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Review: Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More

Vietnam is like a huge jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit.

~ Ba Rose: My Years in Vietnam, 1968 – 1971

Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More*

From the publisher:

One of just a handful of women reporting on the Vietnam War, Kate Webb was captured by North Vietnamese troops and presumed dead—until she emerged from the jungle waving a piece of white parachute material after 23 days in captivity. Le Ly Hayslip enjoyed a peaceful early childhood in a Vietnamese farming village before war changed her life forever. Brutalized by all sides, she escaped to the United States, where she eventually founded two humanitarian organizations. Lynda Van Devanter was an idealistic young nurse in 1969 when a plane carrying her and 350 men landed in South Vietnam. Her harrowing experiences working in a combat zone hospital would later serve as inspiration for the TV series China Beach.

In these pages readers meet these and other brave women and girls who served in life-threatening roles as medics, journalists, resisters, and revolutionaries in the conflict in Vietnam. Author Kathryn J. Atwood presents a clear introduction to each of five chronological sections, guiding readers through the social and political turmoil that spanned two decades and the tenure of five US presidents. Each woman’s story unfolds in a suspenseful, engaging way, incorporating plentiful original source materials, quotes, and photographs. Resources for further study, source notes and a bibliography, and a helpful map and glossary round out this exploration of one of modern history’s most divisive wars, making it an invaluable addition to any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.

This book by Kathryn Atwood is part of the Women of Action series from Chicago Review Press.

Although I was very young at the time, I remember the Vietnam war. But I have a child’s memory of that war. We never learned about it in school because it wasn’t quite history yet. Certainly, we knew all about it, right?

Well, perhaps. Perhaps not. As I said, my view of it is filtered, just as my view of Desert Storm will always be filtered through the lens of riding in an M577 tracked vehicle, a pair of headphones on my head, as we bounced up and over the berm between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. What was everyone else doing? I have no idea.

I may never fill in those gaps, but I was amazed at how much I learned about the Vietnam war. One of the things I appreciated about this book was how it was organized into five parts. Each part covered significant events taking place during those years with corresponding stories:

  • Part 1 1945-1956: Ho Chi Minh’s Revolution
    Women’s stories: Xuan Phuong and Geneviève de Galard
  • Part II 1957-1964: Ngo Dinh Diem’s Civil War
    Women’s Stories: Le Ly Hayslip and Bobbi Hovis
  • Part III 1965-1968: Lyndon B. Johnson’s American War
    Women’s stories: Kay Wilhelmy Bauer, Jurate Kazickas, and Iris Mary Roser
  • Part IV 1969-1970: Richard M. Nixon’s “Peace”
    Women’s stories: Anne Koch, Dang Thuy Tram, and Lynda Van Devanter
  • Part V 1971-1975: Endings and Beginnings
    Women’s stories: Kate Webb, Joan Baez, Tracy Wood, and Kim Phuc

Reading the history in parts, followed by each woman’s story, allowed me to really get a sense for not only the big picture but how these big events impacted the lives of everyday women, from all walks of life and all sides of the conflict.

The prose is, as always with Kathryn’s books, accessible and a pleasure to read. Technically this is a young adult nonfiction book, but it’s such a great resource for anyone: writer, student, teacher, homeschooler, historian. Like other books in the series, this one includes extensive notes, bibliography, and one of my favorite features: the Learn More section at the end of each woman’s story.

You can purchase the book at many online retailers or directly from the publisher.

* I received a review copy of this book from Chicago Review Press.


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Review: Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

War can teach you so much about evil, and so much about good.
~ Zainab Salbi

Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival*

From the publisher:

Glamorous American singer Claire Phillips opened a nightclub in manila, using the earnings to secretly feed starving American POWs. She also began working as a spy, chatting up Japanese military men and passing their secrets along to local guerrilla resistance fighters. Australian Army nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, stationed in Singapore, then shipwrecked in the Dutch East Indies, became the sole survivor of a horrible massacre by Japanese soliders. She hid for days, tending to a seriously wounded British soldier while wounded herself. Humanitarian Elizabeth Choy lived the rest of her life hating war, though not her tormentors, after enduring six months of starvation and torture by the Japanese military police.

In these pages, readers will meet these and other courageous women and girls who risked their lives through their involvement in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Fifteen suspense-filled stories unfold across China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines, providing an inspiring reminder of womens’ and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history.

These women—whose stories span 1932 to 1945, the last year of the war—served in dangerous roles as spies, medics, journalists, resisters, and saboteurs. Seven of them were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese, enduring brutal conditions. Author Kathryn J. Atwood provides appropriate context and framing for teens 14 and up to grapple with these harsh realities of war. Discussion questions and a guide for further study assist readers and educators in learning about this important and often neglected period of history.

womenheroeswwiipacThis is the third Women Heroes book by Kathryn Atwood and part of the Women of Action series from Chicago Review Press.

To say I liked this book the best isn’t accurate. I enjoyed the first two immensely. I read a lot of World War I and World War II nonfiction. I majored in Russian in college, and along with that came a lot of Russian literature and history. So I was already familiar with a lot of the women presented in the first two books.

Ah, but this one? I’m a bit chagrined to admit it. This was fairly new territory for me. I haven’t done nearly as much reading about the Pacific theater as I have the European one. That’s about to change.

As with the other books, this one starts off with a chapter about how the war with Japan begun and provides a short, but excellent, historical overview. The volume ends with a wrap up that explains how the war ended and the consequences that followed (the Cold War).

In between? Fifteen riveting stories about women in the Pacific theater, from Australian nurses to Navy flight nurses to war photographers and citizens fighting for their countries. Each chapter highlights a woman hero and invites us to understand her struggle. Each chapter ends with a bibliography for further reading.

All the stories in this book are incredible, but I was struck in particular by the courage of the Philippine resistance.

This book along with the two others in the series make excellent resources for not only students, but teachers, writers, or anyone who wants to know more about the world wars but doesn’t know where to start.

Heroism is endurance for one moment more.
~ George F. Kennan

* I received a review copy of this book from Chicago Review Press.

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So … you want to read a bit about World War I?

So, I scanned my LibraryThing collection to see what I have read about World War I. It’s an eclectic mix. I did a fair amount of reading about World War I for the War Through the Generations challenge a few years back, and I’ve continued to read as books capture my interest.

Below are five of the nonfiction titles that I really enjoyed and recommend.

historyWWIhourWorld War One: History in an Hour (my short review here)

The title says it all. World War I, in about an hour, so you’re not getting a lot of detail.

But it’s a good starter book if you’re dipping your toes back into the events of this time.


toendTo End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (my review here) by Adam Hochschild

This was one of my favorites from the World War I reading challenge. The author uses one of my favorite techniques for presenting history: providing an overview and then showing us the individual lives of the pairs he follows in the narrative. This makes for both effective and riveting reading.

WWIwomenheroesWomen Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics

Yes, I just reviewed this one, which you can read here. I won’t say a whole lot about it, except that I highly recommend it.


ArabiaLawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson.

What Hochschild does for the Western front, Anderson does in the Middle East. Want to understand what happened during WWI in the Middle East? Want to understand what the heck is going on there today? This is your book. Anderson employs a similar style as Hochschild by following four principal figures (T.E. Lawrence among them, naturally) through the war years in the Middle East. Again, highly recommended.

RussiaThe Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.

A few years back, my son was fascinated by the end of the Romanov dynasty, the Russian Revolution, and in particular, if any of the Romanov children survived. I wish this book existed back then. This is young adult nonfiction, but it’s so engaging and informative, I recommend it to anyone who’d like to know more about the above.

For those in the crowd who have read extensively about the revolution and the Romanovs, you probably won’t pick up anything new. However, if you’re like me, and can read about these events over and over (and over) again, then I think you may enjoy this book as well. I know I did. Actually, it reminded me of all the topics I wanted to read more about that had simply slipped off my mental to-be-researched list.

There you go. Five books for the WWI centennial.

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Weekly writing check-in: the one with an Eagle Scout

EagleWell, it’s official, hardware and all. My son is now an Eagle Scout. He worked so hard for this, and the process had its ups and downs, to be sure. We’ll probably have a court of honor in a few months or so. But for now, we simply gaze upon the medal and pins–and that’s enough.

In other news, I managed about 3,000 words on the coffee ghost story. I worked through all the audio files for The Fine Art of Keeping Quiet. The Maze is done, and according to my dashboard, headed for retail (!).

Also, I wrote up a book review this week (see link below). And I may do another post in a bit to recap all the WWI books I’ve read in the past few years.

Writing Work:


  • Like Bread Loves Salt


  • Like Bread Loves Salt


  • None


  • None


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Review: Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics

Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics

By Kathryn J. Atwood
Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Summary from the publisher: 

WWIwomenheroesA commemoration of brave yet largely forgotten women who served in the First World War

In time for the 2014 centennial of the start of the Great War, this book brings to life the brave and often surprising exploits of 16 fascinating women from around the world who served their countries at a time when most of them didn’t even have the right to vote.

Readers meet 17-year-old Frenchwoman Emilienne Moreau, who assisted the Allies as a guide and set up a first-aid post in her home to attend to the wounded;

Russian peasant Maria Bochkareva, who joined the Imperial Russian Army by securing the personal permission of Tsar Nicholas II, was twice wounded in battle and decorated for bravery, and created and led the all-women combat unit the “Women’s Battalion of Death” on the eastern front; and American journalist Madeleine Zabriskie Doty, who risked her life to travel twice to Germany during the war in order to report back the truth, whatever the cost.

These and other suspense-filled stories of brave girls and women are told through the use of engaging narrative, dialogue, direct quotes, and document and diary excerpts to lend authenticity and immediacy.

Introductory material opens each section to provide solid historical context, and each profile includes informative sidebars and “Learn More” lists of relevant books and websites, making this a fabulous resource for students, teachers, parents, libraries, and homeschoolers.

Back in 2011, I read and reviewed Women Heroes of World War II: 26 stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance. A few months ago, the publisher contacted me and offered a copy of Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics. My only regret in saying yes is it’s taken me so long to post my review of this terrific book.

Like its counterpart, this book contains several true stories, all centering around women during World War I in the European theater. Its structure is similar. The book begins with an overview of the war and how it began. For the seasoned history buff, you won’t find anything new. However, the overview is easy to follow and will help anyone not familiar with why World War I started.

Also scattered throughout the women’s stories are sidebars of extra information that help put the stories and the era into perspective. World War I really represents the crumbling of an old era into our modern one. Sometimes that’s difficult for younger readers to understand (witness the outrage when my daughter learned how long it took for women to get the vote). One thing I appreciated about this book was how varied the women’s stories were. There were a few I was unfamiliar with, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading about WWI.

As with the WWII volume, each woman only gets a few pages, but like the first book, there’s an extensive bibliography and lists of resources for the budding historian. This book is a great starting place for your history report or possibly that historical fiction story you’ve been planning to write. (You have been planning to write one, haven’t you?)

These two books are part of the Women of Action series from Chicago Review Press, which I plan on reading through during the next several months. If you’re looking for accessible and meaty nonfiction about women’s involvement in World War I, I highly recommend this book.

Thanks to Chicago Review Press for providing a review copy of this book.

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2012 Reading Challenge wrap up


So last night I finished my last book for the War Through the Generations 2012 WWI reading challenge.

I read seven books in all, which is the most I’ve read for this challenge since I started doing it. I signed up for the “wade” level of 4 – 10 books, so I accomplished that quite comfortably. And I still have more WWI books I want to read. Even so, I plan to sign up for the 2013 challenge: The American Revolution.

It’s perfect timing since this spring, Kyra’s class does a huge unit on the American Revolution and we plan to do the reading challenge together.

To sum up 2012, here’s a quick overview (with links to some reviews) of the books I read:

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild (review here)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Fantastic middle grade novel that should appeal to adults as well. One of my favorite constructs–the story within a story. This one is on audio as well and would make a good summer road trip book.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

I discovered this one thanks to a Facebook post. Yes! Facebook! Good for something.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

WWI mystery. If you like the Maisie Dobbs series, this is a good choice for historical/WWI mysteries.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon (review here)

Not really connected to Downton Abbey, but still interesting.

World War One: History in an Hour by Rupert Colley (review here)

This book is exactly what it claims to be: a concise overview of World War I that you can read in an hour or so.

Not So Quiet … Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith

Interesting if ultimately tragic (what else could it be) story about female ambulance drivers on the Western Front in WWI. Helen Zenna Smith is a pseudonym for Evadne Price, who had an interesting and varied writing career. Read more about her on here on Wikipedia.


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World War One: History in an Hour ~ a short review for a short book

Book #6 for the War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge, which means I have thoroughly “waded” into the challenge–and feeling quite proud of myself.

World War One: History in an Hour is exactly what it claims to be: a concise overview of World War I that you can read in an hour (or so–I spent about an hour and a half reading). It is also a better book to read at the start of a WWI reading challenge, not closer to its end.

That being said, it’s a great place to start if you don’t have a passing familiarity with WWI, or haven’t done any serious reading on the topic since 11th grade world history. The narrative style is engaging, and the book itself is broken into sections, which makes it easy to set down and pick back up again. The author doesn’t go into any great depth, but again, that’s not this book’s purpose.

The book also includes short biographies of some of the major players in the war along with a timeline.

So, if you’re looking for an introduction, or need a quick read to round out this year’s challenge, you can’t go wrong with this one, especially if it continues to be free on Kindle.

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Review: Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz first caught my attention when it was offered on the War Through The Generations blog as a prize, one of three books generously donated by Macmillan Audio.

Alas, I did not win a copy of the book, but I went searching for it at my library. And there it was, in all its audio book glory. I put myself on the waitlist and hoped my turn would come up before the end of the year.

My turn did come up. And I’m happy to say it was worth the wait.

From Amazon:

Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South. Now, Midnight Rising portrays Brown’s uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.

Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America’s founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in 1859 he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy.

On October 17, the raiders seized Harpers Ferry, stunning the nation and prompting a counterattack led by Robert E. Lee. After Brown’s capture, his defiant eloquence galvanized the North and appalled the South, which considered Brown a terrorist. The raid also helped elect Abraham Lincoln, who later began to fulfill Brown’s dream with the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure he called “a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale.”

Tony Horwitz’s riveting book travels antebellum America to deliver both a taut historical drama and a telling portrait of a nation divided—a time that still resonates in ours.

The book covers John Brown’s life and provides enough information on those around him (of both personal and historic importance) that I came away with a better understanding of this single-minded man and the time in which he lived.

While I enjoyed the entire book, the section that covers the raid and the summer build-up to it were especially interesting. I was particularly taken by Annie Brown and the summer she spent in the company of her father and his men at the Kennedy farm in Maryland (not far from Harpers Ferry).

Annie and her sister-in-law Mary (wife of John’s son Oliver) spent the summer at the Kennedy farm as camouflage, to help make it look like a real working farm–because a group of men doing nothing but moving and hiding large crates looks suspicious.

I really enjoyed the camaraderie as described by the author between Annie and the men at Kennedy farm. There are hints (or at least, the author speculates) that among those killed at Harpers Ferry was a young man Annie had fallen in love with. (And there’s a novel in there, I’m sure. It ends tragically, of course.)

The above illustrates what I enjoyed about the book. The narrative is rich with historical detail, while at the same time, makes for compelling reading.

In all, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz is a detailed and fascinating look at a very important event in US history. I highly recommend it.


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Reading Recommendation: The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life*
By Ann Patchett
Publisher: Byliner

Summary from Amazon:

“The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write—and many of the people who do write—get lost.”

So writes Ann Patchett in “The Getaway Car”, a wry, wisdom-packed memoir of her life as a writer. Here, for the first time, one of America’s most celebrated authors (“State of Wonder”, “Bel Canto”, “Truth and Beauty”), talks at length about her literary career—the highs and the lows—and shares advice on the craft and art of writing. In this fascinating look at the development of a novelist, we meet Patchett’s mentors (Allan Gurganas, Grace Paley, Russell Banks), see where she made wrong turns (poetry), and learn how she gets the pages written (an unromantic process of pure hard work). Woven through engaging anecdotes from Patchett’s life are lessons about writing that offer an inside peek into the storytelling process and provide a blueprint for anyone wanting to give writing a serious try. The bestselling author gives pointers on everything from finding ideas to constructing a plot to combating writer’s block. More than that, she conveys the joys and rewards of a life spent reading and writing.

“What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God that you’re ever going to get,” she writes. “All of the decisions are yours. You decide when the sun comes up. You decide who gets to fall in love…”

This is a terrific, quick read that I recommend for anyone who wants to write or enjoys reading about writers and how they write. One thing that struck me is that Ann really emphasizes how much work writing is. I get a little tired of all the “let’s baby our muses” talk, the lighting of candles and playing of the just right music. Sit down and write already. Or as Ann puts it:

It turns out that the distance from head to hand, from wafting butterfly to entomological specimen, is achieved through regular, disciplined practice.

Yeah. She says it better than I do. Then there’s this:

Why is it that we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration?

And the Pièce de résistance:

Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master craft. If you want to write, practice writing.

Of course, it’s not all hard work for our Ann. Let’s visit the section where she acquires her agent. In summary: At twenty, Ann publishes her first short story in The Paris Review. An agent reads and calls soon after. Cue riding off into the sunset together.

Yes. I know. At this point, writers may want to do the reading equivalent of covering their ears and singing (off-key) “La, la, la, I can’t hear you.”

Because, really, all that’s missing from that scenario is Ricardo Montalban, resplendent in a white suit and pink, fruity drinks garnished with tiny, paper umbrellas. Ditto for the sale of her first book.

Even so, it’s clear the amount of work Ann put into that first book, and into her writing in general. Near the end of the piece, she writes about a period of time when she wasn’t writing and relates a bit of advice from musician friend: create a sign-in sheet and write down the time you start working (writing) and then the time you stop. Or as Ann puts it:

Time applied equaled work completed.

Sometimes this is a lesson we have to learn over and over again.

In brief, The Getaway Car is highly enjoyable and I recommend it to both writers and fans of Ann Patchett (bonus points if you happen to be both).

*Personal copy bought for my Kindle

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Review: Women Heroes of World War II

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue
By Kathryn J. Atwood
Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Summary from Amazon:

Noor Inayat Khan was the first female radio operator sent into occupied France and transferred crucial messages. Johtje Vos, a Dutch housewife, hid Jews in her home and repeatedly outsmarted the Gestapo. Law student Hannie Schaft became involved in the most dangerous resistance work–sabotage, weapons transference, and assassinations.

In these pages, young readers will meet these and many other similarly courageous women and girls who risked their lives to help defeat the Nazis.

Twenty-six engaging and suspense-filled stories unfold from across Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, and the United States, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history.

An overview of World War II and summaries of each country’s entrance and involvement in the war provide a framework for better understanding each woman’s unique circumstances, and resources for further learning follow each profile. Women Heroes of World War II is an invaluable addition to any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.

This is a terrific volume of stories, all centering around women during World War II, in the European theater. The book is classified as juvenile or YA nonfiction, but I found it very engaging. The prose is straightforward and accessible. I really think the book would work for middle grade on up. Take note, those doing projects on WWII–your search starts here. The bibliography is extensive.

If you’re a World War II buff, the overview of the war and each country’s involvement won’t tell you anything new. However, either as a reminder or as new information, these summaries help illustrate each woman’s circumstances and challenges during the war. Plus, there’s a glossary at the back of the book as well.

If there’s a downside to this volume it’s that each woman only gets a few pages of text. Since the book is only 272 pages, that’s to be expected. At the end of each segment, the author includes a list of additional resources on each woman, including memoirs, biographies, movies, and more. Plus, as I mentioned, there’s an extensive bibliography at the end of the book.

Engaging, easy to read, informative? Yes, yes, and yes. I recommend Women Heroes of World War II for both the budding and established history buff.


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