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World War One

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

*This review is of the picture book illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole*

Michael Morpurgo’s book about the friendship between a boy and his horse has become a modern classic and with this new illustrated version for younger readers, he is destined to get a whole new audience.

When Albert’s horse, Joey, is sold to the army at the start of World War One, Albert joins up as a private, determined to seek out his friend amongst the thousands of other horses on the battlefields of Europe. As the conflict progresses, both boy and horse witness the horrors of war, never giving up hope that one day they will be reunited.

This book has been adapted by Michael Morpurgo from his original novel, the key events from the story being given in a way that makes it very approachable for young readers. It is hard not to be moved by the story as you see the bond between Albert and Joey and Albert’s determination to find his friend once again. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measures, this is a powerful tale of friendship and determination that will appeal to all readers.

The illustrations by Tom Clohosy Cole are out of this world, helping to enhance the child’s understanding by providing clear images of life on the battlefront. One illustration in particular made the book for me, that is the depiction of no man’s land. There is so much detail, from the fearful expressions on the soldiers’ faces, the desolation of the battlefields and the distant explosions and fires.

This adaptation of War Horse is a fantastic introduction to Morpurgo’s work for younger readers but it also has so much to offer for all ages. It is worth purchasing for the illustrations alone.

Family Ties by Nicholas Rhea

Detective Superintendent Mark Pemberton is a workaholic. Ever since the death of his wife, he has taken solace in his police work and hasn’t taken a break in six months. Concerned for his well-being, his superiors assign him with a case that, on the surface, seems a bit more laid back – providing security for the US Vice-President Hartley on his visit to the UK. Hartley is going to Yorkshire to do some research into his family history so, before his arrival, Pemberton engages in some sleuthing of his own. Unearthing the death of Private James Hartley in 1916, found with a bullet in his brain, Pemberton is determined to solve this long-forgotten mystery. What repercussions will this have for Vice-President Hartley?

It is rare to read a police procedural where the crime being investigated is a cold case dating back such a long time and it was this that first drew me to the book. It is worth mentioning that, although this is its first outing as an ebook, Family Ties was originally published in 1994 and the research methods used by the police are very much of the time. If this plot was being written now, it probably could have been solved in a few pages with the use of the internet! Being a genealogist, I actually found the reliance on church and newspaper records and other forms of primary evidence quite fascinating.

Mark is definitely an old-school detective who, once he gets his teeth stuck into something, does not give up. Working through the notes of the officer on the original case, he manages to find a few holes in the investigation and uses the resources available to him to solve an age-old crime. Although this is not a book full of twists and turns, there was a clever twist at the end which changed the crime completely. Several clues had been given throughout the book but I was genuinely surprised when it happened!

Family Ties is a cosy mystery that would make a great quick read for anyone not wanting anything too heavy. I will definitely be seeking out other books in the Mark Pemberton series.

With thanks to Agora Books and Net Galley for my ARC.

 

The Silent Christmas by M J Lee

With Christmas fast approaching, genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, only has a few days to uncover the secrets of her latest case. Her client, David Wright, has asked her to research the history of some objects he has recently found in his attic, objects that appear, on face value, to be worthless. Just why, then, has a label, a silver button and a lump of old leather been kept for all these years? By the end of the book, all will be revealed…

The Silent Christmas is the fifth of the Jayne Sinclair mysteries but this novella can be read as a standalone. With the approach of the centenary of World War One, this is a very timely read and one that will bring to life one of the most famous occurrences from the 1914-18 conflict.

Jayne Sinclair is a great character and I like how she uses real-life methods and websites to aid her research. I also enjoy when her past career, that of a police officer, rears its head, in this case when she meets an old ‘associate’ who can help her to identify the items. This character always makes me smile when he makes an appearance!

M J Lee has managed to merge fact with fiction to the point where it is hard to see where the two meet. It is obvious that the author has done a lot of research into the subject and, as a result, has written a fascinating, easy-to-read book. The ending sets up another plot nicely, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long before we see Jayne researching this part of her life.

The Somme Legacy by M J Lee

51vc6ddce-lWhen genealogist Jayne Sinclair is tasked with finding details of a 1916 marriage, she takes on what should be an easy case. The only problem is there appears to be no documentation to support the fact that a marriage ever took place, with the recollections of the bride, a long-term resident at an asylum, being the only ‘evidence’. Could lowly shop girl, Rose Clarke, really be the bride of army officer David Russell, heir to the Lappiter estate? With only a few days until the estate passes to the Crown, Jayne has to solve a hundred-year-old mystery that has destroyed the lives of many.

The Somme Legacy, the second of M J Lee’s books to feature genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, was one of my most eagerly anticipated books of 2017, and I’m delighted to say that it lived up to my expectations. The follow-up to The Irish Inheritance is told in two time-frames so we get to see the events as they were unfolding in 1916 and also Jayne’s investigation one hundred years later. Like the previous book, I was pleased with how the research was carried out, showing that researching your family history is not just a case of logging onto a website! Jayne’s determination to find documents that might not even exist adds an air of authenticity to this work of fiction.

The plot is an extremely emotive one, dealing with one of the great horrors of British history – the Battle of the Somme. As someone who lost a family member in this battle, I found the description of the trenches particularly harrowing and felt that the author created an accurate representation of the atrocities experienced by the soldiers. Similarly, Rose’s involvement in the Suffragette movement provided another fascinating aspect to the plot, showing the inhumane way these brave women were treated. The reason behind Rose’s incarceration in an asylum is not revealed straight away, but when it is, it really pulls on the heart strings and makes you despair of the cruelty of some people.

In The Somme Legacy, M J Lee has succeeded in creating a heart-warming love story with more than an air of sadness and intrigue. The main characters are extremely likeable and, I particularly enjoyed the relationship Jayne shares with her father who is suffering from the beginnings of dementia.

For any fans of genealogical fiction, this book is a must read and I hope that a third book is in the pipeline!

The Irish Inheritance by M J Lee

Genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, is contacted by an American billionaire who is seeking help in order to trace his father. Adopted at a young age, and with no recollection of his early life, John Hughes is desperate to discover his true identity before he succumbs to the illness that threatens to end his life in the following months. With few clues to help her, the former police detective has to use all of her investigative skills in order to make connections to Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916 and the later death of a British Officer on a hillside near Dublin.

Genealogical fiction has, in recent years, become a fast-growing genre with authors such as Steve Robinson, Nathan Dylan Goodwin and John Nixon leading the way. M J Lee has shown that there is now another author to add to the list. In Jayne Sinclair we have a solid lead character whose doggedness is evident throughout the book whether it be in her professional life or in the strained relationship with her husband. We also, however, get to see her softer side when she is with her father. The interaction between these two characters is, at times, touching as both of them try to come to terms with his early dementia.

The story is told in two timeframes: present-day Manchester and Ireland during the First World War and ensuing years. Writing about an issue as controversial as British rule in Ireland was always going to be a difficult task but the author deals with it in a sensitive and informative way, showing the events from the perspectives of those on different sides of the argument.

Something that authors of genealogical fiction occasionally get wrong is the methods used by their characters to research – this is not the case here. The steps Jayne uses are logical, using the Internet, record offices and interviews in order to discover the true parentage of John Hughes.

On the strength of this book, it is safe to say that the Jane Sinclair series promises to be a welcome addition to the growing genre of genealogical fiction.

The Irish Inheritance is available to pre-order on Amazon prior to its release on June 15th.

Thank you to the author for providing me with an ARC.

 

 

 

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