Prisoner of Night and Fog – Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and FogTitle: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog, #1
Author: Anne Blankman
Published: Balzer + Bray, April 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

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?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

Given the history we all know about the Nazis and the Jews in the 1930s, I knew it would be almost impossible for me to feel merry or lighthearted when I picked up and read Prisoner of Night and Fog.  That didn’t mean I wouldn’t find the story enjoyable.  The whole time while reading it, I was eager to learn more about the characters (both real people and fictional characters), the dismal situation they were in as well as the wobbly nature of the social dynamics in Germany.  I wanted to find out why people chose to turn against one another when things could perhaps improve if they dropped their disagreement and I wanted to know why people were so desperate to believe in the evil gospel preached by a mad man.  I liked that the fictional family of the Müllers lent us a way to see the society up close,  giving us some idea of the probable cause of civil unrest as well as the pitiful nature of those who were in power.

In the story, the young Müllers, Reinhard and Gretchen, grew up believing that their father was the hero, the one who sacrificed himself to save Uncle Dolf (Hitler) in a riot.  They, especially Gretchen, looked up to Uncle Dolf and they wouldn’t dare to disobey anything said by him.  To everyone in the public, Gretchen was Dolf’s favorite pet, the perfect display to remind people why Hitler was a great leader – only a grateful man would adore and support the young ones of a dead comrade as his family, right?

I really enjoyed the premise and the setting of the story.  Things were introduced a little at a time and I didn’t feel overwhelmed by a plethoric of details all at once.  The personalities of the Müllers were quite distinct and I liked that the attitude of “women should listen to men” was brought up and examined.  It was a relief to see that Gretchen was not as delicate as she seemed, and I liked that even when she was unsettled by many of the things happening, she still did her best to find out the truth about her father’s death.

To be honest, I didn’t care much about the romance in the story.  Not that because it wasn’t sweet, but I was too engrossed by the tension going on among Gretchen, her family and Uncle Dolf that I almost skipped the romantic scenes just to get back to seeking out the secrets hidden by Dolf.  For me, the most interesting part of the story was the character development of Gretchen.  She could easily see herself as a victim but I liked that she chose a higher path to be a compassionate person who valued all living things with kindness.  I also liked that she didn’t give in to apathy even when she had to face deaths one after another.  My favorite scene was the one between her and her mother in the end – I think it was beautifully done - I was moved to tears when her mother pulled her in a hard embrace and then abruptly released her and walked away.

In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, I was thrilled to learn that there would be a sequel coming out in the future!  I’ll definitely look forward to reading more work written by Blankman.

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Fairy Tale Fortnight Giveaway Hop: April 22 – May 3

fairy-tale-giveaway-hop-2014

I’m joining the Fairy Tale Fortnight Giveaway Hop (April 22nd to May 3rd, 2014), hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer, The Book Rat & A Backwards Story.

For this giveaway, one person will win.  This person can pick one fairy-tale-themed book of his/her choice.

Of Beast and Beauty Towering Hero Heart's Blood The Unfairest of Them All Cress The Captive Maiden Cold Spell The Enchantress Returns Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin Ella Enchanted Strands of Bronze and Gold

The books listed above are just my suggestion. You can pick something outside of what I’m suggesting as long as the book is published by May 6, 2014 and it is a novel with a fairy tale theme or element.

This giveaway is open internationally, provided amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk or The Book Depository can ship the physical book to you.

Please read the terms and conditions before entering.  Winner will be picked before May 10.  Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Be sure to check out all the stops on the hop!

Guy In Real Life – Steve Brezenoff

Guy In Real LIfeTitle: Guy In Real Life
Author: Steve Brezenoff
Published: Balzer + Bray, May 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

From the acclaimed author of Brooklyn, Burning  comes Guy in Real Life, an achingly real and profoundly moving love story in the vein of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, about two Minnesota teens whose lives become intertwined through school, role-playing games, and a chance two-a.m. bike accident.

It is Labor Day weekend in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and boy and girl collide on a dark street at two thirty in the morning: Lesh, who wears black, listens to metal, and plays MMOs; Svetlana, who embroiders her skirts, listens to Björk and Berlioz, and dungeon masters her own RPG. They should pick themselves up, continue on their way, and never talk to each other again.

But they don’t.

This is a story of two people who do not belong in each other’s lives, who find each other at a time when they desperately need someone who doesn’t belong in their lives. A story of those moments when we act like people we aren’t in order to figure out who we are. A story of the roles we all play-at school, at home, with our friends, and without our friends-and the one person who might show us what lies underneath it all.

I am not a gamer.  I don’t play MMO.  I don’t do RPG.  I don’t listen to metal music.  I don’t sew.  But this book grabbed my attention.  Even when I had a gazillion things to do during the day, I managed to squeeze in a few minutes here and there, just to open the book and escape into the worlds of Lesh and Svetlana.  Their lives were very different from mine and yet I felt a deep connection with these characters.

It’s kind of hard to describe why I liked the story.  I guess part of it was because I didn’t exactly know where the story was taking me.  Two strangers collided.  Until the first day of school, they didn’t even know if they would ever meet again.  Lesh, a sixteen-year-old, was a sophomore.  He hadn’t tried many things in his life and was reluctant to be an obedient teen.  Svetlana, a senior, was a talented artist.  She knew what she didn’t want but felt somewhat trapped by the mundane transition to become a responsible adult.  They might seem to be from two different worlds but as the story progressed, I found that they weren’t that  different.  It was interesting to see their perspectives, their views towards their family members, their wants to be in their comfort zones, and their needs to get out of their disorderly ruts.

It might seem as though nothing much had happened in the story.  The ending didn’t offer a usual tone of finitude but as I closed the book and reflected on what I read, I actually liked the ending.  It gave off a nice contrast to all the elements that were given in the very beginning.  The characters had changed and I appreciated both the subtle and not-so-subtle thought-provoking moments.

What intrigued me the most was that I felt I had somehow changed just by reading the story.  I think Guy In Real Life  is a wonderful coming-of-age novel.  It’s not preachy.  The character dynamics are very well-developed, and I like that something unpredicted happened and ‘shocked me to my senses’.  I think I’ll remember this story for a very long time.

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A World Without Princes – Soman Chainani

A World Without PrincesTitle: A World Without Princes
Series: The School For Good And Evil, #2
Author: Soman Chainani
Published: HarperCollins, April 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

In the epic sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are home, living out their Ever After. But life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected.

When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending, she reopens the gates to the School for Good and Evil. But the world she and Sophie once knew has changed.

Witches and princesses, warlocks and princes are no longer enemies. New bonds are forming; old bonds are being shattered. But underneath this uneasy arrangement, a war is brewing and a dangerous enemy rises. As Agatha and Sophie battle to restore peace, an unexpected threat could destroy everything, and everyone, they love—and this time, it comes from within.

Soman Chainani has created a spectacular world that Newbery Medal-winning author Ann M. Martin calls, “a fairy tale like no other, complete with romance, magic, and humor that will keep you turning pages until the end.”

After the defeat of the School Master, Sophie and Agatha thought their lives would be back to normal. But everything changed when they each made a wish.  Could they still remain good friends and live their happily ever after?

I loved book one, The School for Good and Evil,  and so I was eager to find out what might be going on in this installment.  It was still a lot of fun reading about Sophie, Agatha and their friends but because things were grimmer in this book, I felt a bit uneasy as the girls struggled to stay true to their heartfelt desires.  The bond of friendship was not as strong as they once believed and it was sad but indisputably engrossing to see what the girls picked this time around to make up for the emptiness that they each felt after the victory they had in book one.

Both Sophie and Agatha learned a different side about themselves in this installment.  What I loved about this series was that the characters didn’t immediately become a better or worse version of themselves whenever they faced a new challenge.  They didn’t just overcome obstacles on the outside.  They had inner demons that they must fight and their characters gradually grew and changed through some quiet, self-reflective moments.  They might not learn from their mistakes right away but I guess this just made them more real and human to me.  And while the story structure was very similar to that of book one, I enjoyed the new spin on trial and adversity – there were quite a few tough moments and I liked that a new villain was introduced to make things even more complicated for the girls.

The story wasn’t purely plot-driven.  There were moments where human vices were mocked through humor and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the raw, witty sentiments expressed by the characters.  The ending felt a bit rushed and I was left frustrated as I still had a bunch of questions in my mind unanswered.  Bet I’ll just have to wait till the next installment comes out. *sigh*

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The Castle Behind Thorns – Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns Title: The Castle Behind Thorns
Author: Merrie Haskell
Published: Katherine Tegen Books, May 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

A magical adventure set in an enchanted castle that is sure to appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Shannon Hale

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn’t this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle’s astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints.

With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, Merrie Haskell’s The Castle Behind Thorns tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.

This story began with a boy named Sand waking up inside an abandoned castle.  Without knowing how he got inside the castle, Sand attempted to leave but the thorns surrounding the castle attacked him, making him feel irritated, annoyed and desolated.  With all exits blocked by thorns, could Sand manage to survive long enough before someone came and rescued him?

I was so glad that this story wasn’t about Sand waiting for people to come and get him out of a bad place.  Sand was in distress but he didn’t dwell in his bad moods.  He worked out ways to get himself food and water and he used his skills as a blacksmith to fix things up so that he had tools to help him survive.  I liked that he didn’t mind getting sweaty and dirty to do some hard work.  When he saw broken items, he didn’t just discard them.  He used his imagination and then turned these seemingly useless items into something useful.  I also liked that he was sensible.  He had a quiet determination to make the best out of his situation.  Even when there wasn’t much for him to feel appreciative about, I liked that he focused on the good and not the bad.

Perrotte, the lost heir of the castle, was a different story.  She carried a lot of rage and all she could think of was to punish those who had wronged her.  But with Sand patiently helping her get through her pain and sorrow, she started seeing life a little differently.  I liked how the growth of thorns was tied to her (and Sand) in its intricate way and it’s wonderful to see how Perrotte made her choice in the end to make the thorns go away.

Delightfully imaginative and beautifully written, The Castle Behind Thorns  is a story that offers good, profound messages for both kids and adults.  I think this one will soon become a favorite among libraries, schools and book clubs.  Look out for this title when it’s released in May 2014 – highly recommended!

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House Of Ivy & Sorrow – Natalie Whipple

House of Ivy & Sorrow Title: House Of Ivy & Sorrow
Author: Natalie Whipple
Published: HarperTeen, April 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.

Witchcraft is dark stuff and Josephine Hemlock knows it’s up to her to control magic or be consumed by it. When strangers start showing up in her town, Jo senses dark forces and danger. Is her mother’s killer finally making the fatal move to end the Hemlock bloodline?

I started reading this late at night and before I knew it, it was 5 in the morning.  House Of Ivy & Sorrow  was amazingly entertaining!  Almost everything about this book made me giggle – small-town setting, neighborly characters, hair-pulling spells – the ingredients used in conjuring spells were not meant for the faint of heart and I nervously laughed and winced whenever the witches gave up their nails, flesh and teeth to activate spells.  No wonder old witches all looked ragged, toothless and rotten!

I really liked that there wasn’t any battle between white magic and black magic.   In this story, all magic was dark.  Depends on the level of intention and control, magic could be wielded, directed to make a situation better (if the intention was good) or worse (if the intention was foul).   If the witch lacked control, she could be consumed by the darkness of magic and ultimately be destroyed.  Because there was always a price to be paid to call upon magic, Jo learned at a very young age that unless the benefits truly outweighed the price, she should never tap into the darkness.  I liked the brief explanation of why certain ingredients were used in a spell.  The symbolic meaning of these ingredients helped me see why Jo and her Nana were powerful but friendly witches as opposed to those nasty ones who simply aimed at stealing and destroying lives.  It’s disgusting to learn about those who lived to destroy but without them, I guess I wouldn’t see how Jo put herself in action and used what she knew to fight, give and create.

Remarkably entertaining, House Of Ivy & Sorrow  is a bizarrely addictive story not to be dismissed in my opinion.  Don’t let the cackling of a witch stop you from picking this one up – I hope you’ll have fun reading it as much as I did!

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