Queen Song

Note: Even though Queen Song is a prequel novella to Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, it’s a good idea to read Red Queen first. (Also, Red Queen was published first, so there you go.)

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading Queen Song, the first prequel novella in the fabulous Red Queen series. This short story tells the tale of Coriane, who you may recall was the mother of Cal and was the first wife of King Tiberias. That’s not where her story began, though. Coriane was a simple girl–or as simple as a Silver can be in this world–and she had resigned herself to a somewhat mundane existence. Fate, however, had other plans…

All Coriane has ever wanted is to build things. She delights in taking things apart, figuring out how they work, and putting them back together better than they were before. She spends her spare time poring over technical manuals…when she’s not being forced to suffer through etiquette lessons or the like. As a Silver of somewhat noble birth, she’s expected to take part in the trappings of the royal court, even though she’d rather be doing almost anything else.

One evening at the palace, Coriane comes into contact with two people with the power to change her life forever. First, there is Elara, a girl with the ability to enter–and toy with–the minds of others. Coriane finds herself as Elara’s terrified plaything for several horrible minutes, and she escapes to the relative safety outside. It is here that she meets Tibe, the Crown Prince. The two strike up a conversation…a conversation that Coriane never expects to lead to anything more than an unlikely friendship. It seems that Tibe may have other ideas…

As Coriane and Tibe grow closer together, it becomes clear to everyone that the Crown Prince has chosen his future queen. This puts an enormous target on Coriane’s back, and, even though she has come to love Tibe, she remains fearful of what others may do and expect of her…especially the dangerous and devious Elara.

Documenting her thoughts in a diary, Coriane reveals what it’s like to go from Silver nobody to Queen. Little by little, she feels herself being lost to the world around her. She’s simply not the girl she once was. She fears for the fate of her loved ones–especially her brother Julian, her husband Tibe, and her son Cal–and herself. She worries over the continuing war and what it could mean for her family. And she wonders if the disturbing thoughts in her head are her own.

Is Coriane in control of her own fate, or is someone else whispering deadly thoughts into her mind to further their own agenda? You decide…


Given how Queen Song ended and what happened in Red Queen, I have no doubt as to who was pulling–and cutting–Coriane’s strings. I’m guessing that anyone who’s read either of these stories will come to the same conclusion I did.

Queen Song gives readers a quick look at the early lives of several characters from Red Queen. Readers see what lead to some of their decisions and what continues to drive them. This is particularly true for Cal, Tibe (the King), Julian, Elara, and even Maven. (I doubt I have to explain why.)

Coriane’s story, while often heartbreaking, gives a bit of insight into her relationship with both her brother and the man who would be her husband. It also shows how dedicated Coriane was to her son and having him grow up in a world without the constant threat of war. This young woman wanted a better world for her family, but, sadly, someone else wanted to be in control of that world. (Again, if you’ve read Red Queen, I don’t have to explain anything more.)

I think Queen Song is an excellent addition to the Red Queen saga, and I look forward to reading even more. There is one more novella, Steel Scars, which is already out, and I plan to read that this weekend. The second full-length novel, Glass Sword, comes out next week (!!!), and I’ll get my hands on that as soon as possible.

To learn more about Queen SongRed Queen, and Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page. Have fun out there.

Published in: on February 4, 2016 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rebel Allies

Turn back now if you haven’t read the following books in the I Am Number Four series:

I read I Am Number Four almost six years ago. If I had known that the series would still be going strong all these years later, would I still have picked up this book? Probably. Sometimes, I’m simply in the mood for some alien adventure, and this series definitely delivers.

This weekend, I devoted some time to reading the latest collection of novellas in the I Am Number Four (or Lorien Legacies) series. This collection, Rebel Allies, contains stories 10-12, and it really adds to the series as a whole.

The first story in this collection, The Fugitive, takes a closer look at a familiar character from this series, Mark James. You might remember Mark as the cocky football star–and Sarah’s ex-boyfriend–from the first book, but his life changed drastically when a bunch of shark-faced aliens (the Mogadorians) blew up his high school. Since then, Mark has been trying to figure out exactly what is going on with both the Mogs and the Loric Garde trying to defeat them.

Now, Sarah is missing, and Mark is determined to track her down. He’s sure that she’s either with Four and the Garde, or the Mogs have captured her. He’s not sure which, but he’ll do whatever it takes to find her…even if it means fighting evil aliens and the government agencies aiding them.

Mark, however, isn’t completely alone. A mysterious figure known only as GUARD provides assistance when Mark needs it the most. Who is this guy, and how does he know so much about Mark, the Loric, and the Mogs? Can GUARD be trusted? Well, Mark will soon find out…


The second two stories, The Navigator and The Guard, introduce a fairly new character in this series, the one known to Mark as GUARD. This person has played a part in both The Fugitive and some of the other stories in the series, but these two novellas delve a bit deeper.

Without giving too much away, I will say that GUARD is not a man as Mark assumed. She is a woman, and she is from Lorien. She was there when the Mogs attacked, and she managed to escape to Earth. Now, this brilliant hacker is doing whatever possible to protect her new home from suffering her planet’s fate.


If the series stays true to pattern, the stories of Rebel Allies lead directly into the next full-length novel, The Fate of Ten. This book was released in September, so I plan to dive right in as soon as I wrap up this post. I feel certain there will be one more novella collection* sometime this year, probably before the final book, United As One, comes out on June 28th.

*If you can’t wait for the print version of the next novellas, one of the stories is already out in ebook form, and another is coming next month. Story #13, Legacies Reborn, was released in November, and story #14, Last Defense, will be out on February 23rd. I don’t know yet if there will be a 15th story.

For much more information on this exciting series, go to the I Am Number Four Fans website. Enjoy!

Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah

A little over a year ago, I read a book by Erin Jade Lange that really spoke to me. That book was Butter. So, when NetGalley gave me the opportunity to read this author’s newest work, I jumped at the chance. Given how I reacted to Butter, I hoped that Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah would also elicit an emotional response. It did, but in a different way. (This wasn’t really surprising. I really identified with the main character in Butter. Not as much in this new book. As we move forward with this post, you may see why.)

Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah–which comes out on February 16th–is being billed as a modern-day version of The Breakfast Club. I agree with that…to a certain extent. The kids in this book aren’t exactly stuck in detention. No, their situation is more serious than that. They are on the run from both cops and criminals. (It’s hard to tell which is which in their predicament.) How is this book like The Breakfast Club then? Well, each character is very different and brings their own issues to the situation, but their close quarters and shared anxiety over the trouble surrounding them bring them together.

Let’s take a closer look…

Sam’s night is not off to a great start. If only she had controlled her runaway mouth at work, she may have been able to avoid a whole heap of trouble. But she didn’t, and that led to her being fired. After cleaning out her locker, Sam heads to a pawn shop to buy back her mom’s violin (which is a whole other story). That’s where she runs into Andi, former popular girl and current outcast, and her night takes a turn that she never could have predicted.

Sam follows Andi to a party in the woods…a party that Sam never would have been invited to. Here, Sam and Andi encounter two brothers, York and Boston. When the police break up the party, Sam, Andi, York, and Boston make a run for it. Not the best decision.

In running away from the police, this foursome runs right into trouble. Trouble that involves gunfire, stolen cars, a hit-and-run, and millions of dollars in drugs. They don’t know who can be trusted in this situation…especially since it seems like some of the cops involved could be the same ones shooting at them and dealing drugs. They can’t exactly go to the police with everything that’s happened when the police are responsible for at least some of it.

So Sam, Andi, York, and Boston decide to hide out until they can figure out what to do. In the process, they learn more about each other…and themselves. Sam reveals her struggles with her mom, a recovering drug addict. Andi talks about her issues with her dad and how she went from popular girl to total outcast. York admits that he feels guilty about a terrible incident in his past. Boston tells everyone–especially his brother–about the pressure he feels to be smart and successful.

As they reveal more and more about themselves, these four scared kids decide to present a united front…no matter how things turn out. “All of us or none of us” is their motto. But what happens when they learn that one of them is hiding more than just some family secrets? And when the bad guys catch up to them, will that united front stand, or will it all fall apart? Who will ultimately take the blame for everything that’s happened?

Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah by Erin Jade Lange.


In case you’re wondering, I did like this book. Maybe not as much as Butter, but it definitely held my attention. It was full of action, emotion, secrets, and intrigue, and I would recommend it to many teen and adult readers. (It’s probably a little too mature for middle grade readers, in my opinion.)

I think a lot of people will find bits of themselves in at least one of the characters in this book. I know I did. (For me, I guess I probably related most to Boston, the nerdy know-it-all. This is likely not surprising.) For those who eventually decide to use Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah as a high school book club choice (something I encourage), an interesting discussion could be which characters readers are most like, why they identified with them, and how they would have handled themselves in a similar predicament.

For more information on Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah and other books by Erin Jade Lange, be sure to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.

Be sure to pick up your own copy of Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah on February 16th. Happy reading!

Published in: on January 30, 2016 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Almost Midnight

If you haven’t read C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls: After Dark series, proceed with caution.

This post is going to look a bit different than others. Today, I’ll be focusing on Almost Midnight, the Shadow Falls novella collection, which will be released in print on February 2nd. There are five stories in this book, and, prior to being approved to read the compilation via NetGalley, I’d already read four of them–and written blog posts for two.

The novellas in this book are:

  • Turned at Dark
  • Saved at Sunrise
  • Unbreakable
  • Spellbinder
  • Fierce (This is the brand new story.)

Now, I’m going to take things in chronological order–not the order the stories were published but when they occur in the Shadow Falls world. I’ll write a bit on the stories I haven’t posted on yet and provide links to the stories–both novellas and full-length novels–I’ve already written. Let’s begin…


Turned at Dark (Shadow Falls, #0.5)

This short story is essentially Della Tsang’s origin story. Readers get a brief glimpse into what life is like for her before she is turned into a vampire. Della is loyal to her family and her boyfriend, Lee. Everything changes, though, when she thinks she sees her cousin one night–a cousin who’s supposedly been dead for a year.

This leads Della into a terrifying confrontation with some werewolves. Her cousin, Chan, saves her, but he also activates the dormant vampirism virus within Della. After that, Della begins to turn, and, though she wants nothing more than to go back to her old life, she must reconcile herself to these new circumstances. She’s now a vampire, and nothing will ever be the same.

Born at Midnight (Shadow Falls, #1)

Awake at Dawn (Shadow Falls, #2)

Taken at Dusk (Shadow Falls, #3)

Whispers at Moonrise (Shadow Falls, #4)

Saved at Sunrise (Shadow Falls, #4.5)

Della Tsang returns for more fun in this novella. In this story, Della is being given her first mission from her mentor, Burnett. She’s eager to prove herself, and she’s not entirely thrilled that she’ll have company on this mission. Steve, a shapeshifter, is accompanying her for her own protection, something Della swears she doesn’t need.

Before their assignment gets underway, however, Della sneaks away for a glimpse of the life she left behind. She sees her family happy without her, and she runs into her ex-boyfriend–enjoying a night out with his new fiancée. Della is at a loss for words when she comes face-to-face with Lee. Luckily, Steve–the back-up she swore she didn’t need–steps in to save the day.

As it turns out, Della needs Steve for more than just a way to save face with Lee. When she and Steve finally get to their mission, they realize that it’s more dangerous than either of them–or Burnett–could have possible predicted.

But what if a rogue vampire den isn’t what’s really dangerous here? What about the danger that Steve poses to Della’s heart?

Chosen at Nightfall (Shadow Falls, #5)

Unbreakable (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #0.5)

Reborn (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #1)

Eternal (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #2)

Spellbinder (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #2.5)

Unspoken (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #3)

Fierce (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #???)*

*I’m not entirely sure where this one fits in the Shadow Falls chronology. Some of the action in the story seems familiar, so it may take place within one of the Shadow Falls: After Dark novels. If you can enlighten me, send me a quick note in the comments. For now, though, I’m putting Fierce at the end of the series because it’s the latest story to be released.

Fierce takes a look at Fredericka Lakota, a werewolf new to Shadow Falls. The daughter of a rogue were, Fredericka got off to a rough start among the other supernaturals here, but she wants to show them that there’s more to her than they know. She finds joy in making beautiful jewelry, and she’s trying to make a go of a relationship with Cary, another were at Shadow Falls.

As so often happens, though, things begin to change in Fredericka’s life. She realizes that Cary may not be the guy she needs in her life. He doesn’t really see her, and she decides to end things. He does not take it well.

Fredericka also lands a coveted spot selling her jewelry in a nearby gallery, and she’s oddly drawn to the gallery’s owner, Brandon. What is it about this guy? Why does she feel so connected to him so quickly? And what is his connection to the supernatural world?

While all of this is going on, Fredericka also feels the presence of a ghost who needs her help. She’s not exactly prepared for this…or much of anything else that’s happening around her. Can Fredericka somehow make sense of everything–and learn to trust those around her–before the life she’s trying so desperately to build crumbles before her eyes?


So that’s it. That’s all of the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls: After Dark stories…so far. I probably don’t have to tell you that I really like these series. I mean, I’ve read every single story, and I still come back for more. Sadly, “more” is about to come to and end.

There is one final book in the Shadow Falls world, Midnight Hour. I have no idea what this book will be about or who the primary characters will be, but I do know that it’s scheduled to be out this October. You can be sure that I will get my hands on it as soon as humanly possible.

If, after all this, I still haven’t given you enough information on the Shadow Falls series, check out C.C. Hunter’s website for more.

I’ll close this post with just two little words…

GO BRONCOS!!!

Published in: on January 24, 2016 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Red Queen

I should begin this post by thanking the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award Committee for placing an outstanding book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard on next year’s list of nominees. Had they not, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get to this most excellent book. So thanks to this group of librarians, teachers, students, and others for including Red Queen on the Book Award list and moving it to the top of my TBR pile.

Now, let’s move on to my thoughts on Red Queen. In a nutshell…Holy Crap on a Cracker. I was blown away by this book, and I honestly don’t know how I’m going to be able to express that in a single blog post. (I’ll do my best, though.)

I guess I’ll start with this: If you were to combine the X-Men, Graceling, The Hunger Games, and The Selection, you might get close to the awesomeness that is Red Queen. Yep, that about covers it. Still not enough info? Well, let’s explore this fantastic story a bit more…

Mare Barrow is a seventeen-year-old who lives by her wits. She lies, cheats, and steals to get by, and she realizes that, if she should be caught, it would mean certain death. Why, then, does Mare risk so much?

Mare is a Red. To be Red in this world is to be “less.” The Silvers–humans with silver blood and amazing abilities–are in power, and they plan to stay that way. The Reds fight and die in wars of the Silvers’ making, they work for scraps, and their lives are daily struggles. Until Mare is conscripted into the army, her only way to contribute to her family is to steal whatever she can to make things just a little easier.

Mare sees no way out of her current life, but a chance encounter with a strange young man–known only to her as Cal–changes everything.

Soon, Mare finds herself with a new job–working for the Silvers in the summer palace. This position ensures that she won’t have to join the army, but how did she come to be working here? Who could have possibly gotten her this job? Imagine Mare’s surprise when she realizes that Cal, the young man she recently met outside of a Red tavern, is none other than the Crown Prince. He’s the reason she’s here, surrounded by the very people who keep Reds like her under their heels.

But it seems that fate has more in store for Mare than she or anyone else realized…

When Mare’s life is in danger, it is revealed that she has powers of her own–an unheard-of occurrence in this world. Only Silvers have power, and the royal family will not let anyone learn that Mare, a mere Red, has special abilities. So Mare is passed off as a Silver and betrothed to Maven, Cal’s younger brother. Now, Mare is a princess-in-training, and she knows that the Silvers around her are looking for any excuse to put an end to the threat she poses to their way of life.

As for Mare, she’s looking to be even more of a threat. When the opportunity arises to join the Scarlet Guard, a group of rebellious Reds looking to end Silver rule, Mare takes it. She can help the Guard from the inside and finally stop the tyranny that Reds have lived under for so long. She may even find some unexpected help along the way.

But nothing is as it seems inside the palace. Mare doesn’t know who can be trusted or when everything will come crumbling to the ground. Have those in power seen everything she’s been doing, everyone she’s been talking to? And what will happen to Mare if her secret activities should be discovered? Will she be able to count on the Silver allies she’s made, or will they betray her for their own agendas?

Mare stands in the midst of this war between Silver and Red. How will her position, abilities, and relationships factor into the events to come? Read Red Queen to find out.


I hope I’ve done a little to entice you to read this wonderful book. It truly is phenomenal, and I look forward to reading more in this series.

Speaking of more, the next full-length novel, Glass Sword, comes out on February 9th. If you can’t wait that long–yes, I know it’s only a couple of weeks–there are also two novellas already out. They are Queen Song and Steel Scars, and I plan to read those as soon as I finish up a couple of other books.

While Red Queen is, in my view, definitely written for a teen audience, I do think that some middle grade readers will eat it up. Those who love The Hunger Games and The Selection will find a new series to devour in Red Queen.

If you want to learn more about Red Queen and Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page. You can also check out the Epic Reads book trailer below. It doesn’t give much of anything about Red Queen away, but it does look pretty cool.

Published in: on January 23, 2016 at 8:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Last Time We Say Goodbye

On Monday, the latest nominees for the South Carolina Book Award program were announced. For the first time in probably ten years, I had not read any of the books listed in the Young Adult category. (I may work in an elementary school now, but I still love YA literature…as you may have noticed.)

Anyway, I knew I needed to correct that situation immediately, so I asked a friend which of the YA nominees I should read first. Her recommendation was Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Unfortunately, that book was unavailable through Overdrive, so I had to move on to another one. (Luckily for me, Red Queen became available fairly quickly, so that’s my next SCYABA read.) Since I couldn’t immediately dive into Red Queen, I chose to read The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I’d read her Unearthly trilogy (Unearthly, Hallowed, and Boundless) and enjoyed it, so I trusted that I would like this book as well. I was right…again.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is not what I would call an “easy” read. The subject matter–suicide and those left behind–is tough to read about. It’s even tougher if one’s life has been touched by suicide. That being said, I feel this is an important book for allowing readers to explore a tough topic…and to know that they are not alone.

Lex thought she knew the path her life was on. She was happy, excelling in school, and hoping to get into MIT. She had good friends and a great boyfriend who really understood her. Sure, things were tense at home since her dad left, but she, her mom, and her brother would get through that eventually. Things were okay.

And then everything changed. From one moment to the next, Lex’s entire world was turned upside down.

When her brother Ty ended his life, Lex didn’t know what to do with herself. How could she ever be happy again when her brother would never be able to? How could she look forward to her future when Ty wouldn’t have one?

As the weeks and months pass, Lex searches for her new normal. She’s forgotten what it feels like to be happy. She’s lost touch with her friends and ended things with her boyfriend. Her grades are beginning to slip. She worries about her mother, and she can’t even deal with her father. Moving on from this tragedy doesn’t seem to be an option.

Lex reluctantly talks to her therapist who suggests she keep a journal. Through writing, Lex begins to explore her relationship with her brother, what may have led to his decision, and her own guilt over not being there when Ty needed her. Could she have done something to stop him? Lex doesn’t know, but the guilt–and the feeling that Ty is still around somehow–are driving her crazy.

If Lex has any hope of moving on and being happy again–whatever that looks like–she knows she must face everything that happened the night Ty died, all of the events that may have led up to it, and the horrible fallout. She has to confront her parents about their actions as well as come to terms with her own. It’s the only way she can possibly have any real peace.

Will Lex’s efforts be enough, or will she forever be haunted by the ghost of her brother? Find out when you read The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand.


The Last Time We Say Goodbye is sure to be popular with fans of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Fall by James Preller, or I Was Here by Gayle Forman. It’s a great book dealing with a difficult subject, and it may be just what someone needs to get through a tough time.

I don’t know that I would recommend The Last Time We Say Goodbye to all middle grade readers, but some may be able to handle it. Use your best judgement when putting this book in young hands, but keep in mind that kids–yes, even those in middle school–have been touched by suicide. A book like this one may be what they need. Trust me on this.

For more information on The Last Time We Say Goodbye, check out author Cynthia Hand’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Finally, if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone–a parent, a friend, a guidance counselor, a librarian, a religious leader, someone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or It Get’s Better. You’re not alone.

Published in: on January 17, 2016 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Everything, Everything

I decided to read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon on a whim. It wasn’t on my to-read list. It was barely on my radar. Basically, it was the first available book I saw when I logged onto Overdrive the other day. (By the way, if your school or public library offers Overdrive, USE IT! If they don’t, ask for it. It’s awesome!) I read the synopsis and said to myself, “Why not?” That impulse served me well.

Everything, Everything, which has been out for a few months now, is a quick, easy read, but it does pack an emotional punch. It’s a great piece of contemporary YA fiction, and I think it will find an audience with fans of  wonderful authors like Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, and many others. Also, I think it’s pretty great that the main character, Madeline, comes from a background that we don’t see a lot in books for teens. (Her mom is Japanese American, and her dad is African American.)

Madeline Whittier may as well live in a bubble. Seriously. Madeline has SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency), so the least little thing could make her extremely sick. She can’t remember the last time she left her house, and her only human interaction is with her mom and her nurse.

It’s not all bad, though. Madeline reads all the time, she has game nights with her mom, and she can connect with the world online. She’s never really known anything different, and she’s (mostly) accepted that this is her life.

All of that changes when she hears the moving truck next door. With one look out her window, Madeline knows that her life will never be the same. One glimpse at Olly is all it takes. (And the feeling seems to be mutual.)

They start out just looking and gesturing at each other through their bedroom windows. (Nothing creepy, I promise!) They then progress to texting and emailing. But soon that’s not enough for either of them. They want to meet in person. But how can they when Olly would have to get past Madeline’s mother and undergo a fairly extensive decontamination process just to get in the door? Well, as it turns out, Madeline’s nurse can be persuaded to keep a secret…

It doesn’t take long for Madeline to realize that she could be in some serious trouble with Olly. Her growing feelings for him–and his for her–could turn out to be very inconvenient. Aside from the fact that her mom would freak out if she knew of their relationship and his visits, Madeline doesn’t see how they can have a future together with her illness getting in the way. It’s not like they can go out on dates, take a walk, or do anything “normal” young couples do.

Or can they?


I’m going to leave you hanging on that note. If I keep going, I’ll give too much away…like how the ending totally threw me for a loop. ;-)

If you’re looking to add Everything, Everything to your library, I would have to say that I recommend it for teen and adult readers. There are some sexy times–which are obvious but not gratuitous–that some middle grade readers may not be ready for (I hope).

For more information on Everything, Everything and Nicola Yoon, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Tumblr, 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.

Published in: on January 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happily Ever After

It is highly recommended that you, at the very least, read the first three Selection novels (The Selection, The Elite, and The One) before reading the Happily Ever After collection. Most of the stories will be all kinds of confusing if you don’t. Get to it!

After finishing The Heir a couple of days ago, I just couldn’t let go of the world Kiera Cass created in her Selection series, so I decided to finish up the novellas included in Happily Ever After. These stories include a few I’d already read in ebook form, but I ended up rereading a couple because I forgot what happened (and because I neglected to write posts on them).

Like I indicated at the beginning of this post, each of these stories is best approached after already becoming familiar with what happens in the first three novels in the series. I’ll try to explain why as I we go along. Let’s get started…

The Queen (Selection #0.4)

I actually did manage to do a short write-up of this novella, and you can read that here. Even though The Queen serves as a prequel to the entire series, I would read it after finishing The One so that you can adequately compare the characters of Amberly, America, Clarkson, and Maxon. Each of the characters is very different, and they all approached hardships in varied–and not always positive–ways.

If you’re curious, I still think King Clarkson is a butt-faced jerk.

The Prince (Selection #0.5)

This is one of the stories I re-read so that I could remember exactly where it fit in the Selection timeline. The Prince, obviously, is told from Maxon’s perspective, and it takes place both immediately before and during the first days of his Selection. I would say that this story can be read after finishing The Selection.

The Prince provides an interesting look into Maxon’s rather tense dealings with his father, his feelings on the Selection as a whole, and his earliest interactions with America. In this story, Maxon also struggles with the very concept of love. If he can’t feel anything for a girl who he’s known forever and professes her love for him, how can he possibly grow to love one of the thirty-five girls chosen by his overbearing father, all in a matter of months? Luckily, his mind is somewhat eased fairly early on.

I think it’s clear to see in this story that, for Maxon, the winner of his Selection was decided before the competition even began.

The Guard (Selection #2.5)

The Guard, told from Aspen’s perspective, should be read after finishing The Elite.

If you’re at all familiar with this series (and by this point, you should be), you know that Aspen was America’s first love back in Carolina, and he’s now a palace guard. Both he and America are still very close, and Aspen is trying to envision a future where they can be together…even as he sees America winning the heart of the future king.

While Aspen is looking for any stolen moments with America that he can find, another guard and a Selection contestant are caught in a compromising situation. The consequences of their actions make him think about his relationship with America and how far he’ll go to keep her in his life. Is he willing to risk everything? Is she? (If you’ve already read the first three books, you know the answers to these questions, but it’s still fun to see things from Aspen’s point of view.)

The Favorite (Selection #2.6)

This story, which I read for the very first time this morning, might be my favorite (Ha!) of these short stories. It focuses on Marlee, America’s closest friend in the competion. This girl managed to make it to the Elite round of competition for Maxon’s hand…before she threw it all away for love.

The Favorite begins immediately after the Halloween party (seen first in The Elite) that changed everything. Marlee and Carter, a palace guard, were discovered with each other, and they’re now in the palace cells awaiting their punishment. Marlee is certain they’ll be sentenced to death, but they are to be publicly caned and virtually exiled instead. As long as she and Carter can be together, Marlee is willing to take whatever punishment the King dishes out.

Marlee is unprepared, though, for just how vicious this caning actually is. The fact that her family is forced to watch doesn’t help the situation. Through it all, though, Carter is there with her, professing his love. And, even though she doesn’t realize it at the time, her friend America–and even Prince Maxon–are there for her at what seems to be her lowest point. With Carter by her side and good friends who’ll move heaven and earth to help her, Marlee feels like she’s won something more precious than a crown.

_______________

Okay…so those are the four major short stories in this collection. But wait, there’s more! Happily Ever After also includes several extras that are worth a mention:

  • Endpapers that feature a map of Illéa. This map clarifies a few things for me. Also, I really like geography, so I enjoyed comparing this map to the current map of North America and figuring out why places were redrawn and renamed the way they were. (Yes, I know this makes me even more of a nerd than some of you probably thought. I’m okay with that.)
  • Lovely illustrations peppered within each story.
  • Several scenes from Celeste’s perspective. These were particularly enlightening, given that I loathed Celeste for most of the series. She really grew from the spoiled, entitled girl we first met into someone who would do whatever she could to redeem herself.
  • The Maid. Told from Lucy’s point of view, this story gives readers a look into this girl’s budding romance with Aspen. Lucy, who serves as one of America’s maids, is worried that Aspen can never let go of his first love. It’s up to Aspen to convince Lucy that she’s truly the one for him.
  • After the One. This story is an epilogue for The One and, obviously, should be read after finishing that book. It is very sweet and serves as a great lead-in to The Heir.
  • “Where Are They Now?” Updates on three of the Selection candidates and what happened to them after this huge chapter in their lives came to an end.

All in all, Happily Ever After is a must-read if you’re a Selection fan. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m glad I spent this last day of 2015 immersed in this world. For more on all things Selection, visit Kiera Cass’ website.

With that, I bid you adieu. I hope everyone has a fantastic New Year’s Eve. Be safe out there, and be sure to come back here tomorrow for my year in review, my reading resolutions, and the books I’m most looking forward to in 2016. Happy New Year!

Published in: on December 31, 2015 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

As of this afternoon, I’ve now read four of April Henry’s books. In addition to The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, I’ve read The Night She Disappeared, The Body in the Woods, and Torched. All of these books have convinced me that April Henry is one of my go-to authors for YA suspense. These books are fast-paced, thrilling reads that captured my attention and wouldn’t let go…and they’re all perfect when it’s gloomy and grim outside and you want a book to match that feeling.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, which has been out for a couple of years now, is probably the quickest read of all of the April Henry books I’ve read. The chapters are short, but they pack quite a punch…as does the book’s protagonist.

She comes to in a cabin. She doesn’t know where she is, what’s happened to her, or how she got here. She can’t even remember who she is. All she knows is that two men are standing over her, and it’s crystal clear that they intend to kill her. Why? What exactly do they think she knows?

When opportunity strikes, so does she. She does what she must to get free of one of her attackers, and she’s amazed at the defensive skills she displays. Where did she learn these skills…and why would she need them in the first place?

She’s now on the run, and she doesn’t know who to trust. She simply knows she must find some way to access her memories, no matter how painful they may be. With killers closing in and the possibility of being framed for heinous crimes, this girl needs to find help…fast.

Help comes in the form of Ty, a young man working the late shift at McDonald’s. He recognizes something in this girl that he’s experienced himself: desperation. Even though it could cost him his very life, he offers assistance and works to help her uncover the truth…about herself and the terrible circumstances that have led to this horrific, unimaginable situation.

As the truth comes to light, this girl–whose name is Cady–finally understands what’s going on around her: why she’s a target, what’s happened to her family, and why those hunting her must be stopped. It’s not just her life on the line. The fate of the entire world could be at risk.

Can one teenage girl and her unexpected companion possibly stop someone who’s willing to put the entire world in danger in the name of greed? Just what will become of this girl who was supposed to die?

_______________

I feel like I’ve given way too much away here, and I apologize for that. I didn’t mention several of the major points in the book, so there are still a few surprises in store for those who choose to pick up this thriller. I would recommend the book to any middle grade, YA, or adult reader who is in the mood for a good mystery or suspense novel.

All that being said, I did have one issue with The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die. In my humble opinion, the ending was a little too abrupt. It seemed like there was a ton of build-up, and–BOOM–it’s over. Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way. Read the book for yourself, and let me know what you think.

If you’d like more information on this book and other mysteries by April Henry, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Facebook.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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