Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

22749539Note: This post was used as a homework assignment and may contain spoilers.

Historical fiction is a genre that I enjoy but seldom read. I like that this book is mostly realistic, but has a slight mystical/magical element to it. I think that magical element will make the book more interesting and manageable for kids. I liked that we were given several different main characters to follow spaced a few years apart. It shows how the war and the time period affected different types of people and kids. First we’re introduced to a character on the German side of things. It was interesting to read about Germans who did not agree with Hitler—often I think all Germans get lumped together as being Nazi supporters when that likely was not the case. This could teach kids not to make blanket assumptions about groups of people. Not everyone within a group is going to agree on everything (or anything). Children can see how even families may not agree on everything—even really important issues. In the end, you may not ever come to an agreement, but you’re still a family and should still love each other.

Next we’re introduced to an American orphan and we see what life is like for him and his brother. Again, it gives the reader a realistic view of the hard circumstances that some of these kids had to grow up in. With the war, a lot of children were left orphans for various reasons. Their fathers were likely off at war (or killed in combat) while disease was hard to avoid as well without our modern medicine. Even though not explicitly stated, Mike and Frankie’s story is set during the Great Depression (you can learn more about the Great Depression here). During this period of time it was especially difficult to care for children. As shown in the book, orphanages were overrun by boys (and girls) without families. I think this line from the book especially sums up what many children must have felt during this time period: “If the blues meant a song begging for its life, then Mike’s middle section of ‘America the Beautiful’ was a cry for a place to call home” (pg 338). Many children just wanted a home, but circumstance prevented them from having that.

Lastly, we’re introduced to a Mexican-American girl whose family is trying to find a place where they can truly settle down. We learn about some prejudices that existed against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as well as what Japanese families had to deal with during the war. I was horrified at the treatment and suspicion that surrounded the Yamamotos. I was also deeply saddened by the Ward family as they grieved for their dead son. This book gives readers a little window into the everyday life of some of the normal people who were affected by the war. Another book that gives a window into everyday life during wartime is In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. This book is set during World War I and also talks a lot about the Spanish Influenza. Like Echo, it’s a historical fiction book with a little bit of the fantastical thrown in. I would also recommend The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker. While I haven’t read it, I understand that it’s also about children living during World War II.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin [ARC]

Hitler won World War II. Now Germania and Japan are in control of most of the world. To commemorate their glorious victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito have established a yearly motorcycle race. 20 teens from the ages of 14-18 may enter (10 from Japan and 10 Aryan Germanians), but only one will win and be awarded the iron cross. Yael is definitely not Aryan. In fact, she escaped from a Nazi prison camp when she was a little girl. She had been a victim of scientific experimentation and now she has the ability to “skinshift”. As a part of the resistance, her mission is to impersonate last year’s winner (the only female to have ever won), win the race, and assassinate Hitler at the Victor’s Ball on live TV.
I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK. Seriously, it was fantastic. I haven’t read that much historical fiction, but I feel like it’s a genre that I could really get into. Especially World War II. I find that period especially interesting for whatever reason. The thing about this book that’s so great is the speculation. The author mentions in a note at the end that she likes to ask the question, “What if?” In this case, I really think it paid off. Even though there’s one major fantastical element (with Yael’s skinshifting), the rest all seems so plausible. Would something like this have happened if Hitler had won the war? Who knows?

The plot was great. It was straightforward and not too messy with other (irrelevant) subplots. I liked that it was so focused because it kept me interested in the story. There weren’t any distracting elements that way. Every few chapters or so the reader gets a flashback into Yael’s past, but it’s done so seamlessly that you don’t feel pulled out of the main narrative while you’re reading the backstory. The writing was also fantastic. Throughout the book Yael struggles a bit with her sense of identity and those passages are always written with such care. Beautiful, beautiful writing.

The characters were another highlight for me. They all had distinct personalities and I enjoyed getting to know some of the other racers. Yael as a character was a little unrelatable though. She’s very angry as a person. But even though I couldn’t connect as well with her, I was okay with that. I was still able to enjoy who she was as a character even though I couldn’t put myself in her shoes.

So yeah, I loved the book, but it wasn’t perfect. There were a few things that I had some issues with. First, the characters seem older than they’re supposed to be. Felix, Yael, Adele, and Luka are all supposed to be 17…but I couldn’t help but picture them in their 20s. It was just hard for me to imagine them as teenagers. Second, I had a hard time buying Yael’s skill on a motorcycle. Assuming she started training IMMEDIATELY after Adele won her first iron cross, that still only gives Yael one year of training. And then she’s just going to show up and race against guys who have been racing their whole lives and win? I just can’t believe it’s that “easy”.

Overall, the book was great. I had a couple of issues with it, but I still love it and seriously recommend it to ANYONE. It comes out officially 10/20 so make sure you go pre-order yourself a copy!

Overall Rating: 5
Language: None. All cursing is done in German.
Violence: Moderate. Some fighting and violence, but not too much gore. Some talk/description of blood.
Sexual Content: None (Some talk of breeding houses, but I wouldn’t really classify that as sexual content).
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate. Some drinking, quite a few mentions of “underage” smoking.

Note: I received this book free from both the NOVL and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Monuments Men by Robert M Edsel

“The Monuments Men” by Robert Edsel is the amazingly true story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives division that was established during World War II. While Hitler and his Nazis were looting their way across Europe, these were the men and women who were in charge of preserving and recovering some of the most valuable works of art known to man. Without the efforts of the MFAA many monuments, cathedrals, paintings, tapestries, and sculptures would either be severely damaged or no longer exist. The Monuments Men were spread thin, but they covered an astounding number of miles and truly believed in their work. George Stout, James Rorimer, Robert Posey, Ronald Balfour, and Walker Hancock were just a few of the men who put their lives on hold to do some of the most important work that nobody seems to really know about.9781599951492_p0_v2_s260x420

Since “The Monuments Men” became a movie, this story is a lot more well known. Full disclosure, I have not seen the movie, though I do plan to at some point. The book, at least, was amazing. I checked this book out because I had decided to start reading more “grown up” books and this one immediately caught my eye. From what I understand, the movie brings all of the Monuments Men together to do some kind of grand heist…I’m not really sure. What I do know is that most of these men were the only member of the MFAA division in their section of the war effort and that other soldiers were not always cooperative in the Monument effort.

Something I hadn’t realized before reading this book was how old these men were. Most of them were approaching or already in their 40s! Joining the war effort was not something that was easy for most of them physically. In addition, these men were–for the most part–academics. They knew about art, not war. They were typically not military men turned MFAA officers but instead were museum men turned soldiers.

This book is magnificent. I cannot praise it enough. I learned a lot about WWII that I hadn’t known before and I felt that the author had a really good sense of what each of the Monuments Men must have been thinking during specific experiences. He obviously did extensive research to write this book and it shows. The book flows really well and I liked that we were able to spend time with a variety of the MFAA officers. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone. You don’t have to be interested in World War II or architecture and art to appreciate this book–it’s simply a fascinating read.

Overall Rating: 5
Violence: Heavy. The Monuments Men themselves don’t do much fighting, but it’s a war and there are some graphic descriptions of the internment camp conditions.
Sexual Content: Mild. Talk of mistresses and prostitutes.
Language: Moderate. Soldiers and such.
Smoking/Drinking: Mild. Not a focus.