Book Review: Wave Me Goodbye, by Jacqueline Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wave_me_goodbye.jpgOn the Guardian book pages, among a whole range of comments about books on the evacuation of kids from London during WW2, there’s a comment : ‘I wish Jacqueline Wilson would write a novel about this, it would be brilliant’. Prophetic words, apparently!

There have been zillions of books written about the experiences – real or fictional – of wartime evacuees. Some of them have been wonderful, and have stood the test of still being read and in print – Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian is one which is frequently mentioned as being outstanding.

Wave Me Goodbye is going to take its place among the best books of this type, I think.
Jacqueline Wilson writes with humour, insight, compassion and understanding. Her characters all are credible and engaging.

When Shirley’s mum says she’s going on holiday, at first Shirley is excited – but then the reality of what kind of a holiday it will be hits home, and she is by turns reluctant, scared and angry about having to leave her mother in London. But off she goes, in her red patent leather shoes (!) with her suitcase too heavy to manage because instead of packing one book, she packed her whole library. What a heroine!

However the reality of being billeted in a country village hits home when the residents are asked to select the kids they are willing to take in. Of course there are more kids than available beds and it all gets quite dramatic as Shirley and the two remaining – and unprepossessing – boys are virtually forced on to an unwilling ( and reclusive) hostess.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so will confine myself to saying that despite an ill-advised escape (complete with gun!) all turns out well.

Many themes run through this excellent story, but what develops very strongly is Shirley’s ability to understand the perspectives of others and to be aware of how circumstances can shape us. The librarian in me wants to link this to the fact that she’s a reader … but maybe she’s just smart.

The friendships made across class, age and educational barriers are poignant and well-developed and build in the reader a wish to see how this all turns out.

It’s a story which will please many readers, and is a great addition to the books written about the Blitz and its repercussions. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Wave Me Goodbye
by Jacqueline Wilson
Published by Doubleday Children’s
ISBN 9780857535177

Book Review: Song of the Skylark, by Erica James

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_song_of_the_skylarkYou know you have been well and truly drawn into a story when you have a wee tear or two at the end of it, and such is the charm of Song of the Skylark. This is a lovely tale of two women; one coming to the end of her life story and the other at a turning point of hers. Initially we meet Lizzie, newly fired from her job where she has been having an affair with her boss – not one of her better life decisions, and one that has impacted on her family: “Poor Mum and Dad, it couldn’t be easy having her back with them again. Not only that, they were still a long way from understanding why she’d ended her four-year relationship with Simon in favour of a man they’d yet to meet – a married man to boot.”

While she is seeking new employment, she finds herself back at her parent’s house and is coerced into taking over her mother’s volunteer position at a local rest home. Reluctantly, Lizzie heads off and here she meets Mrs Clarissa Dallimore. As they begin chatting, Mrs Dallimore reveals a past that is more interesting than Lizzie first thought. As a radio station researcher, her interest in the older lady’s history is sparked, and so too is a friendship between the two. For Mrs Dallimore, talking to Lizzie allows her to revisit old friends and places. For Lizzie, the friendship and gentle counsel of the older woman leads her to a bit of soul searching. She finds herself comparing her life and personal outlook to that of the courageous Mrs Dallimore and determines to take a leaf out of the old lady’s book:

‘You might find this hard to believe,’ she said at length, ‘but before I came downstairs I was trying to sort out some of the clutter going on inside my head.’
‘Why would you think I’d find that hard to believe?’
Lizzie shrugged. ‘I know how people see me, Mum, that I’m a hopeless flibbertigibbet who can’t get anything right.’

The two heroines in Song of the Skylark and the cast of varied characters who feature alongside them, are personable and easy to relate to, the kind you would love to have a cuppa and a chat with. The story easily moves from WWII to modern times and both women’s stories engage you, leaving you wanting to see how they will win through and ensuring you are smiling along with their happy moments. Told alongside Lizzie’s story is a sub-plot involving her parents and, her twin brother and his aloof wife which, by the way, I would love to see developed into their own story (please, Ms James!).

A chick-lit story that is both historical and contemporary, it is perfect for either a beach holiday or a winter weekend. It might be a good idea to have some tissues handy.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Song of the Skylark
by Erica James
Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409159568

Book review: The German War: A Nation Under Arms: 1939-45

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_german_warNicolas Stargardt’s The German War: A Nation Under Arms 1939-45, is a social history of an extraordinary kind, providing an English language account of what in effect was ordinary life in Germany during the second world war, within a shattering context of bombs, genocide, food shortages and mass moral turpitude.

Stargardt quotes a German soldier writing to his fiancée: “The life of this generation seems to me to be measured by catastrophes”. This note came toward the end of the war, and sums up how the attitudes of many Germans evolved during the period of the war. Originally, there was widespread disquiet at the start of another war with memories of the defeat and starvation of World War 1 still all too real. The national mood changed though, toward euphoria, when Hitler’s armies won stunning victories in Poland, France, Norway and the Low Countries.

But as the bombs started raining down on city after city from as many as 1,000 British and American bombers, morale slumped. In May 1942, even before bombing of civilian targets became widespread, the Swiss consul in Cologne, Franz-Rudolf Weiss noted that civilian morale was “well below zero”. However, as occurred in Britain in 1940-41, the bombing developed a strong resilience among the population, with local and national authorities and ordinary folk rushing in to help. In the March 5 raid on Essen, Carola Reisner was quoted as saying that it was “really amazing with what heroic resilience and lack of complaint everything is endured here”.

The fact that this 681-page book (inclusive of bibliography and notes) includes a mass of personal reflections taken from personal letters and diaries of soldiers from the rank and file to generals to ordinary folk, artists and poets is but one illustration of the deep shaft of research that has been undertaken by Stargardt. The book also includes the results of in-depth research of official documents, including some from the Security Service (SD) , a security section of the SS in charge of foreign and domestic intelligence and espionage which produced frequent commentaries on the social conditions within the country as the war was waged.

A profoundly important result of reading this book is the understanding that ordinary Germans “knew”. They knew of the deportation and massacres of Jews, undesirable citizens of their own country and thousands of others in occupied countries. They knew of the use of slave labour and the inhumane conditions forced upon these peoples, and they knew that the peoples of occupied countries were starving, in order to maintain food supplies for Germans. And at the end of the war, Stargardt clearly documents that many, if not most Germans, turned a blind eye – “we just followed orders” or “this was a war brought upon us – not our fault”.

This is an outstanding and important history written by one of the foremost historians of Nazi Germany.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The German War: A National Under Arms, 1939-45
by Nicholas Stargardt
Published by The Bodley Head
ISBN: 9781847921000