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Book Review: “Prisoner of Night and Fog” by Anne Blankman (ARC)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman 17668473

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: April 22
Genre: young adult, historical fiction
ISBN: 9780062278814
Goodreads: —
Rating: ★★★★★ 

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

Gretchen Müller’s father is considered a martyr for the National Socialist Party; he darted in front of Hitler and took the bullets. Since then, the Müller family is Hitler’s favorite, and he’s especially fond of Gretchen. She stands by his beliefs and hopes for a better Germany. But when Jewish reporter Daniel suggests her father was murdered, Gretchen’s world is turned upside-down. She watches her brother beat others mercilessly, makes connections between his behavior and Hitler’s, discovers incongruities in her father’s history, and pieces together Hitler’s darkest intentions for the Jews. Gretchen must face her most difficult decision of all: side with the people she’s been molded to hate, or follow a man intent on genocide.

When I began Prisoner of Night and Fog, I thought I would encounter a I’m-supposed-to-hate-you-but-I-love-you-anyway YA historical love story. That the only interesting thing was that it was set before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. I was completely wrong. This book is intense, a major psychological page-turner, with mystery, terror, and violence. Yes, there’s a romance, and the way it blooms is stunning — but this is first and foremost a third-party observation and psychological study on Hitler.

It was oddly thrilling to be in the mind of a young Nazi girl. Gretchen is afraid of her brother, but is most frightened of him when he beats people without guilt. She watches him beat a Jewish man, and is torn between wanting to save this “monster” she’s been trained to dislike, and wanting to turn the other way. She is shocked to find humanity in the Jew. And she’s bothered even more when she meets Daniel and finds that he does not have any tricks in seducing her, does not transfer viruses, does not turn into a monstrous creature. Hitler’s brainwashing went so deep into her mind that when she realizes on her own that the Jews are innocent humans, she feels terrible for believing in such horrors and supporting the Fuhrer. She’s on edge, uncomfortable, tip-toeing around the whole Party. But most of all, she’s iron-willed and determined to find out the truth about her father’s death, even if it means putting her and Daniel on the line.

There is plenty of fiction available for victims of  WWII. We have the perspectives of the women at home, from the soldiers across the world, from the Jews in the camps and in Siberia. But there are very few perspectives from the Nazi side, and even fewer from before the war when Hitler’s party was one of many attempting to take control of Germany. Gretchen’s independent transformation, coupled with the trust and understanding with Daniel, makes for a fascinating, frightening, and exciting read.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Balzer + Bray for review!


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Book Review: “Deception’s Princess” by Esther M. Friesner (ARC)

Deception’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner 17866944

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publishing Date: April 22
Genre: young adult, historical fiction
ISBN: 9780449818633
Goodreads:
Rating: ★★★★

Maeve, princess of Connacht, was born with her fists clenched. And it’s her spirit and courage that make Maeve her father’s favorite daughter. But once he becomes the High King, powerful men begin to circle–it’s easy to love the girl who brings her husband a kingdom.

Yet Maeve is more than a prize to be won, and she’s determined to win the right to decide her own fate. In the court’s deadly game of intrigue, she uses her wits to keep her father’s friends and enemies close–but not too close. When she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the son of a visiting druid, Maeve faces a brutal decision between her loyalty to her family and to her own heart.

Maeve’s life is over-exaggerated — for better or worse — in bards’ songs. Sure, she was a daring five-year-old when she chased after her father’s prized bull. Yes, she learned how to use weapons against threatening beasts. And it’s true she speaks her mind, in a witty, intelligent, and clever manner. But Maeve is a princess in first-century Ireland, and an independent, headstrong young woman is one to be feared or beaten down with a stick. She’s determined to find solid ground to stand up for herself and her beliefs without angering her father, upsetting the land’s most powerful druid, and crushing the druid’s son, a healer and master with creatures.

Maeve, like King Arthur, is based on threads of fact but mostly of mythical fiction. Her frustrations are understandable, and the men in her life are equally supportive as well as manipulative, protective, and controlling. She can see right through them, and plays their game by speaking only the truth and pointing out inaccuracies and falsehoods. She wants to help her father defend the land — thus her warrior skills — but also wants to be a compassionate healer — thus her lessons with the druid’s son Odran. Maeve is a force of nature, admirable and wonderful to behold, and it was a joy reading her mind.

What I loved most about this book was what Friesner was able to accomplish with so little recorded historical information at the time. Truly, the tales that lasted from Iron Age Ireland are the tales sung by bards and centuries later recorded in manuscripts. Like the game “telephone,” both in Maeve’s experience as well as in research, only a grain of truth can be found in the poems. Even with little research, Friesner managed to concoct a beautiful and rich tale of love, friendship, and compassion in this tumultuous age. I loved the feast scenes — so much laughter and joy — and the moments Odran and Maeve spent in the hut caring for the animals. Every moment circled back to a previous, an endless loop of past events impacting the present, and it was fun to make the connections. Even the dark moments of sexist frustration and political intrigue were scattered with light, sarcastic commentary in Maeve’s thoughts.

A fun read for anyone interested in ancient historical fiction, fierce young women, and awesome names you’ll need a pronunciation guide to get anywhere close to its actual sound.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Random House Books for Young Readers for review!


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Book Review: “The Geography of You and Me” by Jennifer E. Smith (ARC)

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith 18295852

Publisher: Poppy
Publishing Date: April 15
Genre: young adult, romance
ISBN: 9780316254779
Goodreads: —
Rating: 
★★★★★

Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

Two strangers’ lives change forever after getting stuck in an elevator in sweltering New York City summer heat in the middle of a black-out. Lucy, the youngest in her traveling, absent family, and Owen, new to the apartment building and grieving with his father the sudden death of his mother, end up spending the rest of the powerless day and night together, learning everything and nothing about one another. But when power is restored, their lives immediately change: Lucy’s family moves to Edinburgh and London, and Owen travels across the country with his father in search of employment and college options. As months pass and the distance between them widens, Lucy and Owen soon find that “home” doesn’t always mean a specific place: it can be a person.

Smith has a unique way of creating love stories out of travels and chance encounters. I loved The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and was thrilled to receive this. It certainly makes you wonder what sort of lasting imprint you’ve left on a complete stranger, with a look or comment or action. Imagine an extreme situation where you and that stranger were forced to be together for an extended time — how would this happenstance grow into friendship? Would you keep in touch, and how?

Lucy and Owen have a bit of an inside joke with postcards, sending them to one another throughout the novel. It began as a snarky comment, that people only send postcards out of politeness, and say “Wish you were here” when really the sender is probably functioning just fine without the sendee. But for these two, a postcard with a few lines means so much more. The wish is genuine. The thought and effort speaks volumes. It’s amazing how, having only been in the other’s presence for roughly four times in the novel, the love can seem so real despite the minimal communication and the vast distance. They see the other in everything, there’s a constant desire to turn to the other and share the excitement or sadness over an event, followed by a disappointment over the constant fact the other is not there. You’d think this desire would be exaggerated passion, “insta-love,” or some other hokey term — but it’s not. It’s like a crush you didn’t realize you had till you found yourself disappointed at the reality of a situation, and then begin to hope once more when a small hint is tossed your way.

It was wonderful to read Lucy’s adventures in Europe, to watch her build a relationship with her parents for the first time; to root for Owen and his father (and their stow-away turtle) on their trek across the country for employment, to witness them slowly emerge from their grief. The ways in which Lucy and Owen’s lives intersect are remarkable, further solidifying such a beautiful basis for a relationship.

Definitely a read for fans of Smith’s previous work, as well as Gayle Forman’s Just One Day and Just One Year. Enjoyable and touching.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Poppy for review!


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Advance Excitement at a Glance IV

arc posts

This year, in an effort to blog more, to become more involved with the blogging community, and to keep up with the latest publications, I thought I’d create a monthly post about the ARCs I’ve received. These ARCs will be read and reviewed a month prior to the publishing date. The Advance Excitement at a Glance posts will feature one or two (or more, depending on what happens this year) books to look forward to, and it will motivate me to keep my to-read list on track.

Last month, I read several ARCs, including Always Emily and Solsbury Hill (many more reviews are on their way, too! March was a busy reading month). This month is another jam-packed reading session, but I’m really excited about these two books in particular. Note the “lost” theme!

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Royally Lost by Angie Stanton
(HarperCollins, May 6)

Dragged on a family trip to Europe’s ancient cities, Becca wants nothing more than to go home. Trapped with her emotionally distant father, over-eager stepmother, and a brother who only wants to hook up with European hotties, Becca is miserable. That is until she meets Nikolai, a guy as mysterious as he is handsome. And she unknowingly finds herself with a runaway prince.

Becca has a difficult time enjoying a family vacation in Europe until she meets Nikolai, a prince who has fled his kingdom and enjoys a personal European tour undercover. But Becca’s vacation is ending soon, and Nikolai’s guards are constantly searching for him — what will they do?

Cute, light, fluffy, and European — I’m down for that! It sounds fun and adventurous.

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The Lovely and the Lost by Page Morgan
(Delacorte Press, May 13)

Ingrid and Gabby survived the Underneath. They saved their brother, Grayson, from a future of dark servitude and exposed a plot to undermine the Alliance. But danger still lurks in the streets of Paris, and the Dispossessed, perched on the city’s bridges and rooftops, might not be able to save their human wards this time.

I’m not even going to give a summary, because I know I’m going to love this book just as much as I loved the first. Oh, Luc. Gimme gimme gimme.

What books are you looking forward to in May? Got any ARCs you’d like to share the excitement over?

 

 


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Book Review: “Always Emily” by Michaela MacColl (ARC)

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl 18296048

Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publishing Date: April 8
Genre: young adult, historical fiction, mystery
ISBN: 9781452111742
Goodreads: —
Rating: 
★★★

Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle—before someone else gets killed.

Practical Charlotte and imaginative Emily may be two creative and artistic sisters, but their opinions and habits often clash in Haworth. They both notice their brother Branwell acting oddly — or, more so than usual — coinciding with their neighbor’s mysterious death. Soon Charlotte and Emily meet the neighbor’s son, a frightened woman, and a determined stranger on the moors, each with a different story that, eventually, influence the sisters’ writing and future success.

This review is battling two sets of opinions (ha, quite like these sisters!): one based off a Brontë fanatic and academic, and one based off a YA reader. As someone who has spent the last 10 years researching the Brontë family, reading their works, watching adaptations, and reading the occasional fictional account, I would have rated this with 1 star. Their lives were exaggerated and slightly misrepresented, and something about their father Patrick seemed off from all I’ve researched on him. Then again, the only true critic would be someone who befriended the real Brontës, and obviously they’re long gone.

As a YA reader, I could give this 4 stars. It’s a great introduction to the secluded family, to the minds of the authors of the strange and wild stories, to the gothic feel of the moors. The mystery is intriguing, the situations the sisters encounter are thrilling, and the growth between the sisters is beautiful to watch. Emily and Charlotte are given alternating chapters in their own POV, and I have to say Emily’s is most compelling. She’s given life and freedom, while Charlotte’s seems restrained. Maybe it’s an expression of their personalities, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the real Charlotte and it would’ve been great to read some more depth in her chapters. Something quite like Jane’s in Jane Eyre – restrained to others but inwardly flourishing.

For a cozy mystery set on the English moors in the 1830s, this is an entertaining read. Yet I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is a massive Brontë fan or scholar. It’s a good bridge for those new to the Brontës and their quiet yet turbulent lives.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Chronicle Books for review!


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Book Review: “Attachments” by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell 11547291

Publisher: Plume
Published: 2012
Genre: adult fiction
ISBN: 9780452297548
Goodreads: 3.97
Rating: ★★★★★

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories. By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say . . . ?

Lincoln O’Neill, fresh out of yet another master’s program and living at home with his mother, accepts a job offer as an internet security officer for the newspaper in preparation for Y2K. But what he thought would be an awesome job turns out to be a dull night job of reading people’s flagged emails and sending them warnings. But when Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder’s email chains are sent to him, he can’t help but be captivated by these women, their humor, their lives. Lincoln knows he’s gone too far — become too invested — when he realizes he’s falling in love with Beth.

Attachments touched me in so many ways. Lincoln’s sense of failure — of only knowing how to learn (and thus, the multiple degrees) and having to move back in with his parents — hits very close to home. Every 20-something these days has to face the hard truth and possibility of moving back in with parents for financial concerns, and that sense of “failure at life” is such a sad and depressing burden on the soul. You can feel Lincoln’s confusion, hopelessness, and sadness. But with his sister’s support, and his strange sense of connection to Beth and Jennifer, boosts him into trying new things, meeting new people, and improving his lifestyle. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

Similarly, Beth and Jennifer’s concerns are like any young woman’s. Pregnancy scares, boundary lines in relationships, jealousy of others getting married before you, work gossip, self-esteem issues, you name it and these women talk about it. I especially love the fact they give nicknames to their coworkers. You’re invested in their journeys just as much as Lincoln’s, and there’s absolutely nothing thrilling about it except for the fact it’s so real. This is life. And as humans, we want to hear others’ stories, even the mundane ones.

Rowell’s setting — right before and after the Y2K scare (which, looking back on it, cracks me up) — and writing style really make this a unique novel. Lincoln’s chapters follow Lincoln in the third person narrative. Beth and Jennifer’s email chains are exactly that: email chains, with time stamps, subject lines, and <>: and <>: indicators. Soon you develop your own image of them in your mind, a voice for each, and it’s exciting when Beth first sees Lincoln (and thus, a description!), and when Lincoln first sees Jennifer and Beth (more descriptions!). Again — true to life! It was fun flipping back and forth between these narratives because it drives the novel forward. You race through Lincoln’s chapter to see Beth and Jennifer again, and you race through Beth and Jennifer to get back to Lincoln. Clever, Rowell.

A fun book about the various life situations in early adulthood, with a light and hilarious office romance. Cute, adorable, heart-warming, a light at the end of the tunnel.


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Authors in the Flesh: Victoria Schwab, AC Gaughen, & Tiffany Schmidt

Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of hearing three great YA authors read from their books and meeting one in particular, Victoria “V. E.” Schwab!

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Children’s Book World of Haverford, PA, regularly hosts children’s and YA author events and signings. Tuesday night Schwab (The Archived, The Unbound, Viciousetc), A. C. “Annie” Gaughen (Scarlet, Lady Thief), and Tiffany Schmidt (Bright Before Sunrise, Send Me a Sign) gave us a brief synopsis of their latest books and then opened up the discussion to the floor. Instead of reading pre-selected passages, they asked us to choose between pages 1 and 100 and they would read a sentence (“My sentences are short!” –Schwab) or small passage from that page. Gaughen’s were steamy, Schmidt’s revealed sneak-peaks into the minds of two characters, and Schwab’s were philosophical.

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The best moments were when the authors became passionate about why they wrote these particular books. For Gaughen, it stemmed from a love of history, particularly Robin Hood lore and Eleanor of Aquitaine, of creating a fierce, frustrated, independent female character to take place of the poorly represented female of Hood lore. Schmidt wanted to debunk the whole “mean girl” high school hierarchy, that some of the popular girls are that way for being friendly, nice, people-pleasing. The issue lies in identity: if she’s too busy trying to make others comfortable, then who does she want to be? And Schwab’s inspiration stemmed from a desire to write about a hotel-turned-apartment building (setting 1) and a library of the dead (setting 2). The library of the dead came from her fear of death: that, as humans, we are composed of memories and experiences for a short period and then we disappear forever — unless these bodies filled with memories (Histories) are later stored for safe keeping. There’s a possibility for us to wake. Combine the two settings, and voila! rief introductions about their latest books and then opened up the floor for a game: rather than read a pre-selected passage, they wanted us to shout out a random number between 1 and 100 and they would read a sentence (“My sentences are short!” –Schwab) or small passage from that page number. Gaughen’s passages were filled with heavy breathing and sexy times (which we all enjoyed), Schmidt’s had a great selection of two perspectives stating their thoughts, and Schwab’s were existential and philosophical.

I also really enjoyed how fired up they got regarding female authors in the industry. There’s so much I can state on this – how degrading it feels when a male says, “I’m surprised how great you are in this genre even though you have lady parts,” etc etc — and it was clear they had a lot to say as well, but there’s only so much time in an evening. What are your thoughts? Particularly thriller and sci-fi/fantasy readers? Does it matter to you if a male or female wrote the book, and why/why not?

When it came time for signing, I went straight to Schwab and reminded her of my tweet from earlier that morning. She remembered and we immediately went on about YA Gothic, wanting to live in the UK, and her plans to move to Edinburgh for graduate school. She claims her degree has nothing to do with writing, but I suspect what she’ll study will seep into her already brilliant books.

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Final plug: when you see A Darker Shade of Magic in the future, note that what Schwab really wanted to call it was Pirates, Thieves, and Sadist Kings.

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