Category Archives: War

Black Dove, White Raven

I was left with a warm glow of contentment on finishing Elizabeth Wein’s Black Dove, White Raven, and I would have started re-reading the book at that point if I could have. While the first pages didn’t set me off quite like Code Name Verity did, I was soon lost in the magic of flying, friendship and adventure.

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove, White Raven

Like CNV it’s a story told through diary entries and flight log books, as well as the odd attempt at writing adventure stories by and about Black Dove and White Raven. I had imagined that they were the flying mothers of Em and Teo, but it’s really the children themselves who are telling this tale. Mainly Em, and sometimes her adopted brother Teo. Em’s voice is almost that of Verity’s. Almost.

Their mothers Delia and Rhoda are soulmates; they fly together, have babies together, live and work together, until the day Delia dies. This is America in the 1920s, so friendship between a white woman and a black woman was never going to be straightforward. Nor is the situation where Rhoda simply takes over as Teo’s mother, or when they all move to Ethiopia to live Delia’s dream.

As the book begins, Em has a problem, and the novel is her way of describing to Emperor Haile Selassie what has happened and why he must help her.

I knew very little about Ethiopia, and even less about the war in Abyssinia. It’s easy to think of that war as merely being far away and a long time ago, and almost unimportant, but Black Dove, White Raven brings it to life in a scary way. We simply have had no idea what Italy did in Africa back then.

It’s easy to say that you should write about what you know, or that fiction is about making things up, so you don’t have to. But if Elizabeth didn’t know Ethiopia, and more importantly, didn’t know how to fly, this story wouldn’t get off the ground. And it’s as well that she practised flying on the outside of planes too, or you wouldn’t believe what goes on in this book.

Black Dove, White Raven is a seductive mix of nostalgia and reality, with courage and friendship at its core. It leaves me wanting more.

Women and war

On International Women’s Day, let’s think back to what they used to do. We finally made it to see the film based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, which is a favourite of mine. I was pleased to see the other week that the appearance of the film made the book pop – temporarily – back into the top ten in book sales. The power of movies.

It was a lovely looking film, even accounting for the gore, which was most realistic. My younger self would not have enjoyed it. I’d worried about the cringe-factor of having a non-native speaker play Vera, but Alicia Vikander was perfect. (I might have to dislike her a little for that.) What people who haven’t read the book make of the film, I have no idea. It must be like Harry Potter. You run past the highlights and you will hopefully make some sense of it.

The plot which remained when all the ‘excess’ pages had been dealt with made the whole thing out to be mostly about the romance, and less about years of hard work, nursing in the war. And I suppose the romantic twist at the end was to appease viewers who had cried too much when everyone died. At least they didn’t resurrect those who died in real life.

While romantic, this film did portray WWI as far more traumatising and downright incomprehensibly awful than most war films I’ve seen. And that’s good. We need the negative propaganda. It’s also worth remembering that being allowed to go to university is a relatively new thing. If you’re a woman, I mean.

Kathryn J Atwood, Women Heroes of World War I

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Wein’s new novel, and that is also about the dreadfulness of war and what women can do. (More about that another day.)

And through Elizabeth, I had another well timed book in my letterbox yesterday. It’s Kathryn J Atwood’s Women Heroes of World War I. I haven’t read it yet, obviously, but it looks very promising. Kathryn features the lives of 16 women and what they did in the war. So watch this space.

Daughter liked Testament of Youth, the movie, but I have high hopes of her giving the book a go, too. It is far superior to the film, and everyone ought to read it.

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.