#BookReview The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Simon Mawer @WFHowes

The Girl Who Fell From The SkyAbout the Book

Marian Sutro is an outsider: the daughter of a diplomat, half French, half British, naive yet too clever for her own good. But when she is recruited from her desk job by SOE to go undercover in wartime France, it seems her hybrid status – and fluent French – will be of service to a greater, more dangerous cause.

Trained in sabotage, dead-drops, how to perform under interrogation and how to kill, Marian parachutes into south-west France, her official mission to act as a Resistance courier. But her real destination is Paris, where she must seek out family friend Clement Pelletier, once the focus of her adolescent desires. A nuclear physicist engaged in the race for a new and terrifying weapon, he is of urgent significance to her superiors. As she struggles through the strange, lethal landscape of the Occupation towards this reunion, what completes her training is the understanding that war changes everything, and neither love nor fatherland may be trusted.

Format: Audiobook (11h 33m)   Publisher: W.F. Howes
Publication date: 1st May 2012 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky was on the longlist for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2013 and the follow-up, Tightrope, which continues Marian’s story and which I read in 2018 (I know, wrong order) won The Walter Scott Prize in 2016. I listened to the audiobook version superbly narrated by Anna Bentinck. Although I’m no expert, her French pronunciation sounded pretty flawless to me.

The book opens in dramatic style with Marian becoming literally the girl who fell from the sky. Thereafter the reader is taken back in time to Marian’s initial recruitment to a very shadowy organization whose name is not shared even with recruits. Along with others, Marion undergoes a rigorous training programme, the details of which I found absolutely fascinating. The training includes the tradecraft required for an agent going undercover in enemy territory, in this case occupied France.

Once in France, Marian adopts a series of cover names and, through her eyes, we witness the constant fear of putting a foot wrong, of having your cover blown as a result of the smallest error or betrayal by another, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The events described in the book vividly illustrate the courage of those who were part of the Resistance, risking their lives every day. The tension never lets up and I found the whole story absolutely gripping.

In three words: Compelling, action-packed, exciting

Try something similar: City of Spies by Mara Timon

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Simon MawerAbout the Author

Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England, and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus and in Malta. He then moved to Italy, where he and his family lived for more than thirty years, and taught at the British International School in Rome. He and his wife currently live in Hastings. Simon Mawer is the author of several novels including the Man Booker shortlisted The Glass Room, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky and Tightrope. (Photo/bio credit: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview This Lovely City by Louise Hare @HarperCollinsUK

This Lovely CityAbout the Book

London, 1950. With the war over and London still rebuilding, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for labour. Arriving from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush, he’s rented a tiny room in south London and fallen in love with the girl next door.

Playing in Soho’s jazz clubs by night and pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until one morning, while crossing a misty common, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame point at those who were recently welcomed with open arms. And before long, London’s newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy that threatens to tear the city apart.

Immersive, poignant, and utterly compelling, Louise Hare’s debut examines the complexities of love and belonging, and teaches us that even in the face of anger and fear, there is always hope.

Format: Audiobook (10h 46m)            Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 12th February 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I listened to the audiobook version expertly narrated by Theo Solomon and Karise Yansen, both really capturing the Jamaican patois. The book alternates between 1948 and Lawrie’s arrival in England aboard the Empire Windrush from Jamaica, and 1950 which finds him working as a postman.

It becomes clear from the sections set in 1948 that he found a very different welcome from the one he expected. He and his fellow passengers are greeted not with open arms but placed in a cramped shelter and faced with overt racism as they seek employment. Only Rose, a volunteer at the shelter, offers any sign of friendship, but she has motives of her own. Then Lawrie meets Evie and their romance soon blossoms, although as the reader learns, Evie has secrets of her own. Anxious to raise sufficient money to marry Evie, he earns extra by transporting black market goods for his landlady’s son, Daniel Ryan plus occasional gigs playing clarinet in a jazz band.

I thought Lawrie was a wonderful character. He’s sincere, polite and his tenderness towards Evie is touching. The way he is treated by the police when he comes under suspicion for involvement in a crime is shocking.

The atmosphere of post-war bomb-damaged London is brilliantly evoked. With rationing still in place think spam fritters, fish paste sandwiches or, for a treat, egg and chips in a local cafe.

Part mystery, part love story, This Lovely City demonstrates London was anything but a lovely city for many black people.  The book is a revealing insight into the stigma of illegitimacy and the prejudice faced by people of colour, in particular by the Windrush generation; sadly they have faced other injustices in recent years. The audiobook version provides a bonus final chapter that will get you tapping your feet.

In three words: Immersive, compelling, emotional

Try something similar: The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

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Louise HareAbout the Author

Louise Hare is a London-based writer and has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. Originally from Warrington, the capital is the inspiration for much of her work, including This Lovely City, which began life after a trip into the deep level shelter below Clapham Common. (Photo/bio credit: Goodreads author page)

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