After the End

After the End by Amy Plum has been on my TBR list for a while. I loved Plum’s Die for Me series, so I was confident I would like this book, the first in a duology. As it turns out, I did like After the End, but I also found it kind of frustrating…especially since I didn’t realize until after I’d finished it that it was only book one. (Luckily, the paperback version of book two comes out today. Hooray!)

Juneau, a seventeen-year-old girl living with her clan in the Alaskan wilderness, has grown up knowing that she is one of the few survivors of the fallout of World War III. She and her clan commune with nature and avoid anything and everything outside of their boundaries. Juneau is set to become the clan’s new sage, she feels connected to Yara, or the force that holds all of nature together, and she is confident of her place in the clan.

Everything changes, however, when all Juneau has ever known disappears in an instant. She knows something is amiss when, while on a hunting trip, she hears helicopters in the distance. Juneau rushes back to her clan only to learn that no one is there. Everyone, including her father, has been kidnapped, and Juneau is the only one left to discover why and where they were taken. It’s up to her to rescue them from an uncertain fate.

Juneau crosses her clan’s boundaries for the first time in her search for answers, but she’s not prepared for some of the answers she receives. It seems that nearly everything she believed was a lie. There was no World War III, no nuclear devastation, no reason for her clan to be so isolated. So why were they? Why have they been taken now? And what do those responsible for her clan’s disappearance want with Juneau?

Someone who may have the resources to answer at least one of these questions is Miles. Miles Blackwell is the eighteen-year-old son of a pharmaceutical firm CEO. While Miles is at home–after being kicked out of school–he overhears his father talking about the search for a young girl in Alaska. He figures that he can maybe find this girl and somehow get back in his father’s good graces. What could possibly go wrong?

Miles is on the hunt for Juneau while Juneau is searching for her clan, and the two eventually cross paths. Miles doesn’t exactly buy all of the Yara stuff that Juneau is talking about. His goal is to turn this girl in to his father. Eventually, though, he comes to realize that there is something special–supernatural even–about this girl, and he begins to change his tune. He wants to help her, but how? And what exactly does his father want with her?

As Juneau and Miles get closer to the truth, they will encounter some uncomfortable realizations about their families and what they believed about the world around them. Will they be able to figure out what’s really going on, find Juneau’s clan, and escape those who would do almost anything to stop them? We shall see…


If you’re as avid a reader as I am, you no doubt know the frustration that comes when you get close to the end of a book and there simply aren’t enough pages for everything that needs to happen. That’s what I endured as After the End drew to a close, so it’s good that there’s another book, Until the Beginning, to look forward to, but I’m still a little dissatisfied. Hopefully, that feeling will change when I read book two.

Minor frustrations aside, I do think After the End is a good book. It’s gripping, puzzling, and thought-provoking. The two different perspectives in the book–and how they come together–make for a very interesting read, and the larger ethical dilemmas presented in the book could lead to some intriguing discussions.

If you’d like to learn more about After the End and other books by Amy Plum, check out the author’s website. You may also want to connect with her via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Salt to the Sea

Given that I have a degree in political science and once aspired to be a social studies teacher, it shames me to admit that I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. (I gravitate toward contemporary fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. You may have noticed this if you’re a regular here.) I usually only read historical fiction when there’s an element of the supernatural involved…or when I have to for my job as a school librarian.

Why, then, did I request to read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys on NetGalley? Well, part of it was because I’d heard great things about this particular author. I knew her previous two books, Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, were highly recommended (though I’d never read them). Also, the book’s subject, a virtually unknown tragedy of World War II, intrigued me. So I requested the title, I was approved, and I began reading.

From the first page of Salt to the Sea, I was hooked. This book was a haunting, bleak, gritty look at what this war–particularly the fighting between Germany and Russia–looked like to four young people. It explored their backgrounds, everything the war took from them, and what they hoped for their uncertain futures. Those futures depended on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that they prayed would be their salvation…but ended up being a horror no one ever expected.

Told in four distinct voices, Salt to the Sea explores the terrifying reality of many innocent (and not-so-innocent) casualties of war. There’s Joana, a Lithuanian nurse who wants to help those around her, reunite with her mother, and escape the guilt she feels over past actions. There’s Emilia, a Polish girl dealing with the torment visited upon her because of her nationality. And there’s Florian, a young Prussian man hiding secrets that, should they be discovered, would mean certain death. These three people meet on the road to Gotenhafen with the hopes that they will receive safe passage out of war-torn East Prussia. The journey is extremely perilous, and, with every step, these three refugees risk their secrets being revealed.

When Joana, Emilia, Florian, and company finally arrive in Gotenhafen, they are overwhelmed by what they encounter. Thousands upon thousands of people are there hoping to board one of the ships that will take them across the Baltic Sea to freedom. It is here that they meet Alfred (the fourth voice in this book), a self-important, disturbed German soldier. They convince Alfred to give them safe passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff. None of them could know that this ship–overloaded with close to 10,000 passengers–would not be their deliverance but their doom.


Prior to reading Salt to the Sea, I had never heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This ship, which was hit by Russian torpedoes just hours into its journey, carried German soldiers, members of the Nazi party, and refugees simply seeking some measure of safety. With 10,000 people aboard the ship (which was intended for fewer than 2,000), there weren’t nearly enough lifeboats for everyone when tragedy struck. Most of the passengers–many of them children–perished on board the ship or died in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea.

For me, Salt to the Sea highlighted a lot of the unknown stories of war. Yes, we hear about battles, victories, atrocities, and so many other things, but what about those things that are ignored–intentionally or not?

Let’s put aside the fact that most people have no clue about the Welhelm Gustloff sinking, which had a much greater loss of life than the Lusitania or the Titanic. When we (Americans) study World War II, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the people who were stuck between Germany and Russia. What happened to those who didn’t agree with Hitler? What became of the women and children left behind when men went off to fight? What did they have to endure to survive? Was survival even an option for many of them? It’s these human stories we don’t often hear, and fictional accounts like this one really help to open our eyes. Maybe we can even use these stories to shine a light on things that are occurring in our world right now.

I truly believe that Salt to the Sea, which will be released on February 2nd, should be added to every library–school, public, or classroom–that serves teen readers. (I would recommend it for ninth grade and up.) It is a phenomenal book that not only draws attention to a virtually unknown event but also delves into what a person can endure during a time of war. Through the four voices in this book, readers experience the horrors of war. They see that some were seeking safety, others wanted to right wrongs, and still others were using the circumstances to make themselves feel important. I think it’s vital for readers to hear all of these voices and see several moving examples of strength, sacrifice, bravery, and humanity.

For more information on Salt to the Sea and author Ruta Sepetys, click here. To learn more about the Wilhelm Gustloff, go to the Wilhelm Gustloff Museum website.

As for me, I am now going to add Ruta Sepetys’ other books to my already extensive TBR list. This author has convinced me to give historical fiction a bit more attention.

The Copper Gauntlet

Caution: If you haven’t read The Iron Trial, the first book in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, do that before continuing with this post. Also, if it’s been over a year since you’ve read book one, give it a quick once-over before proceeding with The Copper Gauntlet. (I wish I had.)

I decided that my first book of the new year should be one that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Truthfully, I’m shocked at myself that I didn’t devour The Copper Gauntlet the minute it came out. (It’s no big secret that I’m a Cassandra Clare fangirl.) This second book in the Magisterium series was released on September 1st, and it’s been staring at me reproachfully from the top of my TBR pile ever since. Thankfully, I’ve now taken care of that little problem.

Since it had been a while since I read The Iron Trial (November 2014), I had forgotten much of what happened in that book. (I’m serious about doing a brief re-read before starting book two.) For that reason, it was a little difficult for my reading of The Copper Gauntlet to pick up momentum at first. Once I got into it, though–and was reminded of the events of the first book–things really got moving, and I was just as invested in this book as I was its predecessor.

Callum Hunt isn’t what one would call a normal kid. Sure, he’s spending the summer at home with his dad, playing with his dog, and getting ready for another school year, but that’s not exactly the whole story.

See, Call is about to enter his second year at the Magisterium, a school for mages, a school that his father absolutely loathes. Also, his dog is actually a Chaos-ridden wolf named Havoc, and this pet could do some serious damage if he really wanted to. Finally, Call might just be the vessel for the Enemy of Death (the big, bad guy in the world of mages). Yeah…Call threw “normal” out the window a while ago.

When Call discovers that his father has some disturbing, dangerous plans for both Call and Havoc, he runs away to the only home he has left…the Magisterium and the friends he’s made there. He finds refuge with his friends, Tamara and Aaron, but he doesn’t reveal his deep, dark secret to them. They wouldn’t understand the whole “I actually possess the soul of the Enemy” thing. Call barely understands it himself. There has to be more to him than he’s been led to believe, and he’ll do whatever he can to convince himself that he won’t turn out to be an Evil Overlord.

When the Alkahest–a powerful copper gauntlet–is stolen, Call knows it’s up to him to find this magical object and return it to the Magisterium. Why? Well, his father may have something to do with it, and Call needs to get to him before either the Magisterium or the minions of the Enemy do. (Also, the Alkahest could be used to destroy Call and his best friend, Aaron. No pressure there.)

Of course, Call can’t possibly get away without his friends and Havoc (plus one more kid he can’t stand), so he goes on the run with some company, and, as one might imagine, the group finds more trouble than they ever expected.

_______________

I’m going to stop before I give too much more away. I will tell you, however, that for every question answered in this book, dozens more pop up. There is some resolution at the end of The Copper Gauntlet, but, given that there are three more books to go in this series, we can deduce that it won’t last.

Speaking of future books, the next installment, The Bronze Key, is expected to be released in September of this year. Book four, The Golden Boy, will be out in 2017, and the final chapter, The Enemy of Death, is expected in 2018. Lots to look forward to.

Like The Iron Trial, I think The Copper Gauntlet is a great read for those in upper elementary grades on up. Fans of Harry Potter and Rick Riordan’s books will delight in this series…and will surely make some interesting comparisons. (The similarities between The Magisterium and Harry Potter are undeniable.) I added this book to my own elementary library collection, and the response has been nothing but positive.

For more information on The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, and the rest of the Magisterium series, visit the official website. It’s got lots of interactive goodies that you may enjoy.

Now, I must leave you. (Not for long, so no worries.) I return to the “real world” tomorrow, and I have one day left to do all the stuff that I meant to do during my two week break. I can hardly contain my joy.*

*Where’s a sarcasm font when I need one?

The Lost Herondale

I’ll skip my typical warning for today. At this point, if you haven’t read everything Cassandra Clare has written, it’s really your own fault if I spoil anything for you.

Yesterday, the second installment in Tales from Shadowhunter Academy was released. (Of course, I had to read it last night. Laundry could wait.) That novella, The Lost Herondale, continues to follow Simon Lewis as he learns what it takes to be a Shadowhunter.

Simon is still struggling with the demands placed on him, and, even though many consider him a hero of the Dark War, Simon can’t remember any of it. He’s not sure he’s really Shadowhunter material, especially when he questions the very laws that those around him hold most sacred.

During one of his lessons, Simon learns that the worst thing a Shadowhunter can do is be a coward. This lesson is driven home with the story of Tobias Herondale, a Shadowhunter who abandoned his comrades when faced with grave danger. If Tobias had returned to the Clave to receive his punishment, he would have surely been put to death. But he didn’t, so his punishment was dealt to his pregnant wife.

Simon and his classmates are surprised that the Clave would execute a pregnant woman for her husband’s supposed crimes, but they are met with the standard, “The Law is hard, but it is the Law.”

After hearing this story, Simon questions long-held Shadowhunter beliefs and customs even more. Things don’t get any easier when he and his fellow students are tasked with killing a rogue vampire. (Simon used to be one, after all.) And when Simon discovers there may be more to the history of Tobias Herondale, the questions keep on coming.

What could a lost Herondale line mean for Jace? Could Tobias’ ancestors one day become Shadowhunters themselves? And what will Simon do with this new information?

Keep reading Tales from Shadowhunter Academy (and anything else to do with Shadowhunters) to find out…maybe.

_______________

I’m really liking seeing the Shadowhunter world through Simon’s eyes. Yes, he was part of things in The Mortal Instruments series, but he wasn’t exactly experiencing what it meant to be a Shadowhunter from the ground up. Now, he’s learning the history of these people, and it’s not exactly pleasant. Shadowhunters–for all their angel blood, abilities, and arrogance–are just as capable of injustice, prejudice, and darkness as Downworlders and humans are. Simon is seeing both the best and worst of the Shadowhunters’ world, and he has to decide if he really wants to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes him.

The next novella in this collection, The Whitechapel Fiend, comes out on April 21st. I’m super excited about this one because it involves Jack the Ripper. (I know my fascination with this figure is morbid. I’ve accepted that.)

For more information on all of the stories in Tales from Shadowhunter Academy, click here.

The Year of the Beasts

I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading The Year of the Beasts. I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads, and the only things I knew going in were that I’d previously enjoyed books by the author, Cecil Castellucci, and the story was told in both prose and comics (drawn by the very talented Nate Powell). I was unprepared, then, for just how hard this book hit me.

At first, I thought I’d be reading a fairly typical tale of two sisters who grow apart because of a guy and then eventually find their way back to each other. Yeah…not so much. To say that this book defied and exceeded all of my expectations would be a gross understatement. The Year of the Beasts threw me for a loop, and I’m still thinking about how the story relates to my own life and my understanding of things like jealousy, love, and grief.

It all started when the carnival trucks rolled into town. That was the unofficial start of summer, a summer that would forever change everything for Tessa and her younger sister, Lulu.

For the first time, Tessa and Lulu are enjoying the carnival without the watchful eyes of their parents. They’re finally free to truly enjoy the food, the rides, the games…the boys. So when Tessa sees the opportunity to hang out with her crush, Charlie, and his friends, she seizes it.

Tessa, Lulu, and Tessa’s best friend Celina join up with Charlie and his buddies for a bit of fun at the carnival, but Tessa couldn’t know that this one outing would change her relationship with Lulu. Why? Well, as it happens, Charlie isn’t interested in Tessa. He wants Lulu…and Lulu wants him back.

Tessa is green with envy, but she tries her best to hide it. She doesn’t want to rain on her sister’s parade, but she can’t be wholly happy for her either. Charlie was supposed to be hers, not Lulu’s…and it feels like Lulu is taking every possible opportunity to throw her new boyfriend in her older sister’s face. It feels like Lulu, the younger of the two siblings, is growing up, moving on, and leaving Tessa in her wake.

Tessa’s only respite from the drama with Lulu, Charlie, and their assorted friends occurs in the arms of Jasper, the school outcast. Tessa finds a measure of peace when she’s alone with Jasper, but she doesn’t see how he can be part of her “real life” outside of the woods where they meet. Neither does he. No one even knows about them, and Tessa fears her friends’ reactions if they did. On top of that, even though Tessa is growing closer to Jasper, she still can’t let go of her jealousy over Lulu’s claim on Charlie. Why does Lulu, now Miss Popular, get to parade around with her boyfriend while Tessa has to keep her tenuous new relationship a secret? Nothing about this is fair in Tessa’s eyes, and she doesn’t know how to cope with all of the jealousy and rage bubbling within her.

Everything is about to come to a head for Tessa, Lulu, and company, and the summer that began with such promise will end in a tangle of envy, sadness, self-loathing, regret, grief, and–when all is said and done–a small measure of hope.

Will Tessa find some way to tame the monster raging within her and find the girl she used to be once again? Or will the events of this one tragic summer change her–and everyone around her–forever?

_______________

I don’t know that the brief recap above in any way captures what happened in this book. It doesn’t even touch on the story presented in the comics. At first glance, the two stories don’t appear to be related, but, as the book progresses, the prose and the comics come together to create a story so intricately woven that I can scarcely believe that I ever thought they could be separate. While the prose tells of that one eventful summer that changed everything, the comics–presented in alternating chapters–show readers how grief and self-loathing can turn a person into something completely unrecognizable. How do the comics relate to Tessa’s story? Well, I’ll leave you with that one surprise, but I will tell you that I felt totally ripped to shreds by the book’s conclusion, and I’ll probably take a second look at the book’s art to see if I can pick up any clues that would have hinted at the emotional wreck that I was soon to become.

Now it’s time to get a little personal…

Truthfully, I think my strong feelings about this book come, at least in part, from my own experiences. Like Tessa, I have a younger sister. When we were teenagers, I sometimes felt like she had everything going for her. (To be perfectly honest, I still feel that way on occasion.) While I was the short, fat, near-sighted, bullied, tuba-playing nerd with braces, my sister was the tall, thin, athletic, blond girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. It was difficult to stand next to her and not wonder if everyone was thinking, “Well, I guess little sister is definitely the pretty one.” (Sometimes I didn’t have to wonder. People said those words out loud.) And things didn’t get any better for me when the guy I was madly in love with (or so I thought) had a thing for my sister. While she did not reciprocate his affections, the mere thought that he preferred her to me turned my overly dramatic teenage world upside-down. (If you’re reading this, you probably think I still haven’t recovered. You’d be right.) It was painfully easy to see my sister and me in the characters of Lulu and Tessa. I think that’s a big part of the reason why this book’s conclusion affected me the way it did. It made me examine what my teenage self would have done if she were faced with the same circumstances, and I have to admit I likely would have felt much like Tessa did.

_______________

If your interest has been piqued by this post, I strongly urge you to give The Year of the Beasts a try. You won’t regret it. I think this is an excellent book for any reader in eighth grade and beyond.

To learn more about this amazing book, you can check out author Cecil Castellucci on her website, Goodreads, or Twitter, and graphic novelist Nate Powell on his website and Twitter.

Suspicion

Thanks to NetGalley, I have once again been privileged enough to read an early copy of a thrilling new young adult novel. This time, I turned my attention to Suspicion by Alexandra Monir. (This book is set to be released next Tuesday, December 9th.) I had previously read one other book by Ms. Monir–Timeless–so I was fairly certain I would enjoy Suspicion. And when I heard that it was like a combination of The Princess Diaries, Downton Abbey, and Alfred Hitchcock, I was even more eager to read it. (Also, the cover is gorgeous, no?)

Seven years ago, Imogen Rockford endured a horrible tragedy on the grounds of her family’s estate in Wickersham. Her parents and her aunt and uncle were killed in a terrible fire, and Imogen has spent the time since trying to put the horrifying events firmly in the past. She cut off all communication with her grandfather, her cousin Lucia, and Sebastian, the boy both she and her cousin adored.

Fate, though, seems to have other plans for Imogen…

When Imogen learns that both her grandfather and cousin have passed away, she’s faced with the realization that she’ll have to return to the Rockford family home in England…as the new Duchess of Wickersham. That’s quite a bit of pressure to put on her seventeen-year-old shoulders, but Imogen knows only she can fill this role. Only she has ties to the estate that cannot really be explained.

Upon her arrival at her newly-inherited estate, Imogen is flooded with both a sense of rightness and a feeling of dread. For some reason, she belongs here, but why? Why does the land come alive in her presence? Why does she seem to have some sort of power over the gardens? What abilities has she been ignoring for all these years…and who wants to make sure that she never has a chance to discover just how important those abilities are?

As Imogen learns more and more about her place–and her family’s history–in Wickersham, she begins to uncover a mystery that defies everything she’s ever believed. She also grows ever closer to Sebastian, the boy she’s loved her entire life, the boy who chose her cousin, the boy who is hiding secrets of his own.

Can Imogen unravel the web of deceit surrounding her before she’s caught up in yet another tragedy? Will her newly (re)discovered abilities help in her quest for the truth? Who can she trust with her own secrets? And who is hiding something so shocking that it will shake the foundation of Imogen’s entire world? Read Suspicion by Alexandra Monir to find out!

_______________

First, let me say that I did like this book. It was a quick, fun read that kept me guessing…but it was rather unrealistic at times (aside from the supernatural elements). I had issues with the lightning-fast romance part of the story, Imogen’s totally ridiculous “magical powers” (which I didn’t think added all that much to the plot), and the unrealistic ending. The ending especially was just a little too neat for me, and I can only hope that the one piece of “unfinished business” in the book will come back in a sequel and mess things up a bit.

All of that being said, I do think Suspicion is a good read for those who like their mysteries peppered with a bit of romance and a dash of the supernatural. When you throw an English setting into that mix, you’ve got me. I’m probably not alone in that.

If you’d like to learn more about Suspicion and other books by Alexandra Monir, check out her website, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Eternal

Caution: You MUST read the entire Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, Taken at Dusk, Whispers at Moonrise, and Chosen at Nightfall) and Reborn, the first book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series, before even thinking about reading Eternal (or this somewhat spoilery post on it). I know that’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it!

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Eternal, book two in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series, a couple months early. (It won’t be released to the world until October 28th.) I loved the first series and Reborn, so I figured I’d feel the same way about Eternal. I did.

After being reborn and finding herself with powers beyond what a “normal” vampire possesses, Della Tsang is more determined than ever to work with the FRU, the agency that governs supernaturals, and to uncover the mysteries shadowing her family’s past.

The sudden–and not entirely welcome–appearance of a ghost will make Della’s life more confusing than ever. This ghost is trying to tell Della something about her family and showing glimpses of two captive young vampires who need to be saved from certain death. Who is this presence haunting Della, and can she figure out what the ghost is trying to tell her before it’s too late?

Della is also working to unravel her feelings about two very different young men: Steve, a shapeshifter she’s been sort of dating for the past month, and Chase, the enigmatic vampire who is now bonded to her and seems to know just when she needs him. Della isn’t exactly thrilled about her connection to Chase, but even she can’t deny that her feelings for him are growing. It doesn’t help that Della and Chase are working closely together investigating a case for the FRU. Can she remain true to Steve when every part of her screams to be with Chase? And will fate take this decision out of her hands?

Della’s world is in more turmoil than ever before. How is she supposed to do everything expected of her and still keep her cool? So much is weighing on her, and she’s close to her breaking point. Della doesn’t know which way to turn sometimes, and she feels like she’s being pulled in opposite directions. A mysterious ghost, Steve, Chase, Burnett, her friends, and even her estranged family. Everyone seems to want a piece of Della. But who can she really trust? Can she even trust herself to do what’s right?

Should Della remain loyal to Shadow Falls and the family she’s chosen for herself there? Should she do whatever possible to uncover the truth–however painful it may be–about her father, who has all but turned his back on her? Should she take a chance with Chase, even though it could jeopardize everything she’s been working for? Nothing is clear for Della Tsang, but she’ll do whatever she must to find the answers she needs. And those answers may just lead her to even more questions…

_______________

I’ll go ahead and warn those still reading: Eternal ends on a mother of a cliffhanger. If I had been reading a print copy of this book, I probably would have thrown it across the room. I can hardly wait to read the third book, but considering that Eternal isn’t even out yet, I probably have quite the wait ahead of me. *Insert impatient sigh here.*

There is some good news, though! On September 30th, there is going to be an ebook novella released that’s all about Chase, Della’s nemesis/sometimes love interest. It’s called Unbreakable, and if you check out this announcement on C.C. Hunter’s website, you’ll learn a lot more about what’s sure to be a very enlightening read.

If you love books with supernatural goodness, I strongly urge you to check out both the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series. Both are excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Della’s journey in the next book.

For more information on the books mentioned in this post or author C.C. Hunter, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.