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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ARC Review: The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC via publisher

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it. 

Let me just start this review off by saying that The Lady Rogue was one of my most anticipated books for the entirety of 2019. Jenn Bennett is one of my all-time favorite authors (if not the favorite, I mean… just look at that drawing of me holding Starry Eyes below) and I basically devour everything that she ever writes. As much as it pains me to say it, The Lady Rogue and I did not click as much as I’d hoped.

Part of this, I think, is definitely me. It’s been a stressful few weeks in this household. Major life changes are coming and I’ve had very little time to read. I’ve been in the mood for something I can sit down and finish in one sitting, not a book that would take several hours of my time.

I picked this one up and put it right back down a few times in the past month because I just couldn’t get into it. But I threw this book in my backpack when I took a quick weekend trip to Tennessee, just on the off chance that I’d get a minute to read it, and ended up with a cancelled flight and, finally, a lot of time to read. And while it might have taken me several weeks to get into it, once I got into it, I finished it in a couple of hours.

All of this is to say that this is not a bad book. There is nothing inherently wrong with this book. And three stars is not a bad rating! It’s one of those it’s not you, it’s me kind of things.

I will explain.

First things first, what I liked. As always, I love Jenn Bennett’s writing style. She’s one of those writers that, once I get absorbed in the book, I can just go for hours without stopping. The action was steady, but never too much. I loved our main character, Theo, and her adventures traipsing around Europe in search of a mystical ring and her missing father.

Now, for what I wasn’t so sold on. I’ve spent a little bit of time sitting here thinking about why exactly I didn’t love this book as much as I’ve loved Jenn Bennett’s other work, and I think a lot of it comes down to the genre. I’ve had a hard time recently getting into this fantastical kind of adventure story recently (see The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy).

I also associate Jenn Bennett with cute contemporary romances (see Starry Eyes, Alex, Approximately, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, Serious Moonlight) and although there’s the barest hint of a romance here, it felt kind of like an afterthought. Huck was definitely my least favorite of Bennett’s love interests and I really struggled to feel any chemistry between him and Theo. But, again, romance isn’t really the point of this book. The adventure is the point, and I kept having to remind myself of that.

I think, all in all, that The Lady Rogue is a really well-written, really fun YA historical fantasy. If you go into it knowing that’s what it is and are prepared for it to be very different from Bennett’s previous work, you’ll probably enjoy it. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of her work, I can still appreciate the good writing and the good story, and I’m so excited to read whatever she comes up with next.


#arcaugust
#mm19: mode of transportation


Have you read The Lady Rogue? Is it on your TBR?
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: We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

A poignant, heartbreaking, and uplifting, story in the tradition of The Perks of Being a Wallflower about three friends coming-of-age in the early 1980s as they struggle to forge their own paths in the face of fear of the unknown.

Michael is content to live in the shadow of his best friends, James, an enigmatic teen performance artist who everyone wants and no one can have and Becky, who calls things as she sees them, while doing all she can to protect those she loves. His brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the house for being gay and laying low seems to be his only chance to avoid the same fate. 

To pass the time before graduation, Michael hangs out at The Echo where he can dance and forget about his father’s angry words, the pressures of school, and the looming threat of AIDS, a disease that everyone is talking about, but no one understands.

Then he meets Gabriel, a boy who actually sees him. A boy who, unlike seemingly everyone else in New York City, is interested in him and not James. And Michael has to decide what he’s willing to risk to be himself.

I’ll be honest and admit the the only reason I really requested an ARC of We Are Lost and Found was its cover. I was also pretty intrigued by the setting (New York City in the early 1980s) and the fact that this basically sounded like a YA version of Rent. Well, after reading it, I can say that it definitely isn’t YA Rent, although it was an interesting and well-written book.

So… we’ll start with the good. I loved Becky and James. They felt like they could really be my friends. I liked Michael’s complicated relationship with his brother. I pretty much love anything set in the 80s, so that was a definite plus for me too. I also thought that the book was really well-written.

Things I liked less were the lack of quotation marks throughout the book — it made it very difficult to determine who was talking, if anyone, and really pulled me out of the story — and what felt like a lack of plot. I mean, sure, it’s about a gay boy in 1980s NYC amid the AIDS crisis, but nothing huge happens.

The synopsis of this book compares it to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which, for once, is a pretty accurate comparison. I had the same problem with that book, so it might just be an issue of me not really connecting with this type of story.


Have you read We Are Lost and Found? Can you recommend any good books on this topic? Let’s talk in the comments!

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