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This Happened: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Welcome Back!

I try to stay away from books that want to make me cry. We’ve talked about this before. I don’t like to cry when I’m reading, that’s not a fun part of the reading experience for me. Sometimes though…just sometimes…I hear such wonderful things about a book that crying or not I have to read it (no matter how much it intimidates me!). So, I read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysLina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

I really am speechless and have no idea what to say about this book that will do it justice. Between Shades of Gray is haunting. The story itself is incredibly intense and horrific.

Guys. This happened.

I had no idea that the Soviets went into the Baltic states and just took people from their homes and shipped them off to Siberia to die. I mean I knew a little, but the happenings of World War II often get eclipsed by the Jewish Holocaust, Hitler and the Nazis, so I had no idea to what extent Stalin’s damage had on the people of countries such as Lithuania. Interestingly enough, now that I’ve read this book, I’m remembering my mom telling me about one of the priests at the church I grew up in. Father Palis was born in Lithuania, was in seminary when the Soviet’s invaded and had to escape to Germany in secret. Personally knowing someone who went through parts of what Lina experienced makes the story in Between Shades of Gray that much more tangible.

Ruta Sepetys’ writing is beautiful. The horrors that Lina and her family witness and experience take on an almost lyrical quality, which made me continue turning the pages even though my heart hurt so much. You want to know what happens to this remarkable, vulnerable, bitter, kind and brave teenage girl. You want to know that she gets to go home and be a normal teenager who goes to school, flirts with boys and imagines her future as an artist. Sepetys’ writing just makes you get completely caught up in these characters.

It is interesting to see how the others in Lina’s group of deportees respond to the harsh circumstances. Some, like Lina’s mother, show amazing courage and kindness, while others are so broken that they become hard and bitter. Lina touches on these reactions throughout the story, and Lina herself struggles with alternating feelings of hatred and anger versus love and grace.

If you haven’t read Between Shades of Gray yet, you need to add it to your TBR list as soon as possible. It is so well done (and the audiobook narrator is fabulous). The story of what Lina and her people are forced to bear with will cause you to wonder why our history textbooks don’t teach us more about what happened in the Baltic states during Stalin’s rule. As an educator, I believe this book could be (and should be) taught as a supplement to any history or language arts curriculum at the middle school level and up (if it’s not already…but it probably is). Parents note that there are very disturbing scenes of death and violence and you should read it along with your middle schooler.

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books (March 22, 2011), Penguin Audio

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hours and 47 mins

Narrator(s): Emily Klein

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book: Between Shades of Gray

10

Waiting on Wednesday: Alienated

Well hello again!

Just have to remind everyone that Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

Sometimes I see a book and the cover turns me off but then I stop and read the summary and I’m interested. Well, that’s exactly what happened with Alienated by Melissa Landers. Alienated by Melissa Landers

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking. But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

Oh my gosh. This cover. There is WAY TOO MUCH going on. Too many colors!  But, I’m totally into the summary! Alientated sounds like it has potential to be a cute sci-fi romance. Since this book isn’t scheduled to release until February 4, 2014 we have some time to wait.  I have hopes that the awful cover isn’t a sign of bad things to come…I want this one to be good! :)

What do you think? What titles are you waiting on this week?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2013 (Repeat)

Welcome back!

This week the Broke and Bookish have scheduled the theme for Top Ten Tuesday to be Top Books Read So Far in 2013. Which is a wonderful theme!  But I went rogue a few weeks ago and created this list without realizing that it was coming up. So, instead of re-posting the same books I’ve decided to just direct you back to the list I created on May 28.

Top Ten Favorite Books I’ve Read So Far in 2013

Enjoy!

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Summertime

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Hello and Happy First Day of Summer!

As an educator, I simply adore summer. Summer means rest. Summer means fun. Summer means spending time with your husband or friends at 1 in the afternoon because you’re not at work. And last but not least summer means relaxing with a good book!

Today I’m sipping a cuppa tea, munching on Nilla wafers and reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson!

What does summer mean to you?

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Sarcasm and Redemption: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Well hello there!

I’ve been reading some of the 2013-2014 Florida Sunshine State books even though I’m moving out-of-state soon.  One of these books is Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, which is apparently also on the South Carolina Junior Book Award list as well!

Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtOkay For Now explores a seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.

This was the first of the Florida Sunshine State books that I read this year. Being narrated by a male main character, I wouldn’t have chosen to read it first, but my library had the audiobook so I decided to give it a try.

Okay for Now was incredibly good. Like I want everyone I know to read it good.

First of all, I don’t know why I always shy away from male main characters, but I do! When I do actually take the time to read a book with a male main character, I usually end up enjoying it, so I don’t know whats wrong with me!  Well Doug, the main character in Okay for Now was incredibly refreshing. He was sarcastic and cynical in a way that I can relate to.  As the reader you quickly realize that Doug’s cynicism is just a shell he’s constructed to protect himself because that’s how he thinks real men should behave.

What I can’t get out of my head is what an awesome story of personal growth and redemption Okay for Now is. Doug grows and matures so much throughout the course of this book and the reader gets to see how far a little nurturing and love can do to really alter someone’s life. He starts out with an incredibly negative view of life and relationships, but eventually starts to let go of all that negativity with the help of some encouraging friends/mentors. But Doug isn’t the only character who experiences a little redemption in the end and this is probably the most difficult to accept yet beautiful maturation of all.

The difficulty and tension of the father-son relationships in Doug’s family is palpable. You can just feel the wall in Doug’s heart growing taller with every negative word or action from his father. It is amazing that Doug is able to turn into the young man he becomes considering the type of man his father is.

I will say that I was a little thrown for a loop with the sudden plot twist toward the end, but I did enjoy the fact that this surprise didn’t cause Doug to buckle under the pressure, but instead spurs him to love harder than ever.

Okay for Now is a hilariously witty and sarcastic coming of age story that everyone should read. I loved it and highly recommend it, but I don’t know how my students will respond to it since they normally aren’t fond of historical fiction.

Author: Gary D. Schmidt

Publisher: Clarion Books (April 1, 2011)

Format: audiobook

Length: 9 hours and 16 mins

Narrator(s): Lincoln Hoppe

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:  Okay for Now

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Waiting on Wednesday: Prep School Confidential

Welcome back BookTasty Readers!

It’s time to showcase another upcoming new release for this week’s Waiting on Wednesday.

This week I’m waiting for the release of Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor.

Prep School Confidential by Kara TaylorAnne Dowling practically runs her exclusive academy on New York’s Upper East Side—that is, until she accidentally burns part of it down and gets sent to a prestigious boarding school outside of Boston. Determined to make it back to New York, Anne could care less about making friends at the preppy Wheatley School. That is, until her roommate Isabella’s body is found in the woods behind the school.

When everyone else is oddly silent, Anne becomes determined to uncover the truth no matter how many rules she has to break to do it. With the help of Isabella’s twin brother Anthony, and a cute classmate named Brent, Anne discovers that Isabella wasn’t quite the innocent nerdy girl she pretended to be. But someone will do anything to stop Anne’s snooping in this fast-paced, unputdownable read—even if it means framing her for Isabella’s murder.

This summary sounds fabulous and the cover even reminds me a little bit of the Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter (which I LOVE!). I have always been a big fan of boarding school books and they’re even better with a good mystery thrown in. Plus the tag line is awesome: “Rick Kids Can Get Away with Murder”…I love it!

So Prep School Confidential,which seems to be the first book in a new series, is scheduled to release on July 30…only a short few weeks away!

Does Kara Taylor’s debut sound like one you’ll be waiting on or are you patiently waiting on something else this week?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Summer TBR List

Hiya!

Have you all been enjoying summer so far?

As an educator it is my responsibility to supremely enjoy my summer vacation.

Part of this enjoyment is reading. So, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and Bookish) is focused on Books on My Summer TBR (To Be Read) List. Now, I’ve already posted my Reading Queue for June, so you may see some of the same books on today’s list. But that’s okay right?!

In no particular order here are the books in my TBR stack this summer. I can’t wait to devour them in all in true BookTasty fashion!

Silence by Becca FitzpatrickSilence by Becca Fitzgerald (already started)

Legend by Marie LuLegend by Marie Lu

One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly HuntOne for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Wonder by RJ PalacioWonder by R.J. Palacio

The False Prince by Jennifer A NielsenThe False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae CarsonThe Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

My Life Next Door by Huntley FitzpatrickMy Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Lock and Key by Sarah DessenLock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Real Mermaids Dont Wear Toerings by Helene BoudreauReal Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau

Scarlet by Marissa MeyerScarlet by Marissa Meyer (already started)

Have you read any of these? Which should I make top priority?  What books are you hoping to read this summer?

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Tasty Treats (11)

Happy Fathers Day to all you Fathers and Grandfathers and Stepfathers and Soon-to-Be Fathers!

I’m back with another edition of Tasty Treats!

Tasty Treats is where I take some time to celebrate the books I received recently. I don’t do these posts on a regular basis so you never know when one is coming! I like to keep you guys on your toes!

As you probably know by now, my Husband and I are moving to Columbia, SC in a few weeks. Well, my awesome Husband and awesome co-workers got together all sneaky like and threw me a little Goodbye Shindig at a local pub. It was such a complete surprise and I loved every minute of it!

How does that relate to Tasty Treats? Well one of my co workers gave me a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card to uplift me during the moving stress. So I got to go shopping!! (Thank you!)

Here is what I got:

City of a Thousand Dolls and The Moon and MoreCity of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

I’ve been eying The City of a Thousand Dolls for a while now so I can’t wait to get to it.  The Moon and More has such a pretty summertime cover and I love Sarah Dessen!

I’m totally going to miss my coworkers and I’ve loved being a part of the Lockhart Family with them these past seven years!

What books have you recently added to your collection?

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Not a Lot of Follow Through: The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar

Hi there everyone!

So, I’ve let a few weeks fly by with no book reviews…but hey it is what it is. :)

And now I’m back with a review for The Art of Wishing, a debut by author Lindsay Ribar.

Guys. This was a DNF book for me. I did not finish it.

So, those of you who’ve been following BookTasty for a little while probably know that I absolutely HATE not finishing a The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribarbook. I’ve finished some pretty poorly written stuff in the name of finishing.  But I had an epiphany recently and I just made up my mind to not finish this one.

Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie’s ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn’t know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else’s hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie — he’s also a sophomore at Margo’s high school, and he’s on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him. A whole lot more.

I had been really excited for The Art of Wishing since I first signed up for the 2013 Debut Authors Challenge. The book’s summary sounded fun and it seemed to have a lot of potential – “A genie! Cool! I haven’t read a book about a genie before!” Plus I thought the cover was adorable.

But in the end (well actually around 70% of the way through) I just realized that I wasn’t enjoying this book.  The writing felt somewhat disjointed and I had a difficult time keeping my attention on the story. I’d start reading only to find myself putting my Kindle down after only two or three pages because something else seemed more interesting. I just wasn’t invested in any of the characters and there wasn’t anything captivating about the story that made me want to keep reading.

I did like Margo at first. I thought she was interesting because she wasn’t your average YA female character who hasn’t yet realized her strengths. Margo knows she an awesome singer and actress. She is very aware of her strengths in an almost cocky way.  This made her fascinating for a while, but then she slowly began to lose the interest factor for me.

The romantic relationship between Oliver and Margo also seemed too easy. These two fall in love almost overnight, which was pretty hard to believe. I also don’t understand why a smart, talented girl like Margo fell so quickly for a guy who continues to keep information from her.  I mean come on! It’s not until more than halfway through the story when Oliver decided to tell Margo about a significantly important piece of information that she could have used A LOT sooner. She already knows you’re a genie dude…nothing else is going to shock her. Just fill her in!

So, although I was so sad to add another book to my small DNF pile, I had to do so with The Art of Wishing. I just realized that it was taking me forever to read and that there were other books I’d like to spend my time on. There was a lot of potential with not a lot of follow through.

All in all, I know for a fact that my students would enjoy this book, but it just wasn’t for me at all.

Author: Lindsay Ribar

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (March 21, 2013)

Format: e-book (ARC)

Length: 314 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book:  The Art of Wishing

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I Just Knew: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Hi there everyone!

Did you know that this is the second year I’ve participated in the Debut Author’s Challenge?  Well it is! I really enjoy this particular challenge because it allows me to read at least 12 debut books by new authors each year. Through completing this challenge I’ve been introduced to some really awesome new authors.

One of those awesome new authors is Elizabeth Ross. When I saw the cover (isn’t it pretty?!) for her debut Belle Epoque I just knew. Then I read the summary and I just knew.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossI just knew that Belle Epoque would be right up my period drama loving alley!

When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

I adored this book!

One of the things I love about Belle Epoque is how unique the whole idea of a “repousser” is. It took me a while to understand, so let’s tease this definition out a little. Imagine you have a pile of nice looking peaches sitting in a bin. They’re all decent so none of them stand out amongst one another. But when you take one of those decent peaches and sit it next to a bruised and broken peach suddenly the normal looking one become beautiful and more desirous! It’s the same with a hired repousser. Really interesting right?! 

And all tied in with this repousser theme is the juxtaposition between the building of the Eiffel Tower (because Belle Epoque is set in the late 1880s while the tower was being built) and Maude (our main character). When the Eiffel Tower was first introduced many Parisians thought it was hideous and declared it a blight on the beautiful city scape. Likewise, when Maude is first introduced to the Agency, she is seen as an ugly, or plain, girl. As the tower gets taller and taller Maude grows as well…it’s so good!

In particular I was so happy to read a book set in Paris after I visited there for the first time this past November. The city of Paris is such a huge part of Maude’s experience in the story. Being a hired repousser Maude gets to see two sides of Paris first hand: the luxurious, gilded aristocracy as well as the bright and seemingly vulgar bohemian nightlife (very Moulin Rouge!). As Maude plays dress up in one, she slowly comes to realize her passion for the other. Just being able to picture the streets Maude walks down made the story that much more enjoyable for me.

Speaking of Maude, I thought she was a very true-to-life character. Throughout the book, Maude tries to hold onto what she knows to be truth but is so easily distracted (as anyone would be) by the shininess and glitter of what is on display before her. I mean who wouldn’t want to wear gorgeous gowns while being wooed by dukes and viscounts at French chateaus?! Additionally, Maude is a young lady who can grow and make her way on her own, while also accepting help from loved ones.

All in all, Belle Epoque was a fabulous debut and I hope to read more of Elizabeth Ross’ work in the future. This one comes to you with the BookTasty stamp of approval, so if you’re looking for a good period drama read you should definitely check it out!

Also a huge thank you Elizabeth Ross and Delacourt for the digital ARC!

Author: Elizabeth Ross

Publisher: Delacourt Books for Young Readers (June 11, 2013)

Format: e-book (ARC)

Length: 336 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book: Belle Epoque