Sunday, July 31, 2016

Salt to the Sea

Salt the the Sea is Ruta Sepetys's exquisite new novel about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Soviet torpedoes sank the ship in the winter of 1945 while it was carrying more than 10,000 refugees.  9,400 of those people died in the icy Baltic Sea.  This tragedy is largely forgotten in the midst of all the losses of WWII.  Sepetys brings the sinking out of the forgotten past through the eyes of four characters with different political and personal points of view.

Joana is a Lithuanian nurse traveling with a group of refugees across Poland in the hopes of evacuating before the Soviet invasion.  Joana becomes a natural leader, and because of her medical experience, the others look to her.

Most of the refugees are German because no one else will be allowed on the evacuation ships, but one of the people traveling with the group is a Polish teenager named Emilia.  The other hide her because she is pregnant, alone, and traumatized.  She can only communicate with one other person because she doesn't speak German.

Florian is a former Nazi with a dangerous secret cargo.  He saved Emilia, and now she clings to him as a hero, but he is only concerned with carrying out his own mission.

Alfred is bottom rung Nazi stationed on the Wilhelm Gustloff with delusions about his own importance.

This book broke my heart.  Sepetys is a master of getting her readers emotionally invested in her characters and thus in events largely forgotten by history.  I highly recommend this story of sacrifice and heartbreak.  Grades 8 and up.


Solu is a new weight loss drug that will revolutionize the market, and Laurel and Viv are about to get the first trial.  Viv's wealthy parents have purchased their daughter and her best friend a room on the expensive and exclusive Solu Cruise to Lose.  The other passengers and the rich and the reality stars of the moment.  Viv's only there to support her friend, and she's doubtful that Solu will even work.  Unfortunately, she has terrible sea sickness, and she misses out on the first few doses of the sweetener/weight loss drug.  Besides, she's a little wary of Solu.

Tom is a former child star who's trying to turn his career around.  He's famous for playing an overweight bratty kid on a sitcom.  Now, he's taken stock of his life cut out the excess to lose weight, live healthier, and get rid of negative influences.  He's the official host of the cruise, and his job is to make sure the world sees shiny, happy people losing weight.  He refuses to eat anything with Solu because of his clean eating policy.

It's a good thing these two miss out on their Solu doses because what starts out as a miracle weight loss drug quickly turns to horror as the other passengers are driven by an intense addiction that leads to murder.  As two of the few people aboard who are not addicted, Tom and Laurel quickly form a relationship, but are they doomed on their ship of horrors.

Emmy Laybourne's new novel is a quick and engaging read, but it is pretty horrifying and reads like farce.  It pokes fun at modern "celebrity" and quick fix diets but relies heavily on stereotypes.  If you have a weak stomach, you should probably skip this one.  Grades 8 and up.

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie has a plan to get her father to come home.  He ran away with his dental hygienist girlfriend abandoning Raymie and her mother.  Raymie is bereft, but she knows that if she becomes 1975's Little Miss Central Florida Tire, he will see her picture in the paper and come home.

What's standing in her way?  She doesn't know how to twirl a baton, and everyone knows the surest way to win a beauty pageant is with a baton.

It is at twirling lessons that Raymie meets the no nonsense Beverly Tapinski and the fabulous Louisiana Elefante.  As the story unfolds, the three girls unite to help each other when the adults in their lives aren't available.

Kate DiCamillo's newest novel is a wonderland of characters and revelations that begs to be read aloud.  Read it, and share then share it with the young people in your life.

The Wild Robot

When a hurricane destroys a ship full of robots, one machine washes up on a remote island, and a group of curious otters accidentally press the power button and turn her on.  Now Roz is awake in a world she was not designed for.

At first Roz struggles to make sense of her new environment, and even moving around is difficult, but she decides to study the animal inhabitants of the island and mimic their behavior.  This makes her existence more comfortable, but she is still alone.

All the animals think Roz is a monster.  They have never seen anything like a robot before, and they stay away out of fear.  But when Roz adopts an orphaned gosling, they begin to see her in a new light.  The animals cautiously begin to offer advice and assistance until Roz is a valuable member of the community. And when danger comes for Roz, they are even willing to defend her.

Peter Brown's book is beautiful parable about acceptance and community.  Also, I listened to the audio of this book, and it is a wonderful production.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 30, 2016


On the day of his mother's funeral, Peter rescued a fox kit, and they've inseparable ever since.  But now war is looming, and his father has volunteered.  Peter must stay with his grandfather in the meantime, and he can't take Pax.  Peter's father forces him to abandon his friend on the side of the road.

It's not long after his arrival that Peter realizes he has betrayed his friend, and he sets out to find Pax.  Along the way, he will face dangers and learn some truths about himself.  When an accident threatens his plans, he meets a woman has a painful past of her own.

Meanwhile Pax is on his own for the first time with no idea how to live in the wild.  It will be a painful journey as tries to make new friends and learn how to survive.

There is also the looming threat of war over both Peter and Pax as the battle ground moves closer.

Sara Pennypacker's new novel is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about friendship, love, and the painful consequences of war.  Pet lovers especially will appreciate and understand the love between a boy and his pet.  Highly recommended.

Saint Anything

Sydney's older brother Peyton has always been the golden child, but now he's in prison after paralyzing a 15 year old while driving drunk.  This has thrown her family into disarray.  Her mother has become dedicated to Peyton's recovery in an all-absorbing manner that leaves Sydney to her own devices.  Her father tries to live life as normally as possible while going along with any idea her mother has.

As for Sydney, she realizes the family finances are suffering because of Peyton's legal fees, so she decides to leave her expensive private school and transfer to public school.  She's pretty much lived in the shadow of her older brother her whole life, and now she retreats even further into herself.

But public school turns out to be just what she needs.  She makes a new friend named Layla who is confident, warm, and genuinely interested in Sydney.  She becomes the kind of friend Sydney has never had.  Along with Layla, Sydney get a group of guys who are in a band, including Layla's brother, Mac.  She also gets the Chatham family who seem to be the opposite of her own now empty home.

As her new friendships develop, Sydney begins to acknowledge her own feelings about her brother and her family.  But her new life is also causing friction at home which pushes her even closer Mac.

Sarah Dessen's new book is an engaging story about friendship, loyalty, and family dynamics with a sweet romance on top.  Grades 8 and up.


Katherine may the daughter of a wealthy family with social ambitions, but all she wants to do is open a bakery.  She and her ladies' maid have been planning this for years.  Aside from her social position, there's one other big thing in the way of Kath's plans.  The King of Hearts wants to marry her.  He is kind and attentive, but he's also short, absentminded, and older than her parents.

Katherine hopes that if she can put off the king's proposal for long enough, she can get enough money on her own to open the bakery.  All her plans go on hold when she meets Jest, the mysterious new court jester.  He pulls the most magical tricks and he has a kind voice and nice eyes.  Jest awakens something in Kath.  For the first time she is interested in something other than baking.  Against her own judgement, she begins sneaking out spend time with Jest.

Katherine is beginning to imagine a new life for herself.  Could she be a regular girl who runs a bakery with her best friend during the day and comes home to the man she loves at night?

Meanwhile, the Jabberwok is back in Wonderland.  Property is destroyed, people are killed, and this threat hangs over all the people in Hearts.  But the monster isn't the only threat Katherine should be worried about, and the greater danger is one she doesn't even see coming.

I got the ARC of Marissa Meyer's new book at TLA--signed by the author!  Woohoo!  I loved the Lunar Chronicles, and I was excited to see Meyer's take on Wonderland.  Also, look at that beautiful cover art!  I have to admit I was hoping Meyer would go a little more realistic in her take on Wonderland.  It's never been my favorite because it makes no sense.  Despite this, I really ended up loving this book.  Highly recommended!

The Lie Tree

Faith Sunderly has a complicated relationship with her father.  She admires his position as a reverend and his authority as a natural scientist.  Reverend Sunderly has gained notoriety through his discovery of skeletal remains that seem to prove the existence of angels and demons.

Faith also loves science, but she is denied entry into the scientific world simply because she is female.  She craves knowledge and discovery, but she can only glean morsels from the periphery by pretending to be a simple empty-headed girl.  Any sign of curiosity draws attention to her and gets her banished.

When scandal arises, the Sunderly family moves to a remote island where Faith begins to understand the truth about her father and his discovery.  In a moment of desperation, he turns to Faith for help.  Her esteemed and austere father believes he has discovered a tree that can reveal profound truths.

While Faith believes in her father, she isn't sure believes his story, but matters are complicated when the Reverend is found dead the next morning.  Was it an accident, suicide, or murder?  Faith believes her father was murdered, and sets out to discover the truth.

Frances Hardinge's newest novel is a fascinating combination of historical women's roles, scientific exploration, fantasy, and mystery.  I'm a little behind on posting reviews since I read this back in May.  I got the ARC at TLA, and this was the first thing I read.  There is plenty of depth here.  Highly recommended!