Monday, July 01, 2019

MMGM- Secret Soldiers and Eye to Eye

Hutton, Keely. Secret Soldiers.
June 11th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Thomas' family are coal miners, so life is tough durign World War I. His older  brother, James, is reported missing in France, which has devastated his parents. Thomas, in his early teens, decides to run off and join the military in order to find his brother. He ends up in London, having been denied entry into the army several times. He meets up with George, a wily street urchin a bit older than Thomas. He needs to make himself scarce due to a "business deal" gone bad, and offers to help Thomas make the cut. Before long, the two are on a train bound for the front, and meet another underage recruit, Charlie. Not surprisingly, the three end up on a work detail that involves tunneling under No Man's Land so that bombs can be set behind (and under!) the German lines. Working underground can be treacherous, as Thomas well knows, but his skills in the coal mines help him. George is generally capable and does well enough, but Charlie, a posh boarding school boy who has joined up to avoid being called a coward, doesn't do so well. Thomas attempts to find his brother, setting out at night to talk to soldiers in the field, but the trench warfare of WWI isn't conducive to travels, and he doesn't find out much information. The war rages on, the tunnel progresses, and it looks like the group might make an impact. Of course, the war is horrible, and not all of the boys will survive. Even if they do, will they have any kind of life to return to?
Strengths: Having just seen the Tolkien biopic, where Tolkien is also in the trenches, looking for a friend, the scenes in the trenches and tunnels were even more vivid. As in Soldier Boy: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Ugandan Civil War, Hutton does a great job of researching and describing the conditions of war, and in putting an intriguing human face on it. Thomas' desire to find his brother is misguided, though admirable, and the army's use of the boys to dig tunnels is interesting-- surely, superiors could tell that the boys were too young, but since they served a purpose, they were kept on. George is a fun character, and a nice foil for Thomas' earnestness, and Charlie is ill-prepared and misguided in his attempts to take part in the war; somehow, I imagine that there were many soldiers like him in this conflict, looking at the casualty rates. There are not enough books about WWI, and this is an interesting treatment of an unusual battle strategy.
Weaknesses: There were some things that could have used more explanation for young US audiences to understand, but they will do okay. The message of the white feather, for example, will go over many heads.
What I really think: I really enjoyed this and will definitely be purchasing. Anything in this review that seems lukewarm is my own fault-- I started the book May 9 but didn't write the review until May 27. That kind of spring!

Rubini, Julie K. Eye to Eye: Sports Journalist Christine Brennan
Published April 5th 2019 by Ohio University Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Born in 1958, Brennan's life was all too familiar to me, but will be new and interesting to younger readers. Brennan's parents were hardworking, and encouraged her interest in sports even though it was not something that girls were normally encouraged to participate in in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fascinated by the Toledo Mud Hens and the University of Toledo football team, especially the player Chuck Ealey, she wrote articles on a typewriter for her family, and learned early how to differentiate live radio from staged coverage of ball games. Her parents took her to lots of games, and she gained a keen knowledge of sports. Attending Northwestern University in the 1980s, she was fortunate to have another woman writing sports for the college newspaper to inspire her. She was also lucky that she had good chances at internships, and managed to get hired right out of college by the Miami Herald, because they wanted a woman on their staff. Readers today might not realize how ground breaking this was; no matter how good Brennan's grades or resume were, in order to get hired as a sportswriter, she needed a special set of circumstances in order to get a job in the field at this point in history. There were some difficulties, like the fact that women reporters weren't allowed in locker rooms to interview men after games, and were sometimes ill treated, but Brennan persevered. Working hard led her into lots of different sports fields, and she covered many Olympic events. She also asked difficult questions about topics in sports like racism and sexism, and today is a top sports reporter for USA today who also writes books and also reports on television.
Strengths: Rubini does an excellent job making Brennan's personal story interesting and exciting to read while also addressing the historical climate at the time. The story about Chuck Ealey not getting drafted into the professional leagues was a bit surprising, as was the fact that Blacks were not allowed to be members of the Augusta National Golf Club until 1990 and women until 2012! The book is well organized, fast paced, and has enough photographs sprinkled throughout to support the story line with important visuals. The Ohio University Press has a great selection of biographies about women pioneers.
Weaknesses: Brennan's story didn't seem that unusual or noteworthy to me; it sounds like what most women went through in the 1980s in their jobs. Still, Rubini does a good job of telling it, and younger readers will be surprised at some of the obstacles women faced.
What I really think: This is a good choice for biographies, especially if you are trying to include more books about native Ohioans, women, or sports figures who aren't players. It does bother me a little that Brennan is about MY age; I usually don't buy biographies about people who are still in the prime of their careers, as Brennan seems to be!


  1. Secret Soldiers sounds like a book that will interest a lot of readers, especially those boys who can't seem to get enough books about war.
    Eye to Eye sounds interesting. I remember when it was a huge deal for women sports reporters to get into locker rooms. It's strange when the events in your own life have become history.

  2. Definitely adding Secret Soldiers to my TBR list. This sounds really good, Karen! Thanks for these new-to-me titles!!

  3. I'm always on the lookout for books on World War I for kids. I agree, there aren't enough to choose from. Looking forward to reading SECRET SOLDIERS. You made a compelling case for it despite your delay! Have a great 4th!

  4. Both of these books sound great! The first book sounds like a great perspective on WWI, and the story of Christine Brennan (which I am unfamiliar with) sounds fascinating as well! Thank you so much for the recommendations!

  5. I'm glad to know about both books, Karen, new to me. Secret Soldiers & her earlier one do sound worth reading. Thanks!

  6. These both sound really good and will appeal to different audiences. Thanks for telling me about them. I will try to check them both out.

  7. My middle-grade aged nephew enjoys learning about past wars. He was telling us all something pertaining to WWII the other day. I'll have to ask to see if Secret Soldiers is one he'd be interested in.

  8. These both look very interesting - and both very new to me. Thanks for sharing! :)
    Have a great reading week and fourth of July!