Book Review: Young Digger

June 29, 2011

Young Digger
Anthony Hill
Age 12+
284 pages

Set in 1918 at the end of First World War, Young Digger is the fictionalized story of a small orphan boy, named Digger who wandered into the Australian airmen’s camp in Germany on Christmas Day. The novel tells the story of how Digger became the airmen’s mascot and of his journey home with them to Australia. Though the novel is written for young adults, its touching story of hope and love will appeal to older readers as well.

The novel brings the reader on an amazing journey as the Australian airmen smuggle Digger from Germany, through France and finally home to Australia. Digger captured my heart from the start. He’s a young orphaned boy with a personality that makes you laugh, cry and share his joy. He gets into all the mischief you’d expect of a young boy, but in such a way you can’t help but smile at his actions. I love how the author managed to make Digger come alive on the pages.

Whenever I read a historical novel I expect details. Lots of details! It’s those little things, the attention to detail, that makes the past come alive for me, and Young Digger did this in spades. There were so many interesting tidbits that were worked into the story—my favorite being Digger’s stay in Mons and his visit to the cemetery. What I really loved was how the author managed to work in these details without bogging down the story.

I was really excited when my Australian friend gave me this book. I’ve read very few novels set during World War I, and the ones I have read were from an American’s point of view. To be able to see the war from a different perspective was fascinating. One other aspect I loved was the use of photos in this book. I stopped reading more times than I can remember to flip through the pictures, picking up on new details in them each time as I got further and further in to the story. Words are powerful. Pictures can be priceless. The two together were awesome! If you can get a copy of this book, it’s worth the read! You won’t be disappointed.

Also, be sure to check out Anthony Hill’s website. There’s a lot more information there! Stay tuned! Friday I’ll be posting the interview I did with Anthony.



Picture It: America, 2011

June 22, 2011

Picture this scenerio:

Your son comes home from fifth grade and says his class is starting a new social studies unit where they will learn how the government and political parties work.  Their first assignment is to ask their parents about their own political affiliation and experience.  You smile, happy your son is learning something with real-world application, and tell him you tend to vote for Republicans.  You like smaller government, you believe our troops need all the support we can give them since your family has a strong military history, and you tend to agree with the Republicans on social issues like abortion.  He takes notes on the worksheet his teacher handed out, then starts on the rest of his homework.  You assume he turns it in the next day at school.

Two days later, late in the night, you hear a knock on your door.  Your wife and children are all asleep in their beds.  What could it be, you wonder as you go downstairs.  Has one of my parents landed in the hospital?  Is someone just looking for another house and gotten lost?  You open the door, just a crack, and some tough men in trench coats barge their way into your house.  “You’re a Republican!” they shout.  They wave your son’s worksheet in your face as proof.  “We can’t have any of you dissidents hanging around!  You’re coming with us!”

“What?  What…it’s a free country!  What’s wrong with voting Republican?  My son filled that out, it’s for a school project on government!  What do you mean?”  But they’re not listening.  They’re rumaging through your hall closet and handing you a coat.  Your wife has come to see what’s going on, but no one will tell her as they drag you out the door.

Sound extreme?  Of course it does.  Whenever I hear people protesting on street corners that we live in a “Fascist state,” though, I want to tell them this story I made up.  True Fascist states, like Nazi Germany, did use school assignments as a way for children to tattle on their parents who didn’t belong to the governing party.  The fact that you can lead such a protest and not fear for your safety and that of your family is proof that we do not, in fact, live under a totalitarian government.

Study history, please, and use it as a reality check before you make such ridiculous accusations.

Finishing the first draft

June 13, 2011

“You gave up what?”

I’ve always been a “write when I can” type of writer. In other words, it took me a long time to get anything done. But back in January, I made a commitment to write every day that month. I was working on the first draft of the YA contemporary novel I’d started last summer, but had put on hold while I revised another book. This seemed like a great time to get the novel done. So I spent January through March committed to writing every day. And except for two or three days each month, it worked. I finished the rough draft the first week of April.

To accomplish that I needed to give up a few things—keeping up with the bills or the laundry—and I only vacuumed when there was so much dog hair that I could knit a sweater. If I knew how to knit. But I digress.

The more I wrote, the easier it was to keep writing. I discovered I could fit in more of those daily activities I had given up. Except for one thing. Reading.

Yes, I know how important it is for a fiction writer to read fiction. My reading in previous years had averaged a book a week. But somehow, I knew I shouldn’t read while working on my current book. I felt terrified that I’d be sucked into someone else’s great story and would feel more pull to read than to write. I only read whatever my critique partners sent me and snippets of published books to see how other writers handled things like point of view or transitions within chapters.

My to-be-read stack. (Not counting ebooks or books I still need to get.)

In those down times, the moments where I normally would have read fiction, I read magazines or watched TV or played four-deck Spider on my cell phone in an attempt to ruin my eyesight. I created new habits. There’s only one problem. I read two books in January as I started this process. It’s now June and I just started the novel I’ll review for the Damsels in August.

I lost the habit of reading. And that just won’t do. Yes, I’ll have to give up watching television shows that are new to me because I didn’t watch them during the spring. And perhaps watch only one episode of MI-5 or Battlestar Galactica a week. But it’ll be worth it. My to-be-read pile is currently a foot high—not counting ebooks—so I have plenty of books ready and waiting.

I have no idea if I’ll give up reading when I write my next book. I’ll have to see what feels right.  So tell me—have you ever given up reading to finish a draft? If not, what things have you given up?

Flashing Lights and Punch Cards

June 6, 2011

Sometimes I think we complain about the shortfalls of modern conveniences because we don’t know where they came from.  Everyone gets tired of their parents’ “We walked uphill both ways” stories, but when it comes to technology, it’s helpful sometimes to pause and think about the things we can do that we couldn’t before, even if it’s not perfect now.

Take, for instance, the personal computer.  Almost everyone has one nowadays.  In my house, we have four–a desktop, a netbook, a media center connected to our TV, and a home server my husband built just to see how one worked.  Oh, and my husband has a work laptop that lives part-time at our house.  And his Windows Phone 7 probably counts.  So that’s, what, six?  Geez!  And like almost everyone else I know, I in equal parts depend on these machines, love them for their immense capabilities, and loathe them for their failings:  “Stupid printer!  What do you mean you’re offline?  The world is over!  I can’t print a document emailed to me from across the country from a printer across the house!”

Wow!  If I really listen to myself, I should be amazed that all of that is even possible!  One of my favorite movies, Desk Set, is great for reminding me how far communication and information exchange has come since 1957.

Such a funny movie, and so many things that could be said about that ancient computer.  It takes up the whole room, for crying out loud!  All the flashing lights and random beeps are more like Star Trek than anything we use at work, home, or school today.  But Desk Set isn’t science fiction.  My dad-in-law was in college around this same time, studying electrical engineering.  His senior class took a field trip from Clemson University in South Carolina to Georgia Tech to see a computer much like this.  Why the long drive?  It was the nearest one.

The first programmable computer came out in 1936–though when I say “programmable,” it was probably comparable to a modern graphing calculator.  It wasn’t until twelve years later, in 1948, that you could store significant amounts of data without rewiring.  But even though you could store things, getting the information to the computer required paper cards filled with rows of punched holes, like Spencer Tracy displayed.  These had to be fed to a machine one at a time, and to retrieve said information, it had to be printed.  All that space and no screen!  Inventions such as the transistor and the integrated circuit (“the Chip,” forerunner to the modern microchip) allowed for smaller and smaller designs, and floppy disks and ethernet allowed exchanges of information without walking a piece of paper to another room.  And in 1981, the first computer actually labeled a “PC” came out, running the DOS operating system written by Microsoft, the company that twenty-five years later hired my husband to help plan Windows 7, an opperating system that would completely befuddle the users of Miss Emerak from the video.

So at least I don’t have to rewire the machine if I want to edit a chapter of my current novel.  And I don’t have to write my novel using a hole-punch.  But I can tell my grandchildren I remember floppy disks (the big ones that actually flopped) and the days before email when most computers were little islands unto themselves.  Maybe they’ll appreciate the microtablet chew-toys Grandpa Mike buys them for their first birthdays just a little bit more.

Winners of our “Catch-Up” Books

June 4, 2011

Megan has won The Friendship Doll and Audry has won Daughter of Winter. Congrats to both! I got some great author recommendations from this list! Please sent us your mailing addresses to damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Everyday from the Past: Bill

June 3, 2011

This is  a bill from the Civil and Municipal Engineer Office in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey for Sewage Purification from 1916!  I love this stuff!  1916!!!  That’s before World War 2!  In fact this bill was issues while World War 1 was going on, before the 1920s was in full swing!  It might be silly to get excited over these small and rather irrelevant documents, but this is history I’m holding in my hands I love it!  It excites me every time I look at these documents!