Category Archives: War

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

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The Blurb:

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

“The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy.

My Review:

As I suspected, I liked “The Ask and the Answer” by Patrick Ness more than the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy – and I came to like Todd Hewitt a good deal more in this novel.

When Todd carries a badly wounded Viola into Haven, they expect that their troubles will be over; that their questions will be answered; that Viola will be able to contact “her people” – colonists who are approaching the world of “Noise”. However, the young protagonists find something completely different to their expectations.

Todd and Viola are forced to separate and throughout the unfolding of this violent and often heartbreaking story, they rarely meet. However, the ties that bind them are extremely strong and their faith and trust in each other brings real life to this story. They meet many devious characters for whom power is the guiding light and Todd has to develop ways of dealing with awful situations and actions in which he had to participate.

In the first book of the trilogy, I was irritated by Todd, but the way his character developed in “The Ask and the Answer” provided much to like and admire. Although some of the things he had to do were despicable, he tried to show compassion. Viola continued to be a strong young woman, growing in strength even in the face of betrayal.

This book was written from the points of view of both Todd and Viola – I think this worked very well and helped to broaden the scope of the story. Their voices are quite different and there was no confusion for me, just added enjoyment. I have admired the work of Patrick Ness for a while now and have no reason to change my views. I think he is an extremely skillful, thoughtful writer and although the Chaos Walking trilogy is aimed at young adults, the questions that we are asked to ponder are applicable at any age.

Needless to say, I have now made a good start on the third book: “Monsters of Men”

The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson

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The Hoffmann sisters, Ingrid and her older sibling, Margarete, are taken to German Southwest Africa in 1902, to live on land bought by their father from Baron von Ketz. The Baron, his wife and son, Emil live nearby and “give” their servants Nora and Hans to the Hoffmanns, to help them settle and to make their life more comfortable. It soon becomes clear that Margarete is not emotionally stable and that the hot, arid country does not suit her particularly well.

In some ways, Ingrid settles better. She has her books to read and is given language lessons by Hans. He is well educated and speaks German and French. Time is taken away from these lessons when he has to escort Margarete over to the von Ketz home every week. It is not totally clear to Ingrid why these trips are occurring.

The Hoffmanns eventually leave Africa in a hurried manner, after Baron von Ketz is murdered at the start of a Herero uprising. Hans and Nora are missing, and this is a source of anguish for Ingrid. This younger Hoffmann sister is full of questions about what has happened and what is to come. She loves her sister deeply and cares for her well-being and these feeling for her sister continue on their return to Germany. When Margarete becomes engaged to the young Baron von Ketz, Ingrid has some misgivings. On the wedding night, Margarete disappears and it is presumed that she is dead – drowned in the lake. The rest of the novel is about Ingrid’s search for knowledge of her sister’s disappearance and her reawakened desire to discover what happened to Hans.

A considerable amount of the story takes place in Berlin after the First World War, where Ingrid becomes tentatively involved with the revolution in the city. At times, her searches for the missing are set aside so that she can follow her passion for translating poetry from English and French into German. However, on return to the von Ketz country estate, the anguish of her loss re-emerges, along with her determination to discover the truth.

This was not a particularly easy novel to read, as the pace is variable. At times, the plot seems to come to a standstill, but then, with a new piece of information, or change of scene, it moves along again. Thinking about this, however, I feel now that this is a mirror of Ingrid’s feelings and actions. She was surrounded by unanswered questions and deception; at times, the confusion seemed to overwhelm her and she, herself, came to a standstill. Then, something was revealed to her and she could move on with her quests.

I am glad that I read this book. It gave much food for thought and I was interested in the sections on post war Berlin and the revolution. Much is written about the post war world, but I hadn’t read anything that looked at it through German eyes.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read “The Other Hoffmann Sister” in return for my honest review.

Meet the Author:8153785

Ben Fergusson is an award-winning novelist. He was born in Southampton in 1980 and grew up near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University. Since leaving university he has worked as an editor, translator and publisher in London and Berlin and currently teaches at the University of Potsdam.

​Ben’s debut novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was selected for the Waterstone’s Book Club, WHSmith Fresh Talent and the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. It was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It won the 2015 Betty Trask Prize for an outstanding debut novel by a writer under 35 and the HWA Debut Crown 2015 for the best historical fiction debut of the year. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister, will be published by Little, Brown in 2017.

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull – Blog Tour!

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I am delighted to feature Rebecca Mascull’s excellent novel, “The Wild Air” here today , as part of the blog tour.

My review:

Rebecca Mascull’s novel “The Wild Air” is set in the early years of the 20th century, a time of change in more ways than one. The major event of the time was the First World War, which saw enormous loss of life and changed people’s view of warfare forever. The years before the war were a time of daring and inventive changes in the history of flight, which was to impact on the coming years of war.

It is against this backdrop that we meet the characters of this interesting and captivating novel. The main protagonist is a young girl from Cleethorpes. Della Dobbs is the third daughter in her family; she is a plain, quiet girl, who is a disappointment to her embittered father. Mr Dobbs had been an actor, but an accident prevented him from continuing in this profession; undoubtedly, his attitude towards life changed. His two older daughters were leading successful lives and his only son – and the youngest in the family – was his pride and joy. Poor Della was just a disappointment!

Della’s life was rather dull, except when she was cycling as fast as she could around the town. The arrival of Aunt Betty, who had lived for much of her life in the American town of Kitty Hawk, opened Della’s eyes to the possibility of living a different life. Aunt Betty and Della found great satisfaction in discussing flight and developing and flying kites on the beach at Cleethorpes and it is here that Dudley Willow enters Della’s life. Although he is five years younger than her, they have a shared interest in aviation. It is through magazines that he sends her that Della learns about aviatrix – women who fly!

We follow Della’s life through the following years – her exciting career as an aviatrix, unfortunately interrupted by the war. We have horrifying glimpses into trench warfare, and we see the damage that this does to soldiers’ minds and bodies. We follow the changing relationships within Della’s family and also the development of her own relationship with Dudley Willow.

I enjoyed this novel very much. The characters were well-rounded and believable. I like to read books with strong female characters; it was especially refreshing to have a character, like Della, who was considered to be too quiet, a nonentity, who discovered her passion and followed it. I found that I really cared about the characters and how their lives unfolded.

“The Wild Air” is well written and meticulously researched. I was interested to read that the author used much of the expertise to be found at the Shuttleworth Collection. My family and I have visited the Collection many times in the past forty years and have seen many of the vintage planes mentioned in the novel. This certainly increased my involvement with Della’s flying exploits, which had a feeling of real authenticity.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels set in the more recent past. As well as good story, with romance, excitement and all the dynamics of family life, this is an informative work – one which could be the starting point for further factual study into early flight, the First World War and its devastating effects. I love novels that provide these sorts of “jumping off” points and will certainly be looking for more Rebecca Mascull novels.

I would like to thank NetGalley for enabling me to read and review “The Wild Air” and Hodder and Stoughton for enabling me to take part in the blog tour.

About the Author:

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Rebecca Mascull lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon and their daughter Poppy. She has previously worked in education and has a Masters in Writing. Her previous novels are “The Visitors” and “Song of the Sea Maid”.

Find out more about her books by following this link:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&text=Rebecca+Mascull&search-alias=books-uk&field-author=Rebecca+Mascull&sort=relevancerank%5Bgallery ids=”1474,1475″ t<img

The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From Islamic State by Samer

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Blurb:

‘A clarion call to all of us that we should not give up. Somewhere there is a voice in the wreckage.’ Michael Palin

The Raqqa Diaries began as a series of short broadcasts on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Programme. Now one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth, no-one is allowed to speak to western journalists or leave Raqqa, without IS’s permission. Those caught breaking the rules face death by beheading.

Despite this, Mike Thomson, with the help of BBC’s Arabic Service, found a young man who is willing to risk his life to tell the world what is happening in his city. Part of a small anti-IS activist group, the diaries were written, encrypted and sent to a third country before being translated.

My Review:

 “The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State” by a young man with the alias of Samer, is a heart-wrenching account of his life in Raqqa before and after it was taken over by Daesh. He also describes how he escaped from the city and made his way to a refugee camp in northern Syria.

As he said, life was not easy before the war began. The Assad regime had been in place for 40 years or more and many people hoped to see the end of it. However, the rebels were unable to hold Raqqa, which was then overrun by Daesh. Life under the so-called Islamic State was horrific. Samer saw so many dreadful sights – executions, some carried out by children; women being stoned to death; men arrested for wearing their trousers too short.

Under this regime, the people of Raqqa became poorer and more despairing by the day. Many feared for their lives.  Men, especially, were suspected of being revolutionaries and  there was the daily expectation of being picked up and executed.

I was interested to read that Samer decided to escape from the city that he loves at the insistence of his mother. She was terrified that he would die at the hands of Daesh. Maybe this is the answer to the question that I have heard raised as to why there are so many young men who are fleeing from Syria; their families wish them to survive rather than face the daily prospect of execution.

This is a book that one can read quickly, but it should be read. Lives were risked so that we could have a glimpse of life inside Raqqa. I think we owe it to Samer and all involved in this.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this harrowing, but important, book.

 

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

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“The Night Watch” is neither a quick, nor particularly exciting, read, but I found it to be compelling and well worth the effort.The story is set in London, beginning in 1947, and then moving backwards in time to 1941. This was a time when homosexuality and lesbianism were taboo and attempted suicide was a criminal offence. It explores the lives and intertwined relationships of Kay, Helen, and Julia and also looks at sister and brother, Vivien and Duncan Pearce. I was impressed, as always, by the development of these characters by the excellent Sarah Waters ; although not particularly likeable, they are certainly clearly etched in my imagination.

I particularly liked the “backwards” storytelling. The story begins in post-war London in 1947 and paints a dreary picture of life at that time. All of the characters are introduced in this first part of the book and the book takes us back in time, filling in the gaps and answering the questions that arise in this first section. The second and third sections of the book are full of the harrowing life of Londoners in World War II – it is against this backdrop that Sarah Waters explores the themes of love, jealousy and suspicion; powerful emotions that can destroy lives. I think Sarah Waters is particularly talented at creating authentic settings and “The Night Watch” is no exception to this.

The book took me a long time to read, but it wasn’t because I was bored by it. It was so packed with emotion that at times, I needed to break off to allow it to all sink in. An intense, but absorbing book, it is one which I thoroughly recommend.

Books to Read in July

Although I still haven’t finished my current reads, which include books by Maria Savva, Julie Elizabeth Powell and Karin Slaughter, I thought I’d set down on paper the books that I hope to read in July. Whether I manage to read them all in the month is another matter, but as I’ll be convalescing after an operation, it might just happen!

Hiding in Sunshine by John Stuart and Caitlin Stuart

16153946       This taut thriller follows a family’s eleven-year odyssey on the run under assumed identities, where survival skills are paramount, but so are friendship, cooperation, and resilience. HIDING IN SUNSHINE celebrates one family’s abiding courage in the face of abject treachery — and a young girl’s faith in the triumph of the truth.

Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

16127238   A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

7148256      The second book in Philippa’s stunning new trilogy, The Cousins War, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series – The White Queen – but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses. The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England. Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

16099180      Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis.

Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz                                                                                     

14995  “The dead don’t talk. I don’t know why.” But they do try to communicate, with a short-order cook in a small desert town serving as their reluctant confidant. Odd Thomas thinks of himself as an ordinary guy, if possessed of a certain measure of talent at the Pico Mundo Grill and rapturously in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, Stormy Llewellyn. Maybe he has a gift, maybe it’s a curse, Odd has never been sure, but he tries to do his best by the silent souls who seek him out. Sometimes they want justice, and Odd’s otherworldly tips to Pico Mundo’s sympathetic police chief, Wyatt Porter, can solve a crime. Occasionally they can prevent one. But this time it’s different……..

The Last Whisper in the Dark by Tom Piccirilli

In the follow-up to Tom Piccirilli’s acclaimed novel The Last Kind Words, prodigal thief Terrier Rand has come home to the family that has lawbreaking in its blood. With generations of Rands keeping secrets from the outside world—not to mention from one  another—Terry is sure of one thing: He owes it to the woman he loved and lost to make sure her husband stays alive.

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The Dervish by Frances Kazan

An American war widow seeks emotional asylum with her sister at the American Consulate in Constantinople during the Allied occupation in 1919. Through a cross-stitched pattern of synchronicity Kazan’s heroine becomes a vital thread in the fate of Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and his battle for his country’s freedom. Based on firsthand accounts of the Turkish nationalist resistance, THE DERVISH details the extraordinary events that culminated in 1923 with the creation of the Republic of Turkey.

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As you can see. a variety of genres, and hopefully, some good reading ahead for me.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Cover of "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Viet...

Cover of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

“Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes is, in my opinion, a magnificent book.

It tells the story of  Bravo Company’s time in the Vietnamese jungle, where the North Vietnamese are not the only enemy faced by these young American Marines. The physical conditions are appalling – monsoon rain, fog, cold, mud. Leeches make life miserable and tigers are a danger to the lives of the soldiers. Added to this are starvation, dehydration and infection – what absolutely dire conditions in which to live, let alone fight.

The main protagonist is Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas, who is 21 years old, when he joins Bravo Company. It is the choice of this character as the focus which gives Karl Marlantes ‘ novel such power. We see life through the eyes of “middle management” – the suspicions and difficulties of the enlisted men and NCOs grow to be of huge importance for Mellas and the comradeship of these men and others of the same status are an important aspect of the novel. Mellas also looks towards those in positions of authority over him and we feel his anger and contempt for some of the decisions and orders made by these men. Although there is plenty of military jargon within the book, it was not a hindrance for me. It certainly didn’t cause me to lose concentration on this novel that was so much more than a war story.

This was an interesting and compelling read for me; I can’t recall experiencing such a range of emotions during the reading of a book. I was a teenager in the 1960s, when the Vietnamese war took place, so many of the events that were touched upon were known to me – the protests in America and the rise of the Black Panther movement particularly. This novel has piqued my interest to find out more about this period of history and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the 1960s, as well as those who want a gritty, “real” war story.

English: Karl Marlantes at the 2010 Texas Book...

English: Karl Marlantes at the 2010 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)