Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, illustrated by Chris Connor

It’s 1963, and 10 year-old Charlotte Makepeace has just arrived at boarding school for the first time. After meeting her roommates, and setting up her bed by the window, Charlotte falls asleep that first night, apprehensive about what boarding school will be like. 

The next morning, when she awakens, Charlotte is aware that things are different. Even though the dormitory and bed are the same, the view out the window isn’t. Charlotte has woken up more than 40 years earlier, in 1918, the last year of WWI. Not only that, but she is now called Clare by the other girls, including Clare's younger sister named Emily. No seems to notice that Charlotte isn’t Clare.

That night, Charlotte falls asleep in 1918 and wakes up in 1963, in her original room with her original dorm mates. This nightly switching places with Clare goes on every night for a while. Eventually, Charlotte and Clare start leaving notes for each other to help each other navigate their constantly changing situation. 

Emily knows that Charlotte isn’t Clare and demands to know what is going on. Charlotte can’t explain it, but she does realize it has something to do with the particular bed she and Clare sleep in each night. Then, Charlotte finds out that Clare and Emily will be moving to new lodgings soon and will be walking to school each day. And though Charlotte and Clare make sure they are in their right time for the move, things don’t work out exactly as planned and Charlotte finds herself far from the magic bed that can return her to 1963, where she belongs. 

There were a few things that I really liked about this book. First, the means of time-travel. It is simply a magic bed and occurs while sleeping during the night. To her credit, Farmer never even tries to provide an explanation about how or why it happens, it just does. Sleep and dreams can make anything feel possible, even time-travel. And night is, of course, a time when sleepers dream dreams occur that often make no sense even when they relate to the dreamer’s waking life. 

I also like that Charlotte is so cool and calm on the outside, but on the inside she was a bundle of questions and concerns. And remarkably those questions aren’t necessarily about how and why she keeps waking up in different times so much as they were about her identity. Farmer has written that her intent was to question how… people identify you as you, and how they could accept one person as quite another (assuming the two people look reasonably similar to start with as Charlotte and her 1918 equivalent did)? Boarding school seems to have unsettled Charlotte's sense of who she is on the very first day, causing her ho write her full name on everything, as if to prove she is still really Charlotte Mary Makepeace. Right from the start “she had felt herself to be so many different people, and half of them she did not recognize.” Charlotte, already in an identity flux is an ideal candidate for a little time travel adventure and is easily being perceived as Clare by everyone except Clare’s sister, who naturally would know her better than most.

Interestingly also, the story is related only from Charlotte’s point of view. The reader only knows about Clare from the notes she leaves and from what Emily says about her, leaving me to wonder what the state of her identity was.

A word about WWI. This isn’t a war book per se, but the war does play a part. There is, of course, rationing, blackout curtains are in use, there's an army training camp nearby, and many of the girls are in boarding school because their fathers are fighting in the war, including Clare and Emily’s father.    

I can’t believe that I haven’t read Charlotte Sometimes before now, but somehow it slipped under the radar. It is the kind of book I would have loved as a girl. The style is a bit on the dreamy side, with no big drama anywhere even though major things do happen - like getting stuck in the wrong time period. I’m actually glad I read it after having read lots of Angela Brazil’s book from the same time period, and which the style actually reminded me of. 

Charlotte Sometimes definitely goes on my list of favorite time travel novels and I can honestly give it a high recommend.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book is an EARC of a newly released paperback received from Edelweiss Plus

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Merry Month of May

Well, the merry month of May hasn't been going exactly the way I thought it would.  If you read my other blog, Randomly Reading, then you know why. If not, allow me to explain.

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, at around 12:30 AM, I noticed fire balls dropping from the sky. Not really from the sky, but from the 6th Floor apartment, 4 floors above me. Next thing I knew, there was a fireman in my apartment, who promptly knocked out two of my windows and sent my window air conditioner to the street below. Apparently, fire balls had landed in it and he was afraid of an electrical fire starting in my apartment (which couldn't have happened since it wasn't plugged in).

I've often wondered what I would try to save in the event of a fire and now I know. I tried to save my computer, forgetting that all I had to do was grab the external drive that everything is backed up to. When I couldn't detach the computer from the WiFi router, I had to put in on the floor and leave it to the water that was now pouring from the ceiling. In the end, I rescued my sunglasses, my phone, and purse, oh yes, and myself.

We were allowed back in the building at around 3:00 AM, the Sanitation Department showed up and immediately cleaned the street up, and one fire truck remained for a few more hours to make sure the fire was completely out. The couple in the apartment where the fire began had minor injuries, as did two firemen.
My Workspace on May 5, 2017
In the end, I had water damage in my bedroom/workspace and in my bathroom. I was lucky and I know it. The people on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floor are really in bad shape, as is the 1st floor and of course, the 6th floor apartment is totaled.

My Workspace and Bathroom Ceiling Now
I have to say, I was totally impressed by the speed and efficiency with which the FDNY worked. They've been in the building before to do inspections and a few false alarms, and they have always been so courteous and friendly and that night was no different. The firehouse that serves my neighborhood, FDNY Engine 22, Ladder 13, Battalion 10, is called the Pride of Yorkville and they certainly are.

And the computer I tried to save? Putting it on the floor turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It works just fine, though I can't say the same about the keyboard, which did get pretty wet and is a little on the wonky side right now. If I had left the computer on the desk, it would have been ruined by the water coming down from the ceiling. Last week, I used my cell phone to connect it to the Internet, using the Personal Hotspot, but that eats up your data fast and I don't have that much to begin with, so ultimately, I detached the router, and reattached to the living room cable and got my WiFi up and running again.

Why was my computer so important to me, you might ask? I work at home and have everything on it (which is why I have the external drive and I highly recommend using on of them and then, remembering that you are using it if you find yourself needing to evacuate your home in a hurry.

My temporary workspace, not terribly comfortable, but I'm grateful to have it
It's been an interesting week and a half, but hopefully, I'll be back with new reviews this week. Meanwhile,

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What the Raven Brings (Book 2 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

These Dark Wings (Book 1 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) ended in September 1941. The blitz had been over for a while, but daily life was still hard. Anna Cooper, whose mother was supposedly killed in an air raid, was still living in the Tower of London with her Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry was on the mend after a serious illness. The mystery of the disappearing ravens had been solved, Anna and Timothy Squire became friends, though she can’t forget his forages into bombed homes to see what he could find there. Much to her happiness, Anna received a letter from her best friend Flo that she is returning to England from Canada, where she had been evacuated to during the Blitz. And Anna’s father, a German and a Nazi, was in London and knows where she is.

And so, in May 1942, Book 2 begins. As the war continues, Uncle Henry, Anna’s guardian, has passed away and left Anna in the care of Yeoman Oakes, much to her chagrin. Uncle Henry’s dying wish was that Anna, who is now 15, be the new Ravenmaster, but the Tower of London authorities refused to let a female do a traditionally male job, no matter how good she is at it, and so it is given to Yeoman Stackhouse, who has absolutely not interest in the ravens, or in the legend that there must always be six ravens in the Tower of London or the monarchy and Britain will fall. Instead, it is recommended that Anna work at as a canteen girl (with NAAFI or Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes). 

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire is up in Scotland learning how to be a sapper, a soldier who builds and repairs roads and bridges, lays mines, and who sometimes defuses bombs. Unfortunately, Timothy and his partner Arthur Lightfoot are not very good sappers and find themselves back in London, working on the docks. 

With Timothy home and helping out with the ravens, it’s time for Anna to leave the Tower and do something useful. With forged papers, Anna joins the WAAF or Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. But her career in the WAAF is short-lived when she proves herself to be pretty incompetent at everything. But luckily, a RAF pilot takes her for a ride in a plane, and next thing Anna knows, she’s being sent to the ATA, or Air Transport Auxiliary. There, Anna learns to fly and begins ferrying planes around Britain wherever they are needed.

But while Anna is finding her place in the war, she is also growing up and finding herself attracted to the opposite sex, and trying to cope with new feelings of jealousy. And the truth about what really happened to her father, and her mother’s death, still continues haunts her, coming up in her thoughts and memories until the realization of what really happened suddenly hits Anna. But it is Timothy, given a second chance at becoming a sapper, who may have the answer to what Anna’s father wants from her and why he hasn't returned to Germany.. But is Timothy willing to risk everything, including losing Anna, to stop him? And what does her father have to do with Hitler’s newest weapon the V1 bomb, his Vengeance bomb?

We all know that sometimes a second book just doesn't live up the promise of the first book, but that is really not the case with What the Raven Brings. Less focused on life in London and in particular, the Tower of London, Anna life has really broadened out, even if she did have for get Yeoman Oakes to forge some papers for her.  

Consequently, Theobald has given us a very interesting, exciting coming of age novel, one that takes Anna into young adulthood and he has captured all the mixed emotions that a girl her age might experience. For example, Anna is jealous when she thinks that Timothy is interested in Flo, but finds herself somewhat attracted to an RAF pilot. And although she loves flying, Anna is afraid to take control of a plane alone, at least until she does it.  I actually liked this book better than the first one, which I also enjoyed. I just feel that Anna and Timothy have much more depth to them as characters.

But Theobald has also given us a window into what the war was like on the home front. The hardships people faced and how they dealt with life under seize. I thought the part where Timothy gets caught up in a mad crush of people trying to get into a tube station during an air raid was particularly poignant, demonstrating how really desperate people can get under stress. It is sadly based on a true event, the wartime disaster at Bethnal Green Tube Station in which 173 people were crushed to death. Timothy, needless to say, clearly suffers from PTSD afterward.

Another nice touch is the way Theobald included American women pilots who were in the ATA with Anna. Joy, the African American pilot who teaches Anna how to fly and becomes her friend, points to the fact the women of color could not fly for the US now that America has entered the war, but were welcomed in the ATA, along with other Americans. 

If you are looking for an exciting, honest multi-faceted wartime MG/YA book, What the Raven Brings may be just the ticket. It thoughtfully explores themes of friendship, loyalty, courage and fear during times of great difficulty and danger. 

Now, I am really looking forward to reading the last book in the Ravenmaster trilogy when it comes out.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Head of Zeus

I have included links to Wikipedia articles in this review about things that young readers may not be familiar with.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Among the Red Stars, a Novel by Gwen C. Katz

Waiting on Wednesday was a meme begun by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read, and although she no longer hosts this meme, many continue
to post Waiting on Wednesdays

My Waiting on Wednesday pick this week is:

Among the Red Stars, a Novel by Gwen C. Katz
Harper Teen, October 3, 2017, 384 pages

From Goodreads:
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines. 

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

What are you looking forward to reading?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Across the Blue Pacific by Louise Borden, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

It's the winter of 1943, when Molly Crenshaw is in second grade and her next door neighbor, Ted Walker, finishes submarine training and comes home on leave. Molly and her younger brother Sam just want to hang around all day with their real-life hero, after all, who else could help them build a naval snowman or show them how to spit shine their Sunday-best shoes.

Then, in March Ted receives his orders and learns he is heading to the war in the Pacific on a submarine called the USS Albacore. Molly and Sam begin to write weekly letters to Ted, letters that always include a drawing of the Walker's dog, Buttons. During the summer, they hang around Mrs. Walker's porch, listening to the radio. When school begins again, Molly's third grade year just flies by.

In September, 1944, Molly's fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Linsay and a few students paint a world map on one the walls of the school, including every country and all the islands in the Pacific. The map helped Molly imagine where and what Ted might be up to on that small submarine in the so, so large Pacific Ocean.

Then, two days before Christmas, Molly and Sam notice a lot of black cars parked in Mrs. Walker's driveway. Ted's Uncle Will tells them the sad news that the USS Albacore never returned from its last patrol and now, Ted is MIA- Missing in Action.

The days immediately after receiving this news drag by, but eventually life, though now different, returns to a steadier routine. Suddenly, remembering everything about Ted becomes an important memory to keep. The war finally ends in August 1945, Molly begins fifth grade, but looking at the world map still on the school wall, she begins to think about all those soldiers on both sides of the war, ally and enemy, who didn't come home, just as Ted didn't, and how stories of those other lost loved ones are passed down, "in different ways and in different voices/from family to family,/and from neighbor to friend.../the stories/that are important enough to keep.

Across the Blue Pacific is basically a home front story, told from Molly's point of view, and looking back as a adult to those intense years when the war became a reality for her in the figure of Ted Walker. It is told in Borden's well-crafted, sensitive free-verse, a style she has mastered so that Molly's story never loses its sense of poignancy and thoughtful introspection.

Parker's ink and watercolor illustrations alternate between Molly's life at home and Ted life on the submarine, and are done in a subdued, loose-line style that distances the reader (along with Molly) from the war years, but also gives those years a real sense of unsteadiness.

Across the Blue Pacific is a story that has its roots in reality, as you will discover when you read Borden's Author's Note. The real Ted Walker was an uncle whom Borden never knew, an executive officer aboard the USS Albacore. Do read the Note if you want to find out what happened to the submarine, according to the US Navy.

Across the Blue Pacific is a picture book for older readers that deals with the impact of war, loss, and grief on the life of a young girl in elementary school, and the importance of memory to keep those lost alive in our thoughts.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL