Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

River in the SeaFrom Goodreads: At fifteen, Leen De Graaf likes everything she shouldn’t: smoking cigarettes, wearing red lipstick, driving illegally, and working in the fields. It seems the only thing she shares with her fellow Dutchmen is a fear of the German soldiers stationed nearby and a frantic wish for the war to end.

When a soldier’s dog runs in front of Leen’s truck, her split-second reaction sets off a storm of events that pitches her family against the German forces when they are most desperate – and fierce. Leen tries to hold her family together, but despite her efforts, bit by bit everything falls apart, and just when Leen experiences a horrific loss, she must make a decision that could forever brand her a traitor, yet finally allows her to live as her heart desires.

Inspired by events experienced by the author’s mother, River in the Sea is a powerfully moving account of one girl reaching adulthood when everything she believes about family, friendship, and loyalty is questioned by war.

Readers who want to immerse themselves in a story with both a plot and characters that keep the pages turning will love River in the Sea.  For fans of The Book Thief, Those Who Save Us, and Sarah’s Key.

This is an absolutely stunning, captivating read that held me in its grip from the very beginning. I started it late at night, yet stayed up well into the wee hours of the morning to finish this gem–and it absolutely blew me away.

We hear much about the Holocaust and WWII, but I feel that we don’t hear as much about the other countries and people groups who were affected by Hitler’s regime outside of Germany and Poland, and this novel, River in the Sea, focuses on the German occupation of one small town and its people in the Netherlands in late 1944.

Leen De Graaf is just a young teen, but she knows the taste of fear and death; she knows to keep her head down and not draw attention to herself, but in one sweep of panic, upsets all the rules and barely escapes with her innocence intact.  And with this simple misstep comes a series of events that create a domino effect, leaving none untouched.

As the underground resistance works to thwart the German army and save the innocent, intense fear, a lack of food, disunity among families, and immense feelings of sorrow and guilt splash across the pages and evolve in such a way that it makes for a truly superb, poignant, and beautiful read. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby as the novel definitely tugs at the heartstrings.  Five amazing stars.

5 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review and I highly recommend it (especially at just 99 cents on Kindle!!)

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Port Chicago 50From Goodreads: An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.

On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.


I wouldn’t classify this book as a novel, but more of a MG/YA history book told in narrative form. It presents the history of Port Chicago and the fight for civil rights during WWII, a time when whites and blacks were still segregated, regardless of the war efforts. Told in sections, it begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and shows how the Navy unjustly treated its black servicemen: they were not allowed to fight, but rather could only work in the mess hall as servants to their white comrades. The opening chapter details the bravery of one such man, Dorie Miller, during the Pearl Harbor bombing, going on to show the immense racism that pervaded all walks of life, including the Navy, during this time in US history.  Miller, awarded for his service in a time of need, is unceremoniously sent back to the kitchens to serve even though he has proved himself just as capable as any other man, regardless of color.
This scene sets the stage for what is to come: extreme injustice, racism, and betrayal for all black servicemen and women, and especially the 50 young black men accused of mutiny in Port Chicago.  These young men refused to continue loading ammo and bombs on ships–a task only delegated to black servicemen—after an explosion that decimated their friends in other platoons and showed just how dangerous a task was delegated to black servicemen while all white servicemen set sail at sea. The book details the injustice of this segregation and also shows how their own country, a country that’s constitution states that all men are free and are created equal, treated them like cattle–refusing to train them to handle explosives, expecting them to work long shifts, and ultimately making a game of their dangerous task in loading bombs.

After the huge explosion and the death of many young black servicemen, some very brave souls refuse to continue, even on pain of death, and so begins a trial that is spoken little of today. In fact, until I picked up this book, I’d never heard of this event in history–it’s like the US has swept it under the rug, trying to blot out the true ugliness of racism, intolerance, and segregation that has plagued the nation for most of its colonized life.

I am not one who generally picks up history books, but this was an eye-opening story told in a narrative voice that makes reading history interesting. Complete with pictures, it details the lives of those who fought back against segregation, fighting for freedom in an unjust world, and who ultimately caused the entire armed forces to change their policies in terms segregation.  This event is indeed one of the sparks that promoted change and revolution, even though it took approximately 20 more years for the successful civil rights movement to fully come into being.

Overall, this is an educational read that is interesting and well written; I highly suggest picking it up, especially if you’re interested in the armed forces and the truth behind US history.  Three stars.

3 starsRoaring Book Press, an imprint of Macmillian Children’s Publishers, graciously gave me an ARC of this book during NCTE 2013.

This title releases on January 21, 2014.

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No Dawn for MenFrom Goodreads: In 1938, Nazi Germany prepares to extend its reach far beyond its borders. The key to domination lies in a secret that would make their army not only unbeatable, but un-killable.

MI-6, knowing that something potentially devastating is developing, recruits scholar and novelist John Ronald Reuel Tolkien to travel to Germany to find out what this might be, using the German popularity of his children’s novel THE HOBBIT as cover. Joining him there is MI-6 agent Ian Fleming, still years away from his own writing career but posing as a Reuters journalist. Together, Tolkien and Fleming will get to the heart of the secret and they will face a fury greater than even their prodigious imaginations considered possible.

Both an astounding work of suspense and a literary treasure trove to delight fans of either author, NO DAWN FOR MEN is a nonstop adventure.


It took me a little while to warm up to this novel, and I’m not 100% sure why.  In all honestly, I don’t feel like it’s written in any different fashion than LePore’s other novels, and I’ve always been able to jump right into those.  But this time, it took me a little while to wrap my head around everything that was going on in this novel, and I actually put it aside for a few days thinking I might just not have been in the right mood.  That seems to have done the trick, because when I picked it up again, I was able to glide right into the story, which is awesome, might I add, and the story flowed seamlessly together, which is what I’ve come to expect from a LePore novel.

Though it took me a little while, I really enjoyed this novel and once I was able to begin making connections between the story and The Lord of the Rings series, I was in heaven.  I was a little curious about how much of the novel was based on fact and how much on fiction though, because it’s quite obvious that some is fiction, but other elements made me wonder, so I asked James LePore himself.  And this is his awesome response:

“The book is a mix of the real and the fictional. Tolkien was in Berlin in 1938 to talk to a German publishing company about publishing The Hobbit in Germany. The book actually was believed by many ardent Nazis to support their ideology. He turned them down when they asked him to sign an oath saying he was not a Jew. He wrote them a famous letter which you can see here. This letter, when I first came across it, was one of the inspirations for the novel.”

“Fleming was a Reuters correspondent in the thirties covering events in pre-war Europe. There is no  record of his being in Berlin in 1938 but there is a consensus among his biographers that he was doing more than reporting, likely doing political and military assessments for MI-6.”

“Tolkien was actually in the Somme offensive in WWI as a signalman, and did lose three very close friends there. Fleming’s dad, Valentine, was also in France in WWI. The meeting between the two described in the Prologue is fictional. The adventure regarding the amulet, raising the dead, etc., is wholly fictional, but gave Carlos and I a chance to have Tolkien and Fleming experience things that would one day end up in their work. For example, the scene at Gestapo headquarters where Fleming is nearly tortured is a fictional precursor of the actual scene in Casino Royale where James Bond is tortured. We believed as we wrote that both Tolkien and Fleming fans would have fun recognizing these inspiring moments.”

In all truth, I find this amazing, and the amount of research that went into LePore and Davis’ novel just floors me, because it was a lot! And being able to pick out the connections was amazing, especially for me as a fan of The Lord of the Rings.  I’ll admit I’m not as familiar with Fleming’s work aside from a few of the James Bond movies I sort of watched once upon a time (never did read the books), so I didn’t make many connections with Fleming’s side of the story, but I really honed in on Tolkien, and the novel is just amazingly written.  I loved the characterization, the sleuthing, the mystery, and the fear that at any moment they could be caught.

If you are a fan of Tolkien or Fleming, then I highly suggest you pick up a copy of No Dawn for Men.  It’s very well written and a sequel in which Tolkien and Fleming are tracking down a secret atomic bomb formula in France in WWII is already in the works.  I can’t wait.  Four stars.

4 stars

Story Plant has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

17262236From Goodreads: While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.


This novel started off a little slow for me as Wein begins to create the background for her story, allowing readers to connect with Rose and her life prior to her capture. For me, this part really wasn’t interesting… information about piloting, friendships, and betrothals wasn’t what I was expecting and it’s not really my style, but in the end, it was actually vital information to further along the plot near the end, and I’m glad that Wein chose to include it, even though I initially wasn’t interested.

This is a gut wrenching read as we learn of the experiments carried out on the Rabbits (a group of women who created the nickname for themselves due to the experimentation) and their insistence on caring for one another, even to the point of volunteering to die in another Rabbits’ place. Much time is dedicated to the fleshing out of these strong-willed, powerful characters within the novel, and it is their determination that really pushes the story along and allows the reader to finish the novel.  Without their outlook on life and their perseverance, I don’t think I would have been able to complete this novel because the atrocities within are quite difficult to handle, and yet these women bear it in stride.
I teach a Holocaust unit to my students, and we focus on the novel Night, by Elie Wiesel, so we don’t see the entire travesty of the war in what happened to the women and children as it focuses on a male concentration camp.  Thus, I think Rose Under Fire, though extremely sad and difficult to stomach at times, is the perfect novel to show what life in the women’s camps were like. I feel like this is a topic that is not taught enough—all the novels I read in school as a student, and that I now teach, deal with the perspective of a male in a male concentration camp, and I think it is incredibly important that there is a focus on the women and children’s camps as well.  This is a very powerful novel, and I highly suggest it, but beware, it is difficult to read at times. Four stars.

4 stars

Disney Book Group has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release tomorrow, September 10, 2013.

et cetera
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