Genre: People & Places

ARC Review & Giveaway: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (2015) by Anne Blankman

ARC Review & Giveaway: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (2015) by Anne BlankmanConspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman
Published by Harper Collins on April 21st 2015
Genres: Death & Dying, Europe, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, People & Places, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 416

Acclaimed author Anne Blankman returns to the shadowy and dangerous world of 1930s Germany in this thrilling sequel to Prisoner of Night and Fog, perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler's inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives in England, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.But then Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen's world turns upside down. When she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she'd escaped—and return to her homeland. Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel's name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time—or will Hitler discover them first?

“Life is so short and so precious, and I don’t want to waste another second of it wondering how you feel about me or what’s going to become of us. I love you. If anything happened to you, the world would stop for me. I would want it to stop because I can’t go on without you.” (259-260)

What I Loved:

The History: Like Prisoner, Blankman researched A LOT for this sequel set in 1933. One thing I love about historical fiction is the history lesson that the reader receives while reading the book. This story was no exception, and though I read a lot of WWII-era books, this story is unique in that it is set in the 30s and is told from the perspective of a German who grew up in Hitler’s inner circle. That alone provides a fascinating dimension to the story, and I knew almost nothing about the real-life murder/conspiracy that Hitler’s thugs were involved with in Munich. The fact that I learned so much more about Hitler and this mysterious fire that actually happened drew me further into the book.

You don’t want to miss Blankman’s imagining of this “conspiracy” from Gretchen and Daniel’s perspectives. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of Winston Churchill in the story. This was a welcome addition to the narrative that solidified the fact that many individuals leading up to the war and during it, chose to take a stand for justice, even in the face of danger and death. Many of these individuals were honored for their roles (and books like this one as well as Code Name Verity have led me to acquire some nonfiction titles about those who played a role in the resistance during the war).

I loved that Blankman included an extensive afterword and shared info about what was real and what wasn’t. Extensive biographies in the back of books are my friends! I get very excited when I see these biographies. In my ARC, the biography begins on page 402 and continues to page 405.

Gretchen’s Bravery: German in the 1930s is a scary place for certain groups of people, especially someone that has defied Hitler and shared information about him that he never wanted revealed. That’s Gretchen Whitestone for you! Does that keep her from returning to German to follow he one she loves? Of course not! Gretchen’s bravery is revealed again and again in the story, and though I loved her as a character in Prisoner, that sentiment was only strengthened in the sequel.

I also appreciated watching Gretchen’s further working through of the tension between what she grew up hearing from Hitler about the Jews and Communists and what she thinks as an older and more experienced young woman.

Gretchen & Daniel: I appreciated the deeper glimpse into Daniel and Gretchen’s relationship—including its complexities and challenges. Things don’t always go well for them, and they have their ups and downs, like any relationship. However, they are brave enough to work through them, and as I mentioned earlier, Gretchen and Daniel will both go to great lengths for each other.

The Suspense: Just like Prisoner, Conspiracy featured several nail biting moments of suspense! This is one aspect of the book that kept me reading—there are definitely some moments in the book when you wonder, are these characters going to make it out of this? Though some readers might think it’s a little too providential that certain characters are saved, etc., the fact is that these kinds of providential situations did occur before, during, and after the war!

Who Should Read This Book:

If you read Prisoner of Night and Fog, you must make sure you’re in line to read the sequel. You won’t want to miss a moment of Gretchen and Daniels’ journey. By the end of Prisoner of Night and Fog, you assume everything will be fine—Gretchen and Daniel are together, and life can go on. But, you quickly realize that not all is as it should be in the beginning of Conspiracy, and once you start reading the book, be warned. You might not put it down until you discover how this new predicament of Gretchen and Daniel will work itself out.

Blankman provides flashbacks to remind readers of the first book, but I strongly recommend you read Prisoner first.

You know that I’m a great fan of historical fiction, especially Middle Grade, YA, and Adult fiction set during WWII. This is one of my new favorite YA series, and you’ll remember in my review of Prisoner of Night and Fog, that I read the first book in one afternoon for Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon. I remember being so excited about the release of Prisoner, so when I finally had my hands on a copy, I wanted to dive right in. Needless to say, Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of my favorite YA releases last year, and one of my favorite debuts.

When Danielle at Love at First Page offered to loan me her ARC, I was beyond excited and thankful! Later on, I received my own ARC of the book, which I so appreciated as this will be one I hang onto for a long time (Thank you, Heather Doss, of Harper!).

A Spiritual Illumination:

A clear desire for justice burns within Daniel—he makes it clear from the beginning of the book that he is willing to do almost anything to see justice win. Gretchen’s compassion and love for him also drives her to help him with this task of exonerating himself. To me, this was a clear spiritual aspect of the book—the desire for justice that is reflected in both Daniel and Gretchen. But also, there’s this idea of making sacrifices for love, and this is another spiritual aspect that stuck out to me in the book.

I loved the sequel to Prisoner of Night and Fog! What about you? Have you read it or are you planning to read it?

If you don’t have it yet, you can enter my giveaway to win a copy (US Only)!

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What Katie Read

Compassion & Love in 1930s Munich: Prisoner of Night and Fog (2014) by Anne Blankman

Compassion & Love in 1930s Munich: Prisoner of Night and Fog (2014) by Anne BlankmanPrisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
Published by Harper Collins on April 22nd 2014
Genres: Europe, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, People & Places, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 416

Suggested age range: 13 and up

The Book: Gretchen is living in 1930s Munich—a time of rapid change, uncertainty, and darkness. Though her father is dead and she misses him terribly, Gretchen goes to school and dreams of one day becoming a doctor. She is adored by her “Uncle Dolf”, a close family friend…who just happens to be Hitler. And he is growing in power. It isn’t until Gretchen receives a message from a Jewish reporter about her father’s death that she begins to question all she has been led to believe about Uncle Dolf and what is happening in Germany. What begins as a search for information about what happened to her father turns into a dangerous and risky adventure that will affect Gretchen and her family far more than she thought.

Spirituality in Prisoner of Night and Fog: One reason why I appreciate books set during World War II so much is because of the way these stories often illuminate the simple bravery, compassion, and love found within people. Though there is also the very real juxtaposition of the battle between good and evil in such stories, these books highlight how people make sacrifices for one another, sometimes even for people they don’t know, because it is simply “the right thing to do.” This story expertly depicts how a person might be raised with a particular worldview, but that perspective can either deepen or change as other viewpoints come into focus. Gretchen’s character reflects someone who desires to connect meaningfully with others, and is not afraid to go after what is right.

Who Should Read This Book: If you liked The Book Thief or Code Name Verity or just a good historical novel with intrigue, suspense, and some romance, you should certainly pick up this new release by Blankman. I read this in one afternoon, and was thinking about the book for several days afterwards. What would it have been like to be a family member or close friend of Hitler’s? From the first page, readers will be drawn into an exciting story set within a turbulent and significant time in history.

The Final Word: I loved this book! It was one of my highly anticipated releases by a debut author for 2014, and I was not disappointed. I read the book as part of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and I would have read it all in one day, even if I hadn’t participated in the read-a-thon. The pace of the story was perfect, and the development of Gretchen’s character was not too rushed. I was very interested in her as a character—Blankman has created a female protagonist whose story I am anxious to know about when the next installment is released.


What Katie Read

Sold into Slavery: Young Adult Literature and Social Justice

Sold into Slavery: Young Adult Literature and Social JusticeSold by Patricia McCormick
Published by Disney Electronic Content on July 10th 2010
Genres: Asia, Contemporary, Friendship, People & Places, Sexual Abuse, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 272

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family's crops, Lakshmi's stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at "Happiness House" full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.

Lakshmi is thirteen years old when she leaves her home in the mountains of Nepal, and travels to India, on the pretense that she will work as a maid in someone’s home. Her family desperately needs her support, so she willingly goes. What she does not know, however, is that her stepfather has sold her into prostitution, and after passing through various people, she finds herself owned by a woman who manages a brothel. Published in 2006, Sold by Patricia McCormick, tells Lakshmi’s story via a novel in verse.

The beautiful poetry depicts the harsh reality of Lakshmi’s story. Her life is no longer her own. She is trapped in a nightmare existence with other young girls like herself, and continually calculates how much money she makes each night, in order to pay the debt she owes the manager of the brothel. However, it is difficult for her to avoid despair, as the manager makes it virtually impossible for her to ever buy her freedom.

At least a year passes, and Lakshmi is presented with the possibility of escape: an American man arrives and asks if she is being held against her will, and if she would like to leave. It takes some more time, however, and another American, before Lakshmi understands that leaving “Happiness House” is an option. With the help of this American and authorities who have not been paid off by the brothel, Lakshmi is offered a chance at freedom. If you read this beautifully written novel in verse told from Lakshmi’s perspective as a thirteen and then fourteen year old, you will find out what happens in the conclusion. I can at least assure you that the end of the novel is hopeful and inspiring. I can also assure you that you won’t forget this book should you pick it up, and some of you may not put it down until you have turned the last page.

Patricia McCormick has written an intense and powerful story, depicting a very real social issue that readers, both young adult and adults, would do well to discuss. The novel creates a space for educational use that will be discussed in more depth in one of my (Catherine) “Educator’s Corner” blogs in the near future. Does the novel carry the potential to engage the spirituality of the reader? Certainly. In one way, this story can take the reader outside of herself/himself because of its highlighting an issue that is real and present in our world. In this way, some readers may close the book with a heightened awareness that motivates them to take action—to give finances to an organization or make others aware of this problem in our world. Additionally, by reading about a real issue through the lens of a young protagonist, readers’ empathetic literacy may be engaged due to the book’s ability to put the reader in the middle of the situation.

McCormick researched for the book by traveling to Nepal and India, and walking the route that young girls from Nepal travel every year, on their way to a life of prostitution in India. Many of the girls unknowingly walk into such a life. The reality is that each year 12,000 girls are sold by their families to brothels in India. Some are sold for as little as three hundred dollars. McCormick interviewed girls that had been rescued from sex slavery, as well as the aid workers who labor to help such young women. McCormick found that many of the survivors share their stories, and work to help make other families and girls aware of what happens when young girls leave their homes for India, with the offer of jobs.

Though I was aware of this issue before encountering the book, reading this powerful novel in verse from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl illuminated the tragedy of human trafficking even more strongly. Perhaps that is why I feel strongly about recommending this novel to readers both young and old. Books like this CAN motivate people to take action. To tell others. To find organizations that are putting into action what they preach about rescuing girls out of trafficking.

Words are powerful. Words can change the world. History has shown us this time and time again. Perhaps such books as Sold can bring about change, one reader at a time.

After reading McCormick’s story, I am thinking about the power of readers to affect the world around them as a response to the story they have encountered. This is significant, even if that action is as simple as passing the book along to someone else. It is possible that the “someone else” is a person who does have influence and resources available to participate in helping to end human slavery somewhere around the world. I think about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and how a book can awaken society to an issue, thereby offering them an opportunity to step into the conversation about how to respond. Art is powerful. Texts are powerful. Certainly, McCormick reminds me of this.

Have you encountered such books? How have they motivated you to DO something after you finished reading the last page? What action did you take?

What Katie Read
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