Category Archives: war

The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Like many of the books on my shelves The Bombs That Brought Us Together has been sitting on my shelf for a while just waiting for the chance for me to pick it up.  I’ve spent the last month reading through my TBR pile and this book shot straight to the top when I heard that it had won the Costa Book Award.  I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it because it is a brilliant book.

9781408855744Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will…

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is an atmospheric, tense, utterly unique read that made me smile one minute and bite my nails the next.  I was absolutely captivated by this story and the characters that Brian has brought to life.  It is clear to see why this book won the Costa Book Award.
Brian Conaghan portrays life in a war-zone and a time of unrest with honesty and with heart. You see what the day-to-day reality is for Charlie, with rationing, curfews and beatings, and you see the fear that his parents live with.  Charlie tells us about the reality of life after the bombs when he shares his list of things he did before the bombs came, including ‘got really bored because Little Town had a lack of teenage things to do.’ You also see what life is like for refugees like Pav, those people that are forced out of the country and the lives that they knew into a place where they are hated and made to do horrible jobs just to survive.  Brian also shows us the friendship and hope that exists too, even with everything else that is happening.
The way in which Brian has portrayed the war between Little Town and Old Country is brilliant.  The conflict between Little Town and Old Country bears striking similarities to wars all over the world.  There are rebels that have taken Little Town as their own and they run the place as they see fit, but Old Country wants to take Little Town back and so they invade with their bombs and their soldiers.  Pav and his family are refugees from Old Country who are now living in Little Town and they are persecuted, especially when the Old Country troops invade.  Little Town is run by The Big Man and his Rascals.  It is when Charlie and Pav get themselves involved with The Big Man that the real trouble starts.
It was Charlie’s voice that grabbed me from the first page and made me want to keep reading.  As the story is narrated by Charlie you really get inside his head and go through all of his dilemmas and the events of the story right with him.  You feel him changing as the story progresses and hope that he is going to make the right choices.  You know how much he wants to protect his family and Pav and that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.  Things get especially tense towards the end of the book and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together is one of those stories that I’m still thinking about days after finishing it.  Charlie and Pav will stay with me and I’ll wonder what they are getting up to.  I loved Brian’s writing so much that I want to go and hunt down his first book, When Mr Dog Bites, and I’m eagerly awaiting his next book (with Sarah Crossan) called We Come Apart.
Recommended for 13+ (definitely a YA read).
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Front Lines by Michael Grant

I’m a huge fan of Michael Grant.  His Gone series is one of my all time favourite series.  His books are dark and he’s particularly good at writing gory scenes.  One of the things I love most about his books is his characters.  You really get to know his characters and they end up feeling like your closest friends (and in some cases your worst nightmares).  Michael introduces us to a new cast of characters who will grow to be your friends in the first book in his new series, Front Lines.

y450-293It’s 1942. The fate of the world rests on a knife’s edge. And the soldiers who can tip the balance . . . are girls.

A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.  Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves.  Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans.  For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war. These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines.  They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.  But not everyone believes that the girls should be on the front lines of war.

Now Rio and her friends must fight not only to survive, but to prove their courage and ingenuity to a sceptical world.

Front Lines is an epic read! It’s a fresh and exciting alternate history that makes you look at World War II in a completely different way.  In Front Lines, Michael Grant has reimagined World War II with females fighting on the front lines.  I’ve read quite a lot of fiction for kids and teens about World War II and it’s rare to find a story told from an American point of view, let alone from a female point of view.  These girls aren’t keeping the home fires burning though, they are ‘Soldier Girls,’ fighting alongside the boys.  They may be allowed to fight but they are not accepted, especially by some of the older men.  However, just like the boys and men they are about to grow up very quickly and see things they won’t be able to forget.

Like the characters in Michael’s other books, the characters in Front Lines will get stuck in your head and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them.  We follow three girls, Rio Richlin, Rainy Shulterman and Frangie Marr.  Rio is a white girl from California who has lived a fairly sheltered life.  Rainy is a Jewish girl from New York who wants to be part of army intelligence. Frangie is an African American girl from Oklahoma who wants to join the army to help support her family.  We know straight away that Rainy and Frangie aren’t going to have an easy time in the army and they’re often the target of abuse.  We follow each of these girls through their training and onto the front lines of the war.

Michael paints a very vivid picture of war.  His descriptions of the battles and the injuries that the soldiers sustain in battle are harrowing and gruesome.  War takes its toll on all of the characters and none of them are the same person they once were by end of the book.  The story is told to us through a mysterious narrator, who is looking back on the war from a hospital bed.  I’m curious to find out who this person is.

Front Lines is the first book in the Soldier Girl series and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Rio, Rainy and Frangie next.

Check out Michael Grant’s guest blog post here on the blog as part of his Front Lines Australia/NZ Blog Tour.

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Michael Grant’s Front Lines Australia & NZ Blog Tour

Front Lines banner dates

Bestselling YA author Michael Grant is in Australia and New Zealand this May to promote Front Lines, the first book in his blockbuster new YA series, Soldier Girl.  I’m very excited to be part of Michael Grant’s Australia and NZ blog tour to promote his new book, Front Lines.  Join me on Thursday 12 May for a special guest post from Michael Grant and a review of Front Lines.  Here are the other awesome blogs and bloggers that are part of the blog tour:

Monday 9th May – Diva Booknerd
Tuesday 10th May – Reading Time
Wednesday 11th May – Paper Fury
Friday 13th May – Stay Bookish

Check out the cover, blurb and book trailer for Front Lines below:

y450-293

It’s 1942. The fate of the world rests on a knife’s edge. And the soldiers who can tip the balance . . . are girls.

A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.  Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves.  Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans.  For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war. These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines.  They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.  But not everyone believes that the girls should be on the front lines of war.

Now Rio and her friends must fight not only to survive, but to prove their courage and ingenuity to a sceptical world.

 

 

 

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Michael Morpurgo Month – Little Manfred by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

I love both stories about war and stories about animals, which is my I love Michael Morpurgo.  Most of his stories are about war or animals and sometimes both.  His latest book is called Little Manfred and it’s about war, and a dog that sparks the memories of an old man.

It’s the summer of 1966 and Charley and her little brother, Alex, are walking their dog Manfred on the beach by their home when they notice two old men staring out to sea.  When the two men discover that their dog is called Manfred, this sparks the memories of Walter and he tells the children about his experiences during World War II.  Through Walter’s story, Charley and Alex learn about their mother’s past and her connection to Manfred, a German prisoner of war who was posted at her farmhouse when she was a little girl.

Michael Morpurgo has woven another amazing story of friendship, bravery, and forgiveness that transported me to another time and another place.   Whenever I read a Michael Morpurgo book it’s almost as if he is sitting on my couch or in the library beside me, telling me the story, because I can hear his voice in my head.  If you’ve ever seen one of his videos of him reading you’ll know that he’s got the perfect storytelling voice.  Michael Foreman’s illustrations, once again, perfectly match the story because they can be bright and happy or dark and gloomy.  I think Michael Morpurgo’s books are perfect for anyone and if you haven’t read any of his books, Little Manfred is a great one to start with.

 

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Michael Morpurgo Month – An Eagle in the Snow

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

Michael Morpurgo is one of the greatest storytellers for kids.  You can’t help but get completely wrapped up in the story as soon as you start.  I’ve loved every single one of his stories, from his retellings to his fiction based on real people and animals.  Michael’s latest book, An Eagle in the Snow, is another wonderful story from this incredible storyteller.

1940. Barney and his mother, their home destroyed by bombing, are travelling to the country when their train is forced to shelter in a tunnel from attacking German planes. There, in the darkness, a stranger on the train begins to tell them a story. A story about Bobby Byron, the most decorated soldier of WW1, who once had the chance to end the war before it even began, and how he tried to fix his mistake. But sometimes the right thing is hard to see – and even harder to live with.

An Eagle in the Snow is an extraordinary story, based on true events, about one moment that could have saved the world from the Second World War.  Michael had me captivated from start to finish.  Like many of his previous books Michael Morpurgo tells a story within a story.  The story starts with Barney and his mother who are escaping the bombing of their home and follows their journey by train to Barney’s auntie.  The story within the story is told by the stranger in their train car who tells Barney and his mum about his friend Billy and his extraordinary life.

The thing that I love the most about Michael Morpurgo’s stories is the way that he brings history alive.  He takes historical events and often little-known people and weaves fact into fiction.  In the back of the book Michael tells readers about Henry Tandey, the incredibly brave soldier who Billy is based on. It is amazing to think that, had he made a different decision, the world would not have known the evil that was Adolf Hitler.

Michael Morpurgo’s stories are also quite emotional and An Eagle in the Snow is no exception.  You feel Barney’s heartache when his home is destroyed and he can’t get to his precious belongings, you feel his fear when he is sitting in the dark of the tunnel, and you experience the highs and lows of Billy’s life.  One of the most emotional parts for me is when Billy’s world comes crashing down when he recognises Hitler’s face on the cinema screen.

An Eagle in the Snow is a must-read book, especially for fans of Michael Morpurgo.  If you’ve never read a Michael Morpurgo book there is no better book to start with than An Eagle in the Snow.  You won’t be disappointed!

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Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic

Maria Gill has introduced us to famous Kiwis from all walks of life, from climbers to politicians, sportspeople to movie stars.  Her two previous books, New Zealand Hall of Fame: 50 Remarkable Kiwis and New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, are fantastic books and were finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.  In Maria’s latest book, Anzac Heroes, she tells the stories of the triumphs and tragedies of 30 heroic Australasians during World Wars One and Two.

Anzac 2

Anzac Heroes is an absolutely stunning book that highlights the courageous Anzacs who served in World War One and Two.  There are 30 Anzac heroes featured in the book, both Australian and New Zealand, men and women, soldiers in the army, navy and airforce as well as medics and spies.  There are people in the book who I’ve heard of before, like Charles Upham and Nancy Wake, but many more whose bravery I wasn’t aware of.

I love everything about Anzac Heroes, especially the design, layout and production. It’s hardcover, so you know it’s going to last for ages, especially as it is going to get read over and over again.  The cover, featuring Marco’s stunning, realistic illustrations really stands out.  The heroes standing on the cover dare you to open the book and discover their story.  Once inside, the contents page clearly shows you how to navigate the book and who you’ll discover.  The book is split up into World War One and World War Two, with background on each war which includes a detailed map (that boys especially will love) and a timeline of events.  Each of the heroes has a double-page profile that details their war-time exploits, along with a handy timeline with key dates and events.

My favourite aspect of this book is the key at the top of each page.  It tells you which country the person is from, which service they were in (i.e. army, navy, medic), and has photos of each of the medals they were awarded.  Each hero also has a detailed explanation about why they received a particular medal.  Lt. Col. Sir Peter Buck, for example, received a DSO (Companion of the Distinguished Service Order) for his role in commanding his troops.  In the back of the book you’ll also find the Medal Room, which has photos of the medals tells you their names.

ANZAC 1

Maria knows her audience extremely well and makes history come alive.  This is the sort of book that kids will pick off the shelf and read from cover to cover because it is so appealing.  Boys in particular will sit with this book for hours, pouring over the maps and the medals.  Marco’s illustrations are superb and are the perfect match for this book.  I certainly felt that some of these heroes were looking right at me. You can even see the sweat beads and the stubble on their faces.  When you look at the photos of some of them, you see how spot-on Marco’s illustrations are.

Anzac Heroes is a perfect nonfiction book for children.  It shows you how exciting nonfiction can be.  Nothing online could beat this book!  Rush out and get a copy for your home and your school now.

 

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Interview with Maria Gill

Maria Gill is one of our queens of children’s nonfiction in NZ.  She has written some fantastic books for all ages and on many different topics, from dogs to Kiwi and volcanoes to politics.  Some of Maria’s most recent books have profiled remarkable Kiwis from all walks of life.  In Maria’s latest book, Anzac Heroes, she tells the stories of the triumphs and tragedies of 30 heroic Australasians during World Wars One and Two.

I had a few questions about Anzac Heroes and Maria Gill kindly offered to answer them for me.  Maria talks about some of the extraordinary men and women she discovered while writing her book and the collaboration process with Marco Ivancic.  Thanks for joining me Maria!

  • Who is the ANZAC that fascinated you the most?

Hard to pin down to one. Charlie Upham, perhaps. Not just for his bravery on the field – he sacrificed his life many times for his men and the Anzac army – but also, for his tenaciousness at trying to escape prisoner of war camps eight times! When he came back to New Zealand, locals had fundraised and bought him a farm to thank for his service to his country. He refused it. As far as he was concerned, unless they were going to give a farm to all the soldiers, he wasn’t going to be singled out for a gift. Australian Joice Loch was another.

anzac-heroes

  • Did you have a personal connection with any of the heroes in your book?

None of the heroes are relatives or friends’ relatives. However, Albert Knight’s story touched me personally. It was very difficult finding any information about Aboriginal soldier Albert Knight. I only found two sentences online about his life. There were no archived newspaper stories about him. Sadly Aboriginal soldier stories have gone unreported. I had to find his family and speak to them. I only had his surname and the town he was born in over 120 years ago. I rang many phone numbers until I found a family member. That person put me on another family member, and they told me to ring another. Between Albert’s relatives, I pieced together his life story. There was a lovely outcome that came out of talking to his family – read his story to find out.

  • How did you choose the heroes to be featured in your book?

First I had to define ‘what is a hero’. Then I had criteria. I wanted Army, Navy, and Air Force servicemen. They had to have a range of jobs within those military forces and fight in different places so that I was covering as many of the wartime arenas as possible. Next I wanted four indigenous soldiers: two Aboriginal and two Maori. Lastly, I wanted to include women. Women couldn’t fight in the two wars, but the five women I chose were incredibly brave while operating in the war zones as ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, rescuing refugees or as a spy. It means there aren’t just Anzac soldiers in the book, but in the Introduction, I say why I included all the others.

  • We hear so much about the male heroes but your book also features some incredible female heroes.  Can you tell us a little about one of these amazing women?

Dr. Jessie Scott was a young doctor from Canterbury. When she received a personal invitation from the Scottish Women’s Hospital to work in Europe – she caught the first boat out. She had been working in a hospital close to the frontline when the Austrians then Germans invaded Serbia. She and the other doctors decided not to desert their patients. Instead, they stayed. The Germans crammed Jessie and the other nurses and doctors into a train carriage with little food or water. For several weeks, they were taken from one country to the next while the American Red Cross negotiated with the Germans for their release. When they arrived back in London and Jessie was interviewed about her ordeal, she perkily said the Germans had treated them well, and they had enjoyed the scenery. They had only eaten once a day, slept on straw, and the Germans had taken most of their possessions off them. Jessie’s story didn’t end there, though…

  • What was your collaboration process like for this book? Did you work closely with Marco Ivancic?

I worked closely with the illustrator and designer of the book. For Marco, I took photographs at museums in Australia and New Zealand so he could use them for photo reference when drawing the pictures.  I also spent a day with an Army re-enactment group and took photographs of them doing a drill, acting out a war scene, and holding different guns. They kindly stood still in poses while I took photographs of them at all angles. Marco had asked for close-ups of details on their clothing, how they held a gun and expressions on their faces. The re-enactment group even stood in formation so Marco could see the stance and angles for the front cover illustration. For designer Luke Kelly I gathered different maps of Europe during WWI and WWII and marked in battle zones. I also found all the medals for the heroes, and for the medal page. Sometimes I could not get the real medals that belonged to that hero so had to line single medal images up in order and send to Luke. Luke, Jack Hayes (New Zealand military expert) and I put a lot of work into those medals! I also collaborated with different experts, museums, and Creative NZ enabled it to happen with their grant.

  • What does ANZAC Day mean to you? How do you celebrate it?

I believe Anzac Day recognises not only the sacrifice men and women made during the different wars but also the kinship between Australia and New Zealand while fighting. Common themes that resonated throughout the different Australian and New Zealand stories were their comradeship, incredible bravery, modesty, and down-to-earthness. Leaders fought with their men instead of sitting in their offices. It shows how alike Australians and New Zealanders are, compared to other nationalities.

I’m going to attend my first Anzac Day dawn parade this year. I have to confess my only interest, before writing this book, was in reading war stories. I love adventure stories where the hero survives at incredible odds. Most of the heroes in ‘Anzac Heroes’ fit that category.

anzac-heroes

Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic is available now from Scholastic New Zealand.

 

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

I enjoy reading stories about war for children and young adults.  It’s these stories that show you the possibilities of hope among horrific events.  The characters in these stories are still shaped by the events around them and through their story we witness the atrocities and the injustices, but there is also a twinkle of hope.  In the case of Anna and the Swallow Man this hope comes in the form of the mysterious Swallow Man who finds Anna when she needs him.

9780552575270-1-edition.default.original-1Kraków, 1939, is no place to grow up. There are a million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. And Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father and suddenly, she’s alone.

Then she meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall. And like Anna’s missing father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgement, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous.

Anna and the Swallow Man is the beautifully-written debut novel of Gavriel Savit. I got completely wrapped up in the story of Anna and the mysterious Swallow Man that takes her under his wing.  Like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Anna and the Swallow Man is a unique story set in a time of war.
We follow young Anna as she is left alone in Kraków when her father disappears.  He told her that he would be gone for a few hours but never returns.  When she meets a  mysterious stranger, who she calls the Swallow Man, Anna is intrigued by him and follows him.  Anna and the Swallow Man walk across Poland for many years, crossing borders and enemy lines, meeting Bears and Wolves, becoming many different people and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.  The Swallow Man teaches Anna many lessons that are important to remember at this dangerous time, including ‘To be found is to be gone forever,’ and ‘One can’t be found as long as one keeps moving.’
The Swallow Man is an incredibly intriguing character.  Neither Anna nor the reader really knows who he is or where he has come from. You don’t know what his agenda is.  He never seems to reveal his true self as it would be dangerous if he did.  He has many skills which help him to blend in and survive, such as a knowledge of many languages and how to kill a man if needed.  I had to keep reading to discover who the Swallow Man was, and even at the end of the story you still don’t really know.
Gavriel’s writing style is very lyrical, with some stunning descriptions that blew me away.  He conjures up very clear images in your mind which really put you in the characters’ shoes.  These are just a couple of examples:
‘Where last night she had shaken her body so hard with sobbing that she’d thought she would fly apart, now Anna treasured her tears, as if they were a butterfly of deep blue at flight in the small, sunlit jar of her chest.’
‘This is a rare and unforgettable thing: the texture of a foot-fall on the chest of a dead man resting on top of others twenty deep – the slight give and rebound beneath the pressure of your boot.’
Even though I became completely wrapped up in the story I was left feeling slightly disappointed at the end of the book.  There were so many questions left unanswered and I don’t feel that you are given closure.  I feel like there were some big clues that I missed to the mystery of the story.  It’s not often that I feel lost at the end of a book.  If anyone can explain it to me I’ll feel much better.
However, I still recommend you read Anna and the Swallow Man.  Even though it left me wanting, I feel my life is a little richer from reading Gavriel Savit’s lyrical story.

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John Boyne introduces The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is the new book from John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Stay Where You Are And Then Leave.  I love John’s writing for both younger and older readers and I am especially excited to read his now book.  Here is John Boyne introducing the book and reading an extract and talking about his World War Two novels:

When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is available now in NZ from Penguin Random House NZ.

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An Eagle in the Snow Book Trailer

Check out the book trailer for Michael Morpurgo’s latest book, An Eagle in the Snow:

You can read my review of An Eagle in the Snow here on the blog and enter the competition to win a copy thanks to HarperCollins NZ.

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