Saturday, November 19, 2011

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

From the farms of England as a working horse, to the battlefields of Germany during WWI, Joey, a Thoroughbred horse, talks in his own voice about his life as a war horse.

Horses were invaluable during the war effort. Without horses there was no way to carry guns, ammunition or water for the troops. They were used for cavalry and ambulances to carry the wounded. A war horse surviving this life was rare. But not every War Horse was lucky enough to have an owner like Albert.

Albert is a young teenager who treats Joey like a family member. Due to circumstances beyond his control, Joey’s father must sell him as a war horse to the English cavalry. This is beyond devastating to young Albert and he is determined to eventually find Joey someday. He can’t wait to enlist legally, so when he becomes 16, he lies about his age to find Joey.

Morpurgo writes this story with young adult readers as his audience. It is wartime for a war horse and he provides his readers with appropriate war scenes. Young adults will understand what every adult knows; war is hell. The historical fiction narrated by Joey himself is perfect for children.

Another side of this wonderful story for readers is the knowledge we learn about horses in general. The public may or may not know what Morpurgo brilliantly teaches us. There are many life lessons learned when the reader finishes the book; lessons relating to both people and animals.

I recommend War Horse for all ages.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Barley Hole Chronicles: From Hell to Hamburg by Harry Leslie Smith

Smith writes a true love story during wartime in Hamburg 1947. The time span is during the Great Depression and ends in Germany post war. The love story involves the author and his wife, Friede.

Smith was in Hamburg when Germany surrendered. He was a lonely teenager who had volunteered to join the RAF (Royal Air Force) in December of 1940 -1947. He extended his term(s) with the RAF without a second thought. There was nothing for Smith back in England, being he was uneducated and had no vocation. It made sense to stay put.

Smith fell in love with Friede, A German girl. This was taboo, a Brit was not supposed to have true feelings for a German. Smith describes the challenges of their courtship. Friede had deep rooted family problems; she was illegitimate and was ashamed and confused.

During their relationship, Smith kept Friede and her family alive stealing food from his base. Rations were never enough to survive. Being post war, there was nothing but poverty and hunger.

Smith writes in detail about post-war survival with Friede and her family. However, it does end with wedding bells; a precedent for post-war marriages between Brits and Germans.

The Barley Hole Chronicles summarizes both of Smith’s memoirs; 1923 and Hamburg 1947. (1923 is a separate review.)

I recommend The Barley Hole Chronicles to history buffs as well as readers learning about war. A first-hand account is priceless.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Saturday, November 12, 2011

She Had No Choice by Debra Burroughs

She Had No Choice is a family drama which originates in Sonora, Mexico. The year is 1918 during the Spanish influenza epidemic. The Ramirez family has already lost four children due to the outbreak. Juanita and Emilio make the decision to give up the land and home they own in Mexico and flee to Arizona to save their family.

Once in Arizona, the family is free from the flu epidemic; however, life is far from easy. Work is hard to get for migrant farm workers and the family suffers. Juanita dies and Emilio is left with his sons and two daughters. He sends one of his daughters, Sophia, to live with his sister, Consuela, in Phoenix. He thinks she will have a better life. For six years Sophia works as a servant girl for her Tia and the abuse only ends with Tia Consuela’s death.

Sophia makes poor decisions regarding men. She ends up alone and pregnant with her first daughter, Eva. Her second relationship she is a victim of domestic abuse from Carlos, who continually beats and abuses her and her children for 25 years. She has a child almost every other year and her life is a living hell.

Eva’s life is not going as expected. She is abandoned with two children. She is determined to rise above her adversities while trying to help her mother escape abuse from Carlos.

Does Eva succeed? Does Sophia have any part in the plan? Does either woman find real love?

Burroughs writes with such intensity and you feel what each character is going through on each and every page. She states the book is inspired by a series of true stories. I feel this enhances the reader’s expectations.

The story ends in 1960 and I am hoping for a sequel! Sophia and Eva, along with their families, have come a long way since 1918. I want to follow their lives and I have no doubt all readers who enjoy She Had No Choice will agree.

Book Review by Mary Crocco

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dig: Zoe and Zeus by Audrey Hart

Greek Mythology has never been more entertaining than in Audrey Hart’s novel, The Dig: Zoe and Zeus. Hart integrates values and morals for the young adult readers while taking all her readers on a journey back in time, 3,000 years to be exact. The year is 1000 BC, and the place is Crete, an island in Greece.

Zoe is a 17-year-old teenager who attends Greeley Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut. She is a loner with a laissez-faire attitude about her appearance, such as her cowlick and her smile. She doesn’t like groups and she feels like an outcast most of the time. She has trust issues, but she does have a best friend, CeeCee, who has a different way of seeing and doing things, especially when it comes to boys, but nevertheless they are best friends.

Zoe lost her parents when she was 12 years old and her Aunt Sophia and Uncle Alex look out for her. She loves them both very much. Aunt Sophia and Uncle Alex wait for Zoe to arrive in Greece for her seventh annual archaeological dig. Being the loner that she he is, Zoe is looking forward to being alone and doing what she loves best, getting down and dirty in a dig.

But this is not the archaeological dig Zoe expected. She ends up traveling through time to the year 1000 BC, where she is a goddess who possesses magical powers. She meets all the other Greek gods, goddesses, nymphs and more in the Kocaba forest. Now keep in mind, Zoe doesn’t like Greek mythology. She thinks the gods are unlikable, impulsive, and egotistical. Then she meets Zeus, who ends up . . . well; you must read the book to find out!

There are outstanding subliminal messages hidden in The Dig: Zoe and Zeus. They address friendship, trust, self-esteem, bullying, and love, just to name a few. Hart integrates academic lessons learned in school that students believe have no relevance. She introduces new vocabulary and endless metaphors to enjoy. She uses current TV shows and pop culture to keep the young reader interested.

I recommend The Dig: Zoe and Zeus for readers of all ages. Young adults will truly enjoy this adventure while secretly learning life lessons. Adults will appreciate the humor Audrey Hart sneaks in just for us, such as the reference to the Three Stooges!

I look forward to the second book in this trilogy!

Book Review by Mary Crocco