The Bookworm: A dream come true and a worse nightmare
By Betsy Schow
c. 2018, Sourcebooks
$10.99, higher in Canada; 336 pages
Well look at you.
And you do – 10 times a day, there in the mirror, brushing your teeth, doing make-up and hair. Look at you, taking a selfie. Look at you, smiling at a friend through the mirror, looking back. As in the new book “Banished” by Betsy Schow, that mirror image looks magical.
Dorothea was tired of saying the same things to Dr. Baum.
Over and over, she’d been telling him about Emerald City, how she was really a princess and how she’d messed everything up with a stupid wish. She was sick of saying it. She wanted her own normal back, and time was running out: her memories were slowly being overridden by current-world things. She needed to stop talking and get out of the mental health facility where she was being held, before things got worse.
Because the evil Griz knew where Dorothea was, though, that would be easier said than done. Fortunately, another resident at the hospital – a boy named John who was eerily like her late, beloved Kato – was more than willing to help.
It’s a long way from scullery maid to the king of Camelot, but “a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,” and Rexi was doing it.
Pretending to be a boy and accidentally being crowned wasn’t the original plan. When she got caught up in Dorothea’s stupid wish, Rexi had no idea that she’d become keeper of the sword, Excalibur, or that she’d have to protect Story, or that she’d battle with her own mirror-images as well as with Dorothea’s enemies, Blanc and Morte.
All Rexi really wanted was to have things back to her own normal, which meant finding Dorothea, wherever she was, and making the situation right. But even with the help of the Wizard, Mordred, and the head-swapping Hydra, it wouldn’t be easy.
It would, in fact, be a spell of an ordeal…
There are two divergent ways of seeing “Banished.” One is meh, the other is good.
On one hand, it’s too much.
There are a lot of characters inside this book, and some of them are similar enough to cause moments of “Huh?” It doesn’t help that one of them is a head-shifter with many personalities, or that the tale goes on and on in a soup of wrapped-up plotlines, as though the entire cast needed to be seen one final time before the back cover is closed.
On the other hand, you may not care. Your brain will be too busy with a finale that runs 100 MPH in two different worlds and multiple fairytale/myth mash-ups to really be thinking about sorting characters. In the end, it won’t matter and in the meantime, you’ll enjoy author Betsy Schow’s clever-times-two writing.
It may especially help to read the first two books in this trilogy; in fact, seriously, don’t tackle this one without them. No, start at the beginning, and readers 12-and-up who love funny, snarky fairytales will find “Banished” to be a book to look at.
By Oliver Hilmes, translated from the German by Jefferson Chase
c. 2016, 2018, Other Press
$25.95, higher in Canada; 320 pages
You are not alone.
While you may be the only person in the room, you are one of many. Every word you’ve written was written before. Every place you’ve visited has been seen by other eyes. The things you experience have been done elsewhere. You’re not alone: in “Berlin 1936” by Oliver Hilmes, an entire city rushes to an end.
On the first day of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, composer Richard Strauss is impatient. He hates sports and he hates the tax that’s been enacted for this sporting event. For the hymn he writes on behalf of it, he demands 10,000 reichsmarks, and it rankles him that he ends up taking less.
Tom Wolfe has been to Berlin many times, and he couldn’t pass up a chance to see the Olympics there. Berlin is vibrant, friendly and Berliners love the American novelist. He loves them…until a society matron whispers secrets in his ear.
On the second day of the Olympics, Toni Kellner is found dead in her apartment. She was not a social woman; in fact, she was not a woman at all, and Nazi-enforced edicts made her afraid to seek help for her bad heart. Berlin used to have a thriving gay community, but the Third Reich is über-aware of gay men and people like Toni now.
Joseph Goebbels can’t stop thinking about the trouble his wife put him in. Not only did she have an affair with a swindler some years ago, but something else recently came to light: the Nazi Minister of Propaganda’s wife was the child of a Jewish man.
Jesse Owens won gold. And again. And again. And again.
By the eighth day of the Olympics in Berlin, the city’s Roma and Sinti populations are taken from their apartments and moved to a sliver of land near a sanitation field. Most of them will die in concentration camps similar to the one being built just 40 minutes away by local train.
And by the end of the Olympics, Hitler is "already determined to go to war.”
It may seem trite to say that “Berlin 1936” reads like a novel, but it does. It’s nonfiction that reads like a horror novel, with a swirl of unaware and innocent victims, ruthless killers, and a stunning, invisible stream of ice just beneath its surface.
The compelling thing about that is that it’s not one large tale of the Nazis and the Games; instead, it’s as if author Oliver Hilmes starts with major historical figures and adds little Advent-calendar windows with real people inside: here’s the Roma child, snatched from her bed; there’s the terrified, ailing transvestite; here’s the American woman who kissed Hitler; there’s the Romanian Jew who owns a thriving nightclub...all in the middle of an international story that readers know is only the beginning...
How could you resist?
Don’t even try. Instead, just take “Berlin 1936” to a corner and don’t count on coming out for a good, long time. Start this book, and you’ll want to just be left alone.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.