Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham, another nominee for the 17-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, is advertised as being perfect for fans of Veronica Mars. Well, I don’t know about that–given that I’ve never seen Veronica Mars–but it is an entertaining YA mystery which features an intelligent, brave, and snarky Muslim American heroine. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Scarlett, a brilliant teen who graduated early from high school, is a private detective in Las Almas. Following the deaths of both of her parents, Scarlett lives with her sister, Reem, a dedicated medical student. Both young women are trying to do right by their parents’ memories. For Reem, that means becoming a doctor. For Scarlett, that means helping others and trying to figure out who may have killed her father.

When young Gemma Archer seeks out Scarlett’s help, Scarlett is a little reluctant to take the case. How could she possibly prove that Gemma’s older brother, Oliver, was somehow involved in his friend’s suicide? But there’s something about Gemma’s concerns that draw Scarlett in, so she decides to investigate. She couldn’t possibly know that she would uncover a possible cult or a weird connection to her own family.

As Scarlett’s investigation continues, she realizes she’s close to uncovering some pretty dangerous secrets–secrets that people are willing to kill for. She’s being followed, and this case could be putting the people Scarlett cares about in harm’s way. So what does she do? Does she cut and run, or does she follow wherever the clues lead her? Well, Scarlett’s been accused of being stubborn in the past, and that hasn’t changed, so she’s in this for the long haul.

Scarlett is growing closer to solving this whole sordid mess, but what could it mean for her faith and her future? What ancient evil could be unleashed if she doesn’t succeed? Will she be able to solve this mystery and keep her loved ones safe? Answer these questions and many more when you read Scarlett Undercover.


While Scarlett Undercover kept my interest, this book was not without its flaws. Allow me to highlight just a couple.

The book didn’t provide a ton of background information before jumping right into the action. I actually wondered if the copy of the book I was reading was missing a prologue or something. I’m not a fan of books that begin in medias res, and that’s what this book felt like. It would have been nice, in my opinion, to get the full story of how Scarlett came to be a teenage private detective before the major part of the story started.

Another issue I have with Scarlett Undercover is the lack of character development. We know a fair amount about Scarlett since she’s the protagonist, but what about all of the secondary characters? Scarlett has a sister, a love interest, a helpful cop, a guardian angel, and so many other people in her life. I’d like more information on all of these people, but I especially want to know more about Scarlett’s relationship with her sister, how she met Decker and how their feelings for each other grew over time, and even her early family life with her parents. And that’s not touching on a lot of the other players in this mystery. We don’t even get to know a ton about the villains, and that is a tragedy.

Even with those faults (and a few others that I haven’t addressed), I do love that this book features a Muslim American heroine. I think readers of all faiths (or no faith) will find they have a lot in common with Scarlett, whether or not they happen to be Muslim…or a teenage girl who solves crimes. Maybe those commonalities could be starting points for finding common ground in areas other than YA literature. One can hope.

To learn more about Scarlett Undercover, visit author Jennifer Latham’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Facebook.

Evelyn, After

This book is for the grown-ups, folks. Evelyn, After is definitely not for a middle grade or YA audience.

Last night, I finished reading my 275th book of the year. I just wish I had enjoyed it more. Evelyn, After was a Kindle First pick a couple of months ago, and I started reading it on Christmas Eve. I guess I was in the mood for a change of pace or something. I went in expecting something similar to Gayle Forman’s Leave Me. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what I got.

Evelyn Tester’s entire world comes crashing down with one phone call. Her husband, Gary, has been in a car accident, and he needs Evelyn to come to his rescue. There’s a problem, though. Her husband, a respected psychiatrist, is not alone. He’s with a patient…a patient he’s been cheating on Evelyn with for months.

Evelyn doesn’t want to believe that her husband could throw their lives away like this, so she ignores her instincts for a while. Eventually, though, her suspicions get the best of her…along with the stunning realization that her husband is hiding more than an affair from her. It seems that Gary’s car accident on that fateful night was much more serious than Evelyn could have ever thought.

Struggling to keep her world intact, Evelyn becomes obsessed with learning about the fallout from the accident and Juliette, her husband’s dirty little secret. She just has to know everything, no matter how much it hurts. The more she learns, the more she wants Juliette to hurt as much as she does. And that leads her to Noah, Juliette’s husband.

Evelyn didn’t go in with idea of forming a friendship with Noah. She simply wanted to see the man married to the vile Juliette. How could she possibly know how well she and Noah would connect? Or that he would unlock the ambition and identity she left behind when she became a wife and mother?

Soon, Evelyn and Noah are growing closer than anticipated, and Evelyn wants to hold onto these new feelings and the stronger version of herself that’s starting to emerge. But the truth of everything that’s come before is on a collision course with the person Evelyn is trying to become.

Who will Evelyn be when the dust settles? Find out when you read Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone.


I’ve made this book sound pretty good, right? Well, it’s a decent read, but I just didn’t really connect with it. Truthfully, I thought nearly all of the characters were horrible, and the big, awful secrets that Gary was hiding (yes, worse than an affair) didn’t have enough resolution for me. Maybe that’s my issue. Then again, maybe not.

If you’d like to learn more about Evelyn, After to form your own opinions on this book, you can visit the author’s website. (She’s more well known as Victoria Dahl.)

As for me, I’m going to return to the land of children’s, middle grade, and YA books. Peace out.

Black Ice

My latest read, Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, features heavy snow, serial killers, deception and secrecy, surviving in the most extreme conditions, and a fair amount of violence. What did I take away from it, though? Don’t go hiking. Don’t go backpacking, camping, or anything else that involves being “one with nature.” Actually, don’t go outside and interact with people, and you’ll be just fine. A message from your hermit-in-training.

All jokes aside (though I’m really not joking), Black Ice is a thrilling–and sometimes aggravating–book that will likely keep many readers guessing until the very end. I thought I knew what was going on through most of the book, but even I was thrown for a loop a couple of times. I do like a book that keeps me on my toes.

Many girls spend spring break of their senior year at the beach–swimming, hanging out with friends, relaxing, and getting ready for that final push to graduation. Not Britt Pheiffer. Britt is planning to hike the Teton Range with her reluctant best friend, Korbie. Britt’s ex-boyfriend (and Korbie’s older brother), Calvin, is also along for the ride. Britt isn’t thrilled about that particular development, but maybe forced proximity will give her closure regarding the end of their relationship…or ignite a whole new spark.

Circumstances, however, force Britt and Korbie into a dangerous situation before they’re able to meet up with Calvin. While driving to Korbie’s family lodge, the girls encounter extremely hazardous conditions. The two girls are forced to abandon their car and look for shelter before they freeze to death. They eventually find a remote cabin, occupied by two young men, Shaun and Mason, who appear to be very normal at first glance.

But there’s nothing normal about this situation.

Britt and Korbie quickly learn that Shaun and Mason are on the run, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to evade capture. That includes forcing Britt, a self-proclaimed expert in navigating the area, to lead them to the highway. They leave Korbie behind and journey into the frozen wilderness.

Britt hopes that Calvin will somehow come to her rescue, but she’s ultimately responsible for saving herself. She looks for opportunities to escape, and she becomes even more determined when she discovers shocking evidence that her captors may be responsible for the deaths of several local girls.

Something, though, is not adding up. Britt thinks that Shaun, the more violent of these two fugitives, is capable of murder, but she’s not so sure about Mason. He seems to have some sort of moral code, and Britt has observed some tension between Mason and Shaun. Could there be more going on here than meets the eye? Can Britt possibly count on Mason to be an ally? Or is he really the more dangerous of the two men?

As Britt navigates this terrifying, treacherous, confusing reality, she reflects on her relationships with Calvin, Korbie, her own family, and she comes to understand that she’s much stronger than even she realized. And she’ll need that strength for what’s to come. As Britt moves closer to what appears to be her salvation, she also uncovers some horrifying secrets–secrets that shake the very foundation of her world and place her in a more perilous situation than she could have ever dreamed of.


So…Black Ice definitely kept me on the edge of my seat–and that’s great–but this book was not without its issues. Maybe they’re more my issues than anything else, but I’ll address them anyway.

First up, there’s Korbie. I 100% loathe this character…and I figure I’m supposed to. It’s obvious to me–and to Britt–that Korbie is not a good friend. She acts superior and spoiled, and I seriously doubt she would have thought of Britt’s safety over her own. Her attitude provides a good contrast to Britt’s, and that’s probably the best thing I can say about Korbie.

Then there’s the messed up love triangle. I’m not going to go into specifics because that would give you a major spoiler, but I think Britt has a serious problem with her taste in guys. I mean, really. Both potential love interests were not exactly great to her, and one may or may not have been a deranged murderer. Sure, it miraculously and inexplicably works out for Britt in the end, but it just didn’t track for me. Maybe I’m cold and completely devoid of romantic sentiment. (I probably am.)

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way too neat and completely unrealistic ending. It was much too “rainbows and sunshine” for my taste, especially in a book that had been so intriguing up to that point.

Even with these issues, I did enjoy Black Ice. It was exciting, easy-to-read, and kept me engaged the whole way through. I think it’s a great fit for YA suspense collections.

If you’d like more information on Black Ice and other books by Becca Fitzpatrick, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Stealing Snow

Last night, I finished reading Danielle Paige’s latest novel, Stealing Snow, which is a retelling of The Snow Queen. I figured that, since I adored Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series, I would be equally enamored of her new book. That wasn’t exactly how things worked out.

I did enjoy some elements of Stealing Snow, but I like the Dorothy Must Die books much more. It may have something to do with the subject matter. I’m much more familiar with the Land of Oz than I am with the story of the Snow Queen. (Most of what I know about the Snow Queen comes from Frozen, and I think we can all agree that movie doesn’t come close to the original story.) The convoluted love story also didn’t really work for me. I liked the twist at the end of the book, and I fully intend to read the rest of the series, but Stealing Snow wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be.

When Snow Yardley was just a little girl, her mother sent her to live at Whittaker, a psychiatric facility for “troubled” youth. Snow doesn’t think she’s crazy, but she can’t deny that she has odd dreams and a tendency to be filled with icy anger. (It’s hard not to be angry when you’ve been locked in an asylum for most of your life.) Her only friend at Whittaker is Bale, but even that is taken from when he turns violent shortly after their first kiss.

Snow can’t explain Bale’s sudden violence–and even more sudden disappearance–but maybe there’s someone out there who can. A new orderly at Whittaker tells Snow that there’s a world that lies beyond these walls, and all she has to do to claim it is meet him at the Tree that haunts her dreams. But how can this be possible, and what does it have to do with Bale?

Snow eventually finds a way to escape Whittaker and find the Tree in question. Beyond the Tree lies the mysterious land of Algid. Snow doesn’t know quite what to make of this strange world…or her place in it. Algid is ruled by King Lazar, a brutal, powerful man…who is also Snow’s father. According to prophecy, Snow will soon overthrow her father or join him, making his hold on Algid even more absolute.

Snow isn’t convinced of all that’s being thrown at her, but she has to play along if she has any hope of finding Bale. At the very least, she needs to learn to control her newly discovered powers. As her name suggests, Snow has the power to control snow.

Snow needs to use her new power against the King’s minions, and several interested parties want to help her do just that. There’s the River Witch, who has her own reasons for wanting King Lazar out of power. There’s Kai, a boy who can be standoffish but who Snow feels connected to. And there’s Jagger, the boy who posed as an orderly at Whittaker, and his band of Robbers. Snow doesn’t know who to trust, but she’ll do whatever it takes to save Bale…even if she’s not entirely certain anymore that he’s the love of her life.

Like it or not, Snow is tied to the future of Algid, and a day is coming that will reveal to her more than she ever wanted to know. She’ll discover hard truths about Bale, her parents, herself, and what she needs to do to control her own fate.


As I said before, I wanted this book to be so much more than it was. It felt kind of disjointed at times, and the “love rectangle” really got on my nerves. Snow’s back-and-forth between Bale, Kai, and Jagger was grating and often nonsensical. I get why she was connected to Bale, but she just met Kai and Jagger. I didn’t see any reason for her to be all swoony over them. They could have been complete psychopaths for all she knew. (Of course, Bale had his share of psychotic moments, and she was nuts over him.) I just wanted to reach through the pages, shake Snow, and tell her to deal with her own issues without worrying about all these guys. I mean, seriously, she had enough problems without the male of the species making things more confusing. (And that last sentence may as well be my own personal philosophy on getting through life.)

Anyhoo, Stealing Snow, despite its flaws, was an enjoyable read. I liked the curveball at the end of the book. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.) That surprise made up for a lot and made me want to read more of this series.

Speaking of the series as a whole, there are two prequel novellas that are already available. The first, Before the Snow, tells more about the River Witch and her connection to King Lazar. The second, Queen Rising, gives a closer look at Margot, queen of the Robbers. Since I found both of those characters to be quite interesting in Stealing Snow, I’ll give those two stories a read very soon. The second full-length novel, which is currently untitled, will be out sometime in 2017.

If you’d like more information on Stealing Snow and Danielle Paige’s other books, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, and Goodreads.

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.