Tag Archives: Elizabeth Wein

The Last Hawk

I forced myself to take reading breaks so that Elizabeth Wein’s third book with Barrington Stoke, featuring female pilots during WWII, would last a little longer. The Last Hawk is really something; the same exciting flying war stories as we’ve come to expect, but as seen from inside Germany.

Ingrid is a 17-year-old German glider pilot. And she stutters. So not only is she at risk from the war in general, and flying in particular, but she faces having ‘her own’ turn on her, because she stutters. Faulty citizens are not something Hitler wanted to keep.

This is so chilling, even when in many ways it’s not news [to me], and it would have felt good to be able to look back to this time and know that it would never happen again. But we know this is not the case, don’t we?

Ingrid is recruited as an assistant to test pilot Hanna Reitsch, to show future Luftwaffe pilots how to fly. Plus some other, less attractive, tasks, which worries her. She needs to work out what to do, and if she has the courage to do it.

Perfect reading material for teenagers today. Enjoy the mix of fiction and real facts, and learn from it before it’s too late.

So this is Christmas

The card.

It’s been a string-light kind of year. And the elk said he’d been ignored for too long. So there is that. The books are a Christmas-Winter combo. Hoping to read some more seasonal murder stories.

And some thoughts. There were three best books last year. One went on to win the Carnegie. I have good taste. One has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021. And one is here on the pile, to remind you that Sally Gardner’s book is the perfect Christmas read. With a bit of luck it won’t be too late to get your hands on a copy.

Wishing you a Safe Christmas and a Better 2021.

Books of the Year, 2020

How do you know that your favourite author will remain your favourite? And I don’t mean that they will suddenly become a really bad author, but what if you want to/need to replace them, or add to your – potentially growing – collection of favourites?

Relax. That hasn’t happened. But it was a thought that struck me some years ago. Meg Rosoff stepped up on that pedestal (?) in 2004. And about eight years later she was joined in close second place by Elizabeth Wein.

There is, of course, a difference between the author and their books. But let’s not delve too deeply into this.

What I’m really waffling about is the best of 2020. What a year.

When the time came to decide, I ‘discovered’ I had read rather fewer books this year, and many of them did not qualify, being adult or published before 2020. But before I had time to sink into depths of despair over my reading, I quickly came to the happy conclusion that there was no contest at all about the best books.

The authors of my first and second favourite novels have both had new books this year. If they were horses, they’d have arrived at the finishing line in the same split second. Although, I suppose they don’t have to be horses to do that…

So, anyway, here they are, the Bookwitch winners of 2020:

The Great Godden, by Meg Rosoff and The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein. If you haven’t read them, may I respectfully suggest you now know what to do over Christmas? It’s not as if you’ll be seeing Grandma, is it?

‘Her election book’

It was gratifying to discover an online book event, shared with the US, where I was still awake enough to attend. But I suppose with Elizabeth Wein sitting not too many miles north of Bookwitch Towers, it needed to be early enough, while still permitting Carole Barrowman, somewhere in the US Midwest, to have got past her morning coffee.

They met up at the end of a week filled with online events for Elizabeth’s war time book The Enigma Game, recently published in her home country America. Carole gave us all of one sentence in a Scottish accent before switching back to her American one. I wish she’d said more! It’s strange really, how she’s over there and Elizabeth is over here.

The above quote is Carole’s who, having started reading the book on election night and loving it, now felt it was her ‘election book’; the one which made her week endurable. (I just want to know why she waited so long.)

Anyway, there we were, and I suddenly realised I was sitting next to two of my former interview subjects, which felt a bit weird. But nice. And fun. Because Carole is good at this interviewing thing, and Elizabeth has just the right books to be interviewed about, even if, as she said, she’s no good at elevator pitches. After an extended pitch, Elizabeth read us an early chapter about the German and the grammophone.

For this book she learned Morse code. Of course she did. Apparently it’s easy to learn, but hard to understand when it comes at you, so to speak. It was a suitable thing for young girls to learn, giving them something to do.

As Carole pointed out, everyone in The Enigma Game has something to hide, or they are hiding, like being a traveller, or a German refugee, or in the case of Louisa, someone who can’t hide her darker skin. Elizabeth said she always has someone like her in her books, a stranger, and she thinks it’s because she has never quite belonged where she’s lived.

During the conversation Elizabeth even began mixing herself up with Louisa, which proves the point. As a child in Jamaica she spoke fluent Jamaican patois, which she quickly had to shed when moving to the US. Carole compared that with her and her brother John’s needs when they moved from Scotland to America, quickly having to fit in.

Carole kept discovering more and more of Elizabeth’s books, and made notes on what else to read. The Enigma Game was going straight to her parents. She had actually read the Star Wars book, Cobolt Squadron, which Elizabeth described as her practice for Enigma, saying ‘how much fun is it to write an air battle?’ (Quite fun, I’d say.)

She’d got the railway line up the east coast somewhat confused, which means she forgot it had to be allowed for. So the northeast of Scotland was slightly altered by Elizabeth. Her fictional airbase is based on Montrose airfield.

Slightly behind her deadline for the next book, which she is not allowed to tell us about, is a kind of Biggles for girls, set in the 1930s. That’s good enough for me! And then Carole read out my question! I never ask questions in Zoom events. But I’d really like more books about the three characters in Enigma. No pressure, but yes.

As always when you have fun, this event came to an end. But it was good, and this was a perfect pairing of people to chat about a perfect book. Like Carole said, read The Enigma Game!

The Sunbird

When Elizabeth Wein mentioned her 2004 novel The Sunbird recently, saying she had just re-read it, I decided I needed to get my copy out. It’s so unusual to hear an author say they’ve read their own book again, long after publication. Elizabeth has signed my copy, claiming ‘it is the darling of my heart’.

But, being the third in a trilogy, I’d not got to it. Now, though, reading the inside cover blurb, I [re]discovered that it is about a deadly plague, and quarantine, in the African kingdom of Aksum during the sixth century. I didn’t ask, but maybe that explains the re-reading? It’s such a coincidence. For me, anyway.

We’re back in the Eritrea/Ethiopia corner of Africa, which Elizabeth knows well. Telemakos is related to kings, and when he accidentally discovers how some men intend to use the quarantine to make money, he tells his aunt who is Britain’s ambassador to Aksum. She asks Telemakos to undertake several dangerous tasks to save their country.

I don’t know how old Telemakos is; but I am guessing 10-12. From here on it’s mostly a thrilling spy mission for a young boy, and it gets very exciting. Elizabeth is not gentle with her characters, and Telemakos suffers a great deal. I imagine it’s realistic.

There is less mention of the plague and I assume it’s there as the reason for what Telemakos has to do. If it was written today, there would most likely be more of the fear of contagion. But still, it’s very current. Bad men will be bad men, whatever century they live in. And money rules.

We have a likeable hero in Telemakos, and his family feels so real.

And yes, you can read a third book first.

Enigma reading

And for publication day of The Enigma Game, Elizabeth Wein reads a chapter of her book.

If you’re very worried about spoilers, maybe go straight for the actual book book. But if not, let this be an appetiser, complete with fake pub and everything.

The Enigma Game

By about page 4 of Elizabeth Wein’s new novel, The Enigma Game, I turned to the end to check that there really were another 400 pages for me to read. I knew there should be, but wanted to make sure. What is a witch to do when reading a prequel to her second most favourite book in the world? Other than explode with contentment, I mean.

This is so good. It’s a second prequel to Code Name Verity, taking place after The Pearl Thief. This is a book for meeting old friends. Jamie, aka James G. Beaufort-Stuart, is back, and so is Ellen, with a mention of her twin. They are doing their bit for the war, at an airfield up in the cold north eastern corner of Scotland.

And there’s Louisa Adair, nearly sixteen and a recent orphan. And half Jamaican. I only mention this because life is harder when you have brown skin, and you need a job. Louisa is an expert at identifying different kinds of planes by sound. She’s also into music, which is useful when she gets a job as assistant to an old German opera singer, Johanna von Arnim.

Once they’re all ‘gathered’ at the pub near the airfield, the action can begin. Well, Jamie and his pilots are kind of busy all the time, but then a German defector turns up with a stolen Enigma machine, which in their innocence they put to good use. This is more dangerous than you might think. But at least, it matters a lot less if you are brown-skinned, or a traveller or a posh pilot. Or German. They are in this together, and it being the early part of the war, you know that whatever happens ‘now’ there will be more danger later on.

Not everyone survives, even at this point.

I need more. Lots more.

Medicinal Wein

As I keep saying, reading is good stuff. It’s medicine to the soul, and for that matter, to the body as well. We should all do it more.

But it’s easy to ‘forget.’ You stop, even briefly, and then you don’t get started again.

After Philip Pullman in October, and the flamingo book, Daughter tailed off a bit. The other week I dug out all my best books, of the ones she hadn’t yet read. Well, some of them. Most came from the privileged shelf next to my bed, where only the best books live.

And I thought that rather than hand her one book and try and push it, a selection of seven or eight might do the trick. Not sure how she chose, but I did notice she spent some time looking at them and thinking. In the end she went for Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief, the prequel to Code Name Verity.

It went the way good books often do. Faster and faster, so it didn’t last long. I was asked questions, which I tried to avoid answering. Like ‘is X a good character or a bad one?’ I mean, I can’t tell her that!

The next one was the other Elizabeth Wein book I’d had in mind, Black Dove, White Raven. That, too, speeded up as she went along.

In case Daughter needed even more Wein books, I excavated the two Barrington Stoke stories as well; the Russian one and the Polish one. After them I have only other authors to offer, as we wait with baited breath for the new novel – The Enigma Game –  coming soon (I hope) to a bookshop near you. And me.

Remember them

At the back of The Missing Michael Rosen recommends many excellent books, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly on WWII related topics, but also books in a similar vein from later on. Because we never learn, and someone, somewhere is always doing something bad to another human being.

I thought I’d mention a few books here too, before we start forgetting again. It’s anything but an exhaustive list, and I have tried to choose books that are seen more from the German or European side of the war, and actually during the war.

One I share with Michael is The Children of Willesden Lane, by Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen. Admittedly, this one is set in London, but not being fiction it shows the fates of unaccompanied German minors.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monika Hesse. This is about the resistance in Amsterdam.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik, begins in Poland and then turns into that awful kind of forced transport of innocent people to somewhere a long way away.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, which features Ravensbrück as seen from the inside.

Once, Then, Now, After, Soon, Maybe, Always. All by Morris Gleitzman. All – probably – wonderful. I say probably, because I’ve not managed to keep up with the last ones. But there are ways of remedying that.

Very good in 2019

To be perfectly frank with you, I’ve not known what to do. So, yes, it’s the 19th today, and it’s 2019 and my task is to give you some idea of the books I liked the best.

I started the list a couple of weeks ago. But there are simply too many books on it. That’s obviously good, as it indicates there were many books to be enjoyed. And I did.

Many of my favourites are Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia friendly books. This is especially great, meaning there are now loads of grownup books short in length, full on story, and easy for anyone to tackle. So I pondered making 2019 a dyslexia year.

But that would leave others, equally worthy. Some of the best books were part of trilogies or series. That doesn’t make them more, or less, good. Less of a surprise, perhaps, if one already knows their siblings. Should I not mention them?

Perhaps just go for the normal standalones?

Or, you know, make it a long 2019 shortlist? Maybe pick 19 books?

I colour-coded really nicely. Got quite confused when some books seemed to be in more than one category. And – I can hear you say ‘get on with it, witch!’ – then I plumped for three. Three that tingled inside. Me, that is. I went for non-series, and as you can see, only one of the three is part of a series, so that counts more or less as a success.

Wein, McGowan, Gardner

Elizabeth Wein, Anthony McGowan and Sally Gardner. Very good in 2019.