Tag: 2017

Review: The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle

“Hitler must die.”

This review took awhile to write because I wanted to talk about all of the things I loved about the book. This is one of my favorites, and so far it’s my favorite read of 2017.

The events in The Women in the Castle are triggered by the real-life event of a group of resistance fighters attempting to assassinate Hitler in the throws of World War II. They fail, are caught and executed, and their families are left to pick up the pieces during and after the war. The book focuses on three widows in particular: Marianne, Benita, and Ania. Three women living together in a crumbling castle, all with vastly different personalities, all with secrets to keep, must learn how to navigate post-war Germany in the 1940s and beyond. All three are widows with children to care for and reputations that, even though they are known to be resistance widows, have taken a beating simply because they are German.

I love books about aftermath. (Remember Me Like This: A Novel comes to mind and is one of my all-time favorites.) Most books tell stories that occur during a disaster, or the time leading up to a disaster. This book does delve into what happened during the war for the three women, but only so we can see what happens to them, and why, after the war. What happens after a war ends and life is expected to go back to normal? Especially when there isn’t a legitimate normal to go back to. The book really focuses on how these three women not only survived World War II in Germany, but how they survived after the war. It is very interesting to see the aftermath of the war for Germans; people were expected to go on as if nothing had happened, and your neighbor, and perhaps yourself, hadn’t committed atrocities while you turned a blind eye. There was a lot of guilt and trying to bury the guilt.

The dichotomy between beauty and horror in this book is striking. The landscape, the women, even the crumbling castle, serve as the backdrop for the horrors of the Holocaust and its aftermath.

The Women in the Castle was a much heavier book than I expected, but in the best way. It is about post-World War II, but it delves into what happened during the war too, and the effects wartime actions had on “regular” people. It is a hard look at post-war life, which in some ways, for certain people, may have been more difficult than during the war, when roles and expectations were clearly defined. It’s one of those books that had me Googling that author and the subject matter the second I finished reading it because I wanted to know even more.

I highly, highly recommend The Women in the Castle! However you can get your hands on this book, get it.

There is a good, quick interview with the author, Jessica Shattuck, HERE.

TBA Review: Ada’s Violin

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Bluebonnet Author Site (with author and illustrator interviews, recycled orchestra activities, and links to videos of the Recycled Orchestra’s concerts)

The Recycled Orchestra Website

“Ada Rios grew up in a town made of trash.”

If that first line doesn’t get your or your kids’ attention, I don’t know what will.

There is a group of kids in Paraguay that live in, for, and because of trash. Daily life revolves around picking useful and saleable things from the heaps of trash dumped near their homes every day. Although the kids do attend school, they are usually told that the best they can hope for is to also become trash collectors. A few of these kids, and one amazing music teacher, decided that there had to be something else, and that art, even in a literal pile of garbage, was worth creating and maintaining. With the help of their families and teacher, the kids collected items from the garbage and made instruments. Real instruments that they have crafted and perfected to play each note perfectly on key. Even though finding the time and energy to not just make the instruments but then learn to play them, and then learn to play big musical pieces, was difficult, they persisted. Now the Recycled Orchestra tours the world and has even played with Metallica and Stevie Wonder. The money the Recycled Orchestra earns goes back to help pull their families out of slum living, and there are plans to help other kids living in landfills around the world.

The illustrations in Ada’s Violin are collage-style, to mimic the theme of making something from pieces of other things, and they really are beautiful.

This story is beyond inspiring. The kids in Cateura, Paraguay, made something from next to nothing, and they never gave up, despite having every reason to. Creating and making music gave them a sense of importance, and a sense of belonging in a world that hadn’t been very kind to them. It’s a beautiful narrative and a beautiful book. This is such an important story, and I hope more people learn about the Recycled Orchestra because of it. If you can’t get to the book, or want to know more about them RIGHT NOW, go check out all the videos of the Recycled Orchestra playing in concert. They are extremely talented, and their homemade instruments are amazing!


Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

A glass house in the middle of a forest, a group of friends and acquaintances, and a hen (bachelorette) party celebrating a beautiful, popular girl. What could go wrong? Author Ruth Ware (author of The Woman in Cabin 10) has written a compulsively readable thriller that I couldn’t put down. Leonora Shaw, a crime writer, is invited to the hen party of a school friend she hasn’t seen in ten years. She agrees to go, but an old memory keeps popping up, making her uncomfortable and heightening the odd things that keep happening in the house in the woods. Is her friend really the same person she used to be, or has she changed? Has Leonora really been able to move on from what happened so long ago? As the weekend goes on, the questions are answered, but even more come up as things get twisted and confused. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and that couldn’t be truer than in this novel.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is most definitely a thriller, but not gory or so scary that you won’t be able to read it at night. (Which I appreciate!) I love the way Ruth Ware tells a story, and I liked this book even more than The Woman in Cabin 10. (In fact, having read them in opposite publication order, I kind of feel like The Woman in Cabin 10 is the water-version of In a Dark, Dark Wood. Not a bad thing, just my observation.) The isolation of the house and the woods, and subsequently the guests, is wonderfully done and doesn’t feel contrived at all. I kept thinking of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None while reading this, as the atmosphere is very similar.

The characters are so well done, and while some are more likeable than others, unless you’re paying very close attention (and not completely swallowed up by the story like I was), you might not be able to guess what really happened until the end. My one caveat is that while I did like the characters for different reasons, I wasn’t really rooting for any one of them, even the main character. I just wanted to find out what really happened. There is some character development, but the novel is mostly plot-based. I’m ok with that since the writing was so good, and this is a thriller, not Jane Eyre.

I love a book that hooks me from the very first line, and this is one of those. It begins, “I am running.” So simple, and so effective. You’ll want to keep reading to find out why the narrator is running. If thrillers aren’t usually a genre you read, give this one a try! The story is great, and you might surprise yourself by becoming a fan! If this IS your genre, it should hold you over until Paula Hawkins’ new book, Into the Water: A Novel, is published on May 2!


TBA Review: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton     Illustrated by Don Tate

Bluebonnet Author Site (with an author interview, lots of cool information, and fun projects for kids related to the book)

This Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee is the first book I read from the list and it is so good! Do you know who invented the Super Soaker? I didn’t either, until I read this book. Chris Barton tells the story of a kid who wanted to be an inventor and actually grew up to be one, despite living through some difficulties that would get the best of us, including the racially-charged 1960s. His claim to fame may be the Super Soaker (and my 10-year-old self will always think that’s his coolest invention), but Lonnie Johnson also worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the United States Air Force. After reading this book (which has great illustrations as well), I couldn’t believe I had never heard of Johnson, and I immediately wanted to know more. (And as a bonus, both of my kids were riveted by the entire book, couldn’t believe the things he’d invented, and immediately started talking about what they wanted to invent.) I think any kid, or adult, would enjoy this book, and especially kids who enjoy building with Legos or like to invent things.


Texas Bluebonnet Award 2017-2018

The Texas Bluebonnet Award nominees for 2017-2018 are here! (They were actually here in November, but I’m just now getting around to them . . .) The Texas Bluebonnet Award (click HERE for the official website) is one of my favorites because kids vote for the winner. Each year, a selection committee chooses 20 books based on suggestions from librarians, kids, parents, and teachers, and the official list is announced at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. Throughout the year, eligible students in grades 3-6 must read (if they want to vote) at least 5 books, and then they vote for their favorite! Last year’s winner was Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.

If you want to check out the Bluebonnet Award website, it is HERE. Even if you’re not in Texas, you might get some good ideas for your or your kid’s next book. If you go HERE, you can see book trailers for each nominee, or go to the Texas Bluebonnet Award YouTube channel.

I love this award for two reasons. One, anything that encourages and rewards authors, especially authors of quality children’s books, is worth supporting. Two, this award encourages reading for kids. I volunteer at my kids’ school library, and every year I’ve managed to be there when the wonderful librarian announces the books to a few classes and shows them the book trailers. The kids are incredibly enthusiastic, many of them vowing to read all 20 books, and more than a few jumping up and down with excitement. If you didn’t know what was going on, you might think the librarian had announced that summer had come early this year and class was cancelled. All kids should be that excited about reading!

My goal is to fit in the 20 books by the end of the summer. Some of the books are shorter picture books, some are longer chapter novels, and all of them look interesting. I’ll post mini reviews here of each book as I read them. If you want to keep up with my reviews of these books, just select the Texas Bluebonnet Award category from the dropdown menu over on the right!


2016 WinnerRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

2017-2018 Nominees

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier

Little Cat’s Luck by Marion Dane Bauer

Lola Levine: Drama Queen by Monica Brown

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh

Soar by Joan Bauer

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Unidentified Suburban Objects by Mike Jung

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton