Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #10: Top Ten Things I Want to Do at Book Expo America

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

It's been a long time since I did a Top Ten list, but this week's topic is a freebie and so I thought I would do the top ten things I want to do at my third BEA:

1- Have fun and learn something new at the Book Blogger Conference

2- Meet Elizabeth Wein, who wrote one of my all time favorite WWII books Code Name Verity and who will be signing ARCs of her new book Rose Under Fire.

3- Attend at least one BEA Conference, preferably Jenny Brown's The Journey of a YA Book - from Writer to Reader with author Sarah Farizan.

4- Take the time to sit and enjoy some of the Uptown and Downtown Stages this year.  I did that my first year and really enjoyed them, but didn't last year and was very sorry.  They are interesting and informative, and a good place to sit and relax, away from all the hustle and bustle of the exhibit floor while listening to favorite authors.

5- Try and get to the Children's Book and Author Breakfast on time this year.  I am so excited to see/hear Octavia Spencer, a favorite actress, talk about her book, as well as Veronica Roth (I really can't wait to read Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent series)

6- There's a Book Blogger Picnic in Central Park on Friday, May 31st from 6:00PM to 8:00PM on the lawns near the Heckscher Playground at the southwest corner for anyone who wants to go, you can find more information from the organizers: Alexa (Alexa Loves Books), Andrea (Overstuffed Bookcase), Jen (YA Romantics) and Katelyn (Kate's Tales of Books and Bands) or follow hashtag #BEABloggerPicnic

7- If I didn't live in NYC, I would be sure to do some sightseeing, or at least buy some cheap theater tickets at TKTS in the heart of Times Square.  You probably won't find any for Matilda, but shows like Annie (Jane Lynch is in it now) or Pippin are good possibilities.

8- NYC is a culinary delight - I know eating can be expensive, but stay away from McDonald's and other chain restaurants.   Joe Allen's at 326 West 46th Street is one of my favorite theater district restaurants (and I have sat near more than one famous person there).  If you are feeling a little bit in the money, I would recommend Todd English's Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel.  It is a food hall like no other.  But, for ecomony, there is always Junior's on West 45th between Broadway and 8th Avenue (be sure to have their world famous cheesecake) or the Cafe Edison in the Hotel Edison at 228 West 47th Street (I'm partial to the pastrami)  And do enjoy an NYC bagle (the difference really is in the water) and the many street food vendors or  the food trucks that are everywhere.

9- As long as you are feeling bookish, take a walk over the the NYPL at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, sign of one the docent led tours of the library, then take a walk down library way East 41st Street between 5th and Madison Avenues) and look at the book quote plaques that are embedded in the cement.  You can also see a slide show of the plaques at the New York Public Library

10- The thing I am really looking forward to, however, is seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day 2013: America's White Table by Margot Theis Raven, illlustrated by Mike Benny

My brother is buried in Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, NY.  He was eligible to be buried there because he has fought honorably in one of this country's war (not WWII).  He didn't die on the battlefield, but he did die because of what happened there.  And tradition has it that every year, the scout troops from all over Suffolk County gather on Memorial Day weekend to decorate the graves of all the members of the Armed Forces who are buried there.  Decorate? Well,  Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, a day to clean up the grave of a loved one and decorate it with flowers, plants and flags.  Many people still do this.  And that is just what the scouts do in Calverton and national cemeteries across the country.  At each grave, they place an American flag to honor each and every soldier.  It pleases me no end that they do this and it would have pleased my brother since he was such a traditionalist.

Scouts at Calverton National Cemetery (2012) 
Another tradition in the Armed Forces is the setting of the White Table, sometimes called the Remembrance Table, in mess halls and homes all throughout the US.  What is a White Table?

In her book, America's White Table, Margot Theis Raven explains what it is through the experience of three young sisters who are given the privilege of setting a small, solitary white table in their home in anticipation of their Uncle John's visit.  As they set the table, their mother explains to them the symbolism of each item on it.  And then she tells them the story of their Uncle John's service in Vietnam.  He was held captive by the Viet Cong with three other men.  When the chance to escape came along one day, one of the men, named Mike, was too sick to go and while two escaped, Uncle John stayed behind with Mike.

Later, however, another chance to escape came and this time Uncle John carried Mike on this back into the Vietnam jungles to away a rescue helicopter.  Unfortunately, Mike died before it arrived.

And so, the White Table is set in honor of Mike, and of all the fallen, all the POWs, all MIAs.

America's White Table is a lovely book that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  It cover a very difficult subject with so much delicacy.  The Author's Note at the end gives a history of the White Table tradition which began with the Vietnam War, but now extends to all wars.  And although the focus is on Veteran's Day, when we honor those living members of the Armed Services, like Uncle John, it is also a highly recommended for Memorial Day, when we honor those who are no longer with us.

America's White Table is illustrated by Mike Benny.  This is his first children's book, and he has certainly captured the spirit of this touching story.  The soft, full color illustrations, though realistic, have an almost ethereal feeling to them that seems so perfect for this story.

This is one of those picture books being published by Sleeping Bear Press that is really meant for readers a little older than the traditional picture book age range, but is a group of books I have really come to like for their relatively unknown, but interesting topics and I find I recommend them often.

And so I hope that during this weekend, as you are enjoying your BBQs, picnics, day at the beach, in the park or the backyard of friends and family, and of course, at all the big the Memorial Day sales, you will take a moment to think of and thank those who served your country.

I know I will!

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library

The Armed Forces History Museum has more information on the history, setting and symbolism of the White Table.

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Friday, May 24, 2013

From the Archives #24: Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan, illustrated by Mary A. Reardon

One day they weren't there and the next day, Norway was swarming with Nazis, even up by the cold, cold Arctic Circle in the little town of Riswyk, where winter lasts for most of the year.  But just before their arrival;, Peter Lundstrom, 12 almost 13, knows that something is up among the adults in Riswyk.

His father, a banker, and Uncle Victor, a fisherman, and other townsmen have devised a plan to get Norway's gold out of the country and to America so that it never falls into the hands of the Nazis.  And, Peter learns, it involves not only him, his younger sister Lovisa and friends Helga Thomsen and Michael Berg, but all of Riswyk's children age 10 and up.

The plan is that every child would take four bars of gold on their sleds 12 miles to where Uncle Victor's camouflaged boat is at anchor in the nearby Fjourd.  They would bury the gold in the snow and build a snowman over their gold bars.  The townsmen figured no one would question sledding children.  After burying their gold, the children would head over to a nearby farm where they would be given dinner and a place to sleep.  And during the night, Uncle Victor would come and fetch the gold with his first mate, Rolls.

And the plan works - though not as quickly as they had planned.  The weight of the gold bars is too much for the younger kids and they are forced to take less than planned each time.  So the whole operation stretched out to six weeks instead of three.  And of course, this gives the Nazis time to cause problems.

For one, even though the schoolteacher ls serving in the Norwegian army, the Nazi commandant decides the children should return to school.  A noticed is posted, but before school even resumes, a mysterious illness breaks out among the younger children.  The doctor manages to convince the commandant that the 'epidemic' is highly contagious and could easily spread to his men and that he advised the children not infected to stay outdoors as much as possible.

But one day, Helga tells Peter she has heard noises and felt like she was being watched for the last few days.  Worried, Peter and his mother find Uncle Victor's boat and warn him about this Nazi spy.  Sure enough, while building their snowman army over the gold shortly the next day, the Nazi soldier shows up.  Luckily, Uncle Victor and Rolls were right there and capture the soldier, taking him to the hidden boat.

The soldier tells them that his name is Jan Lasek and he is from Poland, but was taken by the Nazis when they invaded his country because he can speak many languages.  He was forced into a Nazi uniform, but really just wants to go with Uncle Victor to America.

But the next day, the Nazis are out looking for him and when the children refuse to answer any of their questions, the commandant gets angry and is just about to discover Lovisa's buried gold when Peter hits him in the ear with a snowball.  Taken into Nazi custody and locked in a cell, Peter decides saving the gold was worth anything the Nazis can do to him.

Will Peter be able to escape the Nazis before they take any action against him?  Or was moving all that gold in vain?

Snow Treasure was written in 1942, after Marie McSwigan read a newspaper article about Norway's gold being smuggled out of the country.  In her Forward, she describes what she believed to be true about the children who delivered the gold on their sleds to a waiting ship.  However, over time this story has been questioned and it seems there is no proof that it is true.  And so at the end of the book, an additional note is included to that effect.

I really wanted to like this story as much as I did the first time I read it, but now, reading it as an adult with more knowledge of WWII, the story was too slow moving and felt almost too naive for today's reader.  I also thought that the writing sounded dated and it made the story of moving millions of dollars in Norwegian currency on sleds for six weeks past the Nazis not not feel very dangerous or really exciting, the more so because I didn't really connect with any of the  characters.

On the other hand, on the March 15, 1942 the New York Times reviewer wrote:
It is a story of courage and wits and grim determination, and though the most tragic aspects of the invasion have no place in it, it makes plain to readers of 9 to 12 the treachery and arrogance with which the enemies of three-quarters of the world are trying to stamp out freedom.
Snow Treasure is richly illustrated with a number of black and white illustrations by Mary A. Reardon in what appears to be either pencil or charcoal.  This wasn't one of the best books I have read about Norway in WWII, and while I still like the idea of the story, I just don't like the actual story as enthusiastically as I used to.  However, this is one of those novels that designed to show children that no matter what they can make a difference and for that reason, I think it is worth reading.  And it is an excellent example of how a community can come together to achieve a goal.

A useful Teacher's Guide is available for Snow Treasure here

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

This is book 4 of my 2013 Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge hosted by Turning the Pages

Monday, May 20, 2013

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

From the time he was a young boy and saw his first baseball game, Kenochi "Zeni" Zenimura wanted to play baseball - he wanted that more than anything.  And he was well on his way towards living his dream when he was old enough, managing local teams and playing with the Fresno Nisei League and the Fresno Twilight League, going to exhibition games in Japan, even playing with star players of the New York Yankees.  It seemed Zeni was on top of the world, at least until December 7, 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

By now married with two teenage sons, Zeni and his family were forced to move to an internment camp just because they were of Japanese descent.  Located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, it was hot and dry desert with too many people crowded into barrack after barrack, each containing row upon row of cots.

While families tried to make a home out of their allotted space, putting up curtains and decorating with all kinds of personal mementos, Zeni still dreamed about baseball and decided he was going to play - right in the desert!

And so he picked a spot and began to clear the grass and rocks, hard work in the desert heat.  Yet before he knew it, others joined in to help, including his own sons.   Using his ingenuity, his power of persuasion and any other means possible, little by little, Zeni and his helpers began to turn the desert into a baseball field, right down to bleaches for people to sit and watch games.  And while the men worked on building a field, the women sewed uniforms out of potato sacks.  Lastly, equipment was purchased with funds collected from among the detainees.

Barbed Wire Baseball is an excellent introduction to both Japanese American baseball and the internment of Japanese American in World War II.  Marissa Moss gives the same attention to detail in her text that Zeni gave to creating his baseball field.  And the beautiful illustrations by Yuko Shimizu bring the whole story together.  This is the first children's book that Shimizu has illustrated and for it, she used a Japanese calligraphy brush and ink, than scanned and colored the illustrations with Photoshop, so that the colors give a real sense of the time.

At the end of Barbed Wire Baseball, there is an Afterword about Kenichi Zenimura life, as well as an Author's Note and an Artist's Note, which you may not want to miss reading.   Moss has also included an useful Bibliography for further exploration of Japanese American baseball.

I had never heard of Kenochi Zenimura before, probably because I'm not much of a baseball person, but I really was impressed with his perseverance and dedication to creating a place where he and his fellow detainees could enjoy playing or watching baseball in an otherwise desolate place and that would give them all a sense of accomplishment and community.  And having lived in Phoenix, AZ for 4 years and being somewhat familiar with the desert around it, I really understood what an accomplishment it was.

1927: Zenimura standing between Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth
(also depicted on Page 10 of Barbed Wire Baseball)

This book is a Picture Book for Older Readers and is recommeded for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by Perogies & Gyoza

Friday, May 17, 2013

After (Book #4 in the Felix and Zelda Family of Books) by Morris Gleitzman

After the Nazis took my parents I was scared
After they killed my best friend I was angry
After they ruined my thirteenth birthday I was determined
To get to the forest 
To join forces with Gabriek and Yuli 
To be a family
To defeat the Nazis after all.

After I finished reading Once, the first story about Felix, 10, a young Jewish boy on the run from the Nazis, I wanted to know more about this brave boy and Zelda, the six year old who became his friend.  And so, Morris Gleitzman gave us Then, which did indeed continue the story of Felix and Zelda.  When I finished reading that second book, I still wanted to know more and so along came book three, called Now.  But this is the story of 80 year old Felix and his granddaughter Zelda, 10.  But wait, Now ended in the middle of the war.  What happened to Felix in the last two years of the war?  Where and how did Felix spend them?  Well, we know that he spent time helping partisans with his friend Gabriek.  But, how the heck did that come about?

Well, now there is After.  After returns to the war, where it is 1945 and Felix has been hiding for two years in a hidey hole in Gabriek's barn, emerging once a night to eat and excercise.  The hidey hole is right under the hooves of Gabriek's horse Dom.  On the night of his 13th birthday, Felix hears Gabriek talking to some men with guns.  Nazis?  But they are speaking Polish and are not wearing uniforms and there is a lady wearing a red scarf with them.  Confused and scared, Felix decides to follow them when they head off to the forest with Gabriek.  Afraid they are going to kill Gabriek, Felix tries to rescue him by yelling at his captors.  With their guns pointed and ready to shoot, Felix gives himself up to save Gabriek - only they aren't Nazis, they're partisans and Gabriek is one of them and they have just sabotaged a Nazi train.

When it is all over, Felix is allowed to go home with Gabriek, but when they get there, the farm is on fire, set by the Nazis.  They manage to save the horse and find their way to the partisan camp, asking to permanently join.  But Felix is an outsider and must prove himself - by stealing a gun from a Nazi.  The lady in the red scarf, Yuli, takes him to a village and tells him what to do.

Felix ends up joining the partisans, but as the doctor's assistant not as a fighter.  He befriends the maternal Yuli, even fantasizes that Gabriek and Yuli could be his new parents.  But the war is still going on, and the more the Nazis are defeated, the more hateful and destructive they become.  Life is still precarious - for Felix and for the partisans.

There is much more in store for Felix and Gabriek before the end of the war, but it would probably require a **Spoiler Alert** and I think it needs to be experienced first hand.  Suffice it to say, that After did, indeed, give me the sense of closure that I really needed on Felix's story.

Gleitzman, we know, is a master storyteller and the four books that comprise Felix's history are no exception.  Caught in one of the darkest periods, witness to all kinds of horrors, he gives us a Felix who has managed to maintain his sense of humanity, fairness and imagination throughout and it is all incredibly believable.  And in After, we see the man that Felix will become - a doctor who wants to heal the wounds of the world - small wonder.

After is a true coming of age book.  Had things been different, Felix would have had a bar mitzvah at 13 instead of joining a partisan group.  But even so, there is a very discernible change in Felix in this book.  He is not a young boy anymore, praying to Richmal Crompton, but has a sense of maturity about him that becomes all the more obvious and poignant when he is put into a paternal position of taking care of three Jewish sisters hiding from the Nazis.

I am sorry to say good-bye to Felix now, but am comforted by the fact that I can reread his story anytime I want to.  His story is sad, funny, violent and painful, but so well worth reading.

Patience has never been my strong suit, so as soon as I knew it was available in Australia, NZ, and the UK,  I also knew I had to order After from The Book Depository (free shipping, Americans!) because I don't know when the American edition is going to come out.  Sound good?  Why wait? You can read the first chapter right here on The Morris Gleitzman Collection.

And thank you, Mr. Gleitzman, for doing such a bang up job telling us Felix's story.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Monday, May 13, 2013

His Majesty's Hope (A Maggie Hope Mystery #3) by Susan Elia MacNeal

His Majesty's Hope is the third book in Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope Mystery Series.  Maggie, you will remember, is a Brit who was raised by her aunt in the United States after her parents died in an accident.  She went to England to sell her grandmother's house which she had inherited and ended up staying there once the war started in 1939.

In the first book, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Maggie, who is a brilliant mathematician, found herself working for the PM and is soon caught up in solving the mystery of who and why his previous secretary was murdered - and it involves her own father, you know the one that is dead.

In the second book, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, Maggie is sent undercover to Windsor Castle under the guise of maths tutor to Princess Elizabeth.  But again finds herself in the midst of a murder mystery and lots of decoding of messages -and it involves her own mother, you know, the one that is dead.

In book three, Maggie has just finished training in Winston Churchill's elite SOE (Special Operations Executive) as a spy for Britain.  First off, she is to parachute into Germany to deliver some radio crystals to the Resistance in Berlin - in and out in three days time.  But when the opportunity comes along for a job as companion to the pregnant daughter of a high ranking Nazi, Gustav Oberg, Maggie jumps at the chance to perhaps uncover information that would be valuable to Britain's war effort.

But what she finds doesn't make sense until she gets friendly with Elise Hess, a nurse at Charité Hospital who has herself uncovered some disturbing information about what's happening to some of Germany's children.  And it doesn't take long for Maggie to find herself on the run from the Gestapo in Berlin.  And yes, this novel also involves family members and more, but that's all I can say without the need of a spoiler alert.

I loved the first two Maggie Hope mysteries and couldn't wait to get my hands on this one (I received an ARC from the publisher a while ago, read it immediately, and just reread it).  Macneal has really honed her skills as a historical mystery writer.  His Majesty's Hope is a taut, suspenseful story involving some disturbing programs that the Nazis had in place to secure their position as "Master Race." There is also just enough romance without over doing it.

Though His Majesty's Hope is a lot edgier than the first two books, I think it still retains its appeal to YA readers who enjoy mysteries.  You could, perhaps, say that this mystery is less of a cozy than the previous two because of some of the subject matter, but I certainly think it is still borderline cozy.  It isn't a classic murder mystery in the same way as the previous two books.

Maggie is becoming a character with a strong personality, though sometimes she can be a little petulant and willful, but that just makes her all the more realistic.  Still, I like that way she uses mathematics to solve many problems and this novel also involves a clever cipher that I found to be fun.

There is a subplot with Maggie's friend David, who is gay.  Being gay at that time was still illegal and in fact, Alan Turing, who broke the German Enigma Code that helped Britain so much in the war, was gay and was tried and convicted in 1952.  In 1954, he committed suicide using cyanide poison at age 42.  MacnNeal doesn't include a gay character because it is cute to do, but rather to point out the dangers for gay people at that time, when you would think more tolerance would be shown given what the Nazis were doing.

A word about the cover art - once again, it is great and feels so of the time.

So if you want a nice nail-biter of a mystery, give the Maggie Hope mysteries a try.  If you are already a fan of Maggie's than you are in luck - this novel will be available on May 14, 2013

I sure hope there is a fourth Maggie on the way!

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an ARC sent to my by the publisher

This is book 1 of my 2013 Crusin' with the Cozies Reading Challenge hosted by Socrates' Book Reviews
This is book 3 of my 2013 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader
This is book 6 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Funnies #10: Donald Duck and his Victory Garden

First, I would like to wish everyone

A Very Happy Mother's Day!

Second, I would like to wish my kiddo 

A Very Happy Birthday!

I hope you and Lipeng do something fun today.

Third, since I live in the city, I only have a little herb garden in my window, but today I have spent the morning chasing the birds away from it (a chicken wire fence is in the making), but since I reviewed a book about the importance of Victory Gardens in WWII and it is pretty much planting time, I thought I would post this old Donald Duck comic about birds and Victory Gardens.  Donald's Victory Garden first appeared in this edition of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories April 1943 #31 (in color, not B&W):

Page 1 (click to enlarge and read)
Page 2 (click to enlarge and read)
Page 3 (click to enlarge and read)
Page 4 (click to enlarge and read)
Page 5 (click to enlarge and read)
 Page 6 (click to enlarge and read)
 Page 7 (click to enlarge and read)
 Page 8 (click to enlarge and read)
Page 9 (click to enlarge and read)
 Page 10 (click to enlarge and read)

Maybe I will print some of these out and attach them to a Popsicle  stick and put them in my window box to keep away the birds.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Victory Garden by Lee Kochenderfer

It is spring 1943 and for 11 year old Teresa Marks the war has turned personal - her beloved older brother Jeff was off in Europe flying B-24s, a dream come true for him, but not for her.  It is also time for planting the annual Victory Garden and resurrecting the annual competition for best tomatoes with the Markses curmudgeony neighbor Tom Burt.  But just as the planting and competition gets underway, Tom Burt is seriously injured in a tractor accident and must spend the summer in the hospital.

Rather than plow his entire garden under, and knowing it is his pride and joy, Teresa suggests that one of the ways her class can raise money for the schools war bond competition would be to take over Tom Burt's garden and sell the produce.  No one is more pleased than Teresa when six kids volunteer, even if the new kid, troublemaker Billy Riggs, thinks it's a bad idea.

The kids, called the Young Sprouts by the local newspaper, work hard on the Tom Burt's Victory Garden.  But one morning, Teresa wakes up to a trampled garden and a broken St. Francis statue belonging to the very gentle Mrs. Burt.  Naturally, she is convinced that Billy Riggs did it to spite the Young Sprouts.

At the same time, Tom Burt's big dog Wolf goes missing from the relatives who are caring for him during his master's hospital stay.  The police seem to believe the dog will make its way home and sure enough, one day Teresa finds the dog under the Burt's porch with Billy Riggs.  Dirty and badly injured, Billy had been trying to help the frightened animal.  Together, they nurse Wolf, but when Teresa notices a piece of the broken statue lodged in the dogs side, she think that Billy Riggs may have had nothing to do with the trampled garden after all.

Throughout the summer, as the kids work hard in the garden and at selling their produce, Billy comes and goes, each time offering advice and help to Teresa while avoiding the other kids.  Pretty soon, Teresa begins to think of him as a friend, but then he disappears along with his alcoholic father, their run down house closed and deserted.

And Teresa is surprised to realize how much she misses him.

The Victory Garden is an interesting novel.  It is a real slice of life, coming of age story.  Teresa talks about reading Life magazine and that is exactly how this novel feels - like a story out of Life about how communities are coping with the war.  Which may be why it has such an 'in the middle of things' feeling to it, and not just because it is directed at middle grade readers.  It is set in the middle of Kansas, in the middle of the US, in the middle of the war and, with the exception of Billy Riggs, among very middle class people.  Days pass, vegetable grow, and small town Kansas begins to feel almost idyllic in the midst of war.  And yet, in the midst of all that middleness, the Young Sprouts are learning some very valuable lessons and some painful truths about life.  Especially Teresa, who was very happy believing she knows how to keep bad things away - like as long as she uses her 'secret weapon' on the tomatoes they will be big and juicy and award winning just the way her brother liked them, and that as long as her brother is in the air in his B-24, he will be safe, and that planting a victory garden will help win the war and bring everyone home safely.
A US poster encouraging people to grow
their own vergtables

But can Teresa learn that magical thinking doesn't actually work in the middle real life?

Teresa was right in thinking that a victory garden could help win the war.  Victory gardens were a very important part of life on the home front.  These gardens began to appear everywhere there was room to plant - back yards, allotments, public lands, rooftops and in England, there were even gardens planted in bomb craters (see my post Victory through Vegetables: Woolton Pie).  The American, British and German governments all encouraged citizens to grow their own food to supplement their food supply during rationing and to allow more food to be sent to their troops.  And it victory gardens turned out to have an unexpected benefit to folks on the home front - it brought them together as a community, just as it does in The Victory Garden.

This book is recommended for readers aged 10+
This book was given to me by a friend

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sorrowline, Book 1 of the Timesmith Chronicles by Niel Bushnell

It is 2013 and Jack Morrow, 12, is visiting his mother's grave while his dad explains that while he is in jail, Jack will be staying with his aunt.  Not at all happy about this, Jack rubs his hand on his mum's gravestone, memories instantly start to flooding his mind and he finds himself in the graveyard in 2008, the year his mum died, with a man claiming to be his dead granddad.

But before anything can be explained to Jack, dirt and dust start swirling into human shape, Dustmen, his granddad calls them, and tells Jack to find a gravestone from 1940 and to go there and find his younger self and that Jack must protect the powerful Rose of Annwyn  Not knowing what he is talking about, but threatened by the Dustman, Jack finds the 1940 gravestone and, with another flood of memories, ends up in wartime London.

And sure enough, he does manage to find the much younger teenage version of his grandfather, Davey.  It seems that Jack is a Yard Boy, having the ability to travel along the Sorrowline that connects every gravestone to the date of the person's death.  In fact, there is a whole other world, the First World, that Jack did know about, peopled with Yard Boys, Dustman, Paladins (undead knights), Boagymen, and of course, the power hungry, evil Rouland, who is also seeking the Rose of Annwyn.   

Yard Boys normally only travel downstream, that is from present to past and not very far into the past at that.  But Jack has the ability to be able to travel not only downstream, and quite far back in the past, as far as 1813, but upstream as well, and he can even take a non-Yard Boy with him, making him a very special Yard Boy.

Naturally, given his ability, and not fully understanding things yet, Jack begins to formulate the idea that he can return to 2008 and prevent his mother's death, something he has never come to terms with.  And even though Davey keeps reminding him that he can't change history, Jack stubbornly holds on to this idea right up to the end.  But naturally, it isn't as easy as he thought - Rouland has other uses for him, should he be able to capture and get Jack under his power. 

At the center of everything is the Rose of Annwyn.  And so the quest is who will get to it first - Jack or Rouland?  It is a fight between good and evil in the First World, just like the one that is raging in 1940 between the allied and axis powers - a rather nice parallel, I thought.  

This is a real action-packed fantasy adventure with lots of time travel.  I particularly liked the way the time travel element worked - simply by rubbing his fingers over the death date on a gravestone opened the Sorrowline for Jack.  And I thought it was a nice touch to include the memories of the deceased as he traveled back in time.  Memories are so much a part of a person's life.  

On thing that did annoy me was that the Rose of Annwyn was really fully explained and it came late in the book.  But that is a small complaint and the excitement of the quest for it made up for that.   

Aside from the parallel of power crazed leaders, I asked myself why was Jack sent back to the Blitz.  Well, the most obvious reason it that it fit with his grandfather's age.  The other obvious reason - the Blitz brought its own destruction of property and diverted people's attention, so that any destruction the First World inflicted on the Second World would be chalked up to the Blitz.  And no one would pay much attention to Jack, Davy.  Otherwise, this isn't really a WW2 book, though the descriptions of the Blitz are really spot on.

This is the first book in a series, so a lot a time is spent explaining things to the reader that they need to know to enjoy this and future books in the series.  But since Jack was also a novice to this new world he has become a part of, the intros and explanations worked beautifully into the story. 

This is a British book that I bought from the Book Depository, so I don't know if it will be published in the US or not, but it is still available online if you want to read it.  And I would recommend it if you like time travel, fantasy, adventure and good world building.  Meanwhile, I am looking forward to Book 2, due out in 2014.

This book is recommended for readers 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library