Cover of The Skylark's War
Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, Prize winners

Book of the Week: The Skylark’s War

This was such an easy choice this week. As soon as I finished The Skylark’s War, after I’d blown my nose and got rid of the tissues, I turned around and went back and read the last 20 pages all over again. Then I messaged my sister and my mother to tell them that they had to read it with a big happy (and soppy) smile all over my face.

Cover of The Skylark’s War

The Skylark’s War tells the story of Clarry, her brother Peter and her cousin Rupert, through their childhood, the Great War and beyond. Clarry’s and Peter’s mother died soon after Clarry’s birth, their father isn’t interested in them and at first at least, Peter blames the new baby for the loss of his mother. The two children are brought up by a succession of housekeepers, with the interference of the do-gooding spinster across the road. The high point of their lives is their annual visit to Cornwall every summer holiday. Their cousin Rupert spends his holidays there – his parents are in India and have basically forgotten about him and he was sent to boarding school at a young age so Peter and Clarry’s dad couldn’t send them to live with their grandparents. During the summers, all the best things in their lives happen and they grow and mature and become a tight gang. Then Peter is sent away to school, Clarry is left alone with her father. And then there is the War and Rupert joins the army. Can their bond survive? Can they all survive?

This is a middle-grade book, and although that synopsis may sound miserable, it is anything but. I mean I did cry my way through a whole pocket pack of tissues, but some of them were happy tears and I just couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what happened. At one point I was sitting sniffling and making a scene of myself in the lounge at a youth hostel, but I was so engrossed in the book that I wasn’t prepared to stop reading for long enough to climb the three flights of stairs to get to my room. The closest I can get to a comparison for this, is if Noel Streatfeild, Nina Bawden and Elizabeth Jane Howard had a book baby. And if that isn’t enough to make you go and read it, then I’m sorry you may be in the wrong place and I’m not sure that we can be friends.

I’ve had this on the NetGalley list since the autumn but I had forgotten about it until I saw this tweet from Harriet Evans (remember her? I had some ravings/gushing about one of her books here, here and here. And that might also scratch your Elizabeth Jane Howard itch, except that it’s a contemporary story about a house not a 1930s one.)  So off I went to look at the blurb, thought it sounded familiar, looked at my NetGalley, tweeted her back and then the die was cast, my fate was sealed etc.

And now I’m telling you that you need to read it. Maybe as a double bill with The Five Children on the Western Front if you can stand all that Great War and foreboding at once. But if you can, read The Skylark’s War second. Trust me on that. I see from the Goodreads write-ups that there’s a connection to one of Hilary McKay’s other novels, so I’m off to find that and then to buy copies of The Skylark’s War to give to people. As I mentioned my copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get hold of a copy really easily: it was Waterstones‘ Children’s Book of the Month in January and it won the Costa Children’s Book Award, so I’m expecting it to be everywhere.  And yes, I know, this all means I’m late to the party again. But better late than never.  Here are some more links to enable your book-buying habit: Kindle, Kobo, Amazon paperback, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Bleakly Hall

Welcome to the first Book of the Week post of 2016!  I really enjoyed writing these last year – and find that having to pick a favourite book each week really helps to focus the mind – not just about what I like and don’t like about books, but also about what I chose to read from the pile.  It doesn’t stop the bingeing on one author, but it does mean I try to add some variety in – after all a BotW from the same author each week would get very dull very quickly.  And speaking of binge-reading, there’ll be a post coming up at the weekend about the Pink Carnation series – which is one of the reasons why one of the three Lauren Willigs I read last week isn’t occupying this spot now!

So, Bleakly Hall.  This has been on the pile for over 2 years (!) – and had been on my radar for some time before that.  I think it’s another that was mentioned in the Emerald Street book section (where I’ve found several really interesting books) which I then added to my Amazon pile to wait for the price to come down (although in the end it came from Waterstones who must’ve been doing a deal judging by the prices) which is what happens to a lot of books.  Anyway, you all know about the state of my to-read pile and the less said about it the better.

Bleakly Hall
This is my best attempt at artistic. I polished the wood specially.

Bleakly Hall is a hydroprathic spa, populated by a cast of misfits and damaged people after the Great War.  New nurse Monty has taken a job there because she has a score to settle with Captain Foxley.  The Captain is there because he served with one of the two brothers who own it.  The other brother came back from the war minus his legs and now has a matrimonial problem on his hands.  Ada worked with Monty during the war – and misses the purpose and status it gave her. The residents are elderly, thin on the ground and not conducive to a health bank balance for the owners.  And then there’s the ominous noises from the pipes…

I read a lot of books set in and around the First World War as part of my A-Level English literature and the period has continued to fascinate me in the intervening years (no, I’m not telling you how many years) and so this book was right up my street.  I’m particularly fascinated with the aftermath of the war* and how it affected people so I found the characters in this fascinating.  And they are a bit of a microcosm of post-war society – people want nothing to have changed, people for whom everything has changed, others for whom everything has changed, but in a different way and then those who would quite like the war back in some ways.

This is quite black in places – there are moments that will make you laugh and then there are moments of horror.  The spa is damp and run down and there’s comedy in the treatments and quackery provided and then there are the flashbacks to Belgium and the carnage of the trenches.  The two are nicely balanced – and sometimes you realise you are still chuckling over the latest antics at the spa but you’re in the trenches and really shouldn’t be laughing.

I enjoyed (if you can call it that) Bleakly Hall – and got a lot out of it.  If you’ve read the usual Great War suspects – like Goodbye to All that, Regeneration, Testament of Youth etc – then this might be a good place to go next.  It’s available on Kindle, at Amazon (where there are some good second-hand prices), Waterstones and Foyles.

* It’s one of the aspects of Lord Peter Wimsey‘s character that I find really interesting, as is Daisy’s search for a career and a new future after the war and the changes it brought in Carola Dunn’s early Daisy Dalrymple books.