Archives for World War Two

#BookReview ‘The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch @Angela_Petch #WW2 #romance

The Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch is one of those books that is difficult to define. Is it a romance; partly. Is it historical; yes if World War Two counts as historical. Is it a page turner; for me, not quite. The heart of this novel lies in its Italian setting. The author lives part of the year in Tuscany and it really shows. From the descriptions of the countryside to the food and customs, The Tuscan Secret is totally believable. The deserted village of Montebotelino is real, I recommend watching the author’s short video on her Amazon page. Two women – Ines, her daughter Anna – share tangled family histories. Ines has recently died and leaves to Anna some money and a box of diaries. Written in Italian, Anna cannot decipher the diaries so decides to leave behind her own unsatisfactory love life and use her mother’s money to travel to Rofelle in Tuscany. Why did Ines leave idyllic Roffele, what secrets did she write in the diaries, and how did she come to marry an Englishman. This is a dual timeline story which switches back and forth between mother and daughter. Anna arrives in Rofelle where she moves into
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Akin’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #literary #WW2

Noah Selvaggio, a widower and retired chemistry professor, is about to leave New York for Nice, France, on an 80th birthday trip to discover his childhood roots. He expects to travel alone. Except in Akin by Emma Donoghue, Noah finds himself in temporary charge of his 11-year old great nephew Michael. The trip to Nice goes ahead, the old man and the boy learn new things about themselves, each other, and about the world. This is effectively a road trip in a book, more of a ‘holiday trip’. The unlikely travelling companions are quite sparky, irritating each other, each reacting wildly to the other’s strange cultural habits. Donoghue does an excellent job with the Nice setting, effortlessly bringing it alive; the gardens, the architecture, the food, the carnival, the French themselves. I loved the grumpiness that both characters demonstrate. Michael’s weary ‘dude’ when Noah tries to educate him about something – ‘it’s a selfie, dude’, ‘eyebleach, dude’; Noah’s repeated requests that Michael eat a proper meal that includes vegetables. Any adult who is not natural with children and who has spent uncomfortable time with an awkward teenager, will identify with Noah’s dilemma. Michael can be gentle, inquisitive, cocky, snide, exhausting and infuriating.
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Categories: Book Love.

How AJ Pearce writes #writerslife #amwriting

AJ Pearce immersed herself in the music of the 1940s and watched air raids on You Tube “with the volume turned up as loud as possible, trying to get some idea of what on earth it was like.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, January 12, 2018]   Any novelist who has set a story in the recent past knows the joys, and pitfalls, of online research. Such is depth of digitised records now that there is almost nothing from the 20th century that is not accessible online. Author AJ Pearce, whose debut novel Dear Mrs Bird, is set in World War Two, turned to contemporary novels and You Tube. In Dear Mrs Bird, Emmy Lake becomes an agony aunt on a magazine, offering advice, or not, to letter writers. Obviously Pearce immersed herself in magazines of the period. But she also read novels of the time, particularly Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell, published in 1940, and Henrietta’s War by Joyce Denys. “It’s funny and light but every now and then there’s a line that takes your breath away because it is so sad,” she explains. In The Bookseller interview, Pearce is asked why she chose the World
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Categories: On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘Pattern of Shadows’ by @judithbarrow77 #historical #WW2

The first instalment of Judith Barrow’s Mary Howarth series is Pattern of Shadows, a historical romance set in World War Two Lancashire that explores the  challenges and new opportunities for women in wartime. Set against a male-dominated background where the aspirations of working class women have traditionally been put second, war brings change and some people adapt better than others. Mary is a nursing sister in the hospital attached to a prisoner of war camp, nursing German soldiers captured and injured in action. Some people find that challenging but for Mary it is a satisfying and fulfilling job. Things get complicated when she attracts the attention of two men who could not be more different. One night Mary meets Frank Shuttleworth, a guard at the POW camp and, thanks to a combination of unforeseen circumstances, runs to a shelter with him during a bombing raid. This evening has far-reaching consequences for Mary and her flighty younger sister Ellen. There are tensions at home too with her argumentative irascible father and defeated mother, as Tom her older brother is in prison as a conscientious objector and her younger brother, injured fighting, must now work as a coal miner. Meanwhile a new German
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Week in Paris’ #mystery #historical

I really enjoyed this book but can’t help feeling the title did it no favours. A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore is a story of hidden secrets, wartime Paris, resistance, collaboration, bravery and music. Because of the title I was expecting something more cosy and romantic; although there is a romantic strand to the story, this book is worth reading for so much more. The week in Paris in question happens in 1956 when teenager Fay goes on a school trip to Paris. Two significant things happen to her there. She meets a fanciable boy, Adam, and has a strange fainting episode triggered by the ringing of the bells at Notre Dame. Back home, she questions her mother Kitty who denies that Fay has ever been to Paris. But Fay cannot shake off the feelings of familiarity. In 1961 Fay, now a professional violinist, has the chance to go to Paris for a series of performances. However her mother, always emotionally vulnerable, has taken an accidental overdose and is in St Edda’s Hospital. Before she leaves for Paris, Fay visits her mother who tells her to look at the bottom of a locked trunk at home. In it, Fay
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Munich’ by Robert Harris @Robert___Harris #spies #WW2

Robert Harris is a classy thriller writer at the top of his game. Munich is his re-telling of the September 1938 meetings between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Both had public, and private, objectives. Chamberlain was a pragmatist; though he sought peace, he was prepared to accept a delay of war to enable our woefully-equipped armed forces to prepare. Hitler wanted all of Europe for Aryans, which meant war. All of this is well-documented. But Harris takes two fictional characters and places them into this real history, splicing their personal stories into the political drama. Hugh Legat and Paul von Hartmann met at Oxford in the early Thirties. In 1938, Legat is a junior private secretary to Chamberlain. Hartmann holds a similar position in the German government; he is also part of the anti-Hitler movement. They two men have not spoken or seen each other since a holiday in Munich with a girlfriend. We do not know why. Everyone in this story faces a personal decision of conscience: whether to be loyal to country, self, and family, or betray them. The costs are different for each person. For some; death. For others; isolation, loss of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly #historical #Thirties

After the Party by Cressida Connolly is set in a difficult period of British history. It starts gently, lulling you into a sense that it is about three sisters, which it is, but it is also an uncomfortable story of pre-World War Two politics. From the first page, we know that Phyllis Forrester was in prison. In 1979, Phyllis looks back cryptically at what happened to her and her sisters, Patricia and Nina, in the Thirties. Why she was imprisoned is the question that made me keep reading. All we know is that someone died. In 1938, Phyllis and her husband Hugh return to live in England after years working abroad. They settle in West Sussex near Nina and Patricia. At a loose end, Phyllis is drawn into the peace camps organised by Nina; it is something to do over the summer, there are educational talks to attend and activities for the children. Nina is an organiser with a clipboard. Phyllis revels in their rented house at Bosham beside the sea, until Hugh buys a patch of land on which to build a house. At a dinner party thrown by Patricia, Phyllis meets a new friend, Sarita Templeton. “She said her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Pigeon Pie’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

Pigeon Pie, the fourth novel of Nancy Mitford, was first published in 1940 by Hamish Hamilton. This was a serious error by its publisher given that Mitford wrote this light-hearted satire about wartime spying just before World War Two broke out in 1939. Not surprisingly, it was a commercial miss. Which is a shame. It is a funny, more tightly-plotted and disciplined novel than her first three and is a transition between her pre-war and post-war novels. At the outbreak of war, Lady Sophia Garfield enrols at her nearest First Aid Post and is put in charge of the office, folding and counting laundry and taking telephone calls. As the book is set during the first few months of war, the Phoney War, not a lot happens for Sophia except endless first aid drills. She teases an acquaintance, Olga – who poses in the press as a mysterious Mata Hari figure – and lunches with inept friends Ned and Fred who work at the Ministry of Information. Then Sophia stumbles on a nest of spies; or counter-spies, or counter-counter spies, she’s not sure which. Although her characters seem of a type with those of her first three novels – Mitford
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Nemesis’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Nemesis by Rory Clements is the third in his Tom Wilde series which sees the American-born Cambridge professor tangle with more spies as Britain enters the Second World War. It is a page-turning read that I galloped through despite a few moments of confusion about who was double-crossing who; to the point where I started to distrust everyone except Tom. It is September 1939 and a strange time, the pause before war starts when sandbags are filled and the propaganda starts. Wilde, on holiday in southern France with girlfriend Lydia, negotiates the release of a former student, a brilliant chorister, from an internment camp. Marcus Marfield fought for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and seems to be suffering from PTSD. Wilde returns him to Cambridge though feeling uneasy about the circumstances of Marcus’s release. Marcus’s behaviour is worrying. Clements includes many of the characters featured in the earlier two books, including British spy Philip Eaton, doctor Rupert Weir and fellow don Horace Dill. Critical at this stage of the war was America joining the Allies but two unrelated incidents spread bad PR in the US; the ambassador in Paris escapes assassination and a British ship The Athenia,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Call of the Curlew’ by @ManxWriter #historical #WW2

An elderly woman sees a sign she has been awaiting and prepares to take her last walk, across the snowy marshes and into the sea. She imagines the freezing water creeping up her legs, planning how she will use her walking stick, loading her pockets with stones from the garden wall. And then she realises she has the wrong day, it is New Year’s Eve tomorrow, not today and she is a day too early. When a stranger appears, her plans are disrupted and the past must be faced. Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks has the most fantastic sense of place. It is a haunting, atmospheric read that I didn’t want to put down. Tollbury Marsh is an ever-present character in the story too, quiet, empty, natural and ‘where a body could sink under that earth, slowly and inexorably, like an insect in a pot of glue.’ Virginia Wrathmell arrives at Salt Winds, a house on the edge of the marshes, as a newly adopted orphan when she is ten. It is New Year’s Eve 1939. Her new parents, Clem and Lorna, seem ill at ease together and Virginia watches them from the banisters, trying to understand the adult
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Fatal Inheritance’ by Rachel Rhys #romance #glamour

Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys is a mystery set in the South of France three years after the end of World War Two. This is a glamorous place of sun and colours and beauty but which hides wartime shade and recriminations, canker beneath the luxury and smiles. When Eve Forrester receives a solicitor’s letter promising ‘something to her advantage’, she leaves her husband in England and travels to Cap d’Antibes. Clifford disapproves of her journey, he thinks it inappropriate, a waste of time, doubts the veracity of the will of this mysterious Mr Guy Lester who Eve does not know. But Eve defies her husband and goes anyway, curious, listening to the inner voice which tells her there is more to life. This is a novel where you want to shout to the heroine, to encourage her onwards, to have strength to take a new path. Eve inherits a part-share in the Villa La Perle at Cap d’Antibes, near neighbours are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Eve, in her ‘make do and mend’ clothing, is thrown into a glamorous social whirl of people she finds awkward, dismissive and arrogant. Rhys draws a layered picture of society where obvious wealth
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Hangover Square

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, first published in 1941, is deservedly being re-discovered as a perceptive portrayal of people getting-by, living in the low rent district of Earls Court, London, months before war is declared. It is the mournful tale of one man’s hopeless love for a woman who exploits him relentlessly, his inability to see her for what she is, and the battle of his psyche, half of which is telling him to commit murder. George Harvey Bone loves Netta Longdon despite, or perhaps because of, her disdain for him. ‘When she had finished making up, she went into the sitting room to change her shoes, and he followed her. He was always following her, like her shadow, like a dog.’ This is a novel about love, about living on the edge, and schizophrenia, and about the underbelly of a city paused on the brink of war. The story flicks back and forth in George’s head between his lucid moments planning a new life in Maidenhead when he will stop drinking, and what happens after the ‘click’ in his head – a blackout or loss of sense of time and place – when he realizes the only solution is
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Our Friends in Berlin

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn tells a story of London in World War Two seldom told. It is a spy novel but not a thriller. It focuses on the individuals concerned and has a deceptive pace which means the threats, when they come, are more startling. Jack Hoste is not who he seems to be. He is not a tax inspector; he is not looking for a wife. He is a special agent who tracks down Nazi spies. And at night he is an ARP warden. The juxtaposition of Hoste’s life of secrets is set nicely against that of Amy Strallen who works at the Quartermaine Marriage Bureau. Ordinary life does go on in London during the Luftwaffe bombing and Amy must match clients together, a matter of instinct rather than calculation. In order to be matched with the right person, clients are asked to tell the truth about what they are seeking, truths which may have been disguised or hidden until now. Client requests include ‘a lady with capital preferred’ and ‘not American’. Then one day she meets a new client who seems oddly reluctant to explain what he is looking for. The client is Jack Hoste and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Nucleus

Summer 1939. Germany has invaded Czechoslovakia. Jews desperate to flee Nazi persecution queue outside embassies in Berlin in the hope of getting a visa, while sending their children on Kindertransport to Britain. In the UK, the IRA’s bombing campaign continues. Scientists in Europe and America are researching atomic fission, and also at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. It is a vulnerable, combustible time. This is the setting for Nucleus by Rory Clements, second in his trilogy of history professor and amateur spy, Tom Wilde. In the first book in the series, Corpus, Tom Wilde was more an amateur detective. In Nucleus, the stakes are higher, war is imminent, spies are everywhere and so are traitors. The problem is, they look like friends. Asked by none other than the US president Franklin D Roosevelt to be a ‘clear and unbiased voice’ for him on research at the Cavendish, Wilde is drawn into a world of American millionaires, a Hollywood actress, champagne, tennis parties and horseracing. And then one of the Cavendish physicists, a withdrawn, complicated genius due to move to the USA to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam. Was he killed because he had unlocked the
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Corpus

It is 1936. The Spanish civil war is in full swing. A constitutional crisis looms as Edward VIII considers abdicating in order to marry the woman he loves. Corpus by Rory Clements starts in Berlin as a young Englishwoman slips away from a friend to deliver a secret package to an unnamed man. Soon after, Nancy Hereward is dead. It is Nancy’s death which makes Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde ask questions, awkward questions which lead him to uncover conspiracy, lies, and pre-war positioning by Stalin and Hitler. Wilde makes an interesting amateur detective. For one, he is American with a different reading of human nature; he sits on the fence and observes. For another, he is a professor of history; he analyses and looks for proof rather than opinion. And third, he has a cool motorcycle that he uses to cross the fens and investigate isolated country houses. The story starts rather slowly as Clements fleshes out various groups involved without letting the reader know how these people are connected, and who is traitorous. There is one out-and-out baddie, another who looks like a baddie but possibly isn’t, and a journalist who may or not be a spy or
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: White Chrysanthemum

It’s not often that I find myself using the words ‘delightful’ and ‘harrowing’ in the same book review, but here they are. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht is the harrowing story of two Korean sisters separated during World War Two; one snatched to become a ‘comfort woman’ for Japanese soldiers, the other saved by her older sister’s actions. It is difficult to read of the violence, the arrogance, the misuse of power and the humiliation of this piece of war history – still being publicised and discussed – but this is leavened by the magical water sequences. Sixteen-year old Hana is a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she is taught by her mother, in the family tradition, to dive deep, hold her breath and withstand the cold. When she is abused, she retreats to her memories. She is a tough cookie. One day, she and her mother are diving, their father is away fishing, and her younger sister Emiko sits on the beach, guarding the buckets that contain their day’s catch from interested seagulls; then Japanese soldiers arrive. Desperate to stop them taking her sister to a life of captivity, Hana races out of the water and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Heat of the Day

As writers we are used to being told ‘trust the reader’. As a reader, this novel is a definite case for remembering to ‘trust the author’. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen, published in 1949, is now recognised as a classic novel about the Second World War. It tells the story of Stella Rodney and her relationship with two men, her lover Robert and Harrison, the man who suspects Robert of selling secrets to the enemy and sees this as a way of winning Stella’s love. This is not a spy novel, rather its threads and tentacles of story are woven as intricately as the lives of the three principal characters overlap with the bigger-scale events of war. War is at the centre of it all, brooding over every minute, every decision, every pause. London, emptied of evacuees and people fleeing for safety, becomes a smaller place where strangers wish each other good luck in anticipation of that night’s bombing, where you awake in the morning and realize you are still alive. ‘Out of mists of morning charred by the smoke from ruins each day rose to a height of unmisty glitter; between the last sunset and first
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Gustav Sonata

This novel is a remedy. If you have been reading too many fast-moving, cliff-hanging, emotionally-wringing new novels which don’t give you time to breathe, now sink into this. The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain is a sensitive portrayal of the friendship of two boys who meet at kindergarten and form a lifelong on-off friendship. Gustav and Anton are the products of their parents and upbringing, and the baggage they inherit. All of this is complicated by post-war Switzerland. The war seems, to them, irrelevant, but in fact it frames their whole lives. Gustav lives with his widowed mother Emilie in a small town in Switzerland. Money is tight and Emilie juggles jobs to manage. As a lonely toddler who misses a father he barely remembers, Gustav longs for more warmth from an emotionally-distant mother. She encourages him to ‘master himself’, his behaviour, his emotions, his ambitions. He accompanies her to her cleaning job at the local church, he helps by cleaning rubbish from beneath the grating; instead of throwing it away, he keeps it carefully in a tin. The only person with whom he shares these treasures is Anton, his first real friend. Visiting Anton’s home and meeting his parents,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Day

Day, the title of this novel by AL Kennedy, does not refer to a period of twenty-four hours, but to Alfred Francis Day. Alfie. Rear gunner in a Lancaster in World War Two and now extra on the set of a war film. Past and present are mingled together as he starts to remember things he would rather forget. The passages in the bomber are electrifying, in their detail and understanding. The cold, the smell, the fear, how the professionalism of their training kicks in when the action starts. It is totally believable.. The timelines are mixed here as Alfred’s memories are inter-mingled: when Alfred was a member of the bomber crew; his time in a prisoner-of-war camp; and as a film extra in 1949. Where the novel is not so clear, for me, is the intermingling of these three timelines, though after fifty pages everything started to clarify. If you find this, persist and everything will fall into place. Through Alfred’s memories and his conversations with Ivor, his post-war employer at a bookshop, his bomber crew and the other film extras, we start to piece together the story of his life. It is particularly poignant when he falls in
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Slaves of Solitude

Patrick Hamilton is a new author for me. The Slaves of Solitude, published in 1947, is a novel about wartime in which war is deep background. The setting is Thames Lockden, a small town in the Home Counties, which Hamilton based on Henley-upon-Thames. It tells the story of Miss Roach – Enid, though hardly anyone knows this is her first name – and her life at a boarding house, The Rosamund Tea Rooms. This is a war novel with a difference, focussing on the people at home, not fighting but getting on with their lives in a world turned upside down, managing on a day-to-day basis, life is dreary and bare. Miss Roach, former schoolmistress, is single, 39, and fiercely independent. She has been bombed out of her London flat and has fled from the bombing. Life is dark. ‘The earth was muffled from the stars; the river and the pretty eighteenth-century bridge were muffled from the people; the people were muffled from each other. This was war late in 1943.’ Hamilton is a wonderful observer of human behaviour, he shows the nasty politeness between the residents at The Rosamund Tea Rooms, the bullying, the toadying, the power struggles and
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Categories: Book Love.