Review: 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![Top]
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![Top]
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.[Top]
Review: A Court of Mist and Fury
This is the second book in the Sarah J. Maas trilogy that began with A Court of Thorns and Roses. (Click HERE to read my review.) If you haven’t read the first one and plan to, stop reading now! There will be a few little spoilers in this review.
Feyre, having survived Amarantha and Under the Mountain, has paid a huge price to save Tamlin’s life, as well as the lives of the entire Fae realm. Although she is now High Fae herself and has some strong faerie powers (although she has no idea how strong yet), she cannot forget what she had to do to save her new people. She also has her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, to contend with. By the end of the novel, Feyre must decide what, and who, she wants, and if she is willing to harness her new powers to save the world again.
Even though I had been told that this book was even better than the first, I was hesitant, because sequels are just never as good. (Unless you’re Harry Potter.) I’m so glad I was wrong. Like A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury is slow to start, but after 100 pages or so (a drop in the bucket of an almost 700-page book) I couldn’t put it down. Just like the first book, I think this one is incorrectly categorized as YA, and if you like fantasy novels you’ll love this one. There are some formulaic plots going on here, but it doesn’t bother me. (We know we’re supposed to be rooting for Rhysand over Tamlin, we kind of know where it’s going end up, we just don’t know why. This novel really explores the why.) Formulas are fine if they’re done well, and Maas does a great job once again.
We get a lot more character development with Feyre, and a lot more with Rhysand. However, what’s different here from most other novels like this is that while we do have character development for both the female and male leads, their development is not dependent on each other. Whatever Feyre chooses to do with her powers and her future, you know she’s going to be making that decision by herself and for herself. Feyre is definitely not a princess in need of saving, and this book shows exactly why and how she can save herself, and not in an implausible way. This is what Disney princesses should be. (Without all the sexy bits.)
If you haven’t read this one, start now! The third book in the trilogy, A Court of Wings and Ruin, comes out May 2!