8 Rated Books Book Reviews What She Said

What She Said: Breadcrumbs and The Broken Lands

Today we bring you the latest installment in our feature, “What She Said…” in which we both review books that the other has previously read and reviewed. This feature arose because of a very serious dilemma we faced at Casa De Smugglers: what happens when one of us reads and reviews a book that the other desperately wants to read and review? We can’t really post about the same book AGAIN, right? WRONG! Thus, “What She Said…” was born.

For today’s post, we take on Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, and The Broken Lands by Kate Milford.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Walter Pond Press, September 2011, Hardcover: 331 Pages


Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

Original Review: October 2011 | Original Rating: 8 – Excellent

What Thea Said:

I absolutely loved this heartbreaking gem of a novel, and recommend Breadcrumbs to readers of all ages. Yet another notable read of the year – and quite possibly the best contemporary middle grade novel I have read, period.

What Ana says:

Oh my goodness, what an amazing book! I will echo Thea’s thoughts about Breadcrumbs: this is a gem of a book that works in a myriad of ways. Briefly recapping: the main focus of the novel is the friendship and strong bond between two middle graders named Hazel and Jack. Then one day Jack goes missing (taken by the Snow Queen) and Hazel goes after him.

Thea mentioned how, in her opinion one of the most wonderful things about Breadcrumbs is the blurred line between fantasy and reality and how the entire story could be seen as metaphor of growing up, for example. I agree. Jack could have been taken by the Snow Queen because she is simply evil or because he is going through some shitty things in his life and needs a time-out, to stop time and stop feeling. I love the quest metaphor too – hazel goes through the woods meeting several different people in her quest for Jack but at the same she is questing for herself isn’t she? She needs to find her place in the world and even her own name.

But the fantasy-reality line is not the only blurred line present here. Because Breadcrumbs is very contemporary but also timeless fantasy by powerfully combining classical fantasy stories like The Snow Queen and the Red Dancing Shoes and very modern ones like Marvel superheroes, Narnia and Harry Potter. So often in books it seems to be one or the other with stories either basking in traditional stories or going for the all-modern narrative but by searching inspiration in both Breadcrumbs shows very clearly creativity and imagination as things that permeate storytelling in its many forms (books, comics, TV and movies, etc) regardless of when and how they were written.

I loved how the Hazel travels through the woods in search of Jack and when doing so bumps into stories-come-to-life and how those very stories are peppered throughout and function as breadcrumbs that both help Hazel in finding her way – both literally and figuratively.

Another fabulous thing about the book? That things are not magically solved in the end: things don’t get automatically perfect – Hazel and Jack still has to deal with the difficult times their families are going through and Hazel still has to deal with the fact that she is extremely reliant on her friendship with Jack and understand both the good and bad aspects of it. Hazel is an incredible protagonist: and I love how she endures, searchers, creates and adapts.

I love both quest and identity stories and it comes as no surprise to me that given the scope of this story, I ended up loving it so much.

Rating: 8 – Excelent

The Broken Lands by Kate Milford
Clarion Books, September 2012, Hardcover: 464 pages

The Broken Lands

A crossroads can be a place of great power. So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, a fireworks expert, stop them before it’s too late? Here is a richly textured, slow-burning thriller about friendship, courage, and the age-old fight between good and evil.

Original Review: August 2012 | Original Rating: 8 – Excellent

What Ana Said:

And this is what I take from this book: The Broken Lands goes beyond formulas and clichés. It has an awesome plot, full of twists and turns and adventurous moments and also, EXPLOSIONS. It has romance and awesome characters left and right. It is truly scary as any horror novel should be. Ultimately, it is more than a simple story: it is a book that has heart and soul and whose ideas will engage each reader in a different way.

What Thea says:

I fell in love with The Boneshaker, Kate Milford’s first book, when I read it this Christmas for my Feats of Strength – in fact, it probably is one of the most memorable books I read last year (even if I did read it at the very end of the year). Naturally, when we scheduled our first What She Said feature of 2013, without any hesitation or second-guessing, I immediately purchased The Broken Lands.

And you know what, folks? Ana is absofreakinglutely right. The Broken Lands is a brilliant cliche-defying adventure of a novel. I *loved* this book.

The Broken Lands is a prequel to The Boneshaker, predating that adventure by thirty-some years and set in an entirely different part of the country. It is 1877, and the Brooklyn Bridge is nearing completion, tying the two boroughs of Brooklyn and New York together over the East River, and draws the attention of two uncanny beings. Walker and Bones, the minions of Jack Hellcoal – the man whose soul was so smudged that not even Hell would take him in – arrive in New York and prepare to take the city by forces bloody and unnatural, to make a new home at the country’s largest and most potent crossroads.

Standing in their way, however, are a group of unlikely heroes. Fifteen year old Sam, son of Italian immigrants, makes his home in the seaside town of Coney Island and makes his bread by gambling and besting “marks” on the boardwalk with his trusty deck of cards. Sam is joined by Xiao Jin, the skilled teenage apprentice for the Fata Morgana Fireworks Company, who travels to Coney Island and dazzles patrons of the Broken Lands Hotel with her talents for concocting beautiful and impossible explosions. Together, Jin and Sam find themselves at the heart of the plot to take New York, and together the two will stand against Jack Hellcoal and his ilk to protect the crossroads (with the help of a few other new friends, of course).

My goodness, did I love this book. As Ana points out in her review, The Broken Lands is a slightly older novel, firmly planted in the Young Adult category, featuring older protagonists (with a believable, slow simmering romantic angle), and more gruesome villains and acts (seriously, Walker terrifies me). In terms of characters, story, and writing, The Broken Lands is every bit as wonderful as The Boneshaker – heck, it’s actually grander in scope and more detailed in the mythology and worldbuilding aspects, as we learn Jack Hellcoal’s true story, and get a much deeper appreciation for setting and history of a place (but more on that in a bit). I loved, loved Jin and Sam, the dual protagonists of this book; Sam, for his sense of fairness and openness (not to mention his honest emotions), and Jin for her shrewdness and prickliness (for good reason). Both Jin and Sam are characters with complicated, even heartbreaking (especially in the case of Jin) pasts, and I love that the friendship that forms between these two characters is gradual and heartfelt, only slowly developing a romantic twist. There are plenty of other fantastic characters, both old and new, in The Broken Lands – we see Tom Guyot (who played the devil and won, as we know from The Boneshaker), as well as a gang boss from the formidable Five Points, a housemaid with a deeply guarded secret, and a wandering card sharp who knows games Sam’s never even heard of before. There are the villains aplenty – including an ageless creature that sweats blood, one that conjures flesh from sand, and one that eviscerates with tooth and nail – all of which are brilliantly, frighteningly detailed.

I think what I loved the most about this book, however, was the grand sense of place and of time. The very concept of this book (while, at it’s heart, similar to the story of The Boneshaker) is simple, but brilliant in its simplicity. There are two sides, good and evil, fighting for the soul of a city. Not just any city, mind you, but a city of burgeoning people of different backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures. The Broken Lands is a beautifully researched book, a loving ode to Brooklyn and New York (and as someone that lives just across the East River in Williamsburg, I can appreciate it on a very personal level), set at a crossroads not only of places but of times. It’s a story that embraces both the good and bad of post-Civil War America, that highlights the confusion of progress and backwards thinking of that era- slavery has been abolished, yes, but many attitudes towards the emancipated are hardly progressive, and hate and so much anger abound. At the same time, there are characters like Sam and Jin, who are the first generation of a new age that moves past those old grudges and prejudices, and stand for the future. It’s very potent stuff, people.

Really, underneath it all, The Broken Lands is a modern folktale. It’s an adventure. It is a story of friendship, and of family, and even of romance. It is, in short, brilliant. (Oh yes, and there are explosions, too.)

I still think I prefer The Boneshaker, but The Broken Lands is a very, very close second. Absolutely, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically recommended.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Buy the Books:


Ebook available for kindle US, nook, kobo, google, sony & apple

The Broken Lands:

Ebook available for kindle UK and nook


  • Shannon H
    January 31, 2013 at 11:12 am

    If anyone is intrigued by Breadcrumbs, its a great time to check it out since the ebook version is currently discounted down to $1.99

  • Eliza
    January 31, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Yay! I’m so glad that both of you loved these books as much as I did.

    Breadcrumbs – The weaving of other stories and myths into the totally fresh story. I love how it was Hazel’s escapism into stories that gave her the courage and belief to go after Jack but it is the quest that may be the thing that allows her to live in the real world afterwards.

    The Broken Lands – simply awesome. Kate Milford is the master of the new American folktale – and creating seriously creepy and frightening villains. I mean Walker scared the pants off me and he was afraid of Jack Hellcoal! I loved getting Jack Hellcoal’s back story but that he also remained fairly elusive. It’s the unknown that is so scary. Your imagination can take you to much worse places. What did Jack do to make Walker and Bones so frightened of him?

    It was great to see Tom Guyot again (one of my favorites from Boneshaker). Am I the only one who is hoping for Sam and Jin to cross Natalie’s path? Though Sam and Jin would be adults, it is possible, especially given the nomadic life of the Fata Morgana Fireworks Company. Though, somehow I picture Sam ultimately settling in New York.

    If you haven’t read these books and these awesome reviews by both Ana and Thea haven’t convinced, I don’t know if my urgings will tip the scale. But just in case, if you love folklore and myths and fully realized characters (both main and secondary) please give these books a try.

  • Megan no h
    January 31, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Dilemma. I want to read Breadcrumbs, which I can get at my library is e-book or tree-book. So…how good are the illustrations!!? E-book would be easier because I can get it NOW, but I have an older kindle and e-illustrations look terrible on it. I could get the real book, but then I’d have to physically go get it. So…are the illustrations worth me getting up off my butt?

  • Thea
    January 31, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Shannon H – Thanks for the tip! That is a steal and so worth it for such a beautiful book.

    Eliza – HUZZAH! I loved, loved, loved The Broken Lands so much. I can’t believe that I had never come across Kate Milford’s books before, both this prequel and The Boneshaker are ridiculously amazing, and deserve to be atop every single bestseller list. I also totally want to know more about Jack and how he has such terrifying hold on his followers. Yikes.

    And it would be SO AWESOME if Natalie crossed paths with Jin and Sam! My fingers are crossed.

    Now, onto “The Kairos Mechanism” :mrgreen:

    Megan no h – Both! The ebook is so cheap right now, it’s definitely worth the instant gratification. The illustrations are *gorgeous* so I definitely recommend taking a look at them either through a webapp for your computer/browser (kindle cloud reader!), or check out a print copy from the library.

  • bn100
    January 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    These sound interesting. Haven’t read of them before.

  • Jess
    January 31, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I almost never comment on posts, but I just had to chime in here. Love the Kate Milford. But, Breadcrumbs? Didn’t anyone else have a problem with the core conceit–Hazel is a girl who is obsessed with stories, and regularly name drops famous book titles from juvenile lit, but somehow has never heard of fairytales, or, more specifically, the Snow Queen? Instead, it’s her own great idea? I’d have liked Hazel better if I wasn’t supposed to be so charmed by her story-inventing, which, in the context of the book, seemed disingenously contrived by the author for no really good reason. And some characters got introduced and dropped, apparently existing just to praise Hazel’s creativity. Maybe I’m picking nits, but in a book where countless books and stories that owe their existence to Anderson’s and other’s fairytales deeply inform the main character’s thinking and approach to the world, to pretend that in this same world those stories don’t exist made it impossible to feel connected to. If you’re a fan of the Snow Queen, go out and find yourself some Kelly Link!

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