Book Review: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

Book Review:

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

By Louise Murphy

Remember Grimm’s fairy tale about Hansel and Gretel? The brother and sister end up wandering the woods and follow a bird to a house made of bread, cake, and sugar. As the children begin to eat the roof, the witch who lives there invites them in. The witch keeps Hansel in a cage, fattening him up for stew, while she makes Gretel into her slave. When the witch gets hungry and tries to cook both children, Gretel pushes her into the oven. She frees her brother and the children find their way back home.

So yeah, remember that tale? The True Story of Hansel and Gretel is a play on that tale. Set during the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, the True Story of Hansel and Gretel is a play on that fairy tale. Its the story of a Jewish family’s quest for survival. The children are separated from the father and stepmother and find their way into a nearby village where they are taken in by the village “witch.” They stay there for the duration of Nazi occupation, forming a little family with the witch, her niece, and another villager. Meanwhile, the children’s father and stepmother join up with a paramilitary group that sabotage and fight the Nazi troops. Will they survive the war? Will the family be united?

Despite some of the graphic descriptions of Nazi cruelty, Murphy’s retelling of the fairy tale was a fairly happy tale. The characters never lost hope that the Nazis would be defeated and their lives returned back to normal. They constantly made the best our of bad situations by sticking together and helping out each other and those in need.

Recommendation: Absolutely!

Grade: A-

Book Review: The Help

Thanks to A for choosing such a great book club book! The Help has been on my to-read list for quite a while, but other books kept getting moved to the top of the stack. So glad I finally got to read this one!

Book Review:

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

The Help is Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel set in the 1960s, about the race relations. The Help follows the lives and stories of three women over the course of a year or two – two “colored” maids and one recent white college graduate, all living in Jackson, Mississippi.

Skeeter comes home from college – the sole woman in her group of friends unmarried and looking for a job, as a journalist. She sets off to anonymously write a book about the colored help – their experiences and feelings about their jobs and their lives. There are happy stories and sad stories. Stories of racism and stories of a kind of friendship. Skeeter’s liberal leanings end up isolating her, putting both herself and the women who are interviewed all put themselves and their families at risk in hope of truth and change.

The Help was enjoyable, the characters likable. The stories told by both Skeeter and the maids evoked a wide range of feelings – a bit of laughter, some sadness and joy.

Grade: A

Book Review: Simply from Scratch

Book Review:

Simply from Scratch

By Alicia Bessette

Simply from Scratch is Alicia Bessette’s debut novel. The main characters is Zell, a widow whose husband died in an accident while on a volunteer trip to help Hurricane Katrina survivors. As Zell struggles to come to terms with her husband’s death, she befriends her 9-year old neighbor, Ingrid. Together, the two enter a Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest – Zell to win the $20,000 prize to donate to Hurricane Katrina efforts and Ingrid to meet cooking sensation Polly Pinch.

Simply from Scratch was well-written and witty. I enjoyed the creativity (i.e. Zell had “memory smacks” instead of flashbacks; the moments of pirate-speak when she talked to her dog, Captain Ahab) that was mixed into both happy and sad scenes. Bessette created a relatively light read, which was particularly impressive considering the emotional struggles of the main character.

This book was incredibly moving and had a bit of everything – a little romance, some sorrow, funny cooking adventures, lots of friendship and kindness… I laughed and I cried.

Congrats to Alicia Bessette for her first novel! While I’m looking forward to your next novel, friends and family are already fighting for my copy of your first!


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Book Review: Sarah’s Key

Book Review:

Sarah’s Key

By Tatiana de Rosnay

In July 1942, French police gathered thousands of Jews living in Paris and the French countryside at the orders of the occupying Germans, to be deported to the Nazi concentration camps. Sarah’s Key is the story of a young girl who survived Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup – the challenges to her survival and dealing with the awful aftermath of that summer. Sarah’s story is intertwined with that of Julia, an American journalist living in France, researching Vel’ d’Hiv.’ Julia learns of a personal connection to France’s dark spot in history, and becomes increasingly invested in researching the roundups.

Life in France during WWII was something I was unfamiliar with, and therefore enjoyed learning a bit about the country at the time. I found Sarah’s Key well written and easy to read despite the difficult subject. De Rosnay also did a great job depicting the range and the conflicting human emotions, that the 1942 events stirred up, as well as the often conflicting emotions of everyday life (Julia is also going though through some personal crises as she’s researching Vel’ d’Hiv’).

Recommendation: Would highly recommend Sarah’s Key.

Grade: A

Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea

Book Review:

Ella Minnow Pea

By Mark Dunn

Set on the fictional island-country of Nollop (off the South Carolina coast), Ella Minnow Pea is the story of a country that worshiped Nollop, the creator of the pangram, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” This sentence uses every letter of the alphabet with the fewest letters repeated, and is affixed to a statue of Nollop. However, when letters begin to fall from the statue, the island’s Council doesn’t know what to do. They eventually conclude that Nollop is speaking to them from beyond – that any letter that falls must be prohibited from speech and written form. Ella Minnow Pea is a comical story, a collection of letters, describing the change in life as letters constantly are stricken from usage, and the quest of a young girl to overturn the Council’s decision.

Recommendation: This book is cute, funny, and well-written. It’s a quick read that I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys and appreciates words and language.

Grade: A-