More New-to-Me Books

A visit to Barter Books  at Alnwick this week has added 4 books to my TBRs.

 I usually steer clear of books about kidnapped or missing babies/children, so I’m not sure about the first two books shown below. But I’ve read books by both authors before and enjoyed them so I’m hoping they’ll be OK – or at least not too heart-wrenching:

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid – a standalone psychological thriller beginning with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.

Blurb

Stephanie Harker is travelling through security at O’Hare airport with five-year-old Jimmy. But in a moment, everything changes. In disbelief, Stephanie watches as a uniformed agent leads her boy away – and she’s stuck the other side of the gates, hysterical with worry.

The authorities, unaware of Jimmy’s existence, just see a woman behaving erratically; Stephanie is wrestled to the ground and blasted with a taser gun. By the time she can tell them what has happened, Jimmy is long gone.

But as Stephanie tells her story to the FBI, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems. There are many potential suspects for this abduction. With time rapidly running out, how can Stephanie get him back?

A breathtakingly rich and gripping psychological thriller, The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid’s most accomplished standalone novel to date, a work of haunting brilliance.

With Our Blessing by Jo Spain – a murder mystery and another book about mothers and babies in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as Magdalene asylums.

Blurb

1975
A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother.

2010
The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.

Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is on the case. He’s convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.

The Visitor by Lee Child – a Jack Reacher – I’ve read one of the Jack Reacher books and did enjoy it but looking at the reviews of this book it seems a lot of readers weren’t keen on it whilst many others were. A marmite book, maybe. 

Blurb

Sergeant Amy Callan and Lieutenant Caroline Cook have a lot in common. High-flying army career women, both are victims of sexual harassment from their superiors; both are force to resign from the service.

And now they’re both dead.

Their unmarked bodies are discovered in their homes, naked, in baths filled with army-issue camouflage paint. Expert FBI psychological profilers start to hunt for a serial murderer, a smart guy with a score to settle, a loner, an army man, a ruthless vigilante known to them both.

Jack Reacher, a former US military cop, is a smart guy, a loner and a drifter, as tough as they come. He knew both victims. For Agent-in-Charge Nelson Blake and his team, he’s the perfect match. They’re sure only Reacher has the answers to their burning questions: how did these women die? And why?

A Foreign Field: a True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War by Ben Macintyre – nonfiction – because I’m interested in reading about World War One in both fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed reading his book Operation Mincemeat so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.  

Blurb

A wartime romance, survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War, from the bestselling author of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ and ‘Agent Zig-Zag’.

Four young British soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. Unable to get back to their units, they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret, where they are fed, clothed and protected by the villagers, including the local matriarch Madame Dessenne, the baker and his wife.

The self-styled leader of the band of fugitives, Private Robert Digby, falls in love with the 20-year-old-daughter of one of his protectors, and in November 1915 she gives birth to a baby girl. The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans. They are captured, tried as spies and summarily condemned to death.

Using the testimonies of the daughter, the villagers, detailed town hall records and, most movingly, the soldiers’ last letters, Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinary story of love, duplicity and shame – ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the question, ‘Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?’ In this new updated edition the mystery is finally solved.

Which one would you recommend I read first?

Nonfiction November Week 3: Be/Ask/ Become the Expert

nonfiction-november-20181

We’re now in Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) of Nonfiction November. The topic is – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Julie @ JulzReads)

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve read a few books on World War 1, but I am nowhere near an expert. I’ve looked on Amazon and Wikipedia and am struggling to know  where to start, there are so many books.  So I would like some suggestions of books, specifically about the causes of the war and its progression, but not military history detailing the specific battles blow by blow! Also any personal memoirs that you can recommend.

I’ve just started to read Jeremy Paxman’s history of the First World War – Great Britain’s Great War. The back cover describes it: ‘He tells the story of the war through the experience of those who lived it – nurses, soldiers, politicians, factory workers, journalists and children.’

These are some of the books I’ve read:

  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years.
  • Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon – part of his fictionalised autobiography
  •  The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison – the main sources of information in this book are personal accounts from the veterans as they remembered them many years later.

I also have a copy of Chronicle of Youth: Great War Diary 1813 – 1917 by Vera Brittain, her war diary on which she based Testament of Youth. I’ve read parts of this book.

chronicle of youth

 

 

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the WarThis is another short book review as I catch up with writing about my reading. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is one of my TBR books. It is her second novel and I enjoyed it so much more than her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach Latin at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher.

This is really a book of two parts – the months before the outbreak of the First World War and then the events as the war got underway. It begins slowly with the first part describing the lazy, idyllic summer and in which all the characters are introduced. Although there is a clear distinction between the classes in society cracks are beginning to appear which will only widen as the century gets under way and the war acts as a catalyst for change..

But it really gets going in the second part when the young men sign up, including High and Daniel, Agatha’s nephews, and Snout one of Beatrice’s pupils. He was underage but his father, the local farrier, signed the papers agreeing he could enlist. Simonson doesn’t hold back on the horrific conditions under which the war took place and from a gentle beginning the book moves into a war novel, emotional and moving.

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into two of the categories, The word ‘the’ used twice and A season. For the time being I’m putting it into the ‘season‘ category but may change that later if I read one of the other ‘season‘ books on my list.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1770 KB
  • Print Length: 497 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1 edition (24 Mar. 2016)
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 4*

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley & William Allison

When I was asked if I would read and review a revised edition of The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison, the book on which the 1986 BBC TV series was based I was immediately interested as I had watched the TV series.

Description from the Press Release:

In 1917 British, New Zealand and Australian troops stationed at the Étaples Training Camp in northern France protested against the inhuman conditions and the protest erupted into mutiny. Private Percy Toplis was named by the authorities as a leader of this mutiny. While several of the mutineers were executed in its aftermath, Toplis escaped and remained at large for three years. The Army immediately covered up the mutiny, thousands of the participants died shortly afterwards in the Passchendaele offensive while the survivors remained silent for over fifty years. After three years as Britain’s most wanted man Percy Toplis was killed in 1920 by a policeman.

My thoughts:

This is the 2nd and updated edition of The Monocled Mutineer, which  includes a new introduction and epilogue that expand on newly discovered information about the events of the mutiny and the government’s response to it. It is primarily based on interviews and correspondence with survivors of the First World War nearly sixty years after the events they describe. In 1976 the authors advertised in newspapers asking whether any veterans from the First World War had recollections of the events in Étaples in September 1917. They received many replies containing:

  … sharp, bitter accounts of events long ago, but far from forgotten. Inevitably they were careful handwritten stories in old men’s script, teased out without any other prompting than the brief enquiry in their local paper. (page 2)

In addition to the anecdotal evidence the authors have used other sources including the published personal reminiscences of Edwin Woodhall,  Detective and Service Days and Lady Angela Forbes. Memories and Base Details; journalists’ accounts in various periodicals; and have drawn background material from records about the First World War in the  Imperial War Museum, The Public Record Office and the British Newspaper Library.

Not many contemporary records have survived that relate to the mutiny. One of the surviving records is the war diary of the Commandant at the Étaples Camp,  Brigadier-General Andrew Graham Thomson. Thompson describes what happened as a ‘disturbance’ and as ‘riots’ and ‘breakouts’:

Disturbance in Reinforcement Camp between military police and troops, Corporal Wood, 4th Gordons being accidentally shot … a crowd of about 1,000 gathered at Ã‰taples town, and about 7.30 pm tried to break into the Sevigne cafe where two policemen were hiding. (page 1)

But in 1978, after the publication of the 1st edition and the BBC dramatisation, the British government admitted that the events that took place at Ã‰taples had been a mutiny and also that  it was probable that the records relating to the board of inquiry into the events had been destroyed many years ago. The files on the mutiny and Percy Toplis’ military records are closed until 2017.

Historical accuracy is never easy to obtain, especially where records have been lost and where there is a limited number of sources to compare one against the other. In this case the main sources of information are the personal accounts from the veterans as they remembered them many years later.

And the picture they paint is a most remarkable and shocking one of the brutal and inhuman conditions which were in operation at the camp. As for Toplis’ part in the mutiny, the letters from the veterans occasionally mentioned him and whilst some thought he was the main ringleader, few thought he was the only one, but that there were a number of soldiers involved. One remembered Toplis’ name on a wanted poster and wrote:

If he was a villain then he was not the only one around Étaples. Maybe he too was tired of being humiliated, deprived, brutalized and treated like a dog. We had all got tired of being treated with less consideration than that given to horses. (page 91)

Another reported that Toplis, heading a mob of about 1,000 deserters confronted Thompson, surrounding his car. Toplis climbed on the running board and dictated the terms for ending the mutiny (page 93). After the mutiny ended, whilst some of the ringleaders were executed, Toplis escaped. Others were killed in the battle for Passchendale which began on 20th September.

Maybe more information will be available in 2017 when the files are opened and a fuller picture of what happened will emerge.

The Monocled Mutineer also goes into detail about Percy Toplis’ life before and after the war. Coming from a working-class background, by the age of eleven he was already a con artist and a thief. He must have been a charismatic character, able to both charm and deceive people, successfully impersonating officers, able to melt into the background deserting and then rejoining the army seemingly at will, not sentenced to execution by the firing squad (the penalty for desertion). But after the war ended in 1920 his luck ran out as he was accused of murdering a taxi-driver. The inquest held that he was guilty in his absence. Toplis fled, evading capture for six weeks and he was eventually shot down in a police ambush near Plumpton in Cumberland.

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd; 2nd Revised edition edition (7 Sept. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 028564310X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285643109
  • Source: review copy from the publisher

Lights Out

‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime’

Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 1914

Today it is exactly 100 years since Britain joined the first world war! Everyone in the UK is invited to turn off their lights from 10pm to 11pm, leaving on a single light or candle for a shared moment of reflection.

Chronicle of youth 001

I’m reading Vera Brittain’s Chronicle of Youth: Great War Diary 1913 -1917. On Tuesday August 4th 1914 having heard that Germany had declared war on Belgium she wrote:

Stupendous events come so thick & fast after one another that it is impossible to realise to any extent their full import. One feels as if one were dreaming, or reading a chapter out of one of H G Wells’ books like ‘The War of the Worlds’. To me, who have never known the meaning of war, as I can scarcely remember the South African even, it is incredible to think that there can be fighting off the coast of Yorkshire.

To sum up the situation in any way is impossible, every hour brings fresh and momentous events & one must stand still & await catastrophes even more terrible than the last.

 

The Dance of Love by Angela Young

Angela Young‘s new novel The Dance of Love is historical fiction set at the turn of the twentieth century between 1899 and 1919. It is outstanding and I loved it so much. At times as I read it I could hardly see the pages through my tears – and there have not been many books that have that effect on me.  It’s a brilliant book, both a heart-rending love story and a dramatic story too, as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the devastating and tragic effects of the First World War impact on the characters’ lives.

It’s the story of Natalie, the daughter of Sir Thomas Edwardes, a wealthy business man, a self-made man who is socially unsure of himself, but who wants his daughter to be accepted into society. It begins in 1899, a period when young ladies were presented at Court for the London Season, an opportunity to meet their future husbands. Natalie’s friends, the daughters of Lady Bridewell, are looking forward to the London Season. But Natalie has little desire to be presented at Court, relishing the idea that she would be free to live without such restraints and marry for love, someone who will care for her for herself, not because of her family connections. However, she falls in with her father’s wishes and when she meets a handsome artist-soldier, Lieutenant Haffie, it seems her wish for a happy marriage will come true.

What I really liked about this book is the way historical background is seamlessly interwoven with the narrative and how it captures the changes in society as the years went by. Natalie grows from a young, impulsive teenager with passion for romance and dancing into a responsible young woman whose hopes for a happy marriage are in the balance.  The portrait of the Edwardian upper classes, with their lavish life style, glittering balls and all their extravagances is fascinating, contrasting with the enormous changes in society as the War takes its effect.

I liked all the details about paintings as Haffie shows his work to Natalie – Angela Young’s beautiful descriptions draw such vivid full colour images that I could easily visualise the paintings, which Natalie says are ‘mysteries made of light.’  And her portrayal of the settings, whether in London, Devon or the Scottish Highlands are just as vivid, making this a richly descriptive book.

But it is the effect of the War and the effect on the families of those people travelling across the Atlantic on the Titanic that really brought home to me the whole human tragedy that people lived through, much more than any historical account has done. I think it’s seeing these events through the eyes of the people left at home that has the most impact.

I had enjoyed Angela Young’s first novel, Speaking of Love and so was pleased to accept her offer of an uncorrected proof copy of The Dance of Love. I’m so glad I did as it’s a beautifully written, brilliant book that moved me deeply, and one I shall most definitely re-read (always proof of a good book for me).

The Dance of Love will be published on 31 July 2014.

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day) marking the anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918. Remembrance Sunday is held to commemorate those who served the country in two world wars and in more recent conflicts. There will be the traditional two-minute silence at the Cenotaph on Whitehall today and tomorrow at 11 minutes past the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the symbolic time of the ending of the First World War.

Poppy Day was first held on November 11, 1921. The idea of wearing poppies in remembrance of the dead came from the poem In Flanders Fields by a Canadian medical officer, John McCrae, who did not survive the war. It is now a national tradition.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

The First World War began in 1914, ending on 11 November 1918. The young men who joined the army had no idea what horrors were ahead of them. During 1915 however, the true character of the war began to emerge with the slaughter on the Western Front.

May, 1915

Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where all the wounded trees
Wait, with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun. And even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit to-day with their great Dead, hands in their hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things and changing skies.

Charlotte Mew

Poems from A Corner of a Foreign Field: The illustrated Poetry of the First World War selected by Fiona Waters. This is a collection of poems, some written on the battlefields and some with the benefit of hindsight, poems by men and women recording the experience of their daily lives, the war and its horrors and privations, poems of courage and comradeship in the face of darkest adversity.