Tag Archives: elizabeth wein

Recent reads

Probably Nothing: A Diary of Not Your Average Nine Months, Matilda Tristram

Graphic novel that follows Matilda’s life before and after she is diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. I’ve decided biographical comics might be my favourite at the moment — I’m an inherently nosy person, so getting a look at someone else’s life is always interesting, even when it deals with something awful like cancer and chemotherapy. Matilda seems like a funny and snarky person, which helps.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Finally got around to reading this! I think I still like Strong Poison better, but I suspect that may change the next time I read it. An interesting snapshot of Oxford in the past, and the politics of a women’s college.

Wigram, Bee Dawson

A history of the development of civil and military aviation in Wigram/Canterbury. More interesting than it sounds! I was in the local museum recently and noticed a lady’s flying suit from the 1930s on display, and through researching the original owner became interested in the other local pilots who gained their licences at Wigram in the early days of flying.

Women Heroes of World War I and Women Heroes of World War II, Kathryn Atwood

Both books are completely fascinating, quick to read and full of amazing ladies. One of my favourite stories is of a couple of ladies (Lady Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings) who decided that they’d learn radiography in order to help the war effort. After training and obtaining equipment, they offered their services to the British, who refused (‘women aren’t radiographers’). They offered their services to France, who accepted and then attempted to steal their equipment. Finally, they went to Italy, where they were incredibly helpful in locating internal wounds and assessing the impact of gas on soldiers. Apparently the lungs shrink to 2 inches in diameter! Ouch.

Code Name Pauline, Pearl Witherington Cornioley

This is another in the Women in Action series (same as the above two books), and is equally fascinating. If you like Code Name Verity or are at all interested in SOE and the French Resistance, you should read this.

We Landed by Moonlight, Hugh Verity

Can you sense a theme? Hugh Verity describes the pilots and flights of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) in World War II. A bit dry, but the stories are so exciting it’s easy to read anyway.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein

A bit slower in pace than Code Name Verity or The Sunbird, but gets exciting. Loved the relationship between Em and Teo — in fact all the characters, even the smaller ones, are very well observed. Despite the best efforts of the cover, nothing about this book is black and white. (Except maybe mustard gas. Mustard gas is just evil.) I’ll write a more detailed review when I get back from holiday, because this deserves more than my frazzled brain can come up with pre-flights.

D.A., Connie Willis

Very short novella. Can’t say much without spoiling the plot, but if you like Connie Willis (which I do) then you’ll enjoy this.

There won’t be any posts for about a month while I’m overseas, unless I manage to write some up and schedule them before I go. I’m currently reading Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and Persona by Genevieve Valentine, both of which I’m really enjoying and want to write about, so I might have to enthuse about those tomorrow. We’ll see.

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Platonic relationships in YA

w14bouquetPosted this on the library blog last week but figured the books are still relevant even if the day itself has passed:

Living with a florist has its definite perks. A few months ago saw my long-suffering flatmate spending hours in our living room, surrounded by buckets of roses under an arctic flow of air-conditioning, patiently preparing buttonholes and flower arrangements for my wedding. Flatmate of the year award!

On the other hand, the closer it gets to certain holidays, the more stressed she gets. At the moment no one is allowed to mention the words Valentine’s Day for fear it’ll bring on a panic attack. Consumerism has a lot to answer for.

If you, too, feel a stab of panic every time you see a pink cut-out heart or a bunch of roses, maybe you should take my approach and ignore the day altogether. Let’s give Edward Cullen a disdainful eyeroll and have a night in or out with our friends, because, really, it’s time friendship stopped being considered a poor cousin of (or mutually exclusive with) romance.

Do you agree? If so, or even if you don’t, you might enjoy some of these fantastic books featuring strong friendships and family relationships with plots that don’t centre around whether the hottest vampire in school secretly wants to eat you.

Complicit, Stephanie Kuehn

Jamie’s mother was murdered when he was six; about seven years later his sister Cate was incarcerated for burning down a neighbour’s barn; and now Jamie, fifteen, learns that Cate has been released and is coming back for him, blaming him for all the bad things that led to her arrest.

The Raven Boys cycle, Maggie StiefvaterCover of The Raven Boys

This series has everything. Set in the small town of Henrietta, the books feature the strong but complicated friendship between Blue (daughter of a local pyschic) and a group of boys from the local private school (plus one ghost).
Their quest to find the tomb of ancient Welsh king Glendower in the foothills of Virginia is exciting but increasingly dangerous, as they aren’t the only ones on the trail. (Guns might be involved.) Plus a death was predicted at the start of the series and one of the main characters has a deadly allergy to insect stings. Such fun!

Sorrow’s Knot, Erin Bow

An interesting take on zombies and friendship. Otter is a girl of the Shadowed People, a tribe of women, and she is born to be a binder, a woman whose power it is to tie the knots that bind the dead but she is also destined to remake her world.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. LockhartCover of Code Name Verity

When Alabaster Prep sophomore Frankie Landau-Banks starts dating senior Matthew Livingston, Matthew refuses to talk about the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, his all-male secret society, so Frankie infiltrates the society to enliven the mediocre pranks for which the club is known.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein

Spies and lady pilots in World War II, what’s not to love? If you like books that make you chew off your own fingers while reading, these are for you.

Wildlife, Fiona Wood, which is just super lovely for a million different reasons and you should go out and read it right now.

What are your thoughts on romance in fiction? Love, hate, indifferent?

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Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans

Search for Crooked Heart on the library catalogueI’ve read World War II evacuee stories before. The fear of the unknown, sullen confusion, awful foster homes, inevitable loss. Children labelled like lunches, dragged from door to door in search of a temporary home. I can’t think of many novels with positive evacuee experiences.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans doesn’t sound like a positive evacuee story, but it is. It begins with Noel, age 10, realising his godmother, Mattie, is succumbing to dementia. A tragedy for anyone to have to deal with, but especially for a boy on his own.

She was losing words. At first it was quite funny. ‘The box of things,’ Mattie would say, waving her mauve-veined hands vaguely around the kitchen. ‘The box of things for making flames. It’s a song, Noel!

The box of things for making flames
I can’t recall their bloody names.’

After a while, it stopped being funny. Some words would resurface after a few days; others would sink for ever. Noel started writing labels: ‘SHAWL’, ‘WIRELESS’, ‘GAS MASK’, ‘CUTLERY DRAWER’.

There are two unusual and meaningful relationships in this book: between Noel and his suffragette godmother Mattie, who is so erudite and funny I could quote pretty much anything—

‘Hobbies are for people who don’t read books,’ said Noel; it was one of Mattie’s sayings.

—and, later, between Noel and his foster mother Vee, whose early descriptions make me think of a hen — head constantly turning, looking for something better.

At first Vee sees Noel as an opportunity, a crippled evacuee who might get her some more money (which she is severely lacking). In a way she was right: Noel quickly catches on to her scams, and becomes the level-headed organiser of their illegal outings. It sounds awful, but I ended up rooting for the pair of them, even while they’re going around pretending to be collecting for the war fund. Despite their seeming differences — Vee is “common” and middle-aged, Noel is educated and a child — they’re both lonely and neglected by their surviving relatives. Their growing affection for each other and funny/heart-breaking mishaps already guarantee Crooked Heart a place on my Best Of 2015 list.

Some more books of love and friendship set before, during or after the World Wars:

Search for From a Distance on the library catalogueSearch for Code Name Verity on the library catalogue

What are your favourite sad but funny books?

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