Audiobook Review: Girl at War by Sara Nović

Audio Review

Girl at WarTitle: Girl at War

Author: Sara Novic

Narrator: Julia Whelan

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: May 12th, 2015

Interest: Alex Award Winner

Source: Audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

Audiobook Review: Julia Whelan has become one of my favorite audiobook narrators, especially after listening to Gone Girl last year. Her voice is really easy to listen to and she does a pretty good job changing it for different characters and even using various accents. I decided to listen to Girl at War because it won an Alex Award and also because I don’t have a physical copy (yet). Plus, Julia Whelan as the narrator was an automatic win. It was nice to hear the names and words pronounced correctly since I know I’d butcher them if I read it myself. It was hard at first not hearing Amy from Gone Girl, but after listening for a while that went away and Ana took full form for me.

Book Review: Girl at War is about a war I know little about even though I was alive during that time period. I’m thankful that this debut exists because more readers, especially teen readers, need to know about more wars in history. Our sophomores have an independent reading war poetry unit that requires them to read a novel dealing with war. I’m going to share Sara Novic’s novel with those teachers in my department so they can consider adding it as a recommended book.

There are other qualities that make me want to recommend it to the teachers in my department. The writing it beautiful and full of emotion. I don’t know anything about Sara Novic, but I imagine based on the story she’s written, that this war hits close to home. The end of Part I had me crying and many other scenes caused me to tear up as well. I wish I had a physical copy while I listened because there were plenty of scenes that I wanted to mark based on the writing alone. Girl at War is full of vivid imagery and smart writing overall.

If you’re looking for a novel that will pull at your heartstrings and make you aware of a war, that in my mind hasn’t been covered enough, look no further than Girl at War. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sara Novic’s novels. Even though this is a short review, please don’t let think that I didn’t love this book, because I did. I couldn’t get enough of the audio; I was completely enthralled and connected to the characters.

Book Trailer Thursday (179)–We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean

Book Trailer Thursday

I received a copy of We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean when I was at NCTE/ALAN. I thought about keeping it for myself to read before I handed it over to my students, but I thought better of it since I had a feeling they’d want to read this. I was right. There was a book pass the day I returned and this one was mixed in. One of my students called dibs on it before the book pass was even over! I still haven’t been able to read it for myself, however, because student after student borrows it. It released from HMH Books for Young Readers on October 6th.

We'll Never Be ApartSummary (From Goodreads):

Murder.

Fire.

Revenge.

That’s all seventeen-year-old Alice Monroe thinks about. Committed to a mental ward at Savage Isle, Alice is haunted by memories of the fire that killed her boyfriend, Jason. A blaze her twin sister Cellie set. But when Chase, a mysterious, charismatic patient, agrees to help her seek vengeance, Alice begins to rethink everything. Writing out the story of her troubled past in a journal, she must confront hidden truths.

Is the one person she trusts only telling her half the story? Nothing is as it seems in this edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller from the debut author Emiko Jean.

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyTitle: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Author: Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: June 9th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it’s clear that Minnow knows something—but she’s not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us , as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.

I’ve wanted to read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes since the publisher sent me an ARC, but somehow it ended up sitting in my TBR stack for a while. Finding out that it’s a William C. Morris finalist is what pushed me to read it over Christmas break. I wish I would have read it sooner!

The first few pages grabbed my attention and never let it go. I couldn’t possibly turn away after this first sentence: “I am a blood-soaked girl.” That line is going to hook some reluctant readers. From there readers find Minnow Bly surrounded by blood in a snow bank and also discover that she no longer has hands. But it’s not her blood.

This debut is often gruesome and haunting. There are lines about the popping of burning skin and we discover how Minnow’s hands were taken from her. But these lines–and many throughout the novel–are also lyrical and written beautifully. Some scenes reminded me of Grimm’s fairy tales, which makes sense after finding out that this story was inspired by the Grimm fairy tale “The Handless Maiden.” It’s a book unlike any other I’ve read before.

Minnow’s story is told mostly through flashbacks while she’s in juvie remembering and detailing her life in the Kevinian cult. As I was reading I kept thinking how unbelievable it is that people fall into cults, but when Minnow meets Jude, an outsider, and they discuss the Bible and the Prophet, I wonder if some people think that about those who believe in God. Some of the flashbacks were so outrageous I sometimes wondered if Minnow was an unreliable narrator. It’s going to be interesting hearing what my students have to say about this after they read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

It’s interesting to me that Minnow Bly’s hands (I assume they’re Minnow’s hands) are at the forefront of the cover considering her hands have been cut off. I also noticed many references to hands, fingers, nails, etc.:

“Fingernail-sized flakes of snow”
“Bulbous knuckles”
“Rigid finger”

I’m going out on a limb and assuming that was done purposefully. I love noticing imagery like that when I’m reading.

Towards the end I was teary and distraught, but I was able to remain hopeful for Minnow. She becomes friends with her juvie inmate, Angel, whose story broke my heart. It’s her friendship with Angel that helps Minnow see the world differently even though she’s told that Angel is a bad influence. Stephanie Oakes wrote a mystery about a cult, but it’s really more than that. Ultimately it’s about a girl who learns to trust herself and find independence.

I completely agree with The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly being a Morris finalist because it’s an impressive debut. I can’t wait to read The Arsonist which is set to release from Dial/Penguin in fall 2016.

Some read-alikes: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (minus the magical realism), The Giver by Lois Lowry, and the short essay “Salvation” by Langston Hughes

Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, EverythingTitle: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received at ALAN

Summary (From Goodreads):

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Everything, Everything since I started reading early reviews during the summer, so when I received two copies at ALAN I was over the moon thrilled. I brought them to school and ended up giving both copies to students which were immediately and quickly passed from student to student. Thankfully I was able to snag one of the copies and read it!

First, I thoroughly enjoyed the multigenre approach used to tell Madeleine’s story. As I was reading this I kept thinking back to my seniors’ memoir multigenre essay and wishing I would have had a copy of this then to share with them. I don’t know exactly why Nicola Yoon chose to write her book this way because it doesn’t really feel like it was necessary for the story, but it worked for me. It upped the interest level which I know has been a big factor in its popularity among my students.

Because I didn’t finish Everything, Everything before Christmas, my momentum was slowed and consequently I found myself growing impatient with the movement of the story. It didn’t help that while I was on Goodreads one day I noticed someone shelved this book a certain way that made me question what was happening in the story. It was kind of an unintentional spoiler so I was anxious to figure it out. Instead of enjoying the relationship between Madeleine and Olly blossoming I was rushing to get further in the book to figure out if my suspicion was right after seeing that shelf designation. Anyway, I think that’s why I ended up really liking this as opposed to loving it.

I will say, however, that I’m excited to read future books written by Nicola Yoon. The story and the format are original and fresh which makes me confident that I’ll enjoy more of her novels. It’s also noteworthy that Everything, Everything isn’t really about SCID like some may expect. It’s more about relationships and self-discovery, which I loved. I felt like I knew Madeleine really well and understood her motivations. I foresee this debut being a perennial favorite in my classroom.

Waiting on Wednesday–Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

During the ALAN workshop this November I’m moderating the fantasy author panel, which means I’m reading a few fantasy novels this fall. I didn’t know about Tessa Elwood’s debut Inherit the Stars until I saw her name as part of the panel. I enjoy reading fantasy even though I don’t read it as regularly as I should, so I’m excited to read Elwood’s promising debut.

Inherit the StarsTitle & Author: Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Release Date: December 8th, 2015

Publisher: Running Press Kids

Summary (From Goodreads):

Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long. She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet. The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren’s life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

Author Tessa Elwood’s debut series is an epic romance at heart, set against a mine field of political machinations, space adventure, and deep-seeded family loyalties.

Blog Tour + Giveaway: Students Want to Know Katie M. Stout, Author of Hello, I Love You

Katie M. Stout’s debut Hello, I Love You has been on my radar for a while now, so I was overjoyed when St. Martin’s Griffin asked me to join her blog tour. The cover, the concept, and the setting drew my students in right away when I asked them if they wanted to participate in an interview with Katie.

Also, how cool is it that Katie created a Spotify playlist for Hello, I Love You?!

Stout, Katie_CREDIT Brenna B Photography

Katie’s Social Media

Goodreads
Website
Twitter
Tumblr
Pinterest

Hello, I Love YouAbout The Book (From the publisher)

Grace Wilde is running—from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the famous older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start.

She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate Sophie’s twin brother Jason turns out to be the newest Korean pop music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. She can’t stand Jason, whose celebrity status is only outmatched by his oversized ego, but they form a tenuous alliance for the sake of her friendship with Sophie. As the months go by and Grace adjusts to her new life in Korea, even she can’t deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol.

Soon, Grace realizes that her feelings for Jason threaten her promise to herself that she’ll leave behind the music industry that destroyed her family. But can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and her undeniable pull of the music she was born to write? Sweet, fun, and romantic, this young adult novel explores what it means to experience first love and discover who you really are in the process.

Student Questions:

Ashley asks:

Why did you choose Korea as a setting and not another country? Is Korea significant to you?
I chose Korea because I wanted to write about Korean pop music. That seemed the obvious choice. 🙂

What are some of your favorite YA novels?
I’ve got a ton of favorites, but I’d have to say some of my all-time favorites are…
1.  Lunar Chronicles series, by Marissa Meyer
2. The 5th Wave series, by Rick Yancey
3. Shatter Me series, by Tahereh Mafi
4. Curse Workers series, by Holly Black
5. River of Time series, by Lisa T. Bergren

 Hannah asks:

How long did you have the idea for Hello, I Love You before you started writing it?
Considering I wrote the rough draft of the book nearly four years ago, this is going to be a guess…

But I remember thinking about it a while. I was working on another project at the time, a YA paranormal (it was hot at the time), but I got too distracted by this new idea. Glad I let myself switch to the new idea!

How long did it take to write this and get it published?
I think I just answered that. Hah! It was a long journey, with many rounds of edits. I was told many times by many people that YA wasn’t ready for a book about KPOP. I had one particularly lovely agent say she loved the book and wanted to offer representation, but she had no idea how to sell it and therefore had to pass. I’m still really grateful for both my agent and my editor, who took a chance on the book!

About The Author

Katie M. Stout is from Atlanta, Georgia, and works for an international charity that sends her to fun places like Spain and Singapore. When she’s not writing, you can find her drinking an unhealthy amount of chai tea and listening to Girls’ Generation, Teen Top, and all her other favorite K-pop tunes.

Buy Links

Amazon
B&N
Books-A-Million
IndieBound
iBooks

Giveaway Details:

One copy available for US & Canada entrants only
Giveaway provided by the publisher
Leave a comment to enter
Only one comment per entrant
Giveaway open until 6/17/15
Winner will be emailed/tweeted
Feel free to spread the giveaway love! 🙂

Book Trailer Thursday (170)–The Witch Hunter by Victoria Boecker

Book Trailer Thursday

The Witch Hunter by Victoria Boecker slipped past my radar until I went searching for a book trailer to post today. I’m glad I found it, however, because it has a really intriguing summary and trailer. I especially love the music playing at the end of the trailer. Since it’s being compared to Game of Thrones, maybe I’ll read Boecker’s debut when GoT ends this month and I need something to help me hang on to the show for just a little while longer.

The Witch HunterSummary (From Goodreads):

The magic and suspense of Graceling meet the political intrigue and unrest of Game of Thrones in this riveting fantasy debut.

Your greatest enemy isn’t what you fight, but what you fear.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

Virginia Boecker weaves a riveting tale of magic, betrayal, and sacrifice in this unforgettable fantasy debut.

Students Want to Know Moriah McStay, author of Everything That Makes You

Moriah McStay is the debut author of the March 17th release Everything That Makes You. I received an ARC and instantly passed it on to my students because they’ve been so interested in this story. One of my freshmen tore through it and then it was passed on to one of my senior boys who loved it as well. I’m thrilled to feature this interview between two of my students and Moriah McStay.

Moriah McStay

Moriah McStay’s website
Find Moriah on Twitter
Moriah’s Facebook page

Everything That Makes YouSummary (From Goodreads):

One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.

And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?

Hasn’t everyone wondered what if? In this daring debut novel, Moriah McStay gives us the rare opportunity to see what might have happened if things were different. Maybe luck determines our paths. But maybe it’s who we are that determines our luck.

Did you enjoy writing the character swapping every chapter?

I did it enjoy it! At times, it got challenging keeping each girl’s story straight—I had charts and post-its everywhere! I’d write only one for awhile, and then switch over, which helped me stay true to each voice. Plus, giving each girl her own chapters provided some fun opportunities to play around with a single character. I got to create twice the wants, quirks and flaws—all good stuff for a writer!

Will there be a sequel?

No, EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU is a stand-alone. I like it that way. It’s in keeping with the overall theme—who can say what’ll happen next? I have another contemporary YA coming out with HarperCollins sometime in 2017, though.

Do you like Fi or Fiona more?

At first, I identified more with Fiona. I approached Fi—the one “without any problems”– with the same assumptions lots of us have about people who look whole from the outside. Without much empathy. But once I realized Fi had her own issues, I connected with her more. Now, I feel motherly towards them both. I share characteristics with each, as well. For example, I’m creative like Fiona, but not painfully shy. And while I’m not a jock like Fi, I’m pretty competitive.

Do you believe, like in your novel, that one incident can change your entire life?

ABSOLUTELY! I believe everyone has a “What if?” question—several “What if?” questions, probably. What if my family never moved across the country when I was a kid? What if that girl didn’t sit next to me in third grade, and we never became friends? What if I picked a different major in college? What if my dad never got cancer?

And then there are the what if’s and maybes we can’t even guess. In one scene, Fiona gets into this with her brother Ryan, when she theories about all the random, unknown events that send us one direction or another. The possibilities of change in a single day are endless. But I think she’s right when she tells him, “If we try to analyze how every little thing changes us, nobody would get anything done.”

Playing around with how your past has affected your present—and future—is an interesting exercise. But I think the bigger point is that, no matter which path you find yourself on, you have the potential for fulfillment and happiness.

Review: First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano

First There Was ForeverTitle: First There Was Forever

Author: Juliana Romano

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: April 14th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author / Friendship

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Prettyand Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door, Juliana Romano’s expressive debut is an absorbing and bittersweet story about first love, first loss, and the friends that carry us through it all.

Lima and Hailey have always been best friends: Lima shy and sensitive, Hailey funny and free-spirited. But Hailey abandons Lima to party with the popular kids and pursue Nate, her disinterested crush. As their friendship falters, Lima and Nate begin spending more time together. And before Lima knows what she’s feeling, she and Nate do something irreversible. Something that would hurt Hailey….if she knew it happened.

Lima thinks she’s saving her friendship by lying, but she’s only buying time. As the secrets stack up, Lima is forced to make a choice: between her best friend forever, and the boy who wasn’t meant to be hers.

A number of my students will ask me to help them find books that deal with friendships, and I often struggle to think of titles worth recommending. Usually when my students are inquiring about a friendship book, they aren’t looking for a book heavy with romance. Many of the contemporary titles I read feature friendships, but many of those titles are also heavily focused on a romance.

I appreciate how much emphasis Juliana Romano puts on Lima and Hailey’s friendship. They’ve always been best friends, but their paths are veering away from one another and consequently their friendship is falling apart. This is common in friendships and consequently something many teen readers will identify with. This part of the story line was frustrating for me to read at times, however, because Lima keeps trying to retain her friendship with Hailey even though Hailey begins to treat her poorly. I wanted Lima to stand up for herself.

Part of the reason, I think, that Lima has a difficult time standing up to Hailey is because of her growing feelings for Hailey’s long-time unrequited love, Nate. Lima can’t get over the guilt she feels for developing feelings for him and that he may have feelings for her, too. This part of the story is where the majority of the focus falls, and that disappointed me. Conflicts like this happen in friendships, so I think it deserves to be part of the story, but I wanted there to be more focus on Lima and Hailey. I didn’t want the Lima-Nate dynamic to overshadow the problems in Lima and Hailey’s friendship because there was already enough there without focusing on the love triangle. It would have been interesting to see Lima discover herself without Hailey and without a love interest.

I did, however, really enjoy the setting. Juliana Romano created a captivating California setting for First There Was Forever. At times it felt like the setting was a character in the novel because it was so vivid.

The blurb says First There Was Forever is perfect for fans of The Summer I Turned Pretty and My Life Next Door, but I don’t know that I would hand this to readers who just finished either of those books. This debut fits better with Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer and Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti.

Book Trailer Thursday (163)–An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book Trailer Thursday

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir doesn’t release until April 28th, but I received an ARC months ago and the book trailer was released a couple weeks ago. It’s high fantasy and sounds really exciting, which must be why Penguin is spending so much time and effort publicizing it. Hopefully this book trailer will excite some of my students.

An Ember in the AshesSummary (From Goodreads):

I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE.
 
THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME.
 
IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW

AND I WILL DESTROY YOU. 

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
 
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier— and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
 
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

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