Category Archives: War

Dead of Night

It is World Book Day. Well, it is in the UK, anyway.

One of the £1 books this year is Dead of Night by Michael Grant. Which is a very good thing, as I was feeling the need for more stories about his girl GIs while I wait for the third full length book.

I’d been concerned it wouldn’t work, or that there would be confusion between this short book and the ‘real’ ones. Would there be spoilers?

Michael Grant, Dead of Night

But no. This is set soon after the squad arrives in Europe, and they are training – and spending Christmas 1942 – in a wet and grey Wales. They are not yet the fully fledged soldiers we met in Silver Stars. And, some of the people who die, are still alive.

This is very much Charles Dickens meets Michael Grant. It’s good.

Until We Win

Linda Newbery’s new book title for Barrington Stoke – Until We Win – takes on even more meaning than perhaps was intended when she wrote her short but engaging story about the suffragette movement. We keep being reminded of how important it is not to waste the vote, that so many women worked so hard to win for us.

Don’t be complacent and stay at home, in the belief that voting doesn’t matter. It does, and we are seeing the effects in spades these days.

Linda Newbery, Until We Win

Lizzy works in an office when she meets a couple of suffragettes and is taken on by their group. At last there is something vital that she can do! Lizzy marches and ends up in jail, where she goes on hunger strike.

At work Lizzy befriends another young girl, whose life also changes with the help of the older suffragettes. And in the midst of their campaign for votes, war breaks out and they have other work to do.

Linda’s story is fairly low key, but all the more powerful for it. We need fairness more than ever, and those who are looked down on must be given equality.

(Another gorgeous embroidered cover by Stewart Easton, in purple, white and green.)

Silver Stars

Absolutely splendid!

Not a word I normally use, but in this case I must. It’s a nod to one of the characters – a token semi-Brit amongst the GIs – in Michael Grant’s Silver Stars. This is his second book about these soldiers, in an almost true to history WWII. (I hesitate to use the word beginning with the letter a that I’d usually choose, as it has been abused recently.)

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

We return to where we left our friends in North Africa, where they are waiting to be sent on to somewhere else where their lives will be on the line. Again. They are young, but by now they are no longer green, and that makes a difference. Even the girls go out and get drunk and have bar fights.

Another thing I’d never considered, but which Michael points out, is that promotion has its negative sides. You need to lead, possibly send your friends into danger, and this is while you are still learning the ropes yourself. In war, promotion often comes because someone else went and got themselves killed.

Rio, Jenou and Frangie are fighting a more traditional kind of war, while Rainy has to live with the secrecy and dangers in military intelligence. Frangie must deal with the war as well as the prejudice against blacks. Rainy needs to tread carefully and not let the Germans discover she is Jewish. Rio wants to stay friends with Jenou, sort out her romantic problems and escape a rumour that she actually enjoys killing people.

It is funny, and it is horrible. There is so much mud and darkness and shelling and not enough food or soap. I had heard that Monte Cassino was no picnic, but only now I understand what it might have been like.

And when things go well, I was appalled to discover how much less positive the experience is for Frangie. Because she is black. But all our female soldiers are true heroines and role models, even at times when things are FUBAR (Google it).

The worrying thing is that as opposed to last year when I read the first book, things weren’t too FUBAR in ordinary life. Now, I don’t know what to think.

Other than that Silver Stars is the best book I’ve read this year. OK, it’s February, but still.

Oranges in No Man’s Land

It seems so easy; write about what you know, what you have experienced, just a simple little story. Can’t be much to it, can it?

Looking at Elizabeth Laird, you realise that that isn’t true. It takes a lot of talent to write a short children’s novel like Oranges in No Man’s Land, even if she did base it on what she had lived through with her family, in Beirut, many years ago.

Elizabeth Laird, Oranges in No Man's Land

And her foreword to this book when it was first published in 2006, was about her own story, and also how sad she was to find history repeating itself, with more unrest for Beirut, thirty years on from when she lived there. Now, of course, there is more sadness still, because after another ten years many more children and their parents are suffering like Ayesha and the others did. Not perhaps in Beirut, but not that far away, either. The destruction and the deaths of innocent civilians happen in far too many countries.

What’s more, if you read Oranges in No Man’s Land and you feel that it isn’t right, what happens to young children and their grannies, or even to their ‘enemies,’ you know that what happens in countless places all over the world is wrong.

You feel that people will learn, that they will change. If I’d been a child reading this in 2006, I’d have been full of hope that things would get better now.

10-year-old Ayesha lives with her mother and grandmother and her two brothers in a small house, when they are bombed and have to flee. Her mother dies before she can get out. The children eventually end up in a bombed out flat, well, part of a room in one, with their granny. And then Ayesha’s granny’s medicine comes to an end and to save her granny’s life the girl has to cross no man’s land and go to the other side of Beirut, where the enemy live.

More than anything, this story shows that mostly people are still human beings, before they are your enemies. They can and will be decent, and they will help, sometimes putting themselves in danger. But you can’t control the warlords.

Elizabeth’s experience is having temporarily lived in a flat like this one, with her young family, and having spoken to the soldiers at checkpoints. That’s why it rings true, and why this is a tremendously powerful story. Short, but it tells you about what’s important for humanity.

Peter in Peril

Helen Bate’s graphic novel Peter in Peril is different from many other WWII stories. For one, it’s set in Budapest, which is less common, and two, it ends reasonably well for the people we get to know in the book. I’m not saying the war passed them by, exactly, but I was expecting something much worse.

Based on a ‘real’ Peter, who must have been about two when war broke out, we come to the by now so common story of Jews finding their lives changing almost overnight. First is the yellow star to be worn, and later losing their home, having to move into more camp-like places with other Jews, eventually escaping to hide alone.

Helen Bate, Peter in Peril

Because it’s about such a young child, and because we see it from his point of view, perhaps many of the worst things are less obvious. He has time to be bored without his toys, and he seems to find new playmates in the various places where they end up. There is food, even if it’s little and bad.

And as I said, the end is nowhere as immediately tragic as I’d been afraid. That doesn’t mean the war was better for Jews in Hungary, because this is merely the story about one family.

At the end we get to meet Peter as he is today, which is nice and reassuring for a young reader; that he survived and that he leads a normal life.

Helen’s graphic illustrations are just right for this kind of book, and should go down well with quite young readers. Let’s hope, too, that they can see the similarities with what’s happening today in far too many places. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now.

Darkness Follows

And how I wish the third book in L A Weatherlys’ trilogy would hurry up and follow Darkness Follows! I know I say this often, but I feel extremely ready for the conclusion. I’ve no idea how it will all end, but I am quite anxious Lee gets the love interest right (I am available for advice). It could go either way.

I think.

Darkness Follows is as the title suggests darker than Broken Sky, but strangely enough, also lighter. In the midst of all the hardship and cruelty that former Peacefighter pilot Amity suffers in this book, there is promise. At least I hope there is.

L A Weatherly, Darkness Follows

She is in that worst of places, Harmony Five, a mining camp where the guards can, and do, treat the inmates any way they like, including shooting anyone who’s not singing ‘the right way.’

In the first book we couldn’t be totally sure of who was with the Resistance and who wasn’t; it was very much a double bluff kind of feel. Things are ironed out in Darkness Follows. At least I hope they are.

As for Kay Pierce, well. I could see from the start how important she would be and how she would change. I just didn’t see this coming. Very intriguing and exciting.

The way Lee has used a future dystopia for this, rather than try and fit in an alternate WWII, makes the story so much more powerful. The truly bad things have already happened to the world. Or so people believe. And based on past mistakes, the world will now be a better place. But of course, a new world which looks so much like ‘our’ 1940s, can’t help but repeat many of the mistakes too.

This is so good.

Wave

Set on the 1st of July in 1916, and also in 2016, the adult reader can work out what happens. At first I regretted not having read it on the day, so to speak, but am glad I didn’t. It’s such a loaded kind of date.

Paul Dowswell, Wave

Paul Dowswell has come up with two pairs of brothers – Eddie and Charlie Taylor. One pair for each century. Today’s boys are the great grandsons of one of the soldiers in 1916. Their grandmother is Rose, as was the girlfriend of one of the young men in 1916. The modern Rose is the daughter of the older Rose.

Clearing out their great grandparents’ house in Hastings, they find a photo of the older two, taken at the Somme on that fateful morning, as they waited to be part of the First Wave. Today’s Eddie wants to join up, unlike the older Eddie who only went to war in order to do the same as his big brother Charlie.

This short and sad story shows us the same day, one hundred years apart, and how the two sets of brothers handle the war, and the memories of it.

Very powerful, and it is yet more proof of the horrors of war, and how easily persuaded young men can be.