Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.
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In Jacqueline, author Jacki Minniti tells a story she grew up hearing, about the real life Jacqueline Falna, a young girl in war-torn France following the Nazi’s invasion of her country. Jacqueline’s father is missing in action and believed to be dead. Struggling with her mother to survive on minimal rations, Jacqueline carries with her, the last note her father wrote her. In it, he tells her that he went off to fight so that she might know freedom one day. When Jacqueline and her friend, David, a Jewish boy who lives with his family upstairs, are out one day, the Nazis storm their apartment building and take the remainder of David’s family into custody. Jacqueline and her mother, under the nose of a Nazi sympathizer, alter David’s appearance. Thus, he spends the last of the war under their protection. Later, when the Americans arrive to liberate the French, Jacqueline makes a friend in Bernard, as she is convinced that he can help her to find her father. The truth she eventually discovers, although not what she’d hoped for, comes through Bernard who tells her that if he ever has a daughter one day, he will name her after Jacqueline. (The author is that daughter.)
Works about the everyday events of those living in war-torn Europe during the Nazi days can be difficult to read. Still, it is important that those stories are passed down. Jacki Minniti, in Jacqueline, offers middle graders a look into those days. Without getting too dark, she provides a fictional account, based on a real-life girl. With her struggles to remain safe, to find enough to eat, to avoid Nazi capture, and to continue to believe, Jacqueline is a role model for young readers, as she struggles to remain positive even while sacrificing for others.
Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite at www.ReadersFavorite.com.
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For those younger readers and their parents looking for a clean fantasy story based on Christian philosophy, Kristen Reed offers Eirwen’s Dream: Inside Snow White’s Sleeping Mind. Based loosely on the traditional fairytale of Snow White, Eirwen is to assume the throne upon the death of her father. Young, beautiful, and in love with Prince Roderick, she expects great things to come. But when her stepmother, Nerys, who is concerned there will no longer be a place for her, poisons Eirwen, she “awakens” in a faraway land, Edwig. There, Lawen befriends her. Together the two surmise that Eirwen may be the one awaited in Edwig—the one prophecy identifies as Snow White (which happens to be Eirwen’s parents’ childhood nickname for her, as well.) As trouble unfolds in the form of an evil Siren who kills beautiful young women to maintain her beauty and power, Eirwen, Lawen, and their newfound friends, seek to outfit Eirwen with the armor she will require to defeat the evil Siren and her reapers.
There is a growing desire for Christian fantasy reads—and the rules for the genre seem to be changing. In the case of Eirwen’s Dream, Reed pushes the boundaries a bit, in that she is not telling a story only of faith and redemption. Rather, she is portraying, through Eirwen’s journey, a series of principles that a believer endeavors to follow. When Eirwen masters each of them, she is provided with one of the elements of the armor of God (i.e, the “shield of faith,” the “helmet of salvation,” the “breastplate of righteousness,” and so forth). This story is unapologetically Christian in nature, including references to the Bible, to Jesus Christ, and to forgiveness and salvation. Thus, it hits all the points necessary for those looking for a story set in a fantasy world, with unreal creatures and elements of “magic,” while also promoting the Christian faith. Sure to be enjoyed by late-middle grade readers and up, Eirwen’s Dream is a well-written page-turner.
Thank you, NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and to review this work.
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It is odd that in all my reading of stories relating to WWII and the Holocaust, I was somehow unaware of the many Jews who, when they sought refuge from the Nazis in the 1930s, moved to Shanghai. Indeed more than 20,000 did so. It was during this time—1938 to be precise—that Lily’s family made their move to the city. At the time, Lily “marveled at how nice [her mother] looked, as if she was planning a dinner party and not an escape from their home.” In any case, Lily, along with her parents, her Oma, and some extended family, journeyed for weeks to arrive at one of the few places that at the time would offer safety to the Jews.
Sometime later, after Japan attached Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Shanghai, and the U.S. entered the war, the lives of the Jews in Shanghai changed drastically. In a manner similar to the ghettos that many Jews had sought to escape from in Europe, those in Shanghai were also left with little space, food, medication, or other life necessities.
Lily’s story is recommended for middle graders readers, despite the hardships and violence of which the author tells—and it is an important story, particularly given that much of the physical evidence of Jewish life in Shanghai during that period has already disappeared.
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I find it interesting when a young writer somehow manages to render a story with insightful accuracy as to issues of age and aging. Lincoln Cole has done precisely that, in his Literary Classics award-winning, Ripples Through Time. Cole offers up Calvin, a highly imperfect man who, having lost his wife of many years, is prepared to end it all. Calvin has difficulty getting around and is sorry about (if not regretful about) his current relationships with different members of his family, but he is nevertheless prepared to visit the graveyard where he can die at his wife’s freshly filled grave. Then Edward White—who in his young 50s, is “just a kid,” to Calvin—shows up at his door. Edward tells the old man he dropped by to see how he is doing. Calvin thinks, “I’m eight-one damn years old, broken, scared, and alone for the first time in nearly sixty years. What the hell kind of question is ‘how are you’?” In fact, Calvin is 83—but in many ways, these and other similar thoughts of his, set the stage for everything that transpires thereafter.
As Ripples Through Time progresses, the difficulties and pains of various family members come to light, as do some of the secrets they’ve stored over the years. Cole treats each with respect and compassion. Thus it is that, even while Calvin is in many ways not a highly “likeable” man, readers appreciate how his now-dead wife had influenced him to becoming a somewhat “better” man. They will also find a bud of healing begin at her funeral—and through it, may find healing in their own lives.
Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.
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Jane Guttman has taught incarcerated teens for decades. In Kids in Jail, she shares stories of some of the youth she has met over the years. Her approach is to take their thoughts and turn them into poem-type narratives. Thus, in Guttman’s own words, she has “used creative license in an effort to represent [particular students of hers] from . . . the countless youth who . . . endure these conditions.” In her words, she does this “not to speak for, but rather to give voice to, them, and to their experiences.” So, at times, Guttman shares the experience of a hopeful youth. (“See, I didn’t know when I was on the streets that I had gifts. I didn’t know. I learned about that in book club.”). Other times, she shares insight from one beyond hope. (“Not gonna be a teacher, or a dad or a doctor or firefighter, or tattoo artist. Gonna be an inmate.”) Guttman’s common theme is to illustrate the agony that many young ones contend with in the facilities in which they live, and the abusive manner in which some of the “professionals” responsible for them, approach their jobs. Essentially, she intends to present how necessary reform is to the current system, so that more youth do not fall victim to its cruelties and inadequacies.
The presentation Jane Guttman provides in Kids in Jail, is not scholarly in the sense of including information about statistics, or of what happens when/if a correctional officer is found to have crossed the line. (Indeed, I would have found such information very enlightening.) If a reader is looking to understand how frequent the events she tells of, occur, this is not the resource. But whether it is one youth that is hosed down, ignored while suicidal, or bullied by other youngsters at the behest of the “correctional officers,” or if it is thousands, it is too many. For this reason, Guttman’s attempts to advocate for improvement on behalf of her students is laudable—and it is done in a manner that I found, at times, hauntingly beautiful
Thank you, NetGalley for the opportunity to read and to review this work.
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Fragments of Isabella: A Memoir of Auschwitz, by Isabella Leitner
It is May 1944, Isabella’s birthday, when she, her mother, brother, and four sisters, along with the remaining Jews in a ghetto in Hungary, are removed and sent to Auschwitz. Immediately following their arrival at the camp, Isabella’s mother is marched to the gas chambers. Meanwhile, Isabella takes her mother’s advice into account. “I must stay on the ‘life’ side.” Then, somehow, the four sisters find one another. For months, they manage to survive, or as Isabella would say: “Together we will endure death. Even life.”
Isabella’s words add depth to the historical story of the Holocaust. Yes, the events she survived were significant, but her telling is poetic—macabre, but poetic. She asks, for example, “Even death is too good for a Jew?” These are the moments in reading Fragments of Isabella that burn into the mind of a reader. Likewise, the following advice she and her sisters received from their brother: “Listen to me. Listen! Eat whatever they give you. Eat. If they give you shit, eat shit. Because we must survive.” It was his dogged determination that allowed for him to survive six concentration camps. And it seems that determination was genetic, as the sisters realize that their staying alive is not just for themselves—it is for one another. “[B]ecause someone else expects you to.” But then, Isabella reasons, “[a]fter all, an hour of life is an hour of life.”
I think it was Isabella’s way of comparing two distinctly opposite ideas that so stuck with me. For example, she tells of how fire was used to warm the earth so that the Jewish slaves could dig in it, although they were not allowed near its heat. She says: “The fire, indeed, was necessary. We couldn’t dig the earth. It was frozen. It had to be heated up first. Keep the earth warm. Not the Jews.” Another example comes from when the sisters leave Auschwitz. Isabella says, “’Bye, Auschwitz. I will never see you again. I will always see you.”
Isabella and her sisters survive incredible brutality at Auschwitz, then another camp Thus it was that in the last days of the war, along their march to almost certain death, that they made a run for safety. Three of them made it—one, did not. Isabella is forever haunted by the fact that the one amongst them who was the strongest, never came home. But eventually—it is with the birth of her firstborn—Isabella sees new power. “Peter,” she says of her son, “has started the birth of the new six million. Mama, you did not die!”
I found this work profoundly insightful and deeply meaningful. Isabella’s words are sure to live on and on through these pages—and through the ages . . .
The lovely spring days are turning to summer, and we Quills are turning our attentions to the topic for this month, namely, what research do we do when writing, and how?
Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has thoughts to share with you . . .
"My name is Robin and I am a member of Researchers Anonymous…”
I blame it on my mother. I read a lot when I was a little girl. When I’d come across a word I didn’t know, I’d ask Mom what it meant. She invariably sent me to the dictionary.
A hundred years later (okay, not quite a hundred…) I find myself somewhat suspicious of her motivations. Did she actually (sometimes) not know the definition? Or was that just her way of making me an independent, curious wordie?
Either way, what happened was an addiction…
Read more here.
And here are my thoughts . . .
Every now and again I read a work with a glaring error that leaves me gritting my teeth. I recall one some time ago that mentioned a “sale” on a luxury item that I know well. You see, the item is one I would call my . . . vice. So I know the entire product line well—and I know that it is never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, on sale. Ever. There are no holiday sales, no back to school sales, no Mother’s Day sales—none. Ever. (Did I say “ever?”) Consequently, when I read the material, I had to call the author on it. If she was going to write about something of which she didn’t know, then she had to do her research. You know what? She was ever so grateful for the “head’s up.”
When we write, readers will allow us great flexibility—especially when we write fantasy. After all, the worlds we create are exactly what they say they are. But readers will most easily connect to the fantasy worlds we create if they share features in common with the “real” world. So, if the author’s story includes birds, and he mentions some minute characteristic of a bird’s wing—it would be wise for him to name that part correctly. Likewise, if he mentions a horse, a sword, or a plant, he will want to be certain he uses the correct jargon. These are just some of the many questions I’ve popped in as search queries of late.
In days of old, authors had to take notes of things that they would later go to a library to research. I can’t imagine how they kept things straight because I research constantly while I write. I am fortunate to have the Internet at my fingertips. And so it is that I always have a search window open on my desktop so that I can instantly seek the answer to any question I may have. Recently, I was looking for traditional herbs known to cause illness or even death. A quick search brought me many options—but they were not all equal. Would death be instant, or prolonged? Would it matter how much poison the character ingested? How would the victim react? Would his respiratory system fail? Would he foam at the mouth? Would his body jerk involuntarily? For my purposes, I needed to find a poison that would cause particular reactions. Sure, given that I was writing fantasy, I could have made one up—and I’ve done so—but if I was going to mention a real-world thing, I had to get it right.
There are also continual grammatical issues to review. For example, I confess that every time I use a form of either the verb, “to lay” (to put something down), or “to lie” (to rest or recline), I check with the grammar experts. I want to be certain . . .
These are just a few of the many examples of things an author researches on a regular basis.
How about you? How do you handle your research? Please share with us!