Conkers and Grenades by Hilary Lee-Corbin

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Conkers and Grenades by Hilary Lee-Corbin

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Enjoyable WWI adventure involving secrets and spies. Lee-Corbin blends exciting action and mystery with a clear historical picture and some themes of class discrimination. A good read on several levels.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Matador
ISBN: 978-1788033510

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It's Bristol in 1916. Britain is halfway through the Great War and everyone is expected to put their shoulder to the wheel of the war effort. Mar and Appy might be boys, but they're no different. Both their fathers are away fighting and the two young boys are expected to help with household chores, look after younger siblings, earn a few extra pennies through casual jobs and concentrate on getting an education...

... so you'd think adding foiling a spy plot into the mix was an ask too far, wouldn't you? Not so! When Mar and 'Appy overhear a suspicious conversation by the tobacco warehouses on the side of the river, they find themselves caught up in a German plot to assassinate the King and Queen. Aided by the intelligence services and their cane-wielding headmaster, JJ Clibbens, the two boys set about doing their bit for their country. This will involve not just information-gathering and detective work, but considerable personal risk.

There is a lot to like in Conkers and Grenades. Firstly, it's a rip-roaring story of derring-do and children foiling a dastardly plot by adult baddies. There's some mystery to unfold - with clues and serial reveals as the book goes along. I liked it that readers don't have to get to the very last page before finding out what's happening. Spying in real life is a gradual uncovering of a big picture and this story does that well. It's a satisfying read. Mar is a great narrator of the story - he might be poor but he's an intelligent boy who is honest and loyal to boot. It's not hard to root for Mar and his pal 'Appy, whose real name is George and got his nickname in honour of his irrepressible cheerfulness.

But Lee-Corbin brings other qualities to bear. She gives a good general portrait of life during the Great War in Bristol, an important port city. Its busy highways and byways really do come to life. And it's not all pleasant. Poverty was more acute than it is today and the social order was more fixed. Mar and 'Appy are constantly pre-judged on their working class backgrounds and Lee-Corbin highlights how unjust this is, given their heroic contributions to the war effort. We also get a clear idea of how hard life was for the women left at home as their husbands fought abroad. They held down several jobs, coped with food shortages and lived in terror of illnesses such as diptheria. The great success of Conkers and Grenades is that none of this seems didactic. The background flows seamlessly into the narrative.

I really did enjoy Conkers and Grenades and it was nice to read it during poppy season, too. I think it will find an appreciative readership.

Recommended to all young fans of adventure fiction.

You can read more about Hilary Lee-Corbin here

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