The premise of this book was promising—a story to teach children breathing techniques to handle strong emotions—and as an instructional aid it might very well be useful, however as a picture book, it doesn’t quite work. The story was overly simple and short for my 3.5 year old (“Mommy, where’s the rest?”), and the illustrations leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, this one was a miss for me.
Disclaimer: Received a free copy directly from the author.
A solid addition to the Raven Boys series. This book focuses more on Ronan and less on Blue/Adam/Gansey, which will disappoint some readers and enthrall others (I was in the latter camp). Compelling, well-written, and thought-provoking read, though violent at times. Can’t wait to read the next book!
Disclaimer: I received a free ARC through NetGalley
An engaging main character combined with detailed research and an incredible premise make this book by seasoned author Kathryn Lasky a stirring read. The book is about a teenaged girl named Lilo, whose family is taken prisoner by the Nazis along with other Sinti people in her neighborhood. Lilo is immediately separated from her beloved father, but she and her mother are chosen to be extras in a film by one of Hitler’s favorite filmmakers, Leni Riefenstahl. While on set, they are spared the full horrors of the concentration camps, but are still treated as prisoners while the glamorous (and amorous…) lives of the actors go on around them.
Based loosely on true events, this is not an easy read by any means (I was in tears at one point!) but it isn’t completely without hope. When I was finished with the book, I definitely wanted to learn more about Leni Riefenstahl and this strange history of prisoners being used as extras in film. So terrible and so fascinating.
I knew Erin Bow was a masterful writer after reading her last book, Plain Kate, so I was excited when I saw Sorrow’s Knot on NetGalley. Erin Bow is one of the most talented writers I’ve read. Her writing is lyrical and magical; every word sings a perfect note. I was captivated by this book from the very first chapter and if I’d only had the time to read the whole thing straight through, I would have.
The story is about a young girl named Otter who has the gift of binding, a powerful talent passed on from her mother. However, the power of binding—which involves the crafting of elaborate knots and patterns out of yarn—is a dangerous one, linked to the mysterious ghosts which plague her village. And so her mother, the village binder Willow, the most powerful binder in years, chooses not to train Otter. The consequences are devastating.
The story is haunting and intense, but at times, the writing is so poetic that it’s difficult to follow what precisely is happening (reminds me of Toni Morrison in that way). I was completely unable to picture any of the binds, or knots, which are important to the tale. And while the world building (which, hooray isn’t based on a European world) is vivid and well done, I sometimes found that the names (Otter, Willow, Thistle, etc). were a little confusing because most of them were two syllables. I also felt the story lost a little steam towards the end, but that was partially because I was tearing through the book to find out what was going to happen!
All in all, Sorrow’s Knot is a stunning, vivid, gorgeous read. One that will stay with you even after the book is closed.
What writers can look for in this book:
—fantasy (paranormal dare I say?) with a unique setting and fresh premise (see this post by Erin Bow on her research for this novel)
—complicated family relationships
—perfect, beautiful prose
Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from NetGalley (but I might actually buy myself a real copy)
What’s more frustrating then falling in love with a book at the library, and then discovering it’s no longer for sale? Arg! Preschooler Monkey absolutely LOVED this illustrated storybook. The illustrations are extremely cute, and the text is just the right amount of silly. I almost didn’t choose it because of its length, which is more appropriate perhaps for a slightly older child, but those adorable illustrations just sucked me in.
The story is about three witches named Zoe, Ziggy, and Zara, and their little mini-adventures around their town. The book opens with a Winnie-the-Pooh like map of the town and the chapters can each be read (mostly) independently of each other. Of course, preschooler monkey, never wants to read only one chapter, and the whole book is a little long to read out loud in one sitting (takes about half an hour), but it’s still fun even after the 10th or 11th time. So cute! Definitely worth requesting at the library (I also want to try to track down their other book, The Three Little Princesses which looks similar).
This is a simple wordless picture book about a dog and a ball. The dog loves the ball. Another dog pops the ball. The dog gets a new ball. It’s very simple, yet the images are so cute and lively. Preschooler monkey loved this book and actually had tears in her eyes when the ball popped, she was so into the story!
This is another wordless picture book, though a little more complex than the first one. Told in comic book style, the story is about a dog who chases a bug around his block, encountering more bugs and dogs in the process. The whole thing is a little bit silly, a little surreal, but for my preschooler, very fascinating.
Today on the blog, I’m excited to have a guest post by Anna Staniszewski, author of the hilarious My Very Unfairy Tale Life series. The last book in the series, My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending, comes out on November 5th, so pre-order your copy now!
Take it away, Anna!
Top Five Favorite Fairy Tales
1. East of the Sun, West of the Moon
This has been my favorite fairy tale for years. At first it seems like it’s going to be similar to Beauty and the Beast, but then it evolves into a story in which the heroine has to literally go to the ends of the earth to rescue her prince. When I first started writing My Very UnFairy Tale Life, this tale was very much in the back of my mind.
2. The Glass Mountain
I grew up with Polish fairy tales, and this was one of my favorites. The image of an impossible-to-climb glass mountain really stuck with me, so much so that it made an appearance in my second book, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail.
I’ve loved Cinderella since I was little for two reasons: the fact that she gets to wear pretty dresses, and the fact that she’s a regular girl who rises up to become extraordinary. In the final book in my series, My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending, I had a lot of fun (maybe a little too much fun!) turning this tale on its head.
4. Clever Gretel
Not a lot of people know this Grimms’ folk tale, but it’s a downright hilarious story about a mischievous and plucky heroine–my favorite!
5. Hansel and Gretel
Abandoned children and flesh-eating witches are pretty cool, but a house made out of candy? Yes, please! Confession: I may be a little bit of a sugar addict…
About the author:
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Stanszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma.
This book reads as an exploration of the brutal truth behind fairy tales. The novel is violent and fascinating, brutal and heart-rending, engrossing and, well, just plain gross. The story is told from several points-of-view, including a young aspiring seamstress, an African nursemaid, and the Queen herself, though much of the book is also written in an omniscient third person. It sounds confusing, and it is occasionally, but it works very well.
The author’s writing is intricate and beautiful. I loved the medieval Scandinavian setting–the author’s integration of her research is flawless, and I enjoyed reading about crazy medieval medical theories.
Once I got over the fact that this was categorized as YA, I enjoyed this book immensely. I think this is really an adult fantasy novel, classified as YA, perhaps to capture those (female) adult YA readers who read fantasy when it is labelled YA, but not when it is adult. However, due to the graphic and frankly disturbing (even for adults) content, I would be hard-pressed to give this as a gift to any teenagers that I know personally. From depictions of rape, venereal disease, failed abortions, and numerous beheadings, this book definitely isn’t for the weak at heart.
I’m very excited to have Kathryn Lasky on my blog today! Kathryn Lasky is a prolific author, having written everything from fiction to nonfiction for people of all ages. She has won numerous awards and has even had a book turned into a movie (Legends of the Guardians based on the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series). So you can bet I was excited to receive an email asking if I’d like to take part in the blog tour for her newest book, The Extra.
Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:
One ordinary afternoon, fifteen-year-old Lilo and her family are suddenly picked up by Hitler’s police and imprisoned as part of the “Gypsy plague.” Just when it seems certain that they will be headed to a labor camp, Lilo is chosen by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to work as a film extra. Life on the film set is a bizarre alternate reality. The surroundings are glamorous, but Lilo and the other extras are barely fed, closely guarded, and kept in a locked barn when not on the movie set. And the beautiful, charming Riefenstahl is always present, answering the slightest provocation with malice, flaunting the power to assign prisoners to life or death. Lilo takes matters into her own hands, effecting an escape and running for her life.
In this chilling but ultimately uplifting novel, Kathryn Lasky imagines the lives of the Gypsies who worked as extras for the real Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, giving readers a story of survival unlike any other.
Intriguing, right? I’ll review the book soon on my blog, but until then, here are three questions I asked the author and her fascinating responses:
There have been many wonderful YA novels written recently that take place during the Holocaust, but what a unique angle for this story! What was it about this particular story that drew you in and made you feel you had to write it?
I think what really caught my attention was that this is a story that fell between the cracks of history. It has, or at least for me had, that incredible ‘Oh Wow’ factor. I had been working on my book Ashes (Viking) that was set in Berlin in 1932 as Hitler rose to power. It was told from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl who is not Jewish. Anyhow I found in the course of my research this story about Leni Riefenstahl. Now I knew about Leni as a documentary filmmaker. I had seen her film Triumph of The Will that is truly the most brilliant propaganda film ever. I also knew that as an actress she had played roles in Arnold Fancke’s ‘Mountain Films’. But I never knew that she had directed, starred and produced a dramatic film herself until in my research for Ashes when I discovered this horrific story of how she went to the internment camps and selected extras from the Gypsy (Roma) prisoners. I based the main character Lilo on really two actual girls Rosa Winter and Anna Blach. Anna had been the stand-in for the horseback riding scenes. After I got over the ‘oh wow-ness’ of it all I think I was intrigued by Leni’s ability as an artist—and have no doubt about it, she was an extraordinarily talented filmmaker—and how her sense of aesthetics squares with her twisted view of humanity and her cruel treatment of people.
Many of your novels are historically inspired. How do you tackle research? Was there anything unique that you did for this particular project?
It seems to me that I have to re-invent the research wheel each time. But one of the first things I do, after I become vaguely familiar with the territory, is to make a chronology or timeline of the actual events that occurred during the time span of my novel or what I want to be the time span (it can change). Then I try to fit the narrative arc of the story around these time markers. I think of these markers like navigational buoys at sea—my husband and I do a lot of sailing. There was one thing unique to this book. I did watch several films of Leni’s including Tiefland the one in which the Roma extras were used and of course starred Leni. I really got a feel for her face, especially her eyes. But it was very difficult for me to watch those little Roma children when I knew that each night they had been locked up in a barn in the Tyrol of Austria and that many would die in the camps. You know the extras have come to be referred to as ‘film slaves’. But until 1949 very few people outside of film circles in Germany knew that this had occurred. The German magazine Revue uncovered the scandal in May. A hearing took place in November of that year with a few of the Roma extras in attendance as witnesses for the prosecution. The rest had had died in concentrations camps. Yes they were sent there after the filming had been interrupted including Anna Blach and Rosa Winter who were the sole surviving members of their families. Leni announced in court that she was determined to finish the film. At that time a lawyer for the prosecution asked “Do you really believe that there are people who will want to see a film when they know that some of your extras were gassed at Auschwitz?” She replied: “I didn’t have anyone gassed. That is outrageous.”
I have said that Leni was a very good filmmaker, however Tiefland although beautifully photographed is really a stupid movie. Leni couldn’t write. She couldn’t act. She couldn’t dance but she did have a very good eye.
I’m very intrigued by the names Lilo and Django. Is there a story behind how you chose the names?
There’s not really much of a story. I just read a lot of books about gypsies during the World War 2 and I saw the names that cropped up. There were a lot of Liliane’s and Lilianos and even more Eva’s and Henrietta’s. I thought that Liliane was very musical and that Lilo was a nice contraction yet still kept the music. Django was a pretty popular name amongst the Roma people. Perhaps it was because of the great guitarist Django Reinhardt. I’m not sure. I guess you could say that I had music on my mind when I picked the names.
Thank you, Kathryn, for taking the time to answer my questions. Readers, be sure to check it out–it comes out today!
The Boston Athenæum is a gorgeous historic library on Beacon Hill with a large collection of original artwork, manuscripts, and maps (they also have a children’s section). Here are some photos from my visit there this past week.
Unless otherwise stated in the post, all books that I review are either checked out from the library, borrowed from friends, or purchased by me (or for me as gifts from family). If I do accept an ARC (advance review copy) I will mention it in the post, and I will not write a flattering review if I do not think the work merits it.
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