War Girls : A Collection of First World War stories through the eyes of young women

War GirlsWar Girls by Adèle Geras

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I begin this review by telling you that this compilation, this collection of stories about World War One is one of the better (if not the best) book I have read this year and I am greedy for more.

The authors that have contributed include: Melvin Burgess, Mary Hooper, Theresa Breslin, Sally Nicholls and Adele Geras. In addition to them we have Berlie Doherty, Anne Fine, Matt Whyman and Rowena House.

There are authors in that list who could sell me a trip to the dentist should it come with the promise of more of their writing.

So we begin with Theresa Breslin and her story: Shadow and Light. It is a story which is searing, as so many of them are, and made me breathless and cry and fall in love. It is the story of Merle, an artist, and to give you any more information would be to do a disservice to this great and awful story. It’s so good. Really. And it sets the tone for a collection full of grace and awe and heartache.

To highlight a few other joys (painful, painful joys) in this collection: Mary Hooper’s tearoom saga is a thing of loveliness, and something I would welcome so much more of. There’s an immense story here that fits into the short story form beautifully but god, I want more but I think that’s always the way when I read Mary Hooper.

I also loved Adele Geras’ contribution but I think I will always love how she writes romance. She catches it so gracefully, that moment where something innocent and unexpected turns into something great and blinding (“Blindly, like a plant in search of light, I turn my face up, and his lips are there, on my lips, and my senses and my heart and my body, every part of me, all my love, everything is drawn into the sweetness of his mouth”)

Whilst it feels odd to highlight only a few stories in a collection where they are all so hugely good, the last one I want to mention is Melvin Burgess’ story: Mother and Mrs Everington. Searing. Scarring. And full of a rage that we rarely see in stories of this nature. It is outstanding. Awful. A voice that spills from the pages and burns, burns, burns.

I love this collection. I love how contrary it is. It’s rather quietly designed, rather gently put together, and it’s only when you hold it and get to know itt that it explodes into vicious and powerful life. Rather metaphorical, really. Rather wonderful. A brilliant thing, this book. Don’t let it not be read.

View all my reviews

Troy : Adele Geras

TroyTroy by Adèle Geras

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Troy is one of those stories that endures. Regardless of whatever spin on it, be that the intense metrosexuality of Brad Pitt’s Achilles or the beautiful lyricism of Gareth Hinds’ Odyssey, the stories of Odysseus, Hector, Achilles and Priam last and have lasted. It’s maybe due to the big, classic, timeless nature of these stories, dealing as they do with love – jealousy – war. Themes that have not changed, even when the world has.

Geras has written several stories about Classical Greece. Dido and Ithaka form a sort of trilogy with Troy, covering as they do different parts of the period and different perspectives. Troy itself is set inside the walls of the city, with a focus on the story of the two sisters Marpessa and Xanthe. War has been going on for ten years, and the people of Troy have grown used to death and destruction. The Gods roam the world freely, talking with the Greeks and the Trojans and watching these great events unfurl. The gap between the worlds is thin, thinnest in the Blood Room where the wounded Trojans recover from battle, and where Xanthe works.

This is the story of the womens’ war, of the servants’ war. Geras keeps us mainly with the women of Troy, Andromache, Helen, Hecuba, the gossips and with the foolish lovelorn love-tossed children of the city. She keeps us with those who are left behind, those who have to stand and watch and suffer.

There’s a lot of tiredness in Troy. It’s a book where people are ready for the end, for their lives to change and for things to finally come to the great resolution. I love that, but it’s not for everyone. All the ‘big’ events that you expect to happen in a Troy narrative happen off stage as it were. Here we see it happen through the filter of the women of Troy, of the old male singer straining to see beyond the walls, and of poor fated Hector playing with his son and wife.

Don’t let that fool you though. This book doesn’t lack tension. In fact, it’s full of it. There’s the ever-present pressure of having to eat when all food is a fight, of having to wash when all the stains are blood, of having to live with the choices you made, and of having to grow up in an upside down world. Of knowing that love will either kill you or make you or be out of your hands all together.

Troy is a powerful, big book, and it’s one that is beautifully written. Geras has a great gift of precision with her language, able to catch the sharpest of moments in the briefest of sentences, able to let her characters be flawed and hopeful and foolish and naive all at the same time. In a way she underwrites scenes but does so to great effect, allowing pauses to come in and for the events to fully sink in. There’s an almost aural quality about her writing at times which is curiously fitting in a narrative of this nature.

This is a book to sink into.

View all my reviews

An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part four)

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

I love these. They’re the ugly duckling tale of Mia Thermopolis who, during that first year of awkward High School-ness, discovers she’s actually the heir to the throne of Genovia. Essentially, Mia’s a princess. She’s a funny, gorgeously engaging narrator who you can’t help but root for. Plus Micheal is *adorable* in the books and probably my first guy-book-crush.

Similar to : the rest of the series

A Horse Called Wonder – Joanna Campbell

These books blew my mind. We only got the first four or so in my local bookshop and then, on a family holiday to America, I discovered the truth. There weren’t just four books in the series. THERE WERE MILLIONS. This horsey saga of life on a racing farm spanned generations of people, of horses, and of hot jockey types. It was like Sunset Beach (look it up on Youtube) and The Saddle Club all in one. It was AMAZING.

Similar to : Sunset Beach + horses. Like I said, you really need to look it up.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

A classic. It’s the story of a caterpillar who eats loads of stuff, getting bigger all the time, before eventually turning into a butterfly. There’s a lovely simplicity to the story, coupled with lots of holes for fingers to be poked through, and it practically begs to be read out loud.

Similar to : Herve Tullet / Mr Men

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Oh, this book. It’s written in tight, restrained prose full of spooky horror at every step. It’s unnerving, and it’s edgy and it’s brilliant. A family is murdered by “the man Jack” but the toddler survives. He finds himself in a graveyard, there adopted by the resident ghosts, and named Bod. Bod grows up in the graveyard but the man Jack is never far behind – and he wants to finish what he started.

Similar to : When you walk home at night, and hear a twig crack, but there’s nobody there.

Troy – Adele Geras

This is a very beautifully written book, all from the perspective of women locked in Troy during the great siege. Geras has  a gift of writing female characters very, very well and handles them with great restraint. Even though most of us already know how this story ends, you can’t help but be swept up in it again.

Similar to : Ithaka (Adele Geras)

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry

This is one of the most wildly romantic horse stories out there. The wild horses of Chincoteague Island are round up, and their colts sold off. One of those colts is Misty. I remember this book genuinely blowing my mind – and there’s a whole saga of them to enjoy.

Similar to : Black Beauty

For Love of a Horse – Patricia Leitch

So. You’re eleven. You’re stubborn. You’ve got red hair. You’re moving to the wilds of Scotland. You visit a circus. You see a wild Arabian steed. And then, just as you’re getting near to your new home, you witness a road accident – involving the circus van that carries the selfsame horse. WHAT DO YOU DO? Well, you do what Jinny Manders does and you get your horse and you fight for her. These books are stunning and quite unusual in that they dispense with the blunt practical knowledge that tends to characterise a Pullein-Thompson book and shift towards a mixture of near-pagan mysticism. Amazing books. I want them back.

Similar to : the rest of the series

The Fashionista Books – Sarra Manning

I have a love of America’s Next Top Model. And these books are the books that Tyra wishes she could write, but can’t. Sarra Manning’s series of four books, all taking the viewpoint of different characters, are brilliant. These are sharp, funny, and brilliant books.

Similar to : the Wholahay ANTM incident (aka the best moment ever)

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I’ve written of my love for this book before so I’ll try not to rehash things here. Essentially, if you’re at all interested in horses, families, love, heartbreak, emotionally satisfying endings, get to this book asap.

Similar to : Black Beauty (God, Black Beauty really was quite genre-defining wasn’t it!)

Bedknob and Broomsticks – Mary Norton

Mary Norton also wrote the Borrowers but I decided to plump for Bedknob and Broomsticks as my choice for this list. Whilst some elements of B and B read very poorly today for the racist connotations (viz. the Cannibals), it remains a fascinating and intensely readable book. Written in the middle of World War Two (1943), it also has a lot of intriguing social commentary (particularly about life as a single woman) tucked away in between all the hijinks.

Similar to : The Worst Witch