November 26, 2014

Teen spy

Shadow on the Mountain
by Margi Preus

Shadow on the Mountain takes place in Norway between 1940 and 1945. The Germans have invaded the country and are issuing all sorts of ominous directives. But the Norwegians have found many ways to resist. Fourteen-year-old Espen is one of the resisters. He and his schoolmates find many ways to show their displeasure - wearing red hats, staging walkouts, stealing ration cards. But Espen goes one step further. He becomes a courier, delivering secret messages by ski or by bicycle. Then he becomes a spy.

Dangerous missions, compromised friendships, thrilling chases; readers will be on the edge of their seats. Another bonus: it's based on a true story!

Highly recommended.

For more books about spies, go to my nonfiction blog at

November 19, 2014

Missing in action

Against the Odds
by Marjolijn Hof

Kiki's father likes to go to far and dangerous places. He's a doctor who treats people injured in war zones. Kiki would prefer that he stay home, but her mother assures her that the odds of his being killed are small. She points out that Kiki only knows of one child who does not have a father. But Kiki's anxiety only increases. She decides to lessen the odds. Her reasoning goes something like this:

I knew three children with a dead cat. And two children with a dead dog. And one child with a dead mouse. 

I looked at Mona [her dog]. I did not know anyone with a dead dog and a dead father. A dead dog and a dead father! That almost never happened. My mother would say that it was against the odds. And it would be even more against the odds for someone to have a dead mouse, a dead dog and a dead father.

So Kiki gets a pet mouse. When it doesn't die, she gets another mouse that will die. That way, she's increased her odds that her father will be okay. However, when her father really does go missing, Kiki thoughts start turning in a startling new way.

Originally written in Dutch, this English version is translated into simple prose that children can easily relate to. The descriptions of a family going through an extremely stressful situation is believable and honest, and Kiki's feelings of fear and anger are real and sensitively portrayed.

A very thoughtful book.

November 12, 2014

The horror of war

War Brothers
by Sharon E. McKay

Jacob is the son of a wealthy landowner. Oteka is a night commuter - one of the many children from villages or displacement camps who sleep on the streets of Gulu, where Jacob lives. They fear the Lord's Resistance Army (the LRA) who kidnap children and turn them into soldiers. Jacob believes he will be safe at school because of the extra guards. But the very first night back, the LRA invade the dorms and take Jacob and his classmates away. Beaten, starved, and forced to walk unendingly through the jungle, Jacob fears for his life and those of his friends, especially Tony, who wanted to be a priest. It is Tony who is broken and forced to kill. As the weeks pass, Jacob realizes that no one is coming to rescue them. With this knowledge, he and his friends, along with Oteka and a young girl named Hannah, plan an escape.

A gripping, disturbing book that focuses on the continuing plight of child soldiers. Its depiction of violence and brutality is unflinching, destroying any fanciful beliefs that war is exciting. An important book that deserves a wide audience.

War Brothers is also available as a graphic novel, with images that convey the horror with searing immediacy. Unforgettable.

November 5, 2014

Soldier's story a must-read

Generals Die In Bed
by Charles Yale Harrison

Charles Yale Harrison was an American who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I. Harrison's stark, straight-forward prose pulls readers directly into the action, capturing life as it truly was during a time of unimaginable horror.

Highly recommended.

Here's an excerpt from the book. The unnamed narrator is in a trench, on sentry duty.

Something leaps towards my face.
I jerk back, afraid.
Instinctively I feel for my rifle in the corner of the bay.
It is a rat.

It is as large as a tomcat. It is three feet away from my face and it looks steadily at me with its two staring, beady eyes. It is fat. Its long tapering tail curves away from its padded hindquarters. There is still a little light from the stars and this light shines faintly on its sleek skin. With a darting movement it disappears. I remember with a cold feeling that it was fat, and why.