Tag Archives: WWII

L: Bartoletti’s “Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow”

I’m having a hard time articulating my thoughts about this book into sentences that are half as meaningful as anything included in this 150 page, picture-filled book that is astoundingly categorized as Juvenile Non-faction. I am fascinated by WWII and Holocaust accounts, so my reading on the subject has been relatively widespread, but this was easily one of the most profound texts I have read about WWII Germany and the horrific inflictions upon the Jewish (and other non-Aryan) communities from 1926 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror.

hitler

Honestly, no review containing my own words and thoughts could serve as a better recommendation for this text than its own images and words. Unfortunately, I had to return the book before I remembered that I wanted to include direct quotes, but at the same time, that would have been a problem since I would’ve want to quote every single line; every sentence and every photo shed more light on the devastating details of Germany’s actions during WWII and the ways in which Hitler managed to recruit ultimately 7 million young Germans into the Hitler Youth, a group of the Neonazi Party that focused on young “Aryan” Germans, ages 13 to 18, and prepared them to assist in Germany’s martial efforts to take control of Europe. My eyes were opened to the countless rights I take for granted today, since those same rights were robbed from anyone and everyone who even seemed not to support Hitler. The harshest punishments were inflicted on those who did not support Hitler’s cause, and everyone, supporters or not, were at the mercy of the Fuhrer’s whims.

hitler3

2I say all of this because I’m afraid for my country. When I read about the power that a fanatical leader can hold over millions of willingly ignorant followers, I can’t help but be frightened by the echoes of a similar level of radical injustice that is unmistakably present in U.S. politics today. There are still people who absurdly believe that the Holocaust never happened, and even that is addressed in Bartoletti’s text, but blind obedience and willing ignorance can make millions of people do terrible things and, unless we educate ourselves on how it happened last time, history may truly be doomed to repeat itself.

1That means only one thing: we must educate ourselves. I thought about doing a “Love This, Try This” segment for this review, but it seemed too cheap, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to one recommendation. Thus, I will give all the recommendations I can think of that will help shed light on the atrocities that occurred, so as to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. I know enlightenment on genocide isn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s To-Do List, but PLEASE look into at least one of these things.

***All of the images above were featured in Bartoletti’s text***

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L: Review of Tim Wynne-Jones’s “The Emperor of Any Place”

My strategy of picking books based on interesting covers has led me in the right direction, again. This book called to me from the shelf, with the yellow map lines, the island in a churning sea, the solitary silhouette, the Japanese symbol, and the very peeved, Einstein-haired bird watching over it all. The whole thing was a giant question mark to me so, upon reading the dust jacket synopsis and finding out it was about WWII, I welcomed it into the family that is my TBR collection.

When Evan’s father dies, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his father had been reading when he passed away. It is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? Who was the American soldier also stranded there? And what could this possibly mean for Evan?

Aside from the interest piqued by the cover and synopsis, I had no expectations going into this novel. I’ve never read anything by Wynne-Jones, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, either. I was pleasantly surprised, though!

This book was a rare treasure: a book about a book. About 1/3 of the book takes place in the present day and 2/3 of the book are the journal entries of a Japanese soldier and an American soldier who find themselves enemies allied in order to survive on a deserted island, self-named Kokoro-Jima. The present day events are tied to the journal entries and, as Evan reads along, we share his surprise as he gains information as to how his own life is tied to the two inhabitants of Kokoro-Jima.

The writing was some of the most fluid and effortless language I’ve ever read. I truly felt as though I was tangled up in the thought process of a teenage boy. The main character, Evan, is a seventeen-year-old who just lost his father and is dealing with the mysterious nature of the book found on his father’s desk, the calls from the author’s son, and the appearance of his hitherto unknown grandfather, as if the overwhelming loss of his father and best friend wasn’t enough. The emotions are raw and real, sometimes surfacing at unwanted times and other times being choked down (as is often the case in real life), while the characters were relatable, pitiable, witty, and sometimes loathsome. All of the main characters were male and the story within the story was about war, an often male-dominated topic, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by man-stuff, adrift in a sea of testosterone. As a female reader, I was just as interested and impacted as any male reader.

The novel does take unexpected turns towards the paranormal, a fact which other readers have found irritating, according to other reviews. I rarely consider the fantastical to be irritating, an in the context of this book, I actually thought it was brave. War is such a difficult topic, as is the idea of being stranded without hope of rescue. Some may think that the including spirits and monsters makes light of a serious situation, but I disagree. I think the paranormal aspects made the soldiers more relatable, in terms of their reactions to the unfamiliar. And even if it did make light of war, so what? When faced with the unknown, is the known still relevant? When stranded on an island, is the enemy still your enemy? When faced with a REAL monster, is the “monster” inside your enemy still fearsome?

In terms of YA readers, this book would be a great supplemental text when learning about WWII (or any war, really). It challenges the idea of “enemy” in a way that is digestible but still potent for young readers. It would also be a good read for kids dealing with the death of a close friend or family member, or someone who might be estranged from extended family. Despite the YA title, the novel felt mature. Despite the serious issues it addresses, it still felt light and fun. Wynne-Jones is undoubtedly a talented writer, whose work I will continue to seek out in the future.

 

 

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L: Review of Kathy Kacer’s “Stones on a Grave”

Sometimes, I just need some “brain floss.” I adore a book or series in which I can completely lose myself to obsession (see my review of Golden Son for examples of my obsession capabilities), but sometimes all I want is to read something simple, something that doesn’t make me think too hard. I want something with easy characters and plot points, and is it too much to ask for a book to be under 250 pages? Quick & dirty, in and out; I pick it up & BAM, I’m already finished, without a tear in sight.

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer was sort of that book for me. But first:

Sara has never been out of the tiny town of Hope, Ontario, where she has been in an orphanage all her life. After a fire destroys the orphanage, clues about her parentage—a medical certificate and a Star of David—lead her to Germany. Despite her fears—she doesn’t speak the language, she knows no one in Germany, and she’s never been on an airplane—Sara arrives in Germany determined to explore her newly discovered Jewish heritage and solve the mystery of her parentage. What she encounters is a country still dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust. With the help of a handsome, English-speaking German boy, she discovers the sad facts of her mother’s brief existence and faces the horrible truth about her father. Ultimately, the knowledge she gains opens up her world and leads her to a deeper understanding of herself.

Kathy Kacer’s novel (novella?) is one of seven books in what is called the “Secrets Bundle,” a grouping of short, interconnected YA novels that can be read as a group or individually. I read Stones on a Grave without having read any of the other “Secrets,” and I feel completely whole in spite of that. The novel works beautifully as a stand alone, as I’m sure it would within the group, as well.

Now, as I was saying before, Stones on a Grave was about 90% the brain floss that I needed. The writing was fluid and easy, although a bit shallow and underdeveloped. I sympathized with the main character, Sara, as she endured the tragic loss of her orphanage home and the realization that her life was about to take a huge turn. At times, things felt a bit forced, like the relationship with the good-for-nothing boyfriend; it was infrequent, insincere moments like these that wrenched me out of the easy, breezy mindset. I think, with a bit more effort and backstory, these issues could have been resolved easily to be as effortless as the rest of the book.

That was the other issue I had with the book; it was so short! Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I pleaded for a book under 250 pages? Now I know why I so rarely read books that fit this qualification. They’re unsatisfying. Maybe it truly takes 400-ish pages to include the backstory needed in order for me to feel complete. Stones on a Grave was so short that it felt rushed. I was literally about 40 pages away from the end when all the pieces started falling into place and I was truly worried that I was going to be left with one heck of a cliffhanger. Kacer managed to tie up the loose ends, but it felt forced, as though she hadn’t dedicated the same amount of time to that last 40 pages as she had dedicated to the first 180.

On a positive note, wanting more from this book is a good problem to have, I think. The characters were realistic and relatable, the issues were compelling and interesting, the plot twist was entirely unexpected, and the ending, while rushed, was satisfying. I almost hesitate to call this book “brain floss,” since it deals with the Holocaust, and that subject is rarely considered “light reading.” Kacer managed to deal with a very real and serious matter, however, in a way that would be thought-provoking and enlightening to YA readers, while keeping it light enough not to induce tears. Despite the difficult subject matter, it felt flossy to me!

This book makes me wish there were sub-star rating levels. Technically, I’d like to give it 4 stars, since it was light, easy, and likable, but 4 stars makes it on par with Red Rising, which is was NOT. But then 3 stars seems harsh. How about 4 stars by “books for my classroom” standards and 3 by “Lindsay-rating” standards?

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L: Review of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and “Maus II”

Click here for IMDB

Click here for IMDB

I watched a movie the other night called “People, Places, Things” mostly because Jemaine Clement starred in it and I will follow him to the ends of this Earth. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when Jemaine’s character drew comics and taught a class on the ways graphic stories can convey important messages to readers. He also argued the importance of adding graphic novels to the texts discussed in college-level Literature classes and that the genre’s absence from Literature classes keeps its stories from being perceived as a legitimate form of literature. The presence of these elements of what I assumed would be a typical romantic comedy took me by surprise since just last week I read my first graphic novel and immediately saw the value of adding it to a classroom setting.

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

Every person learns differently. Every person has different interests and skills that can affect the way that they intake information, or fail to do so. I, for one, am a very visual learner. I can hear something all day long and I’ll absorb it as well as possible, but when I see something, not visualize but physically see it, my ability to retain that information is increased tenfold. Herein lies arguably the most valuable feature of the graphic novel. Not only am I reading the author’s words, but I’m unmistakably seeing what (s)he intended for me to see. Now, some may argue that this removes the reader’s ability to use their imagination to formulate the images, but I say poo-poo to that argument. Sometimes, the author needs to convey messages that may be beyond the reader’s imagination, or at least outside of what readers may be comfortable picturing. Such was the case with Art Spiegelman’s graphic novels, Maus and Maus II.

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

The stories are told from the perspective of Art who is telling the story of his father, Vladek Spiegelman’s, experiences during World War II and the Holocaust. Understanding the horrific magnitude of Vladek’s memories would be visceral and disturbing enough if told in a standard, narrative novel format, but the use of images to support the story and offer visual perspective elevates the level of understanding and thereby disbelief at the atrocities recounted in the stories. Through my reading experience, I repeatedly noted that in order for these novels to be incorporated into a high school classroom, I would have to ensure that my students were mature enough to digest the information appropriately, or simply limit their exposure to the most graphic parts by only reading excerpts instead of the whole. However, I don’t wish to do that in my classroom. The fact that these things are hard to read does not in any way mean that they should not be read, and we do not reverse the course of history by veiling the truth. The truth deserves to be told, and I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate these graphic novels into a WWII or Holocaust-focused lesson.

These novels have a story to tell and, if one can only set aside any preconceived ideas about the maturity or age level of “comics,” you could truly learn something from them. I highly recommend them.

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L: Review of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five”

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Click here for Goodreads

Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those books that pretty much just set up camp on my “To Read” list. I’ve wanted to read it for many moons now; correction: I’ve wanted to have read it. I’ve wanted my reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five to be firmly in my past, but never got around to reading it in order to put it behind me. SO MANY other books are out there and the premise of Slaughterhouse-Five just sounded like a total snooze-fest. I was right, in that assumption, by the way. However, I now am living a life that has Slaughterhouse-Five under its metaphorical belt.

I found it to be completely unexceptional, which I imagine was partly intended. Billy Pilgrim, the main character was just the biggest goober ever and I hated him, which I know was fully intended. None of the characters fit the role of the romantic war hero, the American veteran who overcame the odds and survived the abominable tragedies of war to return home and live a life of well-earned prosperity and respect. All the characters were unappealing, despicable individuals whose ineptitude showed that, in wartime, anyone will do, even the bottom of the human barrel. Vonnegut succeeded in making war seem completely horrible and un-glamerous, which I understand to have been his ultimate goal. Had I romanticized war before reading this novel, I surely wouldn’t do so now.

I really don’t have much to say about Slaughterhouse-Five. I didn’t like it, but how much can you really enjoy a retelling of several of mankind’s most horrific years? Read it if you want; if you don’t, you’re not missing anything, in my opinion.

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L: Review of Ian Tregillis’s “The Coldest War”

I recently finished Ian Tregillis’s Bitter Seeds and thought it was full of refreshing new ideas, compelling characters, and great writing. Combine all of these characteristics of a great book with my forgetfulness, and you’ll understand why I wanted to get the next volume of The Milkweed Trilogy in my hands sooner than later. The Coldest War attempted to carry the torch ignited by the first volume, but as often happens with sequels, that flame, and my interest, only flickered and faded.

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We catch up with Raybould Marsh and his hugely depressing life 20 years after the end of WWII and his forced removal from Milkweed. However, when surviving sibling Nazi experimental superhumans, Klaus and Gretel, held & studied for 20 years by the Russian Military, surrender to Milkweed in exchange for asylum, they bring news of Russian advancements and improvements on the superhuman capabilities. Again, Milkweed needs Marsh to use the siblings and the Eidolons, Britain’s own non-human defense system, to remove the Russians’ superhman advantages and once again save the country.

Despite the fact the Bitter Seeds was teeming with Nazis and unnatural human experimentation, somehow The Coldest War manages to be darker than its predecessor. The first book ended with a lot of dangling strings that could or could not potentially turn into something serious, and apparently, things got very serious during the 20 year interim period. Some characters are dead, thankfully and not, some are imprisoned, literally and not, some are on a steady downward spiral, mentally and emotionally, and only one is happily thriving. Readers have to sort through a lot of personal issues and unhappy situations before we get to the action, and even then, things stay dark and dramatic.

Back in college, I used to watch a show called Private Practice until one character started having a major drug problem and things just got too real for me; I have a problem with projection, so that character’s drug-addled life felt personal and I had a hard time reminding myself that my own life was drug free sunshine and daisies. This happens with any show/movie/book that just makes life seem a little too dismal, and The Coldest War tiptoed over my line of comfort a few times. Marsh’s life has gone to crap. Utter crap. He’s the main character, so I took it personally. It was all very depressing; interesting, too! But depressing. I’m two books-worth of invested, so I’ll definitely read Necessary Evil, the final volume, but I’m really hoping things lighten up a bit. However, ***Minor Spoiler*** time travel seems to have made an appearance at the end of the second volume so I might be going back into Nazi-infested waters. Regardless, Tregillis’s story is still unique, intricate, and fascinating, his characters (even some of the Nazis) are compelling and make you question yourself, and I’m excited for the final volume.

I’d give it 3 stars, fewer than book one, and I’d recommend it only if you read & enjoyed the first one, but overall it was an adequate segue volume. I’m reading Leviathan Wakes now by James S. A. Corey and it’s great! Stay tuned!

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L: Review of “Bitter Seeds” by Ian Tregillis

​Now THAT is a darn good novel! Thank goodness I didn’t give up on Tregillis after not loving The Mechanical, because then I would’ve missed out on his captivating novel, Bitter Seeds, the first in the Milkweed Trilogy. I find myself drawn to anything pertaining to World War II, Nazis, the Holocaust, etc. so I wasted no time after reading the blurb in reserving a copy from the library.

Bitter Seeds

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Tregillis’s main protagonist, Raybould Marsh, is a secret agent for the British Navy who uncovers evidence of Nazi experimentation that potentially created a handful of superhuman soldiers who, if perfected and multiplied, could render the German army unbeatable. In an effort to fight these supernatural beings, and thereby protect the Allied Nations from an overwhelming and horrific defeat, Marsh and his friends in Milkweed (the small group founded to try to understand and destruct the power of the superhumans) call upon their own unnatural means of defense, which demands a steep blood price.

Bitter Seeds is a fast-paced novel full of compelling characters, tense action, thought-provoking moral dilemmas, and a fair share of vivid descriptions. One cannot read a WWII novel without anticipating at least some disturbing detail, and Bitter Seeds by no means overdoes it, but it certainly imparts the severity of war and the potential for engineered soldiers to multiply the destruction exponentially. Still, the hypersensitive might take issue with a few parts, but I think letting that overrule the bigger message of this book would be a huge mistake. Unlike in The Mechanical, Tregillis provides plenty of compelling characters, both “good guys” and “bad,” and makes it easier for the reader to connect and feel effected by the chain of events. AND, the best part is that the ending doesn’t grid my gears! He summed everything up nicely, leaving just enough dangling threads that I feel resolved but will still certainly be reserving the next volume, The Coldest War, STAT.

My only gripe is that Tregillis seems to give a bit too much credit to his readers in terms of other cultures or time periods, and especially terminology. Just as The Mechanical was peppered with Dutch and French terms from a long ago monarchy, Bitter Seeds was drowning in terms like “Gotterelektrongruppe” and “Sicherheitshauptamt” without enough context clues for readers, or at least me, to always fully understand the intent of the sentence. I feel like I missed out on a few important moments of intended suspense because I was trying to decipher the German words or military jargon. This could very easily be my problem as a non-German-speaking, non-military-affiliated reader, but then again, I’m not sure that my station in life should factor into my ability to understand and enjoy this novel. What do you think?

Again, the somewhat infrequent and altogether momentary confusion was my only issue. Otherwise, I truly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to any and all readers!

I’m still working on The Grace of Kings and have recently started A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. As always, let me know what you all are thinking and stay tuned!

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