ARC Review: The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Source: ARC via author/publisher

A powerful middle grade debut that weaves together folklore and history to tell the story of a girl finding her voice and the strength to use it during the final months of the Communist regime in Romania in 1989.

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published—right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

Once upon a time, something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.

From the first time I heard about this book, I was intrigued. A middle grade historical fiction novel set in Communist Romania? That’s a little different from what I usually read, and a little different from what I usually see floating around the book blogging world.

The thing is, I’ve been in kind of an extended reading slump for a few months now. It’s very rare that I want to pick up a book for more than a few minutes at a time, but this one had me hooked from the first page. Quite honestly, I probably could have finished it in one sitting if I hadn’t had other things to do.

So, where do I even start with this review? I guess, first, I’ll talk about Ileana and what a great heroine she was. Sure, she’s a great storyteller. But she’s also smart and perceptive and a little bit sassy, and above all, she’s a normal little girl. She makes mistakes and lives through the consequences. She questions the Communist government that she’s grown up in without it feeling forced or overly political. Her character growth over the course of this book is incredible and I was so, so proud of her by the end of the book.

The next thing I want to talk about is the story itself. I’ve never read a book quite like this before, and I think that was another thing that kept the pages turning. Not only was there the story of Ileana moving from the city to the country to (hopefully) escape the Romanian Securitate, but interspersed throughout the story are chapters of Romanian folktales, which I loved. Toward the end of the book, I actually got goosebumps reading about how everything played out.

As always, I want to avoid spoilers, so I’m going to cut myself off here. I’ll end by saying that this is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

J. Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school. When she’s not curled up with a book, Kramer loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games, and fostering kittens.

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Have you read The Story That Cannot Be Told? What are some of your favorite historical fiction books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Guest Post: The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (Playlist)

I am so excited to have J. Kasper Kramer here to share a playlist of songs that go along with her new book, The Story That Cannot Be Told. I absolutely loved this book and my review will be up later in the month.


Here’s a selection of songs that helped me write The Story That Cannot Be Told.

“Dear Reader” – Jason Graves (from Moss)

I’m a video game nerd, so a lot of the music I listen to comes from games. The entire soundtrack to Moss could be on this list. It’s absolutely perfect.

“Worth Fighting For” – Emily Hearn 

Not to get too spoiler-y, but this song, especially the chorus, makes me think of Ileana during some important moments in the novel, when she’s feeling hopeless but chooses to keep going.

“Childhood I” – Atrium Carceri

No exaggeration, I’ve probably listened to this (and “Childhood II”) on repeat for days at a time. It has a fantastic spooky fairytale feel, which is just right for some of the creepier moments in Story, like when Ileana’s traveling up the mountain to the village in the dark.

“Where Is Love Now” – Nickel Creek

Nickel Creek is a go-to favorite, and this song really captures how lost Ileana feels after a certain someone betrays her and sends her away.

“Owl’s Friend” – Alan Gogoll

This whole album felt right for Story in its happier, more light-hearted moments. It was hard to pick just one song, but “Owl’s Friend” feels like an appropriate choice. It makes me think of Ileana and Gabi hanging around together, not doing their homework.

“Endless Fragments of Time” – Deep Watch

Another song that played on repeat a lot. This one was the exact tone I needed for writing the fever dream, where Ileana travels to the monastery at the top of the world. 

“One Summer’s Day” – Joe Hisaishi (from Spirited Away

I’m a huge Ghibli fan, and I’m sure my writing is influenced by their movies. (Doesn’t Story’s cover even have a bit of a Miyazaki feel? I think that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.) You could probably pick any Ghibli score and fit it to something in one of my books, but this specific song makes me think of Gabi and Ileana at the end of the summer, when they share a special day together in the fields.

“Safe and Sound” – Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars

I found this song long before Story was even an idea in my head, but it fits really nicely. I like to imagine Mamaie or Tataie reassuring Ileana, perhaps when she’s sick or when she’s fearing for their safety and the safety of the village.

“Dream. Build. Repeat.” – Jim Guthrie and JJ Ipsen (from Planet Coaster)

This album is amazing. Another video game score for the win. “Dream. Build. Repeat.” makes me think of Ileana and Gabi enjoying nature and creating stories together.

“You Were Never Gone” – Hannah Ellis (from Teen Wolf)

I suppose this song fits best at the end of the novel, but I listened to it often while brainstorming for several important scenes—some which didn’t even make it into the final version of the novel. There’s something about the bittersweet lyrics and desperate buildup at the end that really helped me capture Ileana’s emotions.

“Snow Angels” – Thomas Bergersen and Two Steps from Hell

I found Two Steps from Hell over a decade ago, before they had much public music available, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. You likely know some of their songs from movie trailers. This one fits nicely in the scene where everyone steps outside Sanda’s house, a bit mesmerized, after being snowed in for quite some time.

“The Truth” – Fernando Velazquez (from A Monster Calls)

I absolutely adore this book, and though I always feel strange comparing my work to things I admire, Story also has difficult themes and some similar narrative structure, so including something from this score felt appropriate. I won’t spoil anything, but to me this song captures the emotion of several important moments for Ileana during and shortly after the novel’s climax.

“Light” – Sleeping at Last

If Tata was a singer—which he certainly isn’t—he would sing this song to Ileana at the end of my novel.

You can find the Spotify playlist here:


ABOUT THE BOOK

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
Links: Amazon • TBD • GoodreadsIndiebound
Publication Date: October 8, 2019

A powerful middle grade debut that weaves together folklore and history to tell the story of a girl finding her voice and the strength to use it during the final months of the Communist regime in Romania in 1989.

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published—right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

J. Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her debut novel, The Story That Cannot Be Told, is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster/Atheneum on October 8th. You can find her online at www.jkasperkramer.com and on Twitter @JKasperKramer.


Have you read The Story That Cannot Be Told? Do you love any of these songs?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There’s just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.

Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it’s really Laura Dean that’s the problem. Maybe it’s Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.

Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell bring to life a sweet and spirited tale of young love that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need.
 

I’m not sure what it was that drew me to Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. It might have been the cover. It might have been the catchy title. It might have been the references to a toxic relationship and strong friendship from the synopsis. Whatever it was, this book ended up being one of my most anticipated of 2019.

I’m usually a little bit scared to read my most anticipated books, but I got an email from my library that this was due back in three days, and when I went to renew it, I saw that there were already four more holds on it. I ended up reading it all in one sitting and loving it so, so, so much. I’m not sure that there was anything about this graphic novel that I did not love.

Let’s start with the characters.

Freddy could be any teenage girl. She’s in a relationship with a really popular, really cool girl. She can’t believe that she’s captured Laura Dean’s attention, so she just kind of goes along with the poor treatment she receives in the relationship. Regardless of what else is going on in her life, she’s expected to be there when Laura Dean wants her, but she’s also expected to be okay with it when Laura Dean decides, yet again, that the relationship isn’t quite doing it for her and she wants to break up. Freddy doesn’t necessarily like it that Laura Dean treats her like this, but she also isn’t necessarily looking for more from life.

Laura Dean is, as you might think, kind of self-centered and seemingly oblivious to the fact that she’s treating Freddy really unfairly. She’s very popular with a lot of friends, yet she’ll call Freddy in a panic asking her to come over because she’s found herself alone for ten minutes. I almost felt bad for her at some points in the book, but then I remembered that I’ve been the Freddy in that situation and lost all sympathy for her.

There are some great side characters as well, particularly Freddy’s best friend, Doodle. Doodle and Freddy struggle a bit with their friendship throughout the course of the book as Freddy abandons Doodle over and over again so that she can spend more time with Laura Dean. Their friendship, though, was one of my favorite things about this book. I loved how it showed that despite arguments and people behaving badly and whatever other drama is going on in their life, your true friends will be there for you when you need them.

On to the actual story.

The truth is, there isn’t a ton of plot in this graphic novel. It’s mostly about Freddy’s relationships, both with Laura Dean and with Doodle. Freddy is addressing an advice columnist for a lot of the book, which I thought was a really fun and interesting way to frame the story. I often find myself bored when I read a character-driven story like this, but in this case, it really worked.

The last thing to mention, since this is a graphic novel, is the art.

I loved the art. I think I need to find everything Rosemary Valero-O’Connell has ever illustrated and read it because everything, from the art style to the way the panels were framed to the color palette, was amazing. This was probably one of the best-illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever read, and I just want to read more books like this.

In the end, would I recommend this? 100% yes.


Have you read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me? What’s the last book that lived up to your (high) expectations? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
Series: Early Earth
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 20, 2016
Source: Purchased

In the tradition of The Arabian Nights, a beautifully illustrated tapestry of folk tales and myths about the secret legacy of female storytellers in an imagined medieval world.

In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle–and Cherry.

But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.

As intricate and richly imagined as the works of Chris Ware, and leavened with a dry wit that rivals Kate Beaton’s in Hark! A Vagrant, Isabel Greenberg’s One Hundred Nights of Hero will capture readers’ hearts and minds, taking them through a magical medieval world. 

You might remember me reviewing The Encyclopedia of Early Earth not too long ago. I ended up buying The One Hundred Nights of Hero since I enjoyed both the art style and the subtle humor in The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, and I was not disappointed.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero is the story of a young woman, Cherry, who is married to an evil man, Jerome, who bets a friend that he can’t seduce Cherry while Jerome is away. If his friend, Manfred, succeeds in seducing Cherry, Jerome is willing to give him both his castle and his wife. When Cherry finds out about the wager, she knows that Manfred will do everything in his power to sleep with her, including by force if necessary. Luckily, her maid, friend, and lover Hero is a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers and weaves stories, night after night, to keep Manfred distracted from the seduction.

I loved the larger story here, including the positive portrayal of a f/f relationship in a time when that was not accepted, but what I really adored were Hero’s stories. The stories were empowering, fantastical, and whimsical. The stories could be a bit quirky and a bit sassy at times, but everything balanced so well that I don’t really have any complaints.

I had initially thought I’d rate this four stars, but looking back… there’s nothing I didn’t like, so it turns out it’s a five.

#mm19: through the years


Have you read The One Hundred Nights of Hero? What about The Encyclopedia of Early Earth? Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC review: Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Source: ARC from BookCon

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

As soon as I saw this cover at BookCon, I knew that I needed to read this book. I made a beeline for the Lion Forge booth on day two of BookCon and was lucky enough to get a ticket for the ARC drop and signing.

This review is going to be very short because I feel like there’s very little that I can say about this one that doesn’t spoil at least something.

I loved the art style. I loved the characters. I loved the representation. The romance was adorable. There are some more fantastical aspects as well (one of the main characters being a werewolf, for example) that I felt were done really well. The family dynamics were also really great! I loved Nova’s grandmothers and how supportive they were.

I would absolutely recommend this graphic novel. It was just as amazing as I thought it would be. ❤

#mm19: diversify your reading


Have you read Mooncakes? What’s the last book you really loved? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini Review: Here by Richard McGuire

Here by Richard McGuire
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 4, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Here is Richard McGuire’s unique graphic novel based on the legendary 1989 comic strip of the same name.

Richard McGuire’s groundbreaking comic strip Here was published under Art Spiegelman’s editorship at RAW in 1989.

Built in six pages of interlocking panels, dated by year, it collapsed time and space to tell the story of the corner of a room – and its inhabitants – between the years 500,957,406,073 BC and 2313 AD.

The strip remains one of the most influential and widely discussed contributions to the medium, and it has now been developed, expanded and reimagined by the artist into this full-length, full-colour graphic novel – a must for any fan of the genre.

I feel like I’m starting a lot of reviews recently by saying, “I want to start off by saying…” but here I am again, starting by saying something. In the case of Here, it’s that I’m not reviewing this as a book, because there’s really not a story here. I’m reviewing this as an entertainment experience and a work of art. Because, the thing is, there are very few words in Here. This is a book about a room, or even a place in the world, over the course of billions of years.

It’s hard to put into words what exactly I thought about this book, mostly because I was so impressed that a room could tell a story without any set characters and with very little dialogue. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones where the same thing was happening in the room decades apart. I also loved the prehistoric scenes since they had some of the most beautiful artwork.

It’s rare for me to want to buy a graphic novel after I finish it, but this is one I’d love to have on my shelf.


Have you read Here? What’s the most unique book you’ve read recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Lost At Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Lost At Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 22, 2003
Source: Borrowed

Raleigh doesn’t have a soul. A cat stole it – at least that’s what she tells people – at least that’s what she would tell people if she told people anything. But that would mean talking to people, and the mere thought of social interaction is terrifying. How did such a shy teenage girl end up in a car with three of her hooligan classmates on a cross-country road trip? Being forced to interact with kids her own age is a new and alarming proposition for Raleigh, but maybe it’s just what she needs – or maybe it can help her find what she needs – or maybe it can help her to realize that what she needs has been with her all along. 

A couple years ago, I read the first volume of Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. I enjoyed it, just as I’d enjoyed its movie adaptation, but I kind of ignored everything else he’d written. Fast forward a few years and Lost At Sea showed up at my library. I walked by it a few times before finally deciding to take the jump to read it.

At the beginning, my feelings toward this graphic novel were something like, “Hmm, this is fine.” As it went on, though, I began to love it so much. I’m not even sure how to describe what I loved about this book because it kind of snuck up on me. It’s like I was reading it, enjoying it but not feeling any strong feelings, and then all of a sudden my heart was exploding with love.

This isn’t a cute graphic novel. It’s sad and emotional and it deals a lot with the struggles of growing up. Emotionally, Raleigh has a lot going on, which is revealed piece by piece as the book continues. I appreciated that none of what’s going on was terribly dramatic — it was relatable, coming across like a story that could be about almost any teenager.

I loved the writing, I loved the art, and I loved all of the cats. I loved Raleigh and her new friends, and I think this book single-handedly pulled me out of my post-BookCon slump.

Highly recommended if you’re looking for a good graphic novel.

#romanceopoly: library


Have you read Lost At Sea? Is it on your TBR?
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