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Far from the Madding Crowd

Quick Outline

Hardy’s fourth novel takes its title from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

‘Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife

Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;

Along the cool sequester’d vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.’

Of course, whilst the tale is set in rural Weatherbury, a farming village with a close community spirit, the main protagonists are led by their passions and so ironically, assume the state of ‘madding’ frenzy usually assumed by the buzzing towns and cities.

The tale surrounds beautiful, confident and independent Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who battle for her affections. Although Bathsheba’s tale is set over a hundred years ago, her difficulties are easily recognized, and thus, her mistakes, easily forgiven. If she lived today, Bathsheba would be a heel-wearing millionaire with two businesses she created and controlled herself. Her problems with Oak, Troy and Boldwood would appear on the problem pages of Cosmo, entitled, I imagine, like this:

‘He’s Mr Perfect, kind, handsome and has money. So why can’t I love him?’ (Oak)

‘He’s rich, handsome and completely obsessed with me- should I say yes to marriage?’ (Boldwood)

‘Everyone tells me he’s bad news, but I think I’m in love him.’ (Troy)

And so Bathsheba, in her struggles with three such different men (the kind and sensible Oak; obsessive, insane yet good Boldwood; and exciting, dashing but insincere Troy) personifies all those annoying and overused magazine sayings. Like the one about treating them mean to keep them keen and it being all about ‘the bad boys’… (thanks Alexandra Burke).

The message that we appear to be left with, after Bathsheba has rebuffed two suitors, fallen for Troy and married him, allowing her heart to rule her head is: don’t follow your heart. You will be left with a husband who doesn’t love you, he will slowly gamble away your money and then leave you all alone. A little like Sense and Sensibility, no good can come from wild passions. Despite this, Hardy allows Bathsheba a happy ending. She marries again, this time for sense, and although we are supposed to feel happy for her, we aren’t. The tale ends, she is perfectly content, but doesn’t appear to be leaping in the air with joy. Perhaps Hardy doesn’t believe in this type of happiness, realistically, believing it to be always short-lived. Perhaps, Bathsheba’s story is a realistic message about being happy with a perfectly ‘fine’ life, that to search for anything more can only end in disappointment.

All I know for sure is that these ‘romantic’ musings probably wouldn’t satisfy the readers of Cosmo. Sorry modern Bathsheba, but apparently you can’t have female independence and a husband you love. There’s just no pleasing some people.

A Picture Portrait

Gabrielle Oak the Shepherd: Oak is the voice of reason throughout the tale. Loveable because of his quiet, graceful unassuming ways and annoying in that he seems to be always good and always right. He never gets angry, and the rest of the common labouring folk look up to him as you might a wise father.

His shepherding duties appear to extend into the lives of the humans, as well as the sheep, which surround him. Despite the cruel way Bathsheba treats him, Oak takes on the biblical aspect of Jesus guarding his flock, caring for her despite everything. Guarding her and trying to keep her from harm. Oak loves her for loves sake and never requires anything in return.

Tess: In the tragedy of Fanny Robin, a sub-plot existing within Madding Crowd, Hardy looks forward to Tess of the D’urbervilles. Both Tess and Fanny are working class women with little or no family support. Both are innocent and pure and die because of events caused by the men in their lives. Whilst Bathsheba has the independence provided by money, Tess and Fanny have no way of lifting themselves from the luckless ways life has cast upon them, they can only turn to men, who, in their own turn, prove themselves unworthy. Both women die whilst Bathsheba survives her tale and remains stronger than ever by the end.

The obvious contrast between these three women could also be read as an evolutionary metaphor. Hardy was very interested in Darwin’s work and theories, and in this respect ‘the survival of the fittest’ can provide a frame around which Bathsheba’s success and the perishing of Fanny and Tess neatly fits.

My Favourite Review…

I did search and search and search….but I couldn’t find any I liked. You’ll just have to make do with this one.

Critique

The piece opened and the pace was excellent. However, just before half way it slackened and lost momentum. Then, In the closing stages it returned to its former brilliance. This made for sticky reading at times. Despite this, it is one of those books that you must read, especially if you enjoyed Tess or Jude.

Love,

Zoe

3.5 Stars

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The Outcast

Quick Outline

Sadie Jones creates a dark and twisted depiction of 1950’s post-war Britain, revealing chaos and disarray lurking behind the closed, brightly painted doors of middle-class, pristine and rural Surrey.  Lewis Aldridge stands as an outcast amongst this system of respectable disorder, and whilst his neighbours uphold an unshakeable façade of honourable respectability behind which they hate and hurt, he can only break apart, destroying himself in an impassioned obsession to feel.

His reactions and behaviour, following the Second World War so closely, act as a living symbol for the shattered, war grazed Britain of that time. Whilst repairs are made to the physical, obvious casualties of war; the buildings, the gaping holes in roads; less notice is paid to the ongoing human suffering. And so, whilst the country is slowly rebuilt, the insistent message is that everything has been corrected, everything is healed and right. Meanwhile, the women drink to sustain their new-found boredom, the men beat the women to tame fresh rage and the children grow up afraid and full of injustice. But to one another they smile and laugh, and everything continues uninhibited.

Lewis, like the country, is broken. Aged ten his mother drowns in front of him whilst they picnic on a summer’s day. Elizabeth was both glamorous and enthralling, both father and son wrapped up in loving her. And so, when the one thing they both held in common disappears, there is no where for them to go together. Gilbert shuns his son and they live a mutilated life, Gilbert working hard and remarrying quickly; Lewis only returning home on school holidays, retreating further and further into himself. For a few years everything falls to quiet, rigid, underground disorder, until something inside Lewis snaps. He wears his pain, drinking and cutting himself. Running away, ruining and breaking things and people. He is sent to prison, but on his return he confronts the quiet, placid appearances of his old home and sets about revealing the fraudulent community for what it really is; undressing the years of empty façade and face, uncovering abuse and insistent hate.

A Picture Portrait

The Woods: The place where Lewis goes to escape, to feel better again. Although terrible things happen here, the woods reverse the corruption of the real world, and stand in contrast with the home, where only hate and self-loathing seems to grow. It’s almost a romantic idea of nature and human happiness being exclusively combined.

The Village Church: Attended every Sunday, the church is the center of hypocrisy within the community. Where the most respected villagers boast smiles and laughter, only to return home where everything slips.

 

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My Favourite Review…

Here is an extract of a review written by Rachel Hore for the Independent, the rest of it can be found here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-outcast-by-sadie-jones-785275.html

‘The claustrophobic, menacing atmosphere of Sadie Jones’s page-turning debut never lets up, and that’s admirable enough, but it’s more than narrative tension that makes the novel special. Her writing is deeply affecting because she uses her characters’ smallest gestures, words and thoughts to build immediacy. Alice will quickly “check her face” and the reader instantly visualises her looking in a mirror, feeling the anxiety that makes her do it. Appearance is a major theme in the novel; Jones vividly describes people’s looks and clothes, but only when she’s making the description work for its place in the narrative. There’s a long paragraph when Lewis observes Tamsin lusciously dressed up, but through it we share his growing appreciation and desire. Kit, on the other hand, is conscious that her own dress doesn’t fit; this expresses her feelings about herself.

Another theme concerns how this class at this period seem not to like their offspring. It’s chilling how many adult remarks to children here are not about feelings but instructions about dress and appearance. “You’ll spoil your frock.” “Where are your gloves?”

The Outcast is not flawless. The action of the second half, after Lewis’s return, is at times repetitive, and there’s a tendency towards melodramatic set pieces, but the quality of the writing and a desire to see justice done keep one reading avidly.

Lewis believes he’s become a dark and broken person. It’s only when he realises that everyone around him is like that too that he’s able finally to save himself.’

Criticism

At certain points in the tale Lewis’s anger seems slightly out, the continuous breaking of windows and tables a bit too maniac- super-hero. But this is a tale which certainly doesn’t drag, although dark and depressing, the ending is a perfect one which rights the balance between sad and happy to a perfect degree.

Love,

Zoe

4/5 Stars

One Day

Quick Outline

The 15th of July, 1988: that first significant day marks the spot. The spot in two people’s lives, revisited yearly by the reader. Significant because it is the day after graduation, when life rolls ahead, mysterious, exciting, unknown. Significant because it is a day of meeting, the opening bracket of Emma and Dexter. Significant because part of living, of being alive, means we live our days blindly, one day refuses to be significant until the aftermath of what it has prompted. We do not know at what point the bracket will close the sentence, at what point any of it will make any sense at all. And so only when the bracket closes at the end of the novel do we realise what weight that one day held.

This is what I love so much about One Day. It is more than just fiddly plot; relationships, love, career, holidays, highs and lows, dreams and regret. Plot allows philosophy, without actually saying anything philosophical: a terrifying (if you allow your mind to wander there) objective response to our lives and the way they happen, without us knowing or even deciding. Nicholls quotes Dickens beautifully before opening the first chapter and makes this point better than I ever could:

‘But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a long moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on that memorable day.’    Dickens, Great Expectations

And so we follow Emma and Dexter until the closing bracket shuts the story tight on them. We regret, we understand, we hate, all the while seeing in their lives our own reflected back. The plot travels fast, of course, when a day of each year takes only a few pages to read. With this speed comes that awful feeling you get when reading a book you love, the nasty feeling that you’re reading to fast and soon it will all be over. And there, cleverly, One Day enforces what all old people say constantly, that idea young people have yet to fully understand: how quickly life slips away from us. How fast the years fly by. Hence, it is a book which makes you stop, and think, even if it’s just for a second after reading, about the fragility and loveliness of life.

A Picture Portrait

The 90’s club scene: Dexter, working as a TV presenter falls into drugs, and becomes a figure of public distaste. His Mother, suffering from terminal cancer, is ashamed of his career and the pair struggle to get on during the significant closing stages of her life. His lifestyle slowly destroys his relationships, the seedy side of London soaking him into its party army. Though this part of the tale is sad and cringeworthy, it manages to be painfully funny at times too. The terrible oxymoron Dexter’s life becomes.

Edinburgh: The place where the pair meet, standing at an idealistic distance away from their modern life. A place where dreaming was encouraged, and, especially for Emma, anything was possible. A time that they look back upon, where a solid idea of who and what they used to be exists, standing tall for them to refer. At times they look back and regret the change, at other times are able to feel glad for it.

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My Favourite Review…

Here is an extract from my favourite review, which is written by Leisl Schillinger for The New York Times. The rest of it can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/books/review/Schillinger-t.html

‘Those of us susceptible to nostalgic reveries of youthful heartache and self-invention (which is to say, all of us) longed to get our hands on Nicholls’s new novel, once our friend revealed its premise:

In 1988, the day after commencement, two college graduates briefly, romantically collide. The girl has pined for the boy for years; the boy is more aware of the girl than he lets on. She’s an earnest, outspoken lefty, he a handsome, apolitical toff who “liked the word ‘bourgeois’ and all that it implied” and “wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph.” Their chemistry is as inarguable as their differences, but because of the pride, carelessness and misplaced optimism of youth, they let time and distraction separate them. Yet they never lose track of each other. “One Day” checks in on their intersecting lives once a year, every July 15, from 1988 through 2007.’

Criticism

The ending is fairly depressing, but I can’t hate Nicholls for it because things like that happen, are realistic, true to life. However, it wasn’t necessarily the right way for the novel to go, and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of the fickle ability human beings have to recover from loss. An endurance which throws into question our changeable nature, whether our type of love is really able to last through anything and everything. Luckily for Nicholls, I don’t mind being left with these depressing kind of thoughts and usually prefer blighted endings to happy, run-over-the-hills-screaming-happily ones. (Be warned: you can’t stop reading this book….I was so tired because I didn’t properly sleep untill it was finished.)

Love,

Zoe

5/5 Stars

The Distant Hours

Quick Outline

Cut grass, log fires, candle wax, pine, the must of ancient rooms and cold stone. If you could open a book and smell its story, this is what I’d imagine The Distant Hours would waft in our direction. Quintessentially Englishy smells. The sort of smells that should be taped to a picture postcard. Away from Milderhurst Castle the book smells of hustling-bustling London, pavements, rain on tarmac, petrol fumes, and the bleachy smell of over-efficient middle-class cleaning. Kate Morton creates an England which we recognize affectionately, relate to. An England, pre and post World War II, rural and urban, that we can be contained in, that we nurse and feel completely at home inside. A picture, so well drawn it leaves me unsure; is it this beautiful illustration of our country or the story itself which renders the tale a success?

The three sisters Blythe live together in crumbling Milderhurst castle. Oldest twin Percy, protectively, valiantly, guarding her sisters and their home. Whilst the stones crumble and the rooms are lost to dust, the three sisters, now symbols for the castle (old and decrepit, youngest Juniper decayed in mind) hang blindly onto the secrets which have bound and, simultaneously, parted them for the majority of their lives.

Untill the day that Edie Burchill stumbles across their story. Discovering that her Mother had been evacuated to the sisters’ castle during the war, Edie probes for information. But her mother, mute on the subject of her past, refuses to provide enlightenment. And so the tale stretches on, shifting between Edie and her curiosity, and the past lives of the sisters Blythe; sisters thoughtlessly, selfishly influenced and manipulated by a curious, guilt-ridden Father.

And eventually, Edie is pulled into their tale. Playing her own part in unburdening the older women, unravelling the knots that weigh heavy upon their past. Norton keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Secrets cause the reader to become greedy, as obsessed with the dark past as Edie herself.

A Picture Portrait

Milderhurst Castle: The ancient purpose of a castle as a fort, a protective space, an ancient shield against oncoming battle, providing view and defence, is reopened and explored by the sisters. These terms of warfare are converted now into the inter-personal world of the Blythe family. Generation after generation swells with madness and suicide. Those stories, never forgotten, are locked permanently within the walls; walls which whisper of those Distant Hours. This history, stained upon the walls, is protected and renewed, inflicted upon future generations by the castle itself. The sisters cannot leave because of actions taken by their Father, and so their lives, their future, their history, is shielded and defended from the sanity of intrusion. The castle guarding what it has only ever known.

Writing: Words spill and scatter, the characters’ lives snagged and hitched by their weight. A novel written by the Blythe sisters’ father, which achieves great acclaim and classic stature, haunts him untill his death. The daughters inherit his gift with words, words and stories ever haunted by his presence. Letters, documents, books, haunt Edie and the Blythes. They use them to escape, to dream, to love, to remember. But the words are hard, constantly reminding them of the things they cannot change; past mysteries are recalled and huge gaping holes are reopened. Torn by a few, hurriedly scratched lines, thoughtlessly written years before.

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My Favourite Review…

Found on: http://babbleandbooks.wordpress.com

Beautifully written The Distant Hours will keep readers entranced, I was compelled to keep reading until I knew how the story ended. Kate Morton has written a gripping novel that’s is simply unputdownable. I stayed up late reading this until its stunning and surprising conclusion.

Kate Morton is a master of language, her lyrical flowing verse was so stunning it captured my imagination completely. This is a book that uses language richly. It draws you in to the very last page. The perfect mix of romance, intrigue mystery and suspense. The Distant Hours is utterly absorbing reading. If you like the language of the classics with a modern twist this book is definitely for you. A brilliant slightly gothic tale that is infinitely readable.

Kate Morton has proved yet again that she is a brilliant and talented writer who only gets better with each new book she writes. After I finished The Distant Hours I immediately started reading The Shifting Fog, which is Kate Morton’s first novel and it was a brilliant story as well. Everyone who reads Kate Morton will enjoy the journey.

Critique

Not always moving quite quickly enough, The Distant Hours is one of those books where the number of pages doesn’t adequately represent the length of tale…if that makes sense. Apart from that it’s lovely and well worth a summer read. Real Englishy, nostalgia-ridden writing.

Love,

Zoe

3.5/5 Stars

Quick Outline

Spinning a web of love, beauty and betrayal, O’Farrell binds her tale of two mothers with poetic mastery. Everything is closely observed, the ordinary and mundane cornered and draped in bright nostalgia. She plays the reader, a third of the book spent with that incomprehensible feeling of dread for a character drawn out so carefully; so intrinsically designed, that their fate becomes one in which the reader shares.

The story dwells upon the lives of two mothers. Lexie, living in 1950’s London is free of all responsibility. She is stunning, gloriously and intimidatingly wonderful. Falling pregnant with Theo shatters none of her journalistic ambitions; and she continues, as a single mother, to gain repute.

Fifty years on and Elina, an artist, arrives home with her first child, only to find herself utterly displaced by a complicated, and almost deadly birth. The sudden rush and flood of blood and her continued weakness haunts her, leaving her unsettled and confused. But whilst Elina gradually heals, partner Ted begins to slide, slowly losing himself. His new role as Father sends him drifting back to a childhood which all at once blurs and un-writes itself. A tale without an end which no longer fits the life he has grounded himself upon.

As the two tales cross and collide, the reader is a confronted with a poignant idea of motherhood. A message which concerns the cost and beauty of such uncompromising love. The book causes it’s characters to stand up, with such force of reality, that the reader can’t help but cry and care for them. Wonderful words are bound so peacefully; they allow the characters to become known, to impart a perfect message with ease and distinction.

A Picture Portrait

1950-60 Bohemian London: Fast paced and fresh. Exciting new progress being made throughout society. Innes, the love of Lexie’s life, shares with her his passion for Art. The paintings he owns remaining as an immortal feature of the novel; they remain a constant, a reminder that whilst lives break apart art stands to serve us, often unshakable in what it insists on saying.

Blood: The opening Elina sections dwell upon the loss of blood. The high quantity, the seeming impossibility of stemming it. The idea that now it is lost, something has peeled itself away from Elina. A part of her shed and left at the hospital. A part she will never regain, tied up in the child she has now to care for constantly. Gaining the baby yet losing an important part of herself through his arrival.

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Favourite Review

For a review which finds more flaw in the novel read this one from The Sleepless Reader:

http://thesleeplessreader.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-hand-that-first-held-mine-by-maggie-ofarrell/

Critique

I fail to critique this novel. For me it was far too beautifully crafted. Although if you are queasy, the sections which return to Elina’s birth made my tummy hurt!

Love,

Zoe

4/5 Stars

Blind Beauty

Quick Outline

Peyton’s Blind Beauty (one of my favouritest books ever, so don’t go expecting one of those useful unbiased reviews or anything…) opens onto the, so far, disastrous life of Tessa. Daughter of drunk Declan (one of those really fun book drunks that you know you should hate but secretly, all you want is to share his £2.99 one litre bottle of cider and dance) and weak, remarried mother Myra. The re-marriage of Myra to evil-stepfather Maurice sends the already troubled Tessa into even deeper difficulty. Excluded from about a billion schools, miserable and lonely, Tessa is forced by Maurice to help out at a local yard.

Resolving to hate the people, and the yard, just to spite Maurice, Tessa is surprised to find herself enjoying the work. The fates of Tessa and the yard, Sparrows Wyck, become inevitably entwined on the arrival of Buffoon, an ugly, poor looking horse who Tessa is given the care of. She soon discovers that estranged drunk Duncan bred him out of the mare she loved as a child. From that moment forward she puts all of her energy and spirit, once spent on doing bad things, into Buffoon; believing, against everyone’s advice and better knowledge, that he will make a wonderful racehorse.

Tessa is a wonderful heroine, tough and complicated, believing things against all odds. You love her even more when loving Buffoon humanizes her, this love cleverly weighting the horse down with massive human significance. And so, of course, lots of terrible things happen along the way and if you’re a baby like me you might cry. But you just have to sit out the sad bits because the ending is wonderful…

A Picture Portrait

Aintree: The crowd, the build up, the nerves. Grand National day, and the mixture of emotions it inspires, stands as an amplified version for every day spent by Tessa at the races. Peyton demonstrates what it is to be behind the scenes, one of the lads or lasses who care for the horses racing. Their fear, made worse by their inability to help their horse once the tapes have gone up; their frustration, caused by some owners who know nothing about their animal but imagine it instead as some sort of robot which is worthless unless winning every single race. And, ultimately, their love for the game; a love tied resolutely to fear, which ensures that, despite the odd bad, terrible, even horrific day, they remain hooked- addicted- to their sport.

Soon, Tessa herself is race riding, the reader experiencing a rush of conflicting emotions; fear, adrenalin, excitement, exhaustion and determination.

Favourite Review…

Well, to be honest, I couldn’t really find a ‘favourite’. This one will just have to do…!

Criticism

If you don’t like horses or racing then it’s probs not the book for you. Also, if you like lots of boy lovin’ then the romantic story line might annoy you. It feels a little bit tacked on, because, after all, horse love rules this story.

Love,

Zoe

5/5 Stars

It is a very sad fact, but the truth is, my massive geek-freak obsession with K. M. Peyton stems from the fact that she writes about horses/ponies/racing. Now, you must understand that this line of literature is very limited; oh yes, there are a billion trillion betting themed thrillers where men with guns chase trainers and jockeys, trying to sneak information/money from them. And then, on the opposite scale, there are thousands of stories about little Hannah and her fat pony Ginger who waddle around being annoying and well-behaved. So you must forgive my Peyton love, for she is one very rare author; she understands horses and normal people, and writes wonderful stories that flow so naturally without having that ‘try hard’ edge to them which so many authors struggle to shake off. When you read her, you are unaware of style, or even words. It all just floats off the page and grabs you. I’m sure that I could read any one of her books in a sitting without even noticing.

I’m probably a bit too old for some of her books now (most of her novels are aimed at 13/14 + teens), but I fancied some good old-fashioned nostalgia so went for a Peyton spree on Amazon. The first I’m going to review is one I have never read before, and, there’s no need to panic… there isn’t a hoof or tail in sight.

Quick Overview

The novel begins with a brief note from the author which explains how, although authors constantly write about times/places/situations they have never actually experienced, they often fail to cast their own experiences into words:

‘…it occurred to me what an awful waste of material not to write a book set in a very special period with which I am perfectly familiar. So, after all this time, for better or for worse, here it is.’

Hence, the novel is set in the Second World War and concerns Josie, a pretty sixteen year old who is evacuated out of London to live with her Aunt in the country. Of course, the country turns out to be anything but boring, Josie falling in love with kind and loving Jumbo, who cannot join the RAF as he dreams because of a motor cycling accident which has left him with just one leg.

It is all very obvious, from the outset of Jumbo and Josie, that brother Chris, working away as a RAF fighter pilot when they first meet, will be the nail in the coffin of their budding relationship. We know before he enters the scene how handsome he is, how all the girls ‘fall from the trees’ for him. And soon, of course, Chris comes home and Josie is enveloped in an impossible, heartbreaking romance, with a man whose life is no longer his own. Whose days are numbered by the terrifying play performed recklessly, daily, in the sky above.

Whilst this side of the story felt familiar and predictable, Peyton saves the tale from flat-lining with her ending, which is surprising; surprising in many respects because it leaves you cheered (you will have to read it to see what I mean. You, after all, might not be cheered at all. It’s that sort of clever, multi-dimensional ending.)

The title is a wonderful one, easily summarising the theme of love, happiness, and youthfulness; emotions amplified by the backdrop of war. A war which demands passionate relationships, because, after all, there is no time to wait around. No time to sit and wait for the ‘one’. Soul mates are frequently found, the desperation of living life on a thread encouraging belief.

The title also reminds me of a beautiful section where Chris, flying his plane out to battle in the early morning sun reflects on the laughable game of war. The blue sky, the sun rising; men killing one another whilst the world turns; always indifferent to their bizarre charade.

It is a beautiful and wonderful story that will make you hate the little brats on Facebook who moan about girlfriends/ boyfriends/ their lives etc. It made me want to send them all to war, and that’s never a nice thing to do, after all.

A Picture Portrait

Josie, Jumbo and Chris’s lake: the backdrop for Chris and Jumbo’s blissful childhood later, ironically, becomes the place they will both meet Josie, whose presence eventually tears the brothers apart. It also stands as a symbol for the perfect English idyll, something worth fighting for in the great war.

Spitfire and Hurricane: described often throughout the novel as dragonflies (a lovely piece of imagery which clashes beautiful with the mechanical nature of the machine), the fragility and relative new-ness of aeroplanes and flying made the battle of the skies all the more alien and terrifying.

My Favourite Review…

Is written by Val Randall for Books for Keeps, an online children’s book magazine. The whole review can be found here: http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/162/childrens-books/reviews/blue-skies-and-gunfire.

‘As all three characters struggle with the strength of their feelings and the wounds of betrayal and loss, Peyton conveys with frantic clarity the hothouse of emotion generated by the immediacy of war. When both soldiers and civilians alike are on a taut wire stretched thinly between life and death, the rules of emotional engagement are, of necessity, distorted. The dichotomy within the title perfectly represents the tensions of this novel – a disturbing but richly evocative narrative which illustrates the human cost of war.’

Criticism

If it wasn’t for the fact that I have already moved onto my next Peyton novel, I probably would have nothing to moan about. Sadly, though, I have, and my fault lies with the character of Josie. She just isn’t given quite enough time to develop fully, is slightly one-dimensional and puppet-like. For instance, as the novel opens she is shown as a tough young girl, standing up to her mother and arguing. Later, however, none of this feisty nature appears to exist, she is just a tool lost between the two brothers. It is only in comparison to Tessa, heroine of my current read, that this fault came to light….forgive me K.M, I’m still your biggest fan!

Love,

Zoe

3.5/5 Stars