Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and FogPrisoner of Night and Fog
by Anne Blankman
Series:
Prisoner of Night and Fog #1
Publication Date: 22 April 2014
Balzer + Bray, Hardcover, 401 pages
Source: Library

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In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

Rating: ★★★★½

Gorgeous, haunting and utterly vivid, Prisoner of Night and Fog was definitely an amazing read and one of my favorite books so far this year. I had pretty high expectations for it, especially since there were numerous reviews dousing it in praise and love. This novel did live up to my expectancy, however, it felt as if a certain exciting aspect was lacking.

Starting off with the protagonist, Gretchen Müller; she was horrifyingly brainwashed by Hitler at the beginning. It was understandable because after her father had died, she was left with an ignorant mother and a brother who was the spawn of Satan (I’m not kidding). Hitler was the only one who showered her with attention and the only one who “appreciated” her. Expectedly, she would be overly eager to please him and follow his wishes. Simply put, Gretchen just wasn’t a strong-minded heroine at first.

Fret not though, because in comes Daniel, a passionate journalist who believed strongly in honesty and justice and who was also almost the complete opposite of Gretchen. I would say he had been the catalyst in Gretchen’s growth in character and the reason she opened her eyes and started to question the values she had been brought up with (e.g. seeing Jews as inferior, not to defy those with authority over her).

While Gretchen was like a spark slowly igniting into flames, having to grow from a meek good girl to a braver, more intelligent, confident and proactive young woman, Daniel was like a blazing bonfire throughout the book. I loved his confidence and sureness of his faith and beliefs. And as in most cases, this guy who’s so assertive in his actions is undeniably hot. I also found him a perfect match for Gretchen, because his courage  and directness was what brought out the potential in her.

The romance in Prisoner of Night and Fog was quite obviously well-developed, believable and absolutely wonderful, from what I’ve mentioned above. Blankman successfully showed how Gretchen and Daniel’s relationship progressed from extreme distrust to a shaky friendship with a gradually intensifying attraction and finally to acceptance that they were meant for each other and needed to live happily ever after.

Okay, that last part was exaggerated due to my wishful thinking and aggressive shipping tendencies. Nonetheless, the romance was tender, sweet and hopeful in a soon-to-be hopeless Germany.

As for the story, it was generally well plotted but slow; just interesting enough not to be dull. Although there were many mysteries to unravel, I somehow didn’t feel to urgency to discover the truth behind them. Thankfully though, the story ended with a BANG. Nerve-wrecking and exciting, the conclusion nearly gave me an anxiety attack from worrying about what might happen to Gretchen and Daniel. Figuratively, of course. We all know, villains who are also Nazis are downright scary and despite being set in 1930, when Germany had yet to be completely dominated by Hitler and the Nazi Party, it’s pretty obvious they could still do considerable damage. And by considerable damage, I meant death or dismemberment.

Yes, violence and tragedy is inevitable (especially as the trilogy continues) but I like my ships in a happy bubble. At least, at the end of each book. Occasionally.

All in all, Prisoner of Night and Fog was a beautiful story and a great start to the series (trilogy? Duology? I don’t know). Regardless of the slightly off pacing, I would vigorously recommend this book to everyone, especially those looking for a good book revolving around Nazi Germany. Although this first book is set before the Holocaust, the following book would be set during it and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Yep, even if it means witnessing the beloved characters suffer.

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Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

SekretSekret
by Lindsay Smith
Series:
Sekret #1
Publication Date: 01 April 2014
Roaring Brook Press, Hardcover, 341 pages
Source: Library

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An empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia knows she must hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia. But if she sometimes manipulates the black market traders by reading their thoughts when she touches their skin, so what? Anything to help her survive.

Russia’s powerful spy agency, the KGB, is recruiting young people with mind-reading capabilities for their psychic espionage program. Their mission: protect the Soviet space program from American CIA spies. Why shouldn’t the KGB use any means necessary to make the young psychic cooperate? Anything to beat the American capitalist scum to the moon.

Yulia is a survivor. She won’t be controlled by the KGB, who want to harness her abilities for the State with no regard for her own hopes and dreams. She won’t let handsome Sergei plan her life as a member of elite Soviet society, or allow brooding Valentin to consume her with his dangerous mind and even more dangerous ideas. And she certainly won’t become the next victim of the powerful American spy who can scrub a brain raw—and seems to be targeting Yulia.

Rating: ★★★½

I had had high hopes for Sekret since it was set in 1963 Russia (I have this weird fascination with the history of the country) and had psychics. That’s got to be a pretty good combination. However, when I just started reading it, I had been rather disappointed.

Sekret started off slow and unfortunately boring with the introduction to the KGB (KaGeBeznik), the fictional – I think – Russian spy agency featured in the story. Although the protagonist, Yulia, was just as new to life in the KGB as readers were, Yulia settled into the pattern a little too easily while readers were probably still trying to grasp the world-building. The world-building – despite being intricate – also seemed convoluted at times.

The main plot in Sekret revolved around the hunting down of a mysterious American spy who can literally scrub people’s mind clean and the work the KGB leader has for the young psychics in the KGB program. At this point, wipe any thoughts you have about a happy, enriching program for young adults with special abilities (like maybe in X-Men?) out of your head. The program Yulia and the other psychics were put in was nothing short of prison in a more hospitable package. Also, if they failed to cooperate or follow orders, either they themselves or their family and friends would be tortured, likely both mentally and physically.

With the given setting, Sekret had huge potential to make an exciting story but Smith channeled too much of a boring prison-like vibe, causing the plot to be slow and uninteresting at times. Moreover, some scenes’ description went a little over the top, including many details that only made the book duller instead of bringing it to life.

Moving on to the protagonist, Yulia wasn’t a very relatable character at first; her personality had seemed slightly messy and indistinct, and her impulsiveness made her come off a little stupid. It was clear she desperately wanted to escape the KGB and told herself about a gazillion times she needed to be smart and patient about it. However, the elaborate escape plans she came up with only sounds pretty good in your head because when applied to real life, they would inevitably fail. If Yulia was supposed to be a clever person, it definitely didn’t work out.

Yet towards the second half of the novel, Smith probably had a better grasp on the protagonist’s personality because that was when Yulia finally started acting like an unique individual and not a jumbled mess of various ‘traits a good protagonist should have’.

Prior to reading this novel and also towards the beginning, I was quite icky about the prospect of a love triangle. The synopsis made it sound like such a definite thing that was bound to occur. To those who’re feeling the same way I did, let me assure you there will be no love triangle, or at least nothing of the sort where the girl is indecisive and all she thinks about is which guy to pick. I promise there’s none of that nastiness.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy the novel towards its end. The action finally picked up there and the characters at last did something effective out of their own choice and not that of the KGB’s. Oh right, and it was actually impressive and well-planned when they decided to properly use both their brains and their abilities in synchronisation. See kids, not that hard after all! By ‘kids’ I really mean the Yulia with crappy escape plans in the earlier part of the novel.

As for the historical accuracy of Sekret, I can’t say much about it because I’ve only studied up to Stalin’s Reign of Terror in History last year while Sekret takes place after that era. But from what I’ve seen in reviews from others, it was pretty accurate in the parts that were meant to be accurate.

Overall, I would say this was quite an okay book. I honestly didn’t have much hope for it while experiencing the snail-paced beginning but the unexpected and exhilarating end was definitely worth the boredom at the start. Would I continue reading the sequel? I guess similarly with most of the other books hovering around 3 stars, it would be a maybe.

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Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

The DivinersThe Diviners
by Libba Bray
Series: The Diviners #1
Published: 18 September 2013
Atom, Hardcover, 592 pages
Source: Library

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It’s 1920s New York City. It’s flappers and Follies, jazz and gin. It’s after the war but before the depression. And for certain group of bright young things it’s the opportunity to party like never before.

For Evie O’Neill, it’s escape. She’s never fit in in small town Ohio and when she causes yet another scandal, she’s shipped off to stay with an uncle in the big city. But far from being exile, this is exactly what she’s always wanted: the chance to show how thoroughly modern and incredibly daring she can be.

But New York City isn’t about just jazz babies and follies girls. It has a darker side. Young women are being murdered across the city. And these aren’t crimes of passion. They’re gruesome. They’re planned. They bear a strange resemblance to an obscure group of tarot cards. And the New York City police can’t solve them alone.

Evie wasn’t just escaping the stifling life of Ohio, she was running from the knowledge of what she could do. She has a secret. A mysterious power that could help catch the killer – if he doesn’t catch her first.

 

Rating: ★★★★½

Libba Bray is one hell of a writer who never fails to impress. I first fell in love with her Gemma Doyle trilogy back when I was 13 and The Diviners turned out to be just as amazing – or dare I say, even better!

A master storyteller, Libba Bray weaved an intricate web of mysteries surrounding each of the utterly original characters. All these little enigmas contributed their own important part to the story as a whole, creating a captivating plot that was intense, mysterious and filled with myths and legends yet not too complicated as to confuse readers.

It would be extremely tedious to list every one of the aspects of The Diviners that swept me away but the two that simply must be mentioned are the characters and world-building. Every single individual in the story was filled with life and perfectly flawed in their unique ways, even those who only appeared in a scene or two. All of them were so real and raw it was almost creepy!

As for the world-building, there’s no way the roaring 20s could’ve been better brought to life than in The Diviners. Every event, motion and utterance oozed the jazzy atmosphere of Manhattan in the 1920s, very much as if I had been transported back in time. However, like the tagline on the cover said, “Bright lights are hiding dark secrets…”, The Diviners had a very dark aspect to it too, similar to that of the Gemma Doyle trilogy although based on different legends.

For those of you expecting romance in the story, there will be some but it’s far from playing the main role in the plot. Despite that, do expect to start majorly shipping some of the characters because Libba Bray has the uncanny ability to garner support for subtle and understated romantic relationships.

To end this off, I’ll definitely recommend The Diviners to possibly everyone! It’s like a mind-blowing, peculiar, ominous and fascinating story wrapped within a gorgeous cover. Having everything from secrets, horror and the paranormal to romance, humor and the equally dazzling & bleak lifestyle of Manhattanites in the 20s, The Diviners is undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser.

Adelena