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1. 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

6 Comments on The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper, last added: 10/12/2012
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2. 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.

3 Comments on Time of Fire by Robert Westall, last added: 10/11/2012
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3. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

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Adult Novels for Young Adult Readers

Mr. Churchill's Secretary is a debut novel and the first in a series centering on Maggie Hope, the American raised daughter of British parents, a Wellesley grad who went to London in 1939 to sell the house she inherited from a grandmother she never knew.  Then war was declared and Maggie stayed on to do her bit for the war effort.

Unable to sell the house, Maggie now shares it with a few other young women - Paige Kelly, an old college friend, Charlotte McCaffrey A/K/A Chuck, and twins Annabelle and Clarabelle Wiggett.  Into this mix is added a few males like Maggie's good friend David Green and the not so nice Richard Snodgrass and the charming John Sterling, who often knows more about things than he lets on.  All three men work as private secretaries for Winston Churchill, the new British Prime Minister.

Maggie had actually applied for the job as a private secretary to the new PM, but despite being brilliant and totally qualified, gender was everything in 1940 and she lost the job to Richard - hence, he is not a favorite person of Maggie's.

But then, when Diana Snyder, a typist at 10 Downing Street, is found murdered, David talks Maggie into applying for the job as her replacement in the typing pool, even thought they both know she is more suited to be at Bletchley Park breaking Nazi codes alongside the best minds in England.  And Churchill decides that she is indeed the person they need, because, as he says, they can use a little hope at Downing Street.  But Maggie is not just an ordinary typist in the pool and it doesn't take long for her to be caught up not just in wartime events and her job, but also in the mystery of who killed Diana.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary is an exciting mystery adventure that takes all kinds of twists and turn and just when you think you know who killed Diana Snyder, you discover that you don't.  But there are plenty of suspects, so you could make a wrong guess more than once.  And this is one of the things that makes this book so good.

Other good things: MacNeal manages to weave in a Hope family mystery, some good espionage, code breaking, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and even a possible love interest for Maggie.  And all the whole none yards* is wrapped in a cloak of history making this historical fiction at its best - the blitz, blackouts, rationing, air raids and even St. Paul's Cathedral are realistically portrayed they play their part in Maggie's life.

And Maggie herself is a strong captivating and compelling redhead, never afraid to say what is on her mind, yet always considerate and kind to her friends and co-workers.  Not even Winston Churchill can intimidate her Maggie and I like that about her.

This is an energetic debut mystery.  And like all novels in a series, it has the task of introducing the reader to the cast of recurring characters and giving enough background information about them, and even though I felt like it took a while to get to the mystery about Diana Snyder, I still had fun getting to know all the characters along the way and seeing the vivid pictures that MacNeal paints of 1940 wartime

9 Comments on Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, last added: 7/18/2012
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4. Blitzed by Robert Swindells


It is 2002 and Georgie Wetherall loves two things - knowing all about England in World War II and creeping. Creeping?  That is when you “streak across a row of back gardens, over fences, through hedges, across veg patches...without getting caught or recognized.” (pg13)  And he especially likes leaving Miss Coverley’s garden is shambles.  Georgie knows she doesn’t like him - she's always watching him.  So when he has to repair her fence post as punishment for his last creeping adventure, Georgie discoveres she watches him - it seems he reminds her of someone, but who?

All this is forgotten, however, when Georgie’s class goes on a trip to Eden Camp, a former POW camp turned into a WW 2 museum of 29 huts each dedicated to one aspect of the war.  Hut 5 is a realistic replica of a bombed street in London during the Blitz.  The sounds and smells add to the realistic atmosphere - but wait, it is perhaps a little too realistic.  In fact, Georgie suddenly finds himself transported back to wartime London.

Finding himself faced with the real deal, cold, hungry, lost and scared, Georgie wanders around until he finds a friendly searchlight crew who give him something to eat.  After living through a night of bombing in a public shelter, Georgie notices four kids emerging from a bombed out pub.  He and the kids starting talking and they tell him he can stay with them as long as Ma approves.  Ma turns out to be a 14 year old girl who watches over orphaned kids in the pub’s basement.

Ma has a job in a second hand shop owned by what she believes to be is a Jewish refugee  from Germany called Rags.  But when Georgie discovers a radio transmitter locked in one of the shops upstairs rooms, they begin to suspect that maybe Rags isn’t who they think he is.  And they decide to find out exactly what he is up to with that radio transmitter.  Trouble is, Rags begins to suspec

10 Comments on Blitzed by Robert Swindells, last added: 4/26/2012
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5. The Exeter Blitz by David Rees

May 3, 1942 starts out like any other day. Colin Lockwood, 14, is falling asleep in class and his despised history teacher, Mr. Kitchen, catches him, earning Colin an extra homework assignment that night – a four page essay entitled “Why I am a Fool.” Terry Wootton, an evacuee from London and no friend of Colin’s even though they share a desk, finds Colin’s predicament very amusing.

After school, Colin seems to get under foot with everyone. His mother is busy preparing for a wartime fashion show at Nimrods, the shop where she works; his older sister Mary, a nursing student, is in the living room with her soon to be drafted boy friend, Lars; younger sister June, 10, was having her tea with her best friend Pamela. Colin decides to go off to see his father at Exeter Cathedral, where he is a verger.

Returning home with his dad a little later, Colin’s bad day isn’t over yet. He is told he must help serve snacks and sherry at the fashion show, where, as it turns out, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen are also in attendance. Despite this, Colin does very well until he is hit with a bad case of the giggles over the name of the show’s organizer, Mrs. Wimbleball. His mother tells him to leave, and he runs out of the store, remembers he left his jacket in the top of the south tower of the Cathedral, and decides to go and fetch it.

While walking up to the tower, Colin hears the first drone of planes, but continues upward thinking there is plenty of time between sirens sounding and the arrival of the planes. But not this time.

Up in the tower, Colin watches as the bombing of Exeter begins almost immediately. By the time the all clear sounds, a little over an hour later, Exeter is in shambles. On his way home, Colin runs into his enemy Terry Wootton and his mother outside their destroyed fish and chips shop/home. Mrs. Wootton goes to stay with her sister, while Colin and Terry go to the Lockwood house. Colin’s home has been destroyed, but his sister June and his father survived in their shelter – a reinforced cupboard under the stairs. His mother, he later learns, was trapped in an elevator in Nimrods with Mrs. Wimbleball and Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen. His sister Mary has managed to get to the hospital to help out.

June goes to stay with her friend Pamela and his father goes to check the damage to the cathedral. Colin leaves a note for his mom, climbs into the house to get some sleeping bags and food, and he and Terry go off to a field to sleep in the haystack.

The next day, when they return to Mrs. Wootton’s fish and chips store, they find all the thawed out fish and the potatoes, and set up shop amid the rubble, advertising it as:

“T. Wootton and C. Lockwood. Noted fryers of quality fish. Business as usual. Hot meals on sale. FREE.”

Realizing they have much in common and work so well together, Terry and Colin have by now gone from being mortal enemies to being fast friends. For Colin, the bombing of Exeter serves as the catalyst that helps Colin become a very different person than the boy he was when he woke up on the morning of May 3rd.

The purpose of The Exeter Blitz not to present the attempt to destroy the cathedral, and what a terrible loss that would be. Though this is Colin’s coming of age story, Rees has also realistically presented each of the Lockwood’s thoughts, feelings and activities up to, during and after the bombing through the use of an omniscient narrator

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6. Blitz on Zuda

My comic strip Blitz will be in the competition over at Zuda Comics starting today, along with several other comics. Readers can vote for their favorite and the winner receives a contract to continue their comic on Zuda for a year. Zuda is DC Comics' webcomics division.Read Blitz on Zuda ComicsNote: Some of the comics on Zuda are not suitable for young readers. Blitz is an All-ages comic.

1 Comments on Blitz on Zuda, last added: 10/8/2009
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7. Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

 

I have just finished rereading Blackout and All Clear and find myself wishing that Connie Willis could have kept going. After reading these two books totaling 1,168 pages, I find I have become quite attached to the characters and had a hard time saying goodbye when I came to the end. They are just that good!

The books are based on a simple enough premise. In 2060 Oxford, history is studied by traveling back in time to observe, collect data and interpret events firsthand under the tutelage of Mr. Dunworthy, the history professor in charge of time travel. The story centers on three students interested in different aspects of World War II. Michael Davies, disguised as Mike Davis who wants to go to Dover as an American war correspondent to observe the heroism of the ordinary people who rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk; Merope Ward becomes Eileen O’Reilly, working as a servant to Lady Caroline Denewell in her manor at Backbury, Warwickshire in order to observe evacuees from London; and Polly Churchill becomes Polly Sebastian, a shop girl by day working in the fictitious department store Townsend Brothers on Oxford Street, who wants to observe how Londoners coped during the Blitz.

In Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis makes it clear that there are certain cardinal rules of time travel. First, the traveler may not do anything to alter a past event. But that kink was supposed to be taken care of so that it couldn’t happen. In addition, an historian is not allowed to travel to a divergence point, a critical point in history that can be changed by the presence of the historian. Nor can a predetermined drop site open if t

3 Comments on Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, last added: 11/18/2010
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8. Ghostscape by Joe Layburn

Ghostscape is a small, time travel story about a young Muslim Somali girl named Aisha. She is a very unhappy, angry girl, who is now living in London with her mother after her father was murdered in Somalia’s civil war.

The story begins with Aisha crying in the girl’s bathroom because she has once again been bullied by a girl named Chevon. Hearing a cough, Aisha opens the door and there is a pale young boy standing there. She doesn’t recognize the boy and he isn’t dressed like anyone else at school, in fact, the bathroom isn’t even the same. And the boy is asking her if she is afraid of the bombs. Next thing Aisha knows, she back in the right girl’s room - alone.

Later, in the playground, she tells two friends about the experience. Chevon overhears her and threatens to tell Aisha’s mother that she has a boyfriend, knowing that goes against Aisha’s religion. The two girls get into fight and Aisha again finds herself in the presence of the mysterious boy, yelling at her that the sirens are going off and they are in danger.

This time, Aisha finds out the boy is named Richard and it is 1940 London, in the midst of the Blitz. They run through the streets to the shelter of a railway arch to wait out the bombing raid. Richard tells her that he lives with his grandfather, who refuses to go to a shelter during raids. When the air raid warden comes by, they discover he cannot see Aisha.

During a break in the bombing, Aisha goes with Richard to his grandfather’s house. They find his grandfather surveying the remains of their home, which has been destroyed by a bomb along with many other homes on the street. Everyone is taken to nearby Trentham School for shelter. This is also the name of Aisha’s school, but they don’t look a bit alike. They find a spot on the floor and settle in. Just before they fall asleep, Richard asks Aisha to tell him about Chevon.

When she wakes up, Aisha is in her own bed and her mother tells her she had fainted during her fight with Chevon. Aisha can’t wait to get to school that day to talk to the teacher who teaches World War II history. But instead of Miss Brown, Aisha finds Chevon in the classroom, ready to exact some justice. To Aisha’s delight, Richard also shows up and starts to invisibly torment Chevon. Richard manages to actually scare an apology out of Chevon, along with a promise to leave Aisha alone.

Later, Miss Brown tells Aisha to speak with the lollipop lady (crossing guard) about the local history of the area during the war, but she does find out that the Trentham School was bombed during a raid and had to be rebuilt.

By the end of the school day, Aisha has been suspended from school until the following Monday, resulting in yet another terrible fight with her mother. But suspension gives her time to go to the library and read about the bombing of the Trentham School. Aisha determines that she must find Richard and warn him.

But time travel can be capricious. Will she be able to find Richard again or lose the first person she has cared about since her father’s murder in Somalia? Will she ever come to terms with the loss of her father and begin to get along with her mother? The ending yields a bit of a surprise for Aisha.

Ghostscape is a good book. It is essentially about differences, similarities and acceptance. Despite the fact that both kids come from paranoid times when suspicion and mistrust of “the other” run high, and despite their individual differences, Richard and Aisha accep

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