salt to the sea

Salt to the Sea
By Ruta Sepetys
Published: 2017, Penguin Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literature, YA Fiction

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Joanna
Guilt is a hunter.
My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child.
It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.

The book begins with Joanna, but it twists and turns through the lives of three additonal individuals and how each of their journeys intersect with the others. This story takes place surrounding the greatest tragedy in maritime history. Each of the main characters is on a journey through World War II; a journey that will lead them to promises of safety and freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Before I read this novel, I had no knowledge of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This made me a little bit sad and a tiny bit angry that the greatest tragedy in maritime history is not widely known in our history books. Something that was this devastating should be remembered and known.

I loved how Ruta Sepetys was able to tell each person’s story from their perspective while still weaving the history and tragedy of the war. There are some hard things within the pages, but my opinion is that if we don’t know about the struggles, tragedy, mistakes and “yuckiness” of the past, then how are we to learn from it? If you have a teen who is sensitive to such things, I would recommend that they do not read this book. If they are not sensitive, then every teen should read this book; it is written from a realistic point of view and does not gloss over the tough stuff that happened because of the war. it gives you a new perspective on the war.

The author did a fantastic job of tying all of the characters together as their paths finally crossed. I loved how they weaved in and out of each others lives, adding a piece to each journey. I also liked that there was closure on each of their stories; I was not left wondering what their fate was after the story was over. I thought this a wonderful piece of historical fiction.

I turned the lid and lifted the rose petal jam to my nose, savoring the scent. I raised my face to the sun. My war had been so long, my winters so cold. But I had finally made it home. And for the first time in a long time, I was not afraid.

Salt to the Sea

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The Westing Game

The Westing Game
By Ellen Raskin 
Published: 2004, Dutton Children’s Books
Genre: Children’s Literature, Mystery

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The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!
Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shower, five stories high. Five empty stories high.
Then one day (it happened to e the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be. The letters were signed Barney Northrup.

And so the mystery begins……

I will be teaching a literature class next fall at my homeschool co-op for 6th-8th graders and I was in search of some “unknown” books to present; this book came as a recommendation to me by a couple of people, so I thought I would give it a read and see what I thought.

I was a little leery at first about a book that revolved around a murder mystery but I was pleasantly surprised with the plot. Ellen Raskin did a great job and kept everything in the book quite clean. Some of the mystery was predictable to me, as an adult, however I did think that the author kept us guessing in a few ways and did a fabulous job of dropping clues through the pages.

I enjoyed how the author wrote from each suspects perspective throughout the book so that we could delve into each of the characters and make our own conclusions. I loved the word puzzles and “games” throughout the book as well. I felt that she also did a great job of tying up all of the loose ends in the final chapters so that you weren’t left guessing or wondering about the characters or the story.

It was a fun mystery novel to read. I definitely recommend it and I have decided to use it in my literature class next year.

I gave it to my 14 year old son to read and see what he thought and he enjoyed the book as well. He said he would certainly recommend it to people and that I should use it for my class next year.

The Westing Game

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Turtles All The Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
By John Green
Published: 2017, Dutton Books
Genre: YA Fiction, Social & Family Issues, Mental Health

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Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills
~Arthur Schopenhauer~

There has been a lot of chatter about this latest book from John Green all over the book world. Seeing that the subject matter was mental health, a subject that is surrounded by shame and stigma, I knew that I needed to get my hands on it and read it.

Throughout the book, we get to experience Aza’s life as she learns to live with anxiety. The author gives us a bird’s eye view on how it affects everything in her life; family relationships, friendships, romantic interests, school, physical health and even her grief.

The fear had mostly sweated out of me, but as I walked from the cafeteria to history class, I couldn’t stop myself from taking out my phone and rereading the horror story that is the “Human Microbiota” Wikipedia article.

Everyone experiences moments of fear and feelings of being anxious. Not everyone can turn off those moments and feelings. John Green describes the experiences of those that cannot turn off those moments and how it affects every single minute of your life.

Everyone in the entire world needs to read this eye-opening book.
John Green does a phenomenal job of giving an inside look into the mind of someone who struggles daily with mental health. He does it beautifully with compassion, understanding, and grace. As someone who struggles with mental health issues (anxiety and depression), it was refreshing to see a book written from MY perspective. Many people often do not understand the struggles and what truly goes on within the mind of someone who fights mental health illness every single day. John Green finally gives us that viewpoint; and he does it in a way that anyone can understand, from teenagers to 90 year old grandparents.

As I washed and rebandaged it in the bathroom, I started at myself. I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life.

I will be doing a giveaway for my copy of the book on my Instagram account. Be sure to follow me HERE, for your chance to win my “signed copy” of Turtles All The Way Down by John Green.

Turtles All the Way Down

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the strange and beautiful sorrows of ava lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
By Leslye Walton

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This book was so fantastic and so phenomenal that I had to read it twice.
Ava Lavender was the book club pick for this month. The first time I read it, I had it done in just 2 days.
I thought I should read it a second time before our monthly meeting to make sure I did not miss anything since I devoured it the first time. I took a little bit longer to read it the second round so I could grasp more of the details; 4 days.

To many, I was a myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth–deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl.

Myth incarnate……but just a girl.

The book follows 3 generations of women through life; we walk with each of them through their journey with love, loss, tragedy, understanding and redemption. It is unique, however, in the fact that the story is told from the narrative of Ava Lavender, the 3rd generation in this line of women.

I loved the background story the author gives us so we can understand what makes Ava who she is and how the women before her fit into her story. Emmilienne seeks to forgive, Viviane seeks love and Ava seeks normalcy and acceptance.

Lesyle Walton, in her debut novel, weaves just enough realism within the story that there are moments that you have to check in with your mind to remember that it is magical realism and pure fantasy. She makes it easy to get so wrapped up inside the pages and the characters that you tune out the world around you and forget that it is just the result of a brilliant imagination and extraordinary writing.

The writing, the words, the language, the flow of the story of Ava Lavender is quite captivating. It is poetic, it is whimsical and it is exceptionally enchanting to read.

Just a girl……normal…..accepted…….is that not what we all want, wings or not?

*************

There is some adult content. While it is a YA book, I recommend this for older teens and for you to pre-read it to gauge what fits into your family’s level of acceptable literature.

This next section is where I usually add to my review after my book club meets and include some thoughts and opinions of the other ladies, but I do not want to ruin the magic of this book for you by giving away spoilers. 

The majority of the ladies enjoyed the book, although magical realism is quite different from what we typically read.

I highly recommend this book and it is definitely one I could see myself reading multiple more times.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

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Harry Potter

Harry Potter
By J.K. Rowling

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I feel like THE worst bibliophile and Harry Potter fan on the planet!
Apparently, yesterday was the 20th Anniversary (that makes me feel super old, by the way) of the release of the very first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and I did not do a single post about it.

I can still remember the excitement of reading that very first book in the series; cracking it open and smelling the pages of a fresh book. I also remember the anticipation and dread when we had to wait for the next book in the series to arrive; it always felt like an eternity.
I was not always able to go to the midnight release of the next book, but I did go to a few of them. How about you? Did you attend any midnight release parties?

Those that have never read the books just cannot seem to understand the culture that has developed around Harry Potter.
Yes I am old. By society’s standards, I should not be so infatuated with a youth fiction book series. However, when I first began reading them, I was not, by any means, considered “old”. I grew up with Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hagrid. It led me to a whole unexplored genre of literature. And now, I have passed that world down to my oldest son. We have read every single Harry Potter book together, me reading aloud to him. After each book was completed, we watched the corresponding movie together. It has been a wonderful bonding time for us and it has given me some common ground to stay connected to my teenager.

Harry Potter has created memories for people, bonded families over shared literature, and helped children delve into reading when they otherwise would have had no interest. Harry Potter has provided an escape from real life for those whom need it, created a shared culture for those who may have never known such fabulous people existed, and opened up a love of reading for many that never saw reading as enjoyable.

Yes, there has been some controversy, but is that not what makes a book great?

I have read each book multiple times (too many than I will admit to) and each time I still feel that wonderful flutter that happens when you open a book for the first time; a book that you know is going to be incredible.

The Harry Potter Movies were never as good as the books; movies never are. There really is just not enough time to capture the true heart of the story or to develop the unmistakable essence of each character in a 2-3 hour movie. Overall, the movies were decent. My only complaint was that they completely changed some of the story-line. I can understand that there is not room to put everything into the movie, but I do not understand why it is necessary to change the original story.

For fun, here are some Harry Potter websites you can peruse to relive some of those favorite moments, 20 years later.

Pottermore
Why Harry Potter Matters 20 Years Later

84 Magical Facts about Harry Potter

25 Harry Potter Facts That Will Knock You Off Your Broomstick
8 Books J.K. Rowling Recommends
Reading Harry Potter with My Older Brother
A Magical Harry Potter Wonderland
Harry Potter Snowflakes
20 Years of Harry Potter
Harry Potter: 10 Most Highlighted lines on the Kindle

I would love to hear in the comments how Harry Potter has touched or changed YOUR life or the lives of your children.

Harry Potter

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The Wish Granter

The Wish Granter (Ravenspire)
By C.J. Redwine

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Once upon a time…

Humans were pathetically predictable. Always longing for more. Always desperate to get their way. Shamelessly grasping for what remained out of reach, even when it cost them dearly.
He despised them.

Does that just not grip you right from the beginning?!?

This tale is not your usual Cinderella-happily-ever-after fairy tale. This story holds more true to The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

C.J. Redwine does a fantastic job of weaving bits and pieces of the authentic story of Rumpelstiltskin while giving it a fresh twist to create a compelling and unique modern fairy tale. While this novel is geared towards young adults, those of us who are “old” adults that enjoy fantasy fiction and fairy tales can lose ourselves in this quirky fable as well.

The Wish Granter is filled with magic, adventure, mystery, murder, revenge, hatred, innocence, greed, family strife and even contains a minor love story. However, C.J. Redwine does it in a way that I feel comfortable with having my 13 year old son read it. There are a couple of scenes that may be a little more graphic for some of your teens. Be cautious of their sensitivity level and stay true to your own family values. My son has been reading fantasy, sci-fi and mythology books for quite some time and I am not concerned about his ability to handle the content.

The author does a marvelous job of giving depth to each of the characters as she weaves you in and out of their lives. I loved that she gives each of the main characters their own voice by telling part of the story from their perspective.
The heroine in the book, Ari, is written as a more “real” kind of princess. She doesn’t treat the staff as if they are beneath her, she loves to still go into the kitchen and cook, and also is a little more plump then your average princess. I think Ari is a character that many teens, especially girls, will be able to relate to and it gives the fairy tale authenticity.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wish Granter and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a stellar fantasy novel to indulge in. I look forward to her next installment of the series.

The Shadow Queen (Ravenspire) is the predecessor to The Wish Granter.
It is a novel that also gives a unique twist to a well-loved fairy tale.
You do not need to read the books in order and one does not rely upon the other for their stories.

 

“I have survived betrayal, exile, and the miserable pretense of obeying human law, and you can be sure I will survive you.”

The Wish Granter (Ravenspire)

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The Reason I Jump

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
By Naoki Higashida
Translated by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell

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I have read a lot of books on autism. A lot.
My 2 oldest children are on the autism spectrum so I have done a lot of reading on this particular topic.

The majority of books and resources out there are written by medical professionals, which is fabulous because knowing the WHY behind autism and how the brain works is great knowledge as a parent.

There are also books written by those who have autism. However, they are written after the person has become an adult. Those books do give a good perspective of life with autism, but it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
Most adults with autism have already worked through a lot of their disabilities. They have discovered coping mechanisms that help them to thrive in society.

As a parent of a child with autism, I wanted to know why they do some of the things they do. I wanted to know why they react to some of the things they react to. I wanted to know why certain things can cause a certain behavioral response for them. I wanted to know what goes on inside their head currently; not what they remember it being like once they have become an adult.

The Reason I Jump is unique in the fact that it is written by young teenage boy. It is written by someone who can give us true insight and perspective on the inner workings of a child with autism. Yes, each child with autism is different. However, there are some things that are the same or similar across the board for those on the spectrum.
Naoki Higashida gives us something that many parents of children with autism are seeking; answers.

I loved that the book was set up in a question and answer format. A question about a specific behavior was asked and Naoki answered it. There were times when he did not have an answer or reason; sometimes he really just did not know the cause behind a specific behavior or reaction.

Intertwined with small stories of his creating, The Reason I Jump gave me a unique perspective into the minds of my own children. There were a lot of light bulb moments for me that have helped change and shape some of my own responses and reactions to my children. Naoki helped open up the communication in our home even further.

I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who is looking for some insight and perspective into the mind of any child with autism. It is hands down, THE best book on autism I have read thus far. I had originally borrowed it from the library, but after reading it, I realized that it is a book that I will refer back to again and again in the future so I went ahead and purchased my own copy.
Buy the book. Read it and then read it again. Then give it to anyone else who is in your child’s life. You will all be better for it.

I wish there were more books written by children on the spectrum. The insight and perspective that I gained from Naoki is priceless.

Maybe I can convince one of my own children to write a book.

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

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