Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaTitle: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Interest: Author / Historical Fiction

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

I finished Salt to the Sea Saturday morning and I really have no idea where to begin this review. Simply put, it’s tragic and amazing.

A couple weeks ago I listened to Ruta Sepetys speak about Salt to the Sea at her book signing at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. I was in the middle of reading another book, which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, but after listening to her talk about this maritime disaster and the research she did, I knew I had to read it right away. So I set my book aside that night and started reading her third novel.

Let me tell you, I cried and gasped multiple times while reading this novel. The tears weren’t always full-fledged, but I certainly sniffled and wiped my eyes a time or two. And then of course the end really got to me, but I knew that would happen considering the story. Ruta Sepetys is a passionate writer and it comes through in her stories. So many of the images she created were vivid and often shocking. Also, this was a tough read as a mom considering how many children were lost and the idea of having to choose which children would live and if they’d live at all.

Another part of the Salt to the Sea that really worked for me was the short chapters and the multiple character points of views. It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the characters switching and hearing their voices, but once I did it made for smooth, quick reading. I was attached to all of them, even the characters who didn’t have their own chapters. Although, I never really connected with Alfred; he rubbed me the wrong way.

I feel like I’m moving through this review too quickly, but it’s because my thoughts are still all over the place. I’m still picturing those last scenes; my heart is still heavy. It doesn’t matter that these are fictional characters because I know they’re based on real people who suffered the way they did. And it’s even harder thinking about the Syrian refugees who are suffering today. Salt to the Sea is a book that I want my students to read and teachers to read as well. I wish I could bring Ruta Sepetys to school because I know she’d inspire my students to not only read this novel, but to also become passionate about research and finding stories.

Book Trailer Thursday (181)–Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Book Trailer Thursday

Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite authors because she’s a fantastic writer and storyteller, but also because she writes about untold stories. I love learning something new and exposing those stories to my students. I can’t wait to read Salt to the Sea!

Salt to the SeaSummary (From Goodreads):

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

Top Ten Tuesday Freebie: Strong Female Protagonists

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

It has been a LONG time since I’ve written a Top Ten Tuesday post! I love that today happens to be a freebie because I’m working on a new bulletin board for my classroom. Four out of five of my classes are seniors and since they’re gone for the school year and I’m going to be on maternity leave at the beginning of next school year, I want to use some of my extra time putting together bulletin boards for next year. I really doubt bulletin boards are going to be a high priority when I’m ready to pop. 🙂

Anyway, in April I posted the survey results about whether my girls see themselves in what they’re reading. One of the questions I asked them is what they’d love to see in the books they’re reading and a majority of them wish to see strong female characters (their definitions of this vary). Back in February I created a bulletin board featuring book recommendations based on what my students are reading and interested in reading. I’ve decided to merge these two ideas; one section of the bulletin board will feature some strong female characters that my girls are searching for. I’m also thinking about adding a section that features girls in YA who play various sports. Of course, those two ideas can easily be one in the same.

1. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Goodreads): Elisa isn’t your average royal YA fantasy character. She’s a little bit insecure, she’s very religious, and she’s fat (she describes herself this way). What I love about her, however, is that throughout the first book and the series itself she becomes increasingly self-reliant and a strong leader.

2. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (Goodreads): A.S. King is one of my favorite authors for reasons like this book and Astrid’s story. Astrid is a character who sees beyond labels, especially those that label sexuality, and simply wants to find herself and where she fits in the world. Plenty of readers will be able to connect with her.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Goodreads): Frankie is still one of my favorite characters and for good reason, too. She’s smart, independent, and full of spunk. I also like that this book features a strong female protagonist and is light-hearted at the same time.

4. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads): One of the things I like about this book is that while there’s a romance, it’s not the center of the story. The main focus of the story is how Hayley is dealing with her father’s PTSD and in turn her own PTSD from dealing with her father. She’s self-reliant almost to a fault. Her journey through this story is touching.

5. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Goodreads): I can’t imagine growing up with a prostitute as a mother, especially living in a brothel. Like many of the characters on this list, Josie is independent, smart, and strong-willed. This is an excellent piece of historical fiction and example of how strong a YA character can be.

6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (Goodreads): Tana’s wakes up as the only one living after vampires attack a party she attended so she takes a huge risk by entering Coldtown to save a few of the other survivors. Tana is tough, resourceful, and resilient. This is a vampire book and Tana is no Bella Swan.

7. We Are the Goldens by Dana Rheinhardt (Goodreads): This just released today and thankfully I had the ARC to read already. This is a great story about the power of sibling relationships. Nell is extremely close to her older sister Layla, but because of a secret Layla’s keeping, Nell is being pushed away and is forced to figure out who she is without her sister.

8. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (Goodreads): I really like Piper. I like that she’s deaf and managing a band. I like that she’s looking out for her little sister and trying to connect with her family. This is a fun, engaging, heartwarming book.

9. Sold by Patricia McCormick (Goodreads): Surviving being sold into prostitution. Enough said.

10. Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu (Goodreads): Have you seen the show Hoarders? Reading Lucy’s story is like watching an episode of Hoarders. Her mom has suddenly died in their home and Lucy feels it’s up to her to keep her mom’s secret and clean up their home before anyone arrives to get her mother’s body. Talk about strong and independent.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Books of 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Normally I write out reasons why I’m including each book on this list, but I’ve reviewed these books and mentioned them on so many lists that I feel like it’s not really necessary at this point. But believe me, creating this list was HARD. At the end of every year I feel like I haven’t read enough books, nor enough books that really wowed me. Do any of you feel that way at this time of year? I guess I’m not reading to be wowed, but I certainly like discovering new favorites. The books on this list are here because they’ve stayed with me this year (characters, plot, writing style, twists, etc.). I’d love to know which books are you favorites this year!

My favorite books of 2013 in no particular order…

1. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith (My review)

2. Winger by Andrew Smith (My review)

3. Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (My review)

4. Golden by Jessi Kirby (My review)

5. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (My review)

6. Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler (My review)

7. I’m With Stupid by Geoff Herbach (My review)

8. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (My review)

9. The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine (My review)

10. Dead Silence by Kimberly Derting (My review)

My favorite backlist titles read in 2013 (I couldn’t help but cheat)…

1. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (My review)

2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (My review)

3. Recovery Road by Blake Nelson

4. Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My Favorite Books of 2013 (So Far)

toptentuesday-New

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

For today’s Top Ten Tuesday post, we’re supposed to compose a list of our favorite books of 2013 (so far).  This was a harder list to create than I thought it would be; it would probably be easier to create at the end of the summer after I’ve been able to catch up on my reading.  Some of these titles will remain on the list at the end of the year, but I know many will be replaced by even better titles.  It will be fun to find discover those books!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Goodreads) (My mini review)–This will remain a favorite at the end of the year.  I hope many of my students will read this in the future.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Goodreads) (My review)–Not only will this definitely be a favorite at the end of the year, Rainbow Rowell is a new favorite author.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseEleanor & Park

I’m With Stupid by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads) (My review)–What a way to end a truly wonderful trilogy.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Goodreads) (Review posts on Friday)–I just finished reading this and can’t stop thinking about Carley and the Murphys.  Plus, I’m still sniffling.

I'm With Stupid new coverOne for the Murphys

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith (Goodreads) (My review)–I love the characters in this 2013 debut, but I think the writing is what really won me over.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Goodreads)–So I’m definitely cheating here because I haven’t finished this yet, but I’m loving the audio and the story way too much not to include it on this list.  It’s fabulous.

Wild AwakeThe Help

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Goodreads) (My review)–I liked this more than Between Shades of Gray.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Goodreads)–This is another fantastic audiobook that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It’s middle grade, historical fiction, and full of well-developed characters.  Listening to the audio meant I missed out on seeing the different birds from Audobon’s Birds of America, however.

Out of the EasyOkay for Now

Game by Barry Lyga (Goodreads) (My review)–This was even better than I Hunt Killers and it has a crazy cliffhanger!

Dead Silence by Kimberly Derting (Goodreads) (My review)–This is one of my absolute favorite series, and even though I haven’t heard of a fifth book in the series, I’m still holding out hope that this isn’t the last book!

GameDead Silence

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the EasyTitle: Out of the Easy

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books

Release Date: February 12th, 2013

Interest: Historical Fiction / Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

Ruta Sepetys is a wonderful writer and Out of the Easy is proof that she’s only getting better.  I was completely sucked into Josie’s world and didn’t want to stop reading.  One of the things I love the most about this sophomore release is that even though it’s historical fiction, I felt like I was reading something contemporary.  I typically have a difficult time enjoying historical fiction, and that simply wasn’t the case when I was reading Out of the Easy.

I love that this book is set in 1950s New Orleans.  The atmosphere Ruta Sepetys created is outstanding and made me feel like I was living every moment with Josie.  I don’t know if I’ve ever really considered visiting New Orleans, but I want to now!  I enjoyed how the setting affected the character development and voices of characters other than Josie.  Josie is originally from Detroit and that early mid-west upbringing never really left her.  New Orleans almost felt like another character in the novel.

Speaking of characters, I will admit that I had a difficult time keeping track of such a big cast of characters.  That’s really my own complaint with Out of the Easy because it kept me from getting to know some of them better like I would have appreciated.  I really wanted to get to know Jesse better than I did, and I think I would have if a few characters weren’t as involved in the storyline.

Josie is a smart, witty, and fun character to read.  I don’t envy her life, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching her try to rise above it.  She doesn’t want the life her mother leads.  She doesn’t want to continue cleaning up the brothel.  She’s incredibly smart and motivated.  It’s obvious that she has the potential to go places and leave New Orleans behind, but she still has to jump the hurdles that are keeping her from getting what she wants.  I loved the mystery in the story, but I loved wondering if Josie would achieve her goals even more.

I definitely recommend reading Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  She’s truly a gifted writer and I can’t wait to read what she has in store for us next!

Reading Gaps

This month both Cindy Minnich at Charting By the Stars and Donalyn Miller at The Nerdy Book Club posted about reading gaps.  I’ve posted about my literary Achilles heel this year, which is similar to both of these posts.  Since posting about my own reading gaps, I’ve read quite a few fantasy novels and loved them.  I’m still sticking with my 2012 challenge to read more fantasy and science fiction, but I’ve decided to add to that challenge for 2013.

It’s my goal in 2013 to read more historical fiction and LGBT fiction.

Eleanor & ParkI can’t explain why I’m not more drawn to historical fiction, especially since I’m a history minor.  I love American history.  I love the 1920s.  I’ve even bought quite a few historical fiction YA novels to add to my class library because I have students who enjoy reading that genre.  But for some reason I don’t make time to read it myself.  This year I read and loved Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood.  The Diviners by Libba Bray wasn’t my favorite, but I still enjoyed reading it.  So maybe I need historical fiction with a magical twist?  Even though I don’t like thinking of the 80s as historical fiction, it is for our teens right now.  Besides Eleanor and Park (which I know I’ll enjoy) and Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal, are there other YA novels that take place in the 80s or around that time and have been written recently?  I like reading historical fiction that feels contemporary, even though that’s kind of backwards.

Here are some historical fiction novels I’d like to read in 2013:

I Am JI love contemporary realistic fiction, so reading more LGBT fiction really shouldn’t be a difficult challenge for me.  I think this is a gap for me simply because I haven’t made a strong enough effort to read more of these novels.  It has nothing to do with not liking novels with LGBT issues or characters.  I want to read more of these books because I know I have students who need these stories.  I just read Ask the Passengers by A.S. King and absolutely loved it.  Every Day by David Levithan wasn’t my favorite for a few reasons, but I love how he wrote A as a character who understands love outside of gender and sex.  I’ve been wanting to read I Am J for I don’t know how long.  If you have any suggestions for me, I’d love to have them.  I’ve already moved The Miseducation of Cameron Post to the top of my reading pile not only because I’ve been wanting to read it, but also because it’s a Morris shortlist contender.

Here are some LGBT fiction novels I’d like to read in 2013:

 

2013 Sophomore Reading Challenge

Shanyn from Chick Loves Lit started the Sophomore Reading Challenge this year, but unfortunately I didn’t participate like I wanted to.  Thankfully she’s running it again this year, so I’m making sure to participate!  I love reading books by debut authors, so it’s exciting to read their sophomore releases as well.

Go here for all of Shanyn’s challenge guidelines.

We’re challenged to read at least 10 sophomore releases.  Here’s my list of 10 (as of right now)…

1. Revel by Maurissa Guibord (Goodreads)

Debut: Warped

Releases: 2/12/13

There’s an island off the coast of Maine that’s not on any modern map.

Shrouded in mist and protected by a deadly reef, Trespass Island is home to a community of people who guard the island and its secrets from outsiders. Seventeen-year-old Delia grew up in Kansas, but has come here in search of her family and answers to her questions: Why didn’t her mother ever talk about Trespass Island? Why did she fear the open water? But Delia’s not welcome and soon finds herself enmeshed in a frightening and supernatural world where ancient Greek symbols adorn the buildings and secret ceremonies take place on the beach at night.

Sean Gunn, a handsome young lobsterman, befriends Delia and seems willing to risk his life to protect her. But it’s Jax, the coldly elusive young man she meets at the water’s edge, who finally makes Delia understand the real dangers of life on the island. Delia is going to have to fight to survive. Because there are monsters here. And no one ever leaves Trespass alive.

2. Star Cursed (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #2) by Jessica Spotswood (Goodreads)

Debut: Born Wicked

Releases: 6/18/13

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

3. Hysteria by Megan Miranda (Goodreads)

Debut: Fracture

Releases: 2/5/13

After stabbing and killing her boyfriend, sixteen-year-old Mallory, who has no memory of the event, is sent away to a boarding school to escape the gossip and threats, but someone or something is following her.

4. Vortex (Insignia #2) by S.J. Kincaid (Goodreads)

Debut: Insignia

Releases: 7/2/13

The impossible was just the beginning. Now in their second year as superhuman government weapons-in-training at the Pentagonal Spire, Tom Raines and his friends are mid-level cadets in the elite combat corps known as the Intrasolar Forces. But as training intensifies and a moment arrives that could make or break his entire career, Tom’s loyalties are again put to the test.

Encouraged to betray his ideals and friendships for the sake of his country, Tom is convinced there must be another way. And the more aware he becomes of the corruption surrounding him, the more determined he becomes to fight it, even if he sabotages his own future in the process.

Drawn into a power struggle more dramatic than he has ever faced before, Tom stays a hyperintelligent step ahead of everyone, like the exceptional gamer he is—or so he believes. But when he learns that he and his friends have unwittingly made the most grievous error imaginable, Tom must find a way to outwit an enemy so nefarious that victory seems hopeless. Will his idealism and bravado cost him everything—and everyone that matters to him?

Filled with action and intelligence, camaraderie and humor, the second book in S.J. Kincaid’s futuristic World War III Insignia trilogy continues to explore fascinating and timely questions about power, politics, technology, loyalty, and friendship.

5. Prodigy by Marie Lu (Legend #2) (Goodreads)

Debut: Legend

Releases: 1/29/13

June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—-June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.

It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.

But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?

6. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Goodreads)

Debut: Between Shades of Gray

Releases: 2/13/13

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

7. Who Needs Magic? (Magic #2) by Kathy McCullough (Goodreads)

Debut: Don’t Expect Magic

Releases: 7/9/13

No summary available

8. Empty by K.M. Walton (Goodreads)

Debut: Cracked

Releases: 1/1/13

Dell is used to disappointment. Ever since her dad left, it’s been one let down after another. But no one—not even her best friend—gets all the pain she’s going through. So Dell hides behind self-deprecating jokes and forced smiles.

Then the one person she trusts betrays her. Dell is beyond devastated. Without anyone to turn to for comfort, her depression and self-loathing spin out of control. But just how far will she go to make all of the heartbreak and name-calling stop?

9. Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) (No cover art yet) by Leigh Bardugo (Goodreads)

Debut: Shadow and Bone

Releases: 6/4/13

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

10. All That Was Lost by Trish Doller (final title & cover coming soon) (Goodreads)

Debut: Something Like Normal

Releases: 10/2013

Callie is skilled in the art of leaving. She and her mother have crisscrossed the country for more than a decade, on the run since the day her mother–who suffers from borderline personality disorder–abducted her. When her mom is arrested, Callie is reunited in Tarpon Springs, Florida, with a father she doesn’t remember. There Callie must learn to navigate the life of a normal 17-year-old girl–one that includes friends, guys, and an extended Greek American family she never knew existed. But a childhood secret and her mother’s reappearance threaten the tentative security of her new life, and Callie must choose between staying and leaving–and what she’s willing to leave behind.

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