Prisoner of Night and Fog

Hi everyone! Hope your week is going well. As you can probably see, today’s book Prisoner of Night and Fogis Prisoner of Night and Fog, written by debut author Anne Blankman. (I’m actually reading something on my summer reading list, yay!) Oh, did this give me a lot of feelings. Let’s get started, shall we?

(I had to fill up three pages in a composition notebook in order to get my thoughts somewhat organized about this. Let’s just hope it turns out coherent.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog is set in Munich, Germany, in the early 1930s–a tumultuous time, to say the least. Our heroine, Gretchen Müller, is described on the book’s flap as a “Nazi darling,” and it’s a pretty accurate term. Gretchen is the daughter of Klaus Müller, a man who threw himself in the path of gunfire to save Adolf Hitler’s life, sacrificing his own in the process. Now, Gretchen is part of her “Uncle Dolf’s” inner circle, fondly referred to by him as “my sunshine.” Her life is by no means perfect or glamorous, but it’s survivable.

And then a Jewish reporter named Daniel shows up and swiftly turns everything upside down.

Daniel believes that Gretchen’s father’s death was by no means the heroic sacrifice everyone has been led to believe–instead, Daniel thinks Gretchen’s father was murdered. Of course, Gretchen doesn’t want to believe this, but it soon becomes clear that Daniel’s claims may hold more truth than they did at first glance.

As the two investigate Klaus’s death, Gretchen finds her views on National Socialism changing, and discovers that Adolf Hitler isn’t the kind, indulgent “uncle” he’s always seemed to be.

This book seriously sucks you in. I felt fully immersed in Gretchen’s world, to the point where to stop reading felt like lifting your head out a thick, book-induced fog. Anne Blankman brings 1930s Munich to vibrant life, from the beer halls to the money struggles to the different flags of political parties sprinkled throughout the city. I could really envision Gretchen’s world as I read, and the research done was evident.

And I didn’t want to stop reading. Not only was I immersed, but I was also really invested, and I had had HAD to know what happened next. Taking a break seemed almost out of the question. “Oh, I should probably eat. . .oh, I should probably get dressed. . .oh, I think there’s someone trying to break into the house. . .” >keeps reading<

(Okay, so I’m exaggerating a LITTLE.)

Anyway.

Another thing about this book is that holy crap the stakes are HIGH. The reader can feel how dangerous Gretchen’s situation really is, and I felt myself getting tense and anxious several times while reading. Because not only does she have Nazis and freaking HITLER to deal with, there’s also her brother, Reinhard.

Reinhard kind of blew my mind; he is completely unlike any character I’ve read about before. Gretchen is capital-T terrified of him, and with good reason (I felt terrified a good number of times, too). Every scene he was in, I was waiting for him to go off, like a bomb. He’s such an intense character, possibly even more so than Hitler.

Speaking of characters, I really liked both Gretchen and Daniel (stay together forever please and thank you). Gretchen is brave and clever, and the author definitely brings her inner and outer struggles to life. Daniel is passionate and intelligent, and I was very struck by how fierce he is. He wants to discover the truth, no matter what happens.

And then. . .Hitler. One of the many words I would use to describe Prisoner of Night and Fog is “gutsy,” not least of all because of the inclusion of Hitler as a prominent character. Gretchen’s Uncle Dolf gives us Hitler in many different forms–the indulgent father figure, the fierce, manipulative politician, the horribly, horribly evil man and all his different facets. Dear god, my skin is crawling just thinking about it. I can’t even imagine attempting to write a character like this, but Blankman pulls it off with substantial talent. Seriously.

As for the plot, it was very well done as well. While I didn’t feel like there was as big an element of mystery as the synopsis might lead you to believe, it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the book itself. I felt like the culprit was somewhat obvious, but I also felt like it had to be that person; that they were the only person who would make sense, plot-wise. Overall, the plot is very well-written and original, just like everything else about the book.

Prisoner of Night and Fog stays with you long after finishing. I didn’t feel like I could start another book after I finished it, because I was still so invested in the characters and their struggles. I HAD to know what comes next, and I feel like I should still be reading it. I really, really loved this book guys. The writing is excellent–Anne Blankman certainly knows how to turn a phrase–and the plot and characters are as well. I need the sequel, badly.

I think that’s about it for today. If you’re interested in reading another review of this book, Gillian over at Writer of Wrongs published one here, and you can see the book trailer below. Hope you have a great rest of the week!

P.S. The Powell’s website still doesn’t have an image for this book, so if you want to buy it you can do so here (or purchase it from your closest indie bookstore!). Image credit goes to the author’s website, which is here.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “A cry hurled itself from Gretchen’s throat before she could snatch it back. ‘Don’t hurt him!’

She froze. What had she done?” —Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

To Be Read: Summer Edition

Hi everyone! It’s summer! A time for ice cream and beaches and getting sucked into books instead of doing your summer homework. And, despite the fact that it’s almost the end of July, this post is about what I want to read before school doors open once again (>muffled sobbing<). So, without further ado. . .

1. PrisPrisoner of Night and Fogoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

This book sounds unlike anything else I’ve read. It centers around Gretchen Müller, a seventeen-year-old living in pre-WWII Munich. Gretchen is a “Nazi darling,” as the book’s summary proclaims, but all her beliefs are challenged when she meets Daniel, a young Jewish reporter. After hearing great things about this and then spotting it at the library, I couldn’t resist. (Image credit goes to the author’s website, because the Powell’s Books website didn’t have any image for it, hmph.)

2. Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Guys! It’s the sequel! To Countdown! And it’s about Freedom Summer and it’s like if a scrapbook and a novel got together and had the best baby ever.

(Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I saw the Wishbone episode about it, I kid you not. Now that someone’s been kind enough to lend it to me for the summer, I really have no excuse. I just hope Catherine Morland gets out alive.

 

4. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

This book got a rave review from the awesome book blog Writer of Wrongs, and it sounds great. Lara Jean has a box of love letters, one for every boy she’s had a crush on. Of course, those letters have never been sent. . .until they are. And as if that doesn’t sound interesting enough, I really love that cover for some reason. Prettttyyy.

5. Everything in the Percy Jackson universe, by Rick Riordan

Yep. EVERYTHING. I haven’t read any of the Percy Jackson books in forever, or anything after the first two books in the series that comes after that, The Heroes of Olympus. Now that Heroes of Olympus is ending this fall, I figure I better get a move on. Will I finish all of them before the summer is out? No way. Let’s just hope I don’t get sucked into the Rick Riordan Vortex, never to return.

6. The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce

Yet another series I haven’t read in forever. One of these days, I’m just going to dive back into Alanna’s world of sword-fights and magic and everything else. You know, if my heart hasn’t been ripped out by Rick Riordan first.

 

I’m sure I could think of more books to add to this list if I tried, but I think I’d better stop here, before it grows to the length of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend, and with that I shall bid you adieu!

P.S. Any special books on your summer reading list?

P.P.S. I just finished rereading the novel The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, and as a result I am kind of a mess. It was like watching the “Doomsday” episode of Doctor Who all over again. HISTORY WHY YOU DO THIS TO ME.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” –Writer Jeannette Walls

 

10 Books You Should Read

Hi everybody! So a little while ago John Green made a YouTube video in which he recommended 18 books he thought viewers probably hadn’t read. Carrie Hope Fletcher did a similar video on her YouTube channel, too, and it looked like fun, so. . .

(These aren’t necessarily books you probably haven’t read; they’re more books that I think are fun/awesome/really good that more people might want to read.)

1. The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

OK, yes, I realize that this is a series, not a single book. But these books, guys. GAH. I’ve talked about The Name of the Star before, but I just recently finished its sequel, The Madness Underneath, and MY FEELINGS. WHY. WHY WITH THAT ENDING. Just. . .just WHY. Anyways, these books are terrific, and ever so slightly addictive, so I highly suggest you read them. Then we can cry together. (It may not be a good idea to read them right before bed, though. At least with The Name of the Star.)

2. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

If this book looks familiar, it’s probably because I’ve reviewed it before. Climbing the Stairs tells the story of Vidya, a fifteen-year-old living in India during WWII. Vidya’s country is going through a period of upheaval–protests are taking place, and people are refusing to accept the racist attitudes of the British that are occupying their country. Vidya herself has her own worries. She wants to go to college, but there’s also the possibility that she will be married off before she gets the chance. And then something terrible happens, and her family has to go live in the traditional home of their relatives, where men and women are separated by a forbidden flight of stairs. Padma Venkatraman’s writing is insanely good, as are her characters and plot. Plus, her new book, A Time to Dance, was just recently released. EXCITEMENT.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Oh, this book. Pranks. A boarding school. Basset hounds. Secret societies. It is SO GOOD.

Frankie Landau-Banks attends Alabaster Preparatory Academy, a boarding school in northern Massachusetts. Her freshman year wasn’t exactly illustrious, but this year is going to be different–especially when Frankie gets involved with the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all-male secret society to which she is not allowed to belong. But Frankie is smart (not to mention somewhat cunning), and then. . .stuff happens. It’s cleverly written and imaginative, and have I mentioned that I just CAN’T WAIT for E. Lockhart’s next book, We Were Liars? Yes, I know it comes out May 13th, but patience is NOT MY STRONG SUIT.

4. The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolyn Meyer

If I had to name my favorite writers of historical fiction, they would probably be Ann Rinaldi and Carolyn Meyer. Carolyn Meyer’s books are most likely what caused me to fall in love with reading about major figures of history, like Elizabeth I and Marie-Antoinette. Her books span years, taking the reader from her subjects’ childhoods to their adult years, encompassing betrayals, romances, and inheritances of various thrones. As you can probably tell, this one centers on Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Trust me when I say these books can suck you in. Meyer makes the characters come to life, and writes very, very well. I also love her quartet of books on various women of the Tudor family (starting with Patience, Princess Catherine), Loving Will Shakespeare (about Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway), and The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette. I admittedly didn’t really like Victoria Rebels all that much, but those previously mentioned I loved. (Review here.)

5. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Well, yes, technically this is a series. But STILL. The first book is Dealing with Dragons (earlier review here), in which the reader is introduced to Princess Cimorene, who is pretty sick of this whole roytaly thing. She’s not allowed to fence, she’s not allowed to learn magic, and all in all she finds it extremely dull. So dull, in fact, that she runs away to live with a dragon. The adventures of Cimorene and those she meets continue throughout the series, involving slimy wizards, troublesome knights, and cherries jubilee. Patricia C. Wrede writes cleverly and imaginatively, and I especially love Cimorene’s attitude. These were some of my favorite fantasy books when I was younger, and I very well may reread them someday. I think they’d be enjoyable at any age. (I also really like the book Wrede wrote with Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecilia. It’s set in Regency England. And there’s magic.)

6. Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes

I’m also thinking about rereading this, seeing as I first read it so long ago, and really, really liked it. Tortilla Sun tells the story of Izzy, who is spending the summer with her grandma in New Mexico while her Mom is doing research in Costa Rica. As Izzy explores the village and makes new friends, she learns more about her culture and her family, also while trying to solve the mystery of her father’s old baseball that reads simply, “Because. . .magic.” Jennifer Cervantes’s writing is truly awesome, and at the time I wondered why more people didn’t know about it. I’ll probably be checking it out again soon. 🙂 (Review here.)

7. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Okay, so I have mentioned this book numerous times. But if you have any interest at all in reading about an eleven-year-old girl living on a somewhat lonely estate in 1950s England, who also has an acute interest in chemistry and gets involved in solving murders quite a bit, then this is probably for you. Flavia de Luce loves chemistry, particularly poisons, and in the sprawling estate of Buckshaw that she shares with the rest of her family, that’s probably what she likes to deal with best. And then a dead man turns up on the doorstep, and things get exciting. Flavia has a great voice, and the plot and the characters are just as awesome. Not to mention the covers, man. Plus, it’s a SERIES.

8. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

If you haven’t read Walter Dean Myers, YOU ARE MISSING OUT. This is the first book I read by him, and it definitely shows why he was the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2012-2013. Monster centers around Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in jail for murder. The story is told through Steve’s journal entries, a script he’s writing for a movie, and the occasional photo, taking the reader through his trial. It’s striking and intelligent and imaginative, and just GO READ IT. AND BE ENLIGHTENED. Carmen is pretty amazing as well.(Review here.)

9. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

So you might have thought the amount of gushing I can do over this book had hit its limit. But apparently, nope! NEVER. Because this is probably one of the best books I have ever read. Told through the lives of a number of gay boys, and narrated from the perspective of the gay generation that came before them, Two Boys Kissing is filled with wonderful use of language and intenseness and beauty and ugly and just freaking read it GOD.

10. March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

I can’t believe I haven’t written a review of this yet, and I definitely need to get on that soon. March is a graphic novel about the civil rights movement, shown through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis, one of its foremost leaders. It takes the reader from his childhood to his older years, offering a remarkable and unique perspective on the movement and life during that time. Lewis is a great storyteller, and Nate Powell’s pictures add a whole new element to the book, which is probably one of the most striking ones I’ve ever read. It’s awesome and wonderful and you should READ IT. Now. And when does the next book come out?

So, there you have it. 10 books I think you should read. I suppose that’s it for today. And if you actually made it to the end of this gargantuan post, congratulations! It really just kept getting longer and longer. . .

Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely Friday! The weekend is almost here. Take heart.

Bookish Quotes of the Day: “There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away.” —There is no frigate like a book (1263) by Emily Dickinson

P.S. Also This Star Won’t Go Out. And absolutely any book by Gary D. Schmidt (because he’s amazing).

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Hi everyone! I have decided to stop being a lazy do-nothing for the day and post something. Yay for productivity!

The book of the day is Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, written by Elizabeth Kiem. Teenage Marina, the main character, has it pretty good. Her mother is the famous and talented Svetlana Dukovskaya, the Bolshoi Ballet’s most prized dancer. Marina herself is a student at the Bolshoi. Her family’s life in Moscow is comfortable and secure. But let’s be honest here–it’s sure not going to be secure for long.

Marina’s mother is not only a very special dancer, she’s also very special in another way–she has visions of the past. And when one of those visions involves an awful government cover-up, well, things get kind of complicated. Especially when Marina’s mother shows she has no intentions of keeping quiet about it.

After Svetlana suddenly vanishes, Marina and her father find a way to escape to Brooklyn, New York. It’s safer, but it’s definitely not easy. As they both try to adjust to their new lives, while attempting to find a way of saving Svetlana, the two find themselves becoming more and more entangled in the shady business they just wanted to get away from. Preferably alive.

Some of the things I really liked about this book were the little touches. The music Marina listened to, the neighborhood she frequented in New York…those were the bits of the story I really, really enjoyed. Sometimes I cared more about those than the plot itself. The setting, the atmosphere–these special little bits really added something lovely to the story.

The plot was good, if a bit confusing at times, because I didn’t quite understand what Marina was talking about. The characters were well-written and unique, so that was an obvious plus.

The writing was really nice. Marina, who is narrating the story, has a good voice, and I especially like the way she describes things. When she is talking about her dance shoes, she describes them as feeling “hard like rock music, pliant like drum skin.”

But in hindsight, the book was definitely fast-paced. So fast-paced, really, that sometimes I just didn’t really care very much about what was going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but I found that I wasn’t really very invested in what was happening. It was like whoosh, oh, that bit’s over now. Which is unfortunate, because I did like the book, and I did like the characters, and I feel that more could have been done with them, that more could have been added to the book overall. If the world Marina lived in had been expanded upon, I think I would have enjoyed reading about it to a greater extent. Or maybe that’s just me being greedy.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy it. The book was good. Not a huge page-turner, admittedly. But good!

Literary Quote of the Day: “I would like to appear at the party precisely as I see myself in the unlit theater of my windowpane. Silent, graceful, but ultimately not there.” –Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, by Elizabeth Kiem

P.S. I don’t know if I really made this clear in the review itself, but this is definitely a young adult or teen read. There’s violence, serious stuff…just so you know. Everyone have a great weekend!

Venom

Okay, me continuously apologizing for insanely late posts is probably getting old by now, so I’m just going to jump right in for once. . .

Today’s post is on the book Venom, written by debut Young Adult author Fiona Paul. Cassandra Caravello lives near Renaissance-era Venice, on San Domenico Island, with her elderly Aunt Agnese and a number of servants. And boy, is she restless.

The rest of Cass’s life seems to consist mostly of an engagement and marriage to Luca da Peraga, a young man studying in France whom she hasn’t seen in years. The future looks bland and frightening indeed, and Cass honestly isn’t really looking forward to it. At the moment, she doesn’t really feel like she HAS much of a life, period. Until, that is, she discovers the body of a strangled girl in the graveyard near her home. Then things change. Just a bit.

Suddenly, Cass is on the trail of a crazed murderer, along with Falco, a young artist who Cass feels more and more attracted to, despite the fact that he’s obviously keeping secrets of his own. And when you catch a boy sneaking around graves late at night, can you really trust him?

One thing’s for sure: This story is bursting with detail. It throws you into the world of Venice, complete with masquerade balls, politicians, gossiping nobles, and murky canal waters. It’s original, and the plot is often gripping. The characters are pretty unique, and while I was sometimes annoyed by them (including Cass), overall they were entertaining and well-written. Cass’s character may not be as original as some of the others, but for me it doesn’t really hurt the story as a whole. Even if the writing itself is occasionally less than great, most of it was definitely good and enjoyable.

All in all, Venom is a pretty good read, and I would definitely recommend it to Young Adult and mystery lovers. So, what about that sequel? 🙂 Everyone have a great day!

Literary Quote of the Day: “. . .evil flows silently among us like venom. We are at its mercy.” –The priest in Venom, by Fiona Paul

Revolution

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. . .such a good book! As in, it’s really good. It’s Revolution, written by Jennifer Donnelly, and the main character is Diandra Xenia Alpers, or just Andi. Andi has found herself a wreck for the last two years, ever since her brother Truman’s violent death–a death she blames herself for. Her parents are divorced, she’s popping antidepressant pills like chocolate chips, and, oh yeah, she’s about to be expelled from one of the most select and expensive schools in Brooklyn Heights. What a fabulous life! But things are about to get much more shaken up. Suddenly, Andi’s father appears, fully prepared to whisk her away to Paris for winter break with him so she can finish her outline for her senior thesis (or else). Obviously, this isn’t optional. But in Paris, Andi makes a discovery she didn’t expect–the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a teenage player who lived during the French Revolution. Her story is one of first poverty and ambition, but soon becomes danger-wrought and increasingly treacherous. Andi becomes more and more sucked into the diary, silently cheering Alex on, despite the fact that the events described took place 200 years ago. But one night, the past and the present merge, and the result is. . .well, slightly strange. Okay, a lot strange, and more than a little frightening. This book was, as I think I pointed out before, awesome. While it may be considered thick by some (“How do you read that?!”), and perhaps a little confusing, it’s well worth the effort. The plot is definitely done well, and the writing’s great. All in all, a solid young adult novel.      So. . .go buy it. I command thee!