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.


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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Rooftoppers : Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Found floating in a cello case in the English Channel after a shipwreck, Sophie is adopted by Charles; a beautiful, good, eccentric and lovely character. Together the two of them live their oddly lovely life, acceptable to them but unacceptable to the authorities who eventually come calling for Sophie and announce their intent to remove her from Charles’ guardianship and into a ‘normal’ life.

The thing is, Sophie does not feel she is an orphan. She remembers, quite vividly, her mother. And so Charles and Sophie run away to Paris, to evade both the reach of the authorities and to find out if Sophie’s mother did truly survive. After all, it is not impossible that she survived and “you should never ignore a possible”.

This rich, whimsical, destined-to-be-a-future-classic book is something rather lovely. There was a lot in it that reminded me of my beloved Girlsown books; the inherent strength and bravery of Sophie and the richness of Rundell’s text. That sort of comfort in the space of her narrative, to play and to spin with language to the extent that Rundell does, and yet to retain the pure truth of her story? That is why I love Girlsown books. And that is one of the big reasons why I loved Rooftoppers. It is so comfortable and so wholly what it is.

It’s a lovely book this,can you tell that I adored it? I loved the fairytale feel of it and I loved Charles. Oh god, how I loved Charles. Rooftoppers has so much to give. It is a story of love, and of faith, and of acceptance. It is a wonderful, buttery-toast by the open fire, sort of book.

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Party Shoes (Party Frock) : Noel Streatfeild

Party Shoes (Shoes, #5)Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is something rather lovely about Streatfeild’s England. Every village has a family full of a thousand siblings. There are sensible and yet approachable adult folk. There is always a girl who is earnestly in love with ballet who ends up being recruited to train with the local (there is always one present) ballet teacher who just happens to spot purposeful talent in the girl. There is sunshine. There are sibling dynamics full of love and fun and heart. There is loveliness. (If you would like a game for this review, you can count up how many times I say things are lovely…)

Selina in Party Shoes has received a frock. The problem is that as it’s wartime, the opportunities for her to wear this frock are very limited. To be frank, it’s not going to happen and so the cousins with whom Selina is lodging (due to her parents being abroad), put their head together to make a plan. And that plan is this. They will hold a pageant in the grounds of the local Abbey and that Selina will be able to wear her frock at that.

It’s a lovely and ridiculous book this, and it’s easy to think that it’s solely ridiculous with the benefit of reading this in todays age. The plot itself is glorious; we’ll hold a pageant, here’s how we plan the pageant, whoops here’s the pageant, all’s good, bye. And to be frank there are moments of planning which drag a little only to be resolved in that blithe booky fashion which never seems to happen in real life.

That’s one way of reading it, but I’d argue that there’s another. The thing is this plot comes from real life. Not the pageant-y part of it, but the aching need to wear a dress at the right occasion before one grows out of it. Streatfeild’s niece, Nicolette, received a dress during the war and the occasion never presented itself for the dress to be worn. As Streatfeild explains during the introduction to my edition, everyone began to wonder would the occasion ever present itself and if it did would it be too late? Would Nicolette have grown too much and would the dress fit?

Now, the inability to do something in an everyday context is annoying and troublesome as it is, but the inability to do something as simple as have an occasion fit for a pretty dress in the middle of wartime must have been something else. And there’s something lovely, heartbreaking and beautiful about the way the entire community bands together to achieve this, even if they almost forget what they’re doing it for in the process, even if they’re almost banding together to create something beautiful and positive and a memory to hold against all the sadness and trauma that they have lived through.

So yes, Party Shoes (also known as Party Frock) is ridiculous.

But it’s also something very much more than that.

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