“Vagabond wind” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *****  Ebook. 2015. Amazon Digital Services.

VagabondWindZya spent almost her whole life with Romani gypsies, traveling with them all over the new state of West Virginia before the Civil War. Married at a young age, life seemed grand until her husband and father were killed. Falling in with a group of Confederate Rangers, she helped guide them through the wilderness as they worked to thwart the Yankees at every turn through sneak attacks.

She found herself blossoming as she worked with Davis Wyndham, their leader, to wreck trains, rob provisions for Confederate troops, and pass on secret information from the Yankees. As the years passed she and Davis became romantically involved while the group worked to hold the head of the Confederacy above the waters. However, with the war drawing to a close and the threat of capture looming ever closer, Zya and Davis will have to face their greatest threat yet – that of never seeing each other ever again.

Told from the Confederate point of view, “Vagabond Wind” seems to draw from the real life activities of John Singleton Mosby, who spent the War running sneak attacks against the Union. I find it interesting Hughes chose to call these guerrillas Wyndham’s Rangers, the name of a real Union Colonel. I’m thinking it was for irony’s sake that she did so.

I felt Hughes took too much time describing specific events/scenery, dragged out the storyline on many occasions, and had a tremendous overuse of commas. I also didn’t like Zya’s flakiness, fancying herself in love one moment, torturing herself with self-doubts the next, deciding one lifestyle that she was living was wonderful, then deciding that was no good too. She was a human seesaw that made my head spin.

I did enjoy getting sneak peeks into bits of Civil War history (like why West Virginia was formed.) I think it would have been nice if Hughes had added end notes giving a bit of history about the research she did on the era as well as background information on important characters like Wyndham as well as the Swamp Fox, who inspired Mosby.

Thus, due to the pros and cons mentioned above, I’ll recommend the book for Adults but will do so with reservations.


“Refugee” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published July 25, 2017. Scholastic. 337 p. (Includes Maps and Author’s note.)

RefugeeJosef was almost thirteen-years-old in 1938 when Kristallnacht sent the strong message that Jews were not welcome in Germany. Soon afterwards, he, his father, mother and little sister, along with hundreds of other Jews, boarded the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba where they hoped to escape bigotry and start a new life.

In 1994 Isabel lived with her mother, father and grandfather in Cuba but, with the fall of the Soviet Union, food, gasoline and medicine had become scarce and people began to starve. After riots began, Castro allowed them to leave without fear of arrest. Knowing their only chance of survival was to flee to Miami, Isabel and her family joined their neighbors on a rickety homemade boat. Their 90-mile trip would be dangerous, but they were willing to risk everything to be free.

Twelve-year-old Mahmoud lived with his father, mother, little brother and baby sister in Aleppo Syria in 2015. Four years ago people revolted against their dictator president, which led to war and constant bombings. Their apartment building was blown apart and they had nowhere to go, so Mahmoud and his family joined thousands of other Syrians on a long march to Germany, hoping to start a new life without fear of war.

Real-life occurrences from World War II, the early 90’s, and current events are combined in alternating voices to tell the story of three children who all hope to grow older. This well-researched book will get conversation flowing about immigrants, xenophobia, acceptance and intolerance. It is excellent for book clubs, especially in middle schools.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.


“The sentinels of Andersonville” Tracy Groot

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. 2014. Tyndale House Publishers.

TheSentinelsOfAndersonvilleConfederate soldier Emery Jones captures a Union soldier and delivers him to Andersonville prison. Only after arrival does he become aware of the horrors of the place, and realizes he needs to make it right. From the prison’s stockade wall, confederate sentry Dance Pickett has seen thousands of men starving to death within the overcrowded prison. Commanded not to interfere, he wonders how to get the soldiers the help they need. Feeling as if no one wants to help, Dance is at his wit’s end.

Violet Stiles has worked tirelessly to help Confederate soldiers with various causes, and has learned to hate all Yankees. After visiting Andersonville, she is sickened by the horrific conditions. Emery, Dance and Violet are determined to make a difference, feeling they can get their fellow townspeople to band together for the soldiers. Though accused of treason, scorned by others, and facing extreme opposition, the three are committed to loving their enemies.

Before reading this book I had vaguely heard of Andersonville. After reading it I will never forget the prisoners who languished behind its walls. Tracy Groot’s extensive historical research on the appalling conditions tells how and why 13,000 Union soldiers died within its walls in 1864. I found many similarities to those who closed their eyes to evil, justifying their own blindness, during World War II as millions of Jews were killed. This was why townspeople were forced to tour concentration camps, after they were liberated, to look at what they had allowed to happen and see if it made a difference in their souls. I wonder if it did.

Highly recommended for Adults.


“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.

“Code name Verity” (Verity #1) Elizabeth Wein

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)

CodeNameVerityThe story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.

As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.

“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Four-four-two” Dean Hughes

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books. 268 p. (Includes “Preface,” “Author’s Note,” and period photographs.)

FourFourTwoYuki and his best friend Shig were busy being teenagers when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though American citizens, both suddenly found themselves considered enemies of their own country. Along with thousands of other Japanese American citizens, Yuki and Shig lost their homes and everything they owned when they and their families were forcefully relocated to an internment camp in the middle of a desert.

Eager to gain back the respect they felt they’d lost in the eyes of their fellow citizens, Yuki and Shig joined the army where they were assigned to the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yuki’s story of love, loss, friendship, and brotherhood will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Hughes’ descriptions of the many battles fought by this extremely brave unit, along with the prejudice faced by these soldiers both in and out of the army, will prove to be eye opening to many readers.

Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.

“Projekt 1065: A novel of World War II” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

projekt1065In 1938 Michael O’Shaunessey moved to Berlin, Germany with his parents when his father was named Irish Ambassador. Over the 6 years of living there he’d seen the Nazi Party became stronger, changing its people for the worse. It is now 1943, and things have gotten bad as Jews and other dissenters are being taken to concentration camps. Michael had never known his parents were spies for the Allies but now, at the age of 13, he found himself working with them.

When a British RAF pilot was shot down over the city, Michael and his parents discovered the Nazis had been secretly building a plane with engines instead of propellers, which could fly faster than any country’s planes and would turn the tide of the war towards Germany.

Accidentally finding the plane’s blueprints accelerated Michael’s spy role within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. As things heat up, it soon becomes evident that Michael and his parents are in grave danger. Michael will have to do all he can to make sure the Nazis don’t succeed in their plan for world domination before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed reading “Projekt 1065.” Its short, cliffhanger, fast paced chapters make it a great choice for reluctant readers, while its storyline is very interesting.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.