Salt to the Sea

salt-to-the-seaFirst Lines: Guilt is a hunter.  My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child.  It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.

Around this time of year, my students dive into the Holocaust novels, and one of the options is Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray.  I thought it would be awesome to read her newest novel at the same time.  Same time period and everything.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the main characters in this book was a minor character in Gray.

It’s winter, 1945.  Germany is losing the war and scrambling to keep what control they have.  Four teenagers, all with secrets of their own, meet on accident.  Each one hunted and haunted by the war and the tragedies in their pasts.  To flee the Soviets, they will all find their way to the Wilhelm Gustloff along with thousands of other refugees, a ship that promises freedom and safety.  But not all promises can be kept…

I went into this book with zero knowledge of this event.  I mean, I’m really well-versed in the Titanic disaster, and I know a bit about the Lusitania.  But the Wilhelm Gustloff?  Never heard of it.  And actually, that made this story better because I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen or when/how/why.

The story follows four teenagers, as I mentioned.  Two boys, two girls.  As I mentioned, one of them makes a reappearance from Between Shades of Gray, which was freaking awesome.  But what I love about Sepetys is that her characters always feel so real.  Each had their own distinct personalities and ticks, secrets and habits.  There’s even one character that has this unreliable narration thing going on.  After a while, something about him just starts to seem off and you have to start questioning whether or not these things are real.  It was kind of fascinating, studying him from the perspective of the other characters.  But I’m an English major, so….

The chapters in this book are incredibly short.  We’re talking like 2 pages most of the time before it switches from one narrator to the next.  It takes a little getting used to, because I kept mixing things up at the beginning before I got to know each of the characters.  But after that, it actually worked pretty well.  And it made it impossible to put down.  How are you supposed to stop when you know the next chapter is a page and a half?  And that the chapter after that is two pages?

The brilliance of Sepetys is the way she weaves history into the story.  It always feels like every single detail has been meticulously researched.  The ship, the way the refugees interacted with each other, clothing, hostilities between nations, even shoes.  So much research has gone into this book and it just makes it that much easier to feel like I’m actually there.

For as much as I loved it, I still hit a few hiccups with this book.  Any fans of Sepetys will know that what I’m about to complain about are pretty common in her books.  The vast majority of the book is rather slow.  It’s building the world, developing the characters, and setting up the ship’s story.  All of this is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not exactly exciting.

Also, the ending is rather abrupt and a little confusing.  (My students reading Gray have had similar complaints.)  It’s not very satisfying, but I also kind of understand why she ends these books this way.  I mean, these are all based on real experiences, real tragedy.  It’s not like the real survivors’ lives just cleanly wrapped up and ended with a happily ever after.  So I get it, but it always still feels a little like a let-down when you get to the end.

Still, I did enjoy the book.  Sepetys will continue being a must-read for me when it comes to historical fictions.

Spotlight Friday (152)

Hello my lovelies!  It’s a new Friday and that means we are ONE WEEK CLOSER to school being out for the summer!  (I’m almost certain I want out of there more than my students do.)  Oh, and yeah, more new books!

traitor-angels-anne-blankman

Traitor Angels by Anne Blankman

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.

Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.

Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s man arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?

When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.

What’s To Like: I have this as an ARC (it’s next on my to-read list) so we’ll soon find out how good it is!  But I’m excited because this deals with a more obscure piece of history.  I love historical fictions like that.  But Blankman also knows how to write the most fascinating characters.  (Her debut series about Nazi Germany has the most haunting depiction of Hitler I’ve ever read: brilliant, charming, and yet just unstable enough to make you feel uneasy.  But definitely not the monster we’ve come to think of him as.)  I’m incredibly hopeful that this book will follow in the same vein, with the awesome characters, I mean.

41tfnv8j0fl-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_The Countdown (The Taking, #3) by Kimberly Derting

Release Date: May 10, 2016

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads): In the concluding book in the otherworldly Taking trilogy, Kyra struggles to understand who she is as she races to save the world from complete destruction.

Ever since Kyra was abducted by aliens and then returned to earth, she has known there was something different about her. Now she knows the truth: she is an alien too. Her alien captors replaced all her human DNA with their own—gifting her with supernatural powers like incredible healing, enhanced eyesight, and telekinesis. But when she’s captured by an unexpected enemy, Kyra begins to wonder if her abilities are also a curse. And is she, as her enemies believe, meant to play some key role in helping an impending alien invasion? Is it programmed into her, something inescapable? Or can she fight that destiny?

No matter what the truth is, Kyra is sure of one thing: She just rescued the love of her life, Tyler, and she is not going to stand by and let anyone hurt him or her friends. Whatever it takes, Kyra will do everything in her power to save the world…even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.

What’s To Like: Normally, the subject of this book (aliens) would be the kiss of death for me wanting to read this.  The seller was that it was Derting’s book and I’ve yet to pass up on one of hers.  And truly, it’s really good.  Kyra and Tyler are adorable and the first book completely won me over.  I’m actually really excited to see how this book wraps everything up.

the-unexpected-everythingThe Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Andie had it all planned out.

When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future.

Important internship? Check.

Amazing friends? Check.

Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks)

But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life.

Because here’s the thing – if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected.

And where’s the fun in that?

What’s To Like: I’ve already read this, you guys, and I can assure you it’s cute.  I totally fell head over heels for Clark.  And it’s timely too, given all the politics on the news right now.

My review of The Unexpected Everything

Ruined (Ruined, #1)

ruined-amy-tinteraFirst Lines: The wheels of the carriage creaked as they rolled across the dirt road.  The noise echoed through the quiet forest.  Em crouched behind a tree, tightening each finger individually around her sword.

This was one of my ARCs and, if you saw my last Spotlight, I mentioned that I was going to read this soon (and I wasn’t lying!).  [Release date is May 3, 2016.]  So what did I think?  Let’s find out.

Em wants nothing short of revenge.  When her parents are killed and her sister kidnapped, Em will do whatever it takes to dispose of those responsible, namely the royal family of Lera.  Em disguises herself as the prince’s fiancee to gain entrance into the palace and into the royal family’s arms.  But Prince Cas isn’t the person Em expected him to be.  He’s not the bloodthirsty monster his father is.  Still, Em is determined to exact revenge…but revenge doesn’t come free…

I loved this.  It has the kinds of things I love in a fantasy: magic, stunning characters (both good and bad), danger, secrets, political alliances.  I mean, where can you go wrong?

Em and Cas are great characters.  Em’s one desire is to bring her parents’ murderers to justice and retrieve her sister, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get that, even marrying a prince she hates under a false identity.  It’s really compelling, actually, to see how far she’s willing to go in the name of justice.  And Cas is definitely not who you think he’s going to be, which is part of his charm.  He’s unpredictable because he refuses to take things at face value.

The plot I found to be delightfully intricate.  There’s a lot of dramatic irony, as the story is told from both Em and Cas’s perspectives.  Em knows things Cas doesn’t and vice versa.  And as I mentioned, there are all of these political alliances and subtle suspicions feeding the whole thing.  Everything’s tricky and nothing is quite as it seems.

If political intrigue isn’t your thing, there are a ton of sword fights and physical action.  We’re talking about a world where the royal families are some of the best fighters, even better than their guards.  So yeah, the sword fights can be intense.  There is also a fair bit of gore, which is bound to occur when you’re doing things like severing a head from someone’s body.  It’s nothing terribly graphic, but it’s still kinda nasty sometimes.  Anyway, suffice it to say there are a lot of awesome action sequences.

It’s even been a few days since I’ve read this and this story is sticking with me amazingly well.  Like, I remember a ton.  So this is really awesome.  Hopefully I’ll remember all of this when the sequel comes out next year.

In Honor

in_honor-kirby_jessi-21541161-56366688-frntlFirst Lines: The snap of the first shot breaks open the afternoon.  I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for the second one, ears strained against the silence.  Seven rifles have come together as one, in salute of Finn.

I have read and loved many a Jessi Kirby book.  This had been on my to-read list for a while, and I thought it was time to bring Kirby back into my life.

When Honor loses her brother Finn in Iraq, the world seems to stop.  None of it feels real.  On the day they bury her brother, Honor gets a late letter from Finn.  In it are two tickets to a Kyra Kelly concert, Honor’s favorite singer and Finn’s celebrity crush, and a joke to tell Kyra all about Finn.  Seeing this as a last request, Honor wants to hit the road immediately.  It’s then she sees Rusty, Finn’s best friend, in the driveway.  She hasn’t seen him since Finn and Rusty had a falling-out, but Rusty looks the same as ever.  Maybe not the ideal road trip partner, but the two of them will make it work.  Along the way, they each find small and sometimes surprising ways to honor Finn’s memory.  But when the trip comes to an end, will they be able to deal with the consequences?

I tell you what, this story could have easily been this depressing, maudlin mess.  Honor is desperately trying to hold on to every fragment of Finn she can, and Rusty’s not in any better shape.  But it found a way to be hopeful and maybe even inspirational.  And that’s not an easy thing to do.

Honor and Rusty are an interesting mix of characters.  Honor is driven, determined, and knew what she wanted out of life before Finn died.  Rusty is more of a wrong-side-of-the-tracks guy.  He tends to try to drink his problems away, which bothers Honor to no end.  I really didn’t think they were going to work together at all, but their connection with Finn really does bring them together.

The plot itself is really simple: Honor and Rusty are trying to get from Texas to California for this concert, in the off-chance they can actually meet Kyra and tell her about Finn.  But it’s also this simplicity that makes this story kind of powerful.  Honor takes the time to sit back and reflect on what she has, what she’s lost, and what she wants.

But it’s also kind of boring at times because it is such a simple story.  They spend a lot of time on the road, they get into little pockets of trouble, they meet interesting characters.  It gets a bit repetitive.

What was amusing to me was how many ties I saw to pop culture in this that I can’t really tell if they were intentional or not.  One I’m pretty sure was intentional was Kyra Kelly being described exactly like Taylor Swift.  When you read the description of her, it’s Taylor’s early career (before she went pop) to a T.

But my favorite reference (one that is so coincidental that I can’t imagine it wasn’t intentional) were all the similarities between this book and Supernatural.  We have a ’67 black Chevy Impala, a road trip (where one of the characters does a substantial amount of drinking, like Dean), dead parents, a protective older brother, and a rule that only classic rock can be played in the car.  (You may be happy to know “Wayward Son” makes an appearance in this book.)  I mean seriously, how could this not be a twist on Supernatural?  There’s even a character named Sam!  I describe this as what would happen is Sam was a girl and something bad happened to Dean.  (*snickers a little*  If you’re a fan of the show, you know why I find this funny.)

dean-winchester-with-chevrolet-impala-1967-supernatural-31507862-1450-963

See the similarities between this picture and the cover??  This is totally a Supernatural fanfic.  Minus the actual supernatural elements.

Spotlight Friday (151)

Hey, my lovelies, it’s another Friday in the springtime!  It’s finally warming up, flowers are beginning to bloom, and the world feels new.  It’s a fun time, and even better?  NEW BOOKS.  (You knew it was coming.)  So here we go, three beauties to look forward to!

9781619634473A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: May 3, 2016

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads): Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court–but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms–and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future–and the future of a world cleaved in two.

What’s To Like: The first book in this series was really good.  This series is clever and complicated.  I truly have no idea what the Fae are going to do to Feyre or what she’s going to have to do to stay safe.  I get the impression the tone of this book is going to be very different from the first book.  Darker, more sinister.  And while I’m kind of digging that, I’m also really hoping for some levity with Feyre and Tamlin.  Because I need that too.

ruined-amy-tinteraRuined (Ruined, #1) by Amy Tintera

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped.

But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family.

In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family.

Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.

What’s To Like: I have this as an ARC, but I haven’t read it yet.  (You’d know if I had!)  Anyway, I think this just got moved up to my next-in-line read.  Seriously, she pretends to be the Prince’s betrothed and marries him, even though it means death?  Dude.  That’s hard-core.  I like Em’s courage already.

51mqbioyc3l-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): June wants high school to end and real life to begin. Oliver is soaking up senior year’s glory days. They could have coasted through high school, knowing about—but not really knowing—each other.

Except that their moms have arranged for Oliver to drive June to school. Every. Single. Day.

Suddenly these two opposites are fighting about music, life . . . pretty much everything. But love is unpredictable. When promises—and hearts—get broken, Oliver and June must figure out what really matters. And then fight for it.

What’s To Like: Billed as When Harry Met Sally for YA, I’m expecting big things from this book.  That’s my favorite movie.  So I’m definitely expecting a huge clash in personalities, a subtle softening, and then a cute love story.  Oh, it’s going to be adorable!  I’m swooning already.

The Diary of a Young Girl

519hkx9m69l-_sy344_bo1204203200_First Lines: I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.

For two years now, I have taught Anne’s story through the play based on her diary.  It’s a fascinating play, and one that I love reading with my students every spring.  And it just got to the point where I started wondering why I’d never read the source material.

Ok, does this book really need an introduction?  Just in case…Anne Frank and her family, in 1942 Amsterdam, relocate from their house to a secret annex to hide from the Nazi persecution of Jews.  For just over two years, the family hid with four others: another family and a single older gentleman.  Throughout the entire ordeal, Anne kept a diary of life in the annex.

So.  I have to say that this was enlightening.  I mean, after two years of teaching the play (and reading it at least 9 times in that amount of time), I feel like I’ve gotten to really know some of the events that happened.  And it was cool to read them from Anne’s perspective before they were changed for dramatic effect.  Some things stayed very similar, some things were changed.  I just liked seeing her describe them.

What’s…funny isn’t the right word, but it’s the closest I’ve got…is reading about what Anne thinks of herself.  She’s remarkably insightful about her behavior and how it impacts others, which is awesome.  It does a lot to explain what’s happening and the reactions of others in the house.  She’s observant.  But she also tends to be a bit egotistical as well, talking about how much boys love her and how great she is.  No, let me amend that.  Not egotistical, but perhaps self-confident.  She never doubted herself on certain matters.  It’s just fascinating.

And truly, she’s a really good writer, especially when you factor in her age and the fact that she never truly thought anyone would read her diary in its current format.  I was a little disappointed when I read the foreword that it had been edited by Otto Frank so it wasn’t exactly her diary, but that also makes me want to go out and find the diary in its entirety.  (Quick searches reveal that this type of book does exist, with comments on what Anne wrote in the beginning, what she edited later, and what made its way into the published version.)

It’s a story of resilience.  And while it may not be my go-to Holocaust-era read, it’s definitely worth a read.  Because frankly, we’ve all been where Anne was emotional: wishing her parents were better parents, wishing people noticed the “real” her, and having dreams untouched by reality and circumstance.

Adventures in Dating: A Play

Ok, so I know that a lot of you really only care about my book/movie reviews, but there are some of you who like to know you’re not alone in the (mis)adventures of growing up.

Congratulations, I have a short play for you.  I call it “Adventures in Dating”.  All of it is real (besides the names), though it has been condensed.

Scene 1: “Tinder”

[Enter stage left, a petite brunette, mid-twenties.  She’s clutching a novel to her chest, sighing longingly.  Gently puts the book aside and picks up her phone.  No missed texts or calls.  Sighs again, this time sadly.]

[Bored, she begins skimming apps on her phone, stopping when she spies Tinder.  Curious, she downloads it.  Can’t hurt anything, right?]

Belle: Eww.  You really make that you’re profile pic? […] Oh, he’s cute.  […]  Hey, look!  A match!  I’ll send him a quick message.  Something simple…”Hey, what’s up?” ….Nope…  Oh, he’s cute too!  I’ll send him a message too.

[An hour passes.  A message pops up on Belle’s phone.]

George: Hi!  I’m fine.  You?

Belle: I’m great.  Tell me about yourself.

George: Well, I’m a Marine.

Belle: Oh my gosh, that’s so cool!  What made you become a Marine?

George: I wasn’t a great student in school.  I didn’t apply myself.  So when a recruiter asked me if I wanted to join up, I decided that I did.  What do you do?

Belle: I’m an English teacher, though lately I feel a little more like a history teacher, since my students are reading Holocaust novels right now.  But I love history, so it’s not a problem.

George: Any particular era you like best?

Belle: I LOVE the Revolutionary War.  George Washington is totally on my list of “People I’d Love To Have Dinner With”.  But really, I love any war where they still use bayonets.  It’s a different style of warfare.

George: You know, Marines still train with bayonets.

Belle: Shut. Up.  Are you serious?  I think this just made my week.

[Messaging continues in this manner for days to come.]

Scene 2: “Bowling”

[About a week after first talking to George, Belle prepares to leave for a bowling date to meet George.  Mom calls, Belle answers.]

Mom: Are you sure he’s not a serial killer?  I saw on the news that there are serial killers on Tinder.

Belle: Mom, I’m pretty sure he’s not a serial killer.  But if it makes you happy, I’ll send you his phone number and all pertinent information to help the police find him if I turn up missing tomorrow, ok?

Mom: I’ll be checking!

[At the bowling alley.  Belle and George have a lovely time.  Two and a half hours go by.  By the time they leave, Belle’s face is hurting from smiling so much.]

Belle: You know, I think this was the most fun I’ve had in a while.  Thank you.

George: I really enjoyed myself too.  It was really nice to meet you.

Belle: You too.  Even if you beat me in every game, you cheater.

George: [feigns astonishment] A cheater!  I even had a handicap that last game and I still beat you!

Belle: [rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling] Whatever helps you sleep at night.

[George smiles and Belle and George hug, a little awkwardly.]

George: [as he walks away] At least you’re not boring!

Scene 3: “The Weekend”

[Three days pass.  Belle and George text daily.  Then, Friday night, George’s texts abruptly stop in the middle of a conversation.]

[The weekend passes.  Belle frequently checks her phone, even though she knows it hasn’t gone off.  She frowns at the lit screen, wondering what happened.  Did something happen to George?  Was there a family emergency?  Did he drop his phone in the toilet and can’t contact her?

[Slowly, Belle becomes angry.  What’s his problem?  Why isn’t he saying anything?  If he’s trying to end things, he could at least say something.  It would be the polite thing to do.]

Belle: [to her coworker, Sallie, on Monday] I don’t understand.  If he falls asleep while we’re texting, he’s usually right on it the next day, apologizing profusely!  Do you think something happened?

Sallie: Could be.  Have you tried texting him back?

Belle: I sent something Saturday, just a quick, “Hey, how’s your day going?” but he didn’t respond.  I didn’t want to respond more and sound clingy.

Sallie: Maybe you could try texting him again later?  You deserve an explanation.

[That evening, Belle texts George.  She asks if everything is ok or if he’s ignoring her and if he is, can he explain why?]

George: Hey, I’ve been really busy and I’m just not sure if I can find time to be able to hangout or go do anything anytime soon.  I really don’t want to lead you on because you’re so nice and polite.

Belle: [to herself] When did he suddenly get so busy?  He’s been texting me all day every day for two weeks!  It didn’t occur to him a week ago that he’d have a full calendar coming up?  Right.

Belle: [to George] Well, at least it’s an explanation.  I was starting to think I’d done something to offend you.

George: No, no, nothing like that.  I just didn’t know how to tell you.

Belle: Pro tip?  Girls appreciate honesty.  Start with that.

George:  You’re right.  I’m sorry.

[Belle turns off her phone’s screen and contemplates this latest whirlwind.  She’s sad because she’s really connected with him, but if this is how he’s going to bail on her?  Then he’s not worth missing.]

The End

Hey, that was actually a lot of fun!  I needed that creative outlet. Like I mentioned above, this is all true (especially George’s lines.  We really did spend our first night talking about bayonets, he really did say “At least you’re not boring”, and his ‘explanation’ is nearly verbatim from his text.).

I realize that it’s probably not going to be a piece of cake to find Mr. Right (I’ve definitely tried), but I have to laugh about the Mr. Wrongs.

I mean seriously?  This is how this guy ends things with me?  I’ve heard better excuses out of my students as to why they don’t have their homework done.  Yes, perhaps there is some truth to it, but I smell something fishy here.  And where there’s fish…there’s a salesman hoping you don’t notice how bad it actually smells.  I don’t know where I’m going with that.