I’m bad at blogging…but good at reading.

In the last three months since I last posted I’ve not read much First World War related fiction, but I started a non-fiction book called Wounded a few days ago and it is so fascinating I wanted to talk about it.

First though, a few thoughts on the fiction books I have read recently.

Patrimony by Jane Thynne
(Blurb from GoodReads)

“What is the truth about Valentine Siddons, acclaimed poet and World War 1 hero? When her researcher and his notes mysteriously disappear, Elsa Meyers, who is developing a film about the poet’s life, is forced to conduct her own investigation into his past. It is a search which leads to a relationship with his grandson, Dr Oliver Eastway, celebrated academic and Siddons biographer. But should Valentine Siddons: A Life be more accurately titled Valentine Siddons: A Lie? Elsa’s discovery about the poet’s legacy ultimately force her to face her own conflict of loyalties.”

I’ll admit, I picked this book up because that blurb drew me in. It did fall into one of the tropes that I hate in fiction, where someone from the present day is uncovering things about a character in the past, whether that be their father/mother/grandfather/grandmother and so on. I find it such a lazy trope (and an overdone one) and that’s the thing I liked least about this book. I thought the two stories on their own were interesting enough, though I did like the sections set in and around the war more interesting – what a surprise! I didn’t think the revelations and “plot twist” were anything too groundbreaking, if you’ve read enough of this stuff you could see it coming a mile off. I gave it 2/5.

Across the Blood-Red Skies by Robert Radcliffe

After weeks in the thick of it, George Duckwell, reluctant novice-hero of the Royal Flying Corps, is living on borrowed time, watching in horror as a succession of comrades are shot down, burned, maimed and killed, while somehow he survives. Struggling to make sense of the conflict, George forms an awkward friendship with William ‘Mac’ MacBride, an enigmatic Canadian ace, waging his own war against the legendary Red Baron. But the fragile bond that keeps the two men alive comes under perilous threat on the eve of the most lethal conflict the modern world has known.

I like this a lot more than Patrimony for several reasons. There is a twist which while rather implausible, is not as obvious. Though it doesn’t mention it in the blurb, there are large sections about characters working on the field ambulances and with the FANY, something I had read about very rarely before. (The only other example I can think of is Life Class by Pat Barker – highly recommended!) I thought the ending was satisfying, if somewhat sad. I have to say I’m not the greatest fan of happy endings anyway. I gave it 3/5.

Winged Victory by V M Yeates

There is no bitter snarl nor self-pity in this classic novel about the air war of 1914-1918, based very largely on the author’s experiences. Combat, loneliness, fatigue, fear, comradeship, women, excitement – all are built into a vigorous and authentic structure by one of the most valiant pilots of the then Royal Flying Corps.

I haven’t actually finished this book. It’s about 500 pages long and really quite dense. It was first published in the 1930s and I think I’m struggling with the writing style. I’ve read over half of it and do intend to go back. As it was written by an actual pilot who flew in the Royal Flying Corps, it’s very interesting to see how he perceived the war, rather than someone writing from a distance. I will go back to it at some point!

Currently reading:

Wounded by Emily Mayhew

I’ve only read about half of this book too but it is one of the most interesting First World War books I’ve ever read. It’s non fiction and is about the different sections of people that helped soldiers while injured. It covers not just the doctors and nurses we’ve read about before, but stretcher bearers, orderlies, chaplains, ambulance drivers and many more. There are so many things I never knew and it gives a really interesting insight to a part of the war that is often overlooked.

That’s all for now, I’ll try not to leave it three months until the next one!

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In which I try to return.

I’ll admit I forgot about this blog and this project. The last post was in January 2015, where I had already failed to make progress. Something tells me that I won’t hit the 100 mark that I had intended, but as this isn’t called 100 Great War Reads, I won’t hold myself in account too much.

Since January 2015, I have read the following First World War books:

Across the Blood Red Skies by Robert Radcliffe – 3/5 stars
Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan – 4/5 stars
Sherston’s Progress by Siegfried Sassoon – 3/5 stars
Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon – 3/5 stars
War Story by Derek Robinson – 3/5 stars

Now I add it up, this is rather shameful! I read half of a lot of books, or certain essays from collections during my dissertation research, which I didn’t count as completing a whole book.

I am going to amend some of the other pages across the blog to try and reflect the new direction I want to take the blog in.

Hopefully this return is more successful than the last!


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Biggles Learns to Fly by W.E Johns

I bought this book on a whim some time ago, and am glad that I did. I was so confident that I would enjoy the books that I bought another before I had even read the first. I really knew nothing about Biggles before I read the book, only that he was a pilot and that he was pretty much a by word for anyone wearing a flying helmet.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I started reading – perhaps something far lighter and jolly than I got. Of course, there were funny moments but there were far more moments of darkness than I was expecting.

The story was told in a very episodic way, every chapter seemed to involve a new mission or patrol that always, always, always ended in a dogfight, crash or other general disaster. I did read somewhere that this book was made up of several short stories organised into a longer narrative, but I’m not sure how true that is. The fact that Biggles and Mark (more on him later) got stuck behind enemy lines twice in the space of about four chapters might be because of this reason, or because Johns liked getting Biggles into scrapes.

As for the characters, I thought Biggles was a great character and I had a lot of my misconceptions about what he would be like shattered. In this book at least, he is not a stiff upper lip, derring do pilot, risking life and limb. He is a young man, barely out of school who just happens to be good at flying. He finds the life of being a pilot fun until he sees one of his comrades killed for the first time. This plot device is used so much now, but it is still very truthful, many people think they are indestructible until they see death in front of them.

I also really loved Biggles’ observer, the New Zealander Mark Way. I thought they bounced off each other really well and was slightly gutted when Johns split them off to send Biggles off to a fighter squadron and then even more gutted when, without trying to spoil anything, Johns gave Mark a slightly graver fate.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book and can’t wait to get onto the next one!


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Reading, Biggles and a return

Sorry it’s been so long!

I have now got passed the first section of my MA and am now onto dissertation preparation. I’m hoping to write my dissertation on the First World War, possibly on representations of trauma in the literature of the war, so I thought it was high time to resurrect the blog.

Since my last post (in August 2014, sorry, sorry, sorry), I haven’t read many First World War books, but haven’t read many books outside university reading at all. I have read my first ever Biggles books – Biggles Learns to Fly and loved it, so expect to hear about that soon. I also read Six Weeks by John Lewis-Stempel, which I thought was really interesting and only wish I had been sensible enough to take notes or to tag pages I wanted to return to when reading.

Needless to say I did not read 25 books about the First World War last year, so I have a lot of catching up to do if I want to hit the 100 by 2018!

Biggles review coming soon (I promise!)

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The Lie

So one of the books I have conquered recently was The Lie by Helen Dunmore.

The blurb reads:

Cornwall, 1920, early spring.
A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.
Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life.
Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him.
He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

Now, to me this sounded quite interesting but from the off I had already determined what “the most intense relationship of his life” was (hint: he was really good friends with a posh local boy, they went to war together…). The actual lie on the other hand was quite a good twist, and I have to say that I didn’t see the ending coming at all.

The language used in the book was probably my favourite thing about it, I thought it portrayed the area and people really well. I felt like Dunmore had really done her research into the area (unless she comes from that area, i’m not sure.) The sense of place was so well done that I felt the plot let down the writing a little.

As for the war – Daniel’s experience of the war is told through flashbacks throughout the novel, showing how he has got to the point he’s at. I have to admit I didn’t find this book terribly compelling but it was worth the read for the use of language and place, rather than as a war story.

Rating: 2/5



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Again, sorry for the silence around these parts. 

Coming soon: 

  • Reviews of Strange Meeting, Journey’s End (the novel) and The Lie.
  • Possible thoughts on Aces High (the film)
  • To read list and more updates!

Thanks for sticking with me. Hopefully I’ll be back soon!

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An apology of sorts

I’m just popping in to apologise for the lack of posts around here recently.

The thing is that I am currently doing an MA and it seems to be eating up all my time for leisure reading, which includes books for this blog. I have been incredibly slow with reading and this has caused the blog to shudder to a halt somewhat.

Once again, sorry for the silence and hopefully normal service will resume soon.

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