Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites

In December 1943, Dita Adlerova, 14, along with her parents and 5,000 other Jewish prisoners arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Theresienstadt ghetto (also referred to as Terezín) in Czechoslovakia. Unlike most of the Jews who were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, this transport arrived with the notation SB - Sonderbehandlung. No one really knew what was meant by special treatment, but they were put into one of nine separate camps in Birkenau, called BIIb, and referred to as the Theresienstadt Family Camp. These prisoners were allowed to keep their clothing and their hair wasn’t shaved, although living conditions were just a deplorable as elsewhere in Auschwitz.

Thanks for Fredy Hirsch, the prisoner in charge of the children, Dita becomes an assistant in Block 31, a barracks that has been converted into a space for children during the day so that their parents can work. It is also a place that houses a secret school which includes a library of eight books that have been smuggled in by other prisoners and are in various states of disrepair. Dita’s job is to care for the books every day - removing them from their hiding place, delivering them to the teachers, and carefully putting them back into their hiding place. Dita takes her job so seriously, that when a surprise inspection that includes Dr. Josef Mengele happens, she risks everything to hide the books under her smock. 

But later that day, Dita runs into Mengele again,and she believes that he seems to know that she was hiding something that morning. He tells her he will be watching her from now on. His threat informs Dita’s life in Auschwitz with additional fear from then on, yet it doesn’t stop her from continuing her job as the librarian. 

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a powerful novel with a brilliant blending of fact and fiction. It is told mostly in the present tense, and I think the writing style may remind you of The Book Thief, especially the voice of the omniscient narrator who knows what has happened as well as what will happen. And I have to be honest and say it is a difficult book to read at times, but then, so are all books about the Holocaust.

Several of the characters are based on real people. Most of the Nazis in charge of Auschwitz, like Josef Mengele, the Doctor of Death, and Rudolf Höss, the camp commandant. The main character, Dita Adlerova, reflects the experiences of the real librarian of Auschwitz, Dita Polach Kraus, whom Iturbe interviewed in Israel when he was researching this novel. Iturbe also includes the stories of Fredy Hirsch, Rudi Rosenberg, and SS First Officer Viktor Pestek. Hirsch and Rosenberg were prisoners in Auschwitz, while Pestek was a guard who fell in love with a young Jewish girl. Other characters in the novel are strictly fictional, but whether real or fictional, each one contributes to the overall picture that Iturbe draws of this section of Auschwitz, an anomaly in what was a place where most people were sent to be killed upon arrival. 

And Dita's story is certainly an exemplary one. In the midst of so much heartbreak and horror, Dita derives a real sense of strength and purpose as the librarian, coming up with ways to improve the delivery of the fragile books to teachers, and carefully repairing them each day when they are returned. And, with the help of Fredy Hirsch, her sense of purpose develops into a way that Dita is able to cope with her own overwhelming fear, learning to accept it as part of who she is, and by recognizing it, she is able to overcome it and go on despite everything.

Thus, Iturbe’s draws Dita as a study of courage in the face of fear, and it becomes all the more poignant and admirable as she faces the horrors of Auschwitz, and later Bergen-Belsen. And while the actual atrocities that were endemic in the Nazi’s concentration camps and their treatment of Jews are difficult to fully capture in words alone, readers should know that Iturbe doesn’t hold back, that some of what he writes is quite graphic. 

Though fear, hunger, cold, death, cruelty, and loss of loved ones are the daily experiences of Dita and the other prisoners in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, ultimately The Librarian of Auschwitz is a life-affirming novel that manages to end on a note of hope for the future.

A Teacher's Guide for The Librarian of Auschwitz is available from the publisher, Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher

Map of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) showing Theresienstadt Family Camp BIIb and Block 31 where the secret school was held

        

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Sunday Funnies #26: Archie Comics

I decided not to go to Comic Con this year, after standing on line to get in for almost 4 hours last year. But I’ve been thinking about comics this weekend anyway. I loved comics growing up and I like to feature some of the comics that were popular during the WWII. Comic are often such a measure of what is happening in the world.

And, sometimes, while reading a book for this blog, I come across things about WWII that I didn’t know and that take me by surprise. That’s exactly what happened while I was reading a mystery called The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines. On page 36, the protagonist, Iris Anderson, 15, is reading an Archie comic book. Archie in 1942? The same Archie Andrews I read all those years later?

Archie was indeed a war-time creation, and Iris Anderson was probably reading Archie Comics #1, dated Winter 1942, on sale November 15, 1942, cost 10¢. But teenaged Archie’s first appearance, along with Jughead Jones and Betty Cooper, was actually a year earlier, in Pep Comics #22, dated Dec. 1941. It was a six page spread and introduced Archie as “America’s newest boyfriend.” 



Archie lived in Riverdale, along with his parents Mary and Fred Andrews, and attended Riverdale High School. Archie’s infamous jalopy was introduced in Pep Comics #25, dated March 1942 and the very rich Veronica Lodge, middle-class Betty Cooper’s rival for Archie’s affections, was introduced in Pep Comics #26, dated April 1942. More characters were added over the first year, including Mr. Weatherbee, the school principal. Mr. Lodge, who raison d’être was to keep Archie and Veronica apart, and Archie’s other friend, Reggie Mantle. It is interesting that there is no mention of the Archie story in either of these Pep Comics.



In 1942, with most of the characters in place, Archie got his own comic book, in which he was now billed as “The Mirth of a Nation.” The overall humor in Archie’s adventures is pretty much the same in these early comics and in the ones I read. And although he looked like a total doofus in the early Pep Comics and the first Archie Comics, his popularity continued to grow and his looks mellowed out somewhat. 

Oddly, even though the Pep Comics of the early 1940s had superheroes fighting Nazis, Archie stories were apolitical. It wasn’t until he had his own comic that the war began to figure into some, though not many, of the stories. The first one I found is called “Pancakes in a Blackout.” When his parents go out for the evening, Archie decides to make himself a nice stack of pancakes, but then the air raid siren sounds and he has every light in the house on. Well, see for yourself:
Archie has changed and evolved over time, but it's been fun revisiting those early days of Archie and the gang, and if you are like me, right about now you have "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies running through your head. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

Inspired by her hero Marina Raskova, Valka Koroleva, 18, wants nothing more than to fly for her country, the Soviet Union. Already a pilot, Valka’s first attempts to join the Red Army Air Force or VVS (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily) are initially turned down, but by September 1941, things have changed and they put out a call for qualified female pilots. 

And Valka is beside herself to learn that Marina Raskova will be in charge of the women pilots, and to be accepted into the initial training program Aviation Group 122 along with her cousin Iskra Koroleva, 21. 

Meanwhile, Valka’s childhood friend Pasha Danilin, 17, has been conscripted and is serving as a radioman in the Red Army. As enthusiastic as Valka is fight the fascists, Pasha is just the opposite. A sensitive person, who hears the sounds of the world in different colors, Pasha is just not cut out for war.

Valka’s cousin Iskra, with whom she is very close, is the daughter of “wreckers,” who were accused of sabotaging the 1937 census. They were arrested and imprisoned, and this fact follows and causes problems for Iskra, even in the VVS.  

The majority of the novel is focused on pilot Valka and navigator Iskra’s experiences on the ground and in the air, with a great deal of attention given to the sexism that the women pilots had to deal with while proving themselves to excellent aviators and brave fighters. Not that dropping bombs on enemies is done easily - Valka and Iskra are fully aware that they are taking lives.

Most of the action is told through an exchange of letters between Valka and Pasha, which also allows for orienting the reader timewise. Not only does the reader get a clear picture of what is going on, but they also get a lot of factual background information. This is one of those books that prompted me to look up people, places, and events that are included, to find out more. 

Katz also develops the feelings that Pasha and Valka have for each other, taking them from friendship to a deeper love. I hate to use the word romance here as some have,  because that might lead some readers to think this is a romance novel, when in reality it is excellent historical fiction with a romantic sub-story.

Among the Red Stars is a nice blend of fiction and reality. Through Valka and Iskra, Katz  traces the difficulties faced in creating the training Aviation Group 122 that later became the three regiments - the 586th, the 587th, and the 588th. Mixed among her fictional characters are some real heroic women aviators who fought and even lost their lives in WWII. And Katz does not hold back on some of her descriptions of the fighting - air and ground. 

Among the Red Stars is an exciting debut novel, occasionally bogged down by the descriptions, but otherwise very well worth reading, especially if you like historical fiction, or have an interest in WWII history, women’s history, aviation. Katz includes more information about Aviation Group 122 and the fate of some of the Russian women who flew in WWII.

FYI: the success of the Russian women aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, in which Valka and Iskra serve, earned them the name Nachthexen or Night Witches by the Germans.  

Pair this with Flygirl by Sherrie L. Smith and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein for an interesting comparison of fictional representations of female pilot experiences in WWII. 

For anyone interested in more information about the women who flew for the Soviet Union in WWII, these two were recommended by Gwen Katz, author of Among the Red Stars. They are A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in WWII by Anne Noggle, published by Texas A&M University Press, 1994, 2007; and Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat by Reina Pennington, University Press of Kansas, 2007. 

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was a ARC provided by the author


This is the kind of plane the 588th flew in the nightly bombings.
It was made of canvas and wood
Source: By Douzeff - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai

During WWI, the Germans had a real advantage over their enemies, Britain and the United States. They had perfected the use of submarines from which they could launch torpedoes, making their enemies ships literal sitting ducks. Britain was especially desperate to find a solution to the sinking of ships, both military and non-military, since, as an island, they relied on boats to bring them much of what they needed, especially food, and so far, nothing has worked.

That is, until Norman Wilkinson, a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, came up with an unlikely idea - camouflage the ships. 

But how do you camouflage a huge ship? Wilkinson knew you couldn’t make a ship invisible, but they could be painted so that they confused submarine officers trying to figure out which way and how fast the ship in their sights was traveling.

The idea of camouflage was nothing knew, but Wilkinson suggested painting a crazy pattern on one side of a ship and another crazy pattern on the other side. The patterns used were called dazzle and amazingly enough, it seemed to work. Pretty soon, two dozen women artists were creating dazzle patterns that were then applied to ships by painters and artists working together.

Did dazzle camouflage save any ships from being torpedoed? The British painted 3,000 ships, the Americans painted 1,000, but in fact, there may have been too many other factors making it hard to determine how effective the dazzle ships really were.

In this well-written chronicle about the Dazzle Ships of WWI, readers will be intrigued that such a far-fetched idea was accepted and carried out (even the King of England was dazzled by the ships). Barton’s text is enhanced and supported by Victo Ngai’s dynamic analog and digital media illustrations, which reflect not just the patterns of the dazzle ships but are rendered in the style and colors of the early 20th century, especially the art movement known as cubism.   

Dazzle Ships is a picture book for older readers is sure to appeal to anyone interested in the history of WWI and no doubt they will find this creative problem solving to a serious problem both fascinating and inspirational.

A WWI timeline is included that shows just how dazzle ships fit into the events of the war. And be sure to read the Author’s Note and the Illustrator’s Note for more information.

FYI: Author Chris Barton has contributed a very informative guest post at The Lerner Blog in which he writes about why he wrote Dazzle Ships. 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Example of a Dazzle Ship: HMS Kildangan 1918 (Public Domain)


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Blog Tour: Mari's Hope by Sandy Brehl

Mari’s Hope is the third book in the Odin’s Promise Trilogy. In the first book, In Odin’s Promise, Mari is only 11 when the Nazi’s invade her beloved Norway on April 9, 1941. Life as she knew changes overnight, and slowly, she learns that the Norwegians in her village and all over Norway are not taking the invasion and occupying German solders lying down - an active and successful resistance springs up almost immediately and by the end of the novel, after suffering a heartbreaking loss, Mari herself is part of the resistance.

Book Two, Bjorn’s Gift, begins in August 1941. When German officers move into their home, Mari's family move in with her grandmother in order to continue their resistance work, even risking sheltering refugees in the attic. Bjorn is away, now a full time part of the resistance, and Mari decides to secretly record everything that is happening at home for him to read after the war. Mari is also disappointed when she learns her old friend Leif and his family seem to have become collaborators.  

Mari’s Hope begins in February 1943. Mari is now 14 years old and while still part of the resistance, she has also become a highly regarded assistant to Dr. Olsen, often visiting the sick in their  isolated homes spread out on the mountainside around her village of Ytre Arna. Food, fuel to heat homes, and a shortage of medical supplies have caused major problems for the folks who refuse to help the Nazis, including Mari’s family. 

Mari is also able to travel to Bergen, to visit her sister Lise, a nurse, and to take her examinations to become a health aide. There, she meets Hanna, a smart, lively, not easily scared 8 year-old, and her friend Rolf, 14. But on her second meeting with Rolf, Mari and Hanna find him suffering serious injuries after some Norwegian Hitler Youth beat him up, and Mari ends up performing resistance tasks for him in Bergen before returning home. 

Mari soon finds herself traveling again to Bergen. This time it is to try to get some needed medical supplies, using a clever ruse concocted by Dr. Olsen and a friend of his in Bergen. She goes a third time to Bergen to try to help out after a harbor explosion destroys much of the area in April 1944, and  to find Hanna and her older sister Julia, fearing that they may have perished in the intense fires.

At home, Mari is still having difficulties with her old friend Leif and his collaboration with the Nazis, and of course, there is still the despised German officer Klein, whom Mari had nicknamed Goatman in Odin’s Promise, an alcoholic who is known for his excellent ability to trace illegal radios, one of which is owned by Mari's family.

Brehl’s realistic depiction of life under the Nazis, of the way spontaneous resistance groups formed, of the fears, the deprivations, and even some of the happy times is probably the strongest appeal the Odin’s Promise Trilogy has for me. Authenticity in historical fiction is important, and I felt that Brehl had really nailed it, and yes, the terrible explosion in Bergen really did happen. 

One of the other things I really liked about each book in the Trilogy is the consistent message that each of us can make a difference under difficult circumstances if we work together, and Mari’s family is the perfect example of that idea. Resistance is a theme that really means a lot to me and I found the large and small acts in Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift, and Mari’s Hope gave me some hope that something as odious as the Third Reich can be overcome. 

Mari’s Hope takes the reader up to and just beyond the end of the war, and while there is some heartbreak in this novel, there are some nice surprises as well. And Brehl ties things up with a satisfying conclusion so there are no hanging ends. Much to her credit for creating such appealing, realistic characters, I did find that I was somewhat sad to close the book at the end of Mari’s Hope after traveling along on her wartime journey these past few years. 

The Odin’s Promise Trilogy are three books that will appeal to anyone interested in WWII, the Norwegian resistance, and themes about family, friends, and life on the home-front in a war.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the author

About the Author: Sandy Brehl is the award-winning author of a Norway historical trilogy for ages ten-thru-adult. (ODIN’S PROMISE, BJORN’S GIFT, and MARI’S HOPE) She also writes a blog about picture books (http://Unpackingpicturebookpower.blogspot.com) and contributes to a blog about historical works from middle grade readers (https://thestoriedpast.org). She’s an active member and volunteer with SCBWI-Wisconsin. Sandy writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for young readers of any age. A retired educator living in the Milwaukee area, Sandy offers programs for schools, libraries, and adult groups. 

Learn more at www.SandyBrehl.com 
                   Follow on Twitter @SandyBrehl and @PBWorkshop
                                     Facebook: Sandy Brehl Author

Be sure to visit the other stops on the Mari’s Hope Blog Tour:
9/6/Rosemary Kiladitis - Mom Read It
9/7 Trisha Perry - Mindjacked
9/11 Jenni Enzor - Jenni Enzor
9/12 Stephanie Lowden - Golowd
9/18 Suzanne Warr - Tales from the Raven

Sunday, September 17, 2017

That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

It’s the summer of 1940 and Peggy, 16, younger brother Ernest, 11, and their mum have moved in with Uncle Fred and Aunt Myra, sheep farmers in Romney Marsh on the Kentish coast not far from the English Channel. Their father is gone, and Ernest thinks he is fighting in the war, but Peggy seems to know something more about where he is and so do the townspeople, who threat them with some amount of disdain.

Ernest is a bit of a neurotic boy, and like many, he's afraid that the Germans are going to invade any minute. He has gotten hold of the leaflet “If the Invader Comes…” issued by the War Office, which, rather than shoring up his courage, only makes Ernest more fearful.

Out riding his bike one day, Ernest sees a plane catch fire and crash land. When he reports it, as per the leaflet, everyone assumes it was a German plane that was swallowed by the marsh along with the pilot. But during the night, Peggy wakes up and discovers the injured pilot hiding by the henhouse.

It turns out the pilot, Henryk, is a Polish refugee who is flying with the RAF. Peggy decides to hide him in an abandoned church, and brings his clean clothes that belonged to her father, and some food. Henryk doesn’t want to return to the RAF, he has lost is love of flying, and has decided he just can’t fight anymore. As his story unfolds, Peggy learns about his escape from Poland after the Germans invaded, his travels to other countries to fight, and the loss of his family, including the tragic death of his three younger sisters.

Ever vigilant for invading Germans, Ernest eventually finds out about Henryk. As he gets to know him, he’s really torn - wanting to like Henryk but disturbed by what he believes to be Henryk’s LMF or Lack of Moral Fiber. Ernest has been bullied ever since arriving  in Romney Marsh and worries about his own LMF. In his need to prove his courage, Ernest’s wavering leads to all kind of dangerous complications for Peggy and Henryk, who meanwhile are finding themselves attracted to each other.

That Burning Summer is told from the alternating points of view of Peggy, Henryk, and Ernest. It begins with a copy of the leaflet from the War Office, and each of the seven chapter begins with the instructions of what to do in case of an invasion, instructions that are reflected in Ernest’s struggles with his fears of an invasion, his own possible lack of courage, and later with his feelings about Henryk. I though Syson did a masterful job of weaving each instruction into the unfolding of Ernest's story without making it sound forced.

But this is really Peggy’s coming of age story. Unlike her friend, Peggy doesn't really have feelings about boys, and certainly not about her own sexuality. Readers watch as she discovers her developing feelings for Henryk, and becomes aware of her budding sexuality. Besides the coming of age theme That Burning Summer also explores ideas of courage, cowardice, family, and loyalty in all her characters.

It is not a well-known fact that many Polish pilots flew for the RAF after their country was invaded and Syson brings how it came about nicely as Henryk's story unfolds. In addition, Syson includes interesting everyday details about wartime life in a small village, and a sub-story about where Peggy and Ernest’s father really is and why, along with a mystery as to who is sending cruel notes to their Mum. Another sub-story concerns an opportunistic bully who seems to know just how to get under Ernest’s skin, adding realism and depth to the novel. 

The novel really only covers the events of the summer and early fall of 1940, but there is also an epilogue set in 1946 that brings readers up-to-date with Peggy and Henryk's fate. 

That Burning Summer is a historical fiction novel that should appeal to readers who are interested in WWII, and especially those who also like a touch of romance.  

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was a PFD received from the author

FYI: "If the Invader Comes" Leaflet (click to enlarge)


Sunday, September 10, 2017

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

When last we left our evacuees, Ada Smith and her younger brother Jaime, they had been taken away from Susan Smith (no relation), with whom them had been living after being evacuated from London, and brought back to London by their mother despite the constant bombing. Sure enough, one night during an air raid, they don’t make it to the shelter because of Ada’s severely clubbed foot, and in the midst of everything, Susan appears to take them back to her house in the countryside.

Now, with her club foot surgically corrected, thanks to the generosity of her best friend’s wealthy parents, Lord and Lady Thorton, Ada returns to the country with Susan and Jaime. And, since Susan’s house has been destroyed by a bomb, they will be living in a cottage on the Thorton estate. 

Then word comes that Ada’s mother was killed in a bombing raid, and Ada finally begins to feel that maybe she isn’t the terrible person her mother always said she was. When Susan becomes their legal guardian, Jaime immediately begins to call her Mum, but Ada can’t bring herself to do that, and actually resents that Jaime could do it so easily. Calling Susan Mum would require a level of trust that she will always be there, and as Ada knows all too well, you just can’t count on that during a war.

When the government requisitions the Thorton manor for war use, the very formidable Lady Thorton moves in with Susan, Ada and Jaime. And when Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Germany is brought there by Lord Thorton to receive math instruction from Susan, so that she can eventually join him in his secret war work in Oxford, things really get tense. Ada and Jaime are convinced that Ruth is a spy, but Lady Thorton takes an immediate dislike and intense to Ruth, seeing her only as a enemy German, and the reason her son Jonathan had joined the RAF and put his life in danger.  

Ruth and Ada don’t hit is off, either, until they discover a mutual love for horses. But Lady Thorton refuses to let Ruth anywhere on the estate property, except the cottage, and especially the stables. When Susan gives her horse Butter to Ada as a gift, Ada lets Ruth ride her in secret and slowly the two girls develop a fragile friendship.

There is lots going on in The War I Finally Won, which I liked. War is a chaotic, confusing, demanding time and Bradley has really captured that. At the same time, the characters that appeared in The War That Saved My Life have the same feel to them, as they should, and even Jaime, whom I felt was a little thin as a character before has become a more developed personality. 

The thing I found most interesting was the relationship between Susan and Ada. In the first book, it seems so clear cut, but now, Ada keeps Susan at an unexpected distance. Why? With her mother dead and gone (no, that is not a spoiler), I had expected that the three of them would form a nice, lasting family unit. But, ironically, it will take more loss, more sorrow and the realization that anything could really be gone in the blink of an eye for Ada to finally see the need to let herself trust more and that is the war she must finally win. 

The War I Finally Won is so more than just a satisfying coming of age sequel. While it explores the theme of trust, within that theme, it also explores the idea of how we define family. For those who haven’t read the first book, The War That Saved My Life, I would highly recommend doing so (though it isn’t necessary to enjoy this second book). Luckily, The War I Finally Won won’t be available until October 3, 2017, so there’s still plenty of time to read, or for some to re-read book 1.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from the publisher

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Paris Spy (a Maggie Hope Mystery #8) by Susan Elia MacNeal

When last we left Maggie Hope, her college friend Sarah Sanderson and her old boyfriend Hugh Thompson, both now Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents, were preparing to go to France to work undercover, while Maggie was excitedly expecting her newly discovered half sister, Elise Hess, to arrive in London from Germany.

It is now June 1942 when The Paris Spy opens and France has be under German occupation since June 1940 and the Nazis have quite comfortably ensconced themselves in Paris, enjoying the finer things the city has to offer. 

Sarah and Hugh, code named Sabine Severin and Hubert Taillier respectively, have also arrived in Paris, she as a dancer, he as a cellist to work undercover as part of a Paris ballet company. Their assignment is to collect a bag of sand sample SOE agent Erica Calvert had collected from the beaches of Normandy, France, in preparation for the proposed invasion and it is imperative that those sample not get into the hands of the Nazis. 

Maggie has also arrived in Paris hoping for discover what happened to her half sister. Elise never showed up in London, as planned.

More importantly, however, she is there to try to discover what happened to SOE agent Erica Calvert - is she dead? Alive? Compromised? Her radio transmittals have been coming through to England but without the required security check. And what about her sand samples? 

After months of waiting in the home of two resistance workers, Maggie has finally received her forged identity papers, becoming Paige Kelly from Ireland, in Paris to shop for her trousseau. Ireland was neutral during the war and so Maggie is free to move around as she pleases. She immediately checks into the Hôtel Ritz, now headquarters for the German Luftwaffe, and home to designer Coco Chanel, who in reality did live there for 37 years, including the war years, and who immediately befriends Maggie, who just happens to be wearing a Chanel suit when they meet.

And to add to the danger of simply operating in an occupied area, the Nazis seem to know exactly who the SOE agents are and what they are doing in France, which can only mean one thing - there is a mole in SOE. But who can it be? And will Maggie find out before all the SOE agents’ lives are put in jepardy?

There is a lot going on inThe Paris Spy. There’s mystery and intrigue mixed with the really odd glamour that was Paris after the Nazis arrived. MacNeal has really captured the two sides of the German officers who were running operations there. On the surface, they demanded the finer things associated with France - lots of champagne, the finest foods, and the best accommodations. Below the surface, the level of physical and mental cruelty is stunning. 

And in-between is Coco Chanel. Chanel has long been suspected of being a Nazi collaborator. MacNeal’s depiction of her is ambiguous at best, and it is up to the reader to decide whether or not she is a Nazi spy, or a double agent in The Paris Spy. Of course, there is the whispered comment Chanel made to Maggie on page 245…   

I personally felt this was a particularly interesting novel. Although Maggie has rubbed shoulders with all kinds of big players from WWII - from the Queen and Winston Churchill to President and Mrs. Roosevelt, among others -  I felt like this was a more thought provoking story and not just a good historical fiction mystery. Not because Maggie, Sarah, or Hugh have changed, but there was more of an insider’s look into how and why things were done and events that unfolded in it. 

The Paris Spy is sure to please fans of Maggie and, aside from maybe not totally understanding how Elise Hess comes into the picture, it can be read as a stand alone historical fiction novel, not just as part of a mystery series.

I am now eagerly looking forward to Maggie Hope #8

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

Born in Oakland, California in 1919, Fred Korematsu was a young Japanese American who wanted more out of life than working in his parents nursery growing roses. He had been a boy scout, had a bit of a mischievous streak, ran track and played tennis in high school, and loved to dance to the jazz music of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. 

At twenty-two, he had a girlfriend named Ida, an Italian American girl whom he had to date secretly - both of their parents disapproved of them as a couple. Fred took a job building ships to save for a snazzy Pontiac, and planned on marrying Ida (despite family objections). 

But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Fred’s life turned upside down. But after President Roosevelt sign Executive Order 9066 which forced all Japanese and Japanese Americans into internment camps, Fred decides to defy the order. Claiming he is Spanish and Hawaiian, Fred gets away with his ruse for a while, but eventually the authorities find and arrest him.

Fred’s arrest leads to a friendship with ACLU lawyer Ernest Besig, who represents him in court, believing that the internment of Japanese Americans is wrong and a violation of their rights. Meanwhile, Fred finds himself living in a horse stall at Tanforan race track. Sadly, no one at Tanforan is proud or supportive of Fred’s stand against Executive Order 9066, not even his family.

Eventually, Fred is sent to an internment camp in the middle of nowhere in Topaz, Utah. Ernest Besig is still working on his case, but ultimately even the United States Supreme Court agrees with the President that it is a “military necessity” to intern the country’s Japanese Americans. 

While he lost his case in 1944, and believed that was the end of it, little could Fred imagine that his simple act of defiance would ultimately resurface many years later, after evidence of government misconduct is discovered in relation to the internment of so many Japanese Americans and the loss of everything they loved and had worked so hard for. In 1983, Fred finds himself back in court when his case is reopened. This time, Fred wins and that win leads to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which grants reparations to the Japanese Americans interned during WWII.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is a fascinating book, and part of what makes it so engaging is that it is told using various means. Each important aspect of Fred’s personal story is related at the beginning of every chapter in free verse. This gives the reader a more intimate picture, accompanied by Houlette’s simple but affective illustrations, of who Fred really was and what he was up against, as well as his reasons for defying an Executive Order. 

Fred’s story is followed by factual information pertinent to what has proceeded it, the national events that impacted his life. Each of these pages contains definitions, and a timeline, as well as plenty of photos that also illustration the information presented. 

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is the first book in the new Fighting for Justice series, and it is a truely excellent book for introducing young readers to this shameful aspect of WWII on the home front. Back matter includes Source Notes, Bibliography, a personal reflection by Fred’s daughter Karen Korematsu about her father, and a section on “Speaking Up for Justice: From Fred’s Day to Ours: with suggestions for what young people can do in today’s world, a world that is seeing a resurgent of the kind of thinking that put people into internment camps in the first place. 

A word about Fred’s name: his parents named in Toyosaburo, but his 1st grade teacher couldn’t or wouldn’t learn to pronounce it, and suggested Fred, instead. I wonder how that made him feel.

If you have ever really wondered whether one person can make a difference in the world, Fred Korematsu’s story will definitely be one that will reassure and inspire you.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was bought for my personal libraty

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hedy's Journey: The True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust by Michelle Bisson, illustrated by El primo Ramón

In Hedy’s Journey, Michelle Bisson tells the true life story of her mother’s flight from the Nazis and her home in Hungary in 1941. 

Although Hungary was allied with the Axis powers, Germany and Italy, during the 1930s and early 1940s, Hungarian Jews were not rounded up and deported to concentrations camps until 1944, when Nazi Germany finally deposed the Prime Minister and occupied the country.

But that didn’t mean Hungary was a safe haven for Europe’s Jews. Far from it, as Hedy Engle learned when her cousin Marika, a Polish Jew who was visiting with Hedy’s family in Budapest, was ordered to report to the deportation office there in 1941. Sent to a concentration camp, Marika and her family were never heard from again. Hedy’s family knew that if the Nazi’s were going to round up Polish Jews in Hungary, it wouldn’t be long before they came for Hungarian Jews.  

As if to emphasize their precarious position, in the summer of 1941, Hedy’s father, a successful jeweler, was sent to a labor camp. Luckily, he was released in three months. And that was when the family decided it was definitely time to leave Hungary.  But even with visas to enter the United States in hand, only three train tickets could be found to take them to Lisbon, Portugal, and a ship across the Atlantic Ocean. It was decided that Hedy’s parents and younger brother Robert would be the first to leave Hungary, and Hedy would follow a week and a half later. Then, when they would reunited in Lisbon, they all would board a ship to America and freedom.

Imagine being a 16 year-old Jewish girl traveling alone through Nazi-occupied Austria. Hedy’s trip to Portugal was fraught with fear and caution. Although she didn’t look Jewish and most people treated her as though she weren’t, the sight of German soldiers in Vienna was still a frightening experience for the teenaged Hedy. When she finally arrived in Lisbon, her family breathed a sigh of relief. But then, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the US entered World War II. 

As if they hadn’t already dealt with enough challenges and setbacks, the Engle family now found themselves stranded in Portugal with worthless tickets for a ship that was not longer available. Eventually, the family does secure passage on a ship that comes with its own setbacks and challenges, but ultimately, the family arrived in New York harbor and freedom.

Hedy’s Journey is a true story about courage and daring in the face of fear. It is based on the memories that Hedy shared with her daughter, author Michelle Bisson. There are photographs of the family at the end of the book, along with information about what happen to the family after arriving in the U.S. Readers will also find a map of the journey the Engle family undertook, as well as a timeline of events. 

Hedy’s Journey is an ideal book for introducing young readers to the Holocaust. It is done as an illustrated book. It is really in part graphic form, and in part a picture book for older readers. The story is told in narrative, though, rather than text bubbles. The illustrations are done in subtle sepia tones, giving it an old fashioned quality, with shades of gray, but Hedy’s clothes are highlighted in dusty pink. 

The journey of Hedy and her family may not sound like a terribly dangerous or distressing flight from the Nazis if compared to other similar accounts, but it is wise to remember that for Jews every moment that they lived under this regime was dangerous. Fleeing held it own dangers, but for many like Hedy and her family, they thought it was worth the risk.    

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In This Grave Hour (a Maisie Dobbs Mystery #13) by Jacqueline Winspear

It’s September 3, 1939 and just as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces over the radio that England has declared war on Germany, Maisie has a strange visitor. Dr. Francesca Thomas, a former member of the WWI Belgian resistance group La Dame Blanche and who, through her association with the British Secret Service, is the person who trained Maisie in all things spy in book #13 - Journey to Munich, wants her to investigate the assassination-like death of Frederick Addens. Addens seems to be just an ordinary engineer working at St. Pancras station, but he is also a Belgian refugee who escaped to England during WWI and never returned to his homeland.

Soon after Maisie begins her investigation of Frederick Addens, more Belgian expats who arrived in England with him are also killed, executed in the exact same way as he was. But the victims just don’t seem to have anything in common with each other besides being Belgian expats.

Given that, Maisie decides to take a clandestine trip to Belgian to see if she can find any  information or answers as to why these particular people were killed. Maisie enlists the help of her old friend from the Secret Service Robbie MacFarlane, who manages to get her on a transport plane. And despite having a very small window of opportunity to investigate in Belgian, Maisie does indeed discover the information she needs to solve her case.

There is, of course, another story thread that is much more personal. Maisie’s country home, inherited from the deceased husband, has received two rather boisterous brothers evacuated from London, and one 5 year-old girl named Anna. Maisie enlists the help of her dad and stepmother for the boys, but no one seems to know where Anna came from. They only know that she was evacuated from London with the rest of the kids heading to Kent, and now she refuses to speak or let go of the small suitcase she arrived with. Finding herself getting too attached to the little girl, Maisie decides to give her assistant Billy Beale the job of finding out who Anna is and where she came from. 

In the end, both mysteries are solved. Though I found the motive for the murder of the Belgian refugees a bit thin, the rest of the novel is a really solid mystery and worth reading, especially if you are a Maisie Dobbs fan already. In mysteries, it is always the excitement of the investigation that I enjoy most, so that a rather lame motive didn’t bother me, and only occupies a small portion of the book. The thread concerning Anna was interesting, emotional and somewhat predictable, yet oddly satisfying. 

What I did like was seeing how Winspear has really done some spot on research regarding what the English home front was like during those early days of the war and her depictions are as interesting as they are authentic. The book takes place during what was called the “Phony War.” This was the first nine months after war was declared, and people were at the ready, but nothing was happening. The Blitzkrieg came later, in April 1940. That characters keep forgetting their gas masks when they go out is probably more true to life than not. Blackout curtains, cheap tea biscuits, mothers retrieving their evacuated children, and lack of petrol are just some of the things Winspear captures during this quiet period of the war, but sadly, the actual fact that people killed dachshunds and german shepherds because they are German dog breeds is also included.

I highly recommend In This Grave Hour for lovers of mysteries that are borderline cozy. I call it borderline because there are some mildly graphic depictions that may upset some sensitive readers. It took me a while to really get into the Maisie Dobbs’ mysteries, but once I started, I was hooked. Needless to say, now I am looking forward to Maisie Dobbs #14, To Die But Once, but, alas, I will have to wait until next year to read it.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+