I adore history and am especially interested in the two World Wars. I think a large part of this is because I have such strong connections with both Germany (I am German) and the UK (I have lived here for most of my life). Therefore, I have a rather interesting perspective, trying to come to terms with my native country’s past but also knowing that not all Germans were the enemy – there was a German resistance movement, there were people who helped Jews, some people feared for the lives of their loved ones to the extent that keeping them safe took priority. Indeed, there was suffering on both sides of the channel. Alongside this, I have grown up with the British perspective of history. I have learned about the fear, loss, sacrifice, sheer resilience and stubborn determination experienced on this island I call home. I believe that good historical fiction brings history to life, it engages on a very human level; here are two recent reads that did just that.
Reasons why I picked up The Night Raid:
- It is set in Nottingham where I live.
- One of the main characters is Dame Laura Knight, a war artist, originally from Nottingham, who I have always wanted to find out more about.
- I am very interested in the role of women during the war and this book promised strong female characters.
- I am really interested in learning about the everyday life experienced by people in war time and the plot focuses on this.
- I saw that the author, Clare Harvey, would be in Nottingham to talk about her book and I love hearing authors talk about their work.
The story focuses on two young women, Violet and Zelah, working in a munitions factory in Nottingham. Both have pasts they are trying to escape, both are trying to find a way forwards in this world where women are very much holding life together. Commissioned to paint a propaganda portrait of women workers in the factory, Dame Laura Knight becomes a part of this factory life too, facing her own demons along the way. The lives of these three women become intertwined in ways that changes each one of them forever.
Why I loved reading this book:
The Nottingham setting is very special: Clare Harvey has lived in Nottingham herself and her writing feels very genuine. I could really imagine the city during wartime and it was clear that Harvey put a lot of time and effort into making the setting as accurate as possible. It is historical fiction, and there is creativity in terms of events and timelines, but the essence is very real.
Dame Laura Knight: I had heard of her in general terms, I knew she was commissioned to paint propaganda art, but that is as far as I had got. This book made me want to immerse myself in her work (a lot of it is available to view online) and Harvey writes in her author’s note that a particular piece, Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring, was an inspiration point for her. I loved the connection of art with fiction very much. I now want to read more about Dame Laura, who comes across as such a strong, complex woman, with an incredibly individual voice. I know that she wrote an autobiography so this is where I shall begin.
Very human, rounded characters: It is easy to connect and invest emotions in The Night Raid characters. Each has a very personal story to tell and Harvey writes in a way that makes you genuinely care about what happens to them.
An emotionally engaging plot with a twist that I didn’t see coming: It isn’t a fast paced page turner and it is very much a character piece, however the plot itself flows really well ,coming together piece by piece, using the viewpoints of four characters. As for the twist – let’s just say I had a tear or two in my eye!
I went to the Waterstones author evening with Clare Harvey here in Nottingham and it was such a wonderful experience. She is an author, who has a genuine interest in her audience and I loved how animated she was. When you see how much an author has invested in her characters, it gives the whole reading experience an extra layer of meaning.
It was love at first sight with Letters from the Lighthouse. Isn’t the cover gorgeous? I have a bit of thing about lighthouses (it is my dream to live in one) so this, combined with the topic at hand, was a perfect match for me.
Olive and her brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devonshire coast, when living in London becomes too dangerous due to heavy bombing. The children become involved in a mystery that will see them discovering a dangerously brave rescue mission and indeed playing their own part. It is also a story about war time communities and the treatment of both evacuees and refugees; prejudice, acceptance, friendship and loss are all explored beautifully. And there is a handsome, mysterious lighthouse keeper to boot;)
Why I loved this book:
The writing itself: Emma Carroll has a really rich, engaging, often beautiful and very honest writing style. Her words transported me to the Devon Coast and made me travel back in time. Simply gorgeous. I really like how seriously she takes her readers, not shying away from difficult issues, many of which are just as present in today’s society.
The quirky characters: I especially loved Esther, the German girl who came over on the Kindertransport and is then evacuated with her class to the coast. She is prickly, feisty, hard to read and struggles to connect with others. Yet she is also so brave and resilient and there is a huge heart hidden away. Then there is mysterious Queenie, whose clocks have all stopped and show the same time ( She refuses to fix them).
The war time detail: It is well researched and its presence is detailed yet not to the extent of information overload; just how I like it. I think children reading this book, will experience enough to be hooked and that they will be inspired to find out more about this period in history.
The rather wonderful mystery: I really enjoyed how this played out as the book progressed, I loved the codes involved and I can’t really say much more 😉
Letters from the Lighthouse is book that I know I shall read again and that I will certainly recommend to my oldest niece – I like the idea of an auntie niece book club.