Toro! Toro! by Michael Morpurgo

I chose this book to read as I am going to see a stage production of the book at the Northcott Theatre next month.

 The book is quite short, I managed it in one day. It is straightforwardly told by a grandfather retelling a closely guarded secret from his childhood to his young grandson. We see the horrors of the Spanish civil war and the gradual realisation of the realities of bullfighting from a young boy’s perspective. Even though the tale is told simply the story is powerful and will probably seem more so for a young person reading it, which of course is who the author is writing for.

I’ve read a few Michael Morpurgo books now and it has the same style as the others I’ve read and I suppose when you write as many as he has done that is bound to happen. He seems to pick actual events to base his stories on and this one is no exception, he introduces the book with a description of how he came up with the story. They are a good starting point or addition to finding out more about historical events.

I’m not sure how a stage version is going to recreate a bullfight and an aerial  bombardment of a village. I’ll look forward to finding out.

Hitler’s Canary, by Sandi Toksvig

Bamse, a young Danish boy living with his family in Copenhagen, finds his life changed irrevocably by the invading forces of Nazi Germany.

Occupation and persecution by the Nazis is a harrowing read, and this all the more so, given that it is based on the author’s father’s experiences in the Second World War.

Over the course of the war Bamse grows from a bewildered child who witnesses intolerable pressures brought to bear on his family, to playing no small part in the Danish resistance. The occupying German army plans the abduction of the country’s Jews to concentration camps and the Final Solution. Sitting on the fence is no longer an option, and Bamse and his friends and family risk everything to help their countrymen, whatever their faith and beliefs.

Sandi Toksvig has written a moving account of Denmark’s plight, vastly overwhelmed by Hitler’s forces. Yet this is not a straightforward tale of black and white. Not all the Germans were bad, nor all the Danes good. As the threat of deportation and the fear of the rumoured death camps increase, Bamse must garner what bravery he has to try to help and do what is right.

Conquest, by Stewart Binns

1066, a year emblazoned in the English psyche. The date of the Battle of Hastings. A nation’s fate is decided by William of Normandy’s defeat of King Harold’s Saxon forces.

The year of three battles is recounted in heart stopping detail. But, above all, we see the world of eleventh century Christendom through the eyes of England’s forgotten hero, Hereward of Bourne. We know the Normans are victorious. Perhaps this is why Hereward isn’t as lauded as, say, Robin Hood. However, King William cannot rest while ‘The Wake’ still rallies his Saxon brethren.

The story is told by an old Saxon warrior, years after the battle. He is a hermit, living in exile in the Greek Peleponnese. We learn of the brash young Hereward, whose youthful recklessness almost costs him his life. Banished by Edward the Confessor, Hereward learns wisdom in time. Rescuing Torfida, who would become his wife, from marauding soldiers, she guides his destiny with a talisman, which leads them back into the English fold and the trust and comradeship of the last Saxon King. This journey will take them to the Duke of Normandy’s realm, on to the battle of Stamford Bridge and, ultimately, the devestating consequences of Senlac Ridge, the Lake of Blood.

Stewart Binns has written a pulsating historical fiction which I feel will play its part in championing the name of Hereward the Wake, England’s champion, who braved so much to uphold the ideals of a defeated kingdom and of what it is to be English.

The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase By Joan Aiken

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase tells the tale of cousins Sylvia and Bonnie Green.
Bonnie’s parents are feared drowned at sea, and the family home falls under the control of a scheming governess, Miss Slighcarp. Sylvia and Bonnie must summon all their courage and guile if they are to thwart the governess’s evil plans.

Intriguingly, the novel is set in an alternative history. The year is 1832 and Good King James III has just acceded to the throne. The Channel Tunnel has been completed, and harsh winters have led to wolves from northern Europe colonising the British Isles via the newly built tunnel. The wolves add a sense of foreboding to the story.

I found the story gripping, and wondered at the bleak outcome for the cousins as Miss Slighcarp holds all the cards in a seemingly impregnable position. No adults are aware of the girls’ plight, save two kindly servants who manage to avoid suspicion under the ever watchful eye of the governess.

The harsh snowy landscape and the ever present fear of attack from packs of wolves serve to heighten the tension and unease felt in the reading of the girls’ precarious adventures.

The Burning Land, by Bernard Cornwell

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The Burning Land continues the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Saxon warrior raised by Vikings following a successful Norse raid on his father’s lands.

The novel is the fifth in the series of novels of the making of England, in which Uhtred plays his role during the reign of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, the last Saxon kingdom, seemingly doomed to fall under the sway of growing Viking dominance.

In the year 899 Alfred’s health is failing, and the King is determined that his son, Edward, accede to the throne and maintain a kingdom which not only stands firm against the Vikings, but extends its power to rule over all the Angelcyn, a united England, or Englaland.

Uhtred has his own personal agenda, and in spite of former allegiances to Danish brethren, finds himself sworn to fight for Wessex. This is a time of flux; a struggle between Christianity and Paganism and the fight for dominance over all kingdoms.

We journey with Uhtred from Wessex to Northumbria where his uncle still holds the impregnable Saxon fortress of Bebbanburg,  maintaining an uneasy truce with the Danelaw, the Viking held lands of Mercia and East Anglia.

Before Uhtred can consider how to regain the fortress taken from his father, he must help Alfred defeat not one but two Viking forces.

Once again Bernard Cornwell paints a vivid picture of the Dark Ages. Cornwell uses meticulous research, enthusiasm and his innate talent for telling an exciting story. I read the first four novels a number of years ago, but was immediately drawn back into the struggle in the brutal world of Saxons and Vikings. An excellent read.

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

Introduction

Hello.

Being an avid reader, and enjoying the reviews of other readers, I thought I’d take this opportunity to start writing reviews of books which I have read.

It’s also enjoyable to visit sites like this and hear the thoughts of people far and wide.

All the best,

Simon

What We’re Reading At The Moment

We’re now half way through the sequel to “Stop The Train” called “Pull Out All The Stops”,which follows some of the characters as they have various adventures aboard a paddle steamer. They are joined along the way by a variety of diverse characters and so far they have survived floods, being shot at and the boat being grounded. It’s very exciting and funny. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. We will keep you posted!

-CousinDev

“Stop The Train” By Geraldine McCaughrean

Hello Book Fans

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We picked this book up because we where due to hear the author speak at the Exeter Central Library. We were so glad we did.

I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” series and “Stop The Train” is set around the same time and is about settlers setting up a new town in the american west. But this is a more action packed and gritty tale. It’s funny, gripping and exciting story. I found I was really rooting for the inhabitants of Florence Oklahoma.

At the library, Geraldine mentioned that Loucien Shades, the unusual school teacher,  was her favourite character that she had ever written out of the over 100 books she has had published.

We positively recommend this book and we have just started the sequel “Pull Out All The Stops”.

We also recommend Geraldine’s website http://www.geraldinemccaughrean.co.uk/ and go and hear her speak, if you get the chance

Thanks For Reading

-Cousindev