Today I’m honoured to be taking part in the blog tour for Patricia Murphy’s latest middle grade masterpiece, Leo’s War. Packed full of facts and juicy tidbits, this adventure into the Rome Escape Line is sure to capture the hearts and imaginations of readers of all ages.
Title: Leo’s War
Author: Patricia Murphy
Publisher: Poolbeg Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2018
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction, Children’s Fiction, WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction
Themes: Friendship, Family, Survival, War
My Rating: 4.5 / 5
It’s 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy. After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to save them. But he is no ordinary priest. Known as ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’, the Monsignor is the legendary organizer of the Rome Escape Line. Soon Leo is helping out with this secret network dedicated to saving the lives of escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Jews. But as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in on the network, can Leo and his sister stay out of his evil clutches?
What can I say about Leo’s War that hasn’t already been said during this tour? After all, it’s pretty darned amazing! Packed full of action, emotionally gripping, rooted in history, and a damned good story, this is the kind of book that will appeal to readers of all ages.
I loved how each character was crafted – distinct and with their quirks, yet entirely age appropriate. I was completely enamoured by Leo’s tenacity and spunk, and was won over for the depth of love and dedication that he had for his family. It was important to see those moments where he was human and weak, that it was okay to be frightened and to cry, and that he was often flying by the seat of his pants. I found the balance between his grit and the natural vulnerability of his age made him a really likeable and believable character – I only wish they didn’t have to dye his beautiful red hair! Regardless, Leo’s wit and humour were the perfect boyish counter to the ever awful actions of Spitler and Muscle-Weeny!
Ruby was another character that I found to be particularly well crafted. I adored her imagination and optimism despite the horrors of war, and love how she acted as Leo’s conscience and anchor despite being absent for much of the story. I think her Cerebral Palsy brings to light a lot of salient discussion points, especially how children treat other’s with differences and the lengths to which Hitler went to cleanse his master race.
And who could leave out Monsignor Hugh? He provided the perfect (no pun intended) father figure for Leo in the absence of his downed-fighter-pilot dad, and provided a distinctly good moral compass by which to navigate a turbulent time despite the means and opportunities to be lead astray. I appreciated his persistence in the belief that good will prevail and his willingness to help those being persecuted even at great personal costs. I did, however, question his willingness to use a young boy as a messenger in his schemes despite the fact that Leo wouldn’t have had it any other way.
And how can I talk about Leo’s War without talking about the writing? It was absolutely spot on! It took me a few chapters to put on my middle grade reading hat, but once that was firmly in place everything just seemed to click. The thoughts and actions were relatable and believable, atrocities were horrible but too graphic, and trials were serious but not insurmountable – ultimately this is the kind of book that I would actively be seeking to include in a school library! I appreciated how the vocabulary was at times challenging but never obtusely difficult, and how there was a sampling from several different languages (always with translations). Ane I really, REALLY loved Leo’s phonemic nicknames for the higher-ups in the war.
My only complaint is that Leo’s War is a little on the long side. At 403 pages it might scare away some more insecure readers. However, that does’t mean it isn’t an amazing choice for advanced readers during novels and lit circles – it just means that while I would want this sucker on my shelves, I might not be recommending it to those just finding their independent reading legs… For seasoned adult readers though this one is a heck yes!
Engaging, endearing, and utterly gripping this is the kind of book I wish I’d read more of as a kid. Murphy strikes a perfect balance between fact and fiction, terror and hope, as well as character building and action as to create an immersive experience that can be enjoyed by all. Would I recommend it? oh hells to the yes! Let us all read more books like these to prevent the likes of Spitler and Muscle-Weeny from ever leading the masses again.
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About The Author
Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.
She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels. Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities. Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.
Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University. She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.
Social Media Links
Many thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to join in this tour, and to Patricia Murphy for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.