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Results 1 - 25 of 116
1. The Badger Knight - a review

Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)


After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian.  Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.

When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,

"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw! Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready  my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away.  On my second shot I split the leaf in two.  As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze.  I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world.
Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk.  For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now.  When the time is right, I will shock them all.  So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."

The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.

 "... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth.  I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all.  They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils.  I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.
     Now I see what he means."

The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.

A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls.  There is room for a sequel.

On shelves 8/26/14.   Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7
352 pages

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2. The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

Molly and Kip are trying to find the Windsors, their new home of employment, but the locals are not making it easy for them.  Every time Molly asks, they speak of the sour woods and tell Molly that she should stay away.  But it's not like Molly has a choice - she and her brother are far from home and without parents.  When they encounter Hester Kettle on the road, they seem to have found a piece of luck.  She is willing to tell the children how to get to the Windsors for a promise of future stories. Molly agrees and they are soon on their way.

Molly's introduction to the family is a far cry from welcoming.  Hired by the Windsor's solicitor, Constance has no idea Molly is coming and is less than pleased to find her telling stories to her young daughter Penny in the dusty foyer of the house.  Constance and her son Alistair want Molly and Kip to leave immediately, but Molly is able to use her gift of the gab to convince them that they would much rather live in a well tended house, and that she and Kip can provide it for them.

She will soon live to regret this move, as the family and the house seem to be harboring dark secrets.  While she is able to throw herself into the ample work of cleaning up the household during the day, it is at night when Molly is most afraid.  Every night since she's been sleeping in the house, she has been having terrible nightmares.  And it turns out the darkness isn't just in her mind.  She wakes to find her door open, leaves in her hair and mud on the floor.

As it turns out, the Night Gardener Miss Polly has mentioned is real.  He wanders the house and the grounds at night and has his hand in the nightmares of the household.

And he is not the only dark element at the Windsors' place.  The tree, growing much too close to the house, is more than it seems as well, and will soon ensnare Molly as it has the Windsors.

This is a deliciously scary story that will have readers up into the night to finish. Jonathan Auxier is one of those writers who seems like he's been around forever.  Not because there are a plethora of his books lining the shelves, but because he is a craftsman.  His books have a timeless quality to them and are made of the stuff with staying power.  The Windsor's legacy is slowly revealed piece by piece which helps bring the suspense level to that of a slow burn.  He explores the themes of human weakness and greed, family and loyalty with aplomb.  The setting is expertly laid out and even now as I close my eyes I can see the grounds, the stables and the green door.

Fans of dark fantasy, Victorians, and well crafted stories will be left shivering with delight.




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3. Everyday Life by Margot Justes







Life seems mundane. You get up, brush your teeth, make coffee, drink coffee (a few cups to get started) and generally get ready for work. After work, you run errands, make dinner, if you have kiddies take care of their needs and the day is over. You go to bed, get up, and start all over again. It's hard work.

What does one do to relieve stress, and provide a form of necessary escape, albeit it for a brief span of time? I read and write, that is my escape.

I've raised my kiddies, delight in my grandchildren, and my work is now writing full time, but after I'm done with work, time is essentially my own.  I write romance stories, that is my love, escape, and obsession if you will.

Writing allows me to escape the everyday sameness. I can kill off characters I don't like. I can fall in love with the perfect hero; he's my creation, therefore he's perfect for me.

I feel a sense of accomplishment when I've finished a story. A sense of apprehension when I start, and a sense of terror when mid-stream, there is nowhere to go and the voices are silent, and finally a sense of dread that I'm on the wrong track.  I write-by the seat of my pants-I think-that is the correct cliché. I get an idea and run with it and see where it takes me.

That to me is the perfect adventure-I don't know where my characters will wind up. It's a surprise. I like that, and it works for me.

I don't quite get the same sense of nirvana when I read, but it's a very, very close second. I escape to another world, and sometimes another period in time, and I look forward to the happy ending.

I'm reasonably well read, but at this stage in my life I look to romance, mystery and humor for my escape; it is the perfect get away. There is a reason romance writing is a multi-billion dollar industry. I'm not alone.

Along with writing and reading, travel is very close to my heart. It enriches the soul, and as Mark Twain put it so succinctly. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness...”

I have included a few pictures from Bath, England, one of my favorite places, and because A Hotel in Bath is a finalist for the RONE award. Shameless self promotion, but Bath really is magnificent.


Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
www.mjustes.com


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4. The One I Was by Eliza Graham

For Benjamin Goldman, 11, the Kindertransport is a life-saver.  Oh, sure, he's homesick, but the people in England are nice and there is always plenty to eat at the refugee camp.  No one seemed interested in fostering Benny, though, except one nicely dressed man, but then, all he does is give him a chocolate bar and leave.

Nevertheless, next thing Benny knows is that his name is being called, and he is told that he and some other boys would be living at Fairfleet, the estate of Lord and Lady Dorner.  And life at Fairfleet is pretty good, with private tutoring lessons for the boys, plenty of good food and even time for recreation and dreaming.  But, Benny, who always keeps his distance from the other boys, is still haunted by things that had happened in Germany, and he just can't forget about his best friend, Rudi Lange.

The boys' benefactress, Lady Harriet Dorner, is a pilot who is often away, flying planes in the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Still, when she was at Fairfleet, it seems she and Benny shared some kind of connection, which, as the years go by, becomes a deeper mutual attraction.  Nothing comes of it and after the war, Benny leaves Fairfleet and goes on to a successful career as a journalist.

Now, many years later, Benny is one his deathbed, and a hospice nurse has come to care for him - at Fairfleet, which Benny had purchased after a forced sale.  Little does he know at first that his nurse, Rose Madison, is really Rosamond Hunter, granddaughter of Lady Dorner and a person haunted by her own ghosts of the past at Fairfleet.  But, as the days go by, Benny begins to sense something about Rose that doesn't feel right.

When a threat from Rose's childhood at Fairfleet shows up again, and begins make new threats, Rose finds she must confess her own secret in order to keep everyone safe.

And as Benny comes closer to death, it becomes clear to Rose that he needs to make his own confession of something regarding his life in Germany as a young boy.  And when he finally does, it is a stunner!

There is a lot going on in Eliza Graham's novel The One I Was.  It moves between three time periods that connect Benny and Rosamond's individual stories to each other, though they are strangers when they meet.   The red thread that ties them together is, of course, Lady Harriet Dorner.  And though I would classify this novel as historical fiction, it is also a mystery and a thriller.

Benny's story gives the reader lots of interesting, realistic background into life in Nazi Germany in 1939, as well as life in England both during and after WWII.  Graham has done her research on both early time periods and so there is an authentic blending together of events that keeps the continuity of the storyline going nicely, and framed by the present time.

Each of the characters are drawn with such depth and personality that you feel a compelling need to keep reading their story.  The overriding theme of The One I Was is the idea of reinventing oneself and why that may be done.  In the end, after reading Benny's confession, you may even find yourself in a bit of a moral dilemma regarding his actions.  There is no denying that Benny's story is thought provoking, but remember, hard times call for hard decisions and Benny was only a child when he made his fateful decision.

This is the kind of crossover novel I would have read and loved when I was about 15 years old and still straddling the worlds of young adult and adult novels.  It has some mild violence and equally mild sexual content, but nothing a young adult reader hasn't come across already.

I One I Was is a nice meaty novel that is sure to leave you feeling satisfied.

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This book was received from the author

This is book 7 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
This is book 3 of my 2014 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader  

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5. 26 Characters Exhibit at Oxford's Story Museum

Last week I traveled to London and Oxford with my husband on a combined business/sightseeing trip. In Oxford I was busy doing research for an upcoming book, but I squeezed in a visit to a brand new Story Museum exhibit that I'd read about at Monica Edinger's excellent blog Educating Alice. The exhibit's curators asked a number of authors and performers (the majority will be more familiar to the British than those of us who reside on the other side of the pond) to pick their favorite childhood literary character. The chosen ones were then invited to dress up as their character and be photographed by Cambridge Jones in their new duds. Each story character was given his/her designated space or room that features the photograph as well as other props. Many include sounds that heighten the experience (the wind howls in the Mary Poppins room, for instance) or recordings of the authors and performers reading a story or being interviewed about their characters. The exhibit takes up the whole of the museum and is set up like a treasure hunt. Visitors search out all 26 characters and check them off. A completed list earns the museumgoer a prize, redeemable at the museum shop across the way.

The day I visited I was the only adult sans child, and I felt a bit conspicuous as I stalked the building clicking away with my camera. While I can't list all there was to see, here are some of my favorites. As for choosing my own childhood literary character, I have to go with Peter Pan (also chosen by author Cressida Cowell). My absolute favorite exhibit space, though, was the one dedicated to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Holly Smale selected Jadis, the White Witch as her character. To enter, you open an unmarked wardrobe and push past a row of fur coats. Then you're inside a magical darklit room dominated by a huge sled and a life-size photo of Smale dressed as the White Witch. Goosebumps will follow, I promise.

The entrance to the exhibit opens with a tower of cards referencing Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.


Another section features an assortment of costumes to dress up in.



And, once clad, a throne to sit on.


Neil Gaiman chose Badger from The Wind and the Willows as his favorite character.


Katherine Rundell picked Max from Where the Wild Things Are.


Here's Katrice Horsley sailing through the sky dressed as Mary Poppins.


Another childhood hero of mine--the Wicked Witch of the West, as portrayed by Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman.


The exhibit remains open until November so if you find yourself in the neighborhood, it is well worth a visit. And if a trip to Oxford isn't in the cards, why not dress up as your own childhood story hero? I'm getting out my green tights right now.
 

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6. Cinders and Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed.

Bookshelves of Doom described this one as The Luxe meets Downton Abbey. As both are things I adore, how could I say no?

It's 1910. After many years in India, the Averlys are back at Somerton, but whispers of the scandal that caused Lord Westlake his job have followed them. Ada is a beautiful and bookish, and longs to be allowed to attend Oxford, but must marry well to save the estate. On the boat back to England, a brief encounter with a super-hott Indian boy (on his way to Oxford) leaves her breathless. But, once back at Somerton, there's a new stepmother, a cruel stepsister, and Rose. Rose was a childhood friend, the daughter of the housekeeper. Lord Westlake as taken a keen interest in her and elevates her to Lady's Maid, but the servants don't like it and she gets advice from all the wrong corners. Fancy dresses! Scheming servants! A boy she loves that her father would never approve of vs. a good match with a good guy who will let her follow her dreams...

I wanted to like this more than I did. I needed more from Charlotte to make her more than just an evil step-sister. The narrative sometimes goes to other characters (mostly Rose and the stepbrother Sebastian) but mostly sticks to Ada. A little less Ada and more of the other characters (would *love* to get some of Ravi's point of view) would have rounded it out a little more. Ada and Ravi are super insta-love, which bugged me. I liked the relationship as it grew, but I wasn't entirely sure what attracted them to each other in the first place, especially given their very different stations. The foreshadowing and clues about the BIG SURPRISE at the end were also pretty heavy--something that would have worked better if the entire story were a little more fleshed out. I just wanted more. All that said, it was still a fun read. I liked many of the characters and want to know more, especially about the minor ones. It's definitely the first in a series, with some very ominous things left hanging, so be on the lookout for book 2.

ARC Provided by... the publisher, at ALA.

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7. Book Review: War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus, by Kathryn Selbert (Charlesbridge, 2013)

Recommended for ages 7-12.  


Winston Churchill was known during his lifetime as the British Bulldog, due to his famous tenacity.  In addition to being a great statesman, writer, and orator, Churchill was an animal lover, but it was not bulldogs who lived alongside the famous man, but miniature poodles.

This new picture book by debut author/illustrator Kathryn Selbert tells the story of the British home front by highlighting Churchill's relationship with his poodle, Rufus.  The author opens with the following:

"Rufus's best friend, Winston Churchill, is a busy man, but most days Rufus and Winston share a walk."

It's 1940, and Winston is managing a nation at war.  Through the eyes of Rufus, Churchill's faithful brown miniature poodle, we see Churchill at work, visiting his secret underground bunker, the room from which he directs the war, going to the House of Commons, walking through streets filled with rubble from buildings destroyed by Nazi bombers.  Rufus is not always invited along however; when Winston meets with his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to plan D-Day, Rufus sits by the door, patiently guarding the bunker.  Rufus is once again by Churchill's side as the war ends, barking and howling with happiness.  In the end, Rufus and Winston retire to the country, resting..."two war dogs."  In the final lovely two-page spread dominated by the greens of the English countryside, Winston and Rufus gaze out to the horizon, with the country finally at peace.

Back matter includes a timeline of World War II, a look at Churchill and his affection for poodles (he owned two during his lifetime, both named Rufus), and a brief biography of Winston Churchill himself.    The author also includes books for young Churchill fans, Churchill and World War II-related websites, a bibliography, and quotation sources.

Acrylic and collage illustrations have an nostalgic yet realistic look, with plenty of sepia tones suggesting a time long ago.  Each two-page spread features a quotation by Churchill on a yellowed piece of paper, in an old-fashioned typewriter-style font, designed to look like it has been pinned to the rest of the picture. An interview on the Charlesbridge website indicates that this book grew out of an undergraduate school project, but that the book originally focused more on the relationship between dog and owner, and less on the historical details.  The book now provides more of an introduction to World War II, one that would be a good classroom read-aloud while studying that time period.  The book will, of course, capture the heart of dog lovers as well as history lover, with its illustrations that depict Rufus in all his poodle splendor.

Disclaimer:  I am a poodle owner and a poodle lover.  Review copy provided by publisher.

Churchill with the real Rufus 

2 Comments on Book Review: War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus, by Kathryn Selbert (Charlesbridge, 2013), last added: 2/13/2013
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8. Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian

On September 1, 1939, Operation Pied Piper commenced and thousands of children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to keep them safe from the war that was just beginning.

Among the evacuees to Little Weinwold is William Beech, 8, left in the care of Tom Oakley, a widower and a rather crusty loner.  William is much to small for his age, frightened of everything and covered in black and blue bruises.  Inside he duffel, Tom find a belt with a large buckle and instructions to use it on William whenever he sees fit.  Appalled by what he sees that first day, Mr. Tom, as he tells William to call him, begins to soften towards the boy, taking him out and buying him some appropriate clothing and boots, feeding him well and doctoring the bruises.

As William's body heals, he comes out of his frightened shell and even develops a fondness for Mr. Tom's dog Sammy.  But William has a bed-wetting problem that continues despite everything.   Soon William meets Zach, another evacuee, and they become best friends.  And other kids begin to join in on their fun.  And it turns out that William is quite a talented artist, receiving some art supplies from Mr. Tom for his ninth birthday.  Things go well until school starts.

It turns out that William cannot read, that in London his teachers ignored him and the other students taunted him.  When all his friends to into their proper class, William is put in with the younger kids who are just beginning school.  Mr. Tom begins to teach him to read and by the end of the term, William has conquered not just reading but his bed-wetting problem as well.

Life for William, Mr. Tom and Sammy the dog has evolved into a comfortable,  happy companionship and Mr. Tom has even begun to participate in village activities again, something he hasn't done in forty years after the death of his wife and new baby son, also named William.  But one day a letter arrives from William's mother, asking for her son to come home for a visit.

And it is with very heavy hearts that Mr. Tom and William say good-bye at the train.  William is laden with all kinds of lovely, friendly gifts for his mother as he leave and promises to write to Mr. Tom as soon as he can.  When weeks go by and not letter arrives, Mr. Tom and Sammy take the train to London to find out if things are going well for William, arriving just at the Blitz begins.

And yes, he does find him - locked in a closet, tied up to a pipe in it and holding a baby who turns out to be his illegitimate sister.  Traumatized and blaming himself for the baby's death, William is taken to a hospital.  Mr. Tom keeps watch and makes himself useful when people injured by the bombing are brought in.  After a few days, however, he is told that William is going to be transferred to a home where he will be given psychiatric treatment.

Not agreeing that this is the best thing for William, Mr. Tom resorts to something desperate.  Will the two ever make it back to Little Weinwold or is this the end of things for Mr. Tom and William?

Good Night, Mr. Tom is Michelle Magorian's first novel.  It was written in 1981 and hasn't lost any of its appeal nor does it have a dated feeling.  It is probably her most well-known work, particularly since it has been made into a television movie (ITV in the UK, Masterpiece Theater in the US, and with John Thaw, a favorite) and a play.

I have read Good Night, Mr. Tom a few times and never get tired of it.  The writing is elegant, and Magorian has great talent in fleshing out her characters so that they are believable and well-developed. And the same can be said for her settings, actually.

Magorian also has a way of presenting difficult issues without getting too graphic or going overboard.  In this novel alone, there are issues of abuse, bullying, anti-Semitism, skewed religious beliefs, the death of children and suicide.  These are dreadful things, and yet not presented in such a way that they   will disturb young readers, but enough is said to make this book appeal to an adult reader as well.  And in the end, it is a novel of healing, hope, love and trust, and these are the issues that predominate, even without a really pat ending.

If you haven't read Good Night, Mr. Tom, be warned - it is a tearjerker, but oh, so worth it.  But there is much in the story that will make you chuckle, especially William's very outgoing friend Zack, whom I haven't mentioned much even though he is a good part of the book and who makes me smile just thinking about him.

This old favorite is worthy of a first read if you haven't already read it, or worthy of another read if you have read it before.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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9. Welcome to America, Champ! by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Once the United States entered WWII, the inevitable was bound to happen - American G.I.s who were stationed in England before deploying to combat areas would meet, date and fall in love with English girls.  And sometimes they got married.  Welcome to America, Champ! is the story of this very thing and what happens next, all told from the point of view of a young boy named Thomas.

Thomas begins his story in 1944, telling us about his mother marrying Jack Ricker, a US serviceman stationed in England.  It is one of the few happy occasions during Thomas's experience of war.  Before Jack, things were pretty sad for Thomas and his family, even though their village hadn't been bombed like other places in England.  His mother friends all put together their rations to make a cake for the bride and groom and there is lots of dancing at the small reception, but Thomas has lots of questions for his new dad about some day living in America, which his dad is happy to answer.  And he promises to teach Thomas how to play baseball with a stick once they are all together in the US.

But soon after Jack is sent off to war.  And eventually Thomas has a new baby brother named Ronnie.

One day, the church bells start ringing all over England to announce that the war is finally over.  But Jack is sent directly back to the states, with no time to visit his wife and sons.  The family waits until the finally get a letter from the army - be ready to sail to America in two weeks.
Sailing to America
Pretty soon, Thomas, Ronnie and their mom are on the Queen Mary, sailing across the Atlantic to a
a new life.  Excited but apprehensive, Thomas reads the answers his dad had given him to all his questions over and over again to reassure himself that things will be work out.  And he spends lots time exploring the ship with his new friend Lucy, who is going to America for the same reason as Thomas.  Thomas and Lucy are both still rather homesick and anxious, but when they finally see the Statue of Liberty early one morning, Lucy's homesickness get the better of her and she begins to cry.

But maybe Thomas has just the thing to help Lucy with her fears and to help himself at the same time.

Welcome to America, Champ! is one of those very well written, well done picture books for older readers that are being published more and more lately.  I think these are perfect classroom books and offer a way of introducing different historical events to kids in first, second and third grades without overwhelming them with facts and figures.

I personally found this book to be very interesting for two reasons: first, because my best friend's grandmother was a war bride from England and because my dad had also immigrated here from Wales.  We both used love listening to their stories about leaving Britain and coming here.  And Welcome to America, Champ! is, after all, a story about immigrating to a new country and what that means to a child - getting to know a new dad, a new school, new friends, new way of life at the same time as leaving behind your old home, old friends, old school and your family.  Thomas's apprehension about these issues makes this a perfect read aloud for any child who is about to or has just dealt with a an event that has changed their lives.

Doris Ettlinger's beautifully rendered realistic watercolor illustrations complement and support this heartwarming story throughout, giving us a real sense of not just of Thomas's life but also his feelings and emotions.

My second reason for finding Welcome to America, Champ! is that I was fortunate enough to have sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary just before she was retired and I was old enough to remember it.  The Queen Mary was a lovely old ship and being on her was like stepping back in time (or at least that is what my memory tells me).

Queen Mary entering New York harbor
Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of Welcome to America, Champ! for more information about war brides.

FYI: The Queen Mary, converted from a warship to a floating nursery, arrived in New York Harbor on February 10, 1946 with the first of the war brides and their children, all of whom were greeted by an army band playing Brahms' "Lullabye."  On board were 1,666 brides and 688 children.  What a day that must have been!

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



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10. Untold (The Lynburn Legacy Book 2): Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: Untold (The Lynburn Legacy, Book 2)
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan (@SarahReesBrenna)
Pages: 384
Age Range: 12 and up

Untold is the second book in Sarah Rees Brennan's The Lynburn Legacy series, after last year's Unspoken (my review). It's a sequel that I was looking forward to. I started reading it pretty much as soon as it arrived. Untold picks up shortly after the events of Unspoken, and includes just enough backstory to re-orient the reader into the world of the Lynburns and the small English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. 

Untold is Gothic in tone from start to finish, with a heavy, brooding atmosphere cast over most of the book. Untold is a bit darker than Unspoken, reminding me, in terms of bleakness, of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. But what keeps it from being too dark is the strength of the bonds (and the degree of banter) between heroine Kami Glass and her friends. 

Like this (in a news story that Kami writes for her school paper):

""What on earth is happening?" asked a witness to these events (Rusty Montgomery, age 20, who insisted on not remaining anonymous and also wished this paper to record the fact that he is single)."

Kami is an excellent heroine. She's stubborn and determined, tireless in her efforts. She's small and fiery, with a part-Japanese heritage that makes her just the tiniest bit exotic. She glares at her best friend when tricked into discussing feelings. She has a gift for brining people together.

Kami doesn't know what to make of her relationship with Jared Lynburn, with whom she had a constant mental connection for most of her life, a connection now severed. I found the relationship dynamics between Kami and Jared to be realistic (as much as possible, given the unusual nature of their bond), and I was pulling for them.

I also quite like Kami's relationship with her contentious best friend, Angela, who Kami has only recently learned is gay. I found the scenes between Kami and Angela regarding Angela's coming out realistic, too, and not overdone. 

Well done as all of the relationship aspects of Untold are, it's the Gothic tone that really stands out. You know what you're in for when the very first chapter features a scene in which scarecrows come to life, and not in a good way. Like this:

"Kami looked and saw that every garden on Shadowchurch Lane was stirring into life. The undertaker scarecrow in the Thompsons' garden was already off it's wooden frame and climbing the fence, its round pale face shining like a small horrible moon, coming through the darkness at them." (Page 11)

Untold is a worth sequel to Unspoken. It has three-dimensional characterization (with continuing character development from the first book), a strong sense of place, lyrical writing, and an intriguing plot. I can't wait for the final (I think) book in the trilogy. I do highly recommend Untold, but be sure to read Unspoken first. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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11. The Miz Maze : or, the Winkworth puzzle ; a story in letters

So, I think The Miz Maze might be the best collaborative novel I’ve read. The authors are:

Frances Awdry
Mary Bramston
Christabel Rose Coleridge
Mary Susanna Lee
A.E. Mary Anderson Morshead
Frances Mary Peard
Eleanor C. Price
Florence Wilford
Charlotte Mary Yonge

Nine authors is a lot, and I want to know more about them and about the dynamic between them. But all I’ve got is the obvious textual evidence that they weren’t as acrimonious as The Whole Family‘s lot. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing but a page of signatures, a few Wikipedia pages, and a random selection of facts about Charlotte Yonge. And that’s okay. It’s a pretty self-sufficient book, I think, and the authors seem to agree.

The information they do and don’t choose to give is so interesting. First, the authors’ names appear only as facsimile signatures, and they don’t specify who wrote what. Second, they provide a list of characters, and it’s crazy. See, for example, “Sir Walter Winkworth, Baronet of the Miz Maze, Stokeworthy, Wilts, age about 64, residing, when the book opens, at High Scale, a small property in Westmoreland, which was his in right of his second wife, Sophia Ratclyffe, recently deceased.”

I mean, all else aside, that’s a hell of a lot of commas.

On the scale of literary parlor game pretension, these women fall somewhere between the authors of The Affair at the Inn and William Dean “Control Freak” Howells, progenitor of The Whole Family. Instead of, “hey, let’s write a story,” or “hey, let’s be super deep together,” they’re saying, “hey, let’s write something realistic.” And, I mean, it’s still a sentimental novel, so a Venn diagram with circles labeled “People who don’t think Italians are entirely respectable” and “People whose relations married Italians” would encompass most of the characters, with significant overlap. But the governing principle seems to be the idea that everyone has a different point of view, and that people rarely understand each other. And…well, a) that is obviously my favorite thing, even more than secret insane wives and people falling in love with their spouses, and b) they are so amazingly committed to this principle that I can’t help but kind of love them, even when the story doesn’t do a whole lot for me.

Let me tell you, for example, about Algernon Bootle. Algernon Bootle is the son of the vicar and his busybody wife. Sir Walter Winkworth (of High Scale and Miz Maze) hires him to tutor his eldest son, Miles. Aunt Dora, Sir Walter’s sister, says she wouldn’t have thought any real person could sound so much like Mr. Collins. All the Winkworth kids kind of hate him. And yet Miles, writing to his twin, says “He isn’t such a bad fellow at bottom. I told him the other day that you would have been a more creditable pupil, and he became natural on the spot and said: ‘I wouldn’t have undertaken him for a thousand pounds.’”

I thought Algy was the one character who was only ever going to be the butt of jokes. But no, the authors of The Miz Maze are committed to everyone’s humanity, and it’s awesome. Which is not to say that Algy’s not still continually the butt of jokes. But he’s not just that.

I want to talk about Miles, too, but I don’t quite know what to say. He’s shy in that way that comes off as dullness, and Aunt Dora says, “Miles will be better looking by and by, when he has overcome the heaviness that clings about fine young men in the undeveloped stage.” He’s desperately in love with his sister Zoe’s best friend Emily, but she’s not interested. His more outgoing twin is in the Army, and also Canada, and it makes sense for Miles to be the steady, stay-at-home one. But when Aunt Dora tells him that he and his brother had their initials written on their feet as babies so their folks wouldn’t get them mixed up, he says, “I think it’s rather a pity they didn’t.” He’s sort of inarticulately, endearingly young.

And then, Aunt Dora. You may have already noticed that I can’t describe other characters without help from Aunt Dora. That’s because she’s the best. She’s one of Sir Walter’s two spinster sisters, and while the other one, Bessie, has a tragically dead fiancé in her past, Aunt Dora is happily single. She’s also kind and intelligent, funny, and a little bit intimidating to the younger women before they know her well. And she’s awesome at gently taking Sir Walter down a peg when he deserves it, in a very realistically sibling-like way.

The family relationships in this book are fantastic all around. Or, the Winkworth family ones are. Other families don’t get the same amount of attention. But there are plenty of Winkworths, and I can’t decide which I like best. There’s Sir Walter’s fraught relationships with his eldest children, and the way his obvious love for them doesn’t lessen the weight of his expectations. There’s Miles and Clyffe — short for Ratclyffe, which ouch — who have been the most symbiotic of twins, and now have to learn to be apart from each other. There’s Miles and Zoe, who are so much alike and so different, and confide in each other and bully each other in equal measure. And there’s Sir Walter and Aunt Dora, whose teasing, open affection was my first sign that the characters in this book were going to closely resemble real people. I think this is what William Dean Howells wanted for The Whole Family, and that The Miz Maze happened 15 years earlier makes me feel even better about Howells’ book being a hilarious train wreck instead.

It gets a little worse toward the end, as books often do. There was a point at which I felt like everything had been wrapped up to my satisfaction, but the romances had yet to be resolved, so the book had to keep going, and I just didn’t care as much anymore. Also there was a while there where I thought Algy was going to be converted to Catholicism, and it would have been so funny, and I wish he hadn’t been rescued. Still, I kind of love The Miz Maze, and its authors, who clearly made an effort to agree instead of undermining each other. I think it’s because they were all women.


Tagged: 1880s, aemaryandersonmorshead, charlottemaryyonge, christabelrosecoleridge, eleanorcprice, england, epistolary, florencewilford, francesawdry, francesmarypeard, italy, marybramston, marysusannalee

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12. Flaming June

Because why not?

Because why not?

This post is brought to you by my tendency not to think things through before I write about them.

So, the thing about Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey is that she was lousy at endings. Like, she’s so good at putting prickly characters in twisty emotional situations and still having everything be super charming, but then the end is always a cop-out, or rushed, or suddenly makes you hate all the characters you loved for most of the book. Anyway, I read a review of one of her books at Fleur in her World the other day, and Fleur had the same issue with the last 10% of the book, but her praise for the first 90% made me want to read something by Mrs. G. de H.V., because when she’s good, she’s very, very good.

Flaming June skirts the ending issue altogether, by…not having one, sort of. And I can’t decide how I feel about that. Mrs. G. de H.V. basically spends half the book turning tropes upside down, and the other half taking other tropes super seriously and I can’t tell whether she’s doing any of it on purpose. And the self indulgent part of me wants a sequel, and the critical part of me is pretty impressed with Mrs. G. de H.V. for leaving things unresolved, and then just about all of me wants a sequel that has almost nothing to do with the main characters, but follows the villainess as she carries out the plans the heroine lays out for her.

Anyway.

When I started Flaming June, I thought, “oh, this is Mrs. G. de H.V.’s L.T. Meade book,” because there’s a breezily unconventional American girl and a sweet, sheltered English one who become best friends. But Elma, the English girl, hasn’t got the depth that Meade’s more conventional characters have, and Cornelia, the American, has more of Mrs. G. de H.V.’s respect than Meade ever gave any of her characters. Cornelia has come to stay with her cranky spinster aunt in a quiet neighborhood, and of course everyone’s familiar with the narrative of the cheerful young person making over the stiff and uncompromising elderly relative, but Mrs. G. de H.V. passes that by — it’s a story, but it’s not this story. Likewise the story of the brash American and the proud English girl finding common ground — Mrs. G. de H.V. concentrates on Cornelia and Elma’s friendship only long enough to throw Elma into the arms of her longtime crush, Geoffrey Greville. And to introduce Cornelia to Captain Rupert Guest, who doesn’t like her at all, until he does.

Mrs. G. de H.V. structures her romances as problems, which I enjoy, except that she’s kind of too good at it. I think that’s where a certain amount of her lousy finishes come from — she creates problems that are actually insoluble, and has to do violence to her characters in order to resolve them. The Guest/Cornelia problem is that they’re nothing alike, have no common interests, and don’t always even like each other very much. Which, if you think about it, is a problem you see in romances all the time, only it’s waved away, and you’re assured that the characters are going to be very happy together. And if the author is good enough, you believe it.

So, yeah, I was kind of concerned. Because Mrs. G. de H.V. IS good enough, but she also has this tendency to write herself into a corner. And that’s what she does, and…that’s where she leaves it. My respect for Mrs. G. de H.V. has increased enormously.

I realize I’m neglecting the book itself to talk about my various Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey feels, but I do find her really fascinating. She’s so good at certain things, but I never trust her. She’s always doing icky things like shoving characters back into their strictly defined gender roles and/or destroying everything I liked about them with one action. So when I come to a book like Flaming June, and I can see Guest constructing a different version of Cornelia in his head, one that’s based mostly on her least characteristic actions, I’m apprehensive. And then Mrs. G. de H.V. explicitly recognizes that. It’s tremendously satisfying and not satisfying at all. But mostly I feel pretty good about it. Well done, Mrs. G. de H.V.


Tagged: 1900s, england, mrsgeorgedehornevaizey, romance

3 Comments on Flaming June, last added: 12/2/2013
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13. The Night Gardener - a review

A short review today.  I rushed to finish, as I knew the kids in my book club would surely want to get their hands on it last week.  I was right.

Auxier, Jonathan. 2014. The Night Gardener. New York: Amulet.

Set in England aground the 1840s, The Night Gardener features an Irish gal with the gift of  blarney, her10-year-old brother with a lame leg and stout heart, a mysterious storyteller, and a strange family inhabiting a creepy mansion on an island in the middle of the sourwoods.

Separated from their parents and forced to flee Ireland due to famine, Molly & Kip have no choice but to accept employment with the Windsor Family, the only inhabitants of the only home in the sourwoods,

At the far end of the lawn stood Windsor mansion.  The house had obviously been left vacant for some years, and in that time it seemed to have become one with the landscape. Weeds swallowed the base. Ivy choked the walls and windows. The roof was sagging and covered in black moss.
But strangest of all was the tree.
The tree was enormous and looked very, very old. Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surrounding. This one did not. Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy.  This one did not. Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk. This one did not. To stand in the shadow of this tree would send a chill through your whole body. 
Even Molly's indomitable spirit and knack for storytelling cannot shield Kip and the young Windsor children from the horrors that lurk within the shadow of the giant tree.

Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story. With similarities to Claire LeGrand's The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Night Gardener is the stuff of nightmares.

Coming to a bookshelf near you in May, 2014!


Notes:

My Advance Reader Copy was thrust upon me by none other than the wonderfully funny, Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame), who insisted that I read it.  Thanks, Tom!

Also by Jonathan Auxier, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, which I reviewed in 2011.

The book's cover was drawn by Patrick Arrasmith and designed by the talented Chad Beckerman, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a while back.

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14. The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

With the fall of France and the war becoming worse for Britain, it was time for the Lockwood children, 12 year old Cecily and Jeremy, 14, to leave London.  So it was off to Heron Hall, to their Uncle Peregrine Lockwood's estate, with their mother, Heloise.

Traveling on the train to the same village were groups of school children also being evacuated from London by the government.  These school children are taken to the town hall and as Cecily watches them leaving one by one with women who were to care for them for the duration, she asks her mother if they couldn't also have a child.  May Bright, 10, seems to fit the bill, despite her indifference towards Cecily.

Feeling powerless and picked on by her brother, Cecily wants someone that she can control and have power over.   But May is an independent child with a mind of her own.  And though she isn't impressed that her new luxurious surroundings at Heron Hall are more than she is accustomed to, it is the vast fields and woods that attract her.  And in among it all are the remains of Snow Castle, a once beautiful castle made of white marble, where she meets two young oddly dressed boys.  At first, believing they are evacuees running away from an unpleasant placement, it soon becomes apparent that something else is going on with these two boys.

When May and Cecily ask Uncle Peregrine about the castle, he begins to tell them, little by little each evening, the haunting story of Richard III, of his brother King Edward IV's death, of his two sons, the eldest of whom is next in line for the throne and how Richard had hidden the two boys in the Tower of London in order to make himself King.

Meanwhile, Jeremy, frustrated that he can't do anything to help the war effort but hid out in the country,   he wants so very much to make his mark on the world.  Each day, Jeremy reads the newspaper accounts of the war, becoming more and more exasperated that he is not there help.  And so one night, he runs away to London. There, he discovers a burning, war torn London that he could never have imagined.  Stunned by what he sees, feeling smaller than ever, Jeremy manages to do the very thing he sets out to do - help the war effort.  It is his coming of age moment and Jeremy returns to Heron Hall a very different boy.

No one can turn a phrase, creating a hauntingly brilliant story quite like Sonya Hartnett can. Gracefully creating lyrical phrases, and characters that are hard to forget as you begin to recognize parts of yourself in each of them.  There is spoiled, selfish Cecily, who, the reader thinks, will grow up to be just like her shallow, socialite mother, Heloise, but who surprises us so often; May, quiet and thoughtful, careful but unafraid, she becomes a favorite of Uncle Peregrine (kindred souls? maybe); Jeremy, on the cusp of becoming a young man and wanting to get there way too soon - all so realistically and captivatingly drawn.

The Children of the King is the story of the powerlessness of children and the people who want to control them - of the two princes at the hands of Richard III who craves power and control, of England's children at the hands of German bombs, sent by a dictator who also craves power and control.  But it is on a smaller scale that we see how little power and control others really have over us unless we let them.  Despite all Cecily's attempt at controlling May, she is the one who remains an independent spirit.  And it is by running away, that Jeremy discovers the power each of us has to change another person's life.

Just as she did in The Midnight Garden, Hartnett once again uses the device of magical realism and of a story within a story.  Here, they is used as a means of connecting past and present, reminding us that the past is never past, it lives in the present or as May tells the two boys in the castle "Everything is connected…We are here because you are here."And the dialectic that Hartnett creates in The Children of the King is just wonderful.

I should tell readers that there are a few graphic descriptions when Jeremy goes back to London, giving a sense of realism, but not graphic enough to scare away middle grade readers.  And one does not need to already know the story of Richard III to understand Uncle Peregrine's story, he weaves in enough of it for readers to understand it perfectly well.

I put off reading this novel because I was afraid that I would be disappointed.  The Midnight Garden was such a brilliant book, had Hartnett set her own bar too high?  No, the bar is high but The Children of the King is right up there.   But, in the end, all I can says is fans of Sonya Hartnett, rejoice!  To those who will be reading her for the first time with this novel, you are lucky ducks.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was and eARC from Net Galley

The Children of the King will be available on March 25, 2014

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15. Stay Where You Are & Then Leave by John Boyne

For Alfie Summerfield, the first five years of his life had been grand.  He was a happy little boy, and his dad and mum were happy with each other and with him.  His father, Georgie Summerfield, delivered milk and drove a milk float every morning pulled by a horse name Mr. Asquith.  It was Alfie's dream to some day be big enough to ride along side his dad and help.  Alfie's Granny Summerfield, who lived right across the street, always liked to come around for a bit of a gossip.  And Alfie had a best friend, Kalena Janáček, whose father came from Prague and ran the sweet shop.

But all this changed on Alfie's fifth birthday, because on July 29, 1914, World War I officially began and a few days later England joined in.   And even though he promised he wouldn't, Alfie's father immediately enlisted anyway.  Then, Mr. Janáček's store windows were broken and someone wrote on the shop door "No Spies Here!"  Soon enough, the government came and took father and daughter away to an internment camp on the Isle of Man.

At first, letters from Alfie's father arrive regularly, but then they begin to dwindle down and down and after two years, no more letters arrive.  Alfie's mum tells her son it is because his dad is on a secret mission for the government.  But times get hard and Mrs. Summerfield, who already takes in laundry, becomes a Queen's Nurse, which means most of the time Alfie is on his own.  And so, he decides it is time to do his bit.  He steals Mr. Janáček's prized shoe shine box, walks over to King's Cross Station and begins shining shoes three days a week (Alfie still attends school two days a week).

Then one day, almost four years after the war began, something amazing happens.  While shining the shoes of a doctor, the papers he is reading get blown out of his hands.   As he and Alfie scurry around King's Cross to retrieval the papers, Alfie discovers on one of them that his dad is alive and is in a hospital, the same one the doctor works at.  From that point on, Alfie decides that he is going to go get his dad and bring him home.  He is convinced that all that his dad really needs is to come home to recuperate and soon things will be happy again, just like they were before the war.  But on his first trip to the hospital, Alfie is not prepared for what he discovers.

Alfie is one of those quirky characters that Boyne seemed to write so well.  He reminded me a little bit of Barnaby Brocket (The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket) and he was certainly a more realistic 9 year old than was Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  It felt as though Boyne's third boy protagonist has more depth and is a more well developed character than the other two.

Georgie Summerfield is not a well developed as Alfie, but he in interesting nevertheless.   Georgie has the same blind enthusiasm for the war that so many young men had when it first began. The war, the government told them, would be over by Christmas, but by jingo, they didn't say which Christmas and four years later, the reader sees how Georgie's enthusiasm has spiraled down as he lives the realities of the trenches and then suffers the consequences of the enthusiasm.

I did think that the first three quarters of the novel did a really good job of presenting life during World War I on the home front, rather than the trenches, although there is some of that in Georgie's letters home.  The last quarter became a little preposterous, and the end a little predictable, but I thought other things made up for that.

Boyne addresses two issues in Stay Where You Are & Then Leave.  The first is that of conscientious objectors.  As enthusiastic as Georgie was to get into the war, his best friend Joe Patience feels just as strongly about not wanting to fight.  Joe is a compassionate person, who strongly believed that he was not put on earth to kill anyone cost him dearly - loss of lifetime friends, jail time, and beatings.  Boyne delicately presents it all at the same time as making the reader understand Joe's position.

The other issue is that of shell shock or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it is called nowadays.  In the novel, the reader sees how skeptical people were about shell shock, believing it to be more cowardice than illness, until it hit home personally for them.  On Alfie's two visits to the hospital his dad is in, as he goes through the wards looking for him, Boyne gives us a very clear picture of what shell shock can do the a person's mind.  I think this part of the story will resonate with many of today's children whose loved one returned from Iraq or Afghanistan suffering from PTSD.

Though somewhat flawed, this is a nice book for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, and especially the impact of WWI on the people left at home.  And yes, you will discover the meaning of the title if you read the book.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC received from Net Galley

Stay Where You Are & Then Leave will be available on March 25, 2014

A person who drives a milk float delivers milk to customers and in 1914 would be delivering it is something that looks like this:


This is my World War I book for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist hosted by War Through the Generations.
This is book 6 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

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16. A Shirtful of Frogs by Shalini Boland

1940 - Twins Jimmy and Patrick Sweeney, 6, have the idea of selling the frogs they have caught to the other kids in their East End, London neighborhood, but as the war continues, evacuation to the country with 3 other of their 11 siblings puts end to their frog enterprise.  Unfortunately, when they reach the village they are evacuated to, Jimmy and Patrick are taken by separate families, as are siblings Jeanie, Irene and Bobby.  It is Mrs. Cribbins who takes Jimmy and she doesn't seem very nice right from the start.

2012 -  Nathan Pepper, 12, isn't too happy about moving from London to a small village in the country because of his dad's new job, especially since it doesn't seem to have a skateboard park anywhere.  And it doesn't help that the first night in his new house, Nathan wakes up suddenly, hearing a strange noise.  Creeped out, he nevertheless decides to see what it is.  Going up the stairs to another bedroom, Nathan can hear distinct crying but even stranger, when he opens the door, the bedroom is completely changed - no longer neat, clean and shiny, now it was a dirty, dusty attic with a little boy under a thin blanket sobbing for his mum.

Jimmy's life with the Cribbins family is much worse than expected.  He sleeps in a lonely, dark attic, he does most of the chores in the house, and than he is sent outside, not allowed back in the house til evening.  And he isn't fed much either, so now he was starving.  Nathan brings him some cake, but when Mrs. Cribbins finds somes crumbs in Jimmy's bed, he is accused of stealing their food and is given no breakfast.

Totally baffled, Nathan continues to go upstairs at night to find Jimmy again, but to no avail.

Meantime, in 2012, Nathan starts at his new school and things begin to look up for him as he makes friends and finds fellow skateboarders; and in 1940, Jimmy begins school, too, but only after doing his chores.  And, though the two Cribbins children ride the bus, Jimmy is made to walk the long distance to school. He no sooner arrives and he is picked on by a group of boys resentful of evacuees.  While two hold him down, another boy, Frank, takes an industrial staple gun from behind the school and staples Jimmy's back.  The only good part of that day is that Jimmy discovers that his twin, Patrick, is at the school, too.

That night, Nathan is able to visit Jimmy again in the upstairs bedroom and once more, he brings the starving, now injured little boy some food.

But can Nathan help Jimmy across the years?  In the autumn, he is able to visit Jimmy fairly often, bringing him food and company, but as winter begins, it becomes more difficult.  Nathan's concern for Jimmy is really peaked when he sees a picture of the twins boys in a newspaper article about the village's evacuees.  And later, in another article, he learns that Jimmy has died from malnutrition.  To make matters worse, Nathan's Aunty Miranda comes to stay indefinitely in the upstairs bedroom, and he fears he won't be able to see and help Jimmy before it is too late.  So, Nathan decides that desperate times call for desperate measures and he hatches a really stinky plan to drive his Aunty M out of that room and into another.  But, can a stinky plan succeed?

Shalini Boland based A Shirtful of Frogs on the real experiences of her father-in-law, Paul Boland, who was evacuated with his twin Peter at the age of 5.  And in writing his story, she has brought attention to this important, yet disturbing and sad aspect of evacuation.   Most of us probably think that the people who took in the WWII evacuees from London were such kind, caring, concerned people, sometimes strict but not abusive. But actually that wasn't always the case.  Kids like Paul Boland/Jimmy Sweeney were abused, starved and used as free servants while the people they lived with collected the government money meant for their care, and used it for their own family's benefit.

Boland says she created Nathan to give Jimmy a needed friend in this well-written time-slip story, but of course, that doesn't happen in real life.  A Shirtful of Frogs is, in effect, a wonderful tribute to Boland's father-in-law and all the children who suffered the way Paul/Jimmy did when their parents trustingly sent them off to live with strangers in what they believed would be relative safety.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the author

Click here to enter a Goodreads Giveaway in progress until October 31, 2012 for a signed copy of A Shirtful of Frogs open to US, CA and GB residents.

This trailer for A Shirtful of Frogs is interesting both for the book's promotion and for its use of public domain actual footage:


Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger


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17. Gilt

Gilt Katherine Longshore

Henry the VIII's many wives are common fodder for books for adults, not as much for YA (and when it is YA, it's more the princesses who get coverage, as they're the teens involved-- are there any good ones on Lady Jane Grey?) ANYWAY. Even in the shelves of Tudor fiction, Catherine Howard doesn't get a lot of play.

When this book came out, I was surprised that we hadn't seen more about her for YA before. When you think about it, her story is *perfect* for YA-- politics, romance, sex, death, pretty dresses, a teen queen who doesn't grasp the political realities surrounding her and a doomed relationship.

This one is narrarated by Catherine's friend Katherine TInley. Cat and Kitty have grown up together in the house of the Dowager Countess of Norfolk, with other daughters of minor nobility who have been sent there to be ignored or forgotten. Cat is then chosen to be a member of the new queen's household. After Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves dissolves, he marries Cat, and Cat brings Kitty and their friends to court, where they are thrust into Cat's dangerous games of lust and sex. They can see what Cat can't-- how very close she is to the edge. They all remember what happened to the former queen, Anne Boleyn--why doesn't Cat?

Those with even a glancing knowledge of history know that those who marry Henry VIII don't find success. It's not a huge spoiler to say that Cat and others will lose their heads by the end of the novel.

Despite knowing the ending, it's a great ride to get there. Kitty's torn between a few guys-- there's the one who parents have betrothed her to, the one that Cat's set her up, and the one that Kitty actually likes. It's a really interesting look at the lack of agency people had when it came to family and politics. In addition to all of the stolen moments in dark corners and the glittering wealth, Longshore does a great job of painting the tension and the danger. Kitty can see that the game Cat is playing won't end well. She keeps waiting for the shoe to drop, and when it does, it happens so slowly that Cat doesn't notice until they come to arrest her.

I also really liked the characterization of Lady Rochford. One thing I've learned from reading my friend's blog that looks at Anne Boleyn novels is that Lady Rochford is often a bit evil. In Gilt she's a survivor who is just trying to remain a survivor.

It was great that will appeal to historical fiction fans as well as "rich mean girl" fans.

ARC Provided by... the publisher at ALA.

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18. Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley

While it may be hard not to make some comparisons of Amy McAuley's Violins in Autumn with the very excellent Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, I think it is always better to form my opinion about a book on its own merits.

It is 1944 and Adele Blanchard, her friend radio transmitter Denise Langford, and two men have just parachuted into Nazi-occupied France as undercover agents for the Britain's Special Operations Executive, or SOE, to work with the French Resistance sabotaging German operations in preparation for D-Day.

Of course, the landing doesn't go exactly as planned.  One of the men is arrested almost as soon as they hit the ground, but Adele, Denise and the other man, Bishop, find each other and make their way to the agreed upon meeting place with Pierre, a member of the French Resistance.

It's not long before the two girls must make their way to Paris,  With false papers, they impersonate two French girls traveling by bike, securing Denise's radio in a suitcase to one of them.  But along the way, Adele and Denise witness a British plane crash after being hit by enemy fire.  They manage to find and rescue the American pilot, Robbie, before the German's do.

The three continue on to Paris, but along the way, they run into some Germans.  Denise and Robbie manage to get by them, but Adele is stopped and her bike to taken away.  Now she must go on on foot, and she's still a long way from Paris.  Luckily, a car comes by and she gets a lift from a Dr. Devereux all the way to Paris.  Devereux gives her is address should she need it.

But Adele and Robbie never show up at their safe house, and she discovers the it has been compromised and everyone was arrested.  With no place to go, Adele rides the metro day after day, avoiding Germans and possible capture.  Eventually, she ends up at the house of Dr. Devereux, where she has a brief encounter with his Nazi-collaborator wife in the process of leaving her husband.  Adele, Denise and Robbie finally find each other. but they must find a safe way out of France for Robbie as well as perform the tasks they are supposed to do as agents for SOE until the hear the coded message from London: "The long sobs of the violins of autumn" signaling that the allies are beginning their preparations of D-Day.

OK, so this doesn't sound majorly exciting, but take my word for it, Violins in Autumn is a very exciting novel.  It is full of espionage, intrigue, danger, kindness, cruelty, and even love.  In the course of this historical fiction novel, McAuley manages to work in lots of information about how operatives for the SOE are trained, how the Gestapo conducted interrogations and how messages were sent and received by couriers like Adele in the resistance.  And what dangerous jobs these were.

One of the things I like when I read a book like this is discover something I don't know.  I knew coded messages where sent between the allies and their operatives in the field, but I didn't know that the one signaling the start of  D-Day within 24 hours to operatives and resistance workers was from the first stanza of Chanson d'Automne by Paul Verlaine: The long sobs of the violins of autumn/would my heart with a monotonous languor.  

But Violins of Autumn is, above all, a story about the deep friendship that develops between the two young women who must rely on each other at a time when it is hard to know who one can really trust.  This can be especially difficult when each person can hide behind a false identity. To begin with, Adele is really Betty Sweeney, a 17 year old American who had been sent to boarding school in Switzerland when her father remarried, spoke German and French with native fluency and moved in with her English aunt and uncle when the war began.  Like Robbie, she lied about her age.  And if Adele is really Betty, it stands to reason that Denise is someone else, too.

If you enjoyed Code Name Verity, most likely you will enjoy Violins of Autumn and hopefully appreciate them both for their differences, because both are well worth reading.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL

To learn more about the real lives of female SOE couriers and radio transmitters like Adele and Denise, see the chapter on Great Britain in Kathryn Atwood's book Women Heroes of World War II, 25 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue (my review here)

For more information on Special Operations Executive operatives can be found here.

Tools of the SOE Trade (Note the radio
in the suitcase)

This is book 10 of my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

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19. TP Authors: Amanda J Ward


Amanda says, “Thank you for having me on your blog today. I really appreciate it.
I guess when it comes to promoting myself, I am the woman in the corner of a room with a glass of fizz holding a bookmark, hoping someone will notice.
So here's my bookmark, and I'm drinking a mug of tea!
My name is Amanda J Ward and I am the author of The Thrilling Adventures of Pann Haggerty; a short story series about an Englishwoman of a 'certain' age who takes a year off to travel around America in an RV in search of new experiences and perhaps love. They are fun and quirky, and the best compliments I have had is that my mother, mother in law and daughter have read them. Which is really amazing.


I have a full length novel out in September called Without Saying A Word.
The good guy gets his girl! After being in love with his older neighbour Laura since they met a year ago, Rhean Tate, Viscount Kirkleigh seizes his chance to make her his, when her past reappears threatening her and her children’s safety. This thirty-four year old male virgin, whisks her into marriage vowing to protect and cherish Laura and her family, with his name and noble family connections.
Will Laura feel overwhelmed by Rhean and run away. Her abusive marriage left her with scars on the inside as well as on the outside, or will she allow her barriers to crumble and be the woman and wife they both deserve.
I live in England with my husband, our three young children and two mad cats called Arthur and Merlin. I write mostly romance, but am dipping my toes in a few uncertain waters such as a regency time-shift which is all planned out. This is the first story in the Fitzroyal novels set around three siblings and their widowed mother.
A couple of years ago I entered New Voices run by M&B. I also entered last year with Her Reverend Majesty, about a vicar who marries a king of a foreign country and has to choose between her vocation or love. Unfortunately, although a lot of people were complimentary, it didn't make the final. So, later on that year I joined NANO where Laura and Rhean's story was being written. I managed to finish it early this year and I had an R&R from one publisher. However, when I was asked by Trestle to submit, I got an immediate response that they could have it. Roll on September when Bonkers in Bostonand Without Saying a Wordcome out.
I'm by no means a regular writer. I don't have a set time of day when I can write. Each day in my home is completely different as to how, when and if I can get anything done. The past few weeks have been manic as the kids have been off school. It's only now in the week before they go back, that I am able to catch up and do reviews etc.
I am a HUGE reader. I have been reading since I can remember, and there were times when I am sure my mother despaired at me for hoarding books under my bed. Before my father died, we used to go to the library together every Saturday, with me trotting after him pulling the shopping trolley. He would fill it up with war books. My grandmother was a reader of romantic fiction. I found some in her spare room one day when I was eight and snooping. Since then I have been hooked. My favourite series is still the Temptationline of Harlequin books, but there are authors I am exceptionally loyal to. I adore historical fiction and royalty books. I have DVDs about them and biographies lining my bookcase. Phillippa Gregory, Anne O'Brien, Marguerite Kaye, Michelle Willingham and Sophie Perinot top my list there.
My influences writing wise come from my friends, and also what I like to read and watch. I am a HUGE Gilmore Girls, Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, Sci Fi and Big Bang Theory fan.
When I write Pann, for some reason, I see it as a sitcom. I think that's the best way to describe the series, and I like working to a deadline for some reason. The worst thing about me is that I procrastinate like mad. It is really dreadful. Finding other things to do rather than sit in front of the screen and get words to appear on it from my head. For some reason I love working in peace and quiet. I guess it's because I talk to myself when I type and the looks I get from my children and husband, and the cats too are very offputting.  Yes, there are days when I feel I have no talent for writing and that what I do is absolute rubbish. How do I cope? I walk away from what I'm doing for a time.
Any advice? Don't give up.


Here is an teaser from Pann Haggerty Volume Three Bonkers In Boston.
Hope you enjoy it!.


When Joe came back to the meeting house for her less than half an hour later. He was laden down with bags. Hoping he got the right things for her, upon seeing the sight before him, stopped dead, lifted his face to the sky and whispered
"Oh Jeez not this. Not here. Not now"
For standing on the steps was Pann. She had a union jack cap on her head and and a frilly apron around her. She was handing out slices of cake and plastic cups of tea to anyone that would take it. A broad smile lit up her pixie like face and she was obviously having a fantastic time. Laughing and chatting to tourists and residents alike.
"What do you think you are doing Crazy Lady?" Joe said slowly.
"Well, duh" Pann mocked him. "What does it look like. I'm having a tea party. Where better to have one. Than here!" She announced taking a bow. Cutting a piece of sunken, lopsided cake, Pann put it on a napkin and handed it to Joe.
"I knew you were up to something" Joe muttered taking a bite of the cake. It tasted much better than it looked.
"You can't have a tea party without cake" Pann said stubbornly.
Joe took a deep breath.
"Wrong revolution darlin. That was the French one" He informed her.
"And the tea party?" asked Pann, totally confused by all the history being thrown at her.
"To do with taxing of tea. Crates of it were thrown overboard and into the river"
"What an absolute waste of perfectly good tea" Pann sniffed. She sat down with her own cup and munched on her cake.
Joe couldn't resist taking a photograph of her.
"Say Tea Party" he teased. Pann stuck her tongue out at him. Joe continued taking photographs anyway.  She pulled up her jeans at one point exposing red socks.
"Pann what are you wearing?"
"Red socks. You said Boston was the home of the red socks. So I am wearing them because I'm in Boston".
"Pann, you crazy Englishlady. When I said Boston was home to the red socks, I meant the Red Sox. A baseball team" Joe said slowly and carefully so she would understand.
"Baseball" Pann thought for a moment. "Is that like rounders?"
"You have to be kidding me! You've never heard of baseball?" Joe's voice was incredulous.
"Of course I have. You hit a ball with a round stick. Then run around the field and touch bases. That's rounders" The tone of her voice dared him to argue the toss.
"What about football?" Joe decided to open the can all the way.
"Rugby" Pann countered
"Soccer?"
"Football" Pann was evidently enjoying her banter with him.
He sat down on the steps and put his head in his hands.
"Save me from crazy Englishwomen" He pleaded to no-one in particular.
"Sorry pal. You're on your own" Came a retort from a passer by.
Pann sat down beside him and snuggled up. She gave a sigh of happiness.
"That was fun" She giggled girlishly sipping another cup of tea.


Well there you go. A sneak peek at what Pann is like. If you want to read more, you can catch up with Pann on these links.






My website, Kooks Nook: http://kooks-kooksnook.blogspot.co.uk/

And of course, email me at mrsajward@hotmail.com

Thanks for having me and hope to hear from readers soon!"

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20. 17 Jan 1980

I experienced a "madelaine moment" when I found this ancient yellowed cutting from the glory days of Radio Times (when it was the largest circulation magazine in the UK). It features my illustration of bizarre objects for a typically genteel BBC quiz show. The pleasure of drawing this came flooding back. Note that they were showing one of my favourite films from childhood.
Click to enlarge.

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21. Time of Fire by Robert Westall

People sometimes ask me what my favorite WWII book is out of all that I have read.  It is hard to answer that question because everything I have read so far has at least some redeeming quality of showing how the war impacted the lives of the children (and the occasional adult or animal.)

One of my favorite authors, however, is Robert Westall.  Westall wrote my favorite WWII animal story, Blitzcat, capturing the influence one cat had on the lives of so many while searching war-torn England looking for her true human, after her owner joined the war effort.

Then I read The Machine Gunners, which I thought wonderful, even if it did have a very unlikable protagonist.  And now I bring to this blog another Westall book, Time of Fire.

Like all his friends, 10 year old Sonny carries his aircraft-recognition book everywhere he goes, so when a German plane drops a bomb on the store where his mother is shopping, killing her, he knows it was a plane they called the Flying Pencil.

In despair, Sonny's father decides to join the RAF to seek revenge on the plane that killed his beloved wife and changed their happy lives forever.  Sonny is sent to live with his grandparents in their coastal home near Newcastle.  As Sonny settles into life with his grandparents, helping them safeguard their home with sandbags and barbed wire, working in the garden and listening to the wireless together for news of the war, he develops a strong relationship with his Granda, a man who patiently answers Sonny's questions and is always willing to teach him about life.  Perhaps the most telling example of that is the way he guides Sonny into slowly and methodically making friends with a war-traumatized dog, whom he eventually wins over and names Blitz.

But Sonny has a guilty conscience.  His Mam was in the store buying matches because Sonny had forgotten about them in his rush to buy the newest copy of Wizard, a magazine for boys.  So when his father's attempt at revenge comes to an end when he is shot down, Sonny decides it is now up to him to avenge his mother's death.

But what can a young boy do?  In a Robert Westall story, plenty!

Unlike the kitty in Blitzcat or Chas in The Machine Gunners, Sonny does not have a strong single- minded focus.  But like them, Sonny is eventually faced with a difficult dilemma.  When faced with having to choose life or death, will he let revenge control his decision or rise above it?

For that reason, and despite being a World War II novel, Time of Fire might still resonates for today's readers.  Revenge seems to have become such a prevalent way of dealing with the small personal injuries in life today, that watching Sonny's struggle between doing the right thing or getting his revenge for his Mam's death might just help decide a future action on a reader's part (assuming we are what we read, of course).

I have to admit that after reading The Machine Gunners, I was a little put off Robert Westall's WWII novels, but I am glad I have now returned to them.  Sonny is a very appealing main character, making it easier to root for him.  And the portrayal of Nana and Granda is superb.  I wish they were my grandparents.  You can just feel the love in their home.  Even the bickering is done with love.  This was the same atmosphere in Sonny's home before his mother was killed and his otherwise happy, content father's personality turned black.  It makes you realize how fleeting happiness can be.

Like Michelle Magorian (Goodnight, Mr. Tom and Back Homeamong others novels) Robert Westall is a master at creating a realistic picture of the British home front in World War II.  Unlike Magorian, Westall really had experienced the war first hand, growing up in the same area that he sets his stories in, always making them so very rich in details not necessarily commonly known.

This book is recommended for readers aged 9+
This book was borrowed from the Seward Park Branch of the NYPL


Robert Westall as a boy in North Shields, England.

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22. The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper

The Fitzosbornes, royal family of that small fictional Channel island Montmaray, are back in this third and last book of the trilogy.  As you may recall in Book I, A Brief History of Montmaray, the FitzOsbornes - Toby, Sophie, Henry (Henrietta), cousin Veronica and half cousin Simon - were forced by the Nazis to leave their island home and head for London.

And in Book II, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, we found them hobnobbing between London and their Aunt Charlotte's Milford Park estate in Dorset.  However, there was war in the air and both Toby and Simon decided to enlist in the RAF.

All the FitzOsborne doings have been relayed to us through the journals of HRH Princess Sophia FitzOsborne and in Book III, The FitzOsbornes at War, this tradition continues.

Sophie, now 18, begins her journal appropriately enough on September 3, 1939, the day that Britain and France declare war on Germany.

With England now at war, and Toby and Simon in the RAF, Sophie and Veronica both wish to do their bit to help and even manage to convince Aunt Charlotte to let them move into a small apartment behind the larger Montmaray House in London.  Veronica, who speaks fluent Spanish, gets a job in the Foreign Office, while Sophie begins working for the Ministry of Food, a job she does not consider very important to the war effort.

And so life goes on under wartime conditions, with air raids, food shortages, and eventually, bombings.  All the while, Veronica travels to Spain for long periods of time to translate for high ranking officials and diplomats, and Sophie works and hangs out with friends Julia, who has volunteered to be an ambulance driver, and Kick (Kathleen Kennedy, daughter of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, sister to Jack and Ted), everything faithfully recorded by Sophie in her journal, as the war becomes the new normalcy.  Sophie does occasionally still see Rupert, Julia's brother, but he is working on something top secret and doesn't have much free time.  Even so, they find they are more and more attracted to each other.  But then, Toby goes missing while flying a mission over France, believed to have parachuted out of his burning plane.  And it is as if he vanished in thin air, there seems to be no information about him to be found anywhere.

Sophie's wartime journal covers 4 years this time, from September 3, 1939 to November 28, 1944, with one entry dated August 28, 1948.  There are, of course, long periods of time elapsing between journal entries, so most are really summaries of what has been happening, which I think works better than lots of more frequent entries, less confusing to the reader.

I wrote in The FitzOsbornes in Exile that it was more of a historical novel than A Brief History on Montmaray, and I can honestly say that this third novel is even more historical the both put together.  How could it not be?  However, Cooper has blended fact and fiction so well, that the divide between them seems almost seamless here, yet the historical information is still quite obvious so that the reader doesn't make the mistake of believing the fictional bits really happened.  Clever that.  And Cooper has used historical events to help move the story along without overburdening the readers with names and dates and stuff like that.

The main characters are still believable, well-developed and sympathetic.  Sophie is no longer the young innocent girl she was when we first met her in 1936, nevertheless, she still retains some of her youthful naivety, even in the face of finding true love.  Veronica is still Sophie's opposite, rather more interested in the intellectual side of life than the emotional side.  And Henry is still Henry, sweet, charming, always exuberant and optimistic.

Does The FitzOsbornes at War stand up to it predecessors?  Yes, it most certainly does.  It is a most worthy sequel to the first two books, though I am not sure it would work very well as a stand alone novel.  It doesn't have quite as much wit and fun as before, but there is still enough action, adventure, danger and even love to satisfy, in fact, sometimes there are even some real nail-biting moments.  And sadly, there is one spot where you might want to have some tissues handy.

And here's the rub - rather than taking my time and savoring this last FitzOsborne novel, I read it almost in one sitting.  I simply couldn't wait to see what was in store for these favorite characters.  Then, I got to the end and I asked myself, why did I race through this book that I had been so looking forward to reading and now I have to say good-bye to because I'd finished it and there were no more FitzOsbornes on the horizon?  So if you like the FitzOsbornes as I do, try not to rush to the end.

That said, and as much as I enjoyed The FitzOsbornes at War, I did find two things that bothered me.

1- Henry!  I can't say more.  The problem with writing about this book is that no matter what you write, it could easily end up as an unintentional spoiler.

2- I did not like the way Toby's homosexuality was handled.  It was brought to light in The FitzOsbornes in Exile, and became a non-thing in this novel.  What happened????  It just vanished...

To her credit, Cooper took a page out of JK Rowling's books and included on post-war journal entry wrapping this up for the reader.  Not all is a happy ending, but at least you won't wonder.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an E-ARC obtained from Random House through Edelweiss (and it will be available on October 9, 2012 in the US)

The FitzOsbornes at War is a wonderful personal read, but it is also so full of history that teacher's may want to supplement their WW2 classes with it, and if so, you can download an extensive Teacher's Guide from Random House Australia.








This is book 14 of my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

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23. Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Princess Elizabeth's Spy is the second mystery in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal.  When last we left our WWII heroine, Maggie Hope in Mr. Churchill's Secretary, she was leaving her post as a typist for Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain to begin espionage training for MI-5 (Military Intelligence Section 5).  Maggie, after all, is a gifted mathematician with a degree from Wellesley College and was on her way to graduate school at MIT when the war broke out while she was visiting England.

Unfortunately for Maggie,  spy school doesn't work out quite as well as she had hoped and now MI-5 is going to reassign her.  Her new assignment is to go undercover at Windsor Castle as the maths tutor to the 14 year old Princess Elizabeth.  In reality, she is to be on the lookout for any unusual activity that might put the future Queen of England in danger.  And, indeed, there does seem to be a plot underfoot to replace the reigning Royals with the recently abdicated, Nazi admiring Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, once the Nazis have invaded England.  And the Princess Elizabeth would definitely be an obstacle to these plans.

Arriving at Windsor, Maggie quickly discovers that the good part of living there is that it isn't a target for the bombs Germany has been dropping mercilessly throughout England; the bad part, no special advantages for royalty - it is terribly cold and everything is rationed.  Nevertheless, she quickly forms a rapport with both Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, and easily adjusts to castle life, making only a minimal number of faux pas.

Maggie isn't at Windsor long, however, when Lily, a lady-in-waiting at the castle, is decapitated while out riding with the two Princesses by a wire attached to two trees and strung across the riding path.  But, perhaps the wire had actually been meant for the Princess Elizabeth instead?  And the plot thickens  even more when Maggie accidentally discovers a missing decoded message in one of Lily's books.  The Germans were pretty confident that their messages, sent using an Enigma cypher, were safe and that no one could break their code. Why did Lily have it and is her death connected to the murder of the woman who is suspected of stealing the decoded message from Bletchley Park?

To make Maggie's life even more complicated, the mystery surrounding her father, a spy for MI-5 working at Bletchley Park deepens.  Edmund Hope had been suspected of being a double agent in World War I, but nothing was proven.  Is he somehow connected to the stolen decoded message and a traitor to his country in this war?

And what about Maggie's love interest, John Sterling, RAF pilot shot down over Germany?  Is he dead or alive?

Series books tend to get better and better with each new book and that is true of Princess Elizabeth's Spy.  First books in a series are concerned with introducing important recurring characters and telling why they are there.  Second and subsequent books can get right down to business and that is exactly what Susan Elia MacNeal has done here.  Princess Elizabeth's Spy is chock full of mystery, intrigue, suspense and, my favorite, historical fact so excellently mixed in with historical fiction.

Maggie remains a charming protagonist, the more so because, as intelligent as she is, she doesn't get things right ALL the time.  Maggie, like all of us, is sometimes blinded by her own biases towards people which can cloud her judgement.
 
It is pretty obvious as you read Princess Elizabeth's Spy that MacNeal has done her research well.  The story is full of actual historical characters, some familiar like Churchill, others less familiar, like the Duke of Windsor, or Walther Schellenberg, head of Abwehr (German Intelligence Service).  I did find that the portrait of the Princess Elizabeth and the Princess Margaret that MacNeal paints for her readers, like that of Churchill, makes them feel more human but no less royal and the sense of duty that has been a hallmark of the present Queen Elizabeth's reign is very apparent in her younger, fictional self.  The fact that the Princesses knew their way around the dungeons below Windsor Castle was a very nice, fun touch.  But what personally interested me were all the bits surrounding codes in the novel, from the Enigma to the simple code Maggie taught Princess Elizabeth.  Codes and cyphers have always fascinated me and lately it seems I have been reading a lot of books dealing with them.

Princess Elizabeth's Spy is the kind of mystery that has lots of crossover appeal for YA readers, including a very titillating ending.  Of course, given the ending, now I can't wait to read the third book in the Maggie Hope series, His Majesty's Hope, due out May 2013.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an ARC sent to me by Random House

This is book 3 of my Cozy Mystery Reading Challenge hosted by Debbie's Book Bag

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24. Book Review: Victoria Rebels, by Carolyn Meyer (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

Release date:  January 1, 2013

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Carolyn Meyer's series The Young Royals has examined the youth of many of history's most prominent royal female figures, including Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, and Cleopatra.  It's perhaps inevitable that she would turn her attention to the most important female queen of the 19th century, a figure so prominent she gave her name to an entire historical period, Queen Victoria.  The book spans from 1827, when Victoria was eight years old, to 1843, by which time Victoria was a young queen with three children.

Meyer tells her story through diary entries based on Victoria's own diaries, which she began keeping at the age of thirteen.  (Note:  in 2012, the entire contents of these diaries were made available online).  T  As Meyer explains in an afterword, these diary entries were written in the knowledge that they would be read, at first by her mother and governess, and later by historians.  Meyer uses her imagination (and research of course) to describe what  Victoria is really feeling, but incorporates many of Victoria's stylistic quirks, such as an affection for writing in all capitals or underlining dramatically, to give the feel of her actual diaries.  

I really enjoyed this novel, and felt it did a terrific job of capturing Victoria's strong personality and opinions, both as a young girl and as an adult. We learn many details of Victoria's daily life, from her strained relationship with her mother and her advisor, Sir John, to her attachment to Dash, her mother's King Charles Spaniel.  Even when you're a privileged princess, you don't necessarily get your way, and Victoria's wishes are often thwarted by her mother or court intrigue.  Even when she becomes queen, her struggles with her mother are not over, although Victoria takes control of many aspects of her court, including her personal household.  In addition to dealing with all the intrigues of court life, Meyer also takes us into Victoria's confidence as she is wooed by and eventually weds her cousin Albert, the love of her life.  Even with Albert, however, there were inevitable conflicts, as the young couple tried to adjust to their different roles--queen, sovereign, wife, and mother, and prince consort, husband, and father.

An afterword provides additional information on the rest of Victoria's life and other historical notes, as well as a bibliography and a list of related websites to visit.

Those who read this novel should certainly get a copy of the DVD of The Young Victoria, the beautifully realized 2009 film starring an elegant Emily Blunt as the young monarch.  Another appealing novel for young readers with the young Victoria as a prominent character is Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela Maccoll (Chronicle, 2010).

Disclosure:  advance copy provided by publisher.

1 Comments on Book Review: Victoria Rebels, by Carolyn Meyer (Simon & Schuster, 2013), last added: 12/28/2012
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25. Tamar, a Novel of Espionage, Passion and Betrayal by Mal Peet

Tamar is one of those stories that is difficult to talk about without giving too much away and spoiling the twist that comes at the end of the novel.  And Tamar is well worth the read just to get to that.  It begins in 1979, when William Hyde asks his son Jan if he and his wife would consider using the name Tamar for their expected baby, to which they happily respond in the affirmative.  It is this daughter, Tamar, who narratives the story that follows.

The story then switches to 1945, introducing Dart and Tamar, undercover names (based on English rivers) for two Dutch born, British trained agents for the SOE (Special Operations Executive) just as they are about to parachute into the Nazi-occupied  Netherlands to work with the Dutch Resistance in an attempt to reorganize it during that terrible Hunger Winter when so many people died of starvation.  Once inside Holland, Dart, who is the team's radio operator, operates under the name Dr. Ernest Lubbers, living and setting up his radio at the local mental asylum.  Tamar, under the name of Christiaan Boogart, is fortunate enough to be placed in the home of Marijke Maatens.  Tamar/Christiaan and Marijke have been lovers for a while, but when Dart/Lubbers realizes what is going on between them, he becomes very angry and jealous.  He has also fallen in love with Marjike.

The narrative moves to the spring of 1995.  Jan Hyde's daughter Tamar Hyde is now 15.  Her father has be missing for a few years and her beloved grandmother, Marijke, has recently passed away, after being placed in a nursing home because she was seemingly suffering from dementia.  Now, her grandfather has just committed suicide.  As a result of that, Tamar finds herself in possession of a box full of his World War II memorabilia.  Tamar knew that her Grandad "was fascinated by riddles and codes and conundrums of labyrinths, by the origin of place names, by grammar, by slang, by jokes...by anything that might mean something else.  He lived in a world that was slippery, changeable, fluid." (pg 111)  And so Tamar begins a journey to figure out that codes messages her Grandad has left regarding his life and suicide.

From here on the story alternates between 1945 and 1995 as events unfold and characters are explained.  I don't want to say too much more at this point and risk an unintended spoiler, which can so easily happen with suspense novels you feel enthusiastic about.

Tamar is an exciting, suspenseful, very sophisticated and often gritty YA novel, but it is definitely not going to be everyones cup of tea.  A lot of readers said they had a hard time getting into the story, while others complained that it was big (379 pages)  and too slow moving, while other readers thought it was a 5 star story.  I tend to be on the side of the 5 star folks.  

Peet's teenage narrator proves to be quite formidable.  One would almost think beyond her 15 years, but given Tamar's life experiences so far, maybe her formidability is completely understandable.  Through her voice, Peet details her discoveries in a very straightforward style, clean and clear, yet it is all done in such lyrical prose that sometimes it often made me almost forget the subtext of the title.  Without my realizing that he had done it, Peet has taken that subtext espionage, passion and betrayal, wound and woven them together in a story that left me unsuspecting until the very end and then totally surprised.  In fact, after I finished it, I thought the whole novel is really a reflection of of William Hyde's love of all things enigma and that, I think, that is what makes Tamar such an unusual story.  And yet, all along the way, Tamar gives us innocent (?) hints about where things are going.

The book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was bought for my personal library

Walker Books Australia has a very nice teacher's guide here.

This book was awarded the following well-deserved honors:

2005 Carnegie Medal
206 Wirral Paper Back of the Year
2008 ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
2011 De Gouden Lijst

This is book 4 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
This is book 2 of my 2013 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader

14 Comments on Tamar, a Novel of Espionage, Passion and Betrayal by Mal Peet, last added: 2/1/2013
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