Category Archives: War

Wings: Spitfire

Neither Tom Palmer nor Barrington Stoke could have known how appropriate it would turn out to be to offer this series of three books about planes and past wars, set in a soccer summer school for young teens, right now. Spitfire is the second book, and as the title tells you, it’s about WWII.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Spitfire

In the first one, Flyboy, we met Jatinder who ended up in WWI, flying a plane, mysteriously taking over the part of a real WWI pilot who, like Jatinder, was a Sikh. In Spitfire we meet his fellow soccer fan Greg, full name Grzegorz Tomaszewski, whose parents are Polish. In the same strange way as Jatinder, one night Greg finds himself at the controls of a real Spitfire, somewhere off the coast of France.

Like Jatinder, he’s somehow turned into a real pilot, and he needs to grow up fast to deal with a dangerous situation.

Tom Palmer has clearly watched The Great Escape a few times, but there are worse films to inspire a bit of plot, and perhaps young readers today, whether dyslexic or not, won’t have seen the film.

This timetravelling into old wars appears to be connected with the boys’ soccer school host, Steve, whose house sits right next to an old airfield, and who enjoys talking to the visiting boys about what things used to be like. So here we have Britain’s pride, the two world wars, and these stories show us pilots from other backgrounds coming to help the British fight a common enemy.

It’s exciting and not a little emotional. The boys from today learn a lot from their visits to the past. And so should we, about all kinds of things.

(Naturally there is a Spitfire to build.)

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Planes

‘You could have asked for a Spitfire,’ said Daughter.

Well, maybe I could have, but I didn’t and it’s not important.

I might have mentioned that Elizabeth Wein was handing out planes at the Scottish Book Awards in Glasgow in March, and I got one too. Not a Spitfire, obviously. Elizabeth handed out more planes at Yay!YA+ in April, but I felt it would have been greedy to ask for another one.

The not-Spitfire

I’d be willing to bet my plane isn’t a Sopwith Camel either, as that is a WWI plane and I trust Elizabeth went for WWII ones. Although, she did set her Ethiopian adventures during the period between the wars, so not necessarily.

Anyway, when she was last here Daughter asked for permission to build my non-Spitfire on account of her past as a plane builder. Apparently she used to buy them at the post office when she was little. I don’t remember that at all.

When she turns up this weekend I might get her to build Tom Palmer’s Sopwith Camel, even though it is not a Spitfire, and not polystyrene but the inside of a book cover.

There is something about planes.

Flyboy

Time travel and Sikh fighter pilots isn’t the first thing I associate with Tom Palmer. Football, yes, and that’s in here too, along with the mysterious return to WWI as experienced by Jatinder when he goes to football summer camp.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Flyboy

Take To the Skies, Wings: Flyboy, is the first of three war time books Tom has written for Barrington Stoke, and much as I like sports books (well, I try), I thought this seemed much more my thing.

Young Sikh Jatinder likes football, but he gets angry with himself for being too cautious. So when he reads about a Sikh fighter pilot who used to be stationed where he is staying now, he is intrigued. He also sees what could be a ghost.

Jatinder is more than intrigued when he suddenly finds himself in the shoes, or more precisely in the plane, belonging to this WWI hero, and discovers he is now a grown man who has to do what grown men at war do. And being too cautious isn’t an option.

Very exciting, and very educational. This is the kind of war time history we need to learn about, and what better way than with a spot of time travel?

Really looking forward to the next two, and while I wait I’ll see if I can build the Sopwith Camel included inside the covers of this book. It’s not every book that comes with its own plane.

The Girl in the Blue Coat

Set in the Netherlands during WWII, Monica Hesse’s novel is about 18-year-old Hanneke who delivers black market goods around Amsterdam for her boss. It’s not quite resistance work, but it’s not legal or safe. Hanneke learns how to flirt with German soldiers, so they won’t think of what she might be carrying, right under their noses.

That’s until the day one of her customers asks her to find a Jewish teenage girl for her; someone who has gone missing from the hidden room where she was kept. Hanneke is reluctant, but she is good at finding things.

Monica Hesse, The Girl in the Blue Coat

This is interesting, because it shows us the war in yet another place and from a different angle than the usual ones. I didn’t know all that much about the Dutch in the war, except for what you learn from Anne Frank.

You can’t really know what people are like until something happens which proves that some are much better human beings than you’d thought, or occasionally, much worse. It seems that more people were satisfied to be quietly cooperating with the German invaders. I don’t know whether this is true, but Monica has done a lot of research. She knows what food people might have liked, and she’s discovered a lot of Dutch facts. However, to my mind, the book has quite an American feel to it, which is hardly surprising as Monica is American.

The plot is exciting, though, and as always, I should have paid full attention to what gets mentioned, as it all turns out to have been relevant in one way or another. Though I did guess at one of the core secrets early on.

A very enjoyable read, if you can say that about a Holocaust novel. There is a lot of bad, but also much that is good.

Finding Winnie

From mother and baby bears to an orphaned bear. Lindsay Mattick’s – I believe entirely true – story about the young Canadian vet who went to war in Europe in 1914. Vet Harry lived in Winnipeg, so had a long way to go before he got to the war, where his job was to look after the horses.

When his train stopped in White River he saw a bear cub on the platform. A very special bear cub, or so he felt. He bought it for $20 from the trapper who had most probably killed the cub’s mother.

Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall, Finding Winnie

The bear came with Harry on the train, and all the soldiers helped look after the cub and find food for him. He was a very hungry bear cub. Winnie travelled with Harry and the others all the way to England. But before they went to the war in Europe, Harry brought his dearest friend to London Zoo, where he left him to be looked after.

A young boy called Christopher Robin used to come to the zoo with his father, and he loved playing with Winnie.

And you all know what happened then. (I cried a bit, for one thing. And those books we love got written.)

I think we have to assume Lindsay knows all about this, since it was her great grandfather who liberated our dear bear. The fantastic illustrations are by the very reliable Sophie Blackall.

Chosen

It’s International Women’s Day, so what more suitable book to review than Lucy Coats’s second novel about the young Cleopatra? Here we have a young woman who knows what she has to do, regardless of whether she believes she can, or what other people will think. She does her duty.

Lucy Coats, Chosen

Having been left hanging at the end of book one, you could only hope it would work out and that the characters would stay and survive. They do. Mostly.

Don’t misunderstand me; Chosen is both violent and bloody. Presumably that’s what life was like back then (although today’s not much better), and being chosen as a future Queen didn’t mean a smooth life, full of riches and comfort.

Cleo has a lot of travelling to do. At times it feels as if she does nothing but traipse back and forth in Egypt, whether by boat or through the desert, occasionally on a rather opininated camel. Having been chosen by the Goddess Isis doesn’t make for easy companionship with the others. Cleo stands out; she is different.

But I’ll say this for her, she really has some great people to help her with the task of uniting Egypt, and getting rid of her half-sister and finding her father, the disappeared Pharaoh. Personally I am quite partial to Captain Nail, although I can see that younger readers will have more interest in the gorgeous Khai, or the infamous Marcus Antonius. Lots of romantic scope.

There is more love among the supporting characters, and you really come to like them. I wouldn’t mind having a pair of diligent bodyguard soldiers like Cleo’s.

The future Pharaoh has her job cut out gathering enough soldiers to take on her sister and her supporters. When her camel days are over, Cleo needs to get to Rome to persuade her father to return to Egypt.

What this book does, apart from entertain and thrill, is teach you about Egypt and to some extent Rome. No amount of reading history books at school can make up for what’s in Lucy’s two novels about Cleo. It might not all be true or authentic (after all, how could anyone know for certain?), but it sets the scene so well, and learning through fiction for fun means you want to know, and you want to remember it. For yourself, and not for an exam.

Enjoy!