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.

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The Disgrace of Kitty Grey: Mary Hooper

The Disgrace of Kitty GreyThe Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Mary Hooper. It remains a fact that I will automatically read any of her new work because it is fairly guaranteed to be good. If it’s historical, you know you get a well told story in believable circumstances, and if it’s contemporary (such as her Megan series – the first of which is here – Megan), you know you get a well told story in believable circumstances.

Hooper is good, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m not sure The Disgrace of Kitty Grey is her best work. Such a statemement though reflects the Scale of Hooper (patent pending) and therefore Kitty is still a really solid, engrossing book that I did enjoy.

However. I don’t think it’s packaged right. The cover and blurb didn’t gel for me at all with the text. They led me towards thinking of a more Austen-esque route for the story when, if anything, we’re sliding towards a sort of historical / tragedy / fairytale hybrid narrative. It’s an intriguing book really but not one that is wholly reflected by that cover and blurb.

So what is The Disgrace of Kitty Grey? It is a beautifully researched and written novel, featuring country life and London in 1813 and in lovely detail both. It is also my first #readyourwayaroundtheUK book so yay for that. And it is a genuinely interesting and moving book.

But oh, that front cover and that blurb.

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Neighbourhood Witch : Mary Hooper

Bit of an old one this week, but still rather lovely. Neighbourhood Witch was published in 2004 by Walker Books (ISBN: 0744583608) and is a slim, fun little read of 89 pages. To give you a comparison, it’s probably best to describe it as ‘world book day size’ as it’s very similar to the special books published for World Book Day.

Ever heard of the WI? Ever heard of Neighbourhood Watch? Usually these refer to the Women’s Institute and a spirit of neighbourhood awareness signified by stickers on windows and signposts. But if you looked more carefully at these stickers, you’d see that every now and then one of them didn’t say Neighbourhood Watch – they say Neighbourhood Witch and that the WI doesn’t stand for Women’s Institute, it stands for Witches Institute.

Amber’s mum is one of them – and so is Amber. Well, not right now, but she’s going to inherit the power. But all Amber wants to be is normal and very much so right now because she’s starting a new school and that’s the last time you want to stand out. Amber ends up making friends with a girl called Georgie and it’s when Georgie gets herself caught up in a sticky situation, Amber decides to help out – and so does her mother.

Mary Hooper is one of those authors who writes girls and their relationships really well. If you’ve not read her Megan books you’ve missed out. Neighbourhood Witch is definitely for the younger market (8+) and it’s a fun, quick read that’s nicely handled. It would be great for somebody as a lead up to discovering something like the Worst Witch books. I have a great yen now to go for a walk around my neighbourhood and see whether we have any neighbourhood witches!