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Going Back in Time

20 Oct

The last book I reviewed, The Mark of the Plague, was set in the mid 17th century. As a lover of historical fiction, it was a delight to read a book set in a time period that rarely appears in kid lit. Today’s book, The Passion of Dolssa,  by Julie Berry is set even further back in time.

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Publisher’s Summary: Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all.

Homo neanderthalensis

16 Sep

Neanderthals were a species of humans that went extinct. They co-existed with homo sapiens, made  tools,  kindled fire, and probably had a language. It seems like dry stuff, but Jeffrey Brown has brought homo neanderthalensis to life in his graphic novel Lucy and Andy Neanderthal.

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Publisher’s Summary: For fans of the New York Times bestselling Jedi Academy books comes a hilarious new graphic novel series about two young cave kids living 40,000 years ago.

The laugh-out-loud adventure features Lucy and her goofball brother Andy, as the duo take on a wandering baby sibling, bossy teens, cave paintings, and a mammoth hunt. But what will happen when they encounter a group of humans?

Humorous and entertaining, Jeffrey Brown’s signature comical touch enlivens the scientific and historical content, including a special paleontologist section that helps to dispel common Neanderthal myths.

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The book was really quite captivating. Brown has clearly done his research. The humorous story has bits of factual information dropped into the narrative just when I was wondering about some of the details.

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Curious readers who like a little humor with their facts will find this an enjoyable read.

J’ai fait mon métier

24 Jul

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There is a line in Pilote de Guerre, one of my favorite Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novels, in which the pilot, in describing his mission, says, “J’ai fait mon métier.” It means, simply, “I did my job.” It is a statement of fact that sees no particular glory or heroism in doing what needs to be done.

And this sense of simply doing one’s job, a job which to the rest of us seems rather heroic, pervades Alan Furst’s A Hero of France.

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This is an adult novel that tells the story of Mathieu, a  French Resistance leader, over  five months in 1941. His Gallic acceptance of doing what must be done is marvelously contrasted to the delight in things that seem ordinary: the smell of potatoes fried in beef fat, the taste of black-market cheese, the feel of a cashmere sweater. This is my first Furst novel, but I think it won;t be my last!

Publisher’s Summary: Paris. 1941. The City of Light is dark and silent at night. But in Paris and in the farmhouses, barns, and churches of the French countryside, small groups of ordinary men and women are determined to take down the occupying forces of Adolf Hitler. Mathieu, a leader of the French Resistance, leads one such cell, helping downed British airmen escape back to England.

Alan Furst’s suspenseful, fast-paced thriller captures this dangerous time as no one ever has before. He brings Paris and occupied France to life, along with courageous citizens who outmaneuver collaborators, informers, blackmailers, and spies, risking everything to fulfill perilous clandestine missions. Aiding Mathieu as part of his covert network are Lisette, a seventeen-year-old student and courier; Max de Lyon, an arms dealer turned nightclub owner; Chantal, a woman of class and confidence; Daniel, a Jewish teacher fueled by revenge; Joëlle, who falls in love with Mathieu; and Annemarie, a willful aristocrat with deep roots in France, and a desire to act.

As the German military police heighten surveillance, Mathieu and his team face a new threat, dispatched by the Reich to destroy them all.

Shot through with the author’s trademark fine writing, breathtaking suspense, and intense scenes of seduction and passion, Alan Furst’s A Hero of France is at once one of the finest novels written about the French Resistance and the most gripping novel yet by the living master of the spy thriller.

 

Bad-Ass Librarians

21 Jul

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This button has been pinned on my ALA Conference lanyard since I picked it up in Boston in January. I would have moved it to my school lanyard, except that it has the word ASS on it and that is certainly a middle school no-no.

When I first picked up the button, I didn’t realize it was meant to promote Joshua Hammer’s book  The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. 

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During the school year, the book came up in discussion with a former school library colleague who was on the verge of retirement (and whose retirement party I will attend tomorrow).

Well, I finally read the book. It is about the librarians who saved the thousands of Arabic manuscripts housed in and around Timbuktu, bit it also gives background to why the effort was necessary.

Publisher’s Summary: To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

Fiction/Nonfiction Pairing: The Great War

29 Apr

I’ve had the First World War on my mind since before the 100th anniversary of its start, almost two years ago. Quite a bit was done and written in the months just before August 2014, and there have been trickles since. This week, I’ve become enamored of a delightful pair of books that look at the Great War through a literary lens.

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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War is a collection of modern stories, written by an amazing array of  contemporary YA authors (David Almond, Michael Morpurgo, John Boyne, AL Kennedy, Marcus Sedgewick, Adele Geras,Tracy Chevalier, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sheena Wilkinson, Ursula Dubrovsky, Timothee de Fombelle) and illustrated by Jim Kay.

Publisher’s Summary:A toy soldier. A butter dish. A compass. Mundane objects, perhaps, but to the remarkable authors in this collection, artifacts such as these have inspired stories that go to the heart of the human experience of World War I. Each author was invited to choose an object that had a connection to the war—a writing kit for David Almond, a helmet for Michael Morpurgo—and use it as the inspiration for an original short story. What results is an extraordinary collection, illustrated throughout by award-winning Jim Kay and featuring photographs of the objects with accounts of their history and the authors’ reasons for selecting them. This unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

In a powerful collection, eleven internationally acclaimed writers draw on personal objects to bring the First World War to life for readers young and old.
That collection of short stories would pair nicely with this collection of biographies of 12 men and three women, who participated in the First World War, and who later gained fame in other ways.
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In the Fields and Trenches:The Famous and the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I is written by Kerrie Logan Hollihan and published by the Chicago Review Press.
Publisher’s Summary: When it started, many thought the Great War would be a great adventure. Yet, as those who saw it up close learned, it was anything but. In the Fields and the Trenches traces the stories of eighteen young idealists swept into the brutal conflict, many of whom would go on to become well-known 20th-century figures in film, science, politics, literature, and business. Writer J. R. R. Tolkien was a signals officer with the British Expeditionary Force and fought at the Battle of the Somme. Scientist Irène Curie helped her mother, Marie, run twenty X-ray units for French field hospitals. Actor Buster Keaton left Hollywood after being drafted into the army’s 40th Infantry Division. And all four of Theodore Roosevelt’s sons—Kermit, Archibald, Quentin, and Theodore III—and his daughter Ethel served in Europe, though one did not return.In the Fields and the Trenches chronicles the lives of heroes, cowards, comics, and villains—some famous, some not—who participated in this life-changing event. Extensive original material, from letters sent from the front to personal journals, brings these men and women back to life. And though their stories are a century old, they convey modern, universal themes of love, death, power, greed, courage, hate, fear, family, friendship, and sacrifice.
Together, these two books give readers a glimpse into the impact of The Great war on ordinary lives.

The Salt of the Earth

24 Apr

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Although the Publisher’s summary gives you the gist of the story, it hardly does it justice.

Publisher’s Summary:World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

  The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is possibly the worst single-ship loss of life in history. We all know about the sinking of the Titanic,  but who has ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff?

Sepetys is a master of shedding light on hidden bits of history and illuminating how it impacted ordinary people, the salt of the earth. In this book we meet compelling characters, some with secrets, some good, some not so good. Through them we see how war impacts civilians and the panic that ensues as armies are about to over run them: the rumors and fears that drive each character  to the sea.

This is not an easy story to read, but it is fast paced. We meet each of the four narrators separately,and, at first, I had a little trouble remembering who was who. Eventually, their stories become interconnected and each story sheds more light on the others, and I felt empathy for the refugees, though not for Alfred, the fanatical  German sailor,  who is portrayed less sympathetically.An excellent book for readers who love historical fiction.

You can see Sepetys talking about the story in this video.

A truth bigger than the stories and the lies

22 Apr

Yesterday, I wrote about one boy, facing the consequences of his grandfather’s WWII experience. Today, I am writing about another: The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones.

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Publisher’s Summary: The ghosts of war reverberate across the generations in a riveting, time-shifting story within a story from acclaimed thriller writer Tim Wynne-Jones.

When Evan’s father dies suddenly, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his dad had been reading when he passed away. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? What is in this account that Evan’s grandfather, whom Evan has never met before, fears so much that he will do anything to prevent its being seen? And what could this possibly mean for Evan? In a pulse-quickening mystery evoking the elusiveness of truth and the endurance of wars passed from father to son, this engrossing novel is a suspenseful, at times terrifying read from award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones.

Wynne-Jones’ writing, as always is rich and multi-layered. I will admit it took me a couple of chapters to get going with the story, but once I did, I was hooked. The story moves seamlessly between fantasy and reality, present and past. There is text and subtext, and stories within stories.

Griff laughs. “What I said was, the truth is bigger than the stories people tell themselves and bigger than the lies they live with.”

The book received seven starred reviews!!!

Kirkus Reviews 
“Dual stories of strength and resilience illuminate the effects that war has on individuals and on father-son relationships, effects that stretch in unexpected ways across generations as Evan and Griff make their way toward a truce. An accomplished wordsmith, Wynne-Jones achieves an extraordinary feat: he eliminates the hidden depths of personalities and families through a mesmerizing blend of realism and magic.

Publishers Weekly 
“Readers will be swept up quickly in the tense relationship between Evan and Griff, as well as the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers fighting for survival in a surreal landscape. Without spelling out the metaphoric significance of the story within the story, Wynne-Jones provides enough hints for readers to make connections and examine the lines between war and peace, as well as hate and love.”

Booklist 
“Wynne-Jones writes with a sure hand and a willingness to take readers into uncharted territory. The main characters in both time periods are complex and vividly portrayed, while the stories, both supernatural and realistic, quietly take note of nuances that standard narratives overlook. A riveting, remarkable novel by a reliably great Canadian writer.”

School Library Journal 
“Offering a unique take on the World War II period, this intergenerational tale is an excellent addition to most YA collections.”

Shelf Awareness 
“English-Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones (The Uninvited, Blink & Caution) crafts a truly spellbinding novel in which the mystical, desert-island, wartime chronicle is as riveting as the modern-day story… and the ways they begin to fuse together are breathtaking.”

The Horn Book 
“There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.”

* Bulletin of the Center for Children’s 
“The layers of intergenerational strife, savage warfare, lingering suspicion and gradual healing are quilted into a warming narrative that is both uncompromisingly tragic and holistically redemptive. Readers will carry this haunting story with them for a long time.”

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