Nonfiction November Week 2: Book Pairings – Tapestry of War and The Desert War

For Week 2 of Nonfiction November, the topic is as follows:

(Nov. 5 to 9, hosted by Sarah’s Bookshelves) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing – This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I’ve recently read two books that fit this week’s topic perfectly…

Fiction: Tapestry of War by Jane MacKenzie

Tapestry of War follows the very different experiences of two young women during World War II. In Egypt, we meet Fran Trevillian, a journalist working for the Alexandria Journal, reporting on the issues that are important to the diverse communities that have made the city their home. As Rommel’s forces draw closer to Alexandria, Fran falls in love with Jim MacNeill, a Scottish radar specialist. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Jim’s sister Catriona has finished training to be a nurse and is hoping to use her new skills to provide therapy for injured soldiers who have been sent home from the war. On the Isle of Islay, where she lives with her father, however, nursing opportunities seem limited and Catriona longs to move away to somewhere where she feels her work can really make a difference.

Although there is occasionally some drama in the stories of our two main characters and their friends, this is a very character driven novel. Both women change and grow as people as a result of the work they carry out during the war and the new relationships they develop. I enjoyed each storyline equally, drawn more to Fran’s at the beginning because it was set closer to the action, but appreciating Catriona’s more and more as the novel progressed. I became completely invested in the lives of each woman, sharing in their happiness as each finds love when they least expect it and in their sadness as the tragedy of war strikes again and again.

Most of my previous World War II reading has concentrated on the war in Europe, so my knowledge of what was happening in North Africa is more limited. I found that I was learning a lot from Tapestry of War, but I knew I needed to read some non-fiction to fill in the gaps…

Nonfiction: The Desert War by James Holland

This little book is part of the Ladybird Expert series, aimed at adult readers but published in the same format that those of us who loved Ladybird books as children will remember. Written in a clear and concise style, the left hand pages contain the text while on the right there’s a map, a photograph or an illustration.

Beginning in 1940, when the Italians, under Mussolini, entered the Second World War, James Holland takes us in chronological order through each stage of the war in North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It’s all very factual and straight to the point, with none of the author’s own personality coming through, but in a book with only 50 pages (half of them pictures) and a lot of information to cover, that’s understandable. Battles and raids are described briefly, concentrating on the outcome and any notable tactics or weapons that were used.

The Desert War is a perfect introduction to the subject and can easily be read in less than an hour. If, when you’ve finished it, you want to explore things in more detail, some recommendations for further reading are given, although there are no references or sources provided. I didn’t mind this as all I wanted from this book was a chance to learn some basic facts and to get the timeline of events straight in my mind – it’s obviously not intended to be a comprehensive, in-depth read. Looking at the other titles in the Ladybird Experts series, I see there are several more by James Holland covering different aspects of the war, as well as books by other authors on topics as diverse as witchcraft, genetics and Beowulf.

Thanks to Allison & Busby for providing a review copy of Tapestry of War and to Penguin Random House for a review copy of The Desert War.

Do you like to read fiction and non-fiction on the same subject? Can you think of any pairs of books that go well together?

16 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 2: Book Pairings – Tapestry of War and The Desert War

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed this week’s topic. It was easy for me to think of a pairing as I had just finished reading two books that matched perfectly, but there were lots of other possibilities I could have chosen.

  1. Margaret says:

    Those Ladybird Expert books sound ideal for learning about the basic facts. I’m going to see if there is one about World War 1. And Tapestry of War sounds like my sort of book about war – one about people rather than military history, which I find rather dry.

    • Helen says:

      I would like to read more of the Ladybird Expert books – they’re perfect if you just want to get a quick overview of a subject. I usually find military history dry too, but Tapestry of War concentrates on the people and is a great read.

  2. Carmen says:

    Great pairing, Helen. They combine well. The nonfiction book is not demanding for the reader in terms of page count but it gives enough information to fill in some gaps, and, if one is willing to keep reading along the lines, is a good starting point.

    • Helen says:

      The Ladybird Expert book probably wouldn’t be very satisfying for someone who already knew a lot about the subject, but for me it was perfect. I would be interested in trying some of the others in the series.

  3. buriedinprint says:

    I’ve heard about the parody Ladybird books, but I didn’t know there were revitalized “real” Ladybirds back in print: how fun! (The only one I still have from childhood is a short biography of Charles Dickens, still surprising useful!)

    • Helen says:

      The parody Ladybirds don’t appeal to me, but I think this new adult non-fiction series is a great idea. I enjoyed this one and would be interested in reading another on a different subject.

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