Archives for World War Two

#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.

Book review: The Garden of Evening Mists

This is another enchanting novel by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng. The Garden of Evening Mists focuses on the post-Second World War period in Malaya. The Japanese occupiers have gone and local communist fighters are challenging British rule. In the hills of the Cameron Highlands, next to a tea plantation, lies a delicate Japanese garden created by Nakamura Aritomo, a man who was once gardener to the Emperor of Japan. Decades later when Yun Ling Teoh retires as a Supreme Court judge in Kuala Lumpur, she re-visits the garden at Yugiri. This is her story. In the 1950s Emergency, the people who lived in Malaya’s hill villages grew to fear the communists. Homes were raided and destroyed, people killed, women raped. This is the setting in which Yun Ling first visits Yugiri to ask Aritomo to build a traditional Japanese garden in memory of her sister Yun Hong. This is a novel about memory, things remembered and things denied, and about loyalty. Yun Ling’s loyalty to her sister who was killed in a Japanese labour camp and her guilt that she could have done more to save her, and loyalty to Arimoto who she loved and thought she knew. Judge
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Shelter

This book is full of trees. The Forest of Dean to be exact. Shelter by Sarah Franklin is the story of two outsiders who find themselves in the forest during World War Two. As they struggle to survive, to learn about their surroundings, how to get by from day to day, each finds a way to live the rest of their lives. Early in 1944 in Coventry, Connie Granger’s life is changed in the course of one night. Escaping the bombing, city-girl Connie takes a job with the Women’s Timber Corps. Unable to follow her dreams, she resents the change of direction.  Sent to the Forest of Dean for her training, she turns out to be so good the manager keeps her on. Meanwhile, in the forest, a prisoner-of-war camp is built for Italian soldiers captured during fighting in Africa. Neither prisoner Seppe, nor Connie, know one tree from another but together they learn to fell trees and work timber. And they get to know each other. The themes of nature, change and new birth are strong throughout Shelter, symbolised not just by the trees but by the growth of Joe, Connie’s baby, and the increasingly fluency of Seppe’s English.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Gift of Rain

If you are searching for another world in which to immerse yourself, then this novel will fit the requirement. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng will suit anyone interested in the Malay Peninsula and its history in World War Two. It is at times tender, brutal, harsh and uplifting. It is a story of love, family, war, of defeat and acceptance. The story opens as Philip Hutton, an elderly man living in a stately house on Penang, an island off the west coast of Malaysia. To his door comes an elderly, frail Japanese woman. They have never met before, but know one person who made an impact on their lives. Endo-san, a Japanese man, once lived on a tiny island near Istana, the Hutton family home. The Gift of Rain is the story of the relationship between Endo-san, a master, sensei, of aikijutsu, and his teenage pupil Philip immediately preceding the Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941 and the following years of occupation. There are many subtle layers to this tale which left me moved and thirsty for more facts about this period of history. It poses many difficult questions. Like the best novels dealing with war, it
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Categories: Book Love.

#Book review ‘The Distant Hours’ by Kate Morton #historical #romance #WW2

If ever there was a novel in which a house plays the role of a character, this is it. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is told in two strands, World War Two and the Nineties, involving the three Blythe sisters in Kent at Milderhurst Castle and a South London mother and daughter, Meredith and Edie. They all are connected by the war, the house, and the truth of what really happened when Juniper Blythe was abandoned by her lover in 1941. This is a brick of a book [678 pages], like Morton’s other novels. A little too long for me, the story meanders at times through past and present until it works towards the final mystery. What a mystery, an ingenious storyline and an unpredictable final twist. The story starts when a letter arrives for Edie’s mother, a letter lost for decades, a letter dating from wartime when Meredith was a schoolgirl evacuated to Kent. Edie is fascinated by her mother’s history, but her mother does not talk of it. They are not close, and Edie feels unable to press for information. So she sets off to investigate on her own. At the centre of the story is the house,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Another You

Novels rooted in a particular area where the place and scenery come alive off the page are favourites of mine. Studland Bay in Dorset, England is a beautiful part of the country, a dramatic coastline which is an ideal for a dramatic story. In Another You, Jane Cable uses the place to great effect. Key action scenes take place at the looming chalk cliffs, the Old Harry rocks, the sand dunes and heath. The time in which the story is set is cleverly chosen too, the sixtieth anniversary of preparations for the D-Day landings, preparations which took place along the south coast of England. It is a time full of memories, grief, regret and gratitude. In this place and time, Cable sets her story. Marie is chef at The Smugglers, the pub she owns with her husband Stephen, from whom she is separated. Jude their son, a student, lives at the pub and helps out. Despite its popularity, the pub’s finances are not good and there is not enough cash to pay suppliers. Marie doesn’t understand what is happening and is stressed by this and having to deal with her difficult husband. This human story plays out alongside rehearsals for
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Sue Moorcroft

Today I’m delighted to welcome contemporary women’s novelist Sue Moorcroft. “I wish I still had my dad’s copy of A Town Like Alice. It was one of those Reader’s Digest leather-bound books, bright red with gold. Sadly, I lent it to someone. A Town Like Alice was the first adult book I read. I was nine. I watched the film one afternoon with Dad and he told me he had the book. As a bookworm, when the film finished the obvious thing to do was locate it in the bookcase and carry it off to my room. If I close my eyes I can still see the red ribbon to mark reading progress and the dark blue and white pattern on the inner cover. In A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute taught me a lot about storytelling. He showed me that a story arc doesn’t have to contain a mystery (Famous Five) or a school (Malory Towers) and can be set against the ugliness of war and yet contain one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. That love can triumph over seemingly impossible odds, even over man’s inhumanity to man. It taught me a lot about characters having
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: At Mrs Lippincote’s

Oh the delight at discovering a new author. I can’t remember where I stumbled across Elizabeth Taylor, but she seems to be the “novelist’s novelist” with fans ranging from Valerie Martin and Kingsley Amis to Sarah Waters, Jilly Cooper and Elizabeth Jane Howard. At Mrs Lippincote’s is Taylor’s debut novel, first published in 1945. It is a minutely observed account of a family in wartime. Roddy is posted away from London and so rents a house from a widow, Mrs Lippincote. The landlady remains ever-present in the house through her family photographs on the mantelpiece and her possessions in the cupboards. Julia’s life has a transitory feel, she is where she is because of her husband and war, war which is ever-present on every page, and she is curious about the life of the Lippincote family. This is not a war novel about bombs and sirens, it is the snapshot of a normal family living in abnormal times. The Davenants live at Mrs Lippincote’s with their sickly, seven-year-old book-obsessed son Oliver, and Roddy’s cousin Eleanor. Eleanor, in love with her cousin, finds new friends via a fellow schoolteacher. Julia becomes close to the Wing Commander, Roddy’s boss, while Oliver makes
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Hero in France

France 1941, British bombers fly every night to Germany, many aircraft don’t make it back home. The aircrew parachuting into Occupied France must somehow find their way home in order to fight again. A Hero in France by Alan Furst is a story of that individual battle within the wider war, seen from different sides by two ordinary men. This is the beginning of the French Resistance. The man known as Mathieu – we don’t know his real name or identity until the very end of the book, this is the name by which he is known to his Resistance cell – escorts airmen along the north-south escape lines into Vichy France and onwards to Spain. Old clothes are sourced at jumble sales, innocent-looking shops serve as message drops, and a schoolgirl delivers messages by bicycle. In the beginning it was successful and relatively simple, but now the German command in Paris realizes there is a big problem. Word is getting around about the Resistance and people want to join, but how does Mathieu know who is genuine and who is a German spy? In Hamburg, Otto Broehm, senior inspector of the police department, is transferred to the Kommandantur in
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Categories: Book Love.