Tag Archives: WW2

#BookReview ‘One Moonlit Night’ by @Rachelhore #WW2

Life can turn on a sixpence and that’s what happens to Maddie and her two small daughters in the Blitz. One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore doesn’t start with a glimpse of the main character’s ordinary life before the change happens. It starts with a shock… a family made homeless by a bomb. Rachel HoreAlone in the midst of chaos, her husband Philip has been missing for ten months since the British army’s retreat from Dunkirk, Maddie takes Sarah and Alice to Knyghton in Norfolk to stay with Philip’s elderly Aunt Gussie. Maddie is caught in limbo, unable to grieve for Philip, unable to make decisions, not accepting his probable death, while living in an isolated country house – where Philip spent his childhood – which is the focus of long-held rumour and superstition in the nearby village.
Trying to make a living as a book illustrator, Maddie is seldom without a pencil and paper. But when she draws the face of an unfamiliar young girl, enigmatic, mysterious, she doesn’t know where her inspiration came from. Instinctively she keeps her drawing secret, not wanting to upset the fragile atmosphere at Knyghton. A secret is being kept, by Aunt Gussie, Philip’s cousin Lyle who runs the Knyghton farm, by family retainers, the Fleggs, and Maddie is sure it surrounds this mysterious young woman.
Bookended by a Prologue and Epilogue both set in 1977, Hore tells the stories of Maddie and Philip during World War Two with a flashback to their meeting in 1934. Many of the book’s themes are established in this pre-war section. Wild animals, painted by Maddie, but shot by Philip; children raised while parents are absent; the sharing of some secrets and the keeping of others. It is a complex, emotional story as Maddie, who flees to Knyghton seeking sanctuary instead finds unexplained silences, whispers and rumours she fears are aimed at Philip. Meanwhile Philip, having survived a massacre of British troops by the German army, attempts to find a way home. Philip’s sections are tense, forlorn and at times hopeless, a vivid portrayal of soldiers fleeing through Occupied and Vichy France.
This is a slow-burning story which rewards the reader’s perseverance as tension in the final third picks up and Maddie finally finds some answers. It’s a book which rewards further reading as layers of information, missed on first reading, become significant.

Click the title to read my reviews of two other books by Rachel Hore:-

If you like this, try:-
‘The Book of Lies’ by Mary Horlock
The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch
The Skylark’s Secret’ by Fiona Valpy

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
ONE MOONLIT NIGHT by @Rachelhore #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5PJ via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Beautiful Spy’ by @Rachelhore #WW2 #spies

Rachel Hore is one of my favourite go-to authors when I want well-written, thoughtful escapism. Her latest is A Beautiful Spy, a pre-Second World War spy story based on a real case involving the infiltration of a communist spy cell. Rachel HoreAt a garden party in the summer of 1928, Minnie Gray is bored. She’s there with her mother who is trying to fix up her up with another young man, when she notices a striking young woman. When the enigmatic Miss Pyle asks if Minnie would consider working for the government, Minnie recognises a chance to escape her mother’s suffocating attention and her boring job at the Automobile Association.
Minnie meets Captain Max Knight, ‘M’, and is recruited as a member of British Intelligence’s M Section with the code name M/12. She moves to London, finds a flat and a part-time secretarial job. Her first task is to attend meetings of the local Friends of the Soviet Union group and volunteer to help. Her new life must be kept a secret from her Tory-supporting family and boyfriend, Raymond.
What follows is Minnie’s progressive immersion in the British Communist Party. Always a self-reliant person, Minnie begins to struggle with the secrecy. Feeling she belongs nowhere, living her life in disconnected bubbles of people who are unaware of each other, she seeks out new friends at a hockey club that she can be herself with. Minnie’s career as a spy has a up and down trajectory, most of the time nothing happens, and she feels she is failing her bosses. But all the time she is cementing her reputation as a reliable, trustworthy secretary and this pays off when she is asked to take secret money to communist supporters in India. Minnie meticulously keeps records, writes reports for M and tries to be nosy while seeming disinterested. As the tension increases and she feels watched, the danger she is risking becomes real and not a game.
Hore added her own imagination to the factual story of real-life spy Olga Gray who spied for Maxwell Knight of British Intelligence and whose testimony helped to convict a number of communists in 1938 for treachery. Using a true story as the foundation of a novel has its advantages and disadvantages. At times the story pauses, for exposition or perhaps because there were periods in the real life Gray’s story when not a lot happened, and this means the flow of tension can seem stop-start.
I really enjoyed A Beautiful Spy. It’s the sort of novel I wish I could find more often. It certainly means I’ll be reading the non-fiction books mentioned by Hore in her Author’s Note at the end.

Click the title to read my reviews of two other books by Rachel Hore:-
The Love Child
A Week in Paris

If you like this, try:-
After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A BEAUTIFUL SPY by @Rachelhore #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lL via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 129 ‘The Paying Guests’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling so sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.”
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters Sarah WatersBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte
Personal’ by Lee Child
Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara THE PAYING GUESTS  by Sarah Waters #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eA via @SandraDanby

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

Kate MortonIf 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, and what a house it is: beautiful, crumbling, representative of a time past. When Edie visits the castle in 1992 for the first time, she thinks: ‘Have you ever wondered what the stretch of time smells like? I can’t say I had, not before I set foot inside Milderhurst Castle, but I certainly know now. Mould and ammonia, a pinch of lavender and a fair whack of dust, the mass disintegration of very old sheets of paper. And there’s something else, too, something underlying it all, something verging on rotten or stewed but not. It took me a while to work out what that smell was, but I think I know now. It’s the past.’ Living there, Edie finds the three Blythe sisters, alone after the death of their father.

Morton writes brilliantly about the war years, conjuring up life at this vast castle and in the village of the same name. Running throughout is a mysterious, ghostly, spooky thread based on Raymond Blythe’s best-selling book The True History of the Mud Man. ‘The moat has begun to breathe. Deep, deep, mired in the mud, the buried man’s heart kicks wetly.’ Is the book set at Milderhurst Castle? Is the Mud Man based on a true story? The book is yet another connection between Edie and the castle, she loved it as a child after being given a library copy when ill by her mother. And so the concentric circles tighten.

Amazon UK

For more about Kate Morton’s books, visit her website.

If you like this, try these books with atmospheric houses:-
‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier
Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte
‘A Sudden Light’ by Garth Stein

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1YD #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 54… ‘The Great Fortune’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Olivia Manning“Somewhere near Venice, Guy began talking with a heavy, elderly man, a refugee from Germany on his way to Trieste. Guy asked questions. The refugee eagerly replied. Neither seemed aware when the train stopped. In the confusion of a newly created war, the train was stopping every twenty minutes or so. Harriet looked out and saw girders, darker than the twilit darkness, holding an upper rail. Between the girders a couple fumbled and struggled, every now and then thrusting a foot or an elbow out into the light that fell from the carriage windows. Beyond the girders water glinted, reflecting the phosphorescent globes lighting the high rail.”
‘The Great Fortune’ by Olivia Manning, from ‘The Balkan Trilogy’

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates
‘A Severed Head’ by Iris Murdoch
‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A great 1st para: FORTUNES OF WAR by Olivia Manning #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-mx via @SandraDanby

Book review: After the Bombing

After the Bombing by Clare Morrall 3-4-14As any regular reader of my blog will know, I am a huge Clare Morrall fan. And I was not disappointed by After the Bombing. As with all Morrall’s novels, the observations of character are spot-on and so poignant. She peoples her novels with characters who feel real.

Twin story strands tell the story of Alma Braithwaite, before and after the bombing of her school near Exeter in May 1942, and in 1963 in a modern world which has moved on from the war. But Alma still remembers. “She’s conscious of sitting on a swing that has been steady for a long time and is starting to move again, gently but perceptibly, backwards and forwards, disturbing her equilibrium.”

The novel opens with the British bombing of Lübeck in March 1942, the raid which famously made Hitler pick up a copy of the Baedecker tourist guide and select at random the English cities of Bath, Norwich, York, Canterbury, and Exeter. That is how 15-year old Alma and her schoolfriends Curls, Giraffe and Natalie are forced to run from Merrivale, the boarding house at their girls’ school Goldwyns on the outskirts of Exeter, to the bomb shelter. When they emerge, Merrivale has gone.

The four girls, in that unspecified limbo between girl and woman, lodge in a mens’ hall of residence at the nearby university, living alongside male students for the first time. The influences there change their lives just as much as the bombing did, with freedoms they have never guessed exist, and the gentle presence of mathematics lecturer Robert Gunner. They are introduced by the men to the Lindy Hop, a vibrant, energetic dance which the girls, though initially nervous and suspicious, come to love dancing.

War is ever-present, a character of its own. There is a poignant scene where Alma and her brother Duncan, on a brief visit home from the war in an unspecified hot country, go back to their family home in Exeter after their parents’ death. Searching for some semblance of normality, they try to play tennis on the grass court. The grass has grown too long but they play anyway, and in their diving for the balls and their laughter, the reader gets a glimpse of their pre-war life and a sign of how everything is now different… after the bombing.

There are parallels in the 1942 and 1963 storylines: a concert which never takes place, flirtations, unexpected death and unexpected love. One of those books which, when I finished it, I wanted to re-read immediately.
‘After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall [published Sceptre]

[photo: MBA]

[photo: MBA]

To read Clare Morrall’s interview with The Guardian in which she describes how she finished writing her novel while undergoing chemotherapy, click here

#BookReview ‘The Aftermath’ by @Rhidianbrook #WW2

1946. Post-war Germany, Hamburg. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is a gentle novel with an emotionally difficult core: the adjustment of two families, one German one English, to the landscape of rubble a year after the end of the Second World War. Broken country, broken families, broken minds. The title refers to the aftermath of the war and also to the aftermath of events in the lives of both families. Both are grieving and are in new territory, geographically and emotionally. They are proud and unsure. Together, will they heal? Rhidian BrookThe English family: Colonel Lewis Morgan is occupied with the Occupied while his newly-arrived wife Rachael prevaricates, “I don’t know. It was suffix and prefix to her every other thought. This indecision was becoming her signature.” Their son Edmund has no such doubts, facing a challenging encounter with the teenage girl upstairs involving a glimpse of knickers and a steaming pisspot, he then ventures beyond the house’s garden into forbidden territory and meets the local feral youth.
The German family: Herr Lubert, a widower, and his daughter move upstairs when the Morgans arrive in the requisitioned house. Ironically Stefan Lubert is an architect, surrounded by broken buildings, but works instead in a factory while waiting for his papers to arrive which will allow him to practise again. School is closed so Frieda is on the ‘rubble runs’, clearing bricks and rubbish, where she mixes with the feral youth.
They all make their own adjustments to the new situation and for a while it is a quiet, polite tussle for power. Rachael makes changes in the house; she moves plants and drapes a modest cloth over a nude sculpture. She sets herself rules about not fraternising with the Germans, who she believes need punishing. She disagrees with Herr Lubert about a Mies van der Rohe chair which he explains is a Bauhaus design, functionality stripped to simplicity. She says it is uncomfortable.
It is as if each family is trying the other on for size, it is a fascinating observation of ordinary people in extraordinary times. Lewis reflects on the logic of the tasks he must perform: “They blow up a soap factory which employed two thousand Germans, made something everyone needed and had no military value whatsoever and, in return, the Russians send the Germans bread. It was like balancing Hell’s ledger.”
The cover of the book is an attractive, calm monotone and the story is also told in a calm tone; but underneath the emotions are building. As the initial discomfort eases, passion rises.

If you like this, try:-
The Translation of Love’ by Lynne Kutsukake
Homeland’ by Clare Francis
The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE AFTERMATH by @Rhidianbrook #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-So