Category Archives: War

How to Fly with Broken Wings

‘Jump!’ Now, that’s a horrible thing to tell, or force, someone else to do. But we know it happens, and it happens a lot in Jane Elson’s book How to Fly with Broken Wings. It’s worth considering why someone would say it, though. Things are never totally straightforward.

Jane Elson, How to Fly with Broken Wings

Friendship is a difficult concept. Not only can making friends be rather hard, but even to understand what a friend is, could be close to impossible. Twelve-year-old Willem Edward Smith has Asperger Syndrome. His maths teacher gives him homework, which is to make two new friends; real friends, rather than a relative or a friendly shopkeeper.

So poor Willem tries to make friends, and ends up with Sasha from school, who is the (girl)friend of Willem’s bully, Finn. And he befriends Finn. Maybe.

What with the friendship issues, and gang warfare on the estate where he lives with his gran, and rioting, things are never going to be easy for Willem. And this story is not a happy ever after story. There is a lot of bad stuff, mixed in with the good.

Sasha and Finn are not going to change completely. Willem will probably always display aspie traits and be easily led. Staff at his school seem to be particularly stupid.

But there is Archie, the elderly man who moves in, and whose mission it is to change the estate. There are the memories of Archie’s parents, especially his mother, who flew planes in the war. There is a Spitfire, a living, breathing Spitfire, so to speak.

If it doesn’t kill them, then maybe Archie and the dreams of flying can help this troubled estate. Expect to cry, though.

Best Scottish

Oh, how I wish I could have been there! Now that I’m finally here, I mean. But I gather that the 2015 Scottish Children’s Book Awards managed without a witch (this one, anyway) and celebrated the three winners in style on Wednesday, at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.

With three categories, there were three celebrations, and three shortlisted authors for each (except Alexander McCall Smith who’d gone off to Dubai).

Ross Collins and Sean Taylor

The Bookbug Readers were lucky, in that picture books being relatively short, all three books could be read out on stage. There was also live drawing on stage, and singing. Very jolly. And the winner was Ross Collins, for his illustrations of Robot Rumpus, written by Sean Taylor.

Alex McCall

Robots are clearly the thing, as the winner of Younger Readers category, first time novelist Alex McCall won with Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens. He’s only 21, and looks, well, younger still… There was a book quiz to entertain an audience (and I’m sure I’d have won that. If I’d been there) of visiting school children from all over Scotland.

Cathy MacPhail

The winner of the Older Readers category was Cathy MacPhail with Mosi’s War, which didn’t surprise me at all. Cathy wins a lot, and for a good reason. Her audience were also treated to a book quiz, which I’m sure was great fun for all those involved.

I might as well say this again; I feel Scotland is very lucky to have the Scottish Book Trust.

Cover Your Eyes

There’s not as much romance in my life as there used to be. By that I mean I don’t read romance as frequently as I once did. (Nothing else. What did you imagine?)

But when I do, there is no one I trust as much as Adèle Geras. She gives me romance the way it’s meant to be. And here, specially for Valentine’s Day, I give you Adèle’s latest, Cover Your Eyes.

Adèle Geras, Cover Your Eyes

There are several love stories interwoven here. We have a new – failed – one for journalist Megan. She has interviewed elderly fashion designer Eva, who came to England on the Kindertransport in 1938. Eva’s heyday was in the 1960s, when she also loved, and also not as wisely as she should have.

These days Eva mainly cares about her beloved home, Salix House, which her daughter is wanting to sell. That’s her tragedy. That, and the ghost who stalks the house and makes her think back to 1938 and what she did…

Megan can sense the ghost, and she has her own tragedy, and not just the newly broken affair. These two women meet again and their lives are shared briefly, and things happen. There is more love and more possibilities. And we eventually learn about what four-year-old Eva did, and what the ghost wants.

Me, I quite fancy the ramshackle Salix House.

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.

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

Vango – A Prince Without a Kingdom

The title of Timothée de Fombelle’s Vango, Book 2 – A Prince Without a Kingdom, more than hints at who the lovely Vango might be. Born in 1915 and chased by Russians, you can guess. A prince he may well be, but what matters is what kind of man he has become. The answer to that is a very honourable one; someone who doesn’t choose the easy way, or what is best for himself.

Like Book 1, this is a wonderful, warm story. All Vango wants is to know who he is. He wants to be with the people he really loves and who matter to him, and more than anything he wants those people to be safe. Of necessity this means it’s a long book, set over six or seven years, with flashbacks to much earlier and with an ending a bit later still. It’s primarily set in the pre-WWII years and the first half of the war.

Timothée de Fombelle, Vango, Book 2 - A Prince Without a Kingdom

You have to love books like these. They are so rare, and so beautiful, as well as truly exciting. Nothing boring about it at all. It’s fascinating to see how the various plot strands are woven into the finished tale, and how it all works. I have to admit to having enjoyed myself so much that I forgot to look out for some little hints, which I ought to have noticed.

Vango goes to America, searching for the man who killed his parents. His old friend Padre Zefiro is also in America, wanting to kill another – bad – man. Their paths meet evey now and then, and Zefiro’s ‘gang’ do their bit, and Vango’s friends do theirs. Occasionally these paths also converge. And then there is Stalin, and there are the Germans, and the war.

I said about Book 1 that it was a little like I Am David. It still is, and for Book 2 I’d like to add that it’s also like Lisa Tetzner’s Die Kinder aus Nr. 67, especially the post-war  development.

Plenty of humour in the midst of the drama and agony. And I suppose Timothée is young and male and won’t know that blow dries were fairly unlikely in 1937. But he makes good use of other real life events from those days, to the extent that you sit there thinking that maybe this is what really happened?

Do read!

(Translation by Sarah Ardizzone)