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COMING OF AGE BEAUTY & TRAUMA
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel (published by W&N, priced £8.99)
Betty is a beautiful and harrowing retelling of the childhood of the author’s mother. Born in a bath in 1954 as one of eight children to a white mother and a Cherokee father, Betty’s upbringing is far from conventional and the loss, trauma and emotional responsibility she has to bear is way too much for a full life let alone the first 18 years of a child’s.
All is not darkness though, and light, hope and (as her father, Landon, would likely say) enrichment for her soul is bountifully offered by her lovely father himself, a shining gem in this book that is filled with lots of sadness. This book is really hard to read at times but is filled with beautiful writing about a family – in many ways the story resonates with its descriptions of their magical life and the otherworldliness of their existence but it is grounded and rooted nonetheless by many hardships, not least the harsh realities of real life for Betty as a mixed-race girl growing up in America. A brilliant book…but be prepared for some tough reading.
Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre (published by Penguin, priced £8.99)
Agent Sonya is the latest of Ben Macintyre’s acclaimed histories of espionage in the second world war and cold war, and it has a good claim to be one of his best. Telling the story of Ursula Kuczynski who became, as Agent Sonya, one of the most decorated and influential Soviet spies, the story goes from Weimar-era Berlin – where Ursula was born to a Jewish family – to China, wartime Switzerland, rural Oxfordshire before finishing in East Berlin where Kuczynski lived out her dotage as a decorated agent of the revolution and prolific children’s author (described as East Germany’s Enid Blyton). As with all his books, Macintyre paints a particular vivid picture of his protagonist – including the tension she felt between raising her three children and her commitment to the Communist cause – and utilises recently released Stasi and MI5 archive material to document an extraordinary life and the times in which she lived.
The Legend of Podkin OneEar by Kieran Larwood (published by Faber & Faber, priced £6.99)
Podkin, his older sister, Paz, and younger brother, Pook, live an idyllic life in their warren as the children of the rabbit warrior chief.
For Podkin, the responsibility of being in charge one day feels very far away… until the Gorm, a terrifying band of evil rabbits, attack and Podkin’s father is killed defending their warren. Podkin, Paz and Pook escape but the Gorm are in hot pursuit, tracking Podkin and his famed dagger that can cut anything other than iron.
Narrated by a travelling bard on Bramblemass Eve to a group of captivated young rabbits, the impetus and drama of the action-packed story is heightened by their demands for more information as both they, and we as readers, are hooked to see if the Gorm are defeated and exactly what happened to Podkin’s ear. Pitched for readers aged 9-11ish.