Tag Archives: war

Projekt 1065

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13-year-old Michael O’Shaunessey is the only son of an Irish diplomat and his wife, living in Nazi Germany during WWII.  Michael is a member of the Hitler Youth.

But not only is he a member of the Hitler Youth. He is a member of the most elite arm of the organization, the SRD. He is one of the boys other boys run from. His presence invokes terror and respect. Because all who see him know that he would die for Hitler, that his life means nothing to him. He was born to serve the Nazi Party.

Except that he wasn’t. He and his family despise everything the Nazis represent. Ireland may be officially neutral, but Michael and his parents aren’t.  His mum is a spy, and she trains Michael to do the work with her. His photographic memory and innocent eager demeanor prove valuable in their clandestine fight against Germany. But when an unlikely friendship leads him to the discovery of Projekt 1065, it puts him in the dangerous position of having to prove his loyalty to Hitler.

The characters in this novel are interesting. Michael came to Germany as a young boy, and having Irish parents, is not indoctrinated into the Nazi beliefs. But he still must survive in Germany and must blend in so as not call attention to his mother’s activities. The boy has a strong moral compass and knows he is witnessing evil firsthand. But he is still a boy and still craves friendship and action.

He is faced with moral dilemmas ranging from witnessing the killing of Jews on Kristallnacht to the mistreatment of a teacher by fellow Hitler Youth. But he is so immersed in the romance and adventure of playing spy that it isn’t until a person he deeply cares for is sacrificed does he realize that it truly is not a game. He learns that choices have to be made for the greater good, no matter the personal cost, which can sometimes be unbelievably high.

His parents are present throughout the story, and his father constantly questions the need for his son to be further endangered. But his mother recognizes the value of a child is in the intelligence game is that no one would suspect him, leaving him free to listen and look where others couldn’t.

Fritz is Michael’s friend and ally in the Hitler Youth, although Michael has a hard time believing that someone who likes western detective novels and has a hard time participating in the book burnings can ever be a true believer. But Fritz is, and his fanaticism is spot on. He and the other boys with whom Michael interacts are blindly devoted to Hitler, and willing to die for the ideology of the Third Reich.

The plot is engaging and fast moving. With a setting like Nazi Germany during the war, it can hardly be anything else! The story takes place over just a few weeks, with everything from the discovery of the plans to the rescue of a downed pilot, his escape, and Michael’s urgent trip to Switzerland crammed in.

All this is good. But there are still a couple of weaknesses in the novel that make it a good read when it could be a great one.

The first problem is stylistic. Chapters are short, sometimes only a page in length, and did not always need to be broken up. Which made me think that either the author had trouble moving from one scene to the next, or just liked the look of short passages. Although the war is a great setting and things changed so quickly, it made for choppy reading.

The second criticism is of the content. Nazis were bad. I know that, you know that, I think even those unfamiliar with WWII and all its details know that. But author Gratz felt the need to make sure that Michael said or thought, almost once every very short chapter, that he hated the Nazis and everything they stood for and he couldn’t believe that some people worshipped Hitler. I do not need to be beaten over the head with the information. It felt like Gratz was trying to force me to find Michael likeable. Michael is likeable. But he is also a boy that has lived half his young life surrounded by Nazi propaganda. While his parents can set an example and tell him that Nazis are bad, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that he get a bit caught up in SOME of it, while still recognizing the inherent evil.  And that would not make him bad. It would make him human.

In World War II Nazi Germany all boys were compelled to serve in the Hitler Youth. In fact, many prominent world figures of the past half-century were forced to serve in the various units. This novel makes a really good middle-grade companion to the non-fiction histories written about the time. Well researched, it is packed full of action and adventure and is an interesting way to learn about a fascinating and fanatical organization.

Projekt 1065 was published October 11th, 2016 by Scholastic Press.

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Glass Sword (Red Queen #2)

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If you haven’t read Red Queen yet, be warned… This review will contain spoilers for the first book. So turn away if you haven’t. (By the way. Why haven’t you read it yet? It is a lot of fun. Go read it and come back.)

SPOILER ALERT for RED QUEEN

Maven still searches for Mare. Her power to control lightning and electricity makes her an awesome weapon. The royal court fears and covets her power, and has labeled her traitor and murderer. But Mare has discovered that she is not alone; Reds with supernatural powers, stronger than those of the Silvers, live in secret terror as commoners, afraid of being discovered and turned over to the ruling Silvers.

The race to find the newbloods is on. The Red Guard wants them in the rebel’s forces, before newly crowned King Maven finds and kills them all. The search will take Mare and Cal and their group of rebels across the land, trying to stay one step ahead of Maven and the Silver Army.

But in the search, Mare herself is forced to make decisions she would never have thought possible.  She must answer the question: what is a life worth?

I am not as impressed with Mare this time around. Actually, I don’t like her at all. Seriously, how long can the pity party continue?  Yes, Maven betrayed her. He betrayed EVERYONE. Get over it, move on. She finds herself alone, at the head of a revolution, but her loneliness is self-imposed. She pushes everyone away, even those who are loyal and stand with her. Is it arrogance? Ignorance? Maybe it is fear, but she does not change. She does not learn or develop. The entire book is filled with her internal monologues, and it gets old, quickly.

Also, the revolution is about equality. Yet Mare treats Kilorn, loyal, devoted Kilorn, like crap. Why? Because he has no special powers.

Cal, on the other hand, the lost and exiled crown prince, still retains remnants of what made him the king-in-waiting.  He brings his military expertise and knowledge of the lands to the fight, and he grows stronger. He is the more interesting of the characters as he struggles to figure out who he is without his crown. But his strength is lost next to Mare’s inner turmoil and self-hatred and arrogance.

And Maven is a wonderful villain. He is evil, strong, cold, and without conscience. He was woven throughout the entire story; even when he was not present in the scene, he overshadowed everyone’s thoughts and made it impossible for them to rest. I like him, even as I loathe him.

The book needs a map. All the cities sound similar, and I can not picture their locations in relation to each other. (And I like fantasy novels to have maps.)

The plot never really moves along, and the ending? Well, it definitely sets up the third book, but it seemed rushed and anti-climactic.

All in all, I did not enjoy Glass Sword as much as I did Red Queen. It has the same elements, but I hoped for more. It will not keep me from reading the next instalment, but I do think Aveyard has a great idea that she needs to focus more sharply. This book reads like a middle chapter.

Glass Sword was published February 9th, 2016 by HarperTeen.

The 5th Wave

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The 1st wave sends darkness, the 2nd wave destruction and death. The 3rd is pestilence and more death. But they aren’t done yet. The 4th wave is insidious and unknown and more terrifying than the any other. It comes from within. And after the 4th wave, the enemy can be anywhere, and anyone. Trust no one. What will be the 5th?

The first book in The 5th Wave series will shake your belief in reality.

Six months after the ship appears, it is the dawn of the 5th wave. The aliens have become human, or at least, taken over humans, so there is no way to tell. They roam the earth, looking for survivors, looking to wipe out the last vestiges of humanity. Except for the children; the children are shipped off to safety. Or so everyone is led to believe.

16 year old Cassie thinks she might be the last human on earth. She hasn’t seen another  since the aliens shot her father and wiped out their refugee camp with an out-of-this-world green bomb. So she runs, toward the one place she believes she might be safe, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where the children were sent.

She has to stay alone, she can’t trust anyone, it is the only chance she has to survive. But one of Them, a Shark in her mind, makes it his mission to take her down, and she narrowly avoids being shot to death on a lonely stretch of highway. Rescued by a mysterious boy, Cassie has to choose between trusting someone and accepting help, or going on alone, to her certain death. 

The characters are odd in this story, perhaps because the reader never knows if the character is a human or one of Them. But the cast was varied and interesting, and the children at the Air Force base are perhaps the most intriguing, as they train to fight the alien war. My feelings for Cassie went back and forth; some scenes, I really liked her, and found her kick-ass and strong. Others, she came across as whiny and weak, and just annoyed me.

The romance was unbelievable after Cassie spent months alone and trusting no one. She doesn’t actually trust him. It seemed random, as if author Rick Yancey (or his editor) was checking off a box. He has a pretty odd idea of what girls think and how they behave, and don’t give me this crap she’s alone and in a war zone.

Let me get this straight. I trust no one. I think I might be the last human on earth. I saw my father murdered by what appeared to be a human but was an alien. I can’t tell by looking if someone is an alien. I killed someone who might have been human because I don’t trust anyone. I found dead bodies on the highway, was shot in the leg, and almost died. But oh! You’re hot, and hot boys don’t usually look at me, so please kiss me. Seriously?!?!??

Aside from that, the psychological themes that run through the novel are well developed: Who can you trust when the enemy looks exactly like you? As a soldier tasked with saving humanity, when do you start questioning orders, and just follow your instincts? And the idea of likening the alien invasion to the colonization of North America is an intense comparison.

Fantastic world-building. Yancey perfectly captures the atmosphere of distrust and fear and loneliness and horror. Stretches of isolated highway with piles of vehicles, burning cities with no humans in sight, looted and abandoned homes and stores really drag the reader into the story.

The idea of birds as a delivery system for a destructive virus is awesome. They are EVERYWHERE on earth. There is no escaping birds. Excuse me while I go outside and chase the little buggers from my feeder right now. Friggin’ little traitors.

The story is a bit repetitive in places, but is good for those with a love for sci-fi and aliens. There is creepiness and gore and violence and a good, solid punch to the brain.

The 5th Wave was published May 7th 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

The Book of Ivy

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Nuclear war has almost obliterated the United States. After continued conflict, family against family, survivors  eventually found ways to work together to survive. Control over political structure and power went to the victorious Lattimers, over the defeated Westfalls.

For fifty years of an uneasy peace, order is shakily preserved by the marrying of the Westfall daughters to the Lattimer sons. And it is time for 16 year old Ivy Westfall to take her turn.  She will be married to the president’s son, but it is not as simple as pledging vows to each other; Ivy has a previous oath to uphold. She has sworn to kill the young man, and return her family to power.

Of course it could never be that easy.

The characters are good.  Ivy is very likeable. She does, in typically dystopian fashion, start to question all that she has been raised to believe, and look at her family differently.  Where before she blindly followed and believed, now she questions and wonders. She was very torn between her loyalty to all she had ever known and her new life.  Her indecisiveness and constant questioning of “is this right, is this wrong” drove me crazy at times, but I would have to say it seemed fairly typical of a 16 year old girl in unfamiliar circumstances. (I say that with all the accumulated wisdom of my advanced years, conveniently forgetting my own annoying traits at that age).

Bishop is, as expected, not what she expects. He is not the personification of evil; rather, he is kind and generous and considerate and handsome, and wants to develop a relationship over time with Ivy, rather than just taking what he has been taught he is owed. So much for falling for the bad boy.

I liked all the secondary characters; author Amy Engel did a great job developing their traits and personalities. They definitely added colour to the story.

The world building is a bit weak, which is unusual in a dystopian novel. We know there was a devastating war that destroyed the country, but not really explained why, or how it happened. While politics are central to the plot, the different factions are not really explored. But it is a minor detraction from the overall story.

In some ways, this debut checks off every box in the “YA dystopian” category: warring factions, teens married off young to help save the species, falling in love with the enemy, etc. But wait. It is so much better than that. It is the ending that turns the story on its head, and raises it to the next level.

Book two in the series, The Revolution of Ivy, is slated for release in November.  I will be reading it!

The Book of Ivy is published by Entangled:Teen.

The Secret Sky

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This is not a starry-eyed romance, or a predictable teenage love triangle. I’m not usually one to pick up a book that claims to be about a “forbidden love”, (seriously??) but this is the story of two teens who fight against generations of culture, their families and, most forbidding of all, the Taliban, to be together. It is worth the read.

Fatima and Samiullah were childhood friends in a small present day Afghani village.  When they were small, the friendship between a Pashtun boy and a Hazara girl was tolerated. But Sami has been away for three years, studying at a madrassa, learning the Quran, hoping to be the religious leader of his village.  He didn’t finish his studies, and no one is sure why. He holds a dark secret in his heart.

Although Fatima is now of marriageable age, she still feels like a young girl.  She wants more time to learn and study, opportunities denied to most girls in the villages, not leave her family to live in a far away village with a man she has never met. When Sami returns home and they reignite their friendship, she begins to rethink her objections.

Rashid, his cousin, sees them talking one day.  He has also returned from the madrassa, but the darkness that so disturbs Sami has taken hold of his soul. He is offended by what he sees between Sami and Fatima, and ensures that both their fathers find out about the disgrace. He turns the two innocents over to the Taliban for punishment.

Told from the three perspectives of Sami, Fatima and Rashid, The Secret Sky draws vivid pictures of the harsh realities of a war-torn country.  Interspersed with the horror and adversity are wonderful images of the beauty of the land and people. I started this book with very little knowledge, outside of what is on the news, about Afghanistan, but the characters and remote desert and mountain villages come alive in this novel.

Author Atia Abawi was born in West Germany, a month after her parents fled Afghanistan during the Soviet war. The family immigrated to the United States, where they gradually realized they would never be able to return to their homeland.  But Afghanistan called to Abawi, and she returned as a journalist, spending five years reporting on the country. She explored the villages and lived with the citizens, and the authenticity is clear in the novel.

It is a powerful story, one that is not the easiest to read.  The subject matter is gut-wrenching. It is still appropriate for all teens, but with forewarning of the violence and horror. It is terrifying. And it is beautiful.

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan is published by Philomel Books.

Ink and Bone: The Great Library

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What a fantastic concept: history has been re-written, and the Great Library of Alexandria is still in existence, the most powerful force in the world.  Knowledge is power. And whomever controls the books, controls the knowledge.

There are branches, or Serapeum, of the Great Library, in most major cities throughout the world. They control the flow of knowledge. While personal ownership of books is outlawed, each individual can read the great works of literature, science, philosophy and art from throughout the ages with their Codex – a blank book that instantly fills with the desired reading.  Think magical Kindle.

The Library is ruthless. Books are controlled with alchemy, practiced by a dwindling few who are kept locked away in the Iron Tower, for their protection, and for that of the Library. But that makes the Library vulnerable.

In London, 2025, Jess Brightwell is the son of a book thief.  He spent his early years as a runner, one of the boys who strap a stolen book to his chest and outrun the police, or Garda, to deliver the object to a client.  Being caught means being disowned by family, and death by hanging. But Jess survived.

Now he is 17 years old, and sitting the entrance exam to study and work in the Library.  His father wants a contact there. Which means spy. Thief. Provider of goods for the smuggling trade. Jess wants to see and touch and read real books.

Ink and Bone is about love and the power of real books. The Codex may be a technological wonder, but the feel of paper, the smell of a story, that is what people want. What lengths will they go to achieve it?

I absolutely loved the world building in this novel.  Beautiful.  I felt like I was walking through the back streets of London, and exploring the halls of the Great Library.  Rachel Caine’s writing evokes wonderful images of a lost treasure and a dystopian future.

I have mixed feelings about the various characters; I liked Jess, although his behaviour did not always seem true to his personality.  But he grew and changed and made mistakes and evolved.

Thomas was wonderfully naive.  Wolfe, possibly my favourite.  I love the nasty professor with the hidden heart of gold. He is Snape! The other students, Santi, the Artifex, and Jess’s many and questionable relatives, were all interesting characters, but I didn’t really connect with them as much. Their personalities seem flat to me, underdeveloped, but perhaps that is for another book in the series.

The pace of the story did not move quickly.  All the scheming and backstabbing and extra detail and character interaction that did not always add to the story slowed the action. But not a fatal flaw by any means!

I know we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but COME ON.  This one is GORGEOUS.

This story is great for anyone who loves the touch and smell and look of a great book.

Ink and Bone: The Great Library is the first in the Great Library series, and published by NAL.