Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Borrowed

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.

But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

I’ve read a few of Holly Black’s books now and I think that I can safely say that I really enjoy her writing style. Her books are always really readable (or, in this case, listenable? is that a word? I’m a linguist and I just made it one) and Doll Bones is no exception. I found this book while scrolling through my library’s Overdrive and figured it would be the perfect book to listen to during Spooky Season.

I was pleasantly surprised that Doll Bones is about more than just, you know, the doll bones. More than anything else, it’s a coming-of-age story about Zach, who, along with his friends, loves crafting stories featuring his action figures, until his father decides he’s too old to play like that and throws out all of Zach’s toys. While Zach’s flat-out refusal to communicate with his friends about why exactly he wouldn’t be playing anymore was frustrating, I had to keep reminding myself that he’s literally twelve years old. I couldn’t expect him to act like an adult, and I don’t know many twelve year old boys who are tuned into their feelings enough to openly discuss them with their friends. (That said, I admittedly don’t know many twelve-year-olds in general.) There’s some really good commentary on what it means to grow up and how scary it can be.

Then there’s the actual spooky story about a bone doll made out of the bones of a little girl who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. A number of things happen that could be real or imagined, and it’s never really clarified, which just makes things spookier.

One small critique is that I don’t think the romance was even remotely necessary and I was a little bit disappointed to see it even factor in to the plot. I guess a few people had paired off when I was twelve years old, but it definitely wasn’t a big part of my middle school life. More than anything, I think that particular plot felt a little forced.

Overall, I think this was a really well-written middle grade book! As an adult, there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I really can’t hold that against the book since I’m far from its intended audience.

Previously: The Cruel PrinceThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown


Have you read Doll Bones? Can you recommend any spooky MG books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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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?
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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: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source: Purchased

PLACES, EVERYONE!

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Drama is one of those books that I’ve seen floating around the bookish universe a lot. I see it on blogs, I see it on Goodreads, and I see it on lists of frequently challenged books. When I found it at my library’s used bookstore for only $2, I figured I didn’t have much to lose by buying it. I read it over the course of about 45 minutes and while it was fine, I didn’t love it.

To be fair, I don’t read a ton of middle grade books, and especially middle grade graphic novels. I appreciated a lot of the themes in this book — being comfortable with yourself, the normalization of pre-teen gay and bisexual characters, and following your passions. As someone who did tech crew for several plays and musicals in high school, I enjoyed the fact that much of this book takes place behind-the-scenes at a middle school production.

That said… this book was just so dramatic. And I guess that’s to be expected. I mean, the title of the book is literally Drama. While I had expected play-related drama, I hadn’t expected so much romantic drama. The main character, Callie, is absolutely fixated on finding herself a boyfriend. She falls for multiple boys over the course of this 238-page book. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I expected that this story would be more about the play than about this seventh grader attempting to get a boyfriend.

Another thing that didn’t sit quite right with me was the insinuation that romantic relationships should be a big part of middle school. Time to get personal for a second — I didn’t go on my first date until I was sixteen years old, and I didn’t get into my first actual relationship until I was eighteen. One of the characters in this book is referred to as a “late bloomer” because, at twelve years old, he’s never had a girlfriend. Is that really considered abnormal now? I had to keep reminding myself that these characters are supposed to be pre-teens, because their romantic entanglements (and the responsibilities they’re given for the play!!) make them feel more like high school upperclassmen.

Overall, this book was a lot of fun to read, but the sheer amount of romantic drama kept me from rating it any higher than three stars.


Have you read Drama? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Sheets by Brenna Thummler
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 28, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen year old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.

Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.

When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Sometimes I get into these graphic novel moods and just can’t bring myself to read an actual novel. In those cases, I usually go to the library and check out whatever looks interesting. When I tried to go to the library a couple days ago, though, the whole entrance to the parking garage was blocked by a huge truck and all the street parking was taken. It put me in a bit of a mood, really, but then I remembered that hoopla is a thing and I was all good.

I had seen a number of positive reviews of this graphic novel, but I was still really surprised at how much I ended up liking it. I’m not usually the biggest fan of middle grade books, but this one was so well-done. It deals with a lot of heavy topics — death, grief, depression, bullying, loneliness — but it never feels heavy-handed or like it’s trying too hard.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this graphic novel was the use of color palettes! The majority of the book is illustrated in pink and blue pastels, but some memories, for example, are illustrated in yellow and orange, which I loved. I’m not even sure why I loved it, but I did.

The only two things that kept me from rating this higher were the pacing (it felt a little slow at times) and Mr. Saubertuck (who felt almost like a caricature of a villain). All in all, though, this was a really great debut. I see that the author has another book about Marjorie and Wendell coming out next year, and I can’t wait to read it.


Have you read Sheets? Can you recommend any similar books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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