Review: Nella Last’s War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49 ~ Nella Last

Nella LastIn September 1939, housewife and mother Nella Last began a diary whose entries, in their regularity, length and quality, have created a record of the Second World War which is powerful, fascinating and unique. When war broke out, Nella’s younger son joined the army while the rest of the family tried to adapt to civilian life. Writing each day for the “Mass Observation” project, Nella, a middle-aged housewife from the bombed town of Barrow, shows what people really felt during this time. This was the period in which she turned 50, saw her children leave home, and reviewed her life and her marriage – which she eventually compares to slavery. Her growing confidence as a result of her war work makes this a moving (though often comic) testimony, which, covering sex, death and fear of invasion, provides a new, unglamourised, female perspective on the war years. ‘Next to being a mother, I’d have loved to write books.’ Oct 8, 1939.

4 Thumbs-UpThere are many books out there that give us a perspective of World War II from the point of view of those fighting on the front lines, in the resistance and from Whitehall, but there are very few that show us what living through this war was like from the viewpoint of the civilian at home.  In 1937, the Mass Observation Project in England was founded by Charles Madge and Tom Harrisson.  They wanted to record the views of ordinary British people, and recruited volunteers to observe British life, and diarists to record a day-to-day account of their lives. These archives now give a unique insight into the lives of British civilians who found themselves going through a period when their country was at war.  Nella Last is one of these diarists and, far from giving the reader an uncomfortable feeling of reading something private, it opens up a world that few could have imagined existed during these austere times.  The writer is an ordinary small town English housewife, and her diary covers the period of time from the outbreak of war in September 1939 through to August 1945, although she did keep contributing to the project until 1965. Housewife 49, refers to how she headed her first entry; her occupation – Housewife, her age – 49.

Nella and her Family lived in Barrow-in-Furness in the North of England, which at the time was a shipbuilding town.  This meant that during the Barrow Blitz in April and May of 1941, it became a heavy target for German bombing.    This was a period when families were separated, and sometimes coping with the loss of a family member. Cities were being bombed, and housewives such as Nella had to find new ingenious ways to keep their homes together. This remarkable account depicts clearly what it was like for ordinary families living through World War Two.

The diary itself plays two different roles in our understanding of what it was like to live in these times, as it clearly seen that she writes about two distinct areas of her life; Family, friends and the role of women which are the more personal side of the diaries and the other area which reveals Nella’s opinions of public events such as the early war years, and the Barrow Blitz I mentioned above.

Nella’s diary is full of stories about her family, her marriage, her volunteer work and the difficulties of day-to-day life with blackout curtains, rationing and enemy bombers flying overhead. Gas for recreational use was cut off and they couldn’t go anywhere except by bus, a task many of us would balk at today. Rationing became severe in the last years of the war, so they tried to grow things like onions and tomatoes that were not available at the grocery store they were registered with, and Nella actually tore up their lawn to keep hens so they would have more than the 1 egg per week that rationing would allow.

Air raids sirens were a nightly occurrence meaning the Family, at times, slept in their clothes so they could get to their shelter quickly if need be and sometimes they even went to bed in the shelter.  Reading this diary brought back to mind when my Grandma would tell me about living in Leeds, Yorkshire during the war; the air raids, trying to raise three young children while her Husband was away and, when I asked her how she managed, she would tell me it was their way of making sure the Germans didn’t win on the home front, they picked themselves up and kept on going.

The diary isn’t all just hardship and grief, however, there are funny things such as happen in normal day-to-day life and Nella is very adept in conveying how much the value of laughter was cherished during these times.  Something that will strike most readers of the diary is how the war and everyday life bled into each other as Nella writes about an air raid and marmalade in the same entry without a change in direction.  The reader also sees how Nella grows from being the stereotypical Housewife of the day to being her own woman, something neither her Husband or sons were very keen on.

Apart from being an excellent historical record of the time, this diary serves to show us just how reliant on technology we have become as a society.  We have moved away from the self-reliance needed to get us through hard times, and lost our compassion for others in need.  It made me wonder how many people who read the diary would be able to successfully grow their own food and cope with the constant stress and tension the nightly bombings brought with them.

I highly recommend not only Nella Last’s War to everyone, but also the remaining two books of her diaries. Alone this is a learning experience, and a possible eye-opener for the more isolated of us out there but when combined with the other two books it becomes something everyone should read, and hopefully learn from.

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Review: Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay #1) ~ Chris Wooding

retribution fallsFrey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn’t just a nuisance anymore – he’s public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don’t. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he’s going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It’s going to take all his criminal talents to prove he’s not the criminal they think he is …

4 Thumbs-UpIf you are a Browncoat who is lost in lamentations over the cancellation of Firefly, this is the book for you.  I’m not saying it will replace the crew of Serenity, but it will go a long way to fill the void and feed the need for a good pirate/cowboy steampunk western.

The individual crew members of the Ketty Jay are introduced to the reader one by one, with each revealing their story, apart from the Captain.  To say he was a work in progress would be an understatement as his character was developed and grew and the novel progressed.  Most of all the characters are loveable on the Ketty Jay, maybe not so much their motives and reasoning at some points, but they each have something about them that will have the reader wanting to learn more about them and join them on their adventures;  Id’ join them if we could leave the Captain behind as I just could not warm to him and thought him to be a bit of a spineless human being.  As in all the good adventure stories the villains, are well just that, villains.  From the description of these characters, right down to the personalities they each have there is nothing that could have the reader mistaking them for being anything else than what they are…baddies.

Although, in my opinion, the story takes a while to get underway this is not a bad thing, as in these ‘slow’ moments is where the set-up for the adventure begins and when it starts it definitely moves along at a cracking pace and does not disappoint at all.  Through great writing the Author is able to provide a perfect balance of sadness alongside humour and wraps it all up in the form of shenanigans.  There is magic, gun play, sword fights and daemons; so enough of everything to appeal to most reader.

I would highly recommend this novel to all Browncoats, steampunk fans and lovers of the type of adventure novels that are so hard to come by today.  I will definitely be reading the remaining ‘Tales of the Ketty Jay’ novels.

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Review: Corvette Nightfire ~ Daniel Wetta with Robert Selfe

corvetteCan Just One Dance Change Destiny? As Corvette Nightfire approaches the casino in Las Vegas, the doors burst open to the sound of gunfire. A beautiful woman rushes to him and thrusts a heavy bag into his arms. Instructing him in Spanish, which he doesn’t understand, she runs past him to a waiting car. A professional poker player in town to play in the Final Nine in the World Series of Poker, Corvette soon discovers that he is inexorably connected to Valentina, this exotic woman who has just put his life into a tailspin. He disappears into an international vortex of intrigues, a complex world or ordinary heroes and heinous cartel thugs, in a desperate race to find and save her. They cannot speak each other’s languages, but on the romantic evening on which they meet, Valentina tells her story through dance images. She becomes an animal spirit, an amber-eyed black jaguar that Corvette must ride to find the woman he inexplicably loves. His heart reveals that the millions of dollars in prize money in the tournament mean nothing compared to Valentina’s life. Not understanding what is guiding him through the vortex, Corvette comes to an unexpected destiny, one of reconciliation to generations of family sins. A suspense-thriller, Corvette Nightfire takes up where The Z Redemption leaves off and straps the reader into another bumpy, exhilarating ride!

3 Thumbs-UpI’m going to get this out there before I do my review, the reason I gave this book only 3 thumbs was the font used in the paperback copy I have.  I know this sounds petty but, for me, the font really interfered with my whole enjoyment of this novel; I’m not sure how the font came into being but it was certainly not a good fit for the book, sorry.

Now onto the book itself; this is the second instalment in ‘The Z Redemption’ trilogy, the first of which I reviewed some time ago, which was also a debut novel for this Author.  Unlike the first instalment this time around the Author has chosen to write in conjunction with someone else and, to be honest, they produced a very worthy sequel.

The book centres on the character of the title, not a car as I first thought when I saw this, and what a character he is.  The guy is a man’s man; he plays fast, loves fast and lives fast.  This could quite easily have made him a character that women readers would dislike, but the Authors gave him a soft and vulnerable side too that women could relate to and, in doing this made his a character for all genders.  As the storyline progress we see the struggles that this character has to go through to reconcile the two sides of his personality, and join him on a journey to discover himself.  The book is full of characters that are equally well written, some old from the previous book, and some new, but all of them play a part in the plot.  There are no characters that appear and leave the reader wondering what their purpose was, if you find one you may want to check that you’ve not skipped a few pages.

To say this is a fast-paced thriller would be an understatement, it’s a book that grabs you from the very first paragraph buckles you into the passenger seat and doesn’t let you out until the ride is over.  Not only is this a great story it is full of interesting details surrounding the Mexican culture, which the Authors manage to integrate into the plot seamlessly.  Tightly written and right on track every step of the way, this is a book that will leave you breathless to the very end.  Something I did really like about this book was the way in which all the details came together, there wasn’t a rush of tying off the loose ends at the end, as can been seen in other books of this genre but rather they came together like the ingredients in a delicate soufflé, which gave the story a great deal of depth and flavour.

Despite my total dislike of the font, and my apologies here to the Authors, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a fast paced thriller and I will definitely be reading the final instalment of this trilogy.

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Make the Ordinary Come Alive ~ William Martin

boykite1

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

William Martin

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Review: Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1) ~ Connie Willis

DoomsdayIn the year 2054, students research the past by living in it. So when Kivrin Engle, a history student at Oxford, enters Brasenose College’s time machine for transport back to 1320s England, no one anticipates any problems.

But her two-week project takes a frightening turn. A mutant virus has been spreading through Oxford, and Kivrin arrives in the past delirious with fever. She is found and taken to a manor house, and when she recovers, she can no longer locate the time machine rendezvous point.

As Kivrin struggles to adjust to a past that’s not quite what she expected, a past where the Black Death is beginning to ravage a mystified, terrified population. With the only people who know where she’s gone seriously ill themselves, will Kivrin ever find her way back to the future? Or has she become a permanent exile in a deadly time?

4 Thumbs-UpWhat can I say about this book apart from the fact that it has something in it that almost every reader will enjoy, and that this is the book that started my love of this particular Author.  I had a copy of this lent to me whilst I was laid up with pneumonia, and a friend asked me if I had ever read anything written by the Author; little did they know then that by introducing me to them they would be creating a monster.

There are many characters in this novel, both futuristic and from the past, and the main protagonist is a gripping female student who time travels back to the 1300’s.  The way in which this character copes with a time so at odds to her own, with so many restrictions when it comes to women is what makes her a person I immediately could connect with.  Throw into the mix the issue of the Black Death and this makes her even more compelling.  Throughout the novel the reader can follow her progress as she comes to terms with the times she now finds herself in and can root for her every step of the way.  Her determination and courage shines through as the times degenerate into one of sickness and death.  The Author is equally generous when introducing their other characters in this book, although there were a few that I thought were rather superfluous to the plot itself; there is the concerned and overworked professor who I felt was the very picture of the stereotypical academic, and also the ‘mother hen’ type character who fussed over everyone and anyone.  I didn’t find any of the characters unlikable, and this rather surprised me as there is usually one that I would like to meet a miserable demise.

When it comes to location descriptions and really setting the mood for the 1300’s it is apparent that the Author did a great deal of research into the time period, and the effects the Black Death had on families and attitudes of that time.  Unfortunately the editing was not as tight as I would have expected in a novel as gripping and fast paced as this one, and this is the reason for the four thumbs rating.  Overall though this is a well written and entertaining book, that keeps the reader turning the pages to the very end.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone that loves a great story and/or is interested in historical fiction, sci-fi and fantasy.

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Review: The Sunne in Splendour ~ Sharon Kay Penman

SunneA glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

5 Thumbs-UpI’ve either mentioned this book or the Author several times during the life of my reviews so I have decided it was about time I actually wrote a review on the book itself.  This was the debut novel for this Author.

I was first introduced to both the book and the Author by my History Professor whilst taking my Masters in History many years ago.  She recommended it to me on the basis of it being the most accurate account of the times she had read in fiction form.  Being a Yorkshire woman by birth and therefore, a staunch Yorkist, I was slightly apprehensive when I picked this up as most accounts of Richard III and the House of York are based on Tudor propaganda from the times, and are slewed very much in their favour.  I found none of this when I read this long 936 page book.

The book itself could be broken down into thirds; the first brings into the light that confusing history of the Wars of the Roses, and for readers who are not up to speed with the ins and outs of this time it is a great way not only to get to know the key players, but where they fit together in the whole sorry mess.  Yes it does sound a little like a history lesson, but it is given in such a manner that it skilfully and neatly pulls the reader so far into the novel that they have no choice but to read to the end. Just by reading the first part of the novel it can be clearly seen that this Author has done extensive research into the period, and this comes through in way in which locations are described and characters react to their environment.  The remaining two-thirds catalogue the reign of Edward IV and also the life of Richard.

Character development is stunningly done within the pages of this book.  The reader is not thrown huge chunks of back-story and motivational traits, but slowly includes them as the plot progresses.  Their fears are revealed, sometimes surprising the reader, and the political machinations that ruled their everyday lives are uncovered slowly, rather like peeling the layers from an onion.  Obviously the main focus of the book is Richard, and it follows him from a very young age when he is very much in the shadow of his brothers through to his death on the battlefield.  The Author does not portray him the same light as Shakespeare, but rather gives him a more human face than the one constantly given to him of that of monster.  A compelling and believable case is presented regarding his nephews in the Tower of London, which rather makes the reader consider that this could be a case of the wrong people mishearing words said at the wrong time and in frustration, as in the case of Thomas Becket when King Henry II uttered ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest’; we will never know.

I could write for hours on this book, but to do so would have me revealing spoilers and getting into the whole White Rose versus red rose debate (yes the capitalization error was deliberate *smile), so I’m going to leave this review short, and I hope tantalising enough to make someone want to actually pick this up and read it.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good read.  I have read it several times and yes, my History Professor was right it is the most accurate account of the times in fiction form.

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