Tag Archives: World War II

Perilous Portals

9 Oct

The idea of time travel has spawned all sorts of books for children and adults. One of the latest of  is Once Was a Time by Leila Sales.

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Author’s Summary:In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley and her best friend Kitty McLaughlin are inseparable. They read their favorite books, they play imaginary games, and they promise to stick together, no matter what the future may bring.

But that future is more uncertain than they could imagine, as Charlotte’s scientist father has unearthed a staggering truth: time travel is real. And when this discovery attracts the attention of cruel forces, throwing the two girls into peril, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety, between remaining with her friend or following a portal to another time and place. In a split second, Charlotte’s life changes forever. Alone in an unfamiliar place, unsure of Kitty’s fate, she knows that somehow, she must find her way back to her friend.

Beautifully rendered and utterly absorbing, Once Was a Time is an imaginative and timeless tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship, perfect for readers ages 9 and up.

When Charlotte, Lottie, goes trough the portal, she awakes in a small ten in Wisconsin. It is 2013. Confused at first, she quickly adapts, but always, in her heart, she is looking for a way back. Slowly but surely she gathers information about the people she left behind, even as she creates a new life for herself. The sudden discovery of a clue sends her on a temporal journey where she can finally make sense of what hap end so many years ago.

This short book is a quick read and excellent book for someone who is curious about the emotional impact of time travel, but not that interested in the science of it.

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.

 

Band of Sisters

29 May

In 1993, Stephen Ambrose brought us Band of Brothers,

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a work of non fiction that told the story of the men of E Company during World War II describes how they parachuted into France early D-Day morning, parachuted into Holland during the Arnhem campaign, and captured Hitler’s Bavarian outpost.

In 2001, HBO, Tom Hanks and others, translated the book into a 10-episode mini-series.

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And now, in 2016, Michael Grant reimagines World War II in Front Lines, 

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set in a world where  a court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. front Lines is a sort of Band of Sisters, and the first in a new series called Soldier Girl.

From the Author’s Website: Front Lines is Michael Grant’s latest epic stroke of dark genius. A thrilling new trilogy that plays with the What Ifs? Of history. What if during World War II, the girls had been called up to fight with the boys? What if there was no distinction made between a girl and boy in battle? What if the fate of the world could be changed?

Front Lines book cover by Michael Grant ISBN 9781405273824Meet Rio Richlin and her friends:

Rio Richlin is a 17 year-old white girl from a small town in northern California. She has no superpowers, she is not noticeably special in any way, but she will grow to become an effective combat soldier.

Frangie (Francine) Marr is a black girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city with a terrible history of racism. She likes animals, wishes she could grow up to be a doctor, and spends the war as a combat medic, saving lives amidst slaughter.

Rainy (Elusheva) Schulterman is a Jewish girl from New York who wants to do all she can to stop Hitler. She will offer her penetrating intellect and talent for languages to army intelligence as an analyst and a spy.

The soldier girls must prove their guts, strength, and resourcefulness as soldiers. Rio has grown up in a world where men don’t cry and girls are supposed to care only about money and looks. But she has always known that there is something wrong with this system and something else in her. Far from home and in the battlefields, Rio discovers exactly who she is meant to be.

Here’s the trailer

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.”

Charmed lives

18 Apr

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I don’t read scary books. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a spooky cover and a promise of a haunted castle, so I opened it with great trepidation.

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Fortunately, the cover is the scariest part of the book, which mixes an old Scottish Castle, Nazis, the Enigma machine and magic. Although all of these have been covered in other books, in other ways, this book provides a fresh take on all of them.

Publisher’s Summary: “Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

A great book for middle readers. You can check out the book trailer:

 

The book to graphic novel phenomenon

17 Jan

Several years ago, I read Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, who was born in Kiev in 1903, but fled to France with her family in 1917. The novel is made up of the first two parts of a planned five-part novel that was never finished because Némirovsky was arrested by the Germans and died in Auschwitz in 1942.

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I recently discovered that Part I, Storm in June,  has been turned into a graphic novel by Emmanuel Moynot, a graphic artist and the author of more than 40 graphic novels published in France.

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Publisher’s Summary:A stirring graphic novel based on the extraordinary book by Irene Nemirovsky.

Suite Française, an extraordinary novel about village life in France just as it was plunged into chaos with the German invasion of 1940, was a publishing sensation ten years ago; Irene Nemirovsky completed the two-volume book, part of a planned larger series, in the early 1940s before she was arrested in France and eventually sent to Auschwitz, where she died. The notebook containing the novels was preserved by her daughters but not examined until 1998; it was finally published in France in 2004 and became a huge international bestseller, including in North America, where it has sold over 1 million copies.

This dramatic and stirring graphic novel, translated from the French and faithful to the spirit of Nemirovsky’s story, focuses on Book 1, entitled “Storm in June,” in which a disparate group of Paris citizens flees the city ahead of the advancing German troops. However, their orderly plans to escape are eclipsed by the chaos spreading across the country, and their sense of civility and well-being is replaced by a raw desire to survive.

This is an excellent retelling of the first part of Némirovsky’s novel. The use of black and white drawings gives the feel of a 1940’s movie about WWII. It also captures the bleakness of the situation.

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Books to graphic novels is a trend that seems to be increasing. Several children’s and YA series have gone this route, including

  •  Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
  • The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series by Ransome Riggs

Classics by authors such as Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have also been turned into graphic novels, as has the very popular Game of Thrones  series. I think the are both excellent and worrisome things about this trend, but, as a reader, I don’t mind taking a little break with a graphic novel from time to time.

блокада Ленинграда, or The Siege of Leningrad

23 Nov

From September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, 872 days,  the city of Leningrad was under siege by Nazi German forces whose mandate from Hitler was to wipe Leningrad off the face of the Earth. It is estimated that over a million people died, mostly from starvation, stress and exposure. The perseverance and defiance of the people of Leningrad was remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that Dmitri Shostakovich decided to dedicate his 7th symphony to the city of Leningrad, his hometown.   The work remains one of Shostakovich’s best-known compositions.

In Symphony for the City of the Dead, long listed for the National Book Award, M. T. Anderson weaves together Shostakovich’s life, work, hometown, and the siege.

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The book is told in three parts. Part one tells Shostakovich’s story. Born in 1906, he was really a child of the Revolution. A prodigy who embraced the art and music of Russian futurism and the avant-garde. Eventually, though, he fell foul of Stalin and feared that he would be swallowed up in the purges of the 1930’s banished to exile or to the Gulags. Eventually, he regained his footing and, by the time of the outbreak of what the Russian;s call the Great Patriotic War, he was more or less safe.

Part Two covers the period of the war and the composition of the 7th symphony. Anderson provides excellent background information to the war and, although I consider myself fairly well read on the subject of WWII and the Soviet Union, having read a lot of Solzhenitsyn in my youth, I learned facts about Stalin I’d never heard before. We see Shostakovich composing as the situation in Leningrad deteriorates, composing the first three movements in besieged Leningrad. Eventually he, along with his wife and children and other  important residents of Leningrad, are evacuated and we see him struggle to finish the 7th symphony in exile while he worried about family members who were left behind.

Part three covers the post war period and the rise of the Cold War. Shostakovich found himself once more a victim of Stalin’s criticism and denounced by former friends and colleagues. Stalin’s death in 1953 saw Shostakovich’s rehabilitation as a creative artist.

The book includes extensive photo, notes and a bibliography. It is an excellent piece of research and shines a light on the importance of the arts in a world gone mad.

Publisher’s Summary: In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives.

 

 

Enchanting and heart-breaking

1 Nov

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I am slowly chipping away at the mountain of arcs I got at this summer’s ALA Annual Meeting. Some have already been published, but today I want to share a slim volume, due to be published in January,  that defies genre. At times Gavriel Savit’s Anna and the Swallow Man feel like historical fiction, at other times like a fairytale, a folktale, or magical realism.

Although slim and told in the voice of seven-year-old Anna, , it is written for a savvy reader. By this, I mean you. You really should pick up. Savit has crafted a beautiful novel, and, like Anna, her father and the Swallow Man, Savit has a facility with language that makes this complex tale seem simple, enchanting the reader and drawing us deeper into the tale.

The book is frequently compared to The Book Thief  but I am reminded of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The  voices ring similar to me naive and hopeful in the face of loss and horror. Savit is a debut author so I think this is another book that I am sure the 2017 Morris Committee will examine closely.

Publisher’s Summary: Kraków, 1939. A mill,ion marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

Unbroken

25 Oct

I had a discussion with my class about abridged vs unabridged versions of books. I thought about this as I read the Young Adult adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken.

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I have to admit, I was a little worried as I began reading. The sentences in the first chapter seemed awfully short to me. As I made my way throughout the book, it got better, and I wondered, was this Hillenbrand’s strategy to help young readers build background knowledge so they could access more difficult and complicated ideas later? I did a little research and found this interesting New York Times article addressing the issue of YA adaptations.

All that said, I really enjoyed this book and I think kids will, too.

Publisher’s Summary: On a May afternoon in 1943, an American military plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary sagas of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. As a boy, he had been a clever delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and stealing. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a supreme talent that carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when war came, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a sinking raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would respond to desperation with ingenuity, suffering with hope and humor, brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would hang on the fraying wire of his will.

In this captivating young adult edition of her award-winning #1 New York Timesbestseller, Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of a man’s breathtaking odyssey and the courage, cunning, and fortitude he found to endure and overcome. Lavishly illustrated with more than one hundred photographs and featuring an exclusive interview with Zamperini, Unbroken will introduce a new generation to one of history’s most thrilling survival epics.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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