Friday, November 29, 2013

A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

It is a few years after the war has ended and young Michael (not the author) is growing up in London, living with his French mother Christine.  All he knows about his father is that his name was Roy, he was in the RAF during the war, flying a Spitfire and he had been shot down over the English Channel.

His mother had one of his medals and let Michael keep it in his room.  She told him that his Auntie Snowdrop (really Martha) had the other medals and would be happy to show them to him when they visited her and her sister, Auntie Pish (really Mary), on New Year's Day.  And while Michael didn't really like to visit his Aunties much, he did enjoy seeing Jasper, a little Jack Russell terrier.

The visits were always the same, time after time, but one day, as Michael was coming out of school, he saw his mother waiting for him and knew something was wrong.  She told him that his Auntie Snowdrop had passed away.  At the funeral, his Auntie Pish told him there was a parcel from Auntie Snowdrop for him and she was post it to him right away.

When Michael was 13, five years after his Auntie's death, he was given Jasper to take care of when Auntie Pish couldn't do it anymore.  Eventually she went into a nursing home and, about five years after the death of her sister, she gave Michael the parcel that was meant for him.

In the parcel was a framed photograph of Michael's father, which he set on his desk.  But when Jasper jumped up on the desk, he knocked the photograph over and the glass broke.  Annoyed, Michael picked it all up and discovered a pad of paper behind the picture.  On it his Auntie had written "Who I Am, What I've Done and Who You Are" and it was dated 1950.

As Michael read her words, he discovered who his grandfather, his father, and his Auntie really were and how they were connected to each other.  And what this all means to him.  It was all a family secret that was never even shared with his mother.  His grandfather had served in World War I, and had died saving the lives of other men on the battlefield, but even though he should have gotten a posthumous medal for his bravery, he was never awarded one.

Why did this happen?  Well, Leroy Hamilton was a London orphan, intelligent, a great soccer player and a very congenial person.  He was also black and when he volunteered for military service in World War I, black men did not get awarded medals...until his great great granddaughter decided to fix that wrong.

But where do Auntie Snowdrop and Michael's father Roy fit into all of this?

Using his familiar device of telling a story with a story, Michael Morpurgo has found another unusual story and turned it into a wonderful tale for kids.  A Medal for Leroy is based on the true story of Lieutenant Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British army in WWI, though it only contains aspect of Tull's life, it is not a recounting.

I was a little skeptical about this book before I started reading it because I didn't really care for the last Morpurgo book I read.  But I was pleasantly surprised once I started reading.  A Medal for Leroy is a gentle, poignant story that has some really interesting elements in it.  It is about family, love and being true to yourself, and the emotional harm and unhappiness that family secrets can inflict on everyone involved.  But is it also about triumph and hope and acceptance and I expect you may shed a tear or two before you finish.

This book will be available in the US on January 14, 2014

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC received from Net Galley    

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #12: Top Ten Things I am Thankful For

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

This has been a hard sad year for my family because of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, yet what better way to honor Daniel than to remember the things I am thankful for.

These are the top ten things I am thankful for:

1- My Kiddo - who makes my proud everyday!

2- My family - even if we don't always agree on some things, we know we are always there for each other.

3- My best friend - my theater pal and doing other fun stuff pal, and who is always there for me when I need to talk to someone.

4- A roof over my head and food in my kitchen - given the state of things in today's world, anyone who has these basic necessities is very fortunate.

5- My health - which, except for a little congenital heart glitch, is pretty good.

6-- My friends - good company, good book talks, good food, all shared.

7-  My blogs - The Children's War and Randomly Reading, where I can talk about the books I have read and loved, and where I have met some really incredible people, and the best part is that they are all over the world and add so much more to my life just by being who and where they are.

8- Books and music - my two favorite things in life.  I would be lost without them.

9- The library - where I can get all the books and music I want.

10- My devices - these delight the geek in me and also make carrying my two favorite things, books and music, compact, easy to carry around and available 23/7/365.

Oh, yes and

11- All the countless little things that go into making life good.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

As a young boy growing up, Leib Lejzon was not so very different than other boys his age - he was energetic, mischievous, fun-loving and close to his family.  When he was 8, his father moved the family from Narewka, Poland to Krakow, away from extended family, but into better circumstances.  And Leib loved living in Krakow, paling about with his new friends and being as fun-loving and mischievous as ever.

But then the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and life changed for Leib and his family.  Little by little they were shut off from the rest of society as restrictions for Jews multiplied. Then one night two members of the Gestapo showed up at his family's  front door.  They smashed dishes, broke furniture and humiliated Leib's father, beating him repeatedly before imprisoning him for weeks.  Not long after being released, Leib's father was sent from his illegal job to an enamelware factory to crack open a safe for Oskar Schindler.

The family was relatively safe because of his father's job working for Oskar Schindler, even as the Nazis put even more restrictions on Jews.  Because of his age, Leib didn't have to wear a yellow star yet and could even pass for Aryan.  But eventually it was decided that only 15, 000 Jews would be allowed to remain in Krakow and they were forced into the newly created overcrowded ghetto.

His father and other Jews were allowed to continue working for Schindler, and eventually, Leib's older brother David was also taken on.  But when the first deportations started, Leib's other older brother Tsalig was arrested and put on a train.  The family never heard from him again, nor did they even learn what happened to brother Hersel, who has returned to Narewka.

When the remaining Jews in the ghetto were moved to a Plaszów Concentration Camp, under the command of Amon Goeth, Leib managed to get himself on Schindler's list, as did his mother Chanali and sister Pesza.  But life wasn't much better despite being a Schindler worker.  Goeth was known for his  sadistic brand of cruelty.  Schindler did what he could to sneak bits of extra food to his workers, and even managing to get his workers out of Plaszów, where they wouldn't have to deal with Goeth's random executions and deportations.

Leib maintains throughout the book that he and his surviving family members owed their lives to Oskar Schindler.  When they met again in 1965, Leib, was surprised that Schindler remembered him.  Malnutrition caused Leib to be very small for his age and he writes that Schindler always called him the boy on the wooden box as he worked at his workplace and that was how he remembered him.  

After the war, Leib and his parents moved to the United States and settled in Los Angeles.  He changed his name from Leib Lejzon to Leon Leyson, married and had children.  He writes that he did not speak about his Holocaust experiences for a long, long time.  The release of the film Schindler's List changed that.   Fortunately, he wrote his memoirs, adding to the now decreasing body of those who can bear witness to the tragedy that was the Holocaust.  Sadly, Leon Leyson passed away on January 14, 2013, the day after sending his finished manuscript to the publisher.

Anyone who has watched the film Schindler's List is familar with what happened to the Jews who worked for him.  Leon, who was one of the youngest Schindler Jew, takes us behind the movie and gives the readers a personal family history of love, resilience and survival.  Written in a very straightforward manner, Leyson reveals many emotions - fear, anger, confusion, but there is no sense of self-pity even as he describes unspeakable events.  

Besides an Epilogue written by Leon, there are some lovely tributes to him from his family at the back of the book, as well as 8 pages of photos.  Be sure to check them out.

The Boy on the Wooden Box is a book not to be missed.  It is recommended for middle grade readers and I think that is appropriate for this book.  Some passages are difficult but Leon doesn't include such graphic descriptions of what he experienced or witnessed that it would be too sensitive for readers that age.

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

You can read Leon Leyson's obituary HERE

You can see and hear Leon Leyson in this short YouTube video, taking about Schindler and his life under the Nazis.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Proimos

Back on April 10, 2011, an article appeared in the New York Times Magazine section about author Suzanne Collins.  I had just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy, so I sat down to read the article.  In the article, Collins said a lot of interesting things about war, but what resonated most with me  was the way she summed up so well what war, any war, feels like to the kids on the home front:
"If your parent is deployed and you are that young, you spend the whole time wondering where they are and waiting for them to come home, " she said.  "As time passes and the absence is longer and longer, you become more and more concerned - but you don't really have the words to express your concern.  There's only this continued absence."
I cut the article out and saved it.  You can read the entire article HERE

Now, Collins, best known for The Hunger Games trilogy, has written a picture book about her own experience as a 6 year old waiting for her father to return home after he was deployed to Vietnam.

Sue and her dad are close.  He reads Ogden Nash poems to her.  Her favorite is The Tale of Custard the Dragon, who is brave even when afraid.  Then one day, Sue's dad goes away to "something called a war.  It's in a place called Viet Nam" where there is a jungle.  The only jungle she knows about is the one where her favorite cartoon character lives and so Sue imagines that her dad is in a jungle like that.

Her dad will be gone for a whole year.  But, she wonders, how long is a year?  Turns out, it is pretty long when you are 6 and scared. 

Sue worries her mom may go away, too.  Pretty soon postcards start to arrive.  But on Halloween, when she gets too much candy from a lady who reassures her that her dad will be fine, Sue begins to worry.

Presents arrives for Christmas, but so does a birthday card at the wrong time of year.  Then, other holidays go by without any more postcards from her dad, until finally one arrives that asking her to "pray for me."

Eventually, it is summer vacation and Sue's dad returns home - but he just stares into space and isn't really there anymore.   In time, Sue's dad really does return home, but inevitably, some things have changed.

Year of the Jungle is one of the best books I have ever seen addressing what life is like when a young child has a parent away fighting in a war and s/he is too young to understand just what that means.  A year is a long, long time for a little girl to wait for her dad to come home from war.  In fact, it is a tough year for anyone with a deployed loved one.  But, as Collins said, it is hard for kids to express what they feel.  Remembering her own experience, she knows it is a year filled with with questions, worries, fear and separation anxiety and she has captured these mixed emotions beautifully.

The whimsical, cartoonlike illustrations, done with ink and Corel painter by James Proimos, gives the story just the right amount of emotional balance that is needed in an otherwise intense, serious story.

Year of the Jungle is a book that is bound to spark a lot of questions, especially from kids with a parent who is serving in Afghanistan.

The reason I chose to include this book for The Children's War is because it did remind me of Tomie dePaolo's  26 Fairmount Avenue: The War Years.  He was also able to capture the same emotions in his books 26 Fairmount Avenue: The War Years.  I think it is important to see that how children experience a parent away fighting in a war really doens't change from war to war.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Hear Suzanne Collins and James Proimos talk about how they decided on the illustrations in Year of the Jungle:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett, an encore presentation

Today I am revisiting my very first blogs posts here and on my other blog Randomly Reading.  It isn't because I haven't been reading, I have actually read lots of blogable books lately.  I just thought it would be fun to see this again.  And I still love it as much now as I did on all subsequent readings of it.

So here's what I wrote on June 11, 2010:

Life isn’t terribly exciting in Blackbury, England in 1996 until 21 May 1941, the night of the Blackberry Blitz and the destruction of Paradise Street, where 19 residents are killed. It all begins when 13 year old Johnny Maxwell and his friends find the local bag lady, Mrs. Tachyon, lying in an alley near her overturned shopping cart and her black plastic bags strewn about, blown from the past to the present by an unexploded bomb or UXB

Johnny does the right thing and calls an ambulance to take her to the hospital. And because he is a good kid, he takes her shopping cart, her bags and her demon cat Guilty home to store in his garage until Mrs. Tachyon can reclaim them. This incident begins Johnny’s foray in time travel, accompanied by his friends Yo-less, Bigmac, Wobbler and Kristy. As Mrs. Tachyon explains to Johnny when he visits her in the hospital “Them’s bags of time, mister man. Mind me bike! Where your mind goes, the rest of you’s bound to follow. Here today and gone tomorrow! Doing it’s the trick! eh?” (page 49) And because Johnny’s mind has been on his school project about the Blackbury Blitz that is exactly where Mrs. Tachyon’s bags of time take him and his friends.

Travelling back in time, Johnny is not only faced with the dilemma of knowing what the result of the Blackury Blitz will be, but also with the possibility of changing its grim outcome. It is a classic fork in the road dilemma given a new twist, or as the mysterious Sir John, burger magnet and richest man in the world, presents it to his chauffeur in 1996 “Did you know that when you change time, you get two futures heading off side by side?...Like a pair of trousers.” (page 55-56)

In 1941, Bigmac, a skinhead who finds cars with keys in the ignition irresistible, is arrested for stealing one and then accused of being a German spy. He manages to get away from the police by stealing one of their bicycles. Thanks to Bigmac, the group is forced to return to 1996 to escape. Unfortunately, when they get there, they discover that they have left Wobbler behind. Do they go back and return Wobbler to the present time? What leg of the trousers does history follow if they leave him in 1941? What leg of the trousers does history follow is they go back for Wobbler? And who is the mysterious Sir John and what does he have to do with everything?

Johnny and the Bomb presents a number of interesting conundrums for the reader. Every fan of time travel stories knows the cardinal rule that if you manage to find a way to time travel, you must not change anything or you change the future. But doesn’t the very fact of your presence in a time you have traveled to constitute a change? So, can you change something and still have the same future result – more or less?

Johnny and the Bomb was a well done, thoroughly enjoyable novel. It is the third book in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy. The first two books are Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) and Johnny and the Dead. It was made into a movie by BBC in 2006 in the UK, but can be viewed in 10 minute increments on YouTube. Though a little different from the book, I still found it to be entertaining. Mrs. Tachyon was played by Zoë Wanamaker, who, as fans of the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will remember, was Madame Hooch, the flying instructor (among her other numerous excellent roles.)

Speaking of the time traveling Mrs. Tachyon, there is an interesting concept in Physics called a tachyon. Essentially, a tachyon is an imaginary particle of ordinary matter that can travel faster than the speed of light, which means it can travel back in time.

It seemed appropriate to begin this blog about World War II-themed books for young readers with a time travel novel, even if the focus is not directly about the war. Historical fiction is, after all, similar to Mrs. Tachyon’s bags of time, and the novels become a portal that can transport and return me to the time period under consideration.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

Today is Veterans Day and once again thousands of people will be lining up along Fifth Avenue for NYCs annual Veterans Day parade.  According to Business Insider, this is the country's largest veterans parade in the nation.

Given the popularity of the parade nowadays, it is hard to believe that in the late 1980s, the parade, then produced by the American Legion, was almost cancelled for the first time in its long history.  The reason - lack of interest!  In fact, interest was so low that in a article published in the New York Times on November 10, 1995, Douglas Martin wrote that in  "recent years, Veterans Day observations have become desultory at best, with spectators often limited to passers-by walking their dogs or heading out for a quart of milk."  A group called the United War Veterans Council took over producing the parade in 1987 and it has once again grown a well attended event that honors America's veterans.  

The Parade in 1995

Of course, the NYC parade isn't the happening.  All over the country, communities are going to be staging their own parades to honor veterans, especially their local heroes.  If one is being held in your area, I hope you will attend. 

Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts and a World War II veteran, certainly knew the importance of honoring veterans.  For years, he created a special Veterans Day strip to honor those combat veterans of WW2 embodied in Bill Mauldin's wartime strip Willie & Joe.  The one below is from November 11, 1979.

Although in the United States, Veterans Day honors living veterans, it is also Remembrance Day in other countries like Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, France and Germany.

You can find some wonderful book recommendations for Remembrance Day at
PragmaticMom's website HERE
Mother Daughter & Son's website HERE
Jemine Pett's website HERE

So, please take a moment to think about those members of the Armed Forces who are no longer with us.  I know I will.

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friends of Liberty by Bernice Gormley

It is 1773 and tensions are heating up in Boston between the Tories, those loyal to the king and the Whigs, those who want American independence.   The East India Company was given exclusive rights by the British Parliament to sell tea to the colonists.  Though tea would be cheaper, the colonists were expected to pay the import tax on it.  But the colonist had no representation in Parliament and objected to being forced to pay the duty on tea.  The Sons of Liberty, a secret group consisting of shopkeepers artisans and tradesman who met at Boston's Liberty Tree, were vehemently against the tea tax.

Into all this, an unlikely friendship forms between 12 year old Sally Gifford, daughter of a shoemaker whose sympathies are with the Whigs, and Kitty Lawton, daughter of a wealthy merchant and a Tory.  To seal their friendship and become "sisters at heart" the girls exchange important token that remind them of their deceased mothers.  For Sally, this is a silver heart-shaped brooch studded with pearls; for Kitty, it is a gold mourning ring that holds a piece of the mother's hair.

Although Sally has a lot of chores to do at home, she still finds time to spend with Kitty, and begins to like the fancy privileged lifestyle she discovers in the Lawton home.  But one day, when Kitty's brother James comes home with tar on his clothing and a blistering burn on his neck, Sally is afraid that her cousin and her father's apprentice Ethan may have been involved in the incident.  After all, Ethan is involved with the Sons of Liberty and makes no secret of his contempt for the Lawtons and Sally's pretentious friendship with Kitty.

Now, as the ships from England bearing the taxable tea get closer and closer, tensions begin to climb all over Boston.  Sally, still dazzled by the Lawton's wealth and Kitty's subtle pressure to ensure her loyalty to their friendship, seems to be turning her back on her own family.  But when Ethan is captured by British soldiers one night during a raid on the Lawton's warehouse, Sally realizes that it was her fault he was caught.  But can she do anything about it, even with the help of Kitty's clever, scientifically-minded brother James' help?

Friends of Liberty takes the reader right to the Boston Tea Party, but does not include it.  The focus is really on the friendship between the two girls and how easily one can lose sight of what and who is important when blinded by the materialist luxurious life of others.  It is told from Sally's point of view in the third person and includes lots of descriptions about what the life of a young daughter of a well-respected, shoemaker might have been like.  

As a historical novel, there is lots of information about the political unrest in Boston, though I think it presupposes some knowledge of the time period.  I believe that Friends of Liberty would, however, be a good companion book to read while studying the events leading up the the American Revolution.  

I did have a problem with the friendship between Sally and Kitty.  Surely in all of Boston there were young girls in the same class as Kitty Lawton, that she wouldn't have to resort of a friendship with a shoemaker's daughter.  Class and political persuasion were important separators for the colonists and the King's merchant's.  Still, it does serve as a good example of a girl caught up in conflicting loyalties  and learning to be true to yourself, issues most kids must deal with at some point in their adolescence, even today.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend

Author Beatrice Gormley has an interesting, informative essay about life in Boston in 1773 over at EerdWord

This is book 4 of my 2013 American Revolution Reading Challenge hosted by War Through The Generations

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Andrea Offermann

After Andrej, 12, his brother Tomas, 9, and baby sister Wilma escape the carnage that soldiers have wrought upon their parents and other members of their Romany caravan, they wander by night in search of food and other necessities, always fearing and avoiding the Leader's soldiers.  One night, they wander into a village that has been totally demolished by bombs.  Going through the rubble, looking for anything useful in the ashy remnants, they discover that the village zoo is still intact and decide it is a safe place to stop.  It is the one place that is still intact, complete with soft, grassy lawn.

Curiosity gets the best of the boys and as they go from cage to cage, they discover the ten animals - a wolf, a lioness, a monkey, a seal, a kangaroo, an eagle, a chamois, a bear, a llama and a boar - are still alive, though they are a neglected, starving menagerie.  But while they are exploring, planes flying overhead begin to drop bombs on the already ruined village once again.  

And when the planes leave, to be amazement of the boys, the animals start talking.  As night unfolds, they tell the two boys about the zoo, the zookeeper and his daughter, Alice.  Alice loved and cared for the animals but when the Leader's soldiers invaded their country, Alice became a resistance fighter.  Within the safety of the zoo, she and the other resistance fighters planned a way to sabotage an enemy train.  The sabotage was successful, but the Leader became very angry and took revenge on the village, continually bombing it even though nothing is left but the zoo.  Alice had to go into hiding in the mountains, but promised the animals that she would return.

As night wears on, each of the animals tell the boys how they came to be caged in the zoo.  And the boys share their story with the animals.  Each story is different, but each shares a common thread - loss of family, loss of freedom.  I don't want to go into detail about their individual stories, because I think would spoil it for any future readers.  They should be read not synopsized.

The novel is always referred to as a WW2 story and it certainly sounds like one.   Hartnett has said that she really hates the idea of having to tell the reader "everything in clunking detail," but it is easy enough to flush out details that correspond to events in the novel.  The reference to the Leader reminds us that Hitler was also called der Führer (the leader).  The fact that the boys are Romany places the novel in Eastern Europe, and the invaders remind us of the German soldiers who invaded Czechoslovakia.  When Alice and her friends sabotage the enemy train, a close friend of the Leader is killed, a parallel of the killing of Hitler's friend and Gestapo head Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942.  Angered and wanting revenge, Hitler ordered the massacre of Lidice.

I think that Hartnett deliberately kept these facts and events vague for two other reasons.   First, she may have wanted this to be an ageless fable, not one that only relates to WW2, but to all conflicts.  And second,  because, as she said in an interview, she wants the reader to be "...part of the experience that is a book, and I like the reader to have some input into the creation of the work - to decide what happens in the end, if need be."

This second reason may be why there are so many mixed reactions to The Midnight Zoo.  The story just doesn't have a tidy ending.  But there is a tidy ending - the children and the animals find the elusive freedom they crave.  How they find it isn't so tidy and depends on how you read some of Hartnetts's hints (my interpretation is below)

The Midnight Zoo is one of the most lyrically written books I have ever read.  Hartnett masterfully combines realism , magical realism and personification to create an almost dream-like fable reminding us of the destructive nature of war.  Accompanying the text are soft, almost ethereal black and white illustrations by Andrea Offermann at the beginning of each chapter, as you can see below, and full color cover illustration.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+ but I would age it at 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

A PDF copy of an extensive teaching guide by Dr. Pam Macintyre for The Midnight Zoo can be found HERE

This is book 13 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

**Not really a Spoiler, but my interpretation of the ending**

Hartnett does not spare the reader any of the horrors of war in her descriptions.  Knowing this, when I came to the end of the novel, I didn't not see it as hopeful or life affirming.  At the end, when the figure of a woman in a dark cape appears, the children and animals see who they want to see, someone they believe will take care of them.   For Tomas, she is his mother, for Andrej, she is Saint Sarah, patron saint of the Romany; for the animals, she is Alice.   And when I thought back on the sentence "They had journeyed to the final edge of life beyond which there were no walls,"(pg 214) my initial reaction was that the planes had returned with their bombs and it was the moment of death when the woman called the children come and eagle prepares to fly, but it was also the moment when they have found true freedom in death.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

From the Archives #26: N or M? by Agatha Christie

I realized the other day that I was woefully behind in completing my Cruisin' with the Cozies reading challenge and the year is too fast coming to an end.  So I went off to the library to see what was there and imagine my surprise when I came across an Agatha Christie mystery set in WWII.  I have read Christie but it has be mostly limited to Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries.  I was totally unfamiliar with her Tommy and Tuppence novels but was very pleased to discover N or M?

It is 1941 and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, a middle aged married couple, feel their espionage services are unwanted now that Britain has gone to war because they are 'too old.'  But when it is discovered that two German agents, one male code name N and one female, code name M, are organizing fifth column activities from a seaside guest house named Sans Souci, Tommy, but not Tuppence, is asked by Mr. Grant from the Ministry to spend some time there working undercover.  The danger of losing the war, he tells Tommy:
" the danger of Troy - the wooden horse within out walls.  Call it the Fifth Column if you like.  It is here, among us.  Men and women, some of the highly placed, some of them obscure, but all believing genuinely in the Nazi aims and the Nazi creed and desiring to substitute that sternly efficient creed for the muddled easy-going liberty of our democratic institutions."
The plan, then, is to tell Tuppence he is off to Scotland to do some boring office work for the Ministry.  Imagine his surprise when he arrives at Sans Souci and discovers Tuppence is already there.

And, in true Christie style, Sans Souci is the perfect wooden horse, presenting a cast of innocent looking men and women, any of whom could be N or M.  There is the mysterious proprietor Mrs. Perenna and her war-hating daughter Sheila in love with Carl von Deinin; the German refugee Carl von Deinen, whose two brothers are in concentration camps, and whose father has already died in one, and mother has died of fear; Mrs.  O'Rourk, a rather nosey heavy set woman with beard and mustache, who had a antiques shop in London, now lost in the Blitz; the elderly perpetually knitting for the troops Mrs. Minton;  the young Mrs. Sprot, whose husband sent her out of London with her daughter, Betty, 3 fearing for thier safety in the air raids; the elderly hypochondriacal, wheelchair-bound Mr. Cayley and his weak wife; and finally, Major Bletchley, all army, all country.  Into this come a very suspicious looking Polish woman, as well as the local ARP warden and former navy man, Commander Haydock.

N or M could easily be any one of these characters.  But nothing is as it seems here, and the trick is not to be taken in by appearances.  As always, Christie has you guessing til the end; well, if truth be told, only in regard to the male N.  The female agent M was pretty easy to figure out.

I found Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to be charming, engaging characters. though for me, not quite as engaging as Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  But it is certainly an entertaining, light, rather witty novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite guessing M early on.  And N or M? proves that Christie can write a good spy thriller as well as her wonderful crime fiction.

And because there is a 3 year old character, Christie once again makes good use of children's books and nursery rhymes throughout, such as Goosey Goosey Gander, one of Betty's favorites.

Original 1941 UK
N or M? was published in March 1941.  It is one of two that Christie penned during the war, the other novel being a Miss Marple story called The Body in the Library in 1942.  It is the third of five Tommy and Tuppence novels, spanning the years 1922 to 1973.  Unlike her other detective characters, Tommy and Tuppence age over the course of the novels.  And though they describe themselves as old in N or M?, they are really only middle-aged, but are still bright, witty, charismatic characters who would most likely appeal to teen readers just getting into mysteries.

There is an interesting addendum to N or M? that was just made public in February 2013.  It seems that MI5 (then the Military Intelligence Agency) investigated Christie because of her use of the name Bletchley for one of her characters.  After all, Christie was friends with Dilly Knox, who was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.  But Bletchley Park and the code breakers were a secret.  Did Knox give her inside information?  Christie's explanation for choosing the name is priceless:
"Bletchley? My dear, I was stuck there on my way by train from Oxford to London and took revenge by giving the name to one of my least lovable characters."
You can read the article about this in the Guardian HERE 

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This book is an E-Book borrowed from the NYPL via Overdrive

You can discover more about Agatha Christie and her many books at the official Agatha Christie website HERE

This is book 3 of my Crusin' with the Cozies Reading Challenge hosted by Socrates Book Reviews
This is book 12 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry