Flashback: August 2007

I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in August 2007.

Kat and Mouse Vol 1: Teacher Torture. Storyby Alex de Campi; Art by Federica Manfredi. My review: “Kat is the new kid at school and the teacher’s daughter. Mouse is the “cool nerd” whose special power is “shield of apathy.” (Hey, that’s MY super power! No fair!) Together, they navigate 7th grade. And solve crimes.”

Kid Tea by Elizabeth Ficocelli, illustrated by Glin Dibley. 2007. My review:What, you may ask, is “kid tea”? Place a dirty child in a bathtub; and that’s your kid tea! Playing in the dirt: brown kid tea. Eating a purple Popsicle? Purple kid tea. The week ends with Sunday, a visit to church, and two kids saying “Dunk me in the tub, please.” What color? “Look — no kid tea! We can be clean for one day . . . ”

Pagan’s Crusade by Catherine Jinks. My review: “Pagan lives in Jerusalem in the 12th century; he’s an odd mix. A penniless orphan who can read and write; a boy raised in a monastery who for the last few years has lived a rough and dangerous life on the streets of Jerusalem; a squire to a Templar Knight; and he’s a Christian Arab, born in Bethlehem, looking “like a Bedouin boy”. Pagan may be a squire, but don’t get the wrong idea; he’s not some perfect, holy person (that would be the knight he’s assigned to, Lord Roland de Bram). No, Pagan at 16 is . . . how shall I put this? Pagan owes people money. The people he owes are as ruthless and brutal as the times. And the job in the protected Templar headquarters will provide Pagan money to pay back the people he owes. Problem is, that won’t be for six months; so in the meanwhile, it’s a safe and secure place to, well, hide. Cause that’s the kind of guy Pagan is.”

The President’s Daughter (1984), White House Autumn (1985), Long Live the Queen (1989), Long May She Reign (2007) by Ellen Emerson White. My review: “Meg is a great character; very real, and with a wicked sense of humor. The relationship with her mother is extremely complex; Meg loves her mother. Meg admires her mother. But it is not an easy relationship. Meg’s mother has made choices; choices to go into politics, to be a Senator, to run for President. To have children. Her mother’s juggling act is not easy, especially when it comes down to what is best for the country versus what is best for her children. What is also great about Meg’s mother is that she is full of shades of gray and insecurities. She is an accomplished woman (hello, President of the United States.) She isn’t perfect; and EEW never “fixes” this. A lesser author would have turned the mother into a monster because she doesn’t fit the “traditional” role of what a mother “should” be (gasp, Meg’s mom doesn’t make cookies! Meg’s mom isn’t Carol Brady perfect! Meg’s mom values her career and her children!). A lesser author would have created Quick Fixes with everyone happy in the end. The issues between Meg and her mother continue to be explored in each book of the series. Rarely have I read such a nuanced, realistic, understanding and forgiving mother/daughter relationship.”

Friends for Life (1983) and Life Without Friends (1987) by Ellen Emerson White. My review: “So, Susan goes about trying to solve the murder of her best friend. And, since no one believes her, it means she goes “undercover,” acting as if she got in with the drug crowd in NYC so is looking for that at her new school (which [is her murdered friend] Colleen’s school.) Susan discovers who the local drug dealer is, gets in with that crowd (bad & wild on the inside, preppy looking on the out), and almost gets murdered. Beverly is one of the bad crowd; and the one who tells the teenage drug dealer psycho murderer that Susan isn’t the new girl in town, but Colleen’s old BFF (because, surprise, Beverly went to the same middle school as Susan & Colleen.) So it was with great surprise that I picked up Life Without Friends and discovered Beverly’s story. Yeah, the girl you hated in the first book! . . . Yet…. you don’t. Told from Beverly’s point of view, Beverly is regretful, sympathetic, and lonely. She is at the same school, and everyone thinks that she’s no better than her murdering ex boyfriend, so needless to say she has no friends. LWF is about Beverly trying to figure out how it all went wrong; why she was seduced by psycho boy and his lifestyle, why she is so alienated from her family, why she made the choices she did. She is “without friends” not just because the entire school hates her, but also because she feels she cannot trust herself to make friends.”

Welcome to Vietnam (1991), Hill 568 (1991), ‘Tis The Season (1991) and Stand Down (1992) by Zach Emerson (aka Ellen Emerson White); The Road Home (1995) by Ellen Emerson White. First, about the first four books: “Welcome to Vietnam starts almost as a bad Vietnam war movie. Micheal goes to Vietnam! It’s hot! He lugs a lot of stuff around, people fire at him, he fires back. Some race issues crop up. He bonds with the other guys in Echo Company. And you think, yes, EEW did her research and did it well, but it seems, kind of, I don’t know? Clean, despite the dirt and the leeches and the jungle rot. And then, towards the end of the book, BAM. “The sound of the explosion sent everyone diving to the ground, looking for cover. And at first, when — stuff — rained down, Michael wasn’t sure what it was. Then, he realized who it was. Who it had been.” Finnegan had been standing next to JD, the dead soldier: “Finnegan, who had been closest to him — yeah, more ways than one — didn’t seem to be hurt, but he was covered with — stuff. With what was left of this best friend.” Michael takes his canteen, and starts washing off the remains. He fills a body bag, with EEW using very few words but packing quite the punch, especially as Mike and another soldier pretend the bag is heavier than it is. So that no one realizes just how little is left of JD. . . The other three books continue the story of Micheal’s first months in Vietnam; his first battle, meeting nurse Lt. Rebecca. Phillips. It ends — if not happy, then optimistic, because he’s met Rebecca and most of his friends are alive. His tour is far from over. But it’s right before Tet, and everyone knows that nothing is going to happen during a major holiday, so Michael and Echo Company are on “stand down,” enjoying a vacation. And the series ends. Most readers realize what happens after the series… the Tet Offensive. It’s like ending the story of a happily married couple as they set sail on the Titanic.”

Then, the fifth/standalone book which is about Rebecca: “The Road Home. By exploring the Vietnam War thru the POV of a female, and of a nurse, there is the horrors of war combined with the healing of medicine; the mixed emotions of saving the lives of soldiers, only to have the soldiers go out, risk their lives again, or to kill. And the details, of triage, of deciding who lives and dies, who gets morphine and who doesn’t, who dies alone or dies with lies of “it’s going to be OK.” Rebecca goes from naive and hopeful to scared, afraid, bitter. EEW does a masterful job of showing both that war is hell AND respecting the soldier. Based on when her books were published, EEW is in my age group; yet, when my mother read this book, she was convinced that EEW had to have grown up during the Vietnam era, because EEW captured the times and the conflict so clearly. And then she continues it thru past the “happy ending” of going home… and shows just how hard that adjustment was. And, of course, there are Rebecca and Michael. A bit of an odd couple; she’s older, she was a nurse, he’s a few years younger, he never went to college. Yet, they share not just the experience of Vietnam, but also a sense of humor and way of looking at the world. A sense of humor almost lost, but waiting to be rediscovered. The only problem with this book? It ends.”

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