse than many other war injuries we read about. Back then they didn’t have much to offer, so the formerly handsome young man walks round London wearing a metal mask, scaring women and children, and grown men, too.

But at least he can walk, and he has a home, and a loving mother. His girlfriend didn’t last, though.

One unexpected companion Rob has is the ghost of his dead Captain, who was very good to him, and who continues to look after him. The one thing Rob can do, is look for the Captain’s family, to return his Bible to his widow.

This is sad and romantic, and just what you expect from Adèle. I believe the Quick Reads are intended for adults, but this will suit teen readers as well. And at just £1 it’s pretty good value, even for a shortish book. I’m all for Quick Reads.

War Girls

Another irresistible collection of short stories for you. This time to mark the anniversary of WWI, and it’s all about girls. In War Girls nine of our best authors get together to tell the stories of the young females left behind. And there are so many ways to do that.

War Girls

I loved Theresa Breslin’s tale of the young artist who took her crayons with her as she went to France as a nurse. Matt Whyman looks at the war from the point of view of ‘the enemy’ in the form of a female sniper in Turkey. Very powerful story.

Mary Hooper has spies in a teashop, and you can never be too careful who you speak to or who you help. I found Rowena House’s story about geese in France both touching, and also quite chilling. I’d never heard about the theories for the outbreak of the Spanish flu before.

Melvin Burgess tells us about a strong heroine, who can’t abide cowardice, even in those close to her. Berlie Doherty’s young lady can sing, and that’s what she does to help the war effort. And singing isn’t necessarily safer or easier than being in the trenches.

Anne Fine deals with hope, and whether it’s all right to lie to make someone’s suffering less heavy. Adèle Geras has updated her story The Green Behind the Glass, which I’ve read several times before. It’s still one of my favourites and can easily be read again and again.

Sally Nicholls may be young, but she can still imagine what it was like to be old and to have survived as one of the spare women of the war; one of those who could never hope to marry. I don’t believe there is enough written about them, and Going Spare is a fantastic offering on the subject.

Montmorency on the Rocks

The second of Eleanor Updale’s novels about Montmorency begins five years later, which means there are definitely no young people in it, apart from a few incidental babies. Much more of a 39 Steps setting, this book appears to be about drug use, and how to get off the drugs if you’ve been stupid enough to start.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency on the Rocks

And it’s our hero, Montmorency, who is the addict, and it is horrible to behold. Perhaps that’s the idea. His aristocratic pal George does his best to help, even when he doesn’t want to be helped. They go to Scotland to recover, narrowly missing a bomb at King’s Cross. (This is the late 19th century, but it feels much like today in some ways.)

In Scotland another mystery introduces itself, which seems to be totally separate from the bomb. Both mysteries only get tackled by our heroes after some time, but it certainly gets exciting.

The drug problem, the poverty and the violence could be part of life anywhere, but maybe not the seemingly charmed existence led by the titled and the rich. It’s very wrong, but so charming and thrilling at the same time.

I’ll be interested to see where Montmorency will go from here. He’s not all nice, and he is clearly not getting younger. Or more law-abiding.

The Door That Led To Where

Whenever there is a new Sally Gardner book out, I just know it’s the best she has written. Same this time, with The Door That Led To Where, which features time travel, and is set in the part of London where Sally grew up. Thanks to the time travelling, she also manages to fit in almost-Dickensian London, which is something she knows a lot about.

Both these factors explain why the novel works so beautifully, on so many levels.

It begins with, if not bullying at home, then some serious discord between poor AJ and his single mum. He has achieved exactly one GCSE (but at least he got an A*) and his mum is fed up and sends him out to get a job. And what a job! He ends up as baby clerk at a law firm in Gray’s Inn.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

And that’s where the trouble starts; AJ discovers a key with his name on, and it leads to London in 1830, and it’s a fascinating place. Dangerous, but no more so than AJ’s modern London. He and his two best friends are forever getting into serious scrapes with people, and being able to escape to an older London seems ideal.

Except, that also has its problems. The three of them need to decide where to stay, and they must sort out some time travelling problems that have escalated over the centuries.

Sally deals with both modern social problems and 19th century crime as though she was born to it. And that’s the thing. She is the most wonderful of storytellers, and she spins fantastic yarns and makes it all appear totally plausible. I believe I’ve finally worked out how she does it; Sally is a time traveller. She has been to old London, as well as living in the city we know now. It’s the only explanation.

This is one of the best books I’ve read.

And the cover in its simplicity is fiendishly clever and attractive.

Jane of Lantern Hill

Bullying is always bad, but I particularly dislike bullying within the home. Home should be safe. Strangers may be horrible to you, but not your ‘nearest and dearest.’

There is some quite ‘refined’ bullying happening at 60 Gay (yes, really) in L M Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill. 11-year-old Jane is not loved by her fearsome grandmother. Presumably because her father was the wrong kind of father. Jane’s mother loves her, but is unable to stand up to her own mother, and is actually bullied herself, by this unpleasant, rich woman who rules over them all.

L M Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill

Having believed her father is dead, it is quite a shock to find he is not, and more so when her father sends for her to come and spend the summer on Prince Edward Island. Despite being so unhappy at home, Jane desperately wants to avoid going. But as soon as she arrives on PEI, the story turns into – more or less – Anne of Green Gables.

Her new Aunt Irene proves to be a meddlesome woman, second only to grandmother in being cruel while calling Jane ‘lovey’ and pretending she adores her. But the minute Jane meets her dad, she loves him and they are kindred spirits and everything is sweet, in that well known PEI way.

Set in the early 1930s, it’s more modern than Anne, with cars and phones, but still very rural and basic. After a wonderful three months, Jane has to return to Toronto and 60 Gay, where the people are as bad as they always were, but Jane herself has changed and can – almost – deal with it.

I find it difficult understanding Jane’s mother, while it’s easier to see where the grandmother is coming from. And reading this from the cynical 21st century, it’s a little hard to shake off another interpretation of Jane’s dad’s behaviour. You do know though, that being an L M Montgomery story it will be – mostly – fine.

This is a tale about home and love. It’s about the perfect house, and loving people, and how it is so much easier to love when you are not constantly put down, but surrounded by kind people who like you. People who believe in giving you snacks to ‘line your stomach’ with. In case you get hungry between meals.

And it was a treat to be introduced to another L M Montgomery, after all these years. Although I don’t suppose I can ask her about a detail that I wondered about…

Gun Street Girl

Finding Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl – his fourth Sean Duffy novel – in the post was like Christmas coming early. It was unexpected, and all the more wonderful for it. I would like to think it’s still not the last Duffy, but couldn’t say, other than he doesn’t die…

Gun Street Girl is Belfast in 1985, and I’d forgotten most of the big news, like the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and a couple of other ones that help make up the plot, so I won’t name them. But it’s so incredibly interesting to read about it ‘from the inside’ as it were, even if Adrian is helped by hindsight, since we now know how things developed afterwards.

Adrian McKinty, Gun Street Girl

A double murder followed by the – maybe – suicide by the murderer, and another death and some more attempts to kill is enough to make Sean want to solve the crime he can see while others don’t want to meddle too much. They have a new boss in Carrickfergus, as well as two brand new detectives, who are thrust into the mayhem as they learn on the job.

Sean seems lonelier than before. There is a hilarious chapter when he tries a dating service (seems no one wants to get romantically involved with a – possibly – shortlived police officer).

Gerry Adams is back in a cameo, Thatcher is pulling strings in the background and those pesky Americans think they are the boss. (They probably are.)

Gun-running, politics, love and murder. You can’t ask for more when it’s Adrian doing the writing. Personally I want more Duffy, but maybe he has been beaten up too many times for that to be likely. And I was going to say that parhaps it’s not good for me to have all I want, but I felt fantastic reading Gun Street Girl. Just saying.

Cat Magick

Di Toft’s Cat Magick is the perfect book for readers who like talking cats. And witches. (But then, who doesn’t?)

Pye is a cat prince, and he meets up with witch-to-be Suki under dramatic circumstances. Life in England post-Cromwell is not good for either cats or witches. They are blamed for causing the plague, and are caught and strung up at the nearest tree.

Di Toft, Cat Magick

Talking cats are obviously more suspect than most, but Pye is such a chatty boy that it’s hard for him to shut up. However, he is brave(-ish) and cares for Suki and he wants to help her, and also the country. Possibly. He needs a little urging to do the right thing, but he is  brave.

The hellcats are a problem and so is dark magic. The rat population is growing rapidly, until we have rats who have never seen a cat, and are not scared of them.

So the question is; how are Suki and Pye going to solve the problem of this hate campaign against them, and the little matter of them being caught by some nasty creatures?

Read Cat Magick and find out. It’s quite interesting to see how a small (cat-) tweak of real history brings home so much better what it was like back then.