Tag Archives: France

Review & Giveaway: Blue Skies by Anne Bustard

 

BLUE SKIES
by
Anne Bustard
Middle Grade / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Date of Publication: March 17, 2020
Number of Pages: 224

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Ten-year-old Glory Bea Bennett believes in miracles. After all, her grandmother—the best matchmaker in the whole county—is responsible for thirty-nine of them so far.

Now, Glory Bea wants a miracle of her own—her daddy’s return.

The war ended three years ago, but Glory Bea’s father never returned from the front in France. She believes Daddy is still out there.

When reports that the Texas boxcar from the Merci Train—a train filled with gifts of gratitude from the people of France—will be stopping in Gladiola, Glory Bea just knows Daddy will be its surprise cargo.

But miracles, like people, are always changing, until at last they find their way home.

PRAISE FOR BLUE SKIES:

“I loved Blue Skies so much I couldn’t bear for it to end.” –Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Honor author of Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods

“A heart-warming (and occasionally heart-wrenching) delight of a book . . .” –Joy Preble, Brazos Bookstore

“A tender story of grief and the gentle comfort of loved ones.” Kirkus Reviews

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Review

Acting out of character, I had read the synopsis of Blue Skies by Anne Bustard before deciding to read the book. The bit about a boxcar caught my eye because there are a few stories that I have read involving boxcars that I hold very dear in my heart. There were no orphans living or being transported to a new life in this boxcar, but I think that it served as a representation of hope much like those other stories.

The cover of Blue Skies is lovely to look at. The blue is the exact shade of what you think of on a perfect day, with fluffy white clouds and white birds flying across the cover. A young girl in a pretty dress looks hopeful as she faces the same direction that the birds are flying to with eyes closed and hands clasped in front of her. Now that I have read the book, the choice of cover has the same flavor of those used for the Anne of Green Gables series. They are beautiful covers but they don’t hint at the firecracker of a girl contained within their pages.

Glory Bea Bennett takes her place among my favorite heroines with big hearts and spirit: Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, Jo March, etc. Much like Jo, Glory Bea is “hopelessly flawed,” but that’s what makes you love her even more. She is fiercely loyal to the ones she loves to the point that she might miss the cues that something other than the plans she has for them might be best in the end. Aren’t we all like that at one time or another? Ten-year-old and adult readers alike can use a reminder here or there that we can help the people we love up to a point, and then we are only there to support them in the end.

Bustard has created a wonderful community around such a vibrant character. I have always had a soft spot for the small town where everyone not only knows your name but they know all about your business. I was tickled by the moments when eavesdroppers would get caught listening in on the party line. And with all the cynicism in our world today, it was relaxing to read a story where the conflict arises from inner turmoil rather than a place of evil intentions.

To be completely honest, girls will probably gravitate to this book much like they do to Little House, Green Gables, and Little Women, but boys would also get something out of it if they’re willing to try. While the male characters are secondary, they are strong and not afraid of strong women. I could see this book being used in the classroom when discussing the aftermath of war or perhaps as an introduction to the French language. I wish I had read this book before my trip to Austin so that I could have seen the real life inspiration in person. I have put that on my list of things to do, along with reading other books by Anne Bustard.

Anne Bustard is the former co-owner of Toad Hall Children’s Bookstore in Austin, Texas, and an MFA graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the middle grade novel, Anywhere But Paradise, as well as two picture books, RAD! and Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, which was an IRA Children’s Book Award Notable and a Bank Street Book of the Year. Hawaii-born, she divides her time between Texas and Canada.

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Each receive a signed copy of Blue Skies 
March 17-March 27, 2020

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Review: The Big Inch by Kimberly Fish

THE BIG INCH
by
KIMBERLY FISH
  Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII
Date of Publication: January 19, 2017
Number of Pages: 344

 

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Kimberly Fish’s debut novel, The Big Inch, was released in February, 2017 and it reveals the lengths to which Texas oilmen, state, and federal governments would go to get Texas crude oil to the troops fighting their first mechanized war. With Nazi threats (and a steady stream of oil tankers sunk by German submarines) speed was necessary, as was OSS intelligence. The Office of Strategic Services was often staffed with female spies and Longview’s World War II efforts were critical for success. 
Lane Mercer, sent to Longview, Texas in July 1942, is part of a select group of women working undercover for the fledgling federal agency, the Office of Strategic Services. Assigned to protect the man carrying out President Roosevelt’s initiative to build the nation’s first overland pipeline to hurry East Texas crude to the troops, she discovers there’s more to Longview than the dossiers implied. There’s intrigue, mayhem, and danger. Shamed from a botched OSS mission in France, Lane struggles to fulfill her mission and keep from drowning in guilt. Getting involved in local life is out of the question. Between family, do-gooders, and Nazi threats, she’s knitted into a series of events that unravel all of her carefully constructed, plans, realizing that sometimes the life one has to save, is one’s own.

 

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PRAISE FOR THE BIG INCH:
“With an eye for detail, Kimberly Fish weaves a compelling story of a war widow who finds herself in Longview, Texas in 1942. Reading Kimberly’s novel was a bit like going back to a cloak and dagger time, and I enjoyed the local references. Longview was an amazing place to be during WWII.”   — Van Craddock, Longview News Journal, Columnist
“Kimberly Fish’s unique writing style snatched me out of my easy chair and plunked me down into the middle of her character’s life where I was loathe to leave when my real life called me back. Her descriptive visual writing drew me in on the first page. Can’t wait to read more stories by Mrs. Fish.” — Vickie Phelps  Author of Moved, Left No Address

 

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From the get-go, Fish reels you in with vivid descriptions. I can feel Lane’s trepidation on this journey, although I haven’t gotten to know her enough yet. I am at the train station, too, overwhelmed by the chaos of activity and people. And as intrigued as I am by Lane’s snippets of life in Paris, I am even more in awe of her situational awareness. I instantly  become a fan when she outwits a pickpocket and, cool as a cucumber, is swept away by train to her new life.
I apologize if my gushing makes the novel sound melodramatic. Believe me, it is far from that. The people are very real and the situation even more so. The subject of oil is a touchy one, especially when there’s a war going on. No hunch is too small to investigate. And no person is insignificant it seems.
As an attractive, single (widowed) woman, Lane has to navigate small town life carefully. And that’s easier said than done when her boss is a handsome lady’s man. When she isn’t busy batting away blind date offers, Lane has to fend off a few tempting suitors as well. While some women would fall prey to men like that, Lane is truly a completely different breed of woman. Her dedication to her job and sense of honor allows her to brush off society’s misconceptions and the annoyances that result from them.
Lane has to tail her boss constantly to ensure his safety, earning her the nickname “Elmer”. As in the glue. Get it? Haha! Even the people working closely with her couldn’t help making assumptions. I was amazed that her honor wasn’t completely drowned in the gossip pool. Several times, her good deeds got her into a bit of trouble. Submerging her further into that pool. But Lane is an exceptional swimmer.
I might have made her out to be perfect, but Lane does manage to underestimate a handful of characters. Which leads to surprisingly good and unfortunately bad ends. I can’t get into all that without ruining the story. But let me just praise Fish a bit more on her ability to fashion such a compelling and believable protagonist. I really enjoyed learning a little bit about Lane each time she slipped up and let another character get to see who she really is.
And Ms. Fish, if you’re reading this, I would really like a novel about Sergeant Tesco.
Kimberly Fish started writing professionally with the birth of her second child and the purchase of a home computer. Having found this dubious outlet, she then entered and won a Texas manuscript contest which fed her on-going fascination with story crafting. She has since published in magazines, newspapers, and online formats, She lives with her family in East Texas.
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March 822, 2017
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