The Bronze Key

A word of warning: Proceed with caution if you haven’t read both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet, the first two books in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This post might be a little spoilery if you’re not totally caught up.

This may not be my standard post. I’ve been awake since 3am, and I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, much less stringing sentences together. I’ll do the best I can.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Bronze Key, book three in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This book continues the story of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, three young mages trying to figure out this whole magic thing. They are students at the Magisterium, and Call and Aaron are both Makars, or mages with an affinity for chaos magic.

As The Bronze Key begins, Call, Aaron, Tamara, and their frenemy Jasper are being honored for their action against Constantine Madden, known as the Enemy of Death, and his minions. What most people don’t know is that the soul of the Enemy of Death is very much alive…and residing within Call.

Call worries that he’ll become an evil overlord one day, but that’s only part of his problem at the moment. At the party honoring Call and his friends, one of the Magisterium students is mysteriously killed and another attempt is made on Call’s life. It’s clear that someone is out to get him, but why? Does someone know his secret, or has he outlived his usefulness as a Makar?

Soon enough, Call and company are back at the Magisterium, and the mystery deepens. There is a spy in their midst, and it could be anyone. Call doesn’t know who to trust, and he even looks at his best friends with a certain degree of suspicion. He’ll have to figure out what’s going on fast before he–or someone else–meets a rather sticky end.


I’m going to stop there before I give too much away. It’s enough to tell you that some bad stuff goes down in this book, and it wallops you in the heart before all is said and done. I, for one, wish I could dive into book four, The Silver Mask, right now so that I could see where things go from here. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

Speaking of The Silver Mask, it is set to be released sometime in 2017, but I’m not sure exactly when. My guess is early fall.  The fifth and final book, The Enemy of Death, will follow in 2018.

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

Note: The Iron Trial is a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards. In my opinion, the entire series is a good fit for fantasy lovers in upper elementary grades and up.

See How They Run

Possible spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read All Fall Down, book one in Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post.

This week, I finally made time to read See How They Run, the second book in the Embassy Row series. This sequel picks up pretty soon after the first book concludes. I’m not going to rehash everything that happened in All Fall Down, but I will say that our protagonist, Grace Blakely, has uncovered some shocking truths about what really happened to her mother…and her own part in those events. Now, Grace is dealing with the fallout of what she’s discovered as well as attempting to handle a whole new set of problems. Of course, problems seem to be par for the course when a person’s every move has the potential to cause an international incident. Such is life on Embassy Row.

As the granddaughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Adria, Grace should be used to a certain amount of political intrigue. But nothing could really prepare her for what’s being revealed to her. It’s not enough that she’s just realized that she’s largely responsible for her own mother’s death. No, now she’s learning that her mother was part of some secret society charged with manipulating events for the supposed protection of Adria and the small country’s history, secrets, and continued welfare. Grace is supposed to continue the society’s work, but she’s not sure if she can trust this shadowy organization. After all, how can she trust others when she doesn’t even trust herself?

While Grace is processing this new information–while trying to get a handle on her PTSD–she’s also dealing with new arrivals on Embassy Row. Her brother, Jamie, is visiting from West Point, and he’s brought a friend with him. Jamie is worried about Grace, but his friend, Spence, seems interested in her. Why, she wonders? What could Spence possibly see in the crazy girl that everyone else tiptoes around?

To further complicate matters, Alexei, her brother’s former best friend and son of the Russian Ambassador, is back in town, and he’s not thrilled about the new guy sniffing around Grace. Alexei and Spence come to blows, but surely a simple fight over a girl couldn’t lead to an international fiasco, right? Yeah…think again.

When Spence’s body washes up on the Adrian coast, fingers immediately begin pointing Alexei’s way. Grace is certain Alexei did nothing wrong, and she becomes determined to prove that her friend is being framed. Her friends agree to help her, but how can they possibly prove Alexei’s innocence when all evidence seems to point his way? And who could possibly want to kill Spence anyway? Surely a simple fight isn’t enough to lead to murder. Could Spence have been involved in something else that none of them knew about? Could that have been what led to his demise?

Grace is determined to find the answers she seeks, but she may not be ready for what those answers ultimately mean…for Alexei, her past, her family, or herself. What could her discovery mean for her future in Adria? Time will tell…


Before I give too much more away, I’m going to start wrapping things up. I will say, however, that See How They Run ends on a cliffhanger, and there are huge implications for the third (and final?) book, Take the Key and Lock Her Up. Book three is supposed to be released on December 27th of this year.

If you enjoyed All Fall Down, I think you’ll appreciate See How They Run as well. It shines a light on the darkness within Grace’s mind, and readers get a glimpse at what it might be like for someone who suffers with PTSD. (Although, can we really call it post-traumatic stress when the trauma is ongoing?)

If you like mysteries and political thrillers with a YA twist, this is definitely the series for you. To learn more about the Embassy Row series and other books by the fabulous Ally Carter, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.