I’ve been quiet on this blog for a while as Rosie and I have been poorly for a few weeks. Thankfully we’re coming out the other side, recovering slowly. In the process, we’ve grown to fully appreciate the absolute necessity of rest!
Paring back our days back to the bare minimum has left plenty of space for reading. In my opinion, a good book is the perfect way to recover. So, I thought I’d share a few of our favourite current reading recommendations here.
Harry’s New Reading Recommendations
Harry is in the middle of a World War II study, which he finds fascinating. As you may know from reading this blog, we’re big fans of historical fiction (see this post). So, over the past month, he’s read a LOT of fictional books set during WWII. Here are some of his selections:
The Machine Gunners & Blitzcat by Robert Westall
The Machine Gunners
Set in north-eastern England, shortly after the Battle of Britain, this story follows a group of teenagers who try and mastermind their own war effort. They discover a German bomber plane crashed in the woods, with its machine gun and 2000 rounds of ammunition still intact. The children decide to build their own den to house the gun, naming it Fortress Caporetto. From here, they attempt to shoot down a Bf110 fighter plane and even capture a German gunner, Rudi, to keep hostage. But what will happen when a search party is sent to find the missing children? And will their attitude towards Germans change as they get to know Rudi better? A fast paced, action-oriented book that will keep you hooked to the very end.
Harry loved it so much he begged me to buy him the sequel, Fathom Five, set two years later.
It’s 1940, and Lord Gort, a black cat named after a British general, sets out to track down her person, who’s left home to fight for his country. Through her journey across England and later France, the reader experiences a set of short stories, connected by Lord Gort. It reveals the harried and tense atmosphere of life at war, including experiences such as the bombing of Coventry to flights over enemy territory, as Lord Gort is adopted by a rear gunner of a bomber plane. Seen as a good omen, this ordinary black cat touches the lives of many who befriend her along the way.
Dead End Kids by Bernard Ashley
East End, London, 1940. It’s mostly just the women and children left. As the Blitz starts with 57 nights of consecutive bombing, Josie and her friends are forced to forget old rivalries and their mini gang warfare along the Thames, for something much more worthwhile. Begging, borrowing, or stealing as much equipment as they can find, they form units of junior firefighters to assist the grossly overstretched fire service. Together, they rescue survivors from exploded buildings, put out smaller fires and even drag unexploded bombs into the Thames. All done in secret so as not to be stopped by their parents.
A phenomenal tale of brave young heroes, inspired by the true story of the Dead End Kids of Wapping.
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
A children’s classic that I remember loving as a child. Carrie and her younger brother Nick are evacuated to a small mining town in Wales in the middle of WWII. Here they meet Albert, another teenage evacuee. Carrie and Nick are sent to stay with Miss Evans and her strict brother Mr Evans. Albert meanwhile is shipped off to live with Mr Evans’ estranged sister, Mrs Gotobed. As the war rumbles on, the children find themselves in the middle of a family drama, not knowing who they can trust. And what will Carrie find when she revisits the town 30 years later with her own children, still racked with guilt about that awful thing she did as a child?
Duty Calls Dunkirk by James Holland
Dreaming of emulating his heroes, Johnny Hawke leaves the Yorkshire factory behind and signs up at the tender age of just sixteen. Almost immediately, his battalion is sent to the battlefields of France. Awakening to the sound of artillery fire and Messerschmitts screaming overhead, reality for Johnny is far worse than he could ever have imagined. As they prepare to stop the German advance allowing soldiers to escape from the beaches of Dunkirk, can Johnny survive?
Written by a fascinating historian, this is a fast paced and gripping read, which although action-packed does not glorify the war in any way. Some parts are uncomfortable to read – it’s probably not one for sensitive souls.
Oh, and the lead character is a massive cricket fan – another major plus in Harry’s eyes!
He has also read Duty Calls, The Battle of Britain by the same author, which was another hit.
Rosie’s New Reading Recommendations
Rosie’s favourite genre is apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic world stories, but she also loves a good murder mystery or thriller. Here are her recent reads:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Set in the future, in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, the Capitol, the most advanced city, controls the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games is an annual, televised competition founded in the Capitol. One girl and boy are selected at random from the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol and pitted against each other in a battle to death. “There is only one rule: kill or be killed.” There is no backing out.
When 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen is chosen from District 12, her older sister, Katniss, steps forward to take her place. Surely a certain death sentence? But Katniss is strong and clever, and joins forces with the boy from her district, Peeta. Can she survive the ultimate of tests? Who will be the final champion?
As a concept, it’s utterly repellent, but as a book, it’s both well-written and completely riveting. Rosie started and finished it in one sitting, immediately ordering the next in the series. The main series is a trilogy with a new prequel called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
After loving the Inheritance Games series by this author, we decided to try another of her novels. It didn’t disappoint, and, as with The Hunger Games, was gobbled up quickly by my little girl.
When 16-year-old Tess Kendrick’s grandfather is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Tess’s older sister, Ivy, swoops in to help. She moves grandfather to a facility in Boston and at the same time, takes Tess under her wing in Washington, enrolling her in the elite Hardwicke School. Ivy is famed as the city’s number one “fixer” helping the scandals of powerful people disappear for the right price.
Tess, who unwittingly also has these “fixer” abilities, quickly starts proving herself by resolving the problems/humiliations of her fellow well-connected classmates. But then she gets caught up in a political conspiracy much bigger and more dangerous than she could ever have imagined, “reaching from the halls of Hardwicke to Capitol Hill.”
The deeply addictive story continues in the sequel, The Long Game, which we strongly advise you buy in advance of finishing The Fixer!
The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson
Last summer, Alice Ogilvie disappeared for five days after breaking up with her boyfriend Steve. Then, it was the biggest mystery of the sleepy seaside town of Castle Cove. But when another of Steve’s girlfriends, Brooke Donovan, also vanishes, he becomes the number one culprit. Alice, Brooke’s ex-best friend, believes he’s innocent and that something is seriously wrong.
Teaming up with her teenage tutor Iris, the two set out to uncover the truth, using inspiration from the complete works of Agatha Christie to guide them. But as is always the case with these seemingly quiet and peaceful villages, hidden secrets abound. Sifting through clues and investigating a long list of suspects, do these two novice but enthusiastic detectives realise how much danger they’re putting themselves in?
My New Reading Recommendations
The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony
Having read and loved the Elephant Whisperer by the same author, I thought I’d try out another of his titles and I wasn’t disappointed.
Lawrence Anthony, rightly described as the ‘Indiana Jones of conservation’ owns a game reserve in South Africa. This is home to his herd of elephants, made famous in the Elephant Whisperer, a cheeky bushbaby called George, an orphaned rhino Heidi along with many other animals. The book starts with the mindless slaughter of one of his rhinos by poachers. All they took: his horn. Destined for shipment off to South East Asia, where, thanks to the superstitious use of rhino horn in so called traditional medicine, the market value by weight is more than gold, diamond or cocaine. Lawrence doesn’t hesitate to launch an armed response after the poachers but sadly to no avail.
On further research, he discovered that there were only a handful of northern white rhino left in the world. These lived in war-ravaged Congo, in an area controlled by the infamous and brutal guerrilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Lawrence is determined to save this sub-species. Thwarted by traditional channels and maddening bureaucracy, he takes a brave step. To make contact with the LRA and ask for their help.
What follows is an extraordinary adventure into the depths of the Congo rainforest. Here he works with the rebels to negotiate peace and ask for their help in conserving the rhinos. The bravery of this man is breath taking. And all whilst battling to keep his own animals alive during a terrible drought.
This was one of the most moving and fascinating books I’ve read.
And Those Elephants…
Sadly, Lawrence has now passed. “The day after Lawrence died, the elephants, led by their matriarch Nana, arrived at his house, in an eerie vigil…They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them hours to make the journey. They hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”
I struggle to write this without shedding a tear. What amazing animals.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell claims to have eaten nothing since her eleventh birthday, four months ago. A committee formed to validate the truth and set up a 24-hour watch for two weeks. Two people are tasked with finding the truth: Sister Michael and Lib, a young English nurse, who served under Miss Nightingale in Crimea.
Lib, an educated sceptic, expects to be back on the boat to England within days. But it’s not as simple as she first thought. Just what is going on? How is Anna still alive? As she grows closer to this special child, she starts to uncover darker forces at play. How far will she go to protect this child?
OK, this one is utterly gripping. The writing is exceptional, making it impossible to put down. I’ll be reading more from this author.
Us Three by Ruth Jones
“When they are eight years old, best friends Lana, Judith and Catrin swear an oath on a Curly Wurly wrapper that they’ll always be there for each other. Us three, come what may.”
Their friendship is further cemented after a last summer holiday together island hopping through Greece. Once home, they head off for college, each on their own path. Surely friends forever. But then “betrayal and tragedy strike” causing a rift between two of the friends. Despite numerous attempts at reconciliation by the third peacemaker friend, the pain runs too deep. And then, as is often the case, a life-changing event forces them all back together. Will they be able to revive their special friendship or has it gone too far for that?
As a huge fan of Gavin and Stacey, and Nessa (Ruth Jones) in particular, I felt I must try her latest novel. It’s makes for the perfect, light summer reading material. Jones is clearly an empath, with a depth of understanding about family and friendship relationship dynamics, making her characters so very relatable.
James’ New Reading Recommendations
Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
“One April morning in 1943, a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in train a course of events that would change the course of the Second World War.”
Operation Mincemeat was the most successful Second World War deception, deceiving Hitler into thinking the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia, rather than Sicily. The spies dressed up a dead Welsh tramp in the clothes of an officer of the Royal Marines and placed correspondence of the fake plans to invade Greece on his person. Submarines then transported the body to just off the southern coast of nominally neutral Spain. Once found, the Spanish shared copies of the documents with the German military intelligence, which ultimately landed on Hitler’s desk.
This cunning example of espionage was the brainchild of an eccentric RAF officer and a Jewish barrister. The cast of eccentric characters involved in the hoax ranged from a forensic pathologist to a transvestite English spymaster to a submarine captain. “Using fraud, imagination and seduction, Churchill’s team of spies spun a web of deceit so elaborate and so convincing that they began to believe it themselves.”
Fake History by Otto English
An expose of ten of the biggest lies in history and how they’ve been used over time. From the deceptions surrounding WWII to the self-written histories of so-called “great men” to the origins of curry. An enlightening look at how fake history manipulates our thinking.
“Lincoln did not believe all men were created equal.”
“The Aztecs were not slaughtered by the Spanish Conquistadors.”
“And Churchill was not the man that people love to remember.”
In this fascinating book, Otto English shows us how propaganda lies spun by politicians and think tanks, stories created by the media and even your Facebook feed propagate the fake history that has become part of our accepted reality. And in so doing, uncovers the truth.
And that’s it for now, hopefully you’ll find some inspiration for your summer reading.
What are you reading? I’m always on the lookout for new and inspiring books, so if you have any recommendations, I’d love you to add them to the comments below.