Wednesday, August 22, 2018

G.I. Dogs: Judy, Prisoner of War (G.I. Dogs #1) by Laurie Calkhoven

Judy is an English Pointer born in Shanghai, China in 1936. She's a curious pup and, at only three weeks old, she escapes her kennel and has some wild adventures in Shanghai, including her first run-in with Japanese soldiers, who kick her out of their way. By the time she gets back to the kennel, her brothers and sisters have all gone to homes, and the kennel owner decides to keep Judy.

At six months, however, Judy finds herself an official member of the British Royal Navy, on a gunboat patrolling the Yangtze River. English Pointers are supposed to be good hunting dogs, but that isn't Judy's skill. Instead, Judy turns out to be an excellent watchdog, able to sense oncoming danger long before any humans do. A helpful skill on the dangerous, pirate infested Yangtze River.

By the time WWII officially begins in 1939, Judy is on another gunboat, the HMS Grasshopper, sailing between Singapore and Hong Kong. When the U.S. enters the war in December 1941, everything changes. In early 1942, the Japanese occupy Singapore and the HMS Grasshopper is ordered to evacuate British women and children, but on their way to safety, the boat is hit by a bomb and Judy is trapped below deck.

Rescued, she finds herself on an island with the survivors, but no food or water. Luckily, Judy's keen senses discover an underground fresh water stream. Eventually they are rescued, and Judy and surviving men of the Grasshopper make the long trek to Sumatra, where they had hoped to get a ship to India, but instead find themselves prisoners of the Japanese.

Life in their Japanese prison camp is hard, particularly so for Judy. She hadn't liked Japanese soldiers since she was a puppy in Shanghai and they would kick her out of their way, and things never got better. If the men are given little to eat and drink, there is nothing for Judy, and beatings are common for all POWs. Judy learns to fend for herself, sharing whatever she catches with the other POWs, and learning to hide from the Japanese.

Both Judy and her special human, Frank Williams survive life as Japanese POWs and after the war, they go to live in England. Bored, Frank gets a job in Africa, and Judy spends her remaining years exploring the African bush there.

Judy, Prisoner of War is a fictionalized version of Judy's true story, and it is told from Judy's point of view. This is a nice chapter book that isn't overly graphic in describing the horrendous treatment of the POWs held captive by the Japanese, even though they were known for their particular cruelty. What the book does focus on instead is the loyal relationships that developed between Judy and the different special humans in charge of her.

Judy was clearly a very intelligent dog, otherwise she probably would never have survived the events she lived through, but I think at times, Calkhoven may give her a little more reasoning power than dogs actually have. Yet, it doesn't take away from the story, and is there for the readers understanding. And Judy is sure to endear herself to young readers, especially when they see how sensitive and comforting she was to the youngest victims of the war.

Be sure to read the back matter and look over the photographs to find out more about Judy and her wartime experiences.

Judy, Prisoner of War is a nice introduction to historical fiction, and the role of dogs in wartime situations. It would also be a great read aloud. 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Prisoner in the Castle (a Maggie Hope Mystery #8) by Susan Elia MacNeal

In a homage to Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None, comes the eight installment in the Maggie Hope series. And it's a good one.

It's November 1942, and for almost five months now, SOE agent Maggie Hope has been held as a sequestered prisoner in a castle on the deserted Isle of Scarra in Scotland. Sure, she has freedom to move around around the castle and the island, since no one lives there but their jailer Captain Evans and the McNaughton family that helps out in the castle, but it also means no phone calls or letters or communication of any kind with the outside world. And Maggie isn't alone on the island. In fact, there are nine other agents, all sequestered because they, like Maggie, know high level wartime secrets that the Special Operations Executive believes they might inadvertently let fall into the wrong hands.

The agents are well taken care on the island. Once a month, a boat arrives with their Jungian psychologist Dr. Charles Jaeger and whatever supplies are needed, but staying only a very short time.

Into this already sinister setting comes SOE agent Camilla Oddell, sent to the island after killing another agent during a training drill. Naturally, once the first body is discovered, that of Captain Evans, she immediately comes under Maggie's suspicions. But why? What would be her motive? Breaking into Captain Evans' office, the agents use his radio to call Arisaig House, command center for SOE agent training, but before they can come to get his body, another death is discovered.

As more agents are murdered, it becomes clear to Maggie that the murderer is one of the agents. When a severe storm hits the island, lasting for days, and making it impossible for a boat from Arisaig House to come, Maggie realizes that there is also a German spy, who could be living in the castle or hiding elsewhere. Can she discover what is happening before she becomes a victim?

Meanwhile in London, the trial of the Blackout Beast (See The Queen's Accomplice, Maggie Hope #6) begins, and in a surprise move, Nicolas Reitter, the accused murderer, pleads not guilty. Now, the case will go to trial and Maggie is the only living witness. Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin, who has more than a professional interest in Maggie, must now try to find the sequestered agent, or Reitter will go free.

Yes, for a "locked room" or rather a deserted island mystery, there's a lot going on here. MacNeal has imbued this novel with an interesting, eclectic cast of characters, all reflecting the kind diverse backgrounds of the real agents in the SOE, and then some. Readers get a real sense of each one, even those that don't last very long. 

And this is a novel where the setting plays a much of a role as each character. Killoch Castle, where they all live, has a really storied history of its own. Built in 1900, it is a large and ugly Tudor style structure, a mix of "Victorian and Edwardian excess," and populated by a large collection of taxidermied wild animals. It had been the hunting lodge of a wealthy man with a big ego named Marcus Killoch, reputed to be quite the playboy in his day, but who is said to have killed ten of his invited guests one night, and then himself.

There certainly seems to be parallels between Killoch's murders, the murders of SOE agents, and Christi's And Then There Were None, but like all good mystery writers, MacNeal gives The Prisoner in the Castle her own spin.

I enjoyed reading this novel as much as I have enjoyed all the Maggie Hope mysteries. This one was very different, in that Maggie is very frustrated at not being able to use her training for the war effort (be careful what you wish for, Maggie), and yet it was still war related and exciting. And I have to admit, I was surprised by who turned out to be the killer and who was the spy. And they weren't the only surprises. And a surprise ending is always a good thing in a mystery.

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

For your information, I am including the cast of the island characters, because in the beginning I found I had to make a list to keep them straight until I got to know them better:

The SOE Prisoners:
Maggie Hope
Dr Sayid Inayat khan (a nod to the real spy whose name was Noor Inayat Khan?)
Teddy Crane - older, arthritic
Ramsey Novak - mute
Quentin Asquith - gay
Anna O'Malley - scrappy, mousy and (to me) annoying
Helene Poole-Smythe - showgirl who married rich, and a flirt
Leonard Kingsley - admirer of Helene
Ian Lansbury - having affair with Helene and the first to go missing
Torvald Hagan - a little person
Camilla Oddell - the last agent to arrive on on the island

Captain Evans - their kind jailer

Dr. Charles Jaeger - their shrink
Captain MacLean 

The Three McNaughtons
Murdo - their son

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Edelweiss Pirates by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Daniela Stamatiadi

In a country where any form of resistance or rebellion against the repressive Nazi regime almost always meant certain death, most resisters and defiers went underground and worked from there. But one group that was more open in their defiance was the Edelweiss Pirates. This was loosely connected groups of youths throughout Germany who lived by their own moral code, refused to participate in the Hitler Youth, and continued to do things the way they wanted and that included swing dancing and listening to jazz, both of which were prohibited in Nazi Germany.

Now, Jennifer Elvgren, who wrote the excellent book The Whispering Town, has successfully captured the rebellion of the Edelweiss Pirates in her new book. Taking place in 1938, and told in the first person present, it is the story of Kurt, the younger brother of Albert, a member of the Pirates. Kurt desperately wants to be just like his brother and join him with his friends swing dancing, listening to and playing the music of great jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. But as Albert sneaks out one night, he tells Kurt that he's too young and it's too dangerous - they could be arrested. Instead, Albert gives Kurt a Louis Armstrong album.

That weekend, Kurt invites his Jewish friend Fritz to listen to the album with him. Fritz sneaks in through the same window Albert sneaks out of. The two boys are soon playing the music on the album by ear - Fritz on sax, Kurt on trumpet. At school, Kurt becomes more and more troubled as he sees anti-Semitic incidents directed at Fritz, but knows it is not the place challenge these acts. Instead he waits impatiently until he can be an Edelweiss Pirate like his brother - painting over swastikas and spreading around anti-Hitler leaflets.

Even after witnessing Fritz being forced to read a story to the whole class that says the Jews are their enemy, Kurt still does nothing to help his friend. Then, the school concert comes around, and the students are supposed to play music by Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner. With his parents sitting in the audience, there to hear him play his trumpet, Kurt thinks of all the humiliations he has seen Fritz subjected to and before he knows it, he has finally finds a way to declare his defiance by loudly playing Louis Armstrong"s Saint Louis Blues instead, to the surprising accompaniment of Albert and the other Pirates, and even with some support from the audience, including his parents.

Such acts of open defiance were dealt with harshly, and Kurt is aware of that, but it was worth the risk. The next morning he discovers a note with an Edelweiss pin from his brother. Kurt is finally a Pirate, with the code name Blues.

The Edelweiss Pirates is indeed an interesting look at a group of resisters that most people have never really heard of, and although they didn't start out as saboteurs, by 1938, they were beginning to increase their subversive acts against the Nazis.

I liked that the story was told from Kurt's point of view. This coming of age story allows his frustration at not being able to protest the things he is seeing to grow until he must take a stand, even at the risk of severe punishment at school, and possibly at home. 

Stamatiadi's earth-toned illustrations are simple, but never let the reader forget that they are reading a book that is set in Nazi Germany by including the symbols of that regime throughout, including the required picture of Hitler in the classroom.

At a time when most people were afraid to speak out against the injustices and cruelties they were witnessing on a daily basis, Kurt is an inspiring character, finding his voice and means to protest. This is indeed a picture book for older readers that should resonate with strongly with them even today.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book to learn more about the history of the Edelweiss Pirates. You'll also see that there aren't any recommendations for age appropriate further reading on this topic because there simply wasn't anything until The Edelweiss Pirates was published.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was obtained from the author at BookExpo