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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 337 by M Jonathan Lee (@MJonathanLee) A ‘total’ reading experience #literaryfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 by M Jonathan Lee

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

https://www.amazon.es/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.com/337-M-Jonathan-Lee-ebook/dp/B08HQYXLKP/

Author M. Jonathan Lee

 About the author:

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner.

His first novel The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel.

He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_Jonathan_Lee

Here you can find an interview with the author:

https://www.hideawayfall.com/meet-our-authors/

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

My review:

I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”.  Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.

This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…

This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.

The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.

A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):

Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.

When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.

It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.

And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:

We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.

The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.

This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BESIDE THE SEASIDE: A HISTORY OF YORKSHIRE’S SEASIDE RESORTS by John Heywood (@penswordbooks). Beautiful and informative #non-fiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I could not resist reading at this point when most of us are (or have been) stuck indoors.

Beside the Seaside by John Heywood

Beside the Seaside: A History of Yorkshire’s Seaside Resorts by John Heywood

Almost all of us have happy memories of excursions and holidays spent beside the sea. For many, these will have included the Yorkshire coast which runs unbroken for more than one hundred miles between the two great rivers, the Tees and the Humber. Within those boundaries are the popular seaside resorts of Whitby, Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington as well as numerous smaller and quieter but equally well-loved destinations. How did the love affair with the area start and how did it develop? Over the years, all the ingredients for the perfect holiday are there – the spas, the sea and sun bathing, board and lodgings, entertainment and just as importantly, the journeys there and back. Beside the Seaside takes a detailed but entertaining look back at the history of these resorts over the last four hundred years and asks, what does the future hold? Packed with information, this book is fully illustrated with photographs, old and new, together with paintings and etchings. Coupled with the thoughts and memories of tourists and travelers from the 17th century through to the present time, it gives a fascinating insight into how our ancestors would have spent their time at the coast. Evocative and intriguing, absorbing and surprising, John Heywood’s book will appeal both to those familiar with the area and to others who just enjoy being Beside the Seaside.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Beside-the-Seaside-Paperback/p/14321

https://www.amazon.com/Beside-Seaside-History-Yorkshires-Resorts-ebook/dp/B07928QP45/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beside-Seaside-History-Yorkshires-Resorts-ebook/dp/B07928QP45/

https://www.amazon.es/Beside-Seaside-History-Yorkshires-Resorts-ebook/dp/B07928QP45/

About the author:

I am an experienced professional family and local historian living in West Yorkshire. History has been my passion for over forty years. I blame my parents for taking me to every abbey, castle and historic house they could find. I am so glad they did though. My first book Silent Witnesses told the story of those men from the village of Horbury near Wakefield in Yorkshire who paid the ultimate price during the Great War. My latest book Beside the Seaside – A History of Yorkshire’s Seaside Resorts was a great labour of love to research and write. Both my wife and I take great pleasure in being by the sea.

I am currently working on my second book for Pen and Sword due for publication in Spring 2019. I am a contributor to several magazines and have recently collaborated with Wakefield Cathedral on a World War One project.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Heywood/e/B07C3S7ZXK/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This gorgeous non-fiction book offers readers a history of Yorkshire’s seaside resorts. I lived in South Yorkshire for quite a few years, and I had a chance to visit some of the resorts mentioned in the book (Scarborough and Whitby more than the rest), but I didn’t know much about their history or how they had evolved over the years. I had no idea that many of these resorts had had piers, for instance (it’s difficult to survive as a pier on the Yorkshire coast, as I’ve learned by reading this book), or the fact that many of them had started life as spas (people were going to take the waters in Scarborough as far back as the early XVII century).

Heywood has done a great job researching the topic, and although he tackles the subject chronologically (we go from the very early mentions of the resorts by visitors to our era), he divides it up in chapters centred on different topics that can be consulted independently as well, like those on boarding and lodging, bathing fashion, the journey (the train helped the expansion of the tourism enormously, as it did with so many other activities), excursions, entertainment, and a dip in the sea, where the bathing machines make an appearance. I’ve always been fascinated by bathing machines, and I couldn’t help but think they would be a fantastic way of ensuring social distance was maintained while bathing, in the post-COVID-19 era). There is plenty of information about what happened in these towns during both World Wars, and how they pulled through the difficulties and changes over the years, as well as plenty of details on the different venues, buildings, gardens, facilities, performers, attractions…  This book works both, as a reference for people interested in any of these topics and also as an engaging non-fiction piece of historical and social British seaside history.

The book includes some fantastic illustrations, pictures, and advertisements of the era, which are a joy to see and help us better understand how visiting all these resorts in the past must have felt like. There is also a bibliography for those who might want to read more on the subject, and an index in case you’re looking for specific information.  Readers who love curiosities and social history will have a field day with this book. And if you’ve always wondered how the British love with the seaside towns and the seaside resorts came to be, this book offers you many clues.

I recommend this book to students and fans of social history, to those who love to read about Britain, its culture, and its towns and cities, to people who love Yorkshire, its coast and seaside towns, to historical authors thinking of setting their stories in these locations or eras, and to anybody who loves to take a stroll beside the seaside. I enjoyed the opportunity to be out and about, especially now, and I hope to be able to visit the area again in the future, armed with plenty of useful knowledge and a new perspective.

Ah, and I couldn’t help but share this.

Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe and keep smiling. 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview LITERARY TRAILS: HAWORTH AND THE BRONTËS by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner (@penswordbooks). A wonderful gift for lovers of the #Brontës, walking and history

Hi all:

I bring you another great book from Pen & Sword, one recommended in particular to lovers of the Brontës and walking.

Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner.
Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner

Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner

This lighthearted but deeply researched book offers interest and guidance to walkers, social historians and lovers of the Bronte family, their lives and works.

Set in and around the town of Haworth it gives a dual introduction to walkers and lovers of literature who can explore this unique area of Yorkshire and walk in the footsteps of those who knew and loved this town and its moorlands two hundred years ago.

With guided tours around special buildings as well as outdoor walks and the history of people and places who lived and worked in Haworth over centuries, it offers an insight into life and death in the melee of the Industrial Revolution.

Its joint authors have combined their lifelong interests in Victorian literature and social history with writing, walking, photography and cartography and have included quotes from Bronte poetry and novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Literary-Trails-Haworth-David-Walford/dp/152672085X/

https://www.amazon.com/Literary-Trails-Haworth-David-Walford-ebook/dp/B07RL27PGS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Literary-Trails-Haworth-David-Walford-ebook/dp/B07RL27PGS/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Literary-Trails-Haworth-and-the-Bronts-Paperback/p/15341

About the authors:

About Catherine Rayner

Catherine Rayner is a Life Member of The Bronte Society, a Trustee on the Council of the Bronte Society and the Chair of its Conference and Publications Committee. She studied at Hull and Leeds Universities and has degrees in English and Philosophy with Social History, Health and Social Care, and an MA in Victorian Literature. She has studied and researched the lives of the Bronte family for over forty years, and has previously written two theses on Emily Bronte, as well as various articles. Alongside this, she is a qualified nurse and has studied the effects of childhood on the development and psychology of adults.

About David F Walford

David F Walford has a fascination with the great Victorian engineers, along with his passion for walking, mountaineering and photography. He has written several books about walking in Yorkshire, including a wealth of information on the development of the railways. As a qualified draughtsman, he includes detailed maps of every route to enhance each walk around Haworth.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I love walking. Perhaps because I was a clumsy child (and I can’t say I’m the most graceful of adults, either), overweight, and lacking a good sense of balance, many sports didn’t like me (it was mutual!), but walking I could do, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity it gives us to contemplate life at a slow pace and to discover things, people, and places that might pass us by if we use other means of transport.

I love the Brontës as well. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre have long been among my favourite novels (I must read some of Anne’s novels in English, I know), and I’ve lived and worked in Yorkshire, quite close to the area where they lived for lengthy periods, and loved the landscape as well. So, of course I had to have this book.

Wherever I visit, if I can fit in, I try to join a literary walk. It’s a great way to combine two of my favourite activities: reading and walking. (I also listen to audiobook while going for walks sometimes). If the guide is skilled and knowledgeable, you can learn fascinating information about the city or area, about the author or authors, and feel as if you were going back in time and experiencing what the place might have been like when the author lived there. This book offers us the same kind of experience. Although it is written as a companion for people planning a visit to Haworth and its vicinity, it is so packed with information, photographs, maps, literary references, and advice, that it will be indispensable to anybody who wants to learn more about the sisters and submerge herself or himself in the landscape the authors loved so much.

The book is divided into 20 chapters, it contains 19 walks of varied difficulty (some are short walks within the town of Haworth itself, and the first one, in fact, is a walk around the Parsonage where the Brontës lived, now a museum), and a few introductory chapters. There is the introduction proper, explaining the reasons behind the writing of the book, chapter 2 talks about West Yorkshire and the Haworth area, chapter 3 offers a guide to safe and responsible walking, chapter 4 summarises the history of the Brontë family and chapter 5 talks specifically about the Brontës in Haworth and what happened to them there. Then follow the chapters about the walks (some containing one walk in detail, while some of the later ones, which are longer and stray farther away from Haworth, sometimes include a couple of walks that might be combined, always offering options to reduce their length. There are even some that include the option of jumping on a train). The final chapter talks about the art of walking and what effects it had (positive and negative) on the Brontës. There is also a bibliography that will be of interest to anybody keen on increasing their knowledge on the sisters.

All the chapters are structured in a similar way, first offering a narrative, a fact file of the walk (including the Ordnance Survey Map, general information as to the terrain, level of difficulty, length, likely duration, facilities, and also any relevant warnings), followed by maps or graphics (depending on the topic), and then a collection of photographs, all in black and white, which can aid people going for the walks to find their location easily, but will help readers imagine what the place is like as well. (I must confess I would have liked to see colour photographs, but I can see how the black & white pictures recreate the nostalgic air of the area and help us imagine the old times, as they combine more seamlessly with the archival old photographs. It is also true that the moors change colours so dramatically with the seasons that it would be difficult to give readers an accurate idea of what the place is like in different times of the year).

What did I enjoy the most? Having visited Haworth, the surrounding area, the Parsonage, and having walked around (in town, but also some of the longer walks that include landscapes and buildings said to have inspired the sisters’ writing), I enjoyed the pictures, which reminded me of many familiar places and others that had passed me by (I must visit Thornton, where the family lived before they moved to Haworth, if I can). I also enjoyed the titbits of information about buildings, how those had changed over time, and how the authors managed to make readers imagine what the sisters and their family would have experienced and seen at the time, including also poems, and references to their work.

These are the moors above and beyond Haworth spreading for miles to the west and containing old farmsteads and ruined houses dating back to the Elizabethan era and where people have lived and worked for centuries. They can be covered in swirling mist or blazing sunshine, snow and piercing gales, or have an eerie calm. They can be loud with the cries of animals and birds or silent as a tomb in their deep holes and clefts. They are harsh and they are beautiful. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 5).

While most of the book centres on the beauty and the wonders one can see and experience when visiting the place, the authors excel also at explaining what the living conditions were like at the time. Although today Haworth might feel quaint, charming, and romantic (yes, it is all that and lovely to visit, believe me), this is quite different to what it had been like at the time, when the living conditions were quite terrible, the industrial revolution was steamrolling everything, mills were popping up all around, filling the atmosphere with smoke and soot, transport was difficult, sanitation ranged from bad to inexistent… It is not surprising that the six Brontë children died young, as did their mother, and they were not the only ones.

“Through hard and dangerous work, squalid living conditions, polluted water supplies, poor sanitation and disease, the town of Haworth was killing its own community in the nineteenth century” (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 8).

The chapter of the walk around the graveyard attached to the Parsonage, chapter 8, reads at times like a gothic horror novel, with graves piled up 10 to 12 high, and rainwater running from the moors down the graveyard filtering into the drinking water, and likely being the cause of cholera, typhoid fever, and some of the other illnesses common at the time. (Life expectancy was 25 at the time). On the other hand, this same chapter also includes information on the symbolism of the carvings on the graves (for instance, a Celtic cross would mean eternity, and an angel with open wings, the flight of the soul to Heaven).

One of my favourite chapters (and yes, if I go back to the area I’ll be sure to take the book and follow as many of the walks as I can) is the last one, on the art of walking. It is a fascinating reminder of a time when people mostly walked everywhere, and they didn’t have appropriate clothing or shoes in most cases (the authors remind us that the father of the Brontës never owned a horse, and tells us of a visit of Branwell [their brother] to Charlotte that would have meant a 65 km (40 miles) round trip, walking, in one day. If you didn’t have a lot of money, there weren’t many options then, and your health could suffer if the weather was bad. But nowadays, we are lucky, and walking is a healthy option with many benefits, for our bodies and minds.

In summary, this is a fantastic book for people planning a visit to Haworth and the surrounding area, but also for anybody who loves the Brontës and wants to learn more about their time and lives in a visual and tangible way. It will inspire readers to visit (even if it is only with their imagination) the landscapes and the streets the sister walked, and will help them understand better what makes their voices so haunting and distinct. This book is also a beautiful gift to walkers and historians who want to learn more about this time and area in an engaging and enjoyable way.

As the authors say:

It is important to remember the old ways and the people of the past and the efforts they made to improve and enhance society, so that in the 21st century people in this country, and many others, can live healthier, easier and more entertaining lives. There is still much evidence of the past remaining which can help modern society to recall and appreciate its heritage. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, pp. 273-4)

Thanks to Rosie Croft and the team, and to the authors of this wondeful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling and walking!

 

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#Book review BARNSLEY AT WAR 1939–45 (YOUR TOWNS & CITIES IN WORLD WAR TWO) by Mark Green (@penswordbooks). #WWII

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book from one of Pen & Sword collections that I think will interest many:

Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green.
Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green.

 

Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green. A wonderful chronicle for anybody interested in local history

The ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918 was supposed to be the conclusion of the ‘war to end all wars’.

Just twenty-one years after the armistice was signed, Barnsley, its borough and the world braced itself for a global conflict that history would eventually testify to be deadlier than the war that destroyed a generation of Barnsley men and boys.

After the Great War, the famous market town stumbled into a new era that promised social change, including universal suffrage, economic and political stability and establishments of new international organizations such as the League of Nations to steer the masses. In reality, the town suffered in poverty, endured pit disasters, countless industrial deaths all the while still lamenting its lost generation, mercilessly butchered on The Somme.

The book’s narrative explains in detail Barnsley’s transition from its interwar years, to the euphoria of victory in 1945, supported by a timeline of national events that helped shape the town. It steers away from the common two-dimensional viewpoints some people had on the Home Front and the endless reusing of the same themes – ‘the Great British spirit’, Churchillian greatness, D-Day, Dunkirk and VE day. Although one cannot dismiss those remarkable qualities the town developed during the war, it also explores controversial topics such as social impacts, the rise in juvenile delinquency, misplaced optimism, increase in crime and the acceptance of the status quo by some members of the ruling council.

Indeed, Barnsley rose to the challenge as it did years earlier, women once again revealed their rightful place in society as equals, miners smashed productivity records, men and women took up arms in anticipation of invasion.

The Second World War had arguably the same impacts on Barnsley as the Great War, further local names etched on the memorials as a timeless reminder of the men, women and children who died or gave their life for their town, county and country. Never to be forgotten.

https://www.amazon.com/Barnsley-1939-45-Towns-Cities-World-ebook/dp/B07RCHF2PL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Barnsley-1939-45-Towns-Cities-World-ebook/dp/B07RCHF2PL/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Barnsley-at-War-193945-Paperback/p/15712

About the author:

Mark’s interest in writing was sparked once he started writing articles for his town’s local history magazine, Barnsley Memories. He became fascinated by the sacrifice the local fishermen of Boston made for their town, and was eagerly driven on by the enthusiasm of local Boston people willing to help with his research into this remarkable place and into what the community endured.

His personal interests are cycling, reading, history tours, researching local history and enjoying time with his two children.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This volume is one in a series about different towns and cities during WWII in the UK, called Your Towns & Cities in World War Two (for those interested, Pen & Sword also publishes a similar series about towns and cities during WWI). I was particularly interested in Barnsley because I used to live in Penistone, a town within Barnsley Metropolitan Borough, and I spent a fair amount of time in Barnsley and the surrounding area, so I was curious as to how life must have been like at the time in the area (beyond the visual reminders, like monuments and parades). Each book is penned by a different expert, so the writing might differ, but if I were to judge by this one, anybody interested in researching in more detail what life was like during the war in a particular area of the UK would find plenty of useful material in this collection.

The book, which contains a detailed index and end notes that can serve as a bibliography, is peppered with photographs, maps, propaganda posters and advertisements, and images taken directly from newspapers which illustrate the text, from maps of the German bombers targets in the area (in Sheffield, a few miles South, they manufactured parts for the RAF planes, and it was therefore a target and suffered heavy bombing in 1940), posted silhouettes of the German planes and images of their uniforms, so the population could recognise them, pictures of the men and women who helped in the war effort (both home and abroad), the bomb shelters, a gas hood for babies (it looks right out of a sci-fi movie)…

The four chapters follow the war effort in Barnsley in chronological order, from the preparation period (detailing the ARP’s [ Air Raid Precaution] efforts to recruit people in the whole area, also talking in detail about the poor living and working conditions in some parts of the town, especially for those working at the local collieries [George Orwell visited and reported on what he saw], it also mentions those men from Barnsley who went to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War [Thank you], the building of air shelters and the reuse of some facilities for training and as shelters; to what became known as “the Phoney War”, because for eight months, after war had been declared, nothing much seemed to happen, although there were plenty of preparations and movements taking place (for some soldiers who had never travelled abroad it felt like a vacation, while at home they were practicing imposing blackout —there were several deaths and a large number of accidents as well until people got wise to the risks—, rationing, and an increase in manufacturing);  then when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France, we have more rationing, the first men start dying abroad including the first British soldier killed in France, Private William Roper, who although living in Dewsbury at the time of the war, was born and spent his childhood in Barnsley, the women joining more actively in the war effort, heavy rationing, children refugees arriving from some of the heavily bombed areas (there are letters and personal accounts included as well)… And finally, after the victory, we have the celebrations, of course.  The book does not shy away from talking about some of the less than edifying incidents, like crime and robberies taking place during the period, and hate incidents towards some of the allied troops visiting the area (including an incident in Penistone when an African-American soldier was assaulted outside a pub, although seemingly not by locals), and it is a fairly complete chronicle of all aspects of life in the area during WWII period.

As a small but representative sample of the book, I thought I’d share a fragment of a letter by Gunner William Barraclough, a Barnsley hero, summing up the British spirit of Dunkirk, which brought a smile to my face: ‘we had a hot time, but we’re not licked yet —not by a long chalk.’

I cannot sum up the whole book, but I am sure anybody from the region, or interested in researching the local history of that area, will find plenty of useful information about what was happening in the area, and also about what happened to the locals who were mobilised during the war. This would be a perfect present for relatives or friends who remember the era or are interested in it, and also for anybody wanting to become better acquainted with that period of UK history at a local level.

Thanks to Pen & Sword (Rosie Croft in particular) for the book, thanks to all you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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