*"Subtle and intricate, rich with humor and insight, this quietly magical adventure delights."Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"[A] magical puzzle."The Wall Street Journal
"10 out of 10 . . . I didn't want to put it down."TIME Magazine for Kids
"Graff's story has a warmth and gentle humor that, along with the premise, calls to mind Ingrid Law's Savvy."Publishers Weekly
An Amazon.com Best Book of the Month
A Junior Library Guild Selection
From the Publisher
Praise for A TANGLE OF KNOTS:
"[A] blithe magical puzzle." Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Wall Street Journal
"Lisa Graff has created a beautiful world of deliciously interconnected stories that draw you in." Abby West, Entertainment Weekly [A-]
* "Subtle and intricate, rich with humor and insight, this quietly magical adventure delights." Kirkus Reviews *STARRED*
* "Combining the literary sensibility of E. B. White with the insouciance of Louis Sachar, Graff has written a tangle that should satisfy readers for years to come." Booklist *STARRED*
"Graff’s story has a warmth and gentle humor that, along with the premise, calls to mind Ingrid Law’s Savvy." Publishers Weekly
Meghan Cox Gurdon
A book's title can be as much a warning as an enticement, so let readers ages 9-12 beware: They'll need to pay close attention to keep straight the many intertwined characters in Lisa Graff's blithe magical puzzle "A Tangle of Knots" (Philomel, 240 pages, 16.99). Here we find ourselves in a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in which most people have a striking "Talent." Cady has a talent for baking the single most delicious cake for anyone she meets; Zane has a talent for long-distance spitting (surprisingly useful, it turns out); others have talents for origami, whistling, knot-tying and getting lost. Alas, the villain of the tale has a talent for stealing other people's talents, and it's his thievery that propels events through one twist after another until, like a magician's trick rope, all the narrative knots disappear at the end, with a flourish.
A- Author Lisa Graff has created a beautiful world of deliciously interconnected stories that draw you in. It looks an awful lot like our world, but things are slightly off. It's a world with magic running through it. One where people have Talents — that's right, with a capital "T." At the heart of it all is Cady, an orphan whose baking skills are unparalled. She's particularly adept at sussing out the perfect flavor of cake for a person, whether they know it or not. (In fact, each chapter begins with a cake and recipe, with names like V's Mystery Fudge Cake. Graff is said to have baked each of the recipes.)
It soon becomes clear that Cady is unknowingly tied to a group of people staying at a boarding house above a lost luggage store: a family with three spirited kids, a woman who's lost the ability to speak, a loner, and the grouchy owner. If Cady is at the center of the story, which is told from multiple viewpoints, the thread through the tale is the large man in the gray suit enigmatic grin that 'suggested he knew more about the world than he's letting on.' He shows up just in time to give a nudge in the right direction to those who need it, imparting a little insight about fate along the way.
Things get slightly confusing near the end as all the pieces come together, but the sheer enjoyment of the building storyline and a careful read of Graff's lyrical style mitigates that.
VOYA - Joyce Doyle
Almost everyone has a talent. Cady is an eleven-year-old orphan with a talent for baking the perfect cake for each person she meets. Miss Mallory's talent is matching children from her orphanage to the perfect family, although she has had a hard time matching Cady. Ten-year-old Marigold Asher is trying everything she can think of in a search for her talent, but her brothers, Will and Zane, have found their talents in getting lost and spitting. Mrs. Asher's talent is knitting. V's talent is something to be discovered. Their journeys converge at the Lost Luggage Emporium, where the Owner steals other people's talents. Add in the mysterious large man in a gray suit with a talent for tying knots, and you have a fantastical and puzzling adventure filled with fossils, cake, ferrets, giants, suitcases, oboes, books, bicycles, peanut butter, flowers, ceramic blackbirds, hot air balloons and, of course, knots. Graff has created a tangle of knots in this book that appear both physically and emotionally, weaving the characters and their stories together in an intricate design. Some threads you can follow ahead, but others lead to a surprise. Despite having so many characters, readers will care about each of them and relate to their desire to discover what they are best at and how to use their talents. While the book is well written with solid characters, it will be hard to interest older teen readers considering the age of the protagonists. If you can convince older young adult readers to pick it up, though, they are bound to enjoy the story. Reviewer: Joyce Doyle
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Fate brings together an assortment of colorful and sympathetic characters as they search to discover their talents and place in the world. Cadence (Cady) has lived at Miss Mallory's Home for Lost Girls in Poughkeepsie, New York for years. Although she had been placed with several families, Cady always returned to Miss Mallory's Home believing that she was at fault. Cady was a talented baker who not only made delicious cakes, but who could determine which kind of cake best suited a person. She was preparing for the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff when a series of life-changing events occur. Graff deftly leads the reader into a fantasy world where Talents can be stolen, lives interact in mysterious ways, and actions have consequences. Chapter headings denote which of the characters will be the focus of the story at that time. This device helps keep the characters and their storylines straight. The repetition throughout the story of the line, "A grin that he knew more about the world than he was letting on" encourages the reader to look for the multiple layers of the tale. There is much to discuss about each of these characters who bring humor, mystery, and yearning for one's place in the world. If we could but untangle the "knots" in our lives, we could more clearly see our true relationships with one another. Well-crafted, fine storytelling, memorable characters, and multiple levels of meaning add up to one terrific read and a batch of delicious sounding cake recipes (with their own special meanings). Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 3–7—Graff has created a world very much like our own, but just a little bit magical. In this version of Poughkeepsie, New York, many lucky people have Talent, one skill that makes them special. Cady, an orphan who lives with kindly Miss Mallory, can look at a person and immediately know what they like and bake their ideal cake. Miss Mallory's talent is finding just-right parents for orphans, but so far, she hasn't felt that perfect-parent pull for Cady. While the 11-year-old is the star of this tale, the novel integrates an expertly developed cast of supporting characters who all have their own amazing stories. Not until the very end do readers see how their paths intertwine. The plot twists deliciously around an irresistible peanut butter factory, an evil Talent thief, a very important hair pin, and a rare powder-blue suitcase that could hold the key to everything. Sprinkled throughout is a generous helping of cake recipes, perfectly suited to each of the characters, just begging to be tried. Recommend this one to fans of Sheila O'Connor, who will appreciate the charming and unusual setting, and Wendy Mass, for those who like a little dose of fantasy thrown in with their realism.—Mandy Laferriere, Staley Middle School, Frisco, TX
A mysterious man in a gray suit, an assortment of vintage, powder blue suitcases and a beguiling orphan girl with an amazing talent for baking cakes are among the tasty ingredients in Graff's delicious new novel. Multiple, varied characters intersect to reveal long-held secrets and imaginative connections. Cady is the only orphan remaining at Miss Mallory's Home for Lost Girls in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where people are either Fair or Talented. Those who are Fair, like Cady's friend, Marigold, envy those like Cady with a special gift. Cady's is for baking: She can look at any person and immediately know the flavor of their favorite cake. Cady makes the most beautiful cakes, guaranteed to win the hearts of their recipients--and baking-contest judges. Marigold, meanwhile, has no special Talent, and the mysterious, nefarious Owner has more than his fair share. Graff weaves a miraculous tale of whimsy with the same attention to detail as a master chef. Carefully blending past mistakes and regrets with future wishes and dreams, she shows us the power of loving ourselves and the pain of living in the past. The narrative shifts from character to character, always in the third person, revealing bits and pieces of the story; occasional cake recipes are sprinkled throughout. Subtle and intricate, rich with humor and insight, this quietly magical adventure delights. (Fantasy. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Cady
Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls in Poughkeepsie, New York, was technically an orphanage, but there were hardly ever any orphans there. In fact, most days, if you peeked inside the window, you would see only one orphan, all by herself but hardly lonely, standing on her tiptoes at the kitchen counter, baking a cake.
Cadence, that was her name.
She was standing there now, Cady, deciding what to add to her bowl of batter. If you squinted through the window, you could just make her out from the chin up (Cady was barely a wisp of a thing). You’d see the shiny, crow-black hair that hung smooth as paper from the top of her head to the bottoms of her earlobes. And you’d see the petite—pixieish, Miss Mallory called them—features of her face. Tiny nose, tiny mouth, tiny ears. Cady’s eyes, however, those were large in comparison to the rest of her. Large and dark and round, and set just so on a face the color of a leaf that has clung too long to its tree.
Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Cady studied the bowl in front of her. She closed her eyes, digging into the furthest reaches of her brain to figure out what would be the perfect addition to her cake. At last her thick black lashes fluttered open. She had it.
Cinnamon. She would make a cinnamon cake.
No one knew exactly when Cady’s Talent for baking had first emerged—just as no one knew exactly where she had come from. But one thing was certain: Cady was a Talented baker. She could bake anything, really. Pies. Muffins. Bread. Casseroles. Even the perfect pizza if she put her mind to it. But what Cady loved above all else was baking cakes. All she needed to do was to close her eyes, and she could imagine the absolutely perfect cake for any person, anywhere. A pinch more salt, a touch less cream. It was one hundred percent certain that the person she was baking for would never have tasted anything quite so heavenly in all his life. In fact, what the orphanage lacked in orphans it made up for in cake-baking trophies. Five first-place trophies from the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff lined the front hall, one for every year that Cady had entered from the age of five, when her oven mitts swallowed her up tofithe elbows. No matter who entered the competition—professional bakers, famous chefs with exclusive restaurants—none of their Talents were able to match Cady’s, not for five years running. Cady’s cakes were never the most beautiful, or the most stunning. Last year not one but two bakers had crafted fifty-layer-high masterpieces of sugary wonder, studded with frosted stars and flowers and figurines. One even included a working chocolate fountain. Cady’s single-layer pistachio sheet cake had looked pitiful in comparison. But nonetheless, it had been the judge’s favorite, because Cady had baked it specifically for him.
This year’s bakeoff would be held in just one short week in New York City, a two-hour drive away. Miss Mallory had already cleared space in the hallway for a sixth trophy.
The kitchen door squeaked open and in waltzed Miss Mallory, a polka-dot tablecloth folded in her arms. (Miss Mallory’s perfect cake, as far as Cady was concerned, was just as scrumptious as she was—a nutty peach cake with cream cheese frosting.)
“What did you come up with?” Miss Mallory asked, crossing the room to peer into the cake bowl.
Cady found the cinnamon in the cabinet above her and popped off the lid. “Cinnamon,” she replied, shaking the spice into the bowl. Cady had no need for measurements. “A cinnamon cake, three layers high.”
Miss Mallory took a deep breath of pleasure. “And the frosting?”
Cady did not even need a moment to think. She knew the answer, sensed it the way other people could sense which way to walk home after a stroll in the woods. “Chocolate buttercream with a hint of spice,” she replied.
“Perfect,” Miss Mallory said. “Amy will love it.” She snuck a finger out from under her tablecloth to poke a tiny glob from the bowl. “I hope this fog finally gives up,” she said, sighing as the taste of the batter hit her tongue.
Cady had been so intent on her baking that she hadn’t even noticed the haze. She peered out the window. Out on the lawn, the thick mist obscured all but the legs of the picnic table, and puddles speckled the steps to the porch.
It had been foggy the morning Cady was brought to Miss Mallory’s, too. Cady had been much too young to remember it, but she’d heard the story so many times that the details were as real and comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. The damp smell of the dew outside. The mystery novel Miss Mallory had been reading when she heard the knock at the door. And most especially, Miss Mallory’s surprise at the arrival.
“I’d never seen a baby so small,” Miss Mallory always told her. “And with such a remarkable head of hair. There was a braid woven into it.” Here Miss Mallory would trace the plaits across Cady’s scalp, making Cady’s skin tingle delightfully. “It was the most intricate braid I’ve ever seen, twisted in and about and around itself like a crown. Whoever gave you that braid was Talented indeed.”
Miss Mallory snuck one more fingerful of batter from the bowl. “Perhaps we should move the party inside today,” she suggested.
“But Adoption Day parties are always outside,” Cady protested, slapping Miss Mallory’s hand away playfully. There wasn’t much consistency in the life of an orphan—new housemates coming and going like waves on a shore—but Adoption Day parties were always the same. Adoption Day parties took place outside, with presents and card games (it was difficult to play other sorts of games with so few people about) and a cake baked by Cady for the lucky little girl whose Adoption Day it was.
People sometimes suspected, when they learned how few orphans lived at Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls, that it must be a sorry excuse for an orphanage. But the truth was quite the opposite. The truth was that most of the orphans at Miss Mallory’s found their perfect families astonishingly quickly. Miss Mallory had a Talent for matching orphans to families—she felt a tug, deep in her chest, she said, when she sensed that two people truly belonged together, and she just knew. Most of the little girls who came through the orphanage doors were matched within days of arriving, sometimes hours. Miss Mallory had famously matched one girl only seven minutes after she stepped off her train. They would send photos, those lucky little girls who had found their perfect families, and Miss Mallory would frame them and hang them in the front hallway, just above Cady’s row of trophies. Smiling kids, beaming parents.
Cady had studied them carefully.
Cady was the only orphan at Miss Mallory’s who had ever stayed for an extended period of time. Oh, Miss Mallory had tried to match her. Over the years Cady had been sent to live with no fewer than six families—loving, happy, wonderful families—but unlike with the other orphans, it had never quite worked out. Cady had always done her best to be the perfect daughter. She yes, ma’amed and no, sired and ate all her vegetables and went to bed on time. But no fewer than six times, Miss Mallory had come to return Cady to the orphanage long before her one-week trial period was over. “I made a mistake,” Miss Mallory always told her. “That wasn’t your perfect family.”
But Cady knew that Miss Mallory didn’t make mistakes. Somehow, for some reason that Cady couldn’t explain, the fault lay with her. And Cady vowed that if she ever got another chance, with another family, she would do whatever it took to make it work. One day she would have an Adoption Day party of her own. One day she would bake the perfect cake for herself.
“Maybe,” Cady said slowly, glancing outside at the beautifully foggy morning, “maybe today’s the day I’ll meet my family.” The very idea warmed her through just as much as the heat from the oven. She tugged an oven mitt onto each hand and opened the oven door, then set the cake pans on the center rack. “Maybe,” she said again, “my real and true family will step right out of the fog.”