Briar Rose: A Rapid Fire Book Review

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (2015)

Briar RoseRebecca and her sisters were always fascinated by their grandmother’s stories. Especially Sleeping Beauty. Although her sisters eventually lost interest, Rebecca never did. Years later, when Gemma is dying, Rebecca is the one who sits and listens to her tales. Rebecca is the one who hears Gemma claim that she was Briar Rose. And it is Rebecca–now a twenty-three-year-old journalist–who will follow her grandmother’s claims from their home in the US to Poland.

Yolen delivers an unlikely retelling of Sleeping Beauty in this haunting novel that blends fact with fiction. The story of Sleeping Beauty weaves together with details of the Holocaust and the brutality and horrors suffered by so many in Nazi Concentration Camps.

Originally published in 1988, parts of this novel are dated with outmoded technology and pre-Internet research. The tense and tone of Briar Rose build distance into the story as well effectively keeping readers at a remove for most of the novel. Although ultimately a story with a happy ending, Briar Rose is also imbued with sadness from the beginning even as Gemma tells her Sleeping Beauty story in flashbacks.

This isn’t a story for everyone and not a conventional retelling although elements of Sleeping Beauty do come into play with Gemma’s history as Rebecca investigates it. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction or are interested in World War II.

Week in Review: November 22

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week was good. I can finally see the end in sight with a lot of my committee reading and I’m getting excited about being real with my TBR bookshelf at home and knocking out some books. It’s going to be awesome!

I’ve also been reading a lot of new picture books at work which has been a lot of fun. I hadn’t realized how much I missed reviewing them until I wrote up my review for The Wonderful Things You Will Be. So I’m trying to work that back into my regular posts.

This week I also got an amazing package from my Secret Sister AND thanks to her hints I FINALLY know who she is! So let it be known: Val from The Innocent Smiley is an absolute treasure and I am so glad we are getting to know each other this round. (I totally lucked out with all of the lovely ladies I’ve been paired with for this project.)

Yes, that is a Turkey hat. Yes a picture of me exists in that hat, but rather than share that let me just say that Aurora and Snow White have become fast friends at the library where they both live on my desk:

This week I read Never Never by Brianna Shrum and Beauty by Robin McKinley. Never Never was, sadly, not everything I thought it would be. Beauty, however, was excellent and I adored it. I really need to read more Robin McKinley ASAP.

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my November Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Library Life: High School Booktalks (I Am Princess X, The Scorpion Rules, The Game of Love and Death)

These are three booktalks I recently put together. They’re very similar to my review content but I thought I’d post them all here for reference anyway since I did shorten everything.

As always I pulled my booktalks from my reviews but this time I shortened them. It was an interesting exercise in seeing how much you can distill a plot summary (the answer is a lot!).

Feel free to use these to present to readers but PLEASE if you are posting them anywhere be sure to credit me and link back to this blog.

Here they are!

I am Princess X by Cherie PriestI Am Princess X by Cherie Priest: May and Libby created Princess X on the day they met in fifth grade. Libby drew Princess X while May wrote the stories. Together they made sure that Princess X became an indelible part of their childhood. That was before Libby and her mother died in a car crash. Now May is sixteen and looking at another long, lonely summer in Seattle. That is until she spots a Princess X sticker on the corner of a store window which leads her to where May finds a webcomic. In the comic, the princess’ story is eerily similar to Libby’s. And filled with clues only May recognizes. Which means that the only person who could have created the comic is May’s best friend–Libby–who is still alive and needs May’s help in I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest with illustrations by Kali Ciesemier.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin BowThe Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: Charged with saving humanity from itself, the powerful artificial intelligence Talis swiftly establishes a series of rules and initiatives to maintain peace. Oh, and he also takes over the world. Four hundred years later, Talis’s every word is recorded in the Utterances and some cultures believe he is a god. They might be right. Talis takes hostages to make clear the exact cost of any declaration of war. The Children of Peace are the heirs to thrones and ruling positions around the world. They are hostages living under the constant threat of execution. If war is declared the lives of both nation’s hostages are forfeit. Greta Gustafson Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a seventh generation hostage. She knows to follow the rules even with her country on the brink of war. Elián Palnik is a new hostage who refuses to accept any of the tenets of the Children of Peace, forcing Greta to question everything she believes and all of the rules as she struggles to save Elián and herself in The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha BrockenbroughThe Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough: Over lifetimes Love and Death have carefully chosen their players, rolled the dice, and waited for any opportunity to influence the Game in their favor. Death has always won. Always. But Love has faith in his latest player Henry Bishop. A white boy adopted by a wealthy family, Henry’s life is easy even in the midst of the Depression that still grips the United States in 1937. His bright future is assured thanks to his adoptive family. All he has to do is claim it. Even without the stakes of the Game and her role as Death’s player, Flora Saudade is an unlikely match for Henry. An African-American girl born just a few blocks from Henry, Flora supports herself as singer in Seattle’s nightclubs while she dreams of following in the footsteps of pilots like Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman. The odds, and the Game itself, are stacked against Henry and Flora. But with true love and free will at play maybe, just this once, anything will be possible in The Game of Love and Death (2015) by Martha Brockenbrough.

Birthmarked: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'BrienIn a future where the world has been baked dry and the Great Lakes are empty craters, sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone’s world is divided by the walls of the Enclave. The privileged few living inside the walls want for nothing; their lives the stuff of legend with decadence and comfort documented for all to admire at the Tvaltar.

Gaia Stone has always known that her place is outside the walls. The Enclave does not welcome people with scars or burns especially not when they are as visible as the one on Gaia’s face. Like her mother before her, Gaia works as a midwife helping the women in Western Sector 3 deliver their babies. Like her mother, Gaia also fills the baby quota each month by “advancing” a handful of newborns to live inside the Enclave walls.

It is only after her parents are arrested that Gaia begins to wonder about the true purpose of the baby quote and what else the Enclave might be hiding. Gaia knows she has to try to infiltrate the Enclave and rescue her parents no matter the risk in Birthmarked (2010) by Caragh M. O’Brien.

Birthmarked is O’Brien’s first novel and the start of her Birthmarked trilogy which continues with Prized and Promised.

Birthmarked is utterly engrossing and atmospheric. Readers are immediately drawn into Gaia’s world and the complex politics surrounding the Enclave. Third person narration and flashbacks to Gaia’s past lend an introspective quality to this otherwise taut narrative.

Gaia’s arc throughout the story is handled extremely well as she begins to learn more about the Enclave and the politics surrounding it. O’Brien expertly demonstrates Gaia’s growth as well as her changing attitudes throughout the novel.

Every detail in Birthmarked is thoughtfully placed within a complex world and intricate prose where even the vocabulary is often unique and the dialog simmers with unspoken chemistry. Although this novel starts a trilogy, it also offers a self-contained story that leaves room to ponder and to savor. Birthmarked is a fast-paced, vibrant book that is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Eve by Anna Carey, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Legend by Marie Lu, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

The Wonderful Things You Will Be: A Picture Book Review

“When you were too small

To tell me hello,

I knew you were someone

I wanted to know.


“For all of your tininess

Couldn’t disguise

A heart so enormous . . .

And wild . . .

And wise.”

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield MartinThe Wonderful Things You Will Be (2015) by Emily Winfield Martin is the rare picture book that truly has something for everyone. This thoughtful, quiet story imagines all of the things little ones (both babies and bigger kids) will grow up to be including creative and clever as well as brave and bold.

Martin’s rhyming text moves the narrative along with lyrical narration reminiscent of a poem or a lullaby. Although this book is an obvious choice for parents to read with their children, it can also work just as well in a story time program. The text is just a tad too long for a baby story time but I could see toddlers or school age children being drawn in by the bright colors and rhymes.

This picture book also add just the right touch of whimsy with subtle touches including children dressed as animals and other fantastical aspirations. Each page has ample white space for text combined with bright, colorful illustrations. The Wonderful Things You Will Be includes children from a variety of backgrounds as well as boys and girls. It also thoughtfully circumvents many gendered or cultural stereotypes to create sensitive depictions of each child.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a subtle, charming picture book sure to appeal to readers of all ages. A joy to read.

(Thanks to Stefani at Caught Read Handed for recommending this one to me!)

How to Be Brave: Blog Tour Q & A with E. Katherine Kottaras

E. Katherine Kottaras CREDIT Emily Mae MarieE. Katherine Kottaras is here today as part of the How to Be Brave Blog Tour. For the blog tour, I’m happy to share a Q & A provided to me by St. Martin’s so you can get to know about Kottaras and her debut novel.

You are also a yoga instructor and practitioner. How has this influenced your writing?

E. Katherine Kottaras (EKK): I am in my head, a lot. My yoga practice grounds me like nothing else. One definition of yoga is the linking of body and breath to focus the mind. I find that when I’m not doing my practice, I can’t focus and I become easily overwhelmed by my fears and my anxiety – and as a result, I can’t write. When I am doing my practice, I’m able to deal with those fears and those anxieties in a way that is healthy.

What was your path to publication? How long did it take you to write the book? Was this the first book you wrote or just the first one that got published?

EKK: I’ve been writing since I was four years old (strange little odes to Crystal Gayle’s, my favorite country singer of the ‘80s – oh how I wanted her hair). I wrote throughout high school via environmentally-themed zines that my friends and I Xeroxed and handed out to the entire school, as well as secret poetry written in journals stashed under my bed. Of course, there were all those papers for college and grad school. (I’m a freak because I love writing essays for school.)

However, I didn’t pursue creative writing seriously until I was 25 when I signed up for classes at UCLA. About seven years later after taking classes in short story, nonfiction, and YA, I finally decided to start submitting my work places – poetry, short stories, essays, etc. Around the same time, I decided to write a book. It’s YA paranormal, took me four years to write, and was rejected by absolutely every single agent I queried. Not even one request.

So, after a bit of soul-searching and some acceptance that perhaps this book wasn’t “the one,” I started over. I took some more classes through Litreactor where I started the book has eventually become HOW TO BE BRAVE. I’ve been extreeeeeemely lucky as the process has been fairly quick from initial draft to publication. Between beginning the book and publication, it will be a grand total of two years and nine months, which is actually quite amazing!

How do you address body image issues with your daughter? Was that part of the drive to write this book?

EKK: Absolutely. We talk a lot about how the media often “sells” a certain body type. .” I’ve shown her Photoshopping videos [click link to view] and we discuss, quite openly, how it’s unrealistic to try to change your body to meet the standards presented in magazines and on screens. I try to guide our conversation as a discussion, asking her questions about why she thinks the media represents women and girls in certain ways. We talk about how every body is beautiful, and that she is beautiful, just as she is.

Your protagonist, Georgia, lost her mother and is honoring her by completing her bucket list. How much of this premise was taken from your own experiences?

EKK: HOW TO BE BRAVE specifically started as a thought experiment to see what my relationship with my dad would have been like had my mom died first. As I started writing, Georgia became her own character with her own struggles.

What’s currently on your bucket list?

EKK: Here are a few things on my Do Everything Be Brave List:

  • Learn how to roller skate and/or ice skate without using the wall.
  • Ride my bike to yoga. (Bike lanes scare me!)
  • Hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (and all the way back up, I guess…)
  • Visit every continent (I’ve only been to two.)

Here are a few brave things I’ve done:

  • Flown down the largest zip-line in the continental U.S. despite my fear of heights. (and gave my eight-year old permission to do so as well.)
  • Paddle-boarded during high-wind season in Hawaii.
  • Fallen in love and stayed there for more than twenty years.
  • Become a writer. I tell my students everyday: it’s the scariest thing in the world.

Thank you to E. Katherine Kottaras and St. Martin Griffin for this great Q & A.

If you want to learn more about Kottaras and her book, you can visit her website.

Week in Review: November 15

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

My posting schedule got weird last week apparently so I had a whopping two posts. Oops.

This week I got some awesome book mail

and a giant nutcracker

Since nothing will ever top the nutcracker, I’ll leave you with that.

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my November Reading Tracker.

How was your week?