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).

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Trouble : Non Pratt

TroubleTrouble by Non Pratt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Trouble is the debut novel from Non Pratt and tells the story of Hannah and her pregnancy. There’s no spoilers here; this is a book about pregnancy and identity and inevitability, in a way, all summed up through the glorious, glorious front cover. You can’t see from the image, but the reverse of the book is pink and it is just a perfectly put together book.

So Hannah is pregnant. She has a reputation. She has a father who doesn’t want to know about his soon to be born child. But she also has Aaron; new boy, transfer student.

Father.

Aaron volunteers to act as father to Hannah’s child for reasons that are revealed throughout the book (sensitively, beautifully so) and Hannah says yes. It is a situation which surprises both of them. It is a situation which makes both of them.

It’s a sort of perennial topic in young adult literature I think, the unplanned for pregnancy, and yet I can maybe count on one hand the books that do it well. That explore the truth to the topic; that give both light and shade to it. That acknowledge that every decision has a positive and a negative, and that there are real people involved, every step of the way. Mary Hooper’s Megan books do this, but I struggle for others. I struggle so much.

Until now. Trouble is a book with so much heart in it, so much love, and so much respect for the characters. Pratt writes with a sort of lovely truth (there is language, there is sex – bear this in mind if you need to in your context) and she writes it all with a sort of intensely sensitive and light brilliance that makes great waves of this story crash into you. I cried, several times, at this book, and I did so at moments that I was not expecting. Moments that span out of the text and hit me and made me think – well, yes, that’s exactly what character x would do.

Trouble is the sort of story that I think tells you who and what people are – and believes in what they can be and what they could be.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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