“The Canal Bridge: A Novel of Ireland, Love and the First World War” Tom Phelan

Rated 5 stars ***** To be published April 1, 2014. (First published in Ireland in 2005). ebook. ARC. Arcade Publishing. (Includes Acknowledgments, Glossary and a Selected Bibliography).

TheCanalBridgeKitty, her brother Con, and his best friend Matthias were inseparable. They lived by a canal in a small town in Ireland, and grew up singing how “their side” was the best side. Amusing themselves on the canal, in the canal and on the towpath beside it, their lives revolved around each other and the canal.

When Matthias was 18 he and Con decided to join the British Army as they loved reading about foreign places, and joining would give them the opportunity to see the world. Despite being branded as traitors by some of their countrymen because of fighting for the British, they chose to leave all they knew behind and enlist. Sadly, they only got as far as the Mediterranean Sea before war against Germany broke out, and England rushed to the aid of France.

On the war front, Matthias, Con and the rest of the boys from Ireland experienced horrors no one would ever be able to erase from their memories. As they struggled to breathe in trenches filled with stagnant water and decaying bodies, or managed to survive violent battles, their minds constantly wandered back to Ireland wishing for the peacefulness of their youth.

Meanwhile Ireland was going through its own battles, as the Easter Uprising of 1916 caused even more hatred against their English oppressors. Ireland was now even more divided with Irish supporters against anything Protestant, including the home where Kitty worked and filled her mind with hopeful thoughts that Matthias and Con would come safely home. None of these three friends knew that this war would not only tear Ireland apart, but would also tear everything they ever knew about themselves into oblivion.

The horrific events of World War I are shown through the eyes of those who suffered and died as soldiers and nurses. It is unthinkable that despite all these deaths (over 57,000 killed in just one day) that the world would embark on yet another war just a few short years later. Students of history and of Ireland will learn much through reading this book.

Recommended for Adult readers.



“In the Shadow of Blackbirds” Cat Winters

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published April 2, 2013. Amulet Books. 407 pp. Includes Period Photographs and Author’s Note.

IntheShadowofBlackbirdsIt was the fall of 1918, and the Spanish Influenza raged across the country. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black’s German father had been arrested for being unAmerican, as it was the middle of World War I and anyone who dared speak against the war in any way was subject to arrest. Anyone who spoke German or looked German was also considered dangerous.

Since her mother died at childbirth, Mary had no place to go so wound up living with her aunt in San Diego. There, she was able to see Stephen, her childhood sweetheart, one more time before he went off to war. During a series of unforeseen and unknown circumstances, Stephen wound up dead. It was claimed he’d died a hero’s death, but something in Mary Shelley’s gut told her this was not true.

During this time period, with so many people dying of the Flu and from the war, people were desperate for one last moment with their loved ones. Spiritualism seemed to provide the answers they sought, with many making a tidy profit fooling bereaved relatives through seances and trick photography – including Stephen’s brother Julius. Because of a lightning strike and near death experience, Mary Shelley had developed the ability to sense Stephen’s restless spirit. She wanted to help him find peace, but soon found herself dragged into a mystery deeper and much uglier than she’d imagined.

Readers aged 12 and older will learn much about this confusing time in American history, while also becoming detectives along with Mary Shelley to find out the mysterious circumstances of Stephen’s untimely death. The author’s period photographs at the beginning of selected chapters will help them put faces to the events going on in Mary Shelley’s life.

“Soldier Dog” Sam Angus

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Macmillan. USA edition published April 2013 by Feiwel and Friends. (247 pp.) Includes Historical Note, Photo Gallery, Author’s Note and a Select Bibliography.

SoldierDogIs there an unspoken rule somewhere that says books about dogs will make you cry? If so, “Soldier Dog” lives up to form, requiring readers to have a box of tissues available while reading it.

Prior to reading this book, I had no idea dogs were used as messengers during World War I. I knew they had used pigeons, but not dogs. The author based the book on a messenger dog called Airedale Jack. Jack worked for the British army in 1918. Despite getting shot several times and painfully crawling on three legs and with a broken jaw, he managed to get his message to his handler, and saved his battalion.

In “Solder Dog,” readers are introduced to 13 year-old Stanley. Stanley’s mother passed away, and he lived with his fierce and uncommunicative father. He loved dogs and missed his older brother Tom who was in the Army. After his father took his favorite puppy, Soldier, and drowned him, Stanley decided to run away and join the Army to find Tom. Despite being underage, he became a Dog Keeper in the British Dog Messenger Service. There he learned firsthand of the horrors of war while training, and falling in love with, the dogs he trained.

Through Stanley’s experiences, readers aged 9-13 learn of the experiences of Messenger Dogs and those who trained them, as well as what happened during several key World War I battles. “Soldier Dog” is a wonderful read, and will grab the attention of even the most reluctant of readers. Don’t forget your tissues.