Category Archives: Reading

White Eagles

This relatively short – because it’s for Barrington Stoke – novel by Elizabeth Wein, featuring a Polish teenager at the outbreak of WWII, is as wonderful and, yes, life affirming, as you’d want it to be.

Elizabeth Wein, White Eagles

I would obviously have welcomed a much longer novel, but White Eagles confirmed that you can have a full grown novel with few words. It’s as heartrending as Code Name Verity, as exciting and as sweet, as well.

Again, it’s worth being reminded that war didn’t only start in Britain. It broke out all over Europe, and it was equally devastating, or possibly more so. It’s easy to forget. And reading White Eagles I realised that there may well be an outbreak of fiction to ‘celebrate’ that it’s now 80 years since the war began. Unless one doesn’t mark the start?

18-year-old Kristina is a flying instructor in Warsaw, but when the Germans invade, she soon finds herself having to escape, with her plane, and before long nothing is as she’s known it.

Kristina is another young pilot in the mould of Maddie from Code Name Verity. I can read any number of stories about these early female pilots.

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Click Bait

How I have missed Gillian Philip’s YA novels! Gillian is an author who can make you enjoy the dark and gritty lives of dark and gritty people, when that’s the last thing you are into. With Click Bait she’s back big time, providing the answer to the question ‘How low will you go?’

Pretty low, is the answer, but the thing is, you’re sort of with Eddie all the way, no matter how wrong and stupid he is, once he’s got started on the way to hell.

Gillian Philip, Click Bait

Eddie is 19 and lives in his dead grandma’s house, enjoying the company of his rich and beautiful girlfriend – despite her father’s objections – and tolerating Crow, the little boy next door who is forever scrounging bacon sandwiches off him. There’s Sid, the friendly girl who seems satisfied with mere friendship.

And then Eddie goes and puts a very bad joke, tasteless in the extreme, on Facebook. As tends to happen online, it spreads fast, and there is an explosion of anti-Eddie tweets, not to mention a YouTube clip, and soon Eddies’ life isn’t worth living.

The stupid boy doesn’t even apologise.

Job gone, and girlfriend mostly gone, Eddie at least has Crow and Sid on his side, plus the press camping outside his house.

This is all completely believable and not in the slightest bit pretty, but it’s compelling and you do root for Eddie, except you can’t see how he’s going to get out of this at all. Especially not when there are only twenty pages or so left.

I for one am glad Gillian is back with such a cracking story. More please!

Balloon to the Moon

There are a lot of crazy people in this world. There always have been, and that’s lucky, because where would we have been if no one had crazy ideas and tried them out?

Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielsen, Balloon to the Moon

Gill Arbuthnott has traced the early days of space flight, which seems to have been balloons, several hundred years ago. Who’d have thought?

Even then, they started cautiously by sending a sheep, a duck and a chicken, rather than humans, up in a balloon in 1783. And after that there was no stopping them.

This book is illustrated throughout, by Christopher Nielsen, and I rather like his snakes and ladders approach to showing how what happened and when. It all began with kites in China in the 5th century BC. And here we are, two and a half thousand years later with a Chinese space probe on the ‘wrong’ side of the Moon.

In between there were many men, but also quite a few women doing daring things, and various dogs and monkeys and other animals.

It’s funny how it’s possible to get excited about a thing – in this case space exploration – over and over again. No matter how many books, it’s still fun.

I thoroughly recommend this book to, well, almost anyone. You don’t have to be a child. Like Gill, I was a child in 1969, and it seems neither of us has outgrown this fascination for space. I feel sorry for those who didn’t experience these milestones in real time. But here’s this book, anyway. In case you are young.

Crossfire

Malorie Blackman has still got it. I was concerned that after so many years since the first four Noughts & Crosses novels she would have lost momentum, but with what’s going on in the world to inspire her, there is little risk of that. In fact, more than ever, Malorie has hit the right spot re what’s wrong with our country. It comes across as just as bad, whatever the skin colour of the people doing wrong things to others.

Malorie Blackman, Crossfire

The intervening years had made me forget exactly how we left Callie Rose and Sephy and Tobey. But it didn’t take long to get back in there, and it felt like returning to old friends, and getting to know new ones. Troy and Libby are the next generation, still at school, and formerly great friends but now at logger-heads over colour issues and politics, as well as their different chances of having a good future.

Troy is the black son of Sephy, half-brother to Callie Rose, and Libby is the white daughter of Tobey and Misty. And yes, Tobey is now Prime Minister – the first Nought to get that far in politics.

There is much going on here, and I won’t list it. However, I will mention that this book has no plot ending, but finishes with a resounding cliffhanger. It’s probably for the best, as the issues at stake are far too big to sort out in one volume. Just like our own troubles, which occasionally appear to be just the same.

I’ve been saying for some time that I’m not ready for a Brexit YA novel. But this story, set in an alternate Britain, is just about something I can cope with. Upsetting and heartrending, but not ‘real’ real. Just awfully real, all the same.

Hey, Sherlock!

Reading the third Garvie Smith mystery, I again blessed Simon Mason for having written these books. They fill you with a happy glow as you enjoy both the humour and the crime mystery. As I may have said before, in real life 16-year-old Garvie would [probably] be horrendous, but in print he’s everything you want in a hero; intelligent, handsome, kind, good at maths, understands his fellow human beings and knows instinctively what they might have done and why. He’s also rude and smokes and drinks and sleeps all day. And he’s about as good at building fences as he was attending school in the run-up to his GCSEs.

Simon Mason, Hey, Sherlock!

This time we have a disappeared girl; a maths genius (or close) and someone who is also a nightmare to her mother, just like Garvie is to his. Can he find Amy, or is she already dead?

I love the way Garvie’s useless friends are so very useful when it comes to what he needs, be it knowledge about vans, or tricks for breaking into places. Or getting out of them again, in a hurry. His contacts are about as good for fact-finding as those the police have.

What I like so much is that Garvie understands human nature, in a way the adults around him don’t. And he’s kind. He really is.

As long as he can find a different job from fence building to be useless at, I would love to meet up with Garvie again.

The Silent War

This time round it’s a lot easier to visualise the British as the bad guys, the way they continue to act in Andreas Norman’s second novel featuring the Swedish Secret Service, returning to see more of its agent Bente Jensen. The gloves already being off, I was quite prepared to hate the British agents. I felt almost as if it was my own fault – for ignoring the [untranslated] part of our most recent former PM in Into A Raging Blaze, the first novel by Andreas – that what happened happened. I remember laughing at her…

Andreas Norman, The Silent War

Anyway, we see much more of the two main agents, both Swedish Bente and her British counterpart Jonathan Green, and we learn a lot about their private lives. It might seem too much, but it’s all relevant. And the title, The Silent War, is so apt. Just wait and see, as their lives fall apart. They are no James Bonds.

The bad stuff is mostly what MI6 get up to in Syria, in ‘secret,’ and we meet Jonathan’s highly unpleasant London boss. The thing is, they are all really nasty types. I kept hoping for a ray of sunshine somewhere.

The slow start eventually develops quite explosively. I can’t possibly divulge more, though. You’ll have to read the book.

(Translated by Ian Giles)

Scared to read

To begin with the Edinburgh Book Festival seemed to have the wrong effect on me. I read less than usual. But to be fair to them, I was feeling inspired, but tired. I also ran out of time, preferring to chill on the train journeys. Otherwise one can get through quite a few books while travelling back and forth.

But pulling myself together, I picked up a wonderful book to read on the train.

Worrying that the next one needed to be even better, I chose the one I felt was most likely to deliver. It did. I felt so good.

But then, after that. What to choose? I looked at all the expectant books and almost went for an old book, on the grounds that something well known would be far safer.

In the end I got out two new books, the first of which I discarded after one chapter due to its gruesomeness. I wanted something a little sweeter than that. The second one seemed to do the trick. But for how long?