Stories of World War One : (ed) Tony Bradman

Stories of World War OneStories of World War One by Tony (Comp) Bradman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first heard of this compilation several weeks ago and the names of those involved made me sit up and pay attention. Anything which features Adele Geras is something great and joyful to me. Anything which features Adele Geras, Jamila Gavin, Malorie Blackman, Geraldine McCaughrean, Nigel Hinton and more, is something that is guaranteed to grab my attention.

Edited by Tony Bradman, it is a collection of short stories that address the first world war from a world of diverse and astute angles. Each story is introduced by the author, and I was struck by the personal connections that so many of us still retain to these events, one hundred years ago. Families are torn and scarred and affected by war, and these are not things which are lightly forgotten. Nor should they be forgotten. Children’s Literature (and by children’s, I am sweepingly including Young Adult so do forgive me for the generalisation) has a great power in how it can give you awful things, painful things, but also give you a framework in how to deal with, and to understand, and to live through those things.

There is a lot in this book, and a lot, I feel, which can and should incite discussion. Though I’m no historian (I get a little too, how shall we say this, creative with the facts), it’s clear to see that each story has been carefully researched and is full of detail. It’s not obnoxious, didactic detail either, and it would never be with authors of this calibre.

These stories are also about love. The people we love, the places we love, the sacrifices we make for who and what we love and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves in the name of love. There are moments in some of the stories (I’m looking at you Malorie Blackman) which are so simple, so awful, that I finished them and had to pause to think and breathe and think and breathe and then to read again.

That’s what a good compilation like this can do. The shortness of the stories, and what’s more, the accessibility of the stories, makes each a beautiful little moment in an awful, painful world. They are painterly, and lovely, and very much worthwhile.

(And I still adore how Adele Geras writes love. There is nobody out there, quite like her, who can catch that moment when you look at somebody and then look at them again and realise that they are everything, but everything that you have ever wanted).

View all my reviews

Dancer’s Luck : Lorna Hill

Dancer's Luck (Dancing Peel, #2)Dancer’s Luck by Lorna Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second of one of Lorna Hill’s ‘other’ series, Dancer’s Luck is a fascinating read to somebody very much entrenched in the Well books. You’ll have to forgive me if I make any faux pas about this series as Dancer’s Luck is my introduction and, well, it’s a bit … stretched, is it not?

Oh, I’m leaping ahead and that is poor of me. It is wrong to address the issues without acknowledging first the strengths, for no book is wholly one or the other. They may be weak, or they may be strong, but they will always have (I hope!) something in them that they do well.

So Lorna. Lovely Lorna Hill. I have a great passion for her writing when it is at its best. It is light, loving and fiery all at the same time. It’s a curious skill to have, but I’ll defy many others of her contemporaries to be able to balance a great, passionate, almost pastoral love for life and dance against the banal practicalities of a career in the theatre. Her first Wells books are full of this, this sheer joy in existing and dancing and being.

Maybe it’s that that makes this book pale for me, because in a way it’s all been done better elsewhere. And she’s done the ‘flight to an audition’ already, and better, with Veronica, and she’s done the quietly attractive Scot better with Robin and his kitten rescuing powers. And she’s done the bad girl (Sheena is a bad girl, right?) better with poor foolish Fiona. It all feels a little bit … retrod. Like the curtain has been drawn up and the show must still go on even though nobody’s quite ready.

But that’s to do a lot of Dancer’s Luck a great disservice, for there is one thing that I think remains one of Lorna Hill’s huge and glorious talents, and that is to make you fall in love with the world. Hill loves her worlds. She writes nature, and the countryside, and the world of her characters with such passion and adoration and yes, a little overly romantically at points, but it’s hard to resist the sheer charm of it. She has such skills in translating the beauty of the world that, even with all this twice-told story, will always make me come back to her.

One additional thing to note is that I rather love Hill’s Noel Streatfeild-esque stylistics in Dancer’s Luck, what with having the cross references to Madame Boccaccio…

View all my reviews

Murder Most Unladylike : Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1)Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You may know by now that I have a thing for school stories. School stories are one of the great joys of children’s literature in that they do what they do so well. They tell a story in a frame which is familiar to the majority of children, and they do it with a sort of glorious constancy irrespective of date of publication. There is a part of me that wants to see Murder Most Unladylike read with books like The Princess of the Chalet School or Beswitched because it fits so comfortably and solidly into the genre. Because it is, quite possibly, the start of a very new and very lovely and very contemporary spin on the school story, despite the setting of 1930s England and tea houses and pashes.

Murder Most Unladylike is a (Daisy) Wells and (Hazel) Wong story. It’s a sort of hybrid of Angela Brazil meets Agatha Christie all mixed up with some Sherlockian tips and winks that made me snuggle down and read with a contented smile. It is a jacket potato on a winters day book; warm, satisfying, filling.

And can I tell you what I loved most about it? What made me actually adore and fall in love with it? It is Stevens’ kind and funny and lovely writing which features references to pashes and to Angela Brazil, but does it with a sort of love and respect and belief in the genre and what it can do when it’s done well (which it is here, very much so).

This is such a glorious book and it is one which has reinterpreted the school story for the contemporary reader and opened it up with a swift moving and accessible plot line. In Star Trek terms, it is the next generation as compared to the original series. It is very, very gorgeous. Daisy is glorious. Hazel is awesome. I want more, please. It’s as simple as that.

Murder Most Unladylike is published on June 5th by Random House, I would suggest we all save the date, yeah? I think that Wells and Wong are very definitely worth keeping an eye on.

View all my reviews

Cowgirl : GR Gemin

CowgirlCowgirl by Giancarlo Gemin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a weirdly entrancing and lovely book. I mean, genuinely so. Gemma on the Mawr Estate meets Cowgirl. Cowgirl is the school outcast; tall, angry, and best mates with the cows on her father’s farm. Cowgirl and Gemma are thrown into an odd, abrupt sort of friendship that culminates with a sort of Western movie meets Wales meets Cows sort of quest that is MAD, but ridiculously lovely and entrancing.

Basically, this book is weird but gorgeous. It is Most Unexpected. I brandished it at my colleagues at work and went “Look, look at the loveliness!” because as ever with a Nosy Crow, it is designed beautifully. The cowhide motif runs throughout the book with a little bit at the start of each chapter and is very nicely done. The packaging of a book is vital – it’s sort of the icing on top of the cake that gives you a feel of what’s to come. And this is lovely.

So the book itself? As I said, odd but ridiculously lovely with that oddness. The premise is so unexpected, but the voice is beautiful. It carries it off. Gemma is frustrated, charming, funny, angry and brave. Cowgirl is heartbreaking. The cows are adorable. The characters on the estate are adorable, stubborn and rich. This is a book written with a lot of love, a lot of passion, (a lot of cows!) and I’m so glad it exists.

View all my reviews

The Everest Files : Matt Dickinson

The Everest Files (Everest Files, #1)The Everest Files by Matt Dickinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like what Matt Dickinson does. I think he’s in the process of carving out a sort of modern Hardy Boys / Biggles esque niche; a sort of very ‘boys own’ adventure style reinterpreted for the modern era. I had a lot of time for Mortal Chaos, and so I was more than happy to accept a review copy of the start of his new series – The Everest Files.

Whilst on his gap year in Nepal, working with a local medical charity, Ryan ends up talking with a local girl. This is Shreeya and she asks Ryan to find out what happened to her friend Kami. Kami’s story, once Ryan discovers it, takes place on the unbearably dramatic slopes of Everest.

The thing about Dickinson is that he does what he does very well, and I think in a way I was waiting for him to get there. I could have done without the framing story of Ryan, though I think that will pay off in the sequel. It’s when we get to the story of Shreeya and Kami that this book starts to properly get going. And when it gets going, it gets going brilliantly. There is such truth about Dickinson’s adventure writing and it’s thick with tension and honesty. I really love it but it took such a long time for me and the story to get there.

The other issue I had about this is a stylistic tic that pops up quite often in the text. It’s the habit of having the odd sentence in italics.

For dramatic effect

I don’t think this is necessary at all, and it’s something that I’d welcome being dropped in reprints and the sequels. Dickinson’s writing is strong enough without this sort of panicky emphasis, and it does prove distracting.

So, how to sum The Everest Files? Problematic, but good. Honestly so. Dickinson writes Everest with love and with respect and with fear, at times, and that’s a heady combination to read and it’s one that will keep me coming back to it and to him. And it’s something I understood in the final moments of the story, and I think it’s something that I understood when I finished; Everest casts a spell. It cast a spell on Ryan, on Shreeya and on Kami. It’s something you can’t deny, once you’ve been caught in it. And that’s a beautiful, terrifying story in itself and one that Dickinson comes very close to capturing.

View all my reviews